Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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Larry Altman unfairly accused of rushing to judgment on HIV

May 29th, 2006


The young correspondent did a fine job after all in 1984 – but what happened since to him and Wade?

So why is it that the distinguished, humanitarian and responsible Nicholas Kristof, and other important Times reporters who touch on AIDS, perform no better in taking the lid off the HIV?AIDS scientific scandal than the ex-President, the philanthropic robber baron, the ex US representative at the UN, the glamorous humanitarian rock star and other apparently uninformed players in the currently hot political game of pushing HIV?AIDS drugs in underdeveloped countries?

Is it perhaps because they defer to the Science desk at the Times, led by the celebrated Larry Altman, graduate of CDC training, or the Editorial department, where Nicholas Wade roosts, apparently having forgotten his youthful idealism as the co-author of Betrayers of the Truth?

As a matter of fact, Wade as the co-author of Betrayal of the Truth was on the job in earlier days at the Times, calling attention to scientists’ reluctance to correct false claims as far back as 1988. Somehow since then he appears to have forgotten what he wrote in “The Editorial Notebook; The Unhealthy Infallibility of Science” on June 13, 1988 (see “show” below), since by his own admission to us a few months ago he has left Duesberg’s 2003 Biociences paper, one of the most important papers published in the last ten years, unread:

A woman contracted the AIDS virus merely by kissing, a group of researchers reported in 1984. This ominous finding is still being cited as fact, yet the authors have long known it is incorrect. Further tests showed the woman had not been infected after all, Lawrence Altman reported recently in The Times. But it was not until four months ago that the original error was acknowledged, in the footnotes of another scientist’s article.

“The Editorial Notebook; The Unhealthy Infallibility of Science

By NICHOLAS WADE (NYT) 641 words Published: June 13, 1988

Some strangled sounds have been emerging recently from the community of academic scientists. They’re the noise of errors that no one wants to correct. Scientific leaders, loath to address the causes of poor quality in research, have not seriously begun to develop efficient methods for correcting erroneous claims.

A woman contracted the AIDS virus merely by kissing, a group of researchers reported in 1984. This ominous finding is still being cited as fact, yet the authors have long known it is incorrect. Further tests showed the woman had not been infected after all, Lawrence Altman reported recently in The Times. But it was not until four months ago that the original error was acknowledged, in the footnotes of another scientist’s article.

In April, a House committee under John Dingell investigated fraud and misconduct in science, including an article on immunology, published by scientists at M.I.T. and Tufts University, that had been challenged on its reporting of data. A Congressional committee is not the ideal forum to adjudicate scientific claims. Yet the dispute landed there because of repeated failures to resolve it within scientific channels.

Why is it apparently so hard for scientists to retract or modify a published claim? Published papers help secure Federal grants and academic tenure, boons that might be impeded by frequent corrections and retractions. Though more responsible journals try conscientiously to screen out flawed articles, the rejected papers simply get printed elsewhere. To oblige credit-seeking authors, some 40,000 scientific journals are now published. Quantity is routing quality.

Researchers who want to pad their resumes with long lists of mediocre articles can easily evade the present quality control system. For two years Robert Slutsky, a medical researcher at the University of California, San Diego, published papers at the extraordinary rate of one every ten days, many in leading journals. Instead of questioning his remarkable productivity, his colleagues happily shared in the credit by letting him add their names to these works. When it was finally discovered that Mr. Slutsky was reporting data without the tedium of doing experiments, a faculty committee was asked to investigate. ”The academic review process admired quantity at the expense of quality,” the committee concluded in a 1986 report.

The quality of scientific literature could be improved by some simple expedients. One would be for universities to require researchers to preserve the data on which published articles are based. Surprisingly, this is not current practice. Scientists should be expected to make their data freely available to others, without challenging the seeker’s motives or credentials. This hardly revolutionary principle might encourage researchers to report their data objectively.

Journal editors could discourage the widespread and corrosive practice of honorary authorships by requiring each author’s contribution to be stated explicitly in a footnote. If journals reserved regular spaces for corrections, like those found in newspapers, statements of error might become less traumatic. Federal agencies could enhance the quality of the scientific literature by reducing indiscriminate subsidies for the printing and purchasing of scientific journals.

Many researchers, with some justice, consider erroneous claims in science to be a trivial issue. Most scientific papers, right or wrong, are quickly forgotten; progress builds only on the best. But without effective quality control or mechanisms for correcting errors, bad science can pollute the good, at least for a time. Congress is puzzled at the persistent trickle of scientific fraud and scientists’ insouciance about it. The appearance of infallibility ill befits an enterprise meant to flourish by self-correction.

Why is Larry late to the notHIV party?

On the basis, however, of medical correspondent Larry Altman’s past performance over the last two decades in reporting the inconsistencies of HIV?AIDS, paradoxes which loom as large as elephants to outside observers but are apparently as invisible to him as they are to the scientists who promote the paradigm, it seems plausible that Kristof, if he bothered to read Celia Farber’s piece in Harper’s with any attention at all in March, then asked either Wade or Altman about it, and was told to ignore it as old hat and disproven years ago.

The supporters of the dissent in HIV?AIDS science certainly believe that is likely. They count Larry Altman as the one reporter most responsible for the twenty years debacle whereby the entire world has adopted a belief that HIV is “the virus that causes AIDS” despite the complete absence of scientific grounds for thinking so, either then or since.

For it was Larry who in 1984 failed to appreciate that even the self promoting Gallo had not dared to use a phrase stronger in his soon-to-be-published papers than “strong evidence of a causative involvement of the virus in AIDS”, and “the data..suggest that HTLV-III is the primary cause of AIDS”. The NCI press release was similarly retrained: “Scientists at the National Cancer Institute have strong evidence that variants of a human cancer virus are the primary cause of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).”

A more alert correspondent might have asked himself, and perhaps Robert Gallo at the press conference, how likely it was that viruses whose variant caused cancer – cell multiplying, in other words – would cause the death of human T-calls – cell killing, in other words. Or even more pertinent, why it was that HIV, which made a very poor showing, having been found in only a third of the cases Gallo had tested, was the culprit, when cytomegalovirus was found in 97 per cent?

But the CDC trained Larry was apparently too anxious to rush to his typewriter and gain the front page of the Times to think of such quibbles. Indeed, such was his enthusiasm that he wrote that the soon to be celebrated Gallo had found “the cause of AIDS”. Under the sober headline “New U.S. Report Names Virus That May Cause AIDS”, a cautious phrase that des credit to whoever wrote it, the lead was “Federal researchers announced today that they had found a virus that they believe is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.” Within a couple of paragraphs this had morphed into “the virus that causes AIDS ” as in “the Federal researchers said they had developed a test that could reliably detect the virus that causes AIDS in blood that is donated.”

But is this the whole truth? We believe that inside the imperturbable CDC-NIH defender that is Altman in most of his columns for the Times there is a small wild-haired dissenter trying to slip his manacles, however subtly.

For example in this first account, the seminal story of the continuing saga of HIV?AIDS that ensued, an entire paragraph followed making the point that the findings had yet to be confirmed, and saying that Luc Montagnier’s LAV, already announced the previous summer, could be one and the same virus.

Even as the French and American researchers’ confidence has grown steadily in recent weeks, a degree of uncertainty still clings to the findings, and the tension of the exhaustive search was apparent in interviews and visits to the research facilities. There was a sense of quiet triumph in the halls of the Atlanta centers last week, but the euphoria that might have been expected was tempered by the knowledge that months of research are still required to firmly ascertain whether LAV and HTLV-3 are the same, and whether the virus is the cause of AIDS. Dr. Robert C. Gallo of the National Cancer Institute, who headed the team that is reporting its findings in four papers in the journal Science, said that if the two viruses ”turn out to be the same I will say so.”

In fact, to give him his full due Larry made it uncomfortably (for Gallo) clear that Montagnier had precedence in the discovery, having said in the third sentence of the article that

The announcement follows the attention recently given to the discovery of a virus called LAV by researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The head of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said over the weekend that he believed the LAV virus was the cause of AIDS.

and that Margaret Heckler, the Secretary of Health, thought the viruses were the same.

Margaret M. Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said today that she thought the two viruses ”will prove to be the same.”

Having worked at the Times throughout this entire affair of HIV?AIDS and its supposed pandemic threat, which is according to a careful reading of its literature now exposed rather embarrassingly as possibly the biggest scientific bandwagon and boondoggle ever, Larry is hardly likely not to appreciate that the whole thing smells wrong, even if he knows that it would be very difficult for the Times to cover it if the NIH was alienated by new coverage of Duesberg and his allies, of which there has been remarkably little over the decades in the Times.

And of course with every passing year it becomes more and more deadly to the Times to have to admit that their coverage in two decades of the front page medical and policy issue of HIV?AIDS has on the face of it reflected a culpable lack of curiosity, intelligence and sophistication hardly excusable in a student at the Columbia School of Journalism, one which has if the HIV?AIDS theory is an unfounded as the scientific literature has long said it is, cost many people their lives through mismedication.

But on the other hand, as we say, it is difficult to believe that Altman has not knowingly sold out in this manner, because he has shown a remarkably even handed tendency over the years in his copious coverage (over 700 stories mentioning AIDS) of HIV?AIDS to let the doubts about the science peep through – doubts about the new superstrain of HIV, the AIDS conference as a ‘political circus’, or The AIDS Questions That Linger , and a handful of others that suggest he is not excusively the handmaiden of the paradigm. But perhaps we are imagining things, for he otherwise consistently serves as a conduit for anything officials or scientists like to announce.

Recently, moreover, he covered the problem of prejudiced and inadequate peer review (see May 2 post, Sleepy gatekeepers: Times’ Larry Altman covers the problems of peer review) and demonstrated a sophisticated appreciation of that problem, which is one that underlies the whole scientifically absurd structure of HIV?AIDS ideology. For if mainstream papers in the field had been given the same excessively rigorous inspection that Peter Duesberg’s papers on the topic of HIV-is-not-the-cause-of-AIDS received, we can be sure that fewer of them would have been published, and Robert Gallo would not have been the most referenced scientist in the world in the late 80s.

But Altman is without question aware of all the pressures and flaws which can derail good science, as his fine Gatekeepers essay three weeks ago showed. What happened since 1984? In all these years, according to the Times search “Lawrence Altman Duesberg”, he has mentioned Peter Duesberg precisely once, in a co-authored report from South Africa at a moment when the Times was forced briefly to recognize the continuing life in Duesberg’s challenge to the consensus wisdom.

Yet it seems to us that then too Altman’s report was balanced and fair under the circumstances – though once again one has to ask, unless Larry in the most incurious of reporters, he must (unless he merely rewrote Rachel Swarn’s report in his chair at Times Square) have familiarized himself with the force of the Duesberg critique, and been moved to write about it – and therefore since he did never did, politics must have stepped in the way, via his editors or via his own discretion relative to Anthony Fauci, and the rest of the signatories of the infamous Durban Declaration of the same moment, which by the way without doubt is still the most blatant signal of the decline of science, and its transformation from a vocation to a profession in its attitudes and politics, that has been seen in this era.

The declaration was intended as a scientific statement, Dr. van der Horst said. But he said the South African government viewed it as a political statement. After the declaration was released last week, a spokesman for the president, Parks Mankahlana, said it should be thrown in the dustbin.

(See AIDS Forum in South Africa Opens Knotted in Disputes,

July 10, 2000

AIDS Forum in South Africa Opens Knotted in Disputes

By RACHEL L. SWARNS AND LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

Opening the first international conference on AIDS held in a developing country, President Thabo Mbeki today singled out extreme poverty, rather than the disease ravaging his country and continent, as the leading killer both here and across Africa.

South Africa is the country with the largest number of people infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS — 4.2 million. And its president, who has become embroiled in an international dispute over the disease, pledged to intensify his response to the AIDS epidemic. But he dashed the hopes of thousands of participants, and noisy protesters, who wanted to hear him state clearly that H.I.V. causes AIDS.

Instead, President Mbeki skirted the discussion that has arisen because he has questioned the use of certain drugs in treating H.I.V. and has even questioned whether the virus causes AIDS.

Among the many researchers he has contacted in his quest to understand the epidemic are two American biochemists, Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick, who argue that poverty and malnutrition, not H.I.V., cause AIDS. When word of this consultation became public, international consternation arose.

As Mr. Mbeki described his attempts to understand how one of the worst epidemics in history had enveloped his country just as it had freed itself from apartheid, he reflected on AIDS and a long list of other diseases afflicting his country.

”As I listened and heard the whole story told about our own country, it seemed to me that we could not blame everything on a single virus,” Mr. Mbeki said.

The 13th international conference on AIDS is being held here as United Nations officials have been intensifying the alarm about H.I.V., which infects 34.3 million people in the world, mostly in Africa.

Minutes after Mr. Mbeki finished, Dr. Peter Piot, the head of Unaids, a United Nations program that monitors the spread of AIDS, said it would require at least $3 billion a year to take basic measures in Africa to deal with the disease and tens of billions of dollars more each year to provide in Africa the standard drugs used in developed countries.

The $3 billion figure is 10 times what is now being spent in Africa, Dr. Piot said. Unaids estimates that 90 percent of people with H.I.V. do not know that they are infected.

”We need billions, not millions, to fight AIDS in the world,” Dr. Piot said, and ”we can’t fight an epidemic of this magnitude with peanuts.”

In news conferences and interviews, Dr. Piot said he welcomed a pledge of $500 million from the World Bank this weekend as a positive step. The rest, he said, needs to come from the affected African countries and the developed countries.

He urged developed countries to cancel the $15 billion in debt repayments that African countries owe each year, so the countries could use the money for health care and social services for AIDS and other diseases.

But political will is as important as money in stopping the AIDS epidemic, he said.

In the last six years, scientists and AIDS activists have repeatedly accused South African leaders of a lack of leadership in combating the AIDS epidemic. In 1993, H.I.V. infected 4 percent of South Africa’s adult population. Now, the figure is 20 percent.

Tonight, as those taking part in the conference drifted out of the cricket grounds where Mr. Mbeki spoke, many left feeling disappointed.

”We, the majority of South African scientists, would have liked a clear, unequivocal statement about the relationship between H.I.V. and AIDS rather than the hints he made,” said Alan Whiteside, who heads the AIDS research program at the University of Natal in Durban.

Mr. Whiteside and others said they were encouraged by Mr. Mbeki’s pledge to intensify his recently announced program to encourage safer sex practices and to sponsor additional research into drug therapy and a possible vaccine.

Thousands of people held a protest rally at City Hall before the meeting opened, with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and others in the crowd berating the government for failing to speak frankly about the link between H.I.V. and AIDS and lagging in its efforts to fight the epidemic.

”AIDS exists,” said Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela and a political leader in her own right. ”H.I.V. causes AIDS. We cannot proclaim this century the African century and then ignore the AIDS pandemic as some political leaders are.”

Mr. Mbeki did speak about the heavy toll that H.I.V. and AIDS take on young people. He also spoke about the toll from malaria, cholera, syphilis and ”other illnesses with complicated Latin names,” along with vitamin A deficiency, which he said were among the diseases of poverty.

The text of Mr. Mbeki’s remarks released in advance of his speech said: ”The world’s biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe, including South Africa, is extreme poverty.”

He omitted that passage when he spoke but cited a 1995 report by the World Health Organization that described poverty as the world’s largest killer. ”Five years later,” he added, ”the essential elements of this story have not changed.”

A strong hint that Mr. Mbeki would disappoint most of those taking part in the AIDS conference in not saying that H.I.V. causes AIDS came earlier in the day when scientists canceled a news conference because of what they said was pressure from the South African government.

The news conference had been scheduled to discuss a statement signed by 5,000 scientists around the world, known as the Durban Declaration. It affirmed that scientific evidence supporting the link between H.I.V. and AIDS was ”clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous” and was published in the July 6 issue of the scientific journal Nature after review by scientific peers.

But the news conference was unexpectedly canceled minutes before it was to have begun. The reason was that ”the South African government put pressure on us” and threatened to dismiss any signer who worked for the government, said Dr. Charles van der Horst, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina who signed the declaration.

In an interview, Dr. van der Horst declined to name the government official who had made the call and said the South African scientist who had received it was a signer of the declaration. Dr. van der Horst said he had been told that the official had spoken on behalf of Mr. Mbeki.

Tasneem Carrima, a spokeswoman for Mr. Mbeki, denied knowledge of any such threat. ”We certainly would not threaten anybody,” she said.

The declaration came in response to Mr. Mbeki’s decision to appoint a panel to review the claims of dissidents who do not believe that H.I.V. causes AIDS, Dr. van der Horst said. The panel included such dissidents as well as signers of the declaration.

”We thought no one would give the denialists credence, and we were wrong,” Dr. van der Horst said.

He criticized the scientific community for not having published a summary statement earlier of all of the scientific evidence that H.I.V. causes AIDS. Now, by giving a platform to a small group of dissidents, Mr. Mbeki has helped to divert efforts to fight AIDS, Dr. van der Horst said.

Several scientists say that becoming embroiled in new arguments over the causes of AIDS diverts attention and resources from finding a solution.

The declaration was intended as a scientific statement, Dr. van der Horst said. But he said the South African government viewed it as a political statement. After the declaration was released last week, a spokesman for the president, Parks Mankahlana, said it should be thrown in the dustbin.

This week, Mr. Mbeki’s government tempered its stringent criticism of anti-H.I.V. drug therapy by announcing that it had reversed its view about AZT, a drug it had deemed unsafe for pregnant women.

In discussing his administration’s plan to battle AIDS and responding to critics, Mr. Mbeki said that ”there is no substance to the allegation that there is any hesitation on the part of our government to confront the challenge of H.I.V-AIDS.”

Dr. Piot said developing countries, though poor, would have to spend more on AIDS, because ”it is about the survival of the nation.”

Mr. Mbeki and Dr. Piot are leaving the conference early to attend a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Lome, Togo, at which AIDS is to be discussed.

Correction: July 13, 2000, Thursday An article on Monday about the opening of an international conference on AIDS in South Africa misspelled the surname in some copies of a scientist who signed a statement affirming the link between H.I.V. and AIDS. He is Dr. Charles van der Horst, not van der Host.

Here is his key “Science’s Gatekeepers” piece again:

The New York Times

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May 2, 2006

The Doctor’s World

For Science’s Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.

Recent disclosures of fraudulent or flawed studies in medical and scientific journals have called into question as never before the merits of their peer-review system.

The system is based on journals inviting independent experts to critique submitted manuscripts. The stated aim is to weed out sloppy and bad research, ensuring the integrity of the what it has published.

Because findings published in peer-reviewed journals affect patient care, public policy and the authors’ academic promotions, journal editors contend that new scientific information should be published in a peer-reviewed journal before it is presented to doctors and the public.

That message, however, has created a widespread misimpression that passing peer review is the scientific equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Virtually every major scientific and medical journal has been humbled recently by publishing findings that are later discredited. The flurry of episodes has led many people to ask why authors, editors and independent expert reviewers all failed to detect the problems before publication.

The publication process is complex. Many factors can allow error, even fraud, to slip through. They include economic pressures for journals to avoid investigating suspected errors; the desire to avoid displeasing the authors and the experts who review manuscripts; and the fear that angry scientists will withhold the manuscripts that are the lifeline of the journals, putting them out of business.By promoting the sanctity of peer review and using it to justify a number of their actions in recent years, journals have added to their enormous power.

The release of news about scientific and medical findings is among the most tightly managed in country. Journals control when the public learns about findings from taxpayer-supported research by setting dates when the research can be published. They also impose severe restrictions on what authors can say publicly, even before they submit a manuscript, and they have penalized authors for infractions by refusing to publish their papers. Exceptions are made for scientific meetings and health emergencies.

But many authors have still withheld information for fear that journals would pull their papers for an infraction. Increasingly, journals and authors’ institutions also send out news releases ahead of time about a peer-reviewed discovery so that reports from news organizations coincide with a journal’s date of issue.

A barrage of news reports can follow. But often the news release is sent without the full paper, so reports may be based only on the spin created by a journal or an institution.

Journal editors say publicity about corrections and retractions distorts and erodes confidence in science, which is an honorable business. Editors also say they are gatekeepers, not detectives, and that even though peer review is not intended to detect fraud, it catches flawed research and improves the quality of the thousands of published papers.

However, even the system’s most ardent supporters acknowledge that peer review does not eliminate mediocre and inferior papers and has never passed the very test for which it is used. Studies have found that journals publish findings based on sloppy statistics. If peer review were a drug, it would never be marketed, say critics, including journal editors.

None of the recent flawed studies have been as humiliating as an article in 1972 in the journal Pediatrics that labeled sudden infant death syndrome a hereditary disorder, when, in the case examined, the real cause was murder.

Twenty-three years later, the mother was convicted of smothering her five children. Scientific naïveté surely contributed to the false conclusion, but a forensic pathologist was not one of the reviewers. The faulty research in part prompted the National Institutes of Health to spend millions of dollars on a wrong line of research.

Fraud, flawed articles and corrections have haunted general interest news organizations. But such problems are far more embarrassing for scientific journals because of their claims for the superiority of their system of editing.

A widespread belief among nonscientists is that journal editors and their reviewers check authors’ research firsthand and even repeat the research. In fact, journal editors do not routinely examine authors’ scientific notebooks. Instead, they rely on peer reviewers’ criticisms, which are based on the information submitted by the authors.

While editors and reviewers may ask authors for more information, journals and their invited experts examine raw data only under the most unusual circumstances.

In that respect, journal editors are like newspaper editors, who check the content of reporters’ copy for facts and internal inconsistencies but generally not their notes. Still, journal editors have refused to call peer review what many others say it is — a form of vetting or technical editing.

In spot checks, many scientists and nonscientists said they believed that editors decided what to publish by counting reviewers’ votes. But journal editors say that they are not tally clerks and that decisions to publish are theirs, not the reviewers’.

Editors say they have accepted a number of papers that reviewers have harshly criticized as unworthy of publication and have rejected many that received high plaudits.

Many nonscientists perceive reviewers to be impartial. But the reviewers, called independent experts, in fact are often competitors of the authors of the papers they scrutinize, raising potential conflicts of interest.

Except when gaffes are publicized, there is little scrutiny of the quality of what journals publish.

Journals have rejected calls to make the process scientific by conducting random audits like those used to monitor quality control in medicine. The costs and the potential for creating distrust are the most commonly cited reasons for not auditing.

In defending themselves, journal editors often shift blame to the authors and excuse themselves and their peer reviewers.

Journals seldom investigate frauds that they have published, contending that they are not investigative bodies and that they could not afford the costs. Instead, the journals say that the investigations are up to the accused authors’ employers and agencies that financed the research.

Editors also insist that science corrects its errors. But corrections often require whistle-blowers or prodding by lawyers. Editors at The New England Journal of Medicine said they would not have learned about a problem that led them to publish two letters of concern about omission of data concerning the arthritis drug Vioxx unless lawyers for the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, had asked them questions in depositions. Fraud has also slipped through in part because editors have long been loath to question the authors.

“A request from an editor for primary data to support the honesty of an author’s findings in a manuscript under review would probably poison the air and make civil discourse between authors and editors even more difficult than it is now,” Dr. Arnold S. Relman wrote in 1983. At the time, he was editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, and it had published a fraudulent paper.

Fraud is a substantial problem, and the attitude toward it has changed little over the years, other editors say. Some journals fail to retract known cases of fraud for fear of lawsuits.

Journals have no widely accepted way to retract papers, said Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, after the it retracted two papers by the South Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who fabricated evidence that he had cloned human cells.

In the April 18 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, its editor, Dr. Harold C. Sox, wrote about lessons learned after the journal retracted an article on menopause by Dr. Eric Poehlman of the University of Vermont.

When an author is found to have fabricated data in one paper, scientists rarely examine all of that author’s publications, so the scientific literature may be more polluted than believed, Dr. Sox said.

Dr. Sox and other scientists have documented that invalid work is not effectively purged from the scientific literature because the authors of new papers continue to cite retracted ones.

When journals try to retract discredited papers, Dr. Sox said, the process is slow, and the system used to inform readers faulty. Authors often use euphemisms instead of the words “fabrication” or “research misconduct,” and finding published retractions can be costly because some affected journals charge readers a fee to visit their Web sites to learn about them, Dr. Sox said.

Despite its flaws, scientists favor the system in part because they need to publish or perish. The institutions where the scientists work and the private and government agencies that pay for their grants seek publicity in their eagerness to show financial backers results for their efforts.

The public and many scientists tend to overlook the journals’ economic benefits that stem from linking their embargo policies to peer review. Some journals are owned by private for-profit companies, while others are owned by professional societies that rely on income from the journals. The costs of running journals are low because authors and reviewers are generally not paid.

A few journals that not long ago measured profits in the tens of thousands of dollars a year now make millions, according to at least three editors who agreed to discuss finances only if granted anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak about finances.

Any influential system that profits from taxpayer-financed research should be held publicly accountable for how the revenues are spent. Journals generally decline to disclose such data.

Although editors of some journals say they demand statements from their editing staff members that they have no financial conflicts of interest, there is no way to be sure. At least one editor of a leading American journal had to resign because of conflicts of interest with industry.

Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry, say Dr. Richard Smith, the former editor of BMJ, the British medical journal, and Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, also based in Britain.

The journals rely on revenues from industry advertisements. But because journals also profit handsomely by selling drug companies reprints of articles reporting findings from large clinical trials involving their products, editors may “face a frighteningly stark conflict of interest” in deciding whether to publish such a study, Dr. Smith said.

And here is his original Virus That May Cause AIDS report from April 24, 1984:NEW U.S. REPORT NAMES VIRUS THAT MAY CAUSE AIDS

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.:

April 24, 1984

NEW U.S. REPORT NAMES VIRUS THAT MAY CAUSE AIDS

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.

Federal researchers announced today that they had found a virus that they believe is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

They called it HTLV-3 and said they had developed a process to mass-produce it for the purpose of developing the tools needed to finally conquer the mysterious disease that has afflicted more than 4,000 Americans.

The announcement follows the attention recently given to the discovery of a virus called LAV by researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The head of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said over the weekend that he believed the LAV virus was the cause of AIDS.

Margaret M. Heckler, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said today that she thought the two viruses ”will prove to be the same.”

With the new process, the Federal researchers said they had developed a test that could reliably detect the virus that causes AIDS in blood that is donated for a wide variety of uses, including the treatment hemophilia. They said they applied for a patent on the process today and that they expected the test to be widely available within six months.

The optimism surrounding the American and French research appears to reflect a high point in what has been one of the most challenging international scientific efforts to battle any modern disease.

Finding the cause of AIDS will not necessarily lead to any treatment of the disease soon, nor will it necessarily result in a method of prevention. But the finding led the American researchers to express the hope that a vaccine would be developed and ready for testing ”in about two years.”

Even as the French and American researchers’ confidence has grown steadily in recent weeks, a degree of uncertainty still clings to the findings, and the tension of the exhaustive search was apparent in interviews and visits to the research facilities. There was a sense of quiet triumph in the halls of the Atlanta centers last week, but the euphoria that might have been expected was tempered by the knowledge that months of research are still required to firmly ascertain whether LAV and HTLV-3 are the same, and whether the virus is the cause of AIDS. Dr. Robert C. Gallo of the National Cancer Institute, who headed the team that is reporting its findings in four papers in the journal Science, said that if the two viruses ”turn out to be the same I will say so.”

