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.


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.

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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Duesberg smashes through on the Western front

One of the most remarkable comebacks in science is happening as you read this blog. Peter Duesberg is winning on his Western front—cancer—the world war he had all but lost in the East—AIDS.

Stymied for twenty years in trying to overturn the Soviet-style dictatorship of the promoters of HIV/AIDS, Duesberg has also been blockaded for even longer in trying to overturn the richly funded and currently still fashionable theory of mutation in “oncogenes” as the cause of cancer.

Thirty years ago, having been responsible himself for kickstarting the paradigm by discovering the first and only proven example of an oncogene in a chicken virus, Duesberg then demonstrated his utter political impracticality (ie integrity, public spiritedness and vocational idealism) by soon renouncing the whole idea of oncogenes in humans—that individual human genes are linked to specific cancers eg prostate or breast. In fact, the first article he wrote which eviscerated the theory of HIV causing AIDS (in Cancer Research in 1987) only did it as an afterthought. The paper was in fact largely aimed at the other hollow paradigm, which also proved too entrenched to dislocate. Nobel prizes which would have gone to Duesberg were awarded to inferior scientists who toed the line.

Now, however, Duesberg is finally proving victorious on this Western front, where he can be said to be overrunning Europe and soon the world, since his new (though once mainstream) theory of where to look for the cause of cancer—in aneuploidy, the phenomenon common to cancer cells before they are cancerous, where they prove to have abnormal numbers of chromosomes, up to twice as many as a normal cell, in fact. Duesberg is attracting followers galore among the best of his opponents, who are already trying to steal his thunder and play down his contribution. They are also trying to keep their cake while it is being eaten up, of course, by suggesting that both oncogenes and aneuploidy are involved in cancer, Like cancer, oncogene theory is not going to die easily.

Upcoming reviews of Bialy book

All this is explained with hyperlucidity in Harvey Bialy’s powerful sleeper of a book, Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter H. Duesberg, which we have mentioned previously as the equivalent of a Stealth Bomber attack on the HIV and oncogene paradigms. Published last summer, it is being read by the scientific cognoscenti in ever widening circles but as yet has not reached the tipping point, it appears. But two powerfully supportive reviews are about to appear, adding to the review in Nature/Biotechnology last year in which the Australian independent-minded scientist and consultant George Miklos endorsed it as fully describing why both the HIV/AIDS and the oncogene paradigms have proved sterile as scientific explanations.

The two reviews, both of them scientifically well informed, will appear in the Journal of Scientific Exploration online, one of the more cogent and scientifically informed platforms for political dissent in science on the Web. They make the situation very clear, by quoting key points from the Bialy book, and we will give them a post to themselves following this one.

Tom Bethell tells non-scientists why aneuploidy is the new path to cancer’s mysteries, and oncogenes are not

Such reviews which boil down and clarify in stark outline the problems in AIDS, cancer and science in general that Bialy’s book exposes are what is needed. For the one problem with Bialy’s brilliant book is its paradoxical virtue, namely that it is too precisely and concisely expressed in scientific terms to be easily understood by the lay public, even though it is also full of telling scientific and social anecdote. Now, however, a very accessible account of what is involved on the oncogene side has been written by the essayist Tom Bethell in the Spectator.

If you come from outside science this will tell you all you need to know about what “aneuploidy” is, and why after years in the wilderness Duesberg is showing every sign of being given a seat anew at the High Table in science.


Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Is cancer caused by gene mutations?

Tom Bethell



Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Is cancer caused by gene mutations?

Tom Bethell

SCIENTISTS THESE DAYS TEND TO BELIEVE that almost any trait can be attributed to a gene. The gene obsession, showing up in science journals and on the front page of the New York Times, culminated in the Human Genome Project. The human genome was sequenced, then that of the fruit fly, the mouse, the chimpanzee, the roundworm, yeast, and rice. Computers cranked out their mindless data. It has been a bonanza for techies and the computer industry but the medical benefits have remained elusive.

Now they are talking about a Cancer Genome Project. It would determine the DNA sequence in 12,500 tumor samples and is supposed to reveal cancer causing mutations by comparing the order of the letters of the genetic code in tumor cells with sequences in healthy tissue. But there is no single cancer genome, and the project will not improve our understanding of cancer.

