Koch's postulates and the etiology of AIDS: an historical perspective

Hist Philos Life Sci. 1992;14(2):249-69.


This paper examines the debate over the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) from an historical perspective. The changing criteria for proving the link between putative pathological agents and diseases are discussed, beginning with Robert Koch's research on anthrax in the late nineteenth century. Various versions of 'Koch's postulates' are analyzed in relation to the necessity and sufficiency arguments of logical reasoning. In addition, alterations to Koch's postulates are delineated, specifically those required by the discovery of rickettsiae and viruses in the early twentieth century and by the immunological testing developed after mid-century to demonstrate the links between elusive viral agents and two diseases, hepatitis B and infectious mononucleosis. From this perspective, an examination of the AIDS debate is constructed. Molecular biologist Peter Duesberg's argument that HIV is not the cause of AIDS is analyzed in light of his contention that a version of Koch's postulates has not been satisfied. Additional research findings through 1990 relating to the etiology of AIDS are also noted.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / history*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / immunology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / microbiology
  • Anthrax / history*
  • Anthrax / immunology
  • Anthrax / microbiology
  • Germany
  • Hepatitis B / history
  • Hepatitis B / immunology
  • Hepatitis B / microbiology
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / history
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / immunology
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / microbiology
  • Microbiology / history*
  • Molecular Biology / history
  • Virology / history*

Personal name as subject

  • R Koch