I REACHED Pierpont at his Manatee County
Health Department office in the affluent Bradenton-Sarasota area,
about an hour's drive south along the beach from his Tampa home.
When he answered the phone, he was literally packing.
''I'm not the only one in here with serious questions about all
this,'' he said. ''We all talk about it, and I can tell you there
are several more who may follow me.''
He said he was abandoning wholesale his career in AIDS education
and wasn't sure what he was going to do next.
The Manatee County Health Department hired Pierpont in 1993 as an
HIV Prevention Educator, and he soon began conducting AIDS education
courses. Like most people who enter the field, he was driven by
a desire to make a difference. He shot to the top quickly, and began
training staff for HIV counseling and testing.
Then, in 1998, Pierpont began an investigation of his own. He happened
upon some articles by and about UC-Berkeley retrovirologist Peter
Duesberg that raised some of the now well-known inconsistencies
in the HIV explanation for AIDS.
The subject of Duesberg had come up a few times before, and by the
conduct of his superiors, Pierpont already knew how he was supposed
to ''deal with'' Duesberg and "his followers." Don't read
their papers or consider what they have to say. Don't counter them
with any factual information. Don't examine the primary scientific
literature yourself. Just brand them as crazy, wrong, dangerous,
homophobic. Declare that nobody agrees with them.
Pierpont recognized that these responses lacked scientific answers.
He wondered why Duesberg received so little attention: ''How could
some of the leading scientists in the world, including two Nobel
Prize winners [Harvard DNA pioneer Walter Gilbert and PCR inventor
Kary Mullis], challenge the very foundation of HIV science and it
not be big news?''
He discovered some unsettling facts, such as that when Gallo in
1984 gave birth to the HIV-AIDS model, his attempts to find HIV
in 72 patients succeeded in only 26 cases (Science
224, May 4).
It bothered Pierpont that out of tens of thousands of AIDS professionals,
he seemed alone in noticing this titanic instance of illogic.
Pierpont sent letters to several colleagues, asking them, with increasing
despair, for answers to some of the questions raised by the "lunatics."
His letters described how "the majority of my experiences with
people with [HIV or] AIDS did not fit the [HIV-causes-AIDS] pattern."
He described people with CD4 counts well above the AIDS-defining
level of 200, who nonetheless developed AIDS and died while consuming
AZT, and others with CD4 levels below 200 who never developed any
AIDS conditions but became extremely sick while consuming anti-HIV
drugs. "I know people who we say have enormous risk for infection,
i.e., prostitutes, partners of HIV-positives, etc., who don't practice
safer sex," he wrote in some letters. "They come into
our clinic regularly to be tested. They don't test positive. Prostitutes
get [all the other recognized venereal diseases], but rarely test
In other letters he expressed how "we were told in 1995 that
Florida is number one in the nation for heterosexual transmission
of HIV." So they launched a testing program near a local university,
with an advertising campaign urging students to participate. They
tested 20 to 30 people every month, but after four years, only one
person ever tested positive, and that person wasn't even a student.
"This disturbed me because," he wrote, "we are creating
a great public concern, and generating a lot of funding, over this
He received no satisfactory answers, except from those who exonerate
HIV and explain AIDS as resulting instead from such factors as narcotics,
blood treatments, poverty, and even antiviral drugs.
In a June 2, 1999 letter to Tom Liberti, Chief of the Department
of Health, Bureau of HIV/AIDS, in Tallahassee, Pierpont commented
on a ''disturbing video'' he saw, featuring three establishment
AIDS figures debating two AIDS dissidents, RA editor
Paul Philpott and then-Florida State student Jason Nusbaum.
"The team representing the Health Department position appeared
unorganized, confused and defensive,'' Pierpont wrote. ''Philpott
and Nusbaum were at times overzealous, but were well prepared and
provided documentation from scientific journals for all their major
points. In addition, referring to files that were present, they
claimed to be able to provide documentation for everything they
said. After being accused of lying, they pleaded with the opposing
panelists to show them specific examples of these lies or inaccurate
data. No one did .''
He adds that, after a close examination of the dissident material,
he found himself '' unable to identify any lies, misinformation,
or inaccurate statistics.''
''You are probably aware,'' Pierpont coolly continues, ''of the
growing international movement calling for the reappraisal of AIDS
science. The specific questions raised by the reappraisers in this
debate, and many others throughout the world, are being brought
to the forefront in the media, news articles, and scientific journals.''
In one perceptive passage, Pierpont writes, ''AIDS educators like
myself are in urgent need of answers to satisfy our moral duty as
messengers to the public, and to enable us to provide accurate information
and honest answers to those who question us. The principle of informed
consent demands that people know when something we
tell them is unresolved in the scientific community. Please assist
us in this!''
Proto-dissident Charles Ortleb, former publisher of the defunct
New York Native , the weekly gay NYC paper that broke
the Duesberg story back in 1987, spent days faxing Pierpont's resignation
letter to editors and journalists at such periodicals as The
New York Times , Science , Le Monde
, and Der Speigel . An editor at Science
told him it wasn't a story since it's only one man, one defector.
I think that's exactly why it is a story. Ortleb agrees.
He said, ''I think this could be the Rosa Parks moment of the AIDS