Dr. Gallo said he had isolated the virus from more than 50 patients and had detected evidence of antibodies that are a kind of record of the existence of the virus in the blood in about 85 percent of patients with AIDS and in about 80 percent of patients with a condition he called pre-AIDS.

After the first cases of AIDS were recognized in New York and California in 1981, Federal researchers quickly identified homosexual and bisexual males as the primary group affected. Epidemiologists also identified intravenous drug users, people of Haitian descent and hemophiliacs as other groups at risk of AIDS.

Early in the course of the investigation, Federal epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta determined that a transmissible agent was the only plausible factor that could satisfactorily explain the cause of AIDS in such widely different risk groups. The researchers said they strongly suspected that the transmissible agent was a micro-organism and they presumed it was a virus.

After initial tests failed to identify any known virus – or any other micro-organism – as the cause, researchers turned their attention to a new group called retroviruses. Retroviruses are so named because they contain an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that can copy the RNA of the virus into the DNA form, thus reversing the usual direction of the flow of genetic information.

By May 1983, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, the Harvard University School of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Kimron Veterinary Institute of Israel, New York University, the New York Veterans Administration Hospital, Litton Bionetics Inc. of Maryland and the Raymond Poincare Hospital in France published several reports in Science about a retrovirus called HTLV-1, which was put forward as the leading candidate as the cause of AIDS. HTLV-1, initially reported in 1981, had been found to cause a rare type of leukemia in southern Japan and the Caribbean islands. HTLV originally stood for human T-cell leukemia virus but now the initials are used for human T-lymphotropic retroviruses to broaden the name.

In the same issue of Science last May, a team from the Pasteur Institute in Paris reported the discovery of the LAV virus. LAV stands for lymphadenopathy-associated virus. The French researchers had isolated LAV from one of the many swollen lymph nodes in the body of a French man who said he had more than 50 homosexual partners each year and who had traveled to many European countries, North Africa, India and the United States. His last trip to New York was in 1979.

At the time of the first LAV report, Federal and other researchers said they were not excited by the prospects of that retrovirus as the cause of AIDS.

The significance of LAV began to become apparent for two reasons. One was that researchers could not detect HTLV-1 in all AIDS cases and because AIDS was rare in Japan. The other reason was the progress made by the French researchers who were expanding their studies on LAV.

The turning point came at a meeting in Park City, Utah, last January, according to one of the participants in the meeting. ”We all got very excited” at the French presentation, the scientist said. Until then, some researchers believed that the LAV was not a retrovirus but a member of an entirely different family.

Dr. Luc Montagnier said his Pasteur Institute team has isolated ”about a dozen” viruses that are either identical to or similar to LAV according to electron microscope and immunologic studies.

The viruses have been isolated from patients with AIDS or from members of the high risk groups who have swollen lymph glands throughout their body. The condition is called lymphadenopathy, and many doctors suspect that it is a form of AIDS that cannot be now diagnosed as such because of the lack of a diagnostic test.

The patients have included French men as well as people from Haiti and Zaire, two countries where large numbers of AIDS cases are being diagnosed.

One of the many challenges facing AIDS researchers is to determine why the tests for the LAV or HTLV-3 were negative in some cases of patients presumed to have AIDS.

One thesis advanced by Dr. Montagnier is that the tests themselves may not be able to detect LAV at a certain stage of the disease. Another is that the technology of LAV testing is still too crude to detect all cases.

It remains remotely possible that the viruses observed by French and American researchers are not the cause of AIDS, but part of it. They could be just a newly recognized opportunistic infection of the type that afflict AIDS victims. Opportunistic infections are those that are caused by micro-organisms that usually do not make ill those people whose immune systems are working properly.

Dr. Montagnier said that his team considered that possibility ”unlikely” because LAV was isolated from a patient whose immune system was not depressed and because similar isolates have come from people who had no evidence of a reversal of the so- called T4-T8 lymphocytes that seems to develop in patients with AIDS and suspected of having it.

After the Pasteur Institute team reported its findings with LAV, it began sending samples of the virus to any other scientific team that asked for it. As of today, Dr. Montagnier said the number of laboratories was ”about 10” and they were located throughout the United States and Europe.

Cooperation between labs was further indicated today by Dr. Gallo, who recalled that one of the French researchers had trained in his laboratory in Bethesda, Md.

The French virus was sent to Dr. Gallo at the National Cancer Institute last July, Dr. Montagnier said, ”but he told me this isolate did not work, so we sent it again in September.”

It is customary for researchers to send specimens of new organisms to other laboratories interested in the problem. But in the words of Dr. Donald Francis, who heads the Centers for Disease Control team of virologists investigating AIDS: ”Not many people are calling the French every week asking for that virus. You have to be cautious about working with what you think is the cause of AIDS.”

Because the disease at present is so insidious and incurable, it generates some fear among the public and considerable concern even among the scientists working with it.

One of the classic ways to determine if a micro-ogranism causes disease is to inject into animals. Thus, researchers at the Atlanta centers, the Pasteur Institute and elsewhere have injected the AIDS-linked viruses into animals but, as of today, none have shown any evidence of AIDS.

If the suspect viruses become indisputably linked to AIDS and a test to detect the virus in blood for transfusion is successfully developed it would be applied an estimated 23 million times a year for the 3 million blood transfusions given in the United States each year, the researchers said today.

The risk probably was not great in any case. Reassuring data already comes from tests the French researchers have made on blood donated for transfusions in France. Dr. Montagnier said that the team could find evidence of LAV in ”only one out of more than 100” units of blood tested.

Researchers are hoping that the LAV and HTLV-3 are the same. Dr. James Curran, who heads the Atlanta centers’ AIDS investigating team, said that if tests show the viruses to be different in major ways, ”then something is wrong because one virus causes AIDS.”

Dr. Curran said that there may be several other so-called co-factors involved in explaining why some who are exposed to the virus that causes AIDS get it and others do not. ”Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer,” Dr. Curran said.

It is possible that genetic factors or certain infections could act to increase the vulnerability of an individual to the virus.

Research growing out of the new work may help explain why AIDS has such a long incubation period – a period that can range apparently from nine months to more than five years.

Chimpanzee poop reveals origin of HIV in remote Cameroon

May 29th, 2006


Comic symbolism of latest research too obvious to belabor

Why did HIV suddenly pop out of nowhere to decimate the planet? According to the news today, the answer, as always, seems to be that it came from the dark continent. Well, isn’t that where everything biologically ominous comes from these days? Asia seems to be a source of false alarms so far, judging from SARS and now even bird flu. But from darkest skinned Africa come the viruses from hell, like Ebola, or equally dark skinned New Guinea, like Gadjusek’s Nobel-prize winning kuru, which is contracted by eating the brains of the dead, and has now somehow morphed into dead cow disease.

Could there be a connection between the primitivism of black African folk, as perceived by the untraveled reader, at least, and their habit of encountering strange and lethal microbes? The New York Times seems to think so. It never tires of covering the shocking, inhuman sexual and cultural behavior its pith helmeted reporters assiduously unearth in the nooks and crannies of Africa, from female circumcision resulting in higher death rates in childbirth to chucking passengers overboard if a smuggler’s boat is spotted by the Yemeni Coast Guard, or a storm approaches (see below).

Now we have confirmation of the long held suspicion that Robert Gallo first dreamed up, as we recall, the origin of the officially deadly HIV virus is Africa, where chimps possess a similar strain which can be detected in their poop. At some point in recent decades it jumped to humans. How is not mentioned. We hope they mean by man eating chimp, and not through inappropriate social relations.

Chimp Virus Is Linked to H.I.V., by Lawrence K. Altman

The New York Times

May 26, 2006

Chimp Virus Is Linked to H.I.V.

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

By studying chimpanzee droppings in remote African jungles, scientists reported yesterday, they have found direct evidence of a missing link between a chimpanzee virus and the one that causes human AIDS.

Scientists have long suspected that chimpanzees are the source of the human AIDS pandemic because at least one subspecies carries a simian immune deficiency virus closely related to H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

But because the simian virus, known as S.I.V.cpz, was identified in chimpanzees in captivity, researchers could not be sure that the same simian virus existed among these apes in the wild.

It does, the team of American, European and Cameroonian scientists reported in the journal Science. They found it by testing hundreds of chimpanzee droppings collected in Cameroon.

The genetic and immunologic tests were developed in stages over the past seven years to help trace the evolution of H.I.V. and solve the mysterious origins of AIDS, said Dr. Beatrice H. Hahn, a virologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Dr. Hahn led the international team that conducted the study, which combined genetics and epidemiology.

The new findings, she said in a telephone interview, do not explain the entire chain of events that led from the first human H.I.V. infection to the infection of 65 million people around the world.

But, Dr. Hahn reported, her team’s findings show “for the first time a clear picture of the origin of H.I.V.-1 and the seeds of the AIDS pandemic.” H.I.V.-1 is the virus that causes the vast majority of AIDS cases in the world. The first cases of AIDS were detected in the United States in 1981.

Studies estimate that the human AIDS virus jumped species 50 to 75 years ago. But no one knows who the first infected person was or how that person acquired H.I.V.

The earliest H.I.V. infection was documented in 1959 in an unidentified man in Kinshasa, in what was then the Belgian Congo and is now Congo. The man participated anonymously in a genetic study conducted by Dr. Arno Motulsky of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Dr. Hahn said her team theorized that H.I.V. was first transmitted locally somewhere in west-central Africa. Because the subspecies of chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, in which the simian virus had been found in captivity, lives in the wild in Cameroon, Gabon and the Congo Republic, the first infection could have been in any of those areas.

If the transmission occurred in southern Cameroon, where the new chimpanzee studies were conducted, an infected person or persons could have carried the virus traveling by river to Kinshasa. From there, it spread farther and eventually around the world, according to Dr. Hahn’s hypothesis.

Wild chimps are reclusive, live in remote jungle areas and form geographically distinct communities. “You can hear them, but not see them,” Dr. Hahn said.

So, with the permission of the government of Cameroon, Dr. Hahn’s team asked hunters, members of expeditions and workers sent by local health officials to collect fecal samples from the forest floor, particularly near the base of fruit trees.

Dr. Hahn sent hundreds of test tubes containing a preservative. As the trekkers collected samples they put them immediately into the test tubes and then into their backpacks. They collected 599 fecal samples in 10 forest sites in the southern part of Cameroon.

The preservative allowed the specimens to be kept for weeks, until they ended up in Dr. Hahn’s laboratory. There she tested for antibodies that detect S.I.V.cpz. She found evidence of infection with that virus in 5 of the 10 field sites.

Different DNA tests identified each individual chimp and its sex. Other tests found evidence of the simian virus.

The team found that there was widespread but uneven infection with that virus. The prevalence was up to 35 percent in three communities; 4 and 5 percent in two communities; and none in five communities.

The communities with a high prevalence of infected chimpanzees were located south of the Sangha River, which flows into the Congo River and on to Kinshasa. That led Dr. Hahn’s team to the theory that some infected person carried H.I.V. from a remote area to Kinshasa, where it was then passed on.

It is not known whether chimpanzees infected with S.I.V.cpz become ill, Dr. Hahn said. She said more collections were needed in other vast areas of Africa to provide a clearer picture of the evolution of AIDS and to determine if there were other viruses that could cause epidemics like AIDS.

Somalis Brave a Sea of Perils for Jobs Abroad

By MARC LACEY

May 29, 2006

Somalis Brave a Sea of Perils for Jobs Abroad

By MARC LACEY

BOOSAASO, Somalia, May 24 — Luckily, Farhia Ahmed Muhammad knew how to swim.

As the rickety fishing boat Ms. Muhammad and 94 other desperate souls took out of Somalia last fall approached the Yemeni coast, the smugglers forced them all overboard into the surging, shark-infested sea.

They dared not resist. The smugglers had already shot two men simply because they had begged for water. “There was no request,” said Ms. Muhammad, 17. “They just threw us in.”

It is not at all difficult to understand why people want out of Somalia, with its brutal clan warfare, its life-sapping drought and its dire poverty. In recent weeks, a surge in fighting between Islamists and Somali warlords has left hundreds dead and many more injured in Mogadishu, Somalia’s crowded capital, spurring an even greater exodus. But getting out by sea to Yemen, an illegal gateway to jobs in the Middle East, carries risks that rival those on shore.

At best, the journey across the Gulf of Aden takes two nights, if the tides are right, the boat engine does not fail and the Yemeni Coast Guard does not intercept the vessel. But it can take a week or more if something goes wrong, or the trip can be aborted halfway through, with the smugglers deciding for whatever reason to hurl the migrants over the side.

“We know there are two possibilities: life or death,” said Abdi Kareem Muhammad Mahmoud, 21, who fled Mogadishu last week with a bullet wound in his foot and came to the Somali seaside in hopes of reaching Yemen. “We heard we might make it or we might be thrown over and die. I still want to try. After all the danger I’ve been through, what is some more?”

The danger for residents of Mogadishu is huge. Militias linked to the capital’s notorious warlords — who, according to a variety of Africa analysts, have been paid by American intelligence agents to track down and capture members of Al Qaeda — have been facing off in recent weeks and months against gunmen hired by Islamist leaders trying to assert control over the anarchic city.

The recent violence in the capital is the worst since Somalia’s last central government fell 15 years ago, and of the hundreds who have died most have been civilians caught in the cross-fire.

But the death toll at sea has been even higher.

About 1,000 people have died since September, trying to make the trek from Somalia’s northern coast across the sea to Yemen. And that is just an estimate, since nobody really knows how many boats, all of them grossly overloaded, attempt the trek from the shores of the remote Puntland region in northeastern Somalia.

The only way to gauge the horrors is to count the bodies as they wash up on shore and listen to the awful tales recounted by survivors.

After being forced into the sea, Ms. Muhammad was so sapped of strength she barely got to shore in Yemen, where she stayed briefly before returning to Somalia.

Miraculously, everyone else on her boat managed to survive as well, including the six young children aboard.

The Somali smugglers are a ruthless lot. They charge $30 to $100 for passage, quite a bit since they pack 80 to 200 bodies into the fishing boats. And payment does not guarantee safe passage, not by a long shot.

If the seas get too rough, some passengers might be hurled overboard to lighten the load. If someone dares to stand up during the voyage, a whack with a stick or a gun butt is the inevitable punishment. Unaccompanied women might find themselves sexually molested by the crew in the dark.

But it is when the Yemeni Coast Guard appears and the boat owner risks losing his craft that things get even worse. The crew is likely to force all the passengers into the sea at gunpoint. If anyone hesitates, the crew will sometimes tie the hands of the passengers and throw them out, or simply shoot them.

“This is as bad as it gets,” said Dennis McNamara, the United Nations special adviser for displaced people, who visited Boosaaso this week to urge the local authorities to crack down on what he called one of the world’s worst and most overlooked illegal transit routes.

The Somali migrants make their way across harsh terrain to Boosaaso, a ramshackle port town. There, they are joined by Ethiopian refugees, who flee political persecution or set off in search a better life in the Persian Gulf states.

Those migrants, with others from as far south as Zambia, gather in hovels here by the sea, where they try to raise the money to make the journey.

Many had the fare but were robbed along the way. Work is scarce in Boosaaso, so raising enough money may take years and years of labor.

“These are the poorest of the poor,” said Mr. McNamara, who toured their wooden shacks, which lack running water and toilets and are packed together so tightly that fires regularly rage through the slums, forcing everyone to begin again.

If they do raise the money, the migrants seek out a dealer, who whispers to them the location of a gathering spot on the outskirts of the city.

As a group, the migrants head for a remote section of beach, where they are loaded aboard vessels under cover of darkness.

“It’s so dangerous, and there’s a real risk of being thrown in the sea,” said Batsieva Zerihum of the International Organization of Migration, who counsels the Ethiopian migrants gathered in Boosaaso to abandon their journey and head home.

“I talk to them, but everybody wants to try it. There are people who have tried four times and are trying it again.”

The first time Asho Ali Baree, 34, made the trip, the boat developed engine trouble, and the captain told the passengers to pray.

They did, and the boat somehow managed to find its way back to Somalia.

She was given another trip across, which made her luckier than another boatload of passengers who set off one night, only to be dropped down the Somali coast four days later and told that they had made it to Yemen.

“I was so mad,” said Adisu Sisai, 18, an Ethiopian, who lost $50 but has begun trying to earn enough to try again.

One of the more horrible tales emerged this year, when more than 100 people died at sea after the crew forced them out of the boat midjourney. A 10-year-old boy named Badesa was kept aboard to clean the ship on its return to Boosaaso. He is recovering from starvation and shock in the hospital. His abductors remain at large.

It is an open secret that powerful people in Puntland, including some with links to top politicians, own many of the boats engaged in the trafficking, but they do not seem to be pursued by the authorities.

Somalis who reach Yemen are entitled to benefits at a refugee camp there. But that is nobody’s goal.

The point is to get a highly paid job, anything above $50 a month in this part of the world, and for that they risk their lives.

Many find themselves deported, often to a landing strip outside Mogadishu, far from the villages where they began their treks.

Another danger lingers along the Somali coast. The police, though largely ineffectual in stopping the smuggling, sometimes arrest the migrants, though the legal basis for doing so remains unclear.

On a recent day, the police chief, Col. Muhammad Rashid Jama, paraded three men and one woman onto the grounds of the police station. All confessed that they had tried to get to Yemen.

One man, Abdi Ahmed Muhammad, 28, had a bandage on the side of his head, where he said a smuggler had bashed him with a rifle butt. The smuggler had taken his money but then refused to allow him onto the departing boat, he said.

The woman, Amal Hussein Ali, 37, said she had left seven children in Mogadishu as she went in search of a job in Yemen to support them. A widow, she faced up to three years in jail, the police said.

“Anyone who has a heart will feel pity for her,” Colonel Jama said. “I’m like that. But she became a criminal, and I am a Puntland officer safeguarding the Constitution.”

When United Nations officials protested to the Puntland authorities about the detention of the migrants instead of the smugglers, officials altered their account. The detained people, including Ms. Ali, were smugglers, they said.

Crackdowns have put some boats out of commission. But officials say they are hampered by the fact that no explicit local law prohibits trafficking.

So the flow continues, fueled by desperation mixed with greed. Mr. Mahmoud, nursing his wounded foot and haunted by so many years of living a nightmare, said he felt drawn to another, quieter place across the sea.

“When I look at the sea, in my mind, I think about going away from all this,” he said. “I just hope I make it.”

Times conveys HIV superstition as reality in Vietnam

May 29th, 2006


Visibly healthy mother under “death sentence”, according to the world’s most responsible HIV?AIDS daily

Anyone fully informed about the Grand Canyon now opened between conventional wisdom and scientific reality in HIV?AIDS must be sickened by the New York Times’ record in this affair, the worst tendencies of which are encapsulated in the page three story today (Sun May 28), Shunned, Women With H.I.V. Join Forces in Vietnam, concerning the hapless women “with HIV” in Vietnam.

Given that the Times has access to the highest sources of any kind, and employs the most intelligent and worldly reporters, there is no excuse left for profoundly misleading its readers on a major health policy topic, which is a matter of life and death for many.

Look at this photo, and consider how healthy the beautiful young mother and child “with HIV” evidently are, and how the Times’ reporting reflects nothing of the mainstream science of the last few years (that scotches any possibility that HIV is conveyed by husbands to wives), let alone the twenty years of authoritative, credentialed, unremitting, unanswered, massively referenced, peer reviewed, elite rejection of this irrational and incredible paradigm.

Ms. Hue, 26, who was infected by her husband, a drug addict, was one of the first to speak out publicly on television “to show that we are people, too.” The support group she founded three years ago — called Haiphong Red Flamboyant, for the name of a flower — is expanding in this city and is a model for similar groups around the country.

What the women rarely talk about, except when they are joking, is the near-certainty that in time they, too, will fall ill and that they will be feeding, bathing and consoling one another, and caring for one another’s children, as one by one they die.

With the science desk in thrall to the NIH, and the general news reporters guided by the science desk, and the foreign reporters in the hands of UNAIDS as here, the appalling record of the Times over the last two decades looks likely to continue forever, until something happens outside its walls to change its mantra from “HIV the virus that causes AIDS” to at the very least, “HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS”.

Anything less than that and the newspaper will have to take blame for many more deaths as it continues to purvey the conventional wisdom as if it was validated by the literature, when it is in fact thoroughly debunked in major respects even in mainstream papers now.

The New York Times

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May 28, 2006

Shunned, Women With H.I.V. Join Forces in Vietnam

By SETH MYDANS

By SETH MYDANS

HAIPHONG, Vietnam — The neighbors know what is going on when they hear peals of laughter coming from the house of Pham Thi Hue. The dying women have gotten together again.

Crammed onto a couch and little chairs, the women shout and clap as they talk about the city’s shortage of shrouds or about the dying man with the bloated stomach who slept under a bridge.

They are members of a support group for people infected with H.I.V. in a society where they are widely shunned, where drugs are scarce and treatment is expensive and where a diagnosis of infection is still, for most people, a sentence of death.

They gathered on a recent Saturday in this big port city near Hanoi, 15 women — many of whom had not told their families they were infected — sharing companionship and the relief of laughter from lives of poverty, illness and dread.

In the face of discrimination and in the absence of adequate health care, they are for the most part one another’s only support.

This is a country teetering on the brink of a nationwide epidemic, with more than 250,000 people infected with the virus that causes AIDS and with only 10 percent of those who fall ill receiving the treatment they need, according to Unaids, the United Nations agency.

The country’s health care system is well organized, but the disease has until now been concentrated among intravenous drug users and has not been treated as a priority. Experts say it is beginning to spread quickly into the broader population, and one of the chief barriers to prevention and treatment is the stigma that makes outcasts of those who carry the virus.

Ms. Hue, 26, who was infected by her husband, a drug addict, was one of the first to speak out publicly on television “to show that we are people, too.” The support group she founded three years ago — called Haiphong Red Flamboyant, for the name of a flower — is expanding in this city and is a model for similar groups around the country.

What the women rarely talk about, except when they are joking, is the near-certainty that in time they, too, will fall ill and that they will be feeding, bathing and consoling one another, and caring for one another’s children, as one by one they die.

“The meaning of the group,” said Nguyen Thi Sau, 29, whose husband has already died from AIDS complications, “is so that when you die you are less lonely.”

In what they say is a form of therapy, the women have chosen to look directly into the face of the suffering that lies ahead, nursing, cleaning and feeding the sick, collecting the bodies of people who die alone in hospitals or on the streets and attending the funerals of those whose families have turned their backs.

“Some days I have to take care of four people who have died in the hospital,” said Ms. Sau, who worked at a shoe factory until she was fired. A number of the patients, she said, are prisoners who have been sent to the hospital to die, covered in their own filth and still chained to their cots.

“I’m the one who has to close their eyes when they die,” she said. “After that I can’t sleep at night.”

Over the past three years scores of women have been members of Red Flamboyant. Many have died, but the group has only grown — and spawned new groups — as more infected women step from the shadows and join.

Most of the women gathered that Saturday said they had been infected by their husbands here in a city where drug addiction is widespread, and most said their husbands had already died. All had lost their jobs when their employers discovered that they were infected.

Ms. Hue’s husband is now in the late stages of the disease in a drug-rehabilitation center. She lost her work as a tailor and he lost his job as a cook in a hotel when their infections became known.

She now works with the local Communist Party women’s union to expand support groups through the city, and she receives small grants from foreign aid organizations. The money is used to help members with emergencies and to distribute rice to people who have fallen ill and no longer have an income.

Support groups like this are an important part of the government’s strategy to combat the disease, said Nancy Fee, the country coordinator for Unaids.

The government is preparing new legislation now to combat the epidemic, some $50 million in assistance is arriving from abroad, and more drugs are becoming available, Ms. Fee said.

“But they still have to train a lot of health workers and set up the systems and protocols and they need a public information campaign,” she said. “That work is happening and it does need to speed up, it does need more of a sense of urgency.”

When the husband of Nguyen Thi Kim Van, 36, fell ill, Red Flamboyant bought him a small bed so he could sleep separately from his family, which was crowded together in his parents’ tiny home.

When he died, his parents evicted Ms. Van, and she took her three children to live in her mother’s even tinier home, where all five of them now sleep on one bed.

Ms. Van, who is H.I.V.-positive, tries to support her family by selling small cups of tea on the sidewalk; Red Flamboyant gives her rice and money to send her oldest son to school.

At the same time, she has become an active member of the group, and it was she who crawled under the bridge to try to help the man with the bloated stomach. He was aggressive and frightening, she said, miming the scene, and she just jumped up and ran away.

“Did you touch his belly?” her friends shouted, laughing. “You were trying to take advantage of him, weren’t you!”

Not long after her visit to the bridge, someone took a photograph of the man, but his face is not visible in the picture. He is lying on the ground covered with a shroud, one of the bodies the group has collected for burial.

On this Saturday, the photograph lay forgotten among the teacups on a small table. Ms. Hue’s 5-year-old son, Ha Minh Hieu, who is not infected, spent some time examining it.

As the afternoon passed, Ms. Sau, who had spent the morning cleaning and feeding an AIDS patient, leaned her head on the shoulder of a friend, Doan Thi Khuyen, 23, and they sang quietly together.

Ms. Khuyen, a former secretary, was dressed in a crisp white blouse with careful makeup and stylish hair, as if she were heading to the office.

But she was fired from her job months ago because of her illness, and she now sells lottery tickets on the street to support herself and her small child, who is also infected.

“I wanted to be a shoeshine girl, but all they have is shoeshine boys,” she moaned, and everyone laughed.

“Well,” said Ms. Hue, “at least you’re alive. You’re not dead yet.”

That seemed to strike the women as funny too, and they laughed again.

Missionary held by Phillippine terrorists held to faith despite all

May 29th, 2006


Husband killed in crossfire as attack frees them, but wife Gracia still “trusts in God”

Is there a parallel in science?

One of the remarkable things about religious faith is how it flies in the face of reason, and survives even the most obvious evidence that it is misplaced.

Take the long segment on Dateline NBC tonight about the missionary couple who were taken hostage in 2001 by the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in the Philippines, after 17 years of taking the word of the Lord to the natives of the area.

Gracia Burnham is a very pretty, blue eyed blonde woman on camera today, but when a Philippino news reporter visited her after many months of a monotonous captivity where raw grains of rice were all they had sometimes to stave off starvation, she and her husband looked decidedly the worse for wear.

Other hostages were killed and some freed, but the Burnhams were held to the end, which came after a year when the Philippine army attacked and freed Gracia, unfortunately killing her husband in the process.

This long extended suffering and personal tragedy has not dented Gracia’s missionary faith in her God and His care for her, however, even though it would seem to argue that, however caring, her God is unwilling or unable to prevent catastrophe, in the form of losing her husband at the last minute after all they endured together.

Evidently her need for a fantasy of a supernatural power willing and able to intervene on her behalf and rescue her from difficulties trumps the most searing evidence that the protection won’t be forthcoming when most needed.

In this she is thoroughly supported by others with a similar philsophy:

Our church supports New Tribes Missions, and we have been praying mightily this past year that the Lord would have His way with Martin and Gracia Burnham during this entire ordeal. While we wanted both of them to be delivered safely, we knew that, just maybe, the Lord might have a different plan, one that might glorify Him more.

We now know that Jesus allowed Martin to be killed, and Gracia spared. He must have wanted Martin’s martyrdom death to reverberate throughout the world, preparing the hearts and minds of people around the globe to receive the word from Gracia; from what Gracia has shared, and a comparison of Before/After photos, we can tell that this year’s imprisonment was not easy; however, we are about to learn that the Burnham’s captivity did bring great glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

The same phenomenon is seen in the hearts and minds of countless millions across the globe who typically maintain the same religious faith in the face of untoward disaster, even one as shocking as inadvertently running over their own infant while backing up, which has happened at least twice in the US in recent days, according to the NBC news that followed Dateline tonight.

There is nothing new in religious cognitive dissonance, of course, or the means by which those who encounter it manage to ignore it. The problem of innocence undeservedly meeting horrendous evil has been with us since St Aquinas, who was only one of the religious apologists to make an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile it with the existence of a humanity-loving, all powerful Deity.

Modern philosophers with a ruthless taste for reason and reality such as Simon Blackburn, the Oxford philosopher and author of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, rule the problem insoluble and thus, as Blackburn demonstrates in his powerful little book Think, one that forces us to abandon belief in a God who is at once omnipotent and the active protector of humanity.

In other words, any religious belief in a powerful God to whom we can pray to protect us and expect results does not meet reasonable standards of argument, reason and evidence. So how is it that this fundamental belief is held onto by those who suffer such awful setbacks through no fault of their own, indeed when they are fully paid up members of a church who faithfully attend services every Sunday, let alone missionaries?

The answer is given by the modern brain scientist, who explains that the left frontal cortex, when confronted by evidence which contradicts a favored, fundamental belief, will simply revise the data input to conform to it, or ignore it. The belief in God as a protector is maintained by simply being unable to accept the alternative, or even consider it.

We point to this phenomenon of how easily religious belief triumphs over the most irrefutable evidence to the contrary, in order to challenge all critics of HIV?AIDS to answer this question:

How does this kind of thought-resistant religiosity differ in the slightest from the twenty year adherence of believers in HIV to their favored dogma in the face of similar overwhelming evidence against the belief?

We suggest that there is an exact equivalence, as follows:

Science – Religion

Theory – Dogma

Conference Hall – Church

HIV – The Devil

David Ho – Son of God

AZT, ddI, Protease Inhibitors, Nevirapine – Holy Water

David Baltimore – Pope

Anthony Fauci – Bishop

Robert Gallo – High Priest

NIH Granting Process – Inquisition

Activists – Missionaries

Patients – Penitents

Taxpayer support – Vatican holdings and collections

Paradigm critics – Heretics

Canceled funding – The stake

Evidence overwhelmingly against – Evidence overwhelmingly against.

All objections converted to supporting evidence – All objections converted to supporting evidence.

We cannot discern any difference at all between the two paradigms in nature or shape. However, we have no doubt those cleverer than us will be able to find some difference, however small.

After quietly serving God as missionaries in the Philippines for 17 years, a sudden turn of events catapulted Martin and Gracia Burnham into world news. In 2001, a terrorist group known as the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the Burnhams along with several other people. In the ensuing months some of the hostages were killed and others freed. By November 2001, only the Burnhams and one other hostage remained in captivity.

For 376 days Martin and Gracia experienced frequent gun battles, near starvation, and constant exhaustion. They also experienced God’s sustaining grace.

On June 7, 2002, Gracia was wounded, but set free through a firefight between the Philippine military and the Burnham’s captors. But in the same gun battle, Martin was killed.

The world expected Gracia to be emotionally destroyed by all she suffered. Instead, she chose to trust God and forgive those who took her captive and caused the death of her husband. God has used her testimony to give hope and encouragement to many experiencing life’s difficulties.

Gracia now lives in Rose Hill, Kansas, raising her children and serving as a representative of New Tribes Mission.

An able communicator, Gracia’s passion for missions shines through each time she talks about her experiences. As a popular speaker, Gracia’s schedule is usually full a year in advance.

See also JESUS LOVED MISSIONARIES GRACIA AND MARTIN BURNHAM “THROUGH THE FIRE” UNTIL THE TIME CAME FOR MARTIN TO GO HOME!

JESUS LOVED MISSIONARIES GRACIA AND MARTIN BURNHAM “THROUGH THE FIRE” UNTIL THE TIME CAME FOR MARTIN TO GO HOME!

Resources to aid your Understanding

In The Presence of My Enemies – Saga of Missionary Gracia Burnham: Book – CDROM – Audio Cassette

Subtitle: “Fear not .. I will strengthen you and harden you to difficulties …” (Isaiah 41:10) Missionary Mark Burnham lived this wonderful truth in the year he was captured. He strongly witnessed the truth of the Gospel to his Muslim captors. May we all face the coming terror with this kind of Holy Spirit power!

The New World Order is coming! Are you ready? Once you understand what this New World Order really is, and how it is being gradually implemented, you will be able to see it progressing in your daily news!!

Learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones!

Stand by for insights so startling you will never look at the news the same way again.

YOU ARE NOW ON THE CUTTING EDGE

NEWS BRIEF: “Manila Says US Forces Planned Botched Rescue Mission”, Straits Times, June 10, 2002.

“MANILA – There appears to be a dispute over the United States’ role in the botched rescue operation of hostages, with Manila insisting that the US had prior knowledge. However, Washington has maintained that it first learned of the operation after it was informed of the death of an American missionary. Philippines Defence Secretary Angelo Reyes said that US forces helped plan the operation in the southern Philippines that ended in the death of the missionary and a Filipina captive …

“Christian missionary Martin Burnham, 42, and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were slain, while Burnham’s wife, Gracia, 43, was wounded in the leg but rescued. A Filipino farm hand the rebels used as a guide and porter was also rescued. The operation ended a 376-day hostage drama that drew 1,000 US military advisers and engineers to the separatist-plagued south for a six-month campaign to help local troops stamp out the Abu Sayyaf guerilla group, described as a local ally of the Al-Qaeda terror network. ‘The fighting was done by Filipino soldiers, but in the conduct of the rescue and recovery mission the Americans actively participated,’ Mr Reyes told reporters.”

Our church supports New Tribes Missions, and we have been praying mightily this past year that the Lord would have His way with Martin and Gracia Burnham during this entire ordeal. While we wanted both of them to be delivered safely, we knew that, just maybe, the Lord might have a different plan, one that might glorify Him more.

We now know that Jesus allowed Martin to be killed, and Gracia spared. He must have wanted Martin’s martyrdom death to reverberate throughout the world, preparing the hearts and minds of people around the globe to receive the word from Gracia; from what Gracia has shared, and a comparison of Before/After photos, we can tell that this year’s imprisonment was not easy; however, we are about to learn that the Burnham’s captivity did bring great glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

As we all realize, the time may be quickly approaching where each of us might be called upon to endure a Burnham-type imprisonment and even martyrdom; therefore, let us bow and heads in prayer, asking the Lord to impart to our hearts and minds the kind of steadfastness Martin exemplified as an example to us.

Email Update on Gracie Burnham, from other Philippine Missionaries, also with New Tribes, June 10, 2002.

Philippians 1:10-14

“So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value, recognizing the highest and the best, distinguishing the moral differences, that you may be pure and unerring and blameless so that with hearts sincere and certain, and unsullied, you may approach the day of Christ not stumbling nor causing others to stumble.

“May you abound in and be filled with the fruits of righteousness, of right standing with God and right doing which come through Jesus Christ, to the honor and praise of God, that His glory may be both manifested and recognized.

“Now I want you to know and continue to rest assured, brethren, that what has happened to me, this imprisonment, has actually only served to advance and give a renewed impetus to the spreading of the good news, the Gospel. So much is this a fact that throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest here, my imprisonment has become generally known to be in Christ, that I am a prisoner in His service and for Him.

“And also most of the brethren have derived a fresh confidence in the Lord because of my chains and are much more bold to speak and publish fearlessly the Word of God, acting with more freedom and indifference to the consequences.” [Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary].

Did the imprisonment of Martin and Gracia Burnham by radical Muslim terrorists have this kind of effect on the rest of the Christians in the Philippines and around the world? Many of us have been praying that it would have this kind of effect, so let us now examine this email to see exactly what kind of prisoner Martin was, and whether he was faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ in his imprisonment and his death. We know that the Apostle Paul shared the Gospel with the Roman guards to whom he was chained, and that testimony convicted many, so that many Roman soldiers received Jesus Christ as Savior.

Now, here is the testimony of this email:

“On Friday God answered our prayers of one year. That Martin and Gracia Burnham would accomplish His purpose for their lives in captivity and that they would be released from the evil hands of the ASG, but on different travel schedules to their true home in heaven. Martin is now free, both in body and spirit, and has gone into the presence of the Lover and Savior of his soul. And Gracia is now free, to return to her children, family, friends, and coworkers.

“By God’s amazing grace, Gracia is recovering well from her gun shot wound in her right thigh. She is also doing incredibly well spiritually and emotionally. She shared a little about how God worked miraculously in and through their lives in this last year. She said that: ‘Martin was highly respected by every one of the ASG. In the beginning, they laughed in disbelief at how he responded to being a captive and of their terror, but as time went on, they were awed at his confident faith in the Lord Jesus.

Martin always graciously offered to carry things for the ASG and for the other hostages.

Martin was chained to a tree at night by an ASG guard. Every night for the whole year, Martin would thank the guard who chained him and wished him a good night.

Martin showed the love and compassion of Christ throughout this year of terror, to both his captors and the other hostages.

Martin had lengthy discussions about the claims of Christ will all the ASG guards and hostages. On one occasion he was having a very serious talk with Abu Sabaya about God’s judgment on sin and that one day God would judge his sin. Gracia said she was in the background motioning to Martin to ‘cook it’ but Martin very gently continued sharing the truth of Christ with Sabaya.”

God graciously sustained them throughout this difficult trial. One day, they were very, very tired from hiking all day. The strung up their hammock, sat in it, and began to talk together. Martin said, ‘It’s been a very hard year, but it has also been a very good year’. They began to thank the Lord for everything they could think of. Gracia said, ‘We thanked the Lord for our hammock, our boots (Deborah walked barefooted for the last two months), etc’. They thanked God for every believer that they had ever met, that they could remember. God encouraged their hearts with the thought that person, couple, family, or church was probably praying for them.

The Lord brought Psalm 100:2 to Martin’s mind, which reads, “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing”. The other hostages said that Martin and Gracia sang often.

Martin said, ‘We might not leave this jungle alive, but at least we can leave this world serving the Lord with GLADNESS. We can serve Him right here where we are, and with GLADNESS.”

The last thing that they did before Martin’s death was to pray together, thank God for His faithfulness and then laid down for a nap. They were awakened by a fire fight between the ASG and the Philippine Scout Rangers, and Martin was ushered into the presence of His loving Lord.”

[End of Gracia’s testimony]

“Martin and Gracia’s obedience and perseverance to the Lord’s great commission through this fiery testing of their faith has captured the attention of the world. We thank God for their testimony and anticipate much fruit through their story. The horrendous ordeal is over, but there are many new challenges that face Gracia, Jeff, Mindy, Zach and the rest of their extended family. We want to express our thanks for your faithful prayers for Martin and Gracia and their family. Please continue to pray for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in and through Gracia’s life. And, pray that thousands will hear of the wonderful love of Christ, and experience His saving grace through Gracia’s testimony of God’s faithfulness.”

New idea about how pyramids were built meets skepticism

May 27th, 2006

Imagination meets scholarship – but is Jean Pierre cuckoo?

Nice telling story today (Sat May 27), Great Pyramid as Cuckoo Clock? It Might Not Be Crazy by Michael Slackman in the New York Times – a Saturday Profile of a man unafraid to compare the pyramid of Cheops to a cuckoo clock, as he explains how they were built in a way the Egyptologists hadn’t yet thought of.

People in search of themselves often look to great challenges: running a marathon, climbing a mountain or learning a new language. Mr. Houdin selected the pyramids as his vehicle for personal reflection, as the salve for his midlife crisis. His was an analytical venture, a quest to explain what appears impossible to prove, at least given the current public record: exactly how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids using about 2.5 million stones, each weighing at least several tons.

Now, eight years later, he is ready to present his findings, one step at a time, and in doing so will be remembered either as the man who unlocked the secrets of ancient brilliance or as a bit of an eccentric who merely indulged his imagination.

The story shows many of the themes of the classic narrative of original ideas brought into a field from outside – the cheerful insouciance of the interloper, who has a freer perspective than those who have trained in the study, the discreet resistance of the established authority caught short in imagination, and the endless determination of the man who has found his calling in advancing his new idea.

Apparently the PBS documentaries on the topic of how the pyramids were built were misleading, and scholars still don’t know how it was achieved. Now this outsider comes in and theorizes that there was an inner ramp that spiraled up, allowing the great blocks to be conveyed to the top without major technology.

With the scholars who dominate the field of Egyptology erecting a protective barrier of quiet scorn, the happy invader soldiers on gathering evidence for his crackpot idea. He’s an army of one laying siege to their thick walled castle, camping outside the huge doors and dodging the dead cows and other debris hurled over the battlements in the Monty Pythonesque manner.

Rarely have all the sides of this kind of story been encapsulated so well in one report, which leaves the reader in suspense as to whether Monsieur Jean-Pierre Houdin is right or not. At least we know that there is a debate.

Maybe Larry Altman and the other Times reporters in HIV?AIDS, who have so faithfully acted as the running dogs of the paradigm promoters for twenty years, should take a leaf out of Slackman’s book in covering next week’s “AIDS at 25” celebrations, and give Peter Duesberg a little coverage, or at least a mention.

Isn’t the Times big enough to do what it should, rather than have its reporters continue to act exclusively as Anthony Fauci’s lackeys?

May 27, 2006

The Saturday Profile

Great Pyramid as Cuckoo Clock? It Might Not Be Crazy

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

CAIRO

THEY have been called mystical, awe-inspiring, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But it is safe to say that in the 45 centuries the great pyramids of Giza have cast their formidable shadow over the desert, they have never before been described as a cuckoo clock.

But that is what Jean-Pierre Houdin said as he lifted his tall lanky body up the steps into the pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the three pyramids high up on the Giza plateau overlooking this teeming, ancient city on the Nile.

“This is not just a pile of rocks,” he said, his words curled around a soft French accent. “This is a cuckoo clock.”

Then with a short, friendly laugh, he loped through the cool, dank passage and examined his cuckoo clock with the enthusiasm of a child. He pointed excitedly at what he calls its mechanics — every carving, every joint, every scratch — all, he said, part of a fabulously intricate engineering design by ancient Egyptians.

“It is an engineering project, from A to Z,” he said, again with the same friendly chuckle.

People in search of themselves often look to great challenges: running a marathon, climbing a mountain or learning a new language. Mr. Houdin selected the pyramids as his vehicle for personal reflection, as the salve for his midlife crisis. His was an analytical venture, a quest to explain what appears impossible to prove, at least given the current public record: exactly how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids using about 2.5 million stones, each weighing at least several tons.

Now, eight years later, he is ready to present his findings, one step at a time, and in doing so will be remembered either as the man who unlocked the secrets of ancient brilliance or as a bit of an eccentric who merely indulged his imagination.

“When you work every day, your mind is turned off to new ideas,” said Mr. Houdin, whose wardrobe seems to be primarily black T-shirts and black jeans. “Then one day you are old. I looked for a new life.”

Mr. Houdin says he had a successful business in France for 20 years designing buildings and homes, when he shut everything down to focus on the pyramid built by Cheops, second ruler of the fourth dynasty. Mr. Houdin thinks he has the answer to how it was built — a series of theories, really — which he says he developed over more than 5,000 hours working with three-dimensional imaging software on his computer. Along the way, he also learned a bit about the challenges of dealing with modern Egypt and a bit about the competitive and ego-laden world of Egyptology.

“It’s huge, yes it’s huge,” he said, staring up at the eastern face. “But it is a cuckoo clock. Everything is precise.”

OVER the years, those who study the pyramids have learned a lot about their construction. They know that the bedrock of the plateau was incorporated into the base, so fewer stones were needed than originally estimated. Egyptologists say there is evidence that the stones of the pyramid were cut from the earth south of the base of the pyramid and that some of the granite rafters were transported from Luxor in the south.

What no one is exactly sure of is how the ancient Egyptians managed to move and assemble the stones into a pyramid 480 feet high. There are theories, including one popular one that the builders constructed a huge ramp leading to the very top of the pyramid. (There is another theory, too, that aliens were involved.)

Mr. Houdin says the large ramp theory could not have worked because it would have to be way too long, miles in fact, to avoid a slope that was not too steep. Mr. Houdin’s main theory is that the only way to get stones up to the apex would be with a small outside ramp and a second ramp that spirals up the inside the pyramid. By his estimation, the outside ramp went up about a third of the way, while there was an inside ramp that is still there, sealed inside the walls of the pyramid, waiting centuries to be discovered.

“Every time I explain my ideas to people, they say it is logical,” Mr. Houdin said, again with the laugh. “Now there is nothing else to say; we have to prove it.”

His second central point is that everything in the pyramid has a practical — not necessarily mystical — explanation. And so, he says, for example, the Grand Gallery leading up into the burial chamber was designed to accommodate a sort of conveyor belt built on logs, and an extensive counterweight system that ran up through the middle of the pyramid to help hoist huge stones. The system he envisions is linked to clues inside the pyramid, but is nevertheless based on his own calculations.

“This is engineering!” he declared, as he climbed up inside the Grand Gallery, now a passageway for tourists willing to brave the slippery wooden ramp that passes for stairs.

MR. HOUDIN’S enthusiasm has not exactly been embraced by the experts who have dedicated their lives to Egyptian antiquities, particularly the most important person in Egypt, the godfather of all that is pharaonic, Dr. Zahi Hawass, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. For starters, Mr. Houdin is not part of the club, not a trained Egyptologist, and while his work is premised on facts it relies heavily on his imagination. Where some Egyptologists, for example, saw a tunnel leading from the burial chamber to the stars, Mr. Houdin said he saw a ventilation shaft.

“It is difficult to say whether he’s right or not, there is no proof of anything,” said Audran Labrousse, a French architect directing the excavation on the pyramids of South Sakarra, south of Cairo. “It is such a mystery because, of course, it is a question of engineering.”

Dr. Hawass is less charitable. He says Mr. Houdin is wrong. Period. “Any Egyptologist cannot accept this,” he said. “He imagined this. I don’t see his evidence.”

It is a slightly strange condemnation, given that Dr. Hawass has written the foreword to Mr. Houdin’s most recent book, published in Egypt. In it he described the theory as worth considering. Perhaps because of that he is generous, if dismissive, about Mr. Houdin. He said in an interview that he wrote the foreword to get Mr. Houdin off his back.

“This is not a crazy book, and he is not a pyramidiot,” Dr. Hawass said, mustering a degree of charity while employing a term he said described many of the people he had encountered during his two decades working with the pyramids.

Mr. Houdin recognizes that his theories may ultimately be proved wrong. There may not be a ramp waiting to be discovered. There may never have been an elaborate counterweight system, at least not exactly as he envisions it. But it seems that even if there is not, he has already found what he was looking for.

“Why care?” he responded when asked why he would spend so much of his life studying a pyramid. “Because it’s a pleasure. It’s my third life. My first life was until I was 20. My second life was until I was 45. Three lives are very nice.”

AIDS misinformation after 25 years – Frontline and UN celebrate

May 24th, 2006


Shameless ignorance of the scientific literature to be marked by massive UN meet, inaccurate PBS four hour review

“AIDS after 25 years” is the title of the huge UN talkfest next week, May-31 to June 2, which will be matched by a four hour paradigm propaganda film on PBS, on the same theme.

Everyone in both of these events no doubt will march in goose step to the Gallo- Baltimore- Fauci- NIH- CDC- Science- Nature- New York Times- Time- Newsweek- PBS- AAAS- NAS- NSF- UN- WHO theory of AIDS, which has successfully evaded both an initial complete demolition in the scientific literature, a gathering list of objections since and now even the myriad corrections and dismissals of its own mainstream papers (uninfectious HIV, anyone?) for a whole two decades.

Now it seems that once again the HIV=AIDS hypothesis will rise next week like a hot air filled Zeppelin above the UN and the East River to command a global view of HIV?AIDS as its own shadow spread from horizon to horizon around the world, ready to steal the peace of mind of two billion Indians and Chinese as the next major market for AZT and other chain terminators and protease inhibitors, known lethal drugs chasing a will o’the wisp virus that in most patients today, thankfully enough, is claimed as yet to cause nothing but a decrease in CD4 T cells, if that.

That, at least, is what the newer global estimates of HIV?AIDS actually imply. This is so, since what used to be called AIDS and involved one of the thirty plus rather more impressive symptoms on the AIDS list, has now expanded into an “HIV/AIDS” category which includes anyone supposedly with antibodies to HIV that might have a cough and diarrhea, since just these are held symptoms enough to indicate the actual lower CD4 count in the vast regions where such a sophisticated test is probably not currently available for those unable to pay for it, which is most HIV?AIDS sufferers.

We doubt, however, that this more optimistic view, of most HIV/AIDS as a labeling mania that now includes even millions and millions of peope in normal health, will be made visible to the many officials, NGO activists and reporters at the UN, or in the Frontline documentary, or their patrons, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton or the drug companies, who help promote the standard uninformed view of the HIV?AIDS story, which will surely be the one conveyed by four hours of review on PBS.

In fact, we know it won’t since we have already read a review of the film, brought to our attention by a kind correspondent. There is nothing in
“>70 Million and Counting, by Robert Abele, in LA Weekly
, which appeared today (Wed May 24) which indicates that the Frontline film suggests anything amiss in the standard story line of “HIV?AIDS”, despite the mainstream papers in science which now say in effect it is all entirely impossible.

Let’s examine this rather appalling piece of evidence of the thrall in which grown men and women of the media are held by a fairy tale which has now no remaining valid basis in the scientific literature. That the usually tough minded skepticism of the Frontline film makers dissolved in the face of this affront to common sense, let alone good science, is not particularly surprising, perhaps. A documentary update of the history of AIDS can hardly be assembled without the cooperation of the major players in this theatrical melodrama, and it is an established fact that none of them will cooperate in any way with any writer or filmmaker that entertains the critique of HIV?AIDS in his or her reporting in any serious way whatsoever.

The best example of this is the way in which Eleanor Burkett of the Miami Herald paid the price for covering doubts about whether HIV?AIDS was the right answer to HIV?AIDS. Her calls were not returned therafter and she had to find a new topic to write about. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, evidently meant what he said when he wrote in an NIH newsletter that journalists who were so politically foolish would suffer exactly that fate – a severe curtailment of access.

But there is something a little sad about the lickspittle extreme of utter credulity managed by the LA Weekly reviewer, whose exposure to the pressures of covering showbiz apparently leaves him no room for independent thought whatsoever. But then, this is nothing to complain about, since it is no worse than the performance of any of the mainstream science reporters we know of.

Review examined with NAR BS meter in hand

Reading through the review with our patented NARBS detector switched on, to read and measure misleading HIV?AIDS “facts” on a scale from 1 (understandable mistatement) to 10 (egregious distortion of reality so fundamental as to split time and space asunder) we find the following:

70 Million and Counting ((NARBS meter 10!! The recent CNN special with Bill Clinton counted 42 million infected with HIV, and even the WHO hasn’t dared reach over 50 million yet, as far as we know))

LA Weekly

The clash of politics and morality in The Age of AIDS

By ROBERT ABELE

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 – 3:00 pm

The two-part Frontline documentary The Age of AIDS, a sobering TV history of one of the world’s most brutal pandemics ((NARBS meter 10!! – there is no possibility of HIV ?AIDS being a pandemic, since the effective rate of transmission of the supposed cause, HIV, is nil)), plays like a disturbing series of short tragedies linked by compassion, befuddlement and despair. And, of course, absurdities.

It’s an overwhelming saga, and a lot is covered in series producer Renata Simone’s four hours, including the growth of awareness as AIDS went from being a casually dismissed four-H concern — homosexuals, hemophiliacs, Haitians and heroin users — to a plague that affects everybody ((NARBS meter 8!! – HIV?AIDS visibly does not affect heterosexuals in the US, as has been established for fifteen years, and probably nowhere else either)) as well as the prejudices that stirred gays to new heights of empowerment and activism, while fostering a crippling social stigma in an increasingly decimated black population.

With clear-eyed patience and seriousness, The Age of AIDS shows that while HIV needed no help in replicating itself inside humans ((NARBS Meter 10!! HIV replication in the human body is swiftly reduced to zero by the immune system, which replaces virtually all HIV by antibodies within weeks)), its most helpful friends were traits already well-lodged in humans: ignorance, apathy, fear and prejudice. Watching with 2006 hindsight, those initial emotionally fraught skirmishes in the early ’80s between well-meaning health experts in San Francisco and liberated gay men who wanted their bathhouses kept open seem historically quaint compared to today’s more dispiriting conflicts between moralizing forces and commonsense warriors. Take the anti-condom, pro-abstinence movement that has characterized President Bush’s grand-gesture money disbursement and often-sidelined prevention programs that were working in parts of the world that have seen the most dramatic rising numbers of new HIV cases. As former amFAR (Foundation for AIDS Research) president Merv Silverman says in the film, “Without question, politics has been one of the driving forces behind the spread of this disease.” ((NARBS Meter 0! – This statement is entirely true!))

The herky-jerky, valiant, then flawed efforts to counter AIDS and stop it from spreading since the first cases emerged 25 years ago are less a case of one step forward and two steps back, but rather a few steps forward and then — to note the number of new cases every year — five million steps back. A discouraging snarl of politics and morality, capitalism and Third World geography has stymied the global fight. ((NARBS Meter 6! Nothing has stymied the global fight against HIV?AIDS more than the fact that it is entirely without valid support in the scientific literature. Nothing stymies a fight against a disease more effectively that not being aware of its true nature, in this case as fact rewritten as fiction.))

