Response to Jerry Coyne's Misrepresentation of My Position on HIV/AIDS

Jerry Coyne has set himself up repeatedly to use smear tactics in order to portray me as irrational. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t go to medical school, but I did. Of course the HIV virus causes AIDS.


Coyne had to dig up a conversation from 1990 and place it in the worst possible light even to find a hint that I am an AIDS denier. Since I’ve written dozens of books, hundreds of online articles, ten peer-reviewed scientific articles, and a daily stream of tweets, wouldn’t I have mentioned AIDS denial at least once if that’s what I believed? Most deniers shout it from the rooftop.


That wasn’t the point I was making in the conversation with Tony Robbins. I chose the phrase “precipitating agent” quite deliberately.


Exposure to HIV isn’t a guarantee of acquiring it, unlike Ebola, for example, where contact of even the slightest kind with fluids from someone with Ebola can lead to infection. HIV is far more difficult to transmit. Who, then, is most liable to actually be infected? There are certain conditions, such as an open wound, even a tiny one at the gum line, where access to the bloodstream allows the virus to enter. So poor personal hygiene, such as not brushing your teeth and allowing your gums to swell and bleed, is most certainly a risk. That’s one thing I was touching upon.

In medicine a dilemma is posed by another phenomenon I had in mind, called control by the host. This is actually a pivotal issue in AIDS. By means not entirely understood, the body can avoid infection even after direct exposure to a bacterium or virus without sending white cells to destroy the invader.  In experiments done with the virus for the common cold, subjects were given a dose of the virus by direct application to their nasal passage. They were exposed to frigid temperatures and drafts also, to test if these actually played a part in catching a cold. The result? Only about 1 in 8 people came down with a cold.


Control by the host is intertwined with antibodies and other forms of immunity, such as genetic resistance, but even without complete medical understanding, control by the host is quite real. In our bodies reside a host of microbes that could cause disease but don’t. In full-blown AIDS a number of typical disorders erupt, like pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), which appeared in 70% to 80% of patients before modern treatments arrived. These opportunistic infections indicate a breakdown of control by the host as well as other factors.


Any sensible physician would advise that someone stay in good general health, eat a proper diet, practice good hygiene, and get sound sleep.  For me to connect such practices to HIV is hardly controversial; it’s just good general advice that may impinge of being vulnerable to opportunistic infection.


Coyne has yet, in all his attacks on me, to uncover a single instance of bad medical practice. I entertain ideas he dislikes, and his animus motivates him to turn scurrilous and intellectually dishonest. It’s a shame that he has become so irrational, and I wish I wasn’t his hobbyhorse. He has a toxic relationship to the truth. Happily, I don’t.


Deepak Chopra, MD FACP