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Greater oversight but no sanctions for Italian AIDS contrarian

Marco Ruggiero

Courtesy of M. Ruggiero

Posted on behalf of Zoë Corbyn.

An Italian university’s inquiry into the teaching activities of an academic who assisted on a course that denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and supervised students with dissertations on the same topic, has concluded with no disciplinary sanctions. But molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero’s teaching activities will be more closely supervised in the future, and some of his work has been referred to the Italian medical board.

The outcome of the University of Florence investigation into the “teaching behaviour and responsibility” of Ruggiero, previously reported by Nature (see ‘Inquiry launched over AIDS contrarian’s teaching‘), was announced last week.

The inquiry followed a letter of complaint to the institution’s rector by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease.

It found no “elements of responsibility such as to require adoption of disciplinary measures”. However, the topics of the undergraduate dissertations he supervises are to undergo “deeper and detailed checks” to ensure their compatibility with the bachelor in biological sciences course. Ruggiero will also need to confirm his teaching programme — which he is understood to be now reviewing — with the head of the degree course, and he has been warned not to publish inaccurate online news damaging the image and the reputation of the university.

The Ordine dei Medici — the Italian medical board — has also been informed of Ruggiero’s alleged clinical experiments involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt as a potential cure for HIV, for which there is no proven evidence. The authority is responsible for licensing and registration of physicians and for hearing complaints about professional conduct.

Ruggiero told Nature the outcome was a victory both for him and the freedom of research and teaching. “The University of [Florence] has demonstrated it is an institution where the freedom of research and teaching is guaranteed,” he says.

The HIV Forum also said there were “many reasons” it too felt satisfied with the outcome, and the decisions were “precisely” what it had hoped to obtain with its letter. “Our target was not the career of someone, but the consistency of what is taught at the University of Florence with what thirty years of scientific research tells us about HIV,” it said. “[The result confirms] freedom of research and teaching must ‘move with the scientific method’.”

One group member added the referral to the Italian medical board “at least put Ruggiero on notice that his ethics and research conduct are under close scrutiny”.

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