Science on trial


(This post appeared on Nature Medicine’s Spoonful of Medicine blog on May 1, 2007.)

It’s always frightening when matters of science are settled in a court of law. And a relief

Robert Gallo

when reason prevails.

Last week, an Australian judge declared that yes, HIV does exist and that it causes AIDS.

The criminal case was filed against a HIV-positive man, Andre Chad Parenzee, for knowingly exposing his sexual partners to the virus. In his defense, he maintained that “the existence of HIV has not been proven” and that “there is no scientific evidence that AIDS is caused by a unique infectious agent.”

The case dragged on for months and although it wasn’t covered much outside the US, did create waves in Australia. Robert Gallo, who established the link between HIV and AIDS in 1984, appeared (by videolink) for the prosecution and was grilled by the defense about his research and his notorious squabble with French virologist Luc Montagnier. AIDS denialism has its supporters even among scientists and the dissident Perth Group, led by two Australian doctors, appeared as “expert witnesses” for the defense.

Parenzee had been convicted on three counts of endangering lives and had appealed. Justice John Sulan said last week that the Perth Group witnesses lacked credibility and threw out the appeal.

The two doctors continue to be employed by the Royal Perth Hospital, although AIDS Truth, a loosely banded group of scientists and activists, and other are calling for their dismissal. As I’ve written here before, AIDS denialism has serious consequences in some parts of the world and is not simply an academic debate. It’s time Australian scientists joined these activists in making sure science prevails.

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