Protesters organized by GLAAD and ACT UP New York demonstrated Monday at Simon & Schuster’s headquarters in Manhattan to demand that the publisher cease distributing a book that questions if HIV causes AIDS.
The Real AIDS Epidemic: How the Tragic HIV Mistake Threatens Us All by Rebecca Culshaw is coming out Tuesday from Skyhorse Publishing, a distribution client of Simon & Schuster. That means Simon & Schuster is responsible for shipping the book and other functions.
An open letter led by ACT UP NY and signed by more than 500 organizations and individuals was delivered to Simon & Schuster last week. It’s addressed to the company’s president and CEO, Jonathan Karp.
“In the midst of coexisting pandemics and public health outbreaks, we know the dire and deadly consequences of spreading misinformation and denialism,” it reads in part. “It is disappointing that a book like Culshaw’s is on a roster of your releases in 2023, but you still have a chance to reverse this decision. We are asking you to reconsider this book deal and stop its distribution.
“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. 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. Research has shown conclusively that misinformation and denialism do material harm to HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment.”
For instance, the letter notes, there is great reluctance among Black Americans to use HIV prevention medication in a strategy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. “While 67 percent of white people recommended for PrEP have access to the drug, astonishingly, only 8 percent of Black people eligible – who also disproportionately make up a majority of new HIV transmissions – are currently using the medication,” it says.
Culshaw has authored other works that ACT UP calls denialist, including the 2007 book Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS? and the 2006 paper “Mathematical Modeling of AIDS Progression: Limitations, Expectations, and Future Directions.”
The letter demands that Simon & Schuster end plans to distribute the book, assess the public health impact of other planned releases, and “create a public health working group to assure community members that this will not happen again.”
“It is unimaginable that Simon & Schuster, one of the largest and most respected publishing companies in America, would distribute a book by an author with a history of spreading false and scientifically disproven beliefs regarding HIV,” said a statement from Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “In an era where misinformation spreads faster than truth, Rebecca V. Culshaw’s rhetoric has the potential to result in devastating consequences for people living with HIV. While HIV is now manageable, it is still an epidemic, particularly in the South, where racism, homophobia, HIV stigma, and the lack of access to high-quality healthcare continue to fuel an HIV crisis in communities of color. With the release of Culshaw’s book, Simon & Schuster is choosing profit over public health in an alarming partnership that should concern us all.”
“Research has shown conclusively that misinformation and denialism do material harm to HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment,” said a statement from ACT UP NY. “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.”
As part of the protest, messages from ACT UP NY are being displayed all day on a billboard truck outside Simon & Schuster headquarters.
A Simon & Schuster representative toldSalonthat the company has no say in Skyhorse’s editorial decisions and cannot choose to distribute certain titles and not others.