On the medical front, the documentary revisits the way scientists struggled to pinpoint the disease’s source, which ultimately led to the Congo and the determination that the 70 million that have been infected so far can be traced to one transmission between chimpanzee and man. ((NARBS Meter 10!! – No one has in fact been infected by HIV except by their mothers, or possibly through a needle or gay sex, so the idea that a chimp first infected a human is no more than a tribute to the enduring silliness of the human race, as embodied by Robert Gallo and the people who believe his theorizing)). Then there’s the race for a cure, which brought early hope that AZT and the eventual drug combos — the triple cocktail — would extend the lives of those with HIV. Says on-camera interviewee William Dodge, an early patient in the cocktail trials with an almost touching sense of his place in history, “There was the world of HIV prior to me, and the world of HIV from my time forward.” Part of that new world, though, was a whole new fight with pharmaceutical companies over the affordability of such vital treatment. ((NARBS Meter 8!! There is no evidence that any decline in HIV?AIDS fatalities was the result of the drug cocktail approach))

One of the strongest arguments the film makes is how much good can be done when all elements of a country’s infrastructure align to better people’s lives, when social desire and political desire see eye to eye and a financial commitment emerges, and likewise, what damage indifference and neglect can do. While close-mindedness was hampering an effective response from U.S. leaders, for example, Uganda took a bold, direct approach; its president, Yoweri Museveni, preached tolerance, easing fears about transmission, and distributed condoms. In Brazil, the government passed a law guaranteeing retroviral treatment for AIDS to all its citizens. It took Ronald Reagan seven years, meanwhile, just to mention AIDS for the first time in public. And, as the film explains, his first speech on the topic — at an amFAR event in 1987 — segued weirdly and discouragingly from a plea for understanding to a push for intolerance when he cited the disease as a reason to keep foreigners out of the country.

And if one needed any proof that before the WMD fiasco other administrations believed experts got in the way of policy, there’s a damning interview with speechwriter Landon Parvin, who says that when he started working with Reagan on his amFAR remarks, he realized that Reagan and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had never had a single conversation about AIDS. Plus, Parvin was asked by an Oval Office staffer to remove a mention that one couldn’t get the disease from mosquitoes. Says Parvin, “It didn’t make much sense to have White House staff second-guessing a medical doctor, but it happened.”((NASBS Meter 5 – Little does Mr. Parvin know, but in fact second-guessing scientists, let alone medical doctors, may be the only way to prevent the “pandemic” of HIV?AIDS from infecting every man, woman and child on the planet, given the historical rate of expansion of labelling other ailments as HIV?AIDS))

Bill Clinton naturally comes off better — more knowledgeable and compassionate in his interview for the documentary — but the filmmakers don’t let him off the hook either, citing his refusal to back needle-exchange programs, a proven quasher of new HIV cases. “The country wasn’t ready for it,” Clinton says. ((NARBS Meter 3 – As a Rhodes scholar and a seasoned politician of consummate skills, Bill Clinton has little excuse for not being fully briefed on the politics and science of HIV?AIDS, other than the cynical fact that the truth is irrelevant to his role on the political stage))

Arguably the saddest story of miseducation, though, is South Africa’s, where President Thabo Mbeke, under the sway of denialist scientists like UC Berkeley’s Peter Duesberg, questioned publicly whether HIV causes AIDS, leading to irreparable damage to the country’s efforts to get drug treatment to citizens. He banned AZT and triple cocktails, calling them “too toxic.” Perhaps the most wretched irony of all is that Mbeke was handpicked by Nelson Mandela, and Mandela’s son would eventually die of AIDS.((NARBS Meter 10! – There really is no excuse for series producer Renata Simone setting aside her knowledge of the existence of this high level scientific dispute. We happen to know that she was told about it at a lunch with a reliable independent informant fifteen years ago; he remembers a “sweet little girl” who wielded “the tremendous power” of being responsible for all the AIDS coverage at WGBH Boston, who told him plainly that if she covered the dissent she would lose all her access to the NIH and her official sources. After a decade and a half she is still ignoring not only the obvious permanent strength of the scientific objections but also the respectability and credibility of the objectors.))

Obviously this isn’t the most upbeat of topics, even though the on-camera talking heads present a wide spectrum of thoughtful, intelligent and inspiring leaders, from progressive scientists like David Ho ((NASBS Meter 8! Ho won a Time cover with his Ptolemaic theory of how the scientifically innocent HIV could reverse what was evidently the normal operation of the immune system as indicated by the perfectly conventional signs of success in defeating an antigen, but his tortuous mathematical calculations have been exploded since in the mainstream literature)) to grass-roots activists like Noerine Kaleeba, who founded Africa’s first AIDS support organization, to UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot, and even a glamour humanitarian like Bono ((NARBS Meter 6! – It is time for glamourous humanitarians to doublecheck their sources if they are to pressure world leaders on their priorities)). But Simone and her writer/director colleagues William Cran and Greg Barker know better than to equate celebrity charm with cheap positivism. ((NARBS Meter 7! Actually, Cran and Barker should know better than to equate nonsensical nonscience with a serious policy goal and join in peddling it as worthier of more funding than cancer and heart disease which kill as many as thirty times more people in this country than HIV?AIDS.)) And in the end, even after four hours of viewing, I found myself unable to forget a description in the first minutes of Part I from UCSF professor of clinical medicine Molly Cooke, who said of those early casualties at San Francisco General Hospital: “Patients would die of their own dementia the way 80-year-olds do — curl up in bed and die. And these were young men.”((NARBS Meter 6! These redoubtable Frontline employees an their compliant reviewer haven’t noticed that the symptoms of HIV?AIDS have changed over the years in the US, and from the US to a totally different list of symptoms overseas? Alas, expecting film makers even at Frontline to give up pressing emotional buttons in favor of investigating or even scratching the surface of the inconsistencies of the picture they are presenting seems hopeless indeed.))

So once again on PBS it seems that even Frontline will present four hours of nothing but the propaganda of conventional wisdom on HIV?AIDS next Tuesday at 9 pm, with nary a bow in the direction of the true idealists of HIV?AIDS, the dissenters frantically waving from the sidelines as the (mis)leaders of this modern medical crowd madness walk in on the red carpet with their stars to receive their Oscars in the form of treacly, pc worshipful acclaim from reviewers such as Robert Abele, LA Weekly.

What’s next? Given the horrendous bedsharing of NIAID researchers and drug company representatives exposed in Harper’s “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science” piece by Celia Farber in its March issue, one mustn’t be surprised if the PBS sponsors for this fatally misleading presentation, perhaps even of the documentary itself, include the drug companies selling the key drugs being marketed for HIV?AIDS.

Let’s see.

70 Million and Counting

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The clash of politics and morality in The Age of AIDS

By ROBERT ABELE

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 – 3:00 pm

The two-part Frontline documentary The Age of AIDS, a sobering TV history of one of the world’s most brutal pandemics, plays like a disturbing series of short tragedies linked by compassion, befuddlement and despair. And, of course, absurdities.

It’s an overwhelming saga, and a lot is covered in series producer Renata Simone’s four hours, including the growth of awareness as AIDS went from being a casually dismissed four-H concern — homosexuals, hemophiliacs, Haitians and heroin users — to a plague that affects everybody, as well as the prejudices that stirred gays to new heights of empowerment and activism, while fostering a crippling social stigma in an increasingly decimated black population.

With clear-eyed patience and seriousness, The Age of AIDS shows that while HIV needed no help in replicating itself inside humans, its most helpful friends were traits already well-lodged in humans: ignorance, apathy, fear and prejudice. Watching with 2006 hindsight, those initial emotionally fraught skirmishes in the early ’80s between well-meaning health experts in San Francisco and liberated gay men who wanted their bathhouses kept open seem historically quaint compared to today’s more dispiriting conflicts between moralizing forces and commonsense warriors. Take the anti-condom, pro-abstinence movement that has characterized President Bush’s grand-gesture money disbursement and often-sidelined prevention programs that were working in parts of the world that have seen the most dramatic rising numbers of new HIV cases. As former amFAR (Foundation for AIDS Research) president Merv Silverman says in the film, “Without question, politics has been one of the driving forces behind the spread of this disease.”

The herky-jerky, valiant, then flawed efforts to counter AIDS and stop it from spreading since the first cases emerged 25 years ago are less a case of one step forward and two steps back, but rather a few steps forward and then — to note the number of new cases every year — five million steps back. A discouraging snarl of politics and morality, capitalism and Third World geography has stymied the global fight.

Keep Reading

On the medical front, the documentary revisits the way scientists struggled to pinpoint the disease’s source, which ultimately led to the Congo and the determination that the 70 million that have been infected so far can be traced to one transmission between chimpanzee and man. Then there’s the race for a cure, which brought early hope that AZT and the eventual drug combos — the triple cocktail — would extend the lives of those with HIV. Says on-camera interviewee William Dodge, an early patient in the cocktail trials with an almost touching sense of his place in history, “There was the world of HIV prior to me, and the world of HIV from my time forward.” Part of that new world, though, was a whole new fight with pharmaceutical companies over the affordability of such vital treatment.

One of the strongest arguments the film makes is how much good can be done when all elements of a country’s infrastructure align to better people’s lives, when social desire and political desire see eye to eye and a financial commitment emerges, and likewise, what damage indifference and neglect can do. While close-mindedness was hampering an effective response from U.S. leaders, for example, Uganda took a bold, direct approach; its president, Yoweri Museveni, preached tolerance, easing fears about transmission, and distributed condoms. In Brazil, the government passed a law guaranteeing retroviral treatment for AIDS to all its citizens. It took Ronald Reagan seven years, meanwhile, just to mention AIDS for the first time in public. And, as the film explains, his first speech on the topic — at an amFAR event in 1987 — segued weirdly and discouragingly from a plea for understanding to a push for intolerance when he cited the disease as a reason to keep foreigners out of the country.

And if one needed any proof that before the WMD fiasco other administrations believed experts got in the way of policy, there’s a damning interview with speechwriter Landon Parvin, who says that when he started working with Reagan on his amFAR remarks, he realized that Reagan and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had never had a single conversation about AIDS. Plus, Parvin was asked by an Oval Office staffer to remove a mention that one couldn’t get the disease from mosquitoes. Says Parvin, “It didn’t make much sense to have White House staff second-guessing a medical doctor, but it happened.”

Bill Clinton naturally comes off better — more knowledgeable and compassionate in his interview for the documentary — but the filmmakers don’t let him off the hook either, citing his refusal to back needle-exchange programs, a proven quasher of new HIV cases. “The country wasn’t ready for it,” Clinton says.

Arguably the saddest story of miseducation, though, is South Africa’s, where President Thabo Mbeke, under the sway of denialist scientists like UC Berkeley’s Peter Duesberg, questioned publicly whether HIV causes AIDS, leading to irreparable damage to the country’s efforts to get drug treatment to citizens. He banned AZT and triple cocktails, calling them “too toxic.” Perhaps the most wretched irony of all is that Mbeke was handpicked by Nelson Mandela, and Mandela’s son would eventually die of AIDS.

Obviously this isn’t the most upbeat of topics, even though the on-camera talking heads present a wide spectrum of thoughtful, intelligent and inspiring leaders, from progressive scientists like David Ho to grass-roots activists like Noerine Kaleeba, who founded Africa’s first AIDS support organization, to UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot, and even a glamour humanitarian like Bono. But Simone and her writer/director colleagues William Cran and Greg Barker know better than to equate celebrity charm with cheap positivism. And in the end, even after four hours of viewing, I found myself unable to forget a description in the first minutes of Part I from UCSF professor of clinical medicine Molly Cooke, who said of those early casualties at San Francisco General Hospital: “Patients would die of their own dementia the way 80-year-olds do — curl up in bed and die. And these were young men.”

FRONTLINE: THE AGE OF AIDS | PBS | Tuesday, 9 p.m.

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Liam Scheff finds that bird flu is not all it is cracked up to be

May 24th, 2006


Misreporting rife: have millions in Asia had this flu, and survived?

Liam Scheff, a freelance journalist who broke the Incarnation Children’s Center scandal where HIV/AIDS drug researchers apparently used orphans as guinea pigs without permission, has been examining H5N1 bird flu in the light of the literature and come up with some alarming revelations today (May 24 Wed) on his new blog Liam’s World: Bird Flu Breakdown.

Alarming, that is, if you normally trust officials of the NIH, CDC, and WHO to guide us properly in matters of this kind, which we certainly do, even though, as we have previously noted, they seem to have overlooked the easy antidote to bird flu, which is a small dose of fish oil or other source of Vitamin A, as now demonstrated in three mainstream studies.

Scheff, however, being one of the handful of journalists in the world who troubles to check the statements of officials against the medical and scientific literature, has some remarkable points to make. Apparently the gap between global alarm and the data in the papers and reports on bird flu is wider than we suspected. It may even be that H5N1 has already passed through millions of impervious Asians without more effect than the ordinary flu.

Of course, we prefer to believe that Dr Anthony Fauci and his colleagues are familiar with the references that Scheff lists in his footnotes, and that this independent minded investigator has been misled in some way. After all, the prospect that the NIH, CDC and WHO is mistaken on yet another global front is hard to credit.

But the readers of this blog include many who are better informed and smarter than we are, so we leave it up to them to decide what is going on here.

Do we know how many people actually have tested positive for bird flu? Maybe a dozen? A couple hundred?

How about millions?

In the November 8, 2005 New York Times’ , Gina Kolata reports:

“Some experts like Dr. Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York say the A(H5N1) flu viruses are a false alarm. He notes that studies of serum collected in 1992 from people in rural China indicated that millions of people there had antibodies to the A(H5N1) strain. That means that they had been infected with an H5N1 bird virus and recovered, apparently without incident1.”

The 2004 Nature Medicine study2 that Kolata refers to puts it like this:

“It may be possible that infections of humans by avian influenza viruses have been ongoing for decades and it is only the reporting that has improved in recent years. If this were the case, the present emphasis on the imminent pandemic outbreak would not be justified.

….

Besides the potential immediate allergic reaction, there are the standard effects of antibiotics – nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, muscular weakness and exhaustion8. Why do these drugs make you weak? Because they kill beneficial bacteria, and damage mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles that drive our cells and bodies. Does any of this help in recovery from weakness, vomiting and severe diarrhea? Not likely. What do antibiotics do for viruses? Nothing. Nothing at all. Presuming a virus was the problem.

The patient progressed predictably:

“As a result of increasing diarrhea and drowsiness, the patient was transferred to a pediatric referral hospital in Ho Chi Minh City on February 15.”

The rest was painful. Lots of drugging, followed by increased weakness, which led the doctors to be more aggressive. Both children were given spinal taps, an invasive and painful procedure in which a syringe needle is pushed through the spinal sheath between two vertebrae, in order to collect fluid for analysis.

The procedure requires patients to be still and relaxed as the needle penetrates their spine, then to lie flat for hours to avoid further trauma. The physical and emotional discomfort to a child could be extreme. But of equal or greater concern is the potential for introducing foreign material into the cerebrospinal fluid – it is a dangerous procedure. But in the case of the younger brother, it was especially so. In his case it was “traumatic”.

“Laboratory analysis of cerebrospinal fluid obtained by means of a slightly traumatic lumbar puncture….the lumbar puncture was traumatic…”

What does this mean, exactly? That the child squirmed, the flesh was torn wider than was intended, it bled a great deal, he was frightened, they did the procedure poorly and went into a nerve or jammed the needle in too far? Who knows? They don’t say, only that it was “traumatic”.

The results of the spinal taps were “zero or one white blood cell per cubic millimeter” – not signaling infection. An unexpected result in children who supposedly died of massive, disseminated viral infection. It does sounds like exposure to a toxin, however. But no toxicological tests were done.

Liam’s World: Bird Flu Breakdown

Liam’s World

« NY Times: For Science Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap?

The Bird Flu Breakdown Part 1: Two Children in Vietnam

The much anticipated bird-flu plague has yet to emerge, despite much hue and cry. This comes as no surprise to those of us who are familiar with the machinations of the WHO (World Health Organization), CDC and NIH, and their pharmaceutical partners.

But, for those more trusting of public health authorities who wish to know more about the making of public health policy, I thought I’d review some of the bright and shiny inconsistencies that have come into view on the bird flu.

Stray Cats and Chinamen.

In March, 2006, The Associated Press reported: “In Austria, state authorities said Monday that three cats have tested positive for the deadly strain of bird flu in the country’s first reported case of the disease spreading to an animal other than a bird.”

The report quoted the World Health Organization (WHO), which said that “bird flu poses a greater challenge to the world than any infectious disease, including AIDS…”

Really? Bigger than AIDS? Who knew? But why would it be so? Because three cats in Austria tested positive? What does that mean? How many cats, in all of Austria, did they test? What would happen if you tested every cat?

How about every bird? How about every person? Do we know how many people actually have tested positive for bird flu? Maybe a dozen? A couple hundred?

How about millions.

In the November 8, 2005 New York Times’ , Gina Kolata reports:

“Some experts like Dr. Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York say the A(H5N1) flu viruses are a false alarm. He notes that studies of serum collected in 1992 from people in rural China indicated that millions of people there had antibodies to the A(H5N1) strain. That means that they had been infected with an H5N1 bird virus and recovered, apparently without incident1.”

The 2004 Nature Medicine study2 that Kolata refers to puts it like this:

“It may be possible that infections of humans by avian influenza viruses have been ongoing for decades and it is only the reporting that has improved in recent years. If this were the case, the present emphasis on the imminent pandemic outbreak would not be justified.

In fact, seroepidemiological studies conducted among the rural population in China suggest that millions of people have been infected with influenza viruses of the H4-to-H15 subtypes.

Specifically, seroprevalence levels of 2–7% for H5 viruses alone have been reported, and the seropositivity of human sera for H7, H10 and H11 viruses was estimated to be as high as 38, 17 and 15% respectively.”

Millions of healthy Chinese already exposed, and carrying antibodies to Influenza A? But I’ve been told that the bird flu is fatal to half the people who encounter it. I guess somebody forgot to tell these folks to keel over.

And still, the WHO refers to this flu as the “pandemic strain” of “lethal influenza.” But is it? It is true that some people did die. About 115 in 9 years – that’s number of deaths attributed to the probably-not-so-deadly flu. So what did they die of? Why did bird flu kill them and not millions of others?

Two Children in Vietnam

The February 17, 2005 New England Journal of Medicine3 reviews the cases of two children in southern Vietnam, a brother and sister (aged four and nine), whose deaths are attributed to bird flu.

What are the important questions to ask when looking at illness in a rural, relatively poor country? First, how did the children live? What was their lifestyle, income or poverty level? How was their access to basic medical care, food and water? These things are crucial, but they are the very questions that are ignored when researchers get a fever for an a priori cause.

This NEJM study states in the title that bird flu was to blame: “Fatal Avian Influenza A (H5N1) in a Child Presenting with Diarrhea Followed by Coma”, but a thorough reading reveals that the children lived in a village and region notable for “crowded living conditions and diarrhea,” where there was a high rate of “gastrointestinal infection and acute encephalitis [brain inflammation],” which, the authors note, “alone or in combination are common clinical syndromes in southern Vietnam.”

Why is there so much endemic illness in rural tropical countries? Possibilities: Pesticide use, unsanitary living conditions, lack of sewage treatment and clean water.

How does that play out here? The report describes the daily living conditions: “The family lived in a one-room house…Water from a nearby canal was used for washing and, after boiling, for drinking. Patient 1 swam regularly in this canal, as did other children in the neighborhood.”

These children swam in a canal where people washed, where animals lived, and presumably where people dumped waste – and they also drank (and cooked with) that water too? And they ended up in the hospital with…. diarrhea? Hard to believe!

“[The patient had] a two-day history of fever, headache, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. His stools (daily frequency, 10 times) were watery without blood or mucus. On admission, he was alert, and the results of physical examination were unremarkable….In both siblings, the clinical diagnosis was acute encephalitis.”

Diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. But no lung problems: “Neither patient had respiratory symptoms at presentation…A chest radiograph also was normal”

Which the doctors note was strange, because congested lungs are the hallmark of this avian influenza: “[W]hy influenza H5N1 presented in this similar atypical manner in these two siblings remains an enigma.”

But both of these children died; the girl within a single day, the boy within five days of entering the hospital. Upon admission, they were both given strong antibiotics: cephalosporins (beta-lactam drugs) and aminoglycosides4.

Aminoglycosides are associated with some potent toxicities, but beta-lactam drugs are the greater concern. Up to 10 percent of people world-wide have toxic shock reactions to these drugs, that can result in severe illness and even death.

A 2000 case report in the journal of Pediatric Dentistry states5:

“The incidence of adverse events triggered by penicillins [beta-lactam drugs] is believed to be between 1% and 10%. Up to one-tenth of these episodes are life-threatening, with the most serious reactions occurring in patients with no history of allergy.”

A 1997 review in the journal Postgraduate Medicine6 reports:

“The most feared adverse events attributed to beta-lactam antibiotics are IgE type I immediate or accelerated reactions. These develop within minutes to hours of drug administration and cause hypotension [abnormally low blood pressure], laryngeal edema [swollen throat – difficulty swallowing and/or breathing] or bronchospasm [lung spasm – difficulty breathing].”

“Unpredictable reactions occur independent of the dose and route of administration…a number of host factors (ie, genetic makeup….[concurrent] medical disorders) affect the frequency and severity of antibiotic-related adverse reactions].”(ibid)

A 2004 study in Clinical & Experimental Allergy7 states:

“The prevalence of self-reported drug allergy was 7.8%, 4.5% to penicillins or other betalactams…The most common manifestations were cutaneous [skin] (63.5%), followed by cardiovascular [heart and blood vessels] symptoms (35.9%). Most of the reactions were immediate, occurring on the first day of treatment (78.5%).”

“Occurring on the first day of treatment.” In this case, a drowsy nine-year-old girl with a four-day history of fever and diarrhea, but no lung problems, died within a day of entering a hospital and being medicated.

The girl’s brother, who entered the hospital alert, but with diarrhea, fever and vomiting, died within five days of being medicated. Siblings and family members often share allergies, including those to drugs. There is no record in the report of testing either child for an allergic reaction to any drug, so it has to be considered as a factor in their demise.

But how would you know if it was really toxic shock? By doing an autopsy, and examining the organs. We can assume that no one was interested in asking those questions, because in both cases: “Acute encephalitis of unknown origin was reported as the cause of death. No autopsy was performed.”

Besides the potential immediate allergic reaction, there are the standard effects of antibiotics – nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, muscular weakness and exhaustion8. Why do these drugs make you weak? Because they kill beneficial bacteria, and damage mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles that drive our cells and bodies. Does any of this help in recovery from weakness, vomiting and severe diarrhea? Not likely. What do antibiotics do for viruses? Nothing. Nothing at all. Presuming a virus was the problem.

The patient progressed predictably:

“As a result of increasing diarrhea and drowsiness, the patient was transferred to a pediatric referral hospital in Ho Chi Minh City on February 15.”

The rest was painful. Lots of drugging, followed by increased weakness, which led the doctors to be more aggressive. Both children were given spinal taps, an invasive and painful procedure in which a syringe needle is pushed through the spinal sheath between two vertebrae, in order to collect fluid for analysis.

The procedure requires patients to be still and relaxed as the needle penetrates their spine, then to lie flat for hours to avoid further trauma. The physical and emotional discomfort to a child could be extreme. But of equal or greater concern is the potential for introducing foreign material into the cerebrospinal fluid – it is a dangerous procedure. But in the case of the younger brother, it was especially so. In his case it was “traumatic”.

“Laboratory analysis of cerebrospinal fluid obtained by means of a slightly traumatic lumbar puncture….the lumbar puncture was traumatic…”

What does this mean, exactly? That the child squirmed, the flesh was torn wider than was intended, it bled a great deal, he was frightened, they did the procedure poorly and went into a nerve or jammed the needle in too far? Who knows? They don’t say, only that it was “traumatic”.

The results of the spinal taps were “zero or one white blood cell per cubic millimeter” – not signaling infection. An unexpected result in children who supposedly died of massive, disseminated viral infection. It does sounds like exposure to a toxin, however. But no toxicological tests were done.

Following that came more drugs, then more weakness, and then, “The patient had a generalized convulsion and became comatose 12 hours after admission.” He began to have trouble breathing, so they intubated (pushed a tube down the throat), ventilated (pushed air into his lungs), added barbiturate sedatives (Phenobarbital) and he perished a day later.

You could be forgiven for thinking that two sick children went into a rural hospital, were over-drugged, poorly cared for, and died as a result.

But we’re asked to exclude every other factor, because one of the children tested positive for influenza A (as do millions of others). And so, we are permitted to believe that it was one thing – the killer flu (and nothing else) – that was responsible for the deaths of these children.

(It should be noted that only one child’s death was attributed to the flu – the younger brother, who died in five days. Why? Because only his sample remained when the WHO came to town, nine months later, scavenging for potential flu cases. The children died in February, 2004; the WHO made the bird-flu diagnosis in November.)

Q: Why would a child test positive for influenza A?

A: Obviously, because he was exposed to sick birds.

As the report indicates:

“The routes of transmission in our patients are unclear. Epidemiologic investigations did not reveal exposure to ill poultry…the family owned apparently healthy fighting cocks. The parents did not handle poultry from markets.”

But it was certainly bird flu, because it was so terribly contagious:

“Before the children were admitted, they were cared for by both parents and several close relatives. No febrile [fever] illnesses were reported in the parents, close relatives, or other residents of the hamlet.”

“Direct transmission from sister to brother appears unlikely, considering the interval between their illnesses. Assuming that the two children died of the same illness, why influenza H5N1 presented in this similar atypical manner in these two siblings remains an enigma.”

So nobody else was sick, it doesn’t look like flu, there are no sick birds. An “enigma!” But it’s still bird flu, according to the WHO. So there’s only one thing left to do.

“Many chickens and ducks were present in the hamlet and canal during early 2004, but none were ill. All were culled in February as part of routine measures to contain the outbreak of influenza H5N1 in poultry.”

Sorry? What outbreak of H5N1 in poultry? But the WHO says it’s so, so a family and village that has lost two children now loses its pets, food supply and livelihood. Bye-bye birdies.

Killed or Culled?

Of all the birds that have died worldwide, how many actually died of illness? No one seems to be bothered by the question:

In October, 2004, ChinaDaily.com reported: “Last week, some 3,000 chickens from three private farms in southern Tien Giang province [Vietnam] died or were culled after they were suspected of contracting the disease….Bird flu has killed or forced the cull of more than 43 million poultry in Vietnam.”

In September, 2005, the PBS investigative program “Wide Angle” reported that “Across Asia, some 200 million chickens and ducks have been killed outright by the disease or culled in an attempt to stave off further deaths, resulting in massive losses for poultry producers large and small9.”

And on May 12, 2006, FoxNews reported that “at least 113 people have died from the [H5N1] strain, which led to the slaughter of more than 200 million animals to prevent what health officials had warned could be a lethal pandemic.”

Two Hundred million animals slaughtered – all for a World Health Organization “could be,” because it could be infectious in humans.

But it was not in the case of the two children: “No febrile [fever] illnesses were reported in the parents, close relatives, or other residents of the hamlet.”

In 1998, the journal Science reported that a 3-year-old in Hong Kong died of bird flu, and yet:

“A clear epidemiologic link was not established between the infected child and infected poultry…there were a few sick chickens at the child’s preschool, but there is no evidence that the chickens were infected with avian influenza or that the child was in close contact with them10.”

Similarly a March, 2004 NEJM report attributes eight deaths to bird flu, but notes that no one exposed to the patients in hospital became ill:

“The absence of any report to date of a similar illness among the health care workers who cared for these patients, despite the lack of full droplet and respiratory infection-control measures early in the outbreak, is reassuring11.”

In December, 2005, MSN-Japan reported: “China has given a clean bill of health to 41 people who came in contact with a woman who died of bird flu….The latest case was in Xinyuan, a county in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, where 300 birds died on Nov. 24.”

