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March 04, 2006

HARPER'S MAGAZINE & AIDS

Harpers_march_2006 There's been a lively e-mail discussion going on among several dozen people, initiated by my friend Larry Kramer, about an article in the March issue of Harper's Magazine (left), "Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science." by Celia Farber. The article is not available on the web, but save your money -- you have no need to buy this particular issue of Harper's just to read Farber's screed (unless you're a maschoist). Gay City News'  Duncan Osborne has a very good summary this week of the world-wide outcry Farber's article has caused (read it by clicking here).

And, on The Nation's website, Richard Kim has a point-by-point rebuttal of wild and irresponsible theories Farber's article is peddling.

Celia_farber Farber (right) is an old campaigner for the gaggle of theories that in the AIDS community are generally labeled "denialist" (some kind souls prefer the term "AIDS dissidents.") These theories all insist that HIV -- the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus, is NOT the cause of AIDS. This sort of crackpot thinking  has been around ever since HIV was first identified as the cause of the epidemic -- and there's not much new in Harper's from Farber, who's back on her old hobbyhorse.

One of the sharper and most ingelligent comments in this round-robin e-mail exchange comments (one I agreed with) came from Gregg Gonsalves (left), a co-founder and Gregg_gonsalvex former Policy Director of the Treatment Action Group, now working for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Gregg wrote:

"Celia Farber and others who still maintain that antiretroviral therapy is toxic and is killing people, who question the etiology of AIDS, are doing incalculable damage to people lives. I’ve spent the past few weeks in South Africa,where the country is in the grips of one of these denialists (i.e. the President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki!), and national AIDS policies are hostage to pseudo-science, distortions and lies.  Many of the millions of people with HIV/AIDS there don’t feel the need to get tested or get treatment because a hero of the liberation struggle has now become a prisoner of a cult of fanatics.  You can read the LA Times article on Christine Maggiore to see how far these people will go to hold onto their fantasy-Maggiore’s daughter died of AIDS because her mother would never admit her own status or that of her child.   You should read Khabzela too--it is writtenKhabazela_book_jacket  by a former POZ writer, Liz McGregor, and tells the story of a major figure in the South African music industry, radio DJ Fana Khaba, who died of AIDS because he was in the grips of his own fears and denialist Tine van der Maas, a former nurse, sent by the Health Minister herself, to take over his care with a so-called Aids diet - lemon, olive oil, garlic and beetroot - and a vitamin-based immune-system booster called Africa's Solution.  I think Celia is a good writer, that is, she can write well and convincingly, which makes her so troublesome.  She has a keen knack for taking a bit of truth, mixing it with widely held fears in the culture, to disguise the lies that are at the core of her argument.

"The fact that Harper's would publish Farber’s article is testament to her narrative gifts and to the sheer laziness of the editors.  Unlike the hoaxes perpetuated on the New Republic by Stephen Glass, Farber’s views are well-known and have been debunked for all to see all over the internet.  Did these editors not talk to anyone besides Celia’s list of “scientists?” Any discussion with any legitimate researcher or clinician would have blown Celia’s cover in three seconds.  It is sad that fifteen pages are devoted to Celia’s ravings in Harper's--we can’t get more than a paragraph on the real issues around the epidemic, here or abroad, in most publications in the USA.  And Celia and her ilk are not dissidents-please, please, don’t wrap them in the mantle of a Sakharov or a Mandela, men and women who have struggled against tyranny and lies-they are a peculiar phenomenon, individuals and groups which believe that evolution is a “theory;” or a hundred years ago, pulled out tape measures and calipers to demonstrate the racial inferiority of the Negro or the Jew. 

"Celia is not a serious journalist or commentator on AIDS or science and her views are in the realm of fiction-there is no debate to be had with her, as her views are articles of faith, not fact or evidence.  You may know Celia and like her and personally respect her--that is a matter for your own conscience, but in the public realm she is a noxious influence that has had and will have deadly consequences.

"The Harper's magazine article, despite appearing in a journal with a small circulation, will now be circulated all over the world, with the denialists’ case now having the pedigree of an august US publication behind it.  What is deeply depressing to me is when I think of the individuals here in the US or elsewhere, who hearing Farber’s and other denialist’s arguments first-hand or passed on like gossip in their communities, who will forgo an HIV test or avoid getting the treatment they need and which has kept you and me alive for many years.  It’s so sad that 25 years into the epidemic, when so many of us are fighting to ensure that people with HIV have the treatment they need to stay alive (6 million people or more in the developing world need access to antiretroviral therapy now and thousands of people with HIV in the USA are uninsured and don’t have easy access to these medicines either), that we all now need to stop our work and clean up the mess that Celia has created."

Laurie_garrett_2_1 But I'll leave the last word to a pithy comment from the excellent Laurie Garrett. As Newsday's reporter on the health beat, Laurie (right) was the single best reporter on the AIDS epidemic ever to come down the pike, breaking important stories on both the medical and political aspects of the AIDS fight when the New York Times was still barely noticing the disease, and continuing to do so for years. She's written a number of must-read, bvest-selling books -- learn about them on Laurie's multimedia website -- and is the ONLY journalist every to have won all of the Big 3 journalistic prizes: the Polk, the Peabody, and the Pulitzer. Laurie wrote:

"Harper's got hornswaggled. They thought they had a scoop, but it was tired old BS dredged up from the bad old days." Well said, Laurie.

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