Damned Heretics

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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.

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Gay paper reports on Harpers article as HIV challenge

First print reaction focuses on Duesberg and HIV debate

It’s worth noting that the first article in print about the Harpers piece, Denialism in Harper’s Faulted in Gay City News, focuses on the challenge to HIV?AIDS ideology rather than the abandonment of scientific standards in the trials that the article puts upfront.

To our mind this reflects the vulnerability of this aspect of HIV?AIDS. The issue, and Duesberg’s name, tend to be a lightning rod for defensive anxiety because of the unconscious (or conscious) knowledge that the fundamental assumption is so easily questioned, yet so vital. As PCR Nobelist Kary Mullis is fond of pointing out, there is no paper in science that anyone can point to which demonstrates the basic assumption that HIV causes AIDS.

If the assumption is wrong then the entire scientific, social and institutional structure falls. The field of HIV?AIDS is rather like the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center before September 11, liable to collapse into total disintegration if this one idea is exploded. Every paper and every activity in the field is based upon the premise that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

Remove it successfully and we face a collapse of catastrophic proportions in every dimension, from the internal psychic confidence of all involved to institutional prestige and authority across all government and media. The size of the collapse is one reason to think that it will never happen.

This is the fundamental reason why HIV?AIDS skeptics till now have seemed like dogs barking at the moon. The Harpers article is probably the last best chance they have to make a difference. Will it prove a tipping point? We don’t know, of course, but for some reason we think it will.

This may be the beginning of the end of the ability of the leaders of HIV?AIDS to prevent full public discussion of the foundation of their field. Harpers is just too respectable a magazine to put down with the usual disparagement and dismissal by the scientists in the field, ;let alone the activists. Now it is the HIV activists who will look ineffectual as they try to throw mud at the moon.

Denialism in Harper’s Faulted


Gay City News Volume 5, Number 9 | March 2 – 8, 2006


HIV Denialism in Harper’s Faulted

Researchers worldwide castigate magazine for giving credence to view virus unrelated to AIDS


AIDS groups around the globe are condemning a Harper’s magazine article that features leading AIDS denialists and makes a sweeping attack on AIDS research based on two clinical trials.

AIDS denialism directly kills a lot of people, said Nathan Geffen, policy coordinator at the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. It’s disgraceful and it needs to be stopped.

Geffen was among roughly 40 AIDS activists, researchers, and clinicians who sent an open letter to the monthly magazine denouncing the article that ran in its March issue. They have demanded a retraction, an apology, and that their documentation of the errors in the piece be published on the Harper’s Web site and in the magazine.

So far it’s well over 50 and counting, Geffen said, about his count of the article’s flaws. We’re not talking about trivial errors.

The story was written by Celia Farber, a journalist who has authored many pieces that have drawn on the views of researchers and activists who believe that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. Her work has appeared in Spin, USA Today, Gear, and other leading mainstream publications. She did not respond to a phone message seeking comment or an e-mail sent to her on behalf of Gay City News from a Harper’s editor.

Farber is on the board of the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, a group that includes AIDS denialists among its members, though her views are less clear. In a 2000 interview with Poz magazine she said, 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.

In part, the piece investigated two clinical trials, one in the U.S. and the second in Uganda, that weighed the efficacy and safety of nevirapine, an anti-HIV drug, in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Both studies gave the drug to pregnant women.

The U.S. trial recruited 38 women, but it was shut down after several women experienced serious side effects and one woman died. The Uganda trial, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a U.S. health agency, was criticized for sloppy record-keeping and mismanagement, but its conclusion that the drug is safe and effective has been endorsed by U.S. agencies that investigated the trial.

The story also described the mistreatment of an NIH employee after he blew the whistle on the Uganda trial.

Farber wrote that while the two trials should raise questions about the safety of nevirapine and the conduct of drug trials, the so-called community AIDS activists were sprung like cuckoo birds from grandfather clocks at the appointed hour to affirm the unwavering AIDS catechism: AIDS drugs save lives. To suggest otherwise is to endanger millions of African babies.

The piece also cited Dr. Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and Dr. Kary B. Mullis, a chemist who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for inventing the polymerase chain reaction. Both men have long denied that HIV is the cause of AIDS and, the piece asserted, Duesberg has effectively been blackballed in the scientific community.

Roger D. Hodge, the Harper’s deputy editor and editor of the Farber story, told Gay City News that the story was not about whether HIV is the cause of AIDS, but concerned the mismanagement of drug studies and the censoring of debate.

It’s not as if this is happening in isolation, he said. There has been scandal after scandal after scandal… It’s not as if human experimentation doesn’t have it problems… Celia has covered the story for a long time. Part of the story is that a certain kind of name-calling, a certain kind of moral blackmail, takes the place of scientific debate. People like Peter Duesberg have been persecuted for trying to have a scientific debate. Hodge said the story was carefully vetted.