One death, no infectious illness. But, just to be sure: “Authorities culled more than 118,000 poultry within a three-kilometer radius as a precaution.”

A six kilometer-wide area of birds killed, because we believe half of the people who are infected will die, even though millions test positive, because the health authorities and the media repeat it like a mantra: “fatal influenza! fatal influenza! Pandemic strain!”

But it’s not found in evidence. A March, 2004 NEJM study on flu patients cautions: “We cannot rule out the possibility of mild or subclinical infection in persons exposed to either ill poultry or ill persons11.”

“Mild bird flu” can’t be ruled out? I’ve never heard that on the evening news. So what would make a case “mild or subclinical” versus “fatal”?

The report on the brother and sister who died, with no exposure to sick birds, notes that the answer may not be in the virus, but in the patient:

“Further research is needed to determine whether host factors, which may determine a person’s susceptibility to disseminated or central nervous system infection, or a particularly neurologically virulent strain of virus, is involved.”

“Host factors” – a person’s constitution and pre-existing level of health. For example, whether the patient is a child from a poor, rural village with polluted water? That might be worth considering. How about how a patient is medicated? Maybe we should call for “further research” there, too.

But no, say the health authorities. Just because it doesn’t look like influenza, doesn’t mean we can’t call it bird flu:

“Patient 1 had no respiratory symptoms and a normal chest radiograph less than 24 hours before she died. Although Patient 2 showed signs of pneumonia during the last day of his life, a respiratory illness was not considered his most relevant clinical problem. Recently, another patient with influenza H5N1 was described with an initial presentation of fever and diarrhea alone.

These cases emphasize that avian influenza A (H5N1) should be included in the differential diagnosis of a much wider clinical spectrum of disease than previously considered and that clinical surveillance of influenza H5N1 should focus not only on respiratory illnesses, but also on clusters of unexplained deaths or severe illnesses of any kind3.”

“Include a much wider spectrum of disease…..focus on unexplained deaths or severe illnesses of any kind.” If I didn’t know better, I’d say that it sounded like somebody was trying to make it a lot easier to diagnose people with bird flu. Fever and diarrhea in Vietnam used to be “fever and diarrhea” – tropics and poverty and poor sanitation. Something we could do something about, if we wanted to. But now we don’t have to think about that. Because now, it’s “deadly H5N1″.

What does all this add up to – Bird Flu, or Bird Flu Fever? A bad cold, or bad medicine? Whatever it is, it’s certainly business as usual for the World Health Organization, and for the major media, who don’t, can’t or won’t, ask questions of the medical authorities.

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Bird Flu Breakdown…

References:

1 Hazard in Hunt for New Flu The New York Times November 8, 2005.

fn2.”Influenza: old and new threats”. Palese, P. Nature Medicine Supplement, December 2004 (v10;n12)

3 “Fatal Avian Influenza A (H5N1) in a Child Presenting with Diarrhea Followed by Coma”. February 17, 2005; ; Volume 352:686-691, Number 7.

4 Drugs given:acetaminophen (tylenol), ceftriaxone and ceftazidime ( beta-lactam antibiotics), amikacin and gentamicin (aminoglycoside antibiotics), phenobarbital (barbituate/sedative/hypnotic) and mannitol (sugar)

5 “Adverse reaction to amoxicillin: a case report”. da Fonseca; American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Sep-Oct 2000; 22(5):401-4, 209.

6 Adverse Reactions to Antibiotics: Clues for Recognizing, Understanding, and Avoiding them Gleckman, R., MD; Borrego, F.,MD; Postgraduate Medicine, April 1997,v.101, n.4.

Testing for allergic reactions to antibiotics, from “Adverse Reactions to Antibiotics:

The most reliable way to assess a patient’s risk for a type I IgE-mediated reaction is to measure the skin test response to the “major” and “minor” penicillin determinants. Unfortunately, only the major skin testing determinant (benzylpenicilloyl-polylysine [Pre-Pen]) is commercially available. Testing with major determinant alone would fail to identify a significant number of patients at risk for serious allergic reactions.

Therefore, unless the patient is at a research center where minor determinant can be prepared, the clinician must try to decipher the patient’s drug allergy history, even though such histories are often vague or unreliable.

7 Self-reported drug allergy in a general adult Portuguese population. Gomes, et al. Clinical Experimental Allergy. October 2004;34(10):1597-601.

8 “Gastro-intestinal side effects including diahrroea, nausea and vomiting may occur quite frequently. Pseudomembranous colitis has also been reported.Super-infection is relatively common. Doses should be reduced in severe renal failure.” ( Amoxicillin package insert 2002, Malahyde Information Systems).

“Virtually all antibiotics have been associated with C difficile [bacteria]-related diarrhea and colitis; ampicillin, clindamycin (Cleocin), and the cephalosporins are most commonly implicated.”(Postgraduate Medicine4)

9 WideAngle – H5N1 PBS, September 2005

10 Science; January 16, 1998; Vol 279, Issue 5349, 393-396

11 NEJM, March 18, 2004; V.350:1179-1188; N.12

[italics added throughout by author for emphasis]

Thanks to Jon Rappoport’s “No More Fake News”: for picking up the Kolata NY Times story first, to Dr. A. Maniotis of U. Illinois for research support and assistance, and to Michael Kane of FromTheWilderness.com for his much valued help and encouragement.

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Neville Hodgkinson gives global HIV?AIDS the business

May 21st, 2006


Why they are cutting up red ribbons in India

Have a look at The circular reasoning scandal of HIV testing by Neville Hodgkinson for a realistic view of the world HIV?AIDS scene before it is obscured by the gassy cloud of rhetorical smoke and statistical mirrors about to emerge from the UN government meet on “AIDS After 25 Years” at the cusp of June (May 31 Wed to June 2 Fri).

While the paradigm purveyors hope that India and China will provide a gigantic expansion of the market for the ideas and the drugs that go along with them, it seems that in fact there is a possibility that India and perhaps even China will join the “denialist” South Africa in picking up the idea with extremely long tongs.

It is not impossible that Indian scientists may actually compared the scientific literature with the claims being pushed on them by Bill Gates and Richard Holbrooke, claims for a paradigm which otherwise has long been liberated from the annoying tendency of critical skeptics – those party spoilers who are wisely shut out of most high level deliberations on the future of world disease – to fire up PubMed and see exactly what it is we should be worried about. It is the Indian National Academy of Science after all which had the independence of mind to publish Peter Duesberg’s latest broadside against the entire edifice of HIV?AIDS in 2003 (see Duesberg, P., Koehnlein, C. and Rasnick, D. (2003) The Chemical Bases of the Various AIDS Epidemics: Recreational Drugs, Anti-viral Chemotherapy and Malnutrition (J. Biosci. 28: 383-412)), which seemed to leave not a brick of this doubtful hypothesis standing. Now people counted as “HIV positive” are cutting up the red ribbon as a symbol of patronising oppression:
In India, a proposed Red Ribbon Campaign through the national rail network has been abandoned, following a national convention on HIV in Bangalore last October attended by more than 1,500 HIV-positive people where the once-fashionable symbol of Aids awareness was ceremoniously rejected. In front of television cameras, a six-foot red ribbon was cut into pieces as a protest against the “oppressive and patronising” symbol.
Perhaps this attitude will reduce one of the more factual threats of being tested “positive”, which is that panic overcomes the patient and by itself throws the body’s systems into disarray.

HIV?AIDS peddlers are finding out that India happens not to be as intellectually challenged as less developed countries or the bulk of the United States when it comes to viewing official statistics with a juandiced eye, it is clear:

That is not the view of Anju Singh, of JACKINDIA, a Delhi-based Aids policy study group. Singh, chief guest at the Bangalore convention, told The Business last week that “there are no reports – not even anecdotal ones – that reflect visible proof of an epidemic in this country.” The official estimate for HIV infections is around 5m; but a dearth of Aids cases – averaging 10,000 a year over the past 10 years – suggests that is grossly wrong.

Nor has there been any abnormal increase in death rates, even in suspected “high risk groups” such as red light areas. The Indian government does not publish data for Aids deaths; but “questions we got asked in Parliament have elicited a cumulative figure of 1,100.” When UNAIDS published a figure of 310,000 Aids deaths in India in 1999 alone, and a cumulative total of 558,000 Aids orphans, JACKINDIA challenged them publicly. In late 2001 the figures were withdrawn – but only after being used earlier that year to project the state of the epidemic in India at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/Aids in New York.

“For years now, agencies like the CIA, World Bank, UNDP, UNAIDS, a plethora of NGOs as well as articles published in respected science journals have been talking of an exploding epidemic in India, and Africa-like conditions,” Singh said. “We have consistently challenged the agencies that claim India is underplaying figures and is in denial; none of them has been able to provide any alternative data or evidence to substantiate their claims.”

Gay men leading “fast-track” sex lives, drug addicts, blood product recipients and others whose immune systems are exposed to multiple challenges and who are at risk of Aids are much more likely to have raised levels of the antibodies looked for by the tests than healthy people – because the antigens in the tests were chosen on the basis that they react with antibodies in Aids patients. But this association does not prove the presence of a lethal new virus.

The tests do discriminate between healthy blood and the blood of patients with Aids or Aids-like conditions, because Aids patients suffer a range of active infections and other blood abnormalities, some of which are transmissible. This is why the tests are useful as a screen for the safety of blood supplies.

But to tell even one person that they are HIV-infected on the grounds that they have antibodies that react with the proteins in these tests is an unwarranted assault.

New Yorker scores a point for Stossel

May 16th, 2006

Cartoon to give pause to all

Very witty. But in fact, according to independent scholar Bob Houston, there are studies which indicate that cavemen lasted a lot longer, sometimes as old as ninety. He promises to provide them shortly.

John Stossel shows media how to bust myths, not promote them

May 13th, 2006

Artist of the small screen educates the public

A sweet natured, sensitive artistic type, that’s the surprising impression given by ABC ace reporter John Stossel when you meet him in person. We enountered him a while back in the audience at a talk at CUNY in Manhattan, and his oddly gentle presence reminded us of the strange fact that the few mainstream reporters who rise to truthseeking in their craft tend to have surprisingly delicate social sensibilities, even though they also must have the armor plated egos needed to survive the attacks of those discomfited by their work.

An example from HIV?AIDS is Celia Farber of Harper’s, a perceptive social critic whose endless perseverance in rolling the great boulder of apathy over to reveal the wriggling worms of venality and error that infest the science of the field is driven by two things – her family tradition of mixing comment and reporting (her father is the celebrated radio talk host with the richly flavored voice, Barry Farber), and an abiding personal concern for the victims of the baseless paradigm HIV=AIDS (the word is used advisedly, for we can now say there is, as far we have counted to date in our own twenty year examination, and despite Bob Gallo’s best efforts to create one, not a single reason for credibility to be found in the literature of the field).

POZ: You’re billed as the most controversial AIDS journalist around.

Farber: I don’t think of myself as controversial at all. I think what others perceive as controversial is that I’ve lent gravity to large questions that most mainstream AIDS reporters have felt comfortable ignoring entirely. The biggest of all being, Does HIV cause AIDS? I’ve never said that it does or it does not — I’m not really equipped to know. But when I look around and see legions of respectable scientists arguing that it does not, then I cannot see why I shouldn’t report it. It’s not only news — it’s great human drama. It’s Shakespearean! And I for one really want to know how it’s going to end, and what the moral is going to be.

It has driven me nearly bananas. It is my private hell, but also my great Sisyphean challenge. My labyrinth…

In my view there is only one responsibility, and that one has been abdicated: To investigate. To question. One has a responsibility to the facts, period. Just tell me whether I was right or wrong. That’s all that matters in the end.

The Most Dangerous AIDS Reporter in POZ:

VIRUSMYTH HOMEPAGE

INTERVIEW CELIA FARBER

The Most Dangerous AIDS Reporter

By Richard Berkowitz

POZ April 2000

Her renegade coverage had the AIDS world screaming bloody murder. Now, writer Richard Berkowitz gets Celia Farber to answer a decade of charges — and level a few of her own.

Celia Farber “penetrates the ostensible,” probing and asking questions long after other big-name AIDS reporters file their stories and head home. She first made her mark in 1987 with her monthly Spin column, “Words From the Front.” Over the next decade, her sacred-cow-skewering reportage became an AIDS must-read, with investigations into such controversies as whether HIV causes AIDS and whether AZT kills, ground-breaking coverage of long-term survival and a platform for even the most extreme HIV dissidents. Farber may have made enemies in high places, but pioneering PWA Michael Callen, in his will, called her “the best AIDS reporter in the country.”

And she has paid the price for her renegade style: a barrage of personal and professional attacks culminating in 1995 with a high-profile sexual-harassment lawsuit against Spin and its publisher, Bob Guccione, Jr., during which Farber testified as exhibit A, said by the prosecution to have earned her job because of her romantic involvement with Guccione rather than her journalistic skills. After a bruising battle, the jury found that there had been no sexual favoritism. Soon afterward, Guccione sold Spin, and “Words From the Front” was picked up by the on-line magazine Iron Minds. Farber, 34, lives in New York City with her husband and son. She continues to make waves in her renamed column, “Welcome to the Machine”.

POZ: You’re billed as the most controversial AIDS journalist around.

Farber: I don’t think of myself as controversial at all. I think what others perceive as controversial is that I’ve lent gravity to large questions that most mainstream AIDS reporters have felt comfortable ignoring entirely. The biggest of all being, Does HIV cause AIDS? I’ve never said that it does or it does not — I’m not really equipped to know. But when I look around and see legions of respectable scientists arguing that it does not, then I cannot see why I shouldn’t report it. It’s not only news — it’s great human drama. It’s Shakespearean! And I for one really want to know how it’s going to end, and what the moral is going to be.

It has driven me nearly bananas. It is my private hell, but also my great Sisyphean challenge. My labyrinth…

How did you get started writing about the epidemic?

I was working nights at my father’s radio show, The Barry Farber Show, screening calls from listeners in 1986, when he had a guest on, Michael May, who was convinced that AL 721 was the cure for AIDS. I became enthralled with this man and his story and began a yearlong research project into these egg lipids and access and all that. It was a crash course in AIDS politics. I had this burning sense of right and wrong, and this fear that people were being — not murdered exactly, but threatened. Not kept alive.

I was also working as a research assistant at Spin, and I brought the story to Bob Guccione, Jr. Eventually he published the AL 721 article as the first installment of a monthly AIDS column.

Why a monthly AIDS column in a straight music magazine?

Bob said AIDS was the Vietnam of our generation.

You’d known Guccione for a long time.

Yeah. My father introduced us the first time when I was 9 years old, and he was 19. He was publishing a rock magazine called Poster, and he gave me a great poster of David Bowie.

How did you get drawn into the debate over whether HIV causes AIDS?

I read about [HIV naysayer] Dr. Peter Duesberg in The New York Native in 1987, and then interviewed him. My editor at Spin refused to even read it. I snuck the interview onto Bob’s desk, which was really very cheeky. He went nuts. He called me that night and said, “This may be the most important interview I ever publish.”

Bob believes in old-fashioned journalism values, in fighting evil through words. The AIDS column nearly destroyed us before it was all over. But I still think it was worth it.

What were your goals with “Words From the Front?”

To generate copy that Guccione would publish [laughs].

Nothing loftier?

The real, unvarnished truth is I was driven by a tremendous quixotism. I had this terrible sense of dread about AIDS. It felt so very unfair. I wanted to save people. To crack the mystery. To break new ground.

I didn’t grow up with my father close by, but I admired him very much from a distance. And still do. He was one of the pioneers of talk radio and, as a journalist, a real role model for me. During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, he stood in the Danube in the middle of the night and pulled refugees across the border and fought to get them into this country — this kind of thing. Anyway, one day I asked my father what advice he could give me about journalism. He said: “All my advice is summed up in three words. Penetrate the ostensible.”

How were you treated as a result of your reporting?

I was attacked, of course. My motives were impugned, my character, morality. People have tried to have me fired. I’ve been sabotaged. All kinds of bizarre things. I have been guilt-tripped since day one: “You’re homophobic!” “Spreading dangerous theories!” “Scaring people away from AZT!” “Murderer!” But in that atmosphere, I did learn a lot about my favorite subject: mass hysteria.

I no longer give a damn about credit or respect from my peers. Why do I need acknowledgement from a bunch of whores? Little do-gooders. I am astounded by the legions of crisp-shirted AIDS reporters at the major newspapers who churn out this right-sounding, “responsible” babble. Why doesn’t the possibility that the HIV paradigm is wrong worry them? The fact that no proof exists for HIV being the causative agent, that there are thousands of HIV-negative AIDS cases, that the disease is spreading according to a wildly different pattern in Africa than anywhere else. That AZT was killing people never worried them. That the pharmaceutical industry has us all tightly wrapped in its tentacles. Shall I go on?

What were your biggest successes and failures?

My biggest achievement was to expose what went on behind the scenes at the FDA before AZT was approved and to sustain the very necessary critique of that awful drug amidst so much hype and hysteria. And to put out the Sonnabend-Callen-Berkowitz message about both multifactorialism and long-term survival and hope.

My biggest mistake? AL 721. I was simply wrong about that treatment.

You’ve written about the question of an AIDS reporter’s “responsibility.”

It struck me last year at the World AIDS Conference in Geneva. I was suffering through one of these “Media Responsibility in AIDS” panels, featuring Miss America and God knows who else. I bolted out of my chair and said: “This is the whole problem! The fact that you all have some elevated, wooly ‘responsibility.’ That you see yourselves as agents of some greater good.” That is the disastrous turn AIDS reportage took. It absorbed the “responsibility” assigned to it by some composite of Elizabeth Taylor, Mathilde Krim and ACT UP or whomever.

In my view there is only one responsibility, and that one has been abdicated: To investigate. To question. One has a responsibility to the facts, period. Just tell me whether I was right or wrong. That’s all that matters in the end.

What have your years at the AIDS front taught you?

I began writing about AIDS out of a sense of urgency about the illness itself. But that broadened over the years to an even deeper worry: Can truth survive in the so-called Information Age? What is the nature of “facts” in a world where the pharmaceutical industry has flat-out bought the clinical trials and the doctors and journalists and even activists?

In the press room in Geneva, I watched the pharmaceutical reps lay out these envelopes each morning for the reporters at all the major newspapers. They picked them up, went right to their laptops and just wrote straight from that. These Pulitzer Prize-winning AIDS reporters — they have very close “relationships” with drug company PR people. It seems to me they’re the ones who have some explaining to do. Not me.

We have a mind-set now that it’s primitive and passé to malign the drug companies, especially since the miracle of cocktail therapy. But we need a critique now more than ever. Yes, the drugs have saved some lives, but they are also killing people in their tracks. And David Ho’s HIV-eradication stuff is mired in hype and falsity. If an investigation were ever done into viral load, and what precisely is being “measured,” the entire edifice would come crashing down. It’s a mess.

Who has inspired you in your writing about AIDS?

Michael Callen was an enormous inspiration to me. Incalculable. He had the rarest thing of all, a truly open mind. But more important, he had love in his heart. A love for truth. No matter how much it hurt.

I am inspired by my mother, Ulla Farber, who died recently and who always taught me to listen to my “inner voice.” I do actually follow something that comes from inside. That’s where a story starts, with your instinct.

And I am a huge George Orwell fan. His writings apply beautifully to the problems in AIDS, with the subversion of the language and so forth. I had a dream once that I called him up and asked him, “Am I on the right track?” He said, “Yes, you are. Keep going.” It was a great dream.

We wait with interest to see when John Stossel finally gets around to this mega-myth, the largest of all animals in the zoology of misapprehension that he is indexing. We tipped him off to its existence when we spoke to him at CUNY, but since he had heard nothing about it, and nothing has appeared on 20/20, we can only suppose that his producers continue to be wary of placing him in the path of the juggernaut, though we know they have looked into it.

For the moment, his new book, the second on the topic, ‘Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity’, provides plenty of enlightenment for those of us who wonder how many other media stories are bunk too. In the book, celebrated tonight May 12 Fri on 20/20 with ten examples from his text, Stossel rounds up more of the usual suspects, which interested readers may already know from two key books on scientific mythmaking, James Hogan‘s thorough survey, ‘Kicking the Sacred Cow’, and Tom Bethell‘s ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science’.

Two of our longtime favorites are on Stossel’s list. First is the myth/reality of the dangers of radiation, where it appears that at low levels radiation is much less dangerous than thought, and may even be beneficial. Chernobyl claimed only 56 lives, for example, not hundreds of thousands as some people tell Stossel. The 20/20 segment included happy bathers in pools in Europe filled with mildly radioactive water, and mines in the US with seats where customers sit and absorb the benefits, saying they feel quite invigorated afterwards.

Also interesting is that Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has switched sides on nuclear power now, having found out that low radiation wasn’t the death threat he thought it was.

Just weeks later, a nuclear power plant in Three Mile Island, Penn., released radioactivity in the air. People fled and worried that officials weren’t telling them about lingering health hazards from the accident.

In truth, the people living in the area were exposed to an average of 6.5 millirems of radiation. We now know that’s meaningless given that every year, all of us absorb about 30 millirems from the ground, 26 from the sun, 10 from just one dental X-ray, 10 from food, and 5 from our own drinking water.

Patrick Moore, who co-founded the environmental organization Greenpeace, said the group has actually fostered people’s exaggerated fears.

“It’s because they’re being told over and over and over again through the media that they are going to be damaged and killed by radiation from nuclear power,” he said.

Moore is now at odds with his former friends at Greenpeace. He’s now a consultant for the nuclear power industry.

“Not a single person is being killed in the nuclear industry, and people are wanting to ban it. It’s pure scare tactics,” he said.

But what about that accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine 20 years ago? It terrified the world.

The media projected hundreds of thousands of deaths.

In truth, a study by eight international agencies found 56 people were killed, mostly firefighters and workers at the plant. Thousands of other people may still die of cancer, but nowhere near the number that was predicted. The study said the biggest health menace the people of Chernobyl faced was psychological trauma, in part from fear. The fear was worse than the radiation.

The second is More Foreign Aid Will End Global Poverty, which deals with the unhappy fact (as we posted earlier in Is aid killing Africa? James Shikwati, African economist, objects., last July 7) that generous but unaudited American aid to African nations seems only to ensure their populations remain mired in poverty, since the money is typically swiped by the kleptocrats that run such nations as Kenya (will the new government there be any different?), who according to Stossel when they are not pocketing the cash, building large mansions, and selling the food and equipment on the black market, are busy bulldozing the shanty stalls of the few entrepreneurs in their slums.

There is video of a screaming woman dragged away from the path of a machine wrecking her rickety, tin roofed shop and the goods in it. And later a carpenter points out that there is no point in expanding his business when that may happen to him at any time.

All this makes the boneheadedly uncritical Bono look rather silly as he stops his concert to ask everyone to use their cell phones to vote for more aid, and Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs doesn’t come off too well either. He after all is responsible for persuading donor nations to up the ante to $50 billion, without doing anything more to ensure that the spending is audited properly, even though he angrily tells Stossel that this is quite feasible if necessary.

Angelina Jolie visited a model village in Africa to promote what she believes would be possible if our governments would just give more. The village she visited is the creation of Jeffrey Sachs, director of the U.N. Millennium Project and author of the best-selling “The End of Poverty.” He’s also America’s most vocal promoter of giving more foreign aid to Africa.

“How can we go another day when 20,000 children are going to be dying of these stupid reasons that are utterly preventable,” he asked.

Sachs helped persuade Western governments to double foreign aid to Africa to $50 billion dollars. And the people in his model village were thrilled about getting all this help from Sachs and Jolie.

Other myths examined in the 20/20 hour were The World Is Running Out of Oil, Price-Gouging Is Bad, Secondhand Smoke Is a Killer, Teachers Are Underpaid, Flight Delays Are Due to Weather and Elephants Are Afraid of Mice.

Prices are the only way to ration scarce commodities in a crisis, of course, so Stossel can find Milton Friedman and two other Nobel economists to applaud what is called “price gouging”.

He showed an example of an enterprising fellow who had rented a van and driven 20 generators down into Lousiana in the aftermath of Katrina, and offered them for sale at a 100 per cent markup. Instead of being able to sell them to 20 grateful homeowners, he was clapped in jail for four days and the generators still languish in police custody.

As the economists and Stossel point out, if price rationing (“gouging”) is banned, there is no incentive for taking such an initiative, and God help those who rely on the federal government to take up the slack.

Turns out that teachers are not that underpaid, either. One on a picket line tells the camera she is making $60,000, and several talk of relaxing in spas and vacation spots during the three months summer break that is standard. A list of lesser paid folk (firemen and women are at the bottom) was appended.

Also, remember teachers are paid for just nine months of work. They have the summer off. Some work summer school, others relax.

Some teachers take the time off to relax, go to spas. One teacher I talked to said he went to Mexico for two months.

“If I’m going to be a good Spanish teacher, wouldn’t it behoove me to spend some time in Mexico,” he said.

It might, but the summer off means when you calculate teachers’ hourly wages, you find teachers make more than chemists, physical therapists, psychologists, registered nurses, aircraft mechanics and firefighters.

Obviously some of these topics may be complicated by a variety of factors left out in the four minute 20/20 segments, but the general conclusions seem valid. One thing for sure, the Stossel style of reexamining public myths, most of which are media myths too, is the style we need to teach in journalism schools and newsrooms across the country, not to menton some of the science reporters in a certain newspaper headquartered within shouting distance of Times Square.

We salute John Stossel for keeping his wits about him amid the rich temptations of television and for being the best, if unrecognized, scientific reporter on the screen. In a world where even PBS Frontline coverage of HIV?AIDS is as much a press release from the NIH as it is reporting, Stossel sets a very fine example of what HIV?AIDS reporting should be.

In his new book, he describes the essential problems in science reporting well:

MYTH: The media will check it out and give you the objective truth.

TRUTH: Many in the media are scientifically clueless, and will scare you to death. We don’t do it on purpose. We just want to give you facts. But the people who bring us story ideas are alarmed. Then we get alarmed, and eager to rush that news to you.

We know that the scarier and more bizarre the story, the more likely it is that our bosses will give us more air time or a front-page slot. The scary story, justified or not, will get higher ratings and sell more papers. Fear sells. That’s the reason for the insiders’ joke about local newscasts: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Also, raising alarms makes us feel important.

If we bothered to keep digging until we found the better scientific experts, rather than the ones who send out press releases, we’d get the real story. But reporters rarely know whom to call. And if we did, many real scientists don’t want to be bothered. Why get involved in a messy debate? It might upset someone in government and threaten the scientist’s grant money. “I’d rather be left alone to do my work, and not have to babysit dumb reporters,” one told me.

Let’s hope the producers at 20/20 finally get up the nerve to let Stossel loose soon on the biggest myth of all in modern medicine, in which science has become completely unmoored from its own literature.

Here (click ‘Show’ below) is the excerpt provided by Stossel from Chapter One of his new book, which is a good read in itself. It has a nice section on Bruce Ames of Berkeley telling him that organic produce is as full of natural carcinogens as any other food.

DR. AMES No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.

DR. AMES One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you’re going to drink in a day.

STOSSEL So you’re saying we shouldn’t eat fresh produce?

