Joan Shenton's 1998 book <i>Positively False</i> questioned the existence of HIV. As an anniversary edition is published, we ask the author: What's changed?
Editor's note – this interview has been criticised for not providing enough context to the assertions made in Positively False. Rather than retroactively edit the Q&A, we decided to provide that missing context and critical analysis of Shenton's views in a follow-up piece, which you can read here.
Last Thursday (the 12th of February), an updated anniversary edition of Positively False – Exposing the Myths around HIV and AIDS was launched at the Frontline Club, London.
The first edition of Positively False, published in 1998, turned commonly held views of HIV and AIDS upside down, questioning how the HIV diagnosis is typically reached, the value of the antiviral drugs used to treat it and the motives of the drugs companies behind these drugs.
I met up with the book's author, award-winning investigative journalist and HIV dissident Joan Shenton, to talk about how understanding of the virus has, or hasn't, changed in the years between editions.
VICE: Hi Joan. Can you explain HIV dissidence to me?
Joan Shenton: Peter Duesberg (Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley) was the first real HIV dissident. He said, it's not about a clean needle; it's what goes through the needle that matters. This generation has grown up thinking that sex equals AIDS equals death and, therefore, that condoms are going to be the answer for everything. In actual fact, although condoms are absolutely essential if you want to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancy, they're not going to stop AIDS, because AIDS is not sexually transmitted.
A lot of people would challenge that very suggestion. Can you back it up?
Nearly all high-risk groups – like intravenous drug users; malnourished people living in Africa, drinking dirty water; fast-track gay people who have many partners, take recreational drugs, have drug-assisted sex and then take antibiotics because they get a series of diseases which erode the immune system – are the people that test positive for HIV.
And how is HIV tested for? Antibodies. So, if you lead a very high-risk lifestyle – if a snake bites you today, if you take masses of recreational drugs and dance until dawn, if you have a whooping cough vaccination, if your antibodies are racing to protect you – you could test positive for HIV. Because when you're tested for HIV, you're tested through an indirect marker, which is your antibodies. HIV itself has never been isolated, it's never been purified. So what you have to consider is that it doesn't exist – that there isn't a virus, and that the whole thing is a massive fraud.
HIV itself has never been isolated, it's never been purified. So what you have to consider is that it doesn't exist...
Can you tell me what AZT is?
AZT (azidothymidine) was the first drug given to people with AIDS. It's unbelievably toxic. It was originally used as a cancer drug. But then it was used to try and kill HIV. The first generation of gay men to be given very high doses of it (2,000 milligrams a day) died: a whole generation of gay men killed off. There isn't one still alive today that took the high dosage in the late 1980s and early 90s. Now they just put a tiny bit in the [meds] cocktail because they don't want to say, "We shouldn't have used it". It's a murderous substance.
Joan Shenton. Image courtesy of Press Dispensary
Can you explain the importance of GRID?
The whole AIDS thing started with a group of young men in Orange County, California, in 1982. It's not politically correct to say, but this group was engaged in some very high-risk activities, which involved using amyl nitrite, or poppers, to dilate the orifices to improve orgasm, to allow for fisting and to increase sexual pleasure. And these young men got very ill. It was thought (and still is by dissident scientists and writers) that GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was caused by these amyl nitrites. Poppers are carcinogenic and mutagenic and were said to be the cause of the KS (Kaposi's Sarcoma – a legion of the skin) and PCP (Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia), both symptoms suffered by this group; the same two symptoms described as the key AIDS symptoms at the very beginning.
Then, a team of researchers visited them from the Centre for Disease Control. They wanted to know: were they a toxic cluster (from the poppers) or an infectious cluster? The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), flew our there and found that all these young men shared one thing: their CD4 count, which is a marker for their immune system, was low. So, they decided that it was an infectious cluster, not a toxic cluster (from the drugs they were using), and that they were contagious. The two people who allegedly discovered HIV – Robert Gallo from America and Luc Antoine Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in France – were stimulated to do their research because the EIS said, "We have an infectious situation... We have an epidemic... We have plague," and that's where Plague Terror comes in, because you get a load of money from Plague Terror. And the whole thing took off from there.
First published in 1998, how has your book Positively False been greeted this time around?
In the old days, people were very hostile. Now, we can talk about it. Do you know why? Because we haven't had a heterosexual epidemic. AIDS has stayed within the risk groups.
1987's "AIDS: The Unheard Voices", which Joan served as executive producer on
Over the years you've produced several documentaries for various TV channels. You made four Dispatches programs for Channel 4, two of which won awards, and "AIDS: The Unheard Voices" won a Royal Television Society Award. Did you ever conduct your own scientific studies?
We got funded to test 26 blood samples on three different, commercial-patented test kits. The blood samples were from people who would have a high antibody profile – high-risk groups, people with TB, lupus, and malaria. We did a blinded test (subjects were numbered not named) through Roehampton University and we got a lot of anomalies. On the third kit, for example, 19 of the samples that were negative on the first two kits were indeterminate [and required another test]. And one of our subjects tested positive on all three kits. I then personally went with him to the Royal Free Hospital and St Mary's and he was negative. Can you imagine how many people have been wrongly diagnosed and thought they were going to die?
Has there ever been a bigger study of that kind?
No. No money has ever – in my knowledge – been put into any research that doesn't involve [supporting the commonly held views of] HIV. When you think of the billions used on vaccine research, have they got to first base? Never. You know why? Because there's no target for a vaccine. There is no virus. How are you going to vaccinate against antibodies?
Your latest film, Positive Hell, was nominated for best documentary at the Marbella International Film Festival. Tell me a little about that film.
Positive Hell (more information here) follows the lives of five people and their families in the north of Spain. They were all IV drug users or alcoholics in their teens. Drugs had come into the north of Spain after Franco and they were very cheap and loads of teenagers got addicted to heroin. They were sent to a government-funded institute, Proyecto Hombre (Project Man), and they came off the heroin but, during the course of being in there, the whole HIV thing had cropped up and they tested positive. Just as Duesberg said: IV drug users will test positive. But there wasn't much money so no antivirals were thrown at them and they just got on with their lives [with HIV-positive diagnoses]. Four out of the five people featured in the documentary [filmed two summers a go] are still alive today. They've lived with "HIV" for 28 years.
Do you think one day the view of the HIV dissident will be widely held?
I think it will take a generation or two, at least, for this whole thing to come out because it's very dangerous to say that AIDS is not sexually transmitted. But it is absolutely my belief that it isn't. It's also the belief of the Perth Group and Rethinking AIDS. (However, the first-ever dissident Peter Duesberg maintains that HIV does exist, but that it's a dormant retrovirus and that it cannot be pathogenic.) AIDS has involved more money than any other disease in the history of the world. We once challenged a parliamentary group on AIDs – The Wellcome Trust funded the group and [its sister organisation] the Wellcome Foundation was manufacturing AZT. But you can only change something when 51 percent of the science community agrees. Until then, it's like saying that God doesn't exist.
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