Project Inform Stakes its Claims
The seriousness with which Project Inform took the resurgence of interest in the causation controversy was indicated by the publication in early June of a six-page "Discussion Paper" devoted entirely to the topic. The report began by blasting the media for their irresponsibility and sensationalism. Why do reporters love the HIV dissenters? Why have they confused Montagnier's position with Duesberg's, despite Montagnier's own disavowals? "Apparently because it makes a good story—'Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong! Top Scientists in Error Ten Years! Secrets! Coverup! Big Business, Big Science Collusion!' … Such is the sorry state of AIDS reporting in some circles today."
Focusing on four groups opposing the HIV hypothesis—the New York Native, Spin magazine, assorted journalists, and certain scientists—Project Inform was at pains to question the credibility of each and to uncover motivations for adopting heretical stances. Accusing the Native of a "supermarket tabloid" mentality, the report described the newspaper as "driven not by any scientific data but by a seething hatred of Dr. Robert Gallo. …" And for writers at Spin , as well as "a few journalists" writing for publications like the Times of London and the Atlantic Monthly , the apparent motivations were "a generic distrust of authority and government science."
In considering the fourth, crucial group of HIV dissenters—the scientists—Project Inform's report similarly emphasized the issue of credibility. Root-Bernstein "works in a field not directly related to AIDS" and "has not conducted or published any AIDS research other than editorials," yet "Spin calls him 'one of the leading AIDS researchers in the US.'" Kary Mullis, while "obviously a serious scientist," was similarly "an outsider to AIDS research"; furthermore, his PCR test "has if anything, helped to bolster the case for HIV." Of all the heretical scientists, only Sonnabend "is professionally involved with AIDS," but "primarily as a clinician": "While Dr. Sonnabend has earned respect in many ways, his arguments against HIV are no more valid than the others."
The case against the credibility of Peter Duesberg was given more extended treatment. Project Inform explicitly posed the crucial question: "Is Peter Duesberg an 'AIDS expert'? That depends on the definition of 'expert.'" The report reviewed the evidence in terms that mirrored Gallo's characterization of his colleague: Duesberg had never
conducted laboratory, clinical, or epidemiological research on AIDS or HIV. He was trained in chemistry, not the biological sciences. He had "no known professional expertise regarding the immune system, was not an expert in the study of human viruses or retroviruses, nor in human disease in general (except for cancer)." True, he once mapped the genetic code of a retrovirus, but that work "bears little direct connection to AIDS."
In focusing on formal credentials, Project Inform walked a fine line. This, after all, was a grassroots organization staffed by self-educated AIDS experts; its executive director, before the epidemic came along, had been a business consultant. A big part of Project Inform's work involved disseminating highly technical knowledge about AIDS to laypeople in order to create what might be called a mass-based expertise. In its reckoning of the tokens of expertise, Project Inform was not about to argue that academic degrees or journal publications are everything. Lacking the right credentials, Peter Duesberg could still be considered an AIDS expert of sorts—but not in a way that would make him stand out from the crowd: "Perhaps his most relevant work is that he has studied the medical literature on AIDS (as have thousands of patients, physicians, and activists), and this qualifies as a form of expertise." But "Duesberg's supporters and the media spread misinformation when they present him as an 'AIDS researcher' in the sense that phrase is usually meant." His published writings on AIDS were "simply editorials."
Project Inform noted that there was a "legitimate" scientific question that had been "lost in the fog" generated by media fascination with Duesberg and other dissenters: How does HIV cause AIDS? Following the lead of Gallo and others, the report emphasized that pathogenesis was separate from etiology; while part one of the report was entitled "Is HIV the Cause of AIDS?" part two was called "How Does HIV Cause AIDS?" Here Project Inform adopted an agnostic position, informing its readers about a variety of hypotheses, including "specific co-factors," "general infectious co-factors," "superantigens," "apoptosis" (Montagnier's position), "autoimmunity," "overactivation," and "antigen diversity threshold." Project Inform's point was that speculation about these pathogenetic mechanisms was an entirely mainstream endeavor and had been since the beginning. "Few if any researchers," the report argued, "ever claimed that AIDS was solely the result of HIV killing [helper T] cells. It was the media who spread that view, apparently to simplify AIDS for the public."
While reviewing the various positions on etiology and pathogenesis, the report also took time to blast Duesberg's alternative causal hypothesis: "By linking AIDS to behavior, rather than a virus, Duesberg paints all but the 'innocent' victims of AIDS as promiscuous drug abusers. … When such views are expressed by fundamentalists and right wing politicians, they are routinely and correctly branded as homophobia and racism . Such well-known bigots as Congressman William Dannemeyer today quote Duesberg as the scientific source of their views." Against these charges, the report reminded readers of a "simple truth" known by "anyone in a community hard hit by AIDS"—that "some who have died did have histories of promiscuity and drug abuse, but many, many others did not."