Cancer has proved resistant to every “breakthrough” and treatment hype, and the new approach will only sustain the error that has dominated cancer research for 30 years. Since the mid-1970s, leading researchers have doggedly pursued the fixed idea that cancer is caused by gene mutations. I believe it will prove to have been one of the great medical errors of the 20th century.

WHERE TO BEGIN? One place is a story in the Washington Post, a few months back, headlined “Genetic Test Is Predictor of Breast Cancer Relapse.” The test “marks one of the first tangible benefits of the massive effort to harness genetics to fight cancer,” Rob Stein wrote. No real benefits yet? I think that is correct. Two well-publicized genes supposedly predispose women for breast cancer, but in over 90 percent of cases these genes have shown no defect.

Genes that (allegedly) cause cancer when they are mutated are called oncogenes. They were reported in 1976 by J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus, who were rewarded with the Nobel Prize. Varmus became director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under President Clinton; Bishop, chancellor of the University of California in San Francisco, one of the largest medical-research institutions in the country. The two scientists had “discovered a collection of normal genes that can cause cancer when they go awry, Gina Kolata later reported in the New York Times. About 40 such genes had been discovered. Normally harmless, “they would spring into action and cause cancer if they were twitched by carcinogens.” When mutated, in other words. This was “a new era in research.”

The following week, on October 20, 1989, Science magazine also reported the award. The article claimed: “…the work of the Bishop-Varmus group has had a major impact on efforts to understand the genetic basis of cancer. Since their 1976 discovery, researchers have identified nearly 50 cellular genes with the potential of becoming oncogenes.” Their work was “already paying off clinically.”

And so it went. Researchers began to find more and more of these oncogenes; then “tumor suppressor genes” were added. Now, in the Washington Post article, we read that “researchers sifted through 250 genes that had been identified as playing a role in breast cancer.”

So, up to 250 genes are “playing a role.” The Sanger Institute, which was also involved in the human genome project, claimed recently that “currently more than one percent of all human genes are cancer genes.” The latest figure is 25,000 genes in total for humans, so that is surely where the 250 “cancer genes” came from.

At the beginning, the oncogene theory posited that a single gene, when mutated, turned a normal cell into a cancer cell. We have gone from 1 to 250, the latter “playing a role.” This “multiplication of entities” — genes — is the hallmark of a theory that is not working. It’s what philosophers call a “deteriorating paradigm.” The theory gets more and more complex to account for its lack of success. The number of oncogenes keeps going up, even as the total number of genes goes down. Six years ago some thought humans had 150,000 genes in all. Now it’s one-sixth that number. How long before they find that all the genes “play a role” in cancer?

IT ALWAYS WAS UNLIKELY that a single mutated gene would turn a cell into a cancer cell. Mutations occur at a predictable rate in the body. As the cells of the body number perhaps trillions we would all have cancer if a single hit was sufficient. Then came the “multiple hit” theory. Three or four, maybe six or seven genes would all have to mutate in the same cell during its lifetime. Then, bingo, your unlucky number had come up. That cell became a cancer cell. When it divided it just kept on and on dividing.

Meanwhile, the underlying theory never changed. The research establishment remains in thrall to the idea that cancer is caused by gene mutations. It was and is unable to lay its hands on the genes responsible, but it believes they are in there somewhere.

There are several problems with the theory, but the most basic is this. Researchers have never been able to show that a mutated gene, taken from a cancer cell, will transform normal cells in the petri dish. They are unable to show that the allegedly guilty party is capable of committing the crime. They can transport these mutated genes into test cells. And the supposed deadly genes are integrated into the cell’s DNA. But those cells do not turn into cancer cells, and if injected into experimental animals, they don’t cause tumors. That’s when the experts said, well, there must be four or five genes all acting at once in the cell. But they have never been able to say which ones, nor show that in any combination they do the foul deed.

There is even a genetically engineered strain of mice called OncoMouse. They have some of these oncogenes in every cell of their small bodies. You would have thought they would die of cancer immediately. But they leave the womb, gobble up food, and live long enough to reproduce and pass on their deadly genes to the next generation.