DR. AMES No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I’ll eat a raw mushroom even though it’s full of carcinogens.

Even so, we remain entirely convinced that organic food tastes better, as long as it is correctly “framed”, ie labeled “Organic”.

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May 12, 2006 | Local News and Weather

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In his latest book, “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity,” John Stossel expands on his popular “Myth” segments on “20/20” and unearths truths often distorted — or disregarded — by the media. Below is an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Clueless Media

Thomas Jefferson said he’d rather live in a country with a free press and no government, than in one with a government but no press. “The only security of all is in a free press,” he wrote. “It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

I couldn’t agree more. Without media to tell us about the excesses of government, the risks of life, and the wonderful new ideas that emerge constantly from every cranny in America, our lives would be narrow, and our freedom diminished. The Fourth Estate both informs and protects us. “Where the press is free, and every man able to read,” said Jefferson, “all is safe.”

However, thirty-six years working in the media has left me much more skeptical of its product. Reporters are good at telling us what happened today: what buildings burned down, what army invaded, the size of the hurricane that’s coming. Many reporters take astonishing risks to bring us this news. We owe them thanks.

But when it comes to science and economics, and putting life’s risks in perspective, the media do a dismal job.

MYTH: The media will check it out and give you the objective truth.

TRUTH: Many in the media are scientifically clueless, and will scare you to death. We don’t do it on purpose. We just want to give you facts. But the people who bring us story ideas are alarmed. Then we get alarmed, and eager to rush that news to you.

We know that the scarier and more bizarre the story, the more likely it is that our bosses will give us more air time or a front-page slot. The scary story, justified or not, will get higher ratings and sell more papers. Fear sells. That’s the reason for the insiders’ joke about local newscasts: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Also, raising alarms makes us feel important.

If we bothered to keep digging until we found the better scientific experts, rather than the ones who send out press releases, we’d get the real story. But reporters rarely know whom to call. And if we did, many real scientists don’t want to be bothered. Why get involved in a messy debate? It might upset someone in government and threaten the scientist’s grant money. “I’d rather be left alone to do my work, and not have to babysit dumb reporters,” one told me.

One real scientist, Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, did make the effort. He urged a skeptical reporter (me) to be more skeptical of pseudologic from pseudoscientists: “The number of storks in Europe has been going down for years, the birth rate’s going down for years,” Dr. Ames pointed out. “If you plot one against the other, it’s a beautiful correlation. But it doesn’t mean storks bring babies.”

We’ve been swallowing the storks-bring-babies kind of logic for years. (My favorite version: I see fat people drinking diet soda; therefore diet soda must make people fat.) For instance, stories about pesticides making food carcinogenic would fill several pages of a Google search. To the scientifically illiterate, the stories are logical. After all, farmers keep using new pesticides, we consume them in the food we eat, and we keep hearing more people are getting cancer. It must be cause and effect! Get the shovel.

MYTH: Pesticide residues in food cause cancer and other diseases.

TRUTH: The residues are largely harmless.

Ames laughs at the claims of chemically induced cancers, and he should know-he’s the one who invented the test that first frightened people about a lot of those chemicals. It’s called the Ames Test, and its first use in the 1970s raised alarms by revealing there were carcinogens in hair dye, and in the flame retardants in children’s pajamas. Ames helped get the chemicals banned.

Before the Ames Test, the traditional way to test a substance was to feed big doses of it to animals and wait to see if they got cancer or had babies with birth defects. But those tests took two to three years and cost $100,000. So Dr. Ames said, “Instead of testing animals, why not test bacteria? You can study a billion of them on just one Petri dish and you don’t have to wait long for the next generation. Bacteria reproduce every twenty minutes.”

The test proved successful. It was hailed as a major scientific breakthrough, and today, the Ames Test is one of the standards used to discover if a substance is carcinogenic.

But after getting the hair dye and the flame retardants banned, Dr. Ames and other scientists continued testing chemicals. “People started using our test,” he told me, “and finding mutagens everywhere-in cups of coffee, on the outside of bread, and when you fry your hamburger!”

This made him wonder if his tests were too sensitive, and led him to question the very bans he’d advocated. A few years later, when I went to a supermarket with him, he certainly didn’t send out any danger signals.

DR. AMES Practically everything in the supermarket, if you really looked at it at the parts per billion level, would have carcinogens. Vegetables are good for you, yet vegetables make toxic chemicals to keep off insects, so every vegetable is 5 percent of its weight in toxic chemicals. These are Nature’s pesticides. Celery, alfalfa sprouts, and mushrooms are just chock-full of carcinogens.

STOSSEL Over there it says “Organic Produce.” Is that better?

DR. AMES No, absolutely not, because the amount of pesticide residues-man-made pesticide residues-people are eating are actually trivial and very, very tiny amounts! We get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than we do in all the pesticide residues you eat in a day.

In a cup of coffee? To put the risks in perspective, Ames and his staff analyzed the results of every cancer test done on rats and mice. By comparing the dose that gave the rodents cancer to the typical exposure people get, they came up with a ranking of the danger. Pesticides such as DDT and EDB came out much lower than herb tea, peanut butter, alcohol, and mushrooms. We moved over to the mushrooms as the cameras continued to roll, and Dr. Ames put his mouth where his convictions were.

DR. AMES One raw mushroom gives you much more carcinogens than any polluted water you’re going to drink in a day.

STOSSEL So you’re saying we shouldn’t eat fresh produce?

DR. AMES No. Fresh produce is good for you! Here, I’ll eat a raw mushroom even though it’s full of carcinogens.

Dr. Ames is widely respected in the scientific community, but he is not on many journalists’ electronic Rolodexes. He’s the real deal, and no help at all if you’re looking for screaming headlines.

MYTH: Radioactivity is deadly; keep it away from food!

TRUTH: Food irradiation saves lives.

A classic example of journalists falling for a stunningly stupid scientific scare-falling en masse and really hard-was the outcry over treating food with radiation.

The irradiation process would give consumers wonderful new options: strawberries that stay fresh three weeks, and chicken without the harmful levels of salmonella that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kill six hundred Americans every year, and cause countless cases of food poisoning. (The last time you thought you had the flu, you may have really been sick from bacteria on chicken-this is no myth! Wash the counter, your hands, and everything that touches raw meat, because they are all crawling with potentially dangerous germs.)

But reporters and environmental activists don’t worry much about the horrible toll from bacteria. For some reason, even when bacteria pose a far greater risk, the media obsess about chemicals and radiation. Radiation! Horrors! Three Mile Island! Jane Fonda! Nuclear bombs!

They don’t worry much about bacteria because bacteria is natural. But radiation is natural too. We are exposed to natural radiation every minute of our lives: cosmic radiation from space, radiation from the ground, and radiation from radon in the air we breathe. Every year, the average U.S. citizen is exposed to natural radiation equal to about 360 dental X-rays.

The reporters and protesters probably didn’t know that, but even if they did, they’d still be upset because irradiation plants propose passing radiation through food. News stories featured Dr. Walter Burnstein, founder of a “consumer group” named Food & Water, saying, “This will be a public health disaster of the magnitude we have never seen before!” I have to admire the activists’ skill in naming groups: Food & Water. What reporter could argue with a group with a name like that? They must be the good guys, right? I interviewed Dr. Burnstein and his “political organizer,” Michael Colby.

MR. COLBY If you look at the existing studies on humans and animals fed irradiated food, you will find testicular tumors, chromosomal abnormalities, kidney damage, and cancer and birth defects.

STOSSEL Caused because somebody ate irradiated food?

MR. COLBY Absolutely. Absolutely.

STOSSEL [Food & Water claimed an Indian study had said that, but we called the author and she told us she didn’t conclude that at all.] We just talked to her and she says she didn’t say that! She never said those kids were developing cancer.

DR. BURNSTEIN These are pure scientists and she doesn’t want to make that break. We are taking it the extra inch. We’re saying to people, “Don’t-don’t be put to sleep by people who work in test tubes-don’t.” I don’t need proof that it goes to cancer. We already know it leads to cancer.

Reporters gave Burnstein and Colby’s dubious claims so much credulous press coverage that politicians in Maine quickly banned food irradiation. New York and New Jersey followed suit. That spread fear to other states. I went to Mulberry, Florida, to report on a protest against Vindicator, a plant that proposed using radiation to kill germs on strawberries. When I got there, demonstrators were marching with picket signs, chanting, “Don’t nuke our food! Don’t nuke our food!” Their campaign persuaded the state of Florida to put a moratorium on Vindicator’s opening.

DR. BURNSTEIN Vindicator will go out of business, and not only Vindicator. That’ll be the end of the entire irradiation industry … When we go to talk to people, we don’t have to break their arms to convince them not to eat irradiated food. We just say, “Irradiated food,” and people go, “What? Who wants the food irradiated?”

The fact that Dr. Burnstein was not a research scientist, but rather an osteopath with a family practice in New Jersey, didn’t diminish the respect he got from the media. His protests drew headlines and TV coverage. Reporters knew radiation was bad for humans, and therefore bad for food.

One woman stood outside the Vindicator plant shouting angrily, “How much pollution are we going to put into our mouths?!”

“None,” is the answer. People think food irradiation makes food radioactive, but it doesn’t; the radiation just kills the bacteria, and passes right out of the food. That’s why the FDA and USDA approved the process a long time ago. Spices have been irradiated for more than twenty years. Irradiation is good for us. If it were more common, all of us would suffer fewer instances of food poisoning and we could have fruits and vegetables that stay fresh weeks longer. But scaremongering has kept it from catching on.

Food & Water told people that the AMA and the World Health Organization did not approve of irradiation, but that was a lie. Both organizations did approve. WHO told us irradiation is as important as pasteurization.

Pasteurization also met public skepticism when it was introduced. Louis Pasteur discovered that heating milk would kill bacteria, but critics charged that pasteurization was “meddling with nature,” and that it might change the properties of the food-or contaminate it. The U.S. dairy industry actually promoted raw milk as more acceptable than pasteurized milk. Only the persistence of scientists and medical experts allowed pasteurization to become standard practice. Irradiation might save as many lives, if the scaremongers would just get out of the way. After three years of delays, the Vindicator plant finally was allowed to open. But fear of radiation has kept this good idea from spreading across America. Only a tiny fraction of American meat is irradiated today.

If 50 percent were irradiated, the CDC says nearly a million cases of bacterial infections could be avoided and 350 lives could be saved every year. 350 lives! Why isn’t the press screaming about that? Because reporters and legislators look for danger in the wrong places.

Many reporters believe the activists because “something must be causing the cancer epidemic.” Mysterious and unnatural additions to our environment are an easy suspect. After all, during the past fifty years, Americans have been exposed to chemicals and forms of pollution and radiation that humans have never experienced before. “No wonder there’s so much more cancer!” say reporters. Get the shovel.

MYTH: Chemical pollution is the cause of the cancer epidemic!

TRUTH: There is no cancer epidemic.

You wouldn’t know it from the media, but there has been no surge in cancers. The death rate due to cancer has been declining for more than ten years. You might argue that fewer die from cancer today simply because there are better treatments for the disease, but look at the cancer incidence rate.

The incidence of prostate and breast cancer is up, but that’s only because there’s more early detection. In the 1980s more men starting getting PSA tests, and more women had mammograms. Lung cancer increased in women because more women took up cigarettes, and skin cancer increased because of lunatic sunbathing. But overall cancer rates have not been rising, and lots of cancers, like stomach, uterine, and colorectal cancer, are on the decline.

We think there’s a cancer epidemic because we hear more about cancer. Cancer is a disease of an aging population, and fortunately, more people now live long enough to get cancer. More talk about it too. Many years ago people who got cancer were secretive about it.

The other big reason we think there is an epidemic is that the media, suspicious of chemicals, hype dubious risks.

Almost every week, there is another story about a potential menace. Reporters credulously accept the activists’ scare stores: While I’ve been a reporter, I’ve been asked to do alarmist reports about hair dye, dry cleaning, coffee, chewing gum, saccharin, cyclamates, NutraSweet, nitrites, Red No. 2 dye, electric blankets, video display terminals, dental fillings, cellular phones, vaccines, potato chips, farmed salmon, Teflon, antiperspirants, and even rubber duckies.

I refused to do most of those stories, and now I have to ask, if the scares were valid, where are the bodies? If one-tenth of what the reporters suggested was happening did happen, there would be mass death. The opposite is true: Despite exposure to radiation and all those nasty new chemicals, Americans today live longer than ever.

The media hysteria may be nonsense, but our fear is real-and contagious. That can be deadly.

MYTH: DDT causes all kinds of cancers, and nearly wiped out every bird in the world.

TRUTH: DDT saves lives.

Malaria will kill more than one thousand children before you finish reading this book. The chemical DDT is at the core of the problem-not the use of DDT, but the failure to use it because of media hysteria. In Uganda alone, said minister of health Jim Muhwezi, “We are losing between two million and three million people a year.” Think of it: Millions die because the media gets it wrong.

You are probably saying, “What is he talking about? DDT is awful!” But it isn’t. DDT is capable of doing far more good than harm. You just don’t know that, because some people, including reporters, are terrified of DDT.

Here’s how it happened: Fifty years ago, Americans sprayed DDT everywhere. Farmers used it to repel bugs, and health officials to fight mosquitoes that carry malaria. Nobody worried much about chemicals then. It was a shock to watch the old videos my producer found: People at picnics just sat and kept eating while trucks sprayed thick white clouds of DDT on top of them. In fact, when the trucks came to spray, some people ran toward them-as if an ice cream truck had come-they were so happy to have mosquitoes repelled. Tons of DDT were sprayed on food and people.

Despite this overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Scientists found no evidence that spraying DDT seriously hurt people. It did cause some harm: It threatened bird populations by thinning the shells of their eggs.

In 1962, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson made the damage famous and helped instill our fear of chemicals. The book raised some serious questions about the use of DDT, but the legitimate nature of those questions was lost in the media feeding frenzy that followed. DDT was a “Killer Chemical!” and the press was off on another fear campaign.

It turns out DDT itself wasn’t the problem-the problem was that much too much was sprayed. That’s often true with chemicals; it’s the dose that matters. We need water, for example, but six feet of it will kill us.

In the 1950s we sprayed DDT indiscriminately, but it only takes a tiny amount to prevent the spread of malaria. If sprayed on walls of an African hut, a small amount will keep mosquitoes at bay for half a year. That makes it a wonderful malaria fighter. But today DDT is rarely used to fight malaria because environmentalists’ demonization of it causes others to shun it.

That frustrates Dr. Amir Attaran, who researched the issue at Harvard University. “If it’s a chemical, it must be bad,” he told us. “If it’s DDT, it must be awful. And that’s fine if you’re a rich white environmentalist. It’s not so fine if you’re a poor black kid who is about to lose his life from malaria.” Uganda’s health minister angrily asked us: “How many people do they want us to lose before we use DDT?” Good question.

The U.S. government does spend your tax dollars trying to fight malaria in Africa, but it has not spent a penny on DDT. The money goes for things like mosquito netting over beds (even though not everyone in Africa even has a bed). The office that dispenses those funds, the Agency for International Development, acknowledges DDT is safe.

I went to the State Department to interview the USAID official in charge of international health. With a straight face, she denied that their no-funds-for-DDT policy had anything to do with being “environmentally correct.” I felt like I was talking to a robot.

DR. ANNE PETERSON I would recommend that if those who want to use [DDT for] indoor spraying, that they can and should. And it is definitely less harmful than dying and being exposed to malaria.

STOSSEL But you won’t pay for it?

DR. ANNE PETERSON Currently we don’t pay for it.

STOSSEL This is pathetic. Millions of people are dying and you, to be politically correct, are saying, “No, we don’t want to pay for DDT.”

DR. ANNE PETERSON I believe that the strategies we are using are as effective as spraying with DDT. And we are getting them out as far and as fast as we can. So, politically correct or not, I am very confident that what we are doing is the right strategy.

The right strategy? Dr. Attaran has a better perspective: “If I were to characterize what USAID does on malaria, I’d call it medical malpractice. I would call it murderous.”

After my interview with Dr. Peterson, USAID said it has reconsidered its policy, and it may fund spraying of DDT.

We’ll see. For now, millions die while USAID dithers.

The agency was simply responding to media hysteria. Media hysteria invites politicians to do the wrong thing. In this case, the result of the media getting it so wrong is millions of deaths.

Media attention also kills reputations, particularly when sensationalism and the herd mentality are in play. Serious subjects, worthy of careful examination, are often treated with a kind of journalistic shorthand that cheats readers and viewers, while ruining lives. In this next example, innocent children became unknowing pawns.

MYTH: “My teacher molested me.” Kids wouldn’t make up stuff like that!

TRUTH: Yes, they would.

This trendy media scare sent people to jail. Many were innocent of any crime, but they were convicted by the court of public opinion. The witnesses against them were children who testified to horrible events-events which, in many cases, never happened. But when the media express gets rolling, people get run over.

One victim was Kelly Michaels, a New Jersey preschool teacher convicted in 1988 of molesting twenty children in bizarre and sadistic ways. She spent five years in prison before an appeals court ruled that prosecutors had planted suggestions in the minds of the children who testified against her.

I don’t blame the kids; I blame the prosecutors and the media. Reporters’ imaginations and keyboards were fired up in 1983 by accusations of sodomy and satanic abuse at a California day-care center called the McMartin Preschool. The woman who started the barrage of charges was later discovered to be a paranoid schizophrenic. Her claims of devil-worship and sadism were outlandish on their face, but never mind: It was “good copy.” Headlines blared, prosecutors roared, and seven people were charged in a total of 135 criminal counts.

It was nonsense. But the defendants had their lives ruined. The case against them was cooked up by therapists and social workers who planted suggestions in the minds of impressionable children, who then told horrendous tales to prosecutors. The prosecutors also listened to the drumbeats of the media, which stirred a different witches’ brew for every news cycle.

Kids are highly impressionable. We know that, but psychology professor Stephen Ceci proved it in a study at Cornell University. He told me, “We are now discovering that if you put kids who were not abused through the same kind of highly leading, repetitive interview, some of those children will disclose events that seem credible but, in fact, are not borne out in actuality.”

Ceci set up an experiment where he and his researchers asked kids silly questions like:

RESEARCHER Have you ever had your finger caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital?

GIRL No.

RESEARCHER No?

At first, the kids say no. Then, once a week for the next 10 weeks, the researchers ask the question again.

RESEARCHER You went to the hospital because your finger got caught in a mousetrap?

BOY And it- RESEARCHER Did that happen?

BOY Uh-huh.

By week four or six or ten, about half of the kids say, “Yes, it happened.” Many give such precise information that you’d think it must have happened.

RESEARCHER Did it hurt?

BOY Yeah.

RESEARCHER Yeah? Who took you to the hospital?

BOY My daddy, my mommy, my brother.

RESEARCHER Where in your house is the mousetrap?

BOY It’s down in the basement.

RESEARCHER What is it next to in the basement?

BOY It’s next to the firewood.

By the time I met that boy, weeks after the experiment was over, he still “remembered” convincing details about things that never happened.

STOSSEL Was there a time when you got your finger caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital?

BOY Uh-huh.

STOSSEL Who went with you to the hospital?

BOY My mom and my dad and my brother Colin, but not the baby. He was in my mom’s tummy.

What he told me was even more remarkable because just a few days before, his father discussed the experiment with him, explained that it was just a test, and that the mousetrap event never happened. The boy agreed-it was just in his imagination.

But when he talked to me, the boy denied the conversation with his father, and insisted the mousetrap story was true.

STOSSEL Did your father tell you something about the mousetrap finger story?

BOY No.

STOSSEL Is it true? Did it really happen?

BOY It wasn’t a story. It really happened.

STOSSEL This really happened? You really got your finger caught? This really happened?

BOY Yeah.

Why would the boy lie to me? I said to Professor Ceci that I assumed he wasn’t intentionally making up the story. Ceci said, “I think they’ve come to believe it. It is part of their belief system.”

Some molestation “experts” thought they’d come closer to the truth by giving kids anatomically correct dolls. With dolls, the social workers wouldn’t have to ask so many questions. They could just say, “Imagine you are the doll; what did the teacher touch?” Lawyers argued that kids “wouldn’t make up” what had been done to the doll. But Ceci’s colleague Dr. Maggie Bruck conducted tests that showed that they would.

Bruck had a pediatrician add some extra steps to his routine physical examination. He measured the child’s wrists with a ribbon, he put a little label on the child’s stomach, and he tickled the child’s foot with a stick. Never did the doctor go anywhere near the child’s private parts. Then, a few days after the exam, using an anatomically correct doll, Bruck and the child’s father asked leading questions about the doctor’s exam. We caught it on tape.

FATHER So what did he do?

GIRL He put a stick in my vagina.

FATHER He put a stick in your vagina?

GIRL Yeah.

[Then the girl claimed the doctor hammered the stick into her vagina. And she said the doctor examined her rectum.]

DR. BRUCk He was where?

GIRL In my hiney.

None of it was true. But when dolls were used, half the kids who’d never had their private parts touched claimed the doctor touched them. The tests made Dr. Bruck question her prior faith in the testimony of children. She told me she thinks dozens of innocent people are in jail.

Dr. Ceci told me their leading questions were mild compared to what the investigators asked: “What we do . . . doesn’t come close, for example, to what was done in the Kelly Michaels case.”

The appellate court decision that set Kelly Michaels free garnered just a smidgeon of the media attention her trial and conviction got. After she was freed, she told me about her nightmare.

MS. MICHAELS One day you’re getting ready for work and making coffee, minding your business, trying to get along as best you can, being a reasonable, decent, honorable citizen, and the next minute you are an accused child molester with the most bizarre-

Continued

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John Stossel’s: Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity

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(Page 2 of 2)

I’d never even heard of such things even being done.

STOSSEL They say you inserted objects, including Lego blocks, forks, spoons, serrated knives into their anuses, vaginas, penises-

* Related: Order “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity”

* Related: Endnotes From “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity”

* Stossel’s Myths: Read the Book, or Watch Highlights Here

MS. MICHAELS And a sword. It was in there.

STOSSEL -and a sword-

MS. MICHAELS Yeah.

STOSSEL -that you made children drink your urine, that you made kids take their clothes off and licked peanut butter off them. It’s very hard to believe, yet the jury believed it and not you.

MS. MICHAELS No one was willing to doubt a child.

The media certainly wasn’t. Professional skepticism took a holiday in the face of “good copy.”

The media like bad news, and tend to believe it.

MYTH: Divorce hurts women much more than men, and many men abandon their kids.

TRUTH: Both men and women suffer after divorce, and lots of men want to give more to their kids.

The media (including the men, for psychological reasons involving guilt or other factors best left to Dr. Phil), see men as inviting, politically correct targets. When experts start trumpeting statistics that add up to “men are bad,” reporters listen. For years, I heard bad things about deadbeat dads. They were living it up, while their ex-wives and children had to scrape by. It’s a recurring story, and the media regurgitates it regularly. It’s also group slander.

In 1985, Lenore Weitzman, then a sociologist at Harvard, published data showing that men prosper after divorce, while women and children suffer terribly.

Weitzman’s report was appalling: Men’s standard of living rose 42 percent after divorce, while women’s declined by 73 percent. The media couldn’t get enough of this exciting news. Those figures were cited not only in news stories, but in 348 social science articles, 250 law review articles, and 24 appeals court cases. Around that time, government officials also reported that Census data showed that about half of the divorced fathers in America didn’t pay child support they owed. The evening newscasts and the papers featured both claims uncritically. The stories fit comfortably into the media’s “save the victim” rut. But get the shovel: The stories didn’t deserve the airtime or the headlines. A little reportorial digging would have burst the sanctimonious bubble.

Digging was finally done, but not by the media. Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver set out initially to examine the reasons for the shocking data. Why were those divorced fathers acting so irresponsibly? How could a dad abandon his child?

Braver was surprised to discover that the Weitzman figures were wrong, the result of a mathematical error. Weitzman later admitted she was wrong. She said a computer analyst had made a mistake-a mistake, in this case, heard around the world.

Braver conducted his own study of four hundred divorces, the biggest federally funded study ever done on divorced dads. His findings turned conventional wisdom, and all those media stories, on their heads. The 42 percent better for men, 73 percent worse for women data wasn’t even close. “Our results,” he said, “show that men and women come out almost exactly equally.”

Braver then found that the Census data about deadbeat dads was way off too. The data came from questions asked of the custodial parent only. The custodial parent was almost always the mother. “Everything we knew about non-custodial fathers” in the Census report, Braver told me, “we knew from custodial mothers.” Did some of the angry ex-wives lie? Probably, but we don’t know, because the Census workers didn’t bother to ask the fathers!

After my conversation with Braver, I went to Washington to meet with Dan Weinberg, the man who headed up that data collection for the Census Bureau. As often happens to me in Washington, I felt I was in another world:

STOSSEL So the Census worker says, how much in child support payments were you supposed to receive this year? And the woman remembers . . .

DAN WEINBERG Yes.

STOSSEL I just have a hard time believing that these people, many of whom are angry, are going to give honest answers.

DAN WEINBERG Actually-well, the anger may help them remember what they’re supposed to receive.

STOSSEL Why not go to the man and ask, is it true?

DAN WEINBERG We would be violating the confidentiality of the custodial mother.

STOSSEL Is there any cross-check?

DAN WEINBERG No. We don’t check any of it.

STOSSEL But wouldn’t they lie just because they’re mad at the man?

DAN WEINBERG People are basically honest.

The spirit of George Washington’s cherry tree lives on along the Potomac. I too cannot tell a lie: The media both distort and oversimplify the issues of custody and child support. That reinforces the myth that many divorced dads never bother to see their children-the “runaway dads” so beloved by headline writers. Some men are every bit as despicable as the media portray them, but Braver’s study showed that the majority of divorced dads do try to see their kids. In many cases, “fathers were impeded in their efforts,” Braver told me. “The mother just simply said, ‘No, you can’t see your kid.'”

We videotaped one such heartbreaking scene. A divorced father went to see his five kids for what he thought would be a full-day visit. He was entitled to that, under a court order, and the court also ordered the mother not to discourage the children from spending time with their father. But she clearly had poisoned his children’s minds against him. The father stood just outside his ex-wife’s house and begged his children, “Would you like to go out with me today?” “No,” said one kid after another. Then the mother ordered the kids back into her house.

What comes through on the tape is the unbridled satisfaction of the mother and the helplessness of the father. But that’s not the picture you get from the media. The media automatically cast divorced parents in the roles of villainous father and heroic mother. Many mothers are heroic, but so are many fathers. But a divorced mother as the villain? Heaven forbid! That would stand the world of media victimology on its head.

MYTH: Schools are violent.

TRUTH: Schools are pretty safe.

Media bad news bears love crime and violence. Turn on the television or pick up a tabloid, and you will be convinced that you have more to fear than ever before. Terrible things are happening, and everyone knows they’re happening much more often. These stories are more candidates for the shovel. The gory pictures and the excited copy conceal the actual TRUTH: America is safer than almost any country in human history.

The Columbine, Jonesboro, and Paducah school shootings during the late 1990s triggered a regular spate of stories about “spreading school violence.” But school violence in America had been steadily decreasing. Violent crimes in schools dropped by half between 1992 and 2002, although reporting about school violence increased.

