Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS: some key writings 

Go directly to key publications and latest developments.


Overview of the theory

One theory of the origin of AIDS is that it developed from contaminated vaccines used in the world's first mass immunisation for polio. There are a number of reasons why this theory is plausible enough to be worthy of further investigation.

If this theory is correct, it has serious ethical, health and policy implications. In particular, it points to the danger of interspecies transfer of material through vaccinations, organ transplants, etc., which could lead to new variants of AIDS as well as other new diseases. As well, studying the theory may lead to insights about responding to AIDS and preventing new diseases.

On several occasions, critics have claimed that the theory has been refuted. The Wistar Committee in 1992 said the death of a British sailor in 1959, whose tissues later tested positive for HIV, made the theory implausible. However, several years later, more sensitive tests showed no HIV in the sailor's tissues.

In 2001, reports were published that polio vaccine samples held in Philadelphia from the 1950s showed no immunodeficiency viruses. This was trumpeted as a refutation of the theory. Edward Hooper later produced evidence that US-produced vaccines had been amplified in Africa using chimpanzees as a substrate, thus showing the theory could be correct.

Scientists have spent a lot of effort trying to refute the polio-vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS, but very little trying to refute the conventional view, that blood from an SIV-infected chimpanzee got into humans via hunting or eating. There is very little direct evidence to support the conventional view, which explains neither the timing nor the location of the origin.

Scientific journals have been reluctant to publish articles about the polio-vaccine theory. For example, Nature has received substantial submissions about the theory from at least six scholars but has not published any of them. Opponents of the theory have used defamation threats and legal actions to discourage publication. The result is that editorial prerogative and legal action have given the false impression that critics of the theory have been unanswered.

To help rectify this situation, key documents presenting the theory and commenting on it are provided here. Also given is a list of publications about the theory. This material is provided by Brian Martin who as a social scientist has been following the origins debate since 1991. It is part of a page on suppression of dissent. Comments and additional contributions are welcome.


Some key publications about the theory


Edward Hooper has his own website, http://www.aidsorigins.com/, with a large amount of material, including recent contributions.


Edward Hooper, The River: A Journey Back to the Source of HIV and AIDS (Harmondsworth: Penguin; Boston: Little, Brown, 1999; revised edition, Penguin, 2000). This is an enormous but highly readable scientific blockbuster, providing the most detailed examination of the polio vaccine theory yet available, including many new findings. It has generated widespread discussion and debate and has established the polio-vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS as by far the strongest contender to the cut-hunter orthodoxy.

The River is available in a CD-ROM edition: see http://www.aidsorigins.com/content/view/206/28/

Omar Bagasra, HIV and Molecular Immunity: Prospects for the AIDS Vaccine (Natick, MA: Biotechniques Books, 1999). This technical scientific book presents a new theory of molecular immunity for the origin and history of HIV-1, which, it is argued, most likely derived from polio vaccinations in Africa.
Kiley R. Prilliman reviews the book in the prestigious journal Cell. Julian Cribb has provided insightful comments on the book for nonspecialists. The author, Omar Bagasra, can be contacted at omarb@sc.rr.com. The book is available from Eaton Publishing, 154 East Central Street, Natick MA 01760, USA, phone 508-653 6272, fax 508-653 2706.

Julian Cribb, The White Death (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1996). An engaging book focussing on both the polio-vaccine-AIDS theory and its reception by the scientific community. Full text available.


Robert Dildine, "Wikipedia's strange certainty about Edward Hooper, Brian Martin, and the OPV/AIDS hypothesis", May 2016. A critical analysis of Wikipedia treatments of the polio-vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS.

Brian Martin, "Critical thinking about the origin of AIDS: comments on Stephen Jenkins' account", May 2016. An analysis of a section on the origin of AIDS in Jenkins' book Tools for Critical Thinking in Biology.

Robert Dildine, "A strange case of certainty", August 2015. The issue of the origin of AIDS is used to show how scientific uncertainty can be conveyed to the public as certainty.

Brian Martin, "How to attack a scientific theory and get away with it (usually): the attempt to destroy an origin-of-AIDS hypothesis", Science as Culture, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2010, pp. 215-239. Tactics used in a scientific dispute to minimise outrage over perceptions of transgressing proper scientific behaviour.

Brian Martin, "Contested testimony in scientific disputes: the case of the origins of AIDS", The Skeptic, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007, pp. 52-58.

Christian Biasco has written a predoctoral thesis analysing the origin-of-AIDS controversy: The origin of AIDS: an hermeneutical analysis of the scientific publications. University of Geneva, July 2006. He has also written a play about the origin of AIDS titled The Seeds of Doom. You can read the text of the play in Italian and English and see the play in Italian with subtitles.

Edward Hooper, commentaries, February-August 2006

New material about the origin of AIDS published in November 2005 in Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W. D. Hamilton, Volume 3: Last Words, edited by Mark Ridley, Oxford University Press.

Brian Martin, "The Politics of a Scientific Meeting: the Origin-of-AIDS Debate at the Royal Society", Politics and the Life Sciences, Vol. 20, No. 2, September 2001, pp. 119-130 [published 2005]. Also available in pdf.

Edward Hooper, commentaries, October-November 2004


April 2004: Is the contaminated polio vaccine theory refuted?

Yes: Michael Worobey et al., "Contaminated polio vaccine theory refuted", Nature, Vol. 428, 22 April 2004, p. 820.
No: a reply by Edward Hooper, "Contaminated polio vaccine theory not refuted", April 2004.
Worobey et al. supplementary information and map. Hooper's comments.
Hooper gives further comments, and a short version of further comments.

Edward Hooper, "The dirty side of the origin-of-AIDS debate": a series of commentaries, February-March 2004.

 Stanley A. Plotkin, "Chimpanzees and journalists" (editorial), Vaccine, Vol. 22, 2004, pp. 1829-1830. Introduction to Osterrieth's article.

Paul Osterrieth, "Oral polio vaccine: fact versus fiction", Vaccine, Vol. 22, 2004, pp. 1831-1835. Denial of Hooper's claims about production of polio vaccine in Africa.

Lincei meeting papers
Origin of HIV and Emerging Persistent Viruses,
Rome, 28-29 September 2001
Published as Atti dei Convegni Lincei, 2003, Vol. 187, ISBN 88-218-0885-8

Maria Luisa Bozzi, "Truth and science: Bill Hamilton's legacy", pp. 21-26.

Edward Hooper, "Dephlogistication, Imperial Display, Apes, Angels, and the Return of Monsieur Émile Zola", pp. 27-230. This massive paper is a response to criticisms of The River, plus new evidence.

Mikkel H. Schierup and Roald Forsberg, "Recombination and phylogenetic analysis of HIV-1" (in pdf), pp. 231-245.

R A Weiss, "Concluding remarks: emerging persistent infections, family heirlooms and new acquisitions" (in pdf), pp. 305-314.

Brian Martin, Investigating the origin of AIDS: some ethical dimensions, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 29, No. 4, August 2003, pp. 253-256.

Edward Hooper, "The Story of a Man-Made Disease", April 2003. A shortened version appeared in the London Review of Books, followed by a series of letters to the editor.

Edward Hooper deals with "Opposition to the OPV theory"

Robin Weiss, "Reflections on the origin of human immunodeficiency viruses", AIDS & Hepatitis Digest, January 2002. Critical commentary on the polio-vaccine theory. Robin Weiss can be contacted at <r.weiss@ucl.ac.uk>.

Royal Society Discussion Meeting
Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic, London, 11-12 September 2000
Papers, press releases, media stories, responses and subsequent events

Stanley A. Plotkin,
"CHAT oral polio vaccine was not the source of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Group M for humans", Clinical Infectious Diseases, Vol. 32, 2001, pp. 1068-1984. A detailed rebuttal of the claims in Edward Hooper's The River. This is almost the same paper as published in the Royal Society meeting proceedings.

Billi Goldberg and Raphael B. Stricker, "Bridging the gap: human diploid cell strains and the origin of AIDS", Journal of Theoretical Biology, Vol. 204, 2000, pp. 497-503. The hypothesis that polio vaccine produced using human cells was responsible for AIDS.

