Democracy as Rhetoric and Reality
Perhaps the most important factor altering the grounds for credibility in the AIDS causation controversy is the deeply embeded concern with "democracy"—understood in various ways. The most obvious examples of this preoccupation relate to questions of "academic freedom" or "freedom of thought." Duesberg's supporters routinely insisted upon his "right to speak the truth"; a San Francisco Examiner editorial blasting Duesberg nonetheless acknowledged his "right to air his view even in the face of nearly unanimous scientific disapproval." A more profound democratizing claim, also pushed by some of the HIV dissenters, is that the scientific marketplace must be opened up to all those who seek to compete within it. "The 'AIDS establishment' is under the impression that it has a right to govern all discourse on AIDS," complained Celia Farber in Spin . "It feels no one has any business disrupting its conclusions and treatment strategies. But don't all those AIDS posters remind us, 'AIDS is everybody's disease'? Doesn't that include the people who question those who made the posters? Isn't it everyone's debate, too?"
This is a very different kind of claim, one which proposes that science ought to be opened up to anyone who seeks to present knowledge as credible or evaluate the credibility of others. Ironically, even Duesberg has had his doubts about such a project and would reserve science for the scientists. "I'm not excluding anybody else," Duesberg has hastened to add. "It would be great if others would participate too, but they're too easily misled or bought. I mean, [scientists] give them a slide … and it shows something with T-cells … and people say, 'Oh my god, these guys must know everything.' And so you can easily impact a gay activist or counteractivist by this type of information without telling them anything.…" There may indeed be limits to the extent that lay activits can contribute to answering questions such as what causes AIDS. At the same time, there is no avoiding the astonishingly public and contested nature of biomedical science in the late twentieth century, particularly in the AIDS epidemic. Like many of his mainstream critics, Duesberg would have us return to a mythical golden age when researchers did their work in peace, protected from the play of "politics." Yet his own interventions have helped to open the gates to the citadel—and the ordinary people who have gotten the chance to step inside are not likely to surrender that prerogative.