The shooting incidents were awful, but aberrations; more Americans die from lightning strikes than from school violence. More kids die in bathtubs. But the media had become obsessed with school violence. In the wake of Columbine, my network aired 383 stories about the tragedy. Sam Donaldson warned wary parents and students about “angry teens turning up in other towns.” CBS News correspondent Bob McNamara called school shootings “an American nightmare that too many schools know too well.”

But it wasn’t a nightmare that schools knew well. In fact, students are probably safer in school than they are at home or at the mall. Crime statistics show that kids are twice as likely to be victims of violence away from school than they are in school.

The media hysteria encouraged people who run schools to do crazy things, like spend thousands of dollars on security cameras, and hire police officers to guard the doors. Some schools terrified students by running SWAT team drills; cops burst into classrooms and ordered kids down to the floor. The result? Kids in school felt less secure than ever before. Though school violence was down, studies show kids were more scared. “They can’t learn under these conditions,” says Dr. Frank Farley, former head of the American Psychological Association. To listen to the media, Dr. Farley told me, you’d have to believe that Chicken Little was right: “The sky is truly falling. America is in terrible straits and our schools are a mess and they’re violent. But they are not violent. I don’t know why there is all this press coverage, other than the need for a story.”

That’s it. The media beast must be fed. Scares drive up circulation and ratings.

MYTH: “Road rage” is an epidemic!

TRUTH: It’s not.

The inventor of the term “road rage” is unknown, but he or she has a lot to answer for. Not as much as the media does, though. In 1997, the American Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation issued a report on aggressive driving. Newsweek said we were being “driven to destruction,” Stone Phillips on NBC said it was “a bigger problem than ever,” and on ABC my colleague Barbara Walters said “the trend is frightening.”

Others were scratching their heads. They didn’t see what the media did. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, which studies media coverage, told me: “If road rage is something that’s increasing, we should have more fatalities on the road. There should be more reports of reckless driving. But these things are going down.”

So what was the evidence for all these stories? I went to the AAA Foundation, and confronted their chief spokeswoman about their claim that road rage had increased by 51 percent.

STEPHANIE FAUL That’s what it appeared to look like from our report. That’s all I can tell you. We saw an increase in reported cases.

STOSSEL Reported in the press?

STEPHANIE FAUL Yes, reported in the press.

STOSSEL It might be that reporters just started liking the alliteration, road rage?

STEPHANIE FAUL Well, also they like the idea of violent death by strangers! It’s a very common topic in the news reports.

STOSSEL [quoting from her press release] “Reached epidemic proportions. A bigger problem than ever.” Does the study justify that?

STEPHANIE FAUL Well, yes and no.

STOSSEL “A neglected epidemic.”

STEPHANIE FAUL Yeah, that’s a-that’s a bit strong.

STOSSEL The impression from the reporting is that there’s greater danger out there.

STEPHANIE FAUL Yes. Because that’s what sells papers, of course. I mean, you’re in the media. You know that if you get people excited about an issue, that’s what makes it appealing as a topic.

Get out the shovel! This is circular logic: The report was based on media mentions of aggressive driving. We in the media loved the catchy phrase “road rage” so much, we kept doing stories on it.

Robert Lichter suggested it all got started this way: “People were yelling at each other in their cars and making obscene gestures and even getting out of the car for years. Journalists just found a term for it. So last year, you went home and said, ‘Somebody yelled at me from his car.’ This year, you go home and say, ‘I was a victim of road rage.'”

Then the AAA writes a report based on the spurt of stories-and new headlines are born. Media incest!

Once the media had a catchy phrase for it, road rage became an “epidemic.”

MYTH: Using your cell phone at the gas pump could cause an explosion. TRUTH: Don’t tap dance either.

The media is alarmed:

cell fone fireball (New York Daily News)

buying gas? don’t touch that phone! (Toronto Star)

The facts are more reassuring. Cell phones are a source of static electricity, and anything that supplies a spark-however minuscule-can ignite a fire if the spark is near fuel vapors. If you are pumping gas yourself, with a cell phone in your hand that rings at the wrong time, theoretically you might be in danger. But there is no evidence that cell phones are causing fires.

Still, the media keeps pumping out the stories. In 2004, the Poughkeepsie [N.Y.] Journal ran this headline:

cell phone ring starts fire at gas station

The story quoted the local fire chief, Pat Koch, as saying gas vapors were ignited by the ringing of a cell phone. But-hold the presses and get the shovel!-just days later, Koch changed his tune: “After further investigation . . . I have concluded that the source of ignition was from some source other than the cell phone . . . most likely static discharge from the motorist himself.” To its credit, the Poughkeepsie Journal gave its follow-up story as much play as the original. The media rarely do that.

The University of Oklahoma actually has a “Center for the Study of Wireless Electromagnetic Compatibility,” which researches the effects of electronic devices on our lives. The center examined incident reports and scientific data, and concluded that there was “virtually no evidence to suggest that cell phones pose a hazard at gas stations.” The researchers went even further: “The historical evidence,” it said, “does not support the need for further research.”

Any static electricity, any spark-producing activity, is dangerous near vapors. So rubbing your rear end against a cloth car seat on a dry winter day is more risky than using your cell phone near the fumes. Don’t dance near the pumps with metal taps on your shoes either!

MYTH: We have less free time.

TRUTH: We have more.

“We’re fried by work, frazzled by the lack of time.”-Newsweek, March 9, 1995. “Life couldn’t get any busier.”-The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), May 19, 2005. “Can your life get any busier?”-Saint Paul Pioneer Press, September 20, 2004. “Life is becoming busier for many Americans.”-Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), May 28, 2000.

Victimhood again. Reporters love reporting that life is getting worse. News stories tell us we’re “running ourselves ragged,” and that Americans “have no free time.” Pick up a magazine and read all about it: not enough time for romance, for relaxation, for our kids. Busy, busy, busy-less time than ever before. Except, it’s not true.

When I went looking for real data, some scientific measure of how we spend our time, all paths led to the University of Maryland. There, sociologist John Robinson records how people spend their days. Beginning in 1965, he’s had people fill out diaries so he could calculate how much free time people really have.

STOSSEL I assume since 1965, we’ve lost free time.

JOHN ROBINSON It’s not the case. There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary.

His time diaries show that since 1965, we’ve gained almost an hour more free time per day. Researchers say it’s because Americans today work fewer hours, marry later, have fewer kids, retire earlier, and have better tools, like washing machines and microwaves.

The idea that we work harder than our ancestors is pure nonsense. Until 1890, half of all Americans worked in agriculture. People romanticize farms, but the old-fashioned family farm meant backbreaking labor under a broiling sun. Work began at dawn and continued past dark. Work in mines and factories was worse. Modern jobs are much easier. Our ancestors would be agog to see how much time we spend playing golf, watching TV (an average three to four hours per day), and going to our kids’ soccer games, while complaining about how much we work. But don’t tell that to any magazine editors you know; you wouldn’t want to ruin a perfectly good thing for them. The free-time myth is good for circulation.

MYTH: Gas prices are going through the roof.

TRUTH: Gasoline is a bargain.

The media periodically get upset about “record” gas prices.

“The price of gasoline has risen again to a record high!” said one newscaster in 2004. “The high prices are making it harder for some to keep their heads above water,” said another.

Drivers assume what they see at the pump confirms what they’ve heard on TV. One told me the prices are “scary.” A woman said gas was “going up and up and up, and it’s the most expensive it’s ever been.” And she was on a bike.

The media were saying that gas prices were at record highs for one simple, simple-minded reason: They are economically illiterate, so they didn’t account for inflation. That makes the numbers look bigger than the costs actually are. Such reporting is silly. Not adjusting for inflation would mean that the movies Meet the Fockers and Rush Hour 2 outgrossed Gone With the Wind.

It’s not as if the reporters would have to work at doing calculations to figure this out. Not only are there instant inflation calculators on the Web, but the U.S. Department of Energy accounts for inflation in its annual report of gas prices. At the time I’m writing this, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. is $2.26 per gallon. Once you account for inflation, that means gas today is sixty-seven cents a gallon cheaper than it was in 1922, and sixty-nine cents cheaper than in 1981. True, after Hurricane Katrina the price did reach an average of $2.87 per gallon-but that still is lower than the record average set in March 1981 of $3.12 per gallon.

By failing to account for inflation, the media have some Americans so alarmed that they can’t think straight. “What costs more,” I asked customers at a gas station, “gasoline or bottled water?” The answer I got from almost everyone was gasoline. At that very gas station, water was for sale at $1.29 for a twenty-four-ounce bottle. That’s $6.88 per gallon, three times what the station charged for gasoline. It gets sillier. I asked gas station customers, “What costs more, gasoline or ice cream?” Again, most people said gasoline cost more. But at $3.39 a pint, “premium” ice cream costs about $27.00 a gallon.

We should marvel at how cheap gasoline is-what a bargain we get from oil companies. After all, it’s easy to bottle water, but think about what it takes to produce and deliver gasoline. Oil has to be sucked out of the ground, sometimes from deep beneath an ocean. To get to the oil, the drills often have to bend and dig sideways through as much as five miles of earth. What they find then has to be delivered through long pipelines or shipped in monstrously expensive ships, then converted into three or more different formulas of gasoline and transported in trucks that cost more than $100,000 each. Then your local gas station must spend a fortune on safety devices to make sure you don’t blow yourself up. At $2.26 a gallon (about forty-six cents of which goes to taxes), gas is miraculously cheap! But what we heard from the clueless media was, “Gas prices are at record highs!” MYTH: We are running out of oil fast.

TRUTH: Not so fast!

“It’s going to be a catastrophe!”

When they’re not complaining about the price of gas, doomsayers would have us believe that we are burning oil at an “unsustainable” rate.

Camera-hungry politicians know that predicting doom gets them TV face time. “It’s inevitable that this is just the beginning of this gasoline crisis!” Senator Charles Schumer told me, as Hurricane Rita approached landfall in 2005. The New York Democrat is notorious for his hunger for media coverage. (A Washington joke: Where is the most dangerous place to be? Between Chuck and a camera.) Schumer told me that after Rita hit, the price of gas would rise to “five dollars a gallon.”

He was eager to spend your money to cure his panic. Schumer wants a new “Manhattan Project” that would use huge amounts of tax money to fund “independent energy sources.” I reminded him that the last time government tried that, it wasted billions on the totally failed synfuels project. That was a $20 billion Carter administration plan to develop a cheap way to make synthetic natural gas from coal. Schumer said that synfuels was a failure because “political leaders” chose it, but this time Congress would have “nonpoliticians” decide which projects to fund.

Sure they would.

If nonpoliticians are going to decide which projects to fund, why do we need Chuck Schumer? We already have a system in which nonpoliticians decide what projects to fund. It’s called “the market.”

If the price of a barrel of oil stays high, lots of entrepreneurs will scramble for ways to supply cheaper energy. They’ll come up with alternative energy sources or better ways to suck oil out of the ground. At fifty dollars a barrel, it’s even profitable to recover oil that’s stuck in the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Peter Huber and Mark Mills point out in their book The Bottomless Well that those tar sands alone contain enough oil to meet our needs for a hundred years.

But the media don’t pay much attention to that. Not running out of oil is not a very interesting story.

MYTH: A full moon makes people crazy.

TRUTH: I was crazy enough to report that.

We media people routinely and mindlessly corroborate myths about science and nature. People already believe that a full moon influences people in weird, negative ways, and reporters are quick to confirm it. Here are samples of what the clueless media has said about the full moon:

“The moon’s effects are legendary . . . Few of us can escape the power of the moon.”-Hugh Downs, 20/20, November 8, 1984. “Spokane County sheriff’s deputies have no need to check their lunar tables to know when it’s a full moon out there.”-Spokesman-Review, October 19, 2005. “A Florida researcher studied murders in Dade County, and found more murders were committed during full moons than any other time. So tonight, watch out.”-John Stossel

Yes, I confess: I actually said that on Good Morning America years ago. The Dade County study seemed plausible-people might drink, party, and therefore murder more people when the moon was full. It was only much later that I discovered the study was flawed. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, embarrassed me by explaining that “Researchers went back, reanalyzed the data, and discovered that there’s nothing unusual going on.”

Shermer said thirty-six other studies prove there is no full-moon effect, but people still believe there is one because our memories play tricks on us. Our brains look for patterns, and when we find one, it sticks. We remember something unusual that happened on a full moon.

“We don’t remember the unusual things that happen on all the other times because we’re not looking for them,” Shermer told me. “These things go on all the time, and there’s no full moon, they’re not looking for it, they don’t remember it. We remember the hits, we forget the misses.” (See also Chapter 9, The Power of Belief.)

Next time you see the “more violence during full moon” headline-get the shovel. MYTH: We’re drowning in garbage!

TRUTH: There’s plenty of room.

“New York City produces 20,000 tons of solid waste every day and the Sanitation Department is running out of places to put it. It argues in a new report that the only place left is the sky.”-The New York Times, April 21, 1984. “We’re going to be drowning in garbage.”-William K. Reilly (former EPA administrator), from Newsday, February 1, 1989. “A World Drowning in Litter.”-BBC News, March 4, 2002.

This myth got jump-started with a real-life incident that took on a life of its own. In 1987, a barge full of New York trash was supposed to be shipped to a landfill in Louisiana. But on the way to Louisiana, the shipper tried to save money by dumping his trash in North Carolina. Suspicious local officials turned him away, and called the media. The complaints of “We don’t want New York’s garbage!” got so much publicity that by the time the “garbage barge” reached its original destination, the Louisiana dump wouldn’t accept it anymore. That brought more publicity.

Television news crews rushed to the scene. Before you could say “Fabricate a crisis to raise money,” activists around the country had added “the garbage crisis” to their agenda. Said Cynthia Pollock of the Worldwatch Institute, “We are now approaching an emergency situation!” That got more publicity.

But it wasn’t true.

The EPA says that, although some cities have to ship garbage to other states, overall landfill capacity is actually increasing. Dump operators keep finding new ways to pack the trash tighter, to make it decompose faster, and pile it higher. Some landfill owners actually compete for our trash; they make money off it by putting grass on top of it and building ski slopes and golf courses.

And America has huge amounts of open space. Not that we are going to fill it all with garbage-all of America’s garbage for the next five hundred years would fit into one landfill one hundred yards high. And it wouldn’t even be the size of one of Ted Turner’s ranches.

The fact that we have plenty of room-gets no publicity.

MYTH: The world is too crowded.

TRUTH: That’s garbage too.

We’ve heard this one for decades. News articles warn of “the population bomb,” a “tidal wave of humanity,” and plead “No more babies.” Clueless alarmists like Ted Turner warn, “There’s lots of problems all over the world caused by too many people.” It’s true that the world population today is more than six billion people, but who says that’s too many?

We could take the entire world population, move everyone into the state of Texas, and the population density there would still be less than that of New York City. I said that to Turner, who then looked at me as if I’d unwrapped a dead fish.

TED TURNER It is a catastrophe that’s just a time bomb that’s waiting to happen. STOSSEL But people are our greatest wealth. More people is a good thing. TED TURNER Up to a point. Up to a point. And you, as a newsman, should damn well know that. Eventually you stand around in a desert with nothing to eat. That’s absurd. The media runs pictures of starving masses in Africa and blames that on overpopulation. One writer, worrying about Niger, said that we must “reduce birth rates drastically, otherwise permanent famine . . . will be the norm.” But Niger’s population density is nine persons per square kilometer, minuscule compared to population densities in wealthy countries like the USA (28), Japan (340), the Netherlands (484), and Hong Kong (6,621). The number of people isn’t the problem.

Famine is caused by things like civil wars and government corruption that interfere with the distribution of food. Sudan had famine when government militia forces stripped the land of cattle and grain. In Niger, 2.5 million people are starving because food production is managed by the state. The absence of property rights, price controls, and other cruel socialist experiments under way in Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho are starving millions more. In Zimbabwe, it’s Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy that’s doing the damage.

The number of people isn’t the problem. Improved technology now allows people to grow more food on less land. The UN says the world overproduces food today. More than 125,000 babies will be born before you finish reading this book, but they’re not a burden, they’re a blessing. They’re more brains that might cure cancer, more hands to build things, and more voices to bring us beautiful music. The clueless media, in pursuit of the scare du jour, do us a nasty disservice by focusing on the wrong things. Because of the constant parade of frightening stories, huge amounts of money and energy are spent on minuscule risks. In the meantime, millions die of malaria, thousands die from bacteria, teachers are jailed, fathers are kept from their kids, and most everyone is frightened needlessly. There are real problems in the world. The media ought to focus on them.

Excerpted from MYTHS, LIES, AND DOWNRIGHT STUPIDITY by John Stossel. Copyright © 2006 John Stossel. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

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Nicholas Kristof still hasn’t caught up with HIV?AIDS reality

May 9th, 2006


Good works columnist needs an update on HIV?AIDS

There are few establishment columnists on the Times or off it that take a greater interest in exposing the injustices of the world than Nicholas Kristof, who won a Pulitzer this year for just that public service. But his odd myopia on the questions surrounding HIV?AIDS continues, and once again spoiled his column today (Tues May 9).

For some reason Kristof has failed so far to take note of the Harper’s article in March (April issue) by Celia Farber, which clearly explained to readers how and why the entire science of HIV?AIDS is suspect. So he continues to use one of the least likely beliefs of the paradigm as a premise in his work, which is that the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV, “the virus that causes AIDS”, is high. This is disillusioning for all who have imagined that Kristof might read Harper’s and learn better.

What he fails to understand is that even the mainstream scientific literature now acknowledges that heterosexual transfer of whatever it is that HIV tests measure as “positivity” is effectively nil, as we have mentioned before. So remarks like these are completely unfounded:

In an age of H.I.V., sex trafficking is particularly lethal. And for every political dissident who is locked up in a prison cell, hundreds of teenage girls are locked up in brothels and, in effect, sentenced to death by AIDS…

Whatever one thinks of that question, it’s peripheral to the central challenge: vast numbers of underage girls are forced into brothels against their will, and many die of AIDS.

We wonder what the problem might be. Possibly this admirable Times columnist (one who has risked his own comfort safety in travelling to darkest Africa to draw attention to the innocents being slaughtered in the Sudan), if he did skim the Farber piece, adopted the common research shortcut of asking the advice of his colleagues on the Times Science Desk if there was anything to the Harper’s piece.

Given that Larry Altman and Nicholas Wade have almost completely ignored the Duesberg critique for twenty years, and must take responsibility for peddling a global fiction on the front pages of their newspaper of record for twenty years if the independent view of HIV?AIDS is recognized as justified, it is hard to imagine that Kristof was given any reason to pursue the matter.

Tues May 9, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Bush Takes On the Brothels

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

I’m guessing that President Bush’s foreign policy will stand up about as well to the assessments of future historians as a baby gazelle to a pack of cheetahs.

Yet there is one area where Mr. Bush is making a historic contribution: he is devoting much more money and attention to human trafficking than his predecessors. Just as one of Jimmy Carter’s great legacies was putting human rights squarely on the international agenda, Mr. Bush is doing the same for slave labor.

We don’t tend to think of trafficking as a top concern, so Mr. Bush hasn’t gotten much credit. But it’s difficult to think of a human rights issue that could be more important than sex trafficking and the other kinds of neo-slavery that engulf millions of people around the world, leaving many of them dead of AIDS by their early 20’s.

My own epiphany came in 1989, when my wife and I lived in China and covered the crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Arrests of dissidents were front-page news, but no one paid any attention as many tens of thousands of Chinese women and girls were kidnapped and sold each year by traffickers to become the unwilling wives of peasants.

Since then, I’ve seen the peddling of humans in many countries: the 8-year-old Filipino girl whose mother used to pull her out of school to rent to pedophiles; the terrified 14-year-old Vietnamese girl imprisoned in a brothel pending the sale of her virginity; the Pakistani teenager whose brothel’s owner dealt with her resistance by drugging her into a stupor. The U.N. has estimated that 12.3 million people worldwide are caught in forced labor of one kind or another.

In an age of H.I.V., sex trafficking is particularly lethal. And for every political dissident who is locked up in a prison cell, hundreds of teenage girls are locked up in brothels and, in effect, sentenced to death by AIDS.

In 2000, Congress passed landmark anti-trafficking legislation, backed by an unlikely coalition of evangelical Republicans and feminist Democrats. Even today, the Congressional leaders against trafficking include a conservative Republican, Senator Sam Brownback, and a liberal Democrat, Representative Carolyn Maloney.

But the heaviest lifting has been done by the State Department’s tiny office on trafficking — for my money, one of the most effective units in the U.S. government. The office, led by a former Republican congressman, John Miller, is viewed with suspicion by some career diplomats who fear that simple-minded conservative nuts are mucking up relations with countries over a peripheral issue.

Yet Mr. Miller and his office wield their spotlight shrewdly. With firm backing from the White House (Mr. Bush made Mr. Miller an ambassador partly to help him in his bureaucratic battles), the office puts out an annual report that shames and bullies foreign governments into taking action against forced labor of all kinds.

Under pressure from the report, Cambodia prosecuted some traffickers (albeit while protecting brothels owned by government officials) and largely closed down the Svay Pak red-light district, where 10-year-olds used to be openly sold. Ecuador stepped up arrests of pimps and started a national public awareness campaign. Israel trained police to go after traffickers and worked with victims’ home countries, like Belarus and Ukraine. And so on, country by country.

Some liberals object to the administration’s requirement that aid groups declare their opposition to prostitution before they can get anti-trafficking funds. But in the past, without that requirement, U.S. funds occasionally went to groups promoting prostitution. And in any case, the requirement doesn’t seem to have caused many problems on the ground (partly because aid groups sometimes dissemble to get money). In Zambia, India and Cambodia, I’ve seen U.S.-financed programs work closely with prostitutes and brothel owners when that is needed to get the job done.

Moreover, Ambassador Miller and his staff aren’t squeamish prudes. Mr. Miller is sympathetic to the Swedish model: stop punishing prostitutes, but crack down on pimps and customers. He says that approach seems to have reduced more forced prostitution than just about any other strategy.

The backdrop is a ridiculously divisive debate among anti-trafficking activists about whether prostitution should be legalized. Whatever one thinks of that question, it’s peripheral to the central challenge: vast numbers of underage girls are forced into brothels against their will, and many die of AIDS. On that crucial issue, Mr. Bush is leaving a legacy that he and America can be proud of.

Paul Krugman on how those in power de-legitimize intellectual opposition

May 8th, 2006


Shades of AIDS – but would Krugman recognize the same style of defense in HIV?AIDS?

The Times columnist Paul Krugman is a sharp thinking fellow, which we like to think is partly because he is an economist, a species which the rest of the world doesn’t often have any reason to bribe, so economists don’t have to spend much time resisting people or fashionable trends that might otherwise bend their minds with money or conformity, although of course like any profession they are not entirely free of those pressures.

Krugman is onto the main intellectual trick used by those who defend the indefensible against busybody critics and other heretics, which is much used in HIV?AIDS against critics: Instant Illegitimization of the critic as “denialist”, “insane”, “crackpot”, “uninformed”. “dangerous”, etc. etc.

He is talking about the Iraq war and its rationale, but every alert mind in the HIV?AIDS debate will recognize his description in this paragraph from his column today, May 8 Mon:

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like “loopy conspiracy theories” are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site, want to “confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree.” Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration’s harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

Of course, the sad irony is that Krugman, if he heard about the challenge to HIV?AIDS before the Harper’s piece by Celia Farber in March (April issue), probably thought it was a conspiracy theory.

The question is, what does he think it is now? Did he even read “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science?” Alas, even if he did, we think he probably asked one of his colleagues from the Science Desk about it, perhaps Larry Altman himself, who immediately assured him there was nothing to it. If Altman didn’t call it crazy, he probably labeled it unsound. End of Krugman’s curiosity, with the economist’s tendency to think for himself abruptly halted before he is even aware that the scientific literature contains the professional damnation of HIV?AIDS, a condemnation which has ruled for twenty years without a successful rebuttal.

Paradigm battlements built of power politics

The problem with the HIV?AIDS critique is that it has been politicized out of existence in the media and in government. The truth is that the complete rejection of the HIV?AIDS claim has been established and confirmed as the correct view according to the most tested scientific literature for nineteen years now, but it has always been ignored by political leaders and opinion makers.

For the defenders of the paradigm captured almost complete political and media control from the very week the claim was launched, and it had federal support to boot. Thus the scientific literature – and the twenty books explaining it to the intelligent layman – sits unread by politicians, administrators, and scientists in the field and out of it, let alone the Krugmans of the world.

*****************************************************

If Altman didn’t call it crazy, he probably labeled it unsound. End of Krugman’s curiosity, with the economist’s tendency to think for himself abruptly halted before he is even aware that the scientific literature contains the professional damnation of HIV?AIDS, a condemnation which has ruled for twenty years without a successful rebuttal.

*****************************************************

Even the publication of the very first HIV?AIDS critique by Peter Duesberg, in the respected leading cancer journal Cancer Research in 1987, which roundly rejected the new paradigm of “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS” as scientifically baseless, was viewed as a public relations failure by the watchdogs at the NIH, whose memos asked how the article managed to slip into print, and why it wasn’t “flagged” earlier so it could be stopped.

This is the Washington political force, led by NIAID director Anthony Fauci, aided by the gay movement to adopt the virus as the key to generalizing the danger to the public at large, and the path to federal and private fundraising, and abetted by the drug companies who have funded most of the activism, which has protected the paradigm from critics throughout the years of failure to produce a vaccine, a cure or an explanation of the myriad inconsistencies and outrages to common sense that HIV believers are heir to, not to mention their continuing deaths.

So it seems that while the HIV?AIDS paradigm was not created by a large conspiracy it is certainly maintained by a conjoining of forces far beyond the scientific foundation that would be its only legitimate justification, if it hadn’t been exposed in the literature as fatally flawed in all manner of ways.

And it is one indication of this is that the typical response of supporters is not to debate all comers who raise objections in a confident manner which suggests that the theory is unassailable by virtue of logic and evidence. Instead, we get slander and vilification of the critics.

The best and latest example of this of is the supposed “Rebuttal” of the Duesberg thesis as precised in “Out of Control”, launched by Robert Gallo and his loyal colleagues in science and activism at the Harper’s editors like a missile from South Africa as soon as “Out of Control” appeared (as noted in our earlier post Bob Gallo sends South African missile into New York, see right hand margin list of posts).

********************************************************

The one characteristic that can never be applied to any of the gentlemen named, David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy, is intellectual dishonesty, though the NIH has officially applied it or the equivalent to Robert Gallo himself.

********************************************************

This purports to be a list of points countering the claims of the article, but it also includes a good deal of the instant illegitimization that Krugman points to as a sign that an intellectually hollow position is being defended.

We have also ignored the sections on Peter Duesberg’s career problems, his rejected funding proposals, and how he is (or is not) regarded by other cancer researchers nowadays; we have no interest in Duesberg, other than to note that he is not an AIDS researcher and has no practical experience in studying HIV. Using a plethora of false, misleading, biased and unfair statements, Farber attempts to cast scientific institutions and scientists as dishonest. But intellectual dishonesty is the norm for Farber and other AIDS denialists including David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy – all people she mentions favourably in her article.

This is arrant nonsense, since Duesberg is certainly the best mind that has been applied to this issue, as well as the one that has been most fully versed in its every aspect, perforce. The one characteristic that can never be applied to any of the gentlemen named, David Rasnick, Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis and Harvey Bialy, is intellectual dishonesty, though the NIH has officially applied it or the equivalent to Robert Gallo himself.

Anyone who is willing to suggest another candidate for this description of Peter Duesberg as the best mind in HIV?AIDS can write a comment, but we don’t expect it to be very convincing, since none of the scientists who casually scorn Duesberg in conversation and in print in non-peer reviewed journals have been able to contend with Duesberg directly, by attempting a rebuttal in print in the same journals as Duesberg has published his critiques. Both Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier have promised to do so, but somehow decided that they had more pressing business elsewhere, once they assessed the full impact of Duesberg’s article in their own case.

The truth is that the tendency for defenders of the faith in HIV?AIDS to defend the paradigm with ad hominem insults and “instant illegitimizing” is one of the most obvious signals of what Bertrand Russell interpreted as the “unconscious knowledge that they are wrong.”

Here is the full text of the Krugman column, Who’s Crazy Now?;

May 8, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Who’s Crazy Now?

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Some people say that bizarre conspiracy theories play a disturbingly large role in current American political discourse. And they’re right.

For example, many conservative politicians and pundits seem to agree with James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, who has declared that “man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Of more immediate political relevance is the claim that the reason we hear mainly bad news from Iraq is that the media, for political reasons, are conspiring to suppress the good news. As Bill O’Reilly put it a few months ago, “a good part of the American media wants to undermine the Bush administration.”

But these examples, of course, aren’t what people are usually referring to when they denounce crazy conspiracy theories. For the last few years, the term “conspiracy theory” has been used primarily to belittle critics of the Bush administration — in particular, anyone suggesting that the Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to fight an unrelated war in Iraq.

Now here’s the thing: suppose that we didn’t have abundant evidence that senior officials in the Bush administration wanted a war, cherry-picked intelligence to make a case for that war, and in some cases suppressed inconvenient evidence contradicting that case. Even so, it would be an abuse of the English language to call the claim that the administration misled us into war a conspiracy theory.

A conspiracy theory, says Wikipedia, “attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance.” Claims that global warming is a hoax and that the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq meet that definition. In each case, to accept the claim you have to believe that people working for many different organizations — scientists at universities and research facilities around the world, reporters for dozens of different news organizations — are secretly coordinating their actions.

But the administration officials who told us that Saddam had an active nuclear program and insinuated that he was responsible for 9/11 weren’t part of a covert alliance; they all worked for President Bush. The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn’t do such a thing.

The truth is that many of the people who throw around terms like “loopy conspiracy theories” are lazy bullies who, as Zachary Roth put it on CJR Daily, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Web site, want to “confer instant illegitimacy on any argument with which they disagree.” Instead of facing up to hard questions, they try to suggest that anyone who asks those questions is crazy.

Indeed, right-wing pundits have consistently questioned the sanity of Bush critics; “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again,” said Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist, after Mr. Gore gave a perfectly sensible if hard-hitting speech. Even moderates have tended to dismiss the administration’s harsh critics as victims of irrational Bush hatred.

But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can’t handle the truth. They won’t admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences. And we can safely predict that these people will never concede that they were wrong. When the Iraq venture comes to a bad end, they won’t blame those who led us into the quagmire; they’ll claim that it was all the fault of the liberal media, which stabbed our troops in the back.

Sleepy gatekeepers: Times’ Larry Altman covers the problems of peer review

May 2nd, 2006

But why then is he dozing peacably in HIV?AIDS?

In an extremely alert piece today (May 2, Tues) For Science’s Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap, Lawrence K. Altman MD sums up the problems in peer review which recent events have exposed.

But if the distinguished medical correspondent is so aware that peer review is not the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval, why does he not recognize that the problems apply to HIV?AIDS papers as much or more than in other fields?

Could it be that he and the Times editors are involved in the very same compromising predicament as the editors of the journals he is reporting on? Is even the Times subject to the power of Anthony Fauci and other mainstream scientists not to return his phone calls?

As far as we are concerned, the answer is not in doubt. So we view this piece as a kind of catharsis for Altman, in which he is speaking his own truth as well as that if the journal field.

Let’s go through his points to see if any of them don’t apply to the Times.

First, Altman emphasizes how much the process is compromised by pressures behind the scenes:

Virtually every major scientific and medical journal has been humbled recently by publishing findings that are later discredited. The flurry of episodes has led many people to ask why authors, editors and independent expert reviewers all failed to detect the problems before publication.

The publication process is complex. Many factors can allow error, even fraud, to slip through. They include economic pressures for journals to avoid investigating suspected errors; the desire to avoid displeasing the authors and the experts who review manuscripts; and the fear that angry scientists will withhold the manuscripts that are the lifeline of the journals, putting them out of business.By promoting the sanctity of peer review and using it to justify a number of their actions in recent years, journals have added to their enormous power.

He also points to the concerns about the authority of science, and the danger of tainting the good people in what is mainly an honorable profession. Moreover, how can they catch fraud, when they are not detectives?:

Journal editors say publicity about corrections and retractions distorts and erodes confidence in science, which is an honorable business. Editors also say they are gatekeepers, not detectives, and that even though peer review is not intended to detect fraud, it catches flawed research and improves the quality of the thousands of published papers.

It’s not our responsibility, the editors cry. We leave it up to the whistleblowers or the lawyers to make a fuss. We don’t want to confront the authors:

Editors also insist that science corrects its errors. But corrections often require whistle-blowers or prodding by lawyers. Editors at The New England Journal of Medicine said they would not have learned about a problem that led them to publish two letters of concern about omission of data concerning the arthritis drug Vioxx unless lawyers for the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, had asked them questions in depositions. Fraud has also slipped through in part because editors have long been loath to question the authors.

Altman finally puts his finger on the key factor nowadays: the huge increase in the money at stake. The amount of money swilling around this particular trough has recently risen from thousands to millions:

The public and many scientists tend to overlook the journals’ economic benefits that stem from linking their embargo policies to peer review. Some journals are owned by private for-profit companies, while others are owned by professional societies that rely on income from the journals. The costs of running journals are low because authors and reviewers are generally not paid.

A few journals that not long ago measured profits in the tens of thousands of dollars a year now make millions, according to at least three editors who agreed to discuss finances only if granted anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak about finances.

Furthermore, even the editors themselves have financial interests, which may conflict with doing their job properly:

Although editors of some journals say they demand statements from their editing staff members that they have no financial conflicts of interest, there is no way to be sure. At least one editor of a leading American journal had to resign because of conflicts of interest with industry.

Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry, say Dr. Richard Smith, the former editor of BMJ, the British medical journal, and Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, also based in Britain.

Where is the money coming from? No one wants to offend the drug companies these days:

The journals rely on revenues from industry advertisements. But because journals also profit handsomely by selling drug companies reprints of articles reporting findings from large clinical trials involving their products, editors may “face a frighteningly stark conflict of interest” in deciding whether to publish such a study, Dr. Smith said.

So which of these factors doesn’t apply to the Times? Supposedly their science coverage is less directly tied to drug company ads, but has anyone noticed they are any more critical of the pharmaceutical industry than need be?

Sadly, one must conclude that judging from the performance of the Times in neglecting the questions surrounding the science of HIV?AIDS for two decades, it has failed to keep its own house in order.

Thanks, Larry, for making this sad tale clear.

May 2, 2006

The Doctor’s World

For Science’s Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.

Recent disclosures of fraudulent or flawed studies in medical and scientific journals have called into question as never before the merits of their peer-review system.

The system is based on journals inviting independent experts to critique submitted manuscripts. The stated aim is to weed out sloppy and bad research, ensuring the integrity of the what it has published.

Because findings published in peer-reviewed journals affect patient care, public policy and the authors’ academic promotions, journal editors contend that new scientific information should be published in a peer-reviewed journal before it is presented to doctors and the public.

That message, however, has created a widespread misimpression that passing peer review is the scientific equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Virtually every major scientific and medical journal has been humbled recently by publishing findings that are later discredited. The flurry of episodes has led many people to ask why authors, editors and independent expert reviewers all failed to detect the problems before publication.

The publication process is complex. Many factors can allow error, even fraud, to slip through. They include economic pressures for journals to avoid investigating suspected errors; the desire to avoid displeasing the authors and the experts who review manuscripts; and the fear that angry scientists will withhold the manuscripts that are the lifeline of the journals, putting them out of business.By promoting the sanctity of peer review and using it to justify a number of their actions in recent years, journals have added to their enormous power.

The release of news about scientific and medical findings is among the most tightly managed in country. Journals control when the public learns about findings from taxpayer-supported research by setting dates when the research can be published. They also impose severe restrictions on what authors can say publicly, even before they submit a manuscript, and they have penalized authors for infractions by refusing to publish their papers. Exceptions are made for scientific meetings and health emergencies.

But many authors have still withheld information for fear that journals would pull their papers for an infraction. Increasingly, journals and authors’ institutions also send out news releases ahead of time about a peer-reviewed discovery so that reports from news organizations coincide with a journal’s date of issue.

A barrage of news reports can follow. But often the news release is sent without the full paper, so reports may be based only on the spin created by a journal or an institution.

Journal editors say publicity about corrections and retractions distorts and erodes confidence in science, which is an honorable business. Editors also say they are gatekeepers, not detectives, and that even though peer review is not intended to detect fraud, it catches flawed research and improves the quality of the thousands of published papers.

However, even the system’s most ardent supporters acknowledge that peer review does not eliminate mediocre and inferior papers and has never passed the very test for which it is used. Studies have found that journals publish findings based on sloppy statistics. If peer review were a drug, it would never be marketed, say critics, including journal editors.

None of the recent flawed studies have been as humiliating as an article in 1972 in the journal Pediatrics that labeled sudden infant death syndrome a hereditary disorder, when, in the case examined, the real cause was murder.

Twenty-three years later, the mother was convicted of smothering her five children. Scientific naïveté surely contributed to the false conclusion, but a forensic pathologist was not one of the reviewers. The faulty research in part prompted the National Institutes of Health to spend millions of dollars on a wrong line of research.

Fraud, flawed articles and corrections have haunted general interest news organizations. But such problems are far more embarrassing for scientific journals because of their claims for the superiority of their system of editing.

A widespread belief among nonscientists is that journal editors and their reviewers check authors’ research firsthand and even repeat the research. In fact, journal editors do not routinely examine authors’ scientific notebooks. Instead, they rely on peer reviewers’ criticisms, which are based on the information submitted by the authors.

While editors and reviewers may ask authors for more information, journals and their invited experts examine raw data only under the most unusual circumstances.

In that respect, journal editors are like newspaper editors, who check the content of reporters’ copy for facts and internal inconsistencies but generally not their notes. Still, journal editors have refused to call peer review what many others say it is — a form of vetting or technical editing.

In spot checks, many scientists and nonscientists said they believed that editors decided what to publish by counting reviewers’ votes. But journal editors say that they are not tally clerks and that decisions to publish are theirs, not the reviewers’.

Editors say they have accepted a number of papers that reviewers have harshly criticized as unworthy of publication and have rejected many that received high plaudits.

Many nonscientists perceive reviewers to be impartial. But the reviewers, called independent experts, in fact are often competitors of the authors of the papers they scrutinize, raising potential conflicts of interest.

Except when gaffes are publicized, there is little scrutiny of the quality of what journals publish.

Journals have rejected calls to make the process scientific by conducting random audits like those used to monitor quality control in medicine. The costs and the potential for creating distrust are the most commonly cited reasons for not auditing.

In defending themselves, journal editors often shift blame to the authors and excuse themselves and their peer reviewers.

Journals seldom investigate frauds that they have published, contending that they are not investigative bodies and that they could not afford the costs. Instead, the journals say that the investigations are up to the accused authors’ employers and agencies that financed the research.

Editors also insist that science corrects its errors. But corrections often require whistle-blowers or prodding by lawyers. Editors at The New England Journal of Medicine said they would not have learned about a problem that led them to publish two letters of concern about omission of data concerning the arthritis drug Vioxx unless lawyers for the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, had asked them questions in depositions. Fraud has also slipped through in part because editors have long been loath to question the authors.

“A request from an editor for primary data to support the honesty of an author’s findings in a manuscript under review would probably poison the air and make civil discourse between authors and editors even more difficult than it is now,” Dr. Arnold S. Relman wrote in 1983. At the time, he was editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, and it had published a fraudulent paper.

Fraud is a substantial problem, and the attitude toward it has changed little over the years, other editors say. Some journals fail to retract known cases of fraud for fear of lawsuits.

Journals have no widely accepted way to retract papers, said Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, after the it retracted two papers by the South Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who fabricated evidence that he had cloned human cells.

In the April 18 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, its editor, Dr. Harold C. Sox, wrote about lessons learned after the journal retracted an article on menopause by Dr. Eric Poehlman of the University of Vermont.

When an author is found to have fabricated data in one paper, scientists rarely examine all of that author’s publications, so the scientific literature may be more polluted than believed, Dr. Sox said.

Dr. Sox and other scientists have documented that invalid work is not effectively purged from the scientific literature because the authors of new papers continue to cite retracted ones.

When journals try to retract discredited papers, Dr. Sox said, the process is slow, and the system used to inform readers faulty. Authors often use euphemisms instead of the words “fabrication” or “research misconduct,” and finding published retractions can be costly because some affected journals charge readers a fee to visit their Web sites to learn about them, Dr. Sox said.

Despite its flaws, scientists favor the system in part because they need to publish or perish. The institutions where the scientists work and the private and government agencies that pay for their grants seek publicity in their eagerness to show financial backers results for their efforts.

The public and many scientists tend to overlook the journals’ economic benefits that stem from linking their embargo policies to peer review. Some journals are owned by private for-profit companies, while others are owned by professional societies that rely on income from the journals. The costs of running journals are low because authors and reviewers are generally not paid.

A few journals that not long ago measured profits in the tens of thousands of dollars a year now make millions, according to at least three editors who agreed to discuss finances only if granted anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak about finances.

Any influential system that profits from taxpayer-financed research should be held publicly accountable for how the revenues are spent. Journals generally decline to disclose such data.

Although editors of some journals say they demand statements from their editing staff members that they have no financial conflicts of interest, there is no way to be sure. At least one editor of a leading American journal had to resign because of conflicts of interest with industry.

Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry, say Dr. Richard Smith, the former editor of BMJ, the British medical journal, and Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, also based in Britain.

The journals rely on revenues from industry advertisements. But because journals also profit handsomely by selling drug companies reprints of articles reporting findings from large clinical trials involving their products, editors may “face a frighteningly stark conflict of interest” in deciding whether to publish such a study, Dr. Smith said.

Andrew Sullivan sideswipes Harper’s

May 2nd, 2006


But the shoot-from-the-hip talking head is misled about his own predicament

It now seems clear that it is not just Larry Kramer whose homework on the rationale of HIV?AIDS has been neglected in favor of partying, politicking, playwriting, appearing on television and on panels and performing rhetorically on the eternal theme “They all want to murder us”. Though very different in stance ebullient Brit Andrew Sullivan’s political instincts have led him to make the same knee-jerk responses as Kramer when he hears that HIV is questioned.

Thus in his “Daily Dish” blog two weeks ago, ironically on April 1, he reveals that it goes without saying that HIV causes AIDS and to think otherwise is a superstition peddled by magazines “like Harper’s”, whatever that phrase means (Saturday, April 1, 2006 Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish – Elites and Medicine 1 Apr 2006 02:01 pm:

One of the most persistent sub-currents out there among people with HIV and AIDS is superstition, or the notion that all drugs are somehow poisonous, or that homeopathic quackery can replace actual science, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and so on. This is particularly widespread among some gays and African-Americans, some of the populations most at risk. You have magazines like Harper’s giving credence to “theories” that HIV is unrelated to AIDS – in 2006!

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Elites and Medicine

01 Apr 2006 02:01 pm

A reader makes a good point:

“One interesting case study for elitism is medicine. Your familiarity is through experience with HIV; mine, cancer. The point though is the same. There was at first an unresponsive God-like community that made unassailable pronouncements about the science and medicine. Correctly this was rebelled against. But now we have charlatans and healers who have no basis, except anecdotes if that, for their claims. And substantial members of the public believe them over the science. Part of this is because for cases like AIDS and cancer, sometimes science hasn’t an answer yet. Nonetheless, the “everyone’s opinion is equal” attitude is now as destructive as the God-like elitism. Somehow we need a happy medium – acknowledging expertise while demanding that it explain itself. The anti-knowledge forces are not just religious fundamentalists; read some of the anti-medicine nonsense out there.”

I have to agree. One of the most persistent sub-currents out there among people with HIV and AIDS is superstition, or the notion that all drugs are somehow poisonous, or that homoepathic quackery can replace actual science, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and so on. This is particularly widespread among some gays and African-Americans, some of the populations most at risk. You have magazines like Harper’s giving credence to “theories” that HIV is unrelated to AIDS – in 2006! In the early days, you had people like Larry Kramer telling everyone that AZT was poison, despite the fact that it was then and remains today a critical component of many effective anti-HIV cocktails (it was disastrous only as over-dosed mono-therapy). Every day, I get emails telling me to try aspirin or St John’s Wort for HIV. The right response, I think, is not to take what the science establishment says on faith – let alone the public health establishment. The answer is to try and understand the science as best you can, to ask the right questions, to keep asking, to get second opinions. There is an alternative between fundamentalism and relativism, between authority and nihilism. That alternative is curious and empirical skepticism, which must, of course, respect those whose knowledge of any particular subject is inevitably far deeper than our own. That kind of skepticism is important not only for a patient with a life-threatening disease, but also for liberal democracy and liberal learning. We need to recover it.

To this cheeky dismissal of his betters, one can only say, if Andrew is truly interested in demonstrating empirical skepticism perhaps he should make a supreme effort to heave himself out of his pundit’s armchair and hit PubMed on his desktop to find out the difference between superstition and “actual science” as peer-reviewed in leading journals, and the difference between “theories” and professional scientific reviews of those “theories”, if only for his own benefit, since he seems to be so cheerfully taking a standard range of HAART drugs known to have rather unpleasant effects on the body, though not in his case, he tells us.

I’ve been on the new meds for a couple of months now and after a week or so of torpor, have no side-effects that I can speak of. My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic mililiter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of 121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50 at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the strength of your immune system – has gone back into its normal range. Thank God for the evil pharmaceutical companies. One day, when the history of this period is written, I have a feeling we will look back with astonishment as we recognize that advances in medical science, particularly pharmaceuticals, were arguably one of the most significant developments of this era. And yet the people who pioneered these breakthroughs were … demonized and attacked. Baffling and bizarre. I’m merely grateful the attacks haven’t stopped the research progress.

Here’s the whole post:

From andrewsullivan.com Daily Dish September 19 2005:

BACK FROM THE DOC: Just an HIV update. I’ve been on

the new meds for a couple of months now and after a

week or so of torpor, have no side-effects that I can

speak of. My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in

my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic

milliliter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days

on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of

121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50

at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the

strength of your immune system – has gone back into

its normal range. Thank God for the evil

pharmaceutical companies. One day, when the history of

this period is written, I have a feeling we will look

back with astonishment as we recognize that advances

in medical science, particularly pharmaceuticals, were

arguably one of the most significant developments of

this era. And yet the people who pioneered these

breakthroughs were … demonized and attacked.

Baffling and bizarre. I’m merely grateful the attacks

haven’t stopped the research progress. They’ve merely

slowed it. Oh, and I talked my doc into giving me a

pre-emptive treatment of Tamiflu. I won’t use it,

unless the birdshit hits the fan. But I’ll have it

just in case. I’m not relying on Mr Bush. Fool me once

All very impressive, with those specific numbers.

“My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic milliliter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of 121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50 at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the strength of your immune system – has gone back into its normal range.”

There is something very persuasive about quantitities one can measure so precisely. Gauging precisely with instruments is the essence of good science, after all. You get away from human speculation and nail down the facts with cold, objective measurement.

But maybe Andrew should read Peter Duesberg’s letter in Nature on May 19, 1995 (page 197) and mathematician Frank Bulanouckas’s even more damning letter that follows it and see that all these “virus particles” are not measured accurately by PCR (they cannot be, as Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel for inventing PCR, has said) and probably exceed by as much as 60,000 fold the real count of virus in his blood, so it is not as impressive as readers may think.

Plasma virus levels determined by QC-PCR correlated with, but exceeded by an average of 60,000-fold, virus titers measured by endpoint diln. culture.

That’s from the abstract of the 1993 paper Duesberg quoted in his letter to Nature, which letter read as follows – we quote it in full since it is a classic statement which illuminates the shell game perpetrated by the HIV wide boys with Maddox acting as the muscle:

“HIV an illusion”

Letter from Peter Duesberg and Harvey Bialy, Nature 375: 197, 18 May 1995

SIR-In an editorial in the 19 January issue of Nature, John Maddox invited “Duesberg and his associates” to comment on the “HIV-1 dynamics” papers published the previous week, indicating that these new results should prove an embarrassment to us. Although we do not think that a scientist should be embarrassed for pointing out inconsistencies and paradoxes in a hypothesis that have only been reportedly resolved 10 years later, we nonetheless prepared a fully referenced, approximately 2,000-word critique of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers that we believed met the criteria of “not being longer than it needs to be, and pertaining to the papers at hand” that Maddox set out in his widely read challenge.

Unfortunately, he did not share our view and agreed to publish only a radically shortened version, and only after he had personally “gone over it with a fine-tooth comb” to remove our perceived misrepresentations of the issues. We found these new conditions so totally at variance with the spirit of free and fair scientific debate that we could not agree to them.

Readers of Nature who are interested in these questions, and feel that they do not need to be protected by Maddox from our ill-conceived logic, can find the complete text of our commentary in the monograph supplement to the most recent issue of Genetica4. Here we would point out only that the central claim of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers-that 100,000 HIV virions per ml plasma can be detected in AIDS patients with various nucleic-acid amplification assays is misleading. The senior author of the Wei et al. paper has previously claimed that the PCR method they used overestimates by at least 60,000 times the real titer of infectious HIV5: 100,000/60,000 is 1.7 infectious HIVs per ml, hardly the “virological mayhem” alluded to by Wain-Hobson.6 Further, Ho and a different group of collaborators have just shown7 that more than 10,000 “plasma virions,” detected by the branched-DNA amplification assay used in their Nature paper, correspond to less than one (!) infectious virus per ml. And infectious units, after all, are the only clinically relevant criteria for a viral pathogen.

Finally, in view of Wain-Hobson’s statement6 that “the concordance of their [Wei and Ho’s] data is remarkable,” note that Loveday et al.8 report the use of a PCR-based assay and find only 200 HIV “virion RNAs” per ml of serum of AIDS patients-1,000 times less than Ho and Wei. So much for the “remarkable concordance.”

Peter Duesberg. Harvey Bialy.

“HIV an illusion”

Letter from Peter Duesberg and Harvey Bialy, Nature 375: 197, 18 May 1995

SIR-In an editorial in the 19 January issue of Nature, John Maddox invited “Duesberg and his associates” to comment on the “HIV-1 dynamics” papers published the previous week, indicating that these new results should prove an embarrassment to us. Although we do not think that a scientist should be embarrassed for pointing out inconsistencies and paradoxes in a hypothesis that have only been reportedly resolved 10 years later, we nonetheless prepared a fully referenced, approximately 2,000-word critique of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers that we believed met the criteria of “not being longer than it needs to be, and pertaining to the papers at hand” that Maddox set out in his widely read challenge.

Unfortunately, he did not share our view and agreed to publish only a radically shortened version, and only after he had personally “gone over it with a fine-tooth comb” to remove our perceived misrepresentations of the issues. We found these new conditions so totally at variance with the spirit of free and fair scientific debate that we could not agree to them.

Readers of Nature who are interested in these questions, and feel that they do not need to be protected by Maddox from our ill-conceived logic, can find the complete text of our commentary in the monograph supplement to the most recent issue of Genetica4. Here we would point out only that the central claim of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers-that 105 HIV virions per ml plasma can be detected in AIDS patients with various nucleic-acid amplification assays is misleading. The senior author of the Wei et al. paper has previously claimed that the PCR method they used overestimates by at least 60,000 times the real titer of infectious HIV5: 100,000/60,000 is 1.7 infectious HIVs per ml, hardly the “virological mayhem” alluded to by Wain-Hobson.6 Further, Ho and a different group of collaborators have just shown7 that more than 10,000 “plasma virions,” detected by the branched-DNA amplification assay used in their Nature paper, correspond to less than one (!) infectious virus per ml. And infectious units, after all, are the only clinically relevant criteria for a viral pathogen.

Finally, in view of Wain-Hobson’s statement6 that “the concordance of their [Wei and Ho’s] data is remarkable,” note that Loveday et al.8 report the use of a PCR-based assay and find only 200 HIV “virion RNAs” per ml of serum of AIDS patients-1,000 times less than Ho and Wei. So much for the “remarkable concordance.”

Peter Duesberg

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology,

University of California,

Berkeley, California 94720, USA

Harvey Bialy

Bio/Technology, New York, New York 10010, USA

Notes and References

1. Maddox, J. Nature 373, 189 (1995).

2. Ho, D. D. et al. Nature 373, 123-126 (1995).

3. Wei. X. et al. Nature 373, 117-122 (1995).

4. Duesberg, P. & Bialy, H. Genetica Suppl. (in the press).

5. Piatak, M. et al. Science 259. 1749-1754 (1993).

6. Wain-Hobson, S. Nature 373, 102 (1995).

7. Cao, Y. et al. New Engl. J. Med. 332, 201-208 (1995).

8. Loveday, C. et al. Lancet 345, 820-824 (1995).

Here is the full abstract from Science in 2000:

High levels of HIV-1 in plasma during all stages of infection determined by competitive PCR

Piatak, M., Jr.; Saag, M. S.; Yang, L. C.; Clark, S. J.; Kappes, J. C.; Luk, K. C.; Hahn, B. H.; Shaw, G. M.; Lifson, J. D.

Science (Washington, DC, United States) (1993), 259(5102), 1749-54 CODEN: SCIEAS; ISSN: 0036-8075. English.

Quant. competitive polymerase chain reaction (QC-PCR) methods were used to quantify virion-associated human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) RNA in plasma from 66 patients with Centers for Disease Control stage I to IVC1 infection. HIV-1 RNA, ranging from 100 to nearly 22,000,000 copies per mL of plasma (corresponding to 50 to 11,000,000 virions per mL), was readily quantified in all subjects, was significantly associated with disease stage and CD4+ T cell counts, and decreased by as much as 235-fold with resolution of primary infection or institution of antiretroviral therapy. Plasma virus levels determined by QC-PCR correlated with, but exceeded by an average of 60,000-fold, virus titers measured by endpoint diln. culture. Quantitation of HIV-1 in plasma by QC-PCR may be useful in assessing the efficacy of antiretroviral agents, especially in early stage disease when conventional viral markers are often neg.


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