I have a suggestion for Gina Kolata, who still works on these issues for the New York Times. Why not try asking Varmus or Bishop exactly which genes, either individually or in combination, cause cancer in humans or anything else? I tried calling Bishop at UCSF a few months back but couldn’t get through. He will respond to the New York Times, surely. But maybe not with a straight answer.

The desire to start over with a “cancer genome project” tells you they know they are not even at first base. Dr. Harold Varmus, now president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told the Times in March that the new project could completely change how we approach cancer.

Completely change? Maybe we do need a complete change. What about his decades-old Nobel work? Was that a waste? In a way I think it was worse than that, because when an erroneous theory is rewarded with the top prize in science, abandoning that theory is difficult. The backtracking required is an embarrassment to all.

JOURNALISM PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE. Especially in the field of medical science, there is a big problem. It exists at all major newspapers and I don’t mean to single out the New York Times. Science journalists don’t see themselves as qualified to challenge the experts. If a reporter were to do so, quoting nonapproved scientists, top-echelon NIH officials would surely complain to editors, and the reporter would be reassigned. The nation’s health would be said to be endangered.

All this contrasts with the far greater freedom that journalists enjoy in the political arena, including defense and foreign policy. About 35 years ago, leading newspaper editors decided to chart their own course and form their own judgments. The context was the Vietnam War, more specifically the Pentagon Papers. A big report critical of U.S. policy was leaked to the press, and the Nixon administration went to great pains to suppress it. National security was invoked, judicial restraining orders were issued, but eventually the “public’s right to know” trumped “national security.” The material was published.

That was the background from which Woodward and Bernstein and the Watergate investigation emerged a year later. And we were the better off for it. The real danger, then and now, was that of unchecked government power. And we are seeing that exercised in the realm of medical science, where we do not have a press that dares to think independently.

HOW DID THE IDEA TAKE ROOT that gene mutations cause cancer? Well, in the 1920s researchers bombarded fruit flies with X-rays and mutant flies resulted. Humans exposed to large X-ray doses a hundred years ago proved to be at high risk for skin cancer and leukemia. It was convincingly shown that X-rays produced both mutations and cancers.

Working at the NIH in the 1960s, the biochemist Bruce Ames used bacteria to detect the mutagenic properties of various substances. Some carcinogens proved to be mutagenic, hence the gene-mutation theory of cancer. Robert A. Weinberg, who directs a cancer research lab at MIT, says that by the 1970s he and others had come to believe that “Ames was preaching a great and simple lesson” about carcinogens: “Carcinogens are mutagens.”

Some are, but some of the best known are not. Neither asbestos nor coal tar, found in cigarettes, are mutagenic. They are carcinogens but they don’t affect the DNA — the genes. But there was one more crucial discovery still to be made. Or rather, rediscovery.

Robert Weinberg later claimed that a mutation in a single gene indeed had transformed a cell in vitro. But it turned out that the cell-line, one that had been provided by the NIH, was already “immortal,” or cancerous. It did not have the right number of chromosomes.

Normal cells have 46 chromosomes — 23 each from mother and father. Such cells are “diploid,” because their complement of chromosomes is doubled.

In case you never took biology, genes are segments of DNA strung along the chromosomes. The largest chromosomes, such as Chromosome 1 or 2, include several thousand genes each. Sometimes babies are born with one extra copy of the smallest chromosome, and because it is in the germ line this defect is in every cell of the body. Such babies have Down syndrome. Having an extra chromosome is serious business.

Here is the key point: cancer cells do not have the correct complement of chromosomes. Their “ploidy” is not good, so they are said to be aneuploid. Cancer cells are aneuploid. This defect arises not in the germ line, but in the grown body. Cells divide in the course of life, by a process called mitosis, and sometimes there is an error in the division. The chromosomes do not “segregate” properly (do not end up equally in the two daughter cells) and an extra chromosome may be hauled off into one of the new cells. Such over-burdened cells will usually die, but sometimes the error repeats and magnifies and increases. The cell just keeps on dividing, its control mechanisms overridden by the abundance of extra DNA in the cell. A tumor forms in that part of the body, and that is cancer. Some cancer cells may have as many as 80 chromosomes instead of 46. They may actually have double the right number of genes.

