Interests, Investments, and "Fallen Angels"
Such charges made for good copy, but Duesberg's point was actually more subtle: virologists had "invested" in the HIV hypothesis—not just financially, though this was true in some cases, but personally, professionally, and psychologically. The following year, in a speech at a scientific gathering, Duesberg put forth this analysis as a full-fledged, revisionist history of retrovirology's desperate search for "clinical relevance." "On the basis of promises and expectations, the retrovirologists … have become the darlings of molecular and clinical biology in the last twenty years," Duesberg explained. Retroviruses were expected "to hold keys to cancer and other diseases," yet despite massive funding, the promise had not been fulfilled. Earlier in the century, virologists enjoyed spectacular successes against polio and smallpox. But "in the 1970's and 80's, virology suffered from the same fate that inorganic chemistry suffered in the early part of the century, when no new elements were left to be discovered!" Virology became "a thoroughly academic discipline, without significant clinical factors."
With more and more virologists at work using ever more sophisticated tools, it was inevitable that they would "succeed" in finding viruses that appeared to be linked to diseases that in fact have other causes, Duesberg argued. In this sense, virologists had become "the victims of their own weapons." Having found one such virus in AIDS
patients, virologists were now fanatically invested in the claim that the virus caused the syndrome: "An 'AIDS virus' is perhaps the last hope for the clinical relevance of the highly visible, highly decorated and powerful retrovirus establishment."
Duesberg was the first to note that it would have been simpler for him to pursue a sure thing, a "succession strategy" (to use Bourdieu's terminology), as opposed to a high-risk "subversion strategy" of scientific advancement. "Clearly the value of my very considerable investment in retroviruses would be much compounded by a clinically relevant retrovirus, which should thus motivate me to believe in HIV!" Duesberg told the gathering. "But since all work on retroviruses in the last 25 years has shown that latent retroviruses are harmless, and that virtually all retroviruses in wild animals and in humans are latent, I have lost faith in the central dogma of the program …," said Duesberg, characterizing himself as a "fallen angel, like Lucifer."