A university professor in Italy is under investigation for teaching and directing studies which deny any link between the HIV virus and AIDS. This has caused public outcry and has triggered an inquiry by the University of Florence.
The University of Florence has launched an inquiry into a professor who taught a course and supervised student dissertations which deny any link between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Such a denial of the link runs against all conventional scientific thinking.
The professor, who is employed as a molecular biologist, Marco Ruggiero faces a special inquiry. According to the science journal Nature, the University is looking into whether Ruggiero's “conduct complies with the institutional guidelines on teaching contents and adherence to the objectives of the official curriculum of biological sciences”.
The controversy surrounding the incident was sparked by a debate within an online discussion forum dedicated to discussing medical issues surrounding HIV and AIDS. The group sent a letter to the university's chancellor Alberto Tesi. The letter called upon the university to disassociate itself from such “bad science and activities".
The letter goes on to state:
“We believe in the fundamental role of freedom of research and teaching. But we also believe that, in order not to discredit the value of academic freedom, it is imperative that scientific method will always be rigorously applied, and that it is mandatory to prevent damage to life and health of patients from whoever, misusing that freedom, spreads theories lacking any scientific evidence.”
Another professor at the university, Fabio Marra, is quoted on the blog "Denying AIDS and other oddities" as saying:
"I believe that every researcher has the right to submit his or her work through peer-reviewed journals, no matter how little credibility that data may have. What is not acceptable is that personal theories, that are not supported by the weight of evidence, are taught to students that do not yet have the skills to form an independent opinion and to discriminate what they are being taught from what the bulk of the literature has shown.”
According to The Scientist Ruggiero has a long history of denying any HIV/AIDS link and had recently co-authored a paper which disputed the mortality estimates of an HIV-AIDS epidemic in South Africa and the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs.
The university's special commission is set to report on April 15.