The aneuploid character of cancer cells is the first thing that Theodor Boveri and others noticed when they began to look at cancer under the microscope, 100 years ago. Leaving unresolved the question of what causes aneuploidy, early researchers thought that this was surely the genetic cause of cancer. Mutation didn’t enter into it. But gradually the early research was buried. In the last generation, textbooks on the cell and even textbooks on cancer have failed to mention aneuploidy or its bizarre chromosomal combinations. Weinberg wrote two books on cancer without mentioning aneuploidy. Overlooking what was plainly visible in the microscope, researchers worked for years with those defective, immortalized cell lines, assuming that their extra chromosomes were unimportant.

An analogy suggests the magnitude of the error. Cells today are compared to factories, so let’s think of an automobile plant. A cancer cell is the equivalent of a monster car with (let’s say) five wheels, two engines, and no brakes. Start it running and you can’t stop the damned thing. It’s hazardous to the community. The CEO wants to know what’s gone wrong so he sends underlings into the factory. There they find that instead of the anticipated 46 assembly lines, there are as many as 80. At the end of the process this weird machine gets bolted together and ploughs its way out the factory door.

But today’s gene mutation theorist is someone who says: “That’s not it. The extra assembly lines are irrelevant. What is happening is that three or four of the tens of thousands of workers along the assembly lines are not working right!” In the analogy, genes along the chromosomes correspond to workers along the assembly lines.

Any CEO would fire the lunatic who thought a few errant workers, and not the bizarre factory layout, had caused the mayhem. But in the realm of cancer research, those who do say that are rewarded with fat grants, top posts, and awards. That’s a measure of what has happened to cancer research.

I HAVE LEFT THE MOST DRAMATIC PART to the end. The man who rediscovered the old work on chromosomes and cancer and has drawn attention to it ever since, supported by investigations of his own, is none other than Peter Duesberg of U.C. Berkeley. He was already in the dog house at NIH for saying that AIDS is not an infectious disease and that HIV is harmless. All his grants were cut off in retribution. But as a member of the National Academy of Sciences he could still publish in respectable journals. So for the last seven years he has been drawing attention to the cancer matter. The NIH is pursuing the wrong theory, he says. Talk about persona non grata! No more grants for him! (And he has not received any.)

A researcher at the University of Washington who became controversial at NIH in an unrelated field warned Duesberg that “in the present system of NIH grants, there is no way to succeed.” No matter how much they prate in public about thinking outside the box and rewarding “high-risk” proposals, “the reviewers are the same and their self-interest is the same.” In the cancer field, grant proposals are reviewed by, and won by, proponents of the gene mutation theory.

Wayt Gibbs published a good article about Duesberg’s cancer findings in the Scientific American (July 2003). And this response is beginning to emerge in journals like Science: Er, well, there’s nothing new here … We have always known that aneuploidy is important in cancer. (Yes, but it was forgotten and then buried beneath the paper mountains of new research.) There is a quiet search for a “political” compromise: Can’t we say that both gene mutation and aneuploidy “play a role” in the genetics of cancer?

A leading cancer researcher, Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins, told me some time back that “at least 90 percent of human cancers are aneuploid.” More recently, his lab reported that aneuploidy “is consistently shown in virtually all cancers.” A few years ago, Varmus from Sloan-Kettering did answer my e-mail query, writing: “Aneuploidy, and other manifestations of chromosomal instability are major manifestations of many cancers and many labs have been working on them.” But, he added: “Any role they play will not diminish the crucial roles of mutant protooncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.”

But why not? Maybe aneuploidy is sufficient.

At the end of May, Duesberg was invited to speak at NIH. His topic: “Aneuploidy and Cancer: From Correlation to Causation.” About 100 people showed up at Building 10. The Genetics branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is interested in aneuploidy, and well aware of the political sensitivities. But I am told that the director of the NCI Andrew von Eschenbach, a political appointee, is not particularly interested in aneuploidy. He should be, though, because he is a cancer survivor himself and in speeches calls for “eliminating the suffering and death from cancer by 2015.”