Brian Martin, "Political refutation of a scientific theory: the case of polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS", Health Care Analysis, Vol. 6, 1998, pp. 175-179. How legal action and editorial decisions mean that the published record gives the misleading impression that the polio-vaccine-AIDS theory has been refuted.

Brian Martin, "Sticking a needle into science: the case of polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS", Social Studies of Science, Vol. 26, No. 2, May 1996, pp. 245-276. A personal account of how the author as a social scientist intervened in the debate over the polio-vaccine-AIDS theory.

Blaine F. Elswood and Raphael B. Stricker, "Polio vaccines and the origins of AIDS", Medical Hypotheses, vol. 42, 1994, pp. 347-354 and Correspondence, vol. 44, 1995, p. 226. This is the first major paper in the scientific literature presenting the theory. Blaine Elswood can be contacted at Blaine.Elswood@snow.edu.

W. D. Hamilton, unpublished letter to Science, 27 January 1994. Hamilton attempted to publish a letter in Science responding to Koprowski's 1992 letter. Included here is both the letter itself and Hamilton's correspondence with Science.

Brian Martin, "Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS: the career of a threatening idea", Townsend Letter for Doctors, #126, January 1994, pp. 97-100. An account of the theory and its implications.

Rolling Stone, "'Origin of AIDS' update", 9 December 1993, p. 39. Publication of this "Clarification" was part of the settlement of Koprowski's defamation action against Rolling Stone and Tom Curtis.

Brian Martin, "Peer review and the origin of AIDS -- a case study in rejected ideas", BioScience, vol. 43, no. 9, October 1993, pp. 624-627. An account of the theory and the response to it.

B. F. Elswood and R. B. Stricker, "Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS", Research in Virology, vol. 144, 1993, pp. 175-177. A letter to the editor presenting the theory plus a critical reply from the editorial board. Blaine Elswood can be contacted at Blaine.Elswood@snow.edu.

Louis Pascal, "Preliminary notes concerning shortcomings of a correspondence by Y. Ohta, et al.", 8 May 1993 (previously unpublished). A critique of a scientific paper cited by Koprowski and by Basilico et al. in the case against the polio-vaccine theory.

Tom Curtis, unpublished letter to Science, 30 September 1992. This letter rejected by Science was a response to Koprowski's letter in Science attacking the polio-vaccine theory.

Claudio Basilico et al., Report from the AIDS/Poliovirus Advisory Committee, 18 September 1992. Stimulated by Curtis's article in Rolling Stone, the Wistar Institute set up an independent committee to examine the theory. This is its report, which was never formally published.

Hilary Koprowski, "AIDS and the polio vaccine" (letter), Science, vol. 257, 21 August 1992, pp. 1024, 1026-1027; correction, 11 September 1992, p. 1463. This is a reply to Tom Curtis's article in Rolling Stone and is one of the few published critiques of the theory.

Raanan Gillon, "A startling 19,000-word thesis on the origin of AIDS: should the JME have published it?", Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 18, 1992, pp. 3-4. The editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics summarises Pascal's argument, explains why JME rejected it, and notes its importance and availability.

Tom Curtis, "The origin of AIDS", Rolling Stone, Issue 626, 19 March 1992, pp. 54-59, 61, 106, 108. This article gave the theory its first wide visibility. Based on a version of the theory developed independently by Blaine Elswood, it was investigated and reported on by Tom Curtis. Tom Curtis can be contacted at tcurtis@utmb.edu.

Louis Pascal, "What happens when science goes bad", Science and Technology Analysis Working Paper #9, University of Wollongong, December 1991. This was the first major published account of the theory. Hard copies are available free from Brian Martin, bmartin@uow.edu.au, on request. Please include your postal address.


List of references

This material is located on the website on suppression of dissent.

Go to Brian Martin's website

email: bmartin@uow.edu.au

Revised 16 May 2016
I thank Julian Cribb, Tom Curtis, Blaine Elswood and Edward Hooper for helpful comments on this page.