Celia Farber: An AIDS Denialist Masquerading as a Journalist

Celia Farber, the author of the March 2006 Harper's Magazine article attacking HIV clinical research, misrepresents herself to the popular media as a legitimate journalist and science writer, interested only in doggedly covering a good story. She is in fact an AIDS "dissident" who has been publicizing and extolling the claims of AIDS denialists and attacking scientific research on HIV/AIDS since the late 1980s. Farber has signed the two defining petitions of HIV denialism and she co-authored with members of the denialist group HEAL a core tract of the denialist movement called "HIV: Against Science." She described herself in the subtitle of one of her articles as "an AIDS Dissident" and she is a prominent member of the denialist "Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis." Her denialism is well documented, but she conceals her beliefs in order to fool the mainstream media into allowing her to promote them in print.

Farber's main contribution to the AIDS denialist movement is to broadcast their views to the general public in the disguise of objective journalism. In her writing for the popular press, she has consistently and deceptively refused to fully disclose her deep involvement with, and her role as a spokesperson for, the denialist camp. She has also evaded explaining clearly her own understanding or beliefs about HIV and AIDS. Instead, she allows other denialists to make the case for her in extended, laudatory quotes, while maintaining the pretense that she is just an objective reporter asking honest questions, and one who is unfairly abused for her honesty:

All I ever did was follow and report, with what some may consider excessive attention, the vital debate about whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. And whether AZT is a viable therapy for those who are HIV antibody positive. And whether being HIV antibody positive is the same as "having" HIV. And whether "having" HIV necessarily means your immune system is decaying. Etc. I consider all of these questions to be very straightforward, logical, and of obvious importance. I simply picked up a thread and followed it. (Farber , "AIDS Inc." 1994).

Farber's disingenuous claim to "follow and report" on an issue in which she is deeply committed to one side is one she has tried to maintain even as the Harper's Magazine piece brought new attention to the denialist clique. She is reported in The New York Times as saying that she "does not endorse [denialist Peter] Duesberg's position but is simply reporting on an unpopular view. 'People can't distinguish, it seems, between describing dissent and being dissent [sic],'" she wrote in an email to the reporter, Lia Miller. But in fact, people can distinguish between reportage and the party line, and Farber has always toed the latter. She has for two decades consistently attacked medicine, belittled scientific research and enthusiastically promoted denialists and their various claims. There is nothing even remotely balanced in her work.

Despite the denialist motive that drives her writing, Farber lacks the courage of her convictions and won't publicly stand behind the denialist ideology she promotes so relentlessly. She even cravenly disclaims her own positions when cornered. In a recent email she sent to a wide circulation list, she wrote of her Harper's Magazine article, "It does not, for example, say that all AIDS drugs are ghastly, or worthless." No, perhaps not in those exact words, but Farber is being disingenuous. What her article does say is "Duesberg thinks that up to 75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued, he says, thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight." In the same email, she asserted "In each article [in the past] where I have addressed HAART I have included, clearly, the fact that the regimens have absolutely helped people who are very sick." That statement's as absolutely false as it is hypocritical. For example, in an article about HAART published in 2000, she made two comments about the benefits of antiretroviral drugs:

There are facts and figures, studies and counter-studies, a virtual blizzard of data that could be arranged to show any number of things. The new AIDS drugs have saved people's lives: that's one piece of truth. The new AIDS drugs have killed people: that's another. The new AIDS drugs have damaged and deformed some people so badly that although they are alive, they wish they were dead.


Precisely what it means for a life to be "saved" is complicated, especially when the patient was not sick to begin with. As [German denialist Claus] Koehnlein wryly commented, "If you treat completely healthy people you can claim great therapeutic success."

Both of these statements, spun by sarcasm, are in effect claims that no people with HIV/AIDS have benefited from HAART, which is a blatant lie.