Duesberg challenged the audience to prove him wrong. He is looking for diploid cancer: a solid tumor with the correct complement of chromosomes. He is not much interested in the compromise solutions — “a bit of both theories.” Prove me wrong, he says. A woman in the audience did suggest cases of tumors that looked diploid, but Duesberg knew the literature here and immediately referred her to a more recent study showing that these tumors, on closer microscopic inspection, proved to be aneuploid.

Maybe in the end he will show that in order to achieve a real breakthrough, it’s important not to be funded by the NIH. If so, we will all have learned a very expensive lesson.

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator.


Who can be blamed?

If all this Duesbergian science proves out, and in both AIDS and cancer it is enshrined in the highest peer reviewed scientific literature, those responsible for misleading the world for so long on AIDS will not only have the shattered lives and eventual deaths of millions on their hands, deaths which include hundreds among the flower of art and culture in the US as well as millions of trusting innocents in the rest of the world, but also the responsibility of stalling the work on cancer of a scientist who is among the very best in the world.

In other words, to put it bluntly, the Bob Club and their fellow travelers among scientists, journalists, politicians and bureaucrats may well have blocked the discovery of a preventive for cancer in the last eighteen years. They not only crippled the work of Duesberg by vetoing his access to public funds (an interference which continues to date, and which was alleviated only by the intervention of private patrons such as Robert Leppo of San Francisco) but they diverted vast amounts of attention, personnel and public money to a scientific chimera.

Did they do this knowingly? This is the $64,000 question in science. There are many arguments to suggest that such self-interested opposition to enlightenment is unconscious, because it is self-deceptive and driven by all kinds of supportive emotions—envy, greed, fear and loathing—which are unseen devils in the subconscious of us all.

What makes it hard to accept that the right hand did not know what the left hand was up to is the degree of intelligence of most of the Club members. None of them have the fleet lightfootedness of Duesberg’s penetrating wit, which grasps the finer points so rapidly that while waiting for his lumbering opponents to catch up in debate, part of the brain is left idling and unfortunately liable to concoct a wickedly amusing phrase at their expense.

But Robert Gallo, Anthony Fauci and David Baltimore are no dummies, as their highly successful career moves show. At some point in the last twenty years, even these Ptolemaic apologists must have finally appreciated the mountainous size of the anomalies in the HIV/AIDS paradigm they have tried to explain away, and the complete absence of explanation or preventive that their theory has led to.

Or cure. Do they really think that the HAART regime counts as a cure, and renders the criticism null and void? According to Duesberg’s 2003 Journal of Biosciences wrap up, the scientific literature states that whatever temporary improvement may be felt or imagined by patients, it does not prevent eventual death, which it hastens fourfold.

But of course, in science as in life those committed to a viewpoint rarely read opposing arguments without prejudice, if they read them at all.

2 Responses to “Duesberg smashes through on the Western front”

  1. Michael Says:

    It would be nice if NAR and if ALL of the dissident blog sites could either set up a donations account for contributions to keep Duesberg’s lab funded OR at least prominently steer readers as to where and how they can donate to continue Duesberg’s research. Leppo can not be expected to continue to be the sole financier without others contributing what they can, and I am sure many would like to contribute something if it was easy and accessible to do so.

    I have also heard that Robert Leppo has a contribution fund somewhere where he will match other contributions. Anybody know where this is at or how to go about donating?

    If the dissident community does not ask, we won’t receive, and Dr. Duesberg can not be expected to go personally begging instead of staying focused on doing his research. Hopefully we will all do whatever we can.

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Michael, actually we noted here that Leppo has offered to match contributions and has had one taker at $25,000. We’ll find out more. But isn’t it true that the kind of money needed to fight the NIAID led system is on the Gates level, and that our best efforts should be aimed at getting that kind of support, rather than passing the hat among ourselves? PayPal won’t do it (though it might help support NAR. We should try a button).

    What we need is a break, such as Bill Gates to test positive.

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