A New York publisher who believes two Harvard professors "caused the deaths of millions of people by perpetuating the AIDS lie" has launched a $200,000 publicity blitz to promote a book that he says supports the claim.
Charles L. Ortleb, president of TNM Inc., a small publishing company, has purchased ads in The Crimson and sent press releases to Harvard Square book stores to promote America's Biggest Cover-Up.
The book, by Neenyah Ostrom, argues that AIDS is actually Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and is caused by a strain of the human herpes virus, instead of by HIV, a virus commonly thought to cause the disease.
Ortleb blames Lasker Professor of Health Sciences Myron E. Essex and Professor of Pathology William Haseltine of perpetuating a dangerous myth of AIDS.
"Harvard has done a lot of damage to our country, and I want people at Harvard to know that," Ortleb said.
But Essex, a renowned AIDS researcher at the School of Public Health, dismissed the charges.
He said Ortleb "is generally regarded as being totally crazy," and is known for publishing articles relating AIDS to other illnesses.
"There is never any harm in anyone questioning scientific theories or hypotheses," Essex said, "but this sort of reasoning can become dangerous when the average public health officer or high school student decides not to worry about AIDS, not to take safety precautions."
Essex said it is very clear that AIDS is not Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And he said Ortleb's claim that Harvard is killing millions of people is "a further reflection about how wild and irresponsible he is."
Haseltine is on a leave of absence and could not be reached for comment.
AIDS Education and Outreach Co-director Jafi Lipson '95 called Ortleb's publicity campaign "potentially damaging" but said she doubted it would have much of an effect.
Ostrom, the book's author and managing editor of Ortleb's gay weekly magazine The New York Native, said in an interview that the U.S. government and scientists are "covering up the fact they made an enormous mistake."
"The American government is culpable for funding AIDS research," Ostrom said.
She said she wants her book publicized in Harvard Square because Harvard is an "important intellectual center."
ACT-UP: 'Scientific Fringe'
Theo Smart, an organizing member of ACT-UP New York, said Ortleb publishes material from the "scientific fringe," and that his "misinformation can have a very negative effect on today's gay youth."
"I wonder how many people have infections due to him. He is a danger to Harvard students," he said.