JULY 1999 

Florida AIDS official

Pierpont resigns in protest

Cites "greatest violation of informed consent in history"

by Celia Farber

Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Henry David Thoreau
"Resistance To Civil Government"

AN ASTONISHING letter has appeared, one that sparkles with Thoreauian ethics, and which represents a major rebuke to the AIDS establishment's smug certainty that only people who don't "work with AIDS patients'' would doubt the HIV-causes-AIDS paradigm. I've often wondered if someone paid to "work with AIDS patients'' would ever notice the constantly widening chasm between popular AIDS science and common sense, suffer a crisis of the intellect, and react boldly.

Last week, our hero finally appeared: Tampa, Florida's Mark Pierpont, who was, until June 17th, a full-time, professional, government employed "HIV/AIDS Prevention Program Coordinator" -- not just an official "AIDS Educator," but a supervisor of "AIDS Educators."

Until, that is, his resignation letter announced the result of his own education about HIV and AIDS. Following a line of linear questioning, attempting to resolve all that did not make sense to him in the world of HIV/AIDS science, Pierpont embarked on a journey perhaps never before taken by anyone on the HIV payroll, a journey into the labyrinth of medical data produced by funded HIV researchers. He lugged with him academic papers by scientists who advocate the HIV explanation for AIDS, as well as papers by scientists who advocate alternative interpretations of the data. He found that all roads of rational thinking led away from the HIV belief system -- and from the career that had sustained him for six years. When he finally emerged from the maze of data, he found himself not among those who advocate the HIV-causes-AIDS view which he and his group of AIDS educators were duty bound to promote. Rather, he found himself among people who question or even reject that view and who, instead, find other explanations for AIDS.

Pierpont's resignation letter appears at the end of this article.

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 HIV-positive. Why?"

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 phantom threat."

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 dissident movement.''

-- Celia Farber