Public health advocates demand Simon & Schuster stop distribution of AIDS denialism book

ACT UP NY penned a letter to the publishing company, emphasizing the harm of HIV/AIDS misinformation and denialism

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published March 22, 2023 12:00PM (EDT)

Books on a desk in the library (Getty Images/jovan_epn)
Books on a desk in the library (Getty Images/jovan_epn)

An alliance of more than 30 organizations and 70 public health advocates are urging Simon & Schuster to stop the distribution of a book pushing both AIDS denialism and HIV/AIDS misinformation.   

Called "The Real AIDS Epidemic: How the Tragic HIV Mistake Threatens Us All" by Rebecca Culshaw, the book "explains how the current, government-based structure of scientific research has corrupted science as the search for truth," per its synopsis. It also challenges the reporting in journalist Randy Shilts' 1987 book "And the Band Played On," which chronicles the emergence and spread of HIV/AIDS. 

Furthermore, Culshaw — who is a mathematician and HIV researcher — "offers not only scientific reasons for HIV/AIDS being untenable, but also sociological explanations as to how the theory was accepted by the media and the world so quickly."

"In particular, this book offers a scathing criticism of the outrageous discriminatory measures that have been leveled at HIV-positives from the inception. She also warns that the toxic drugs being foisted on the Black and gay communities constitute one of the worst medical violations of human rights since the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment."

In a letter penned by members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP NY), the coalition demands Simon & Schuster "immediately end plans for distribution of the book," "reassess other future releases to ensure that other books won't assist similar damage to public health" and "create a public health working group to assure community members that this will not happen again."

"The thesis of Culshaw's book is that HIV does not conclusively cause AIDS, but that this was a 'mistake' made in the 1980s and never amended or corrected," the letter — which is addressed to Jonathan Karp, President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster — states. 

"To the contrary, that HIV causes AIDS was demonstrated first in the 1980s, when the virus was discovered, and subsequently research has only strengthened that causal link in the subsequent decades, including via in vitro systems, in animal models, including non-human primates, via molecular phylogenetics, and in human samples."

The letter cites research, specifically from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that shows how "misinformation and denialism do material harm to HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment."

"By releasing an AIDS denialist book, Simon & Schuster would be encouraging vulnerable people to ignore medical directions and to stop their medications, which is dangerous to their health and is likely to lead to a higher amount of virus in their bodies," the letter adds.

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When emailed by Salon, a representative from Simon & Schuster responded saying they had no further comment at the time.

In a follow-up email from the publishing company's communications department, Simon & Schuster clarified that Skyhorse Publishing is a distribution client — or a third-party, independent publisher for whom Simon & Schuster handles functions such as warehousing, shipping, order entry and more — and not a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. According to the email, the publishing company has no input into Skyhorse's editorial decisions. They also aren't able to pick and choose which of their titles to distribute.  

The letter concludes, "As a major publishing house, Simon & Schuster has a duty to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS misinformation and denialism. Every occurrence adds needless life to an epidemic that has persisted for far too long." 

"These concerns listed from HIV/AIDS advocates, organizations, and public health experts must be prioritized and taken seriously by Simon & Schuster."

Culshaw's "The Real AIDS Epidemic: How the Tragic HIV Mistake Threatens Us All" is slated to release on March 28.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Brief Hiv/aids Public Health Publishing Simon And Schuster