It was very, very thoroughly fact-checked over the course of three months, he said. A lot of what people are describing as errors are differences of opinion about the data.

Asked whether he believed that the HIV virus was the cause of AIDS, Hodge, who will become the magazine’s editor within a month, said, I don’t feel like I am qualified to judge it. Am I a partisan? My general position is I am very skeptical about absolutist arguments, so I want to hear the entire argument. More argument is better.

The open letter called the article pseudo-science and dangerous because of its potential to convince people in desperate need of antiretroviral medicines not to take them, with life-threatening consequences.

Farber is sympathetic to, and has herself long perpetuated, the factually incorrect views that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that the risks of antiretrovirals outweigh their benefits, the letter read.

The view that HIV causes AIDS is supported by what most people would see as overwhelming evidence and that is the consensus among scientists and researchers. While AIDS drugs can have unpleasant side effects, they have maintained the lives and health of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people with HIV.

AIDS denialism can have serious consequences, Geffen said.

The only reason that AIDS denialism is so rampant in South Africa is because it has the support of the president and the health minister, he said, referring to Thabo Mbeki and his controversial top health adviser, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Geffen said that some denialists were actively recruiting South Africans to participate in studies meant to prove the effectiveness of vitamins against HIV.

What they are doing is they are convincing people, very sick people with AIDS, not to take AIDS drugs and take vitamins instead, he said. It’s unbelievable that they are getting away with this. We are going to court to try and stop them.

Julie Davids, executive director of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), said that denialists had not had a significant impact in the US.

I think so much of what happens with HIV, whether it’s prevention or care, there are so many factors that can weigh in on whether someone can access care, I don’t think the Harper’s article is going to have an impact, she said.

CHAMP was among the signatories on the open letter. For Davids, the article was about a misplaced desire to challenge accepted wisdom and be entertaining.

I understand that Harper’s wants to be outrageous and feel like they are doing things that others won’t, she said. I just have to ask why they would print an article that they know includes dramatic misinformation…There is an admiral role for challenging suspect consensus that’s not what this story is. It’s full of holes.




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4 Responses to “Gay paper reports on Harpers article as HIV challenge”

  1. Karen L L Says:

    But, if HIV is not the cause of AIDS, then, what is?? Because HIV-Negative AIDS patients are not prescribed any toxic antiretroviral medications. Nobody even acknowledges our idiopathic illnesses, never mind to care enough to want to drug us…I believe that to systemically diagnosis millions of ailing, med-free, immunosuppressed CFS patients — will be to answer the next-most, sequentially-logical question: What is the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?Orthodoxy: HIV/AIDSAIDS Myth: HIV?AIDSProposal: CFS->AIDSwww.lemonfoundation.blogspot.com

  2. David Crowe Says:

    It is particularly ironic that Robert Gallo should be the lead author of the attack on Celia Farber, given John Crewdson’s book. Just the title alone, Science fictions: A scientific mystery, a massive cover-up, and the dark legacy of Robert Gallo gives a taste of what you’ll find if you read it. He just can’t help himself from attempting to sabotage Duesberg’s character by rather childish remarks such as “how [Duesberg] is (or is not) regarded by other cancer researchers nowadays”. Oh, I get it Bob (you don’t mind if I’m familiar, do you?), what you really mean is that most cancer researchers shun him. Well, maybe they do, they have their stock options to worry about, and being associated with someone who thinks outside the box doesn’t get you respect by those who know exactly where the boundaries of proper thought lie.Let me just address the first contention, that HIV tests are highly accurate. Several mainstream scientists have mentioned the inconvenient fact that there is no “gold standard” for HIV antibody tests. This has been known for a long time. Cleary, in JAMA in 1987, wrote “for HIV infection, there is no independent, unequivocal way of identifying a group of individuals who are all assuredly infected or uninfected”. I could give you 22 other references on this subject, but I don’t want to bore you.And then there’s the problem of PPV (Positive Predictive Value). If you have a test that’s 99% accurate, when used on a population where 1 out of 10,000 people are truly positive, will result in 1 true positive in 10,000 people and 100 false positives. Pregnant women who aren’t drug addicts are a very low risk population. It’s quite conceivable that all HIV tests in this group are false positives.The implication often is that if a single ELISA test has a 99% chance of being accurate (1 out of 100 risk of a false positive) that a second ELISA reduces the risk to 1 out of 10,000, and if the Western Blot has a similar accuracy, the risk is reduce to 1 out of 1 million. But basic probability or statistics tells us that this is only true if the events are independent of each other. And this is certainly not true when running the same type of test multiple times.Even the repeatability of HIV tests should be called into question. I have not seