"Red Flags" at the Academy
Over the course of the next several years, Duesberg remained the most prominent of the "HIV heretics," and he engaged in a persistent struggle to keep his views before the eyes of a professional readership. By June 1988, before Science 's "Policy Forum" had even appeared in print, Duesberg had submitted another article, this time to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ). The house organ of the same academy that had published Confronting AIDS, PNAS was unlikely to be receptive to Duesberg's views. Yet by virtue of having been inducted into the academy a few years earlier, Duesberg enjoyed a privilege unique in the world of scientific research: NAS members generally could publish in the Proceedings without submitting themselves to the rigors of formal, anonymous peer review. Instead, members were asked simply to show each submission to a knowledgeable colleague who could vouch for its worth and validity.
This special treatment was discretionary, however, and in practice PNAS suspended the policy in the case of manuscripts that raised the "red flag"—the managing editor's term for "things that have the possibility of ending up on the front page of the Washington Post ." The ambiguities of this policy had caused headaches for PNAS editors before, most notably in 1972, when the renowned scientist and academy member Linus Pauling was prevented from asserting in the journal's
pages that vitamin C could cure cancer. As Evelleen Richards has argued in a study of the Pauling controversy, PNAS 's gatekeeping practices reveal in particularly stark outline the "social character of the publication process" in science.
Duesberg's article was eventually published by PNAS in February 1989, with a second one to follow two years later —yet the behind-the-scenes politicking attracted more attention than the articles themselves. Writing another news report for Science , William Booth described the "60 pages of correspondence" generated by "nearly 8 months of protracted, often testy, occasionally humorous negotiations" between Duesberg and Igor Dawid, the chairman of the editorial board. Dawid's predecessor, Maxine Singer, had rejected Duesberg's 1988 submission outright on the grounds that it repeated the arguments in Cancer Research and therefore lacked originality. Maintaining that the article had one hundred new references, Duesberg pressed his case, and Dawid, having taken over from Singer, passed the paper along for peer review by three anonymous reviewers, all of whom raised objections to the manuscript. "For the next 6 weeks," said Booth, "by express mail and by fax machine, Duesberg and Dawid duked it out," with Duesberg agreeing to a number of changes and clarifications. Booth suggested that Dawid eventually surrendered to the inevitable; he quoted from Dawid's correspondence: "At this state of protracted discussion I shall not insist here—if you wish to make these unsupported, vague, and prejudicial statements in print, so be it. But I cannot see how this could be convincing to any scientifically trained reader." In truth, what Dawid may have failed to see was that Duesberg could later use the very fact of having been published in the Proceedings as capital to advance his position.
Anthony Liversidge, writing a longer piece for The Scientist , raised the more nettlesome questions about "just what constitutes fair play in the science publishing arena." On one hand, it seemed problematic to have a special publication policy for academy members that was applied only selectively. On the other hand, what was the point of insisting that the paper be peer reviewed if in the end the journal was going to publish it anyway, despite the fact that all three reviews were unfavorable? Liversidge quoted Walter Gilbert, a professor of molecular biology at Harvard and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for his work on DNA sequencing methods, who criticized the PNAS editors for giving Duesberg "too much of a rough going." But opponents of Duesberg, such as Gallo—who said he hadn't read the paper because "I have
to work for a living"—simply chalked up the incident to the peculiarities of PNAS 's policies: "The Proceedings is a great journal, but you can't stop a member from publishing unless it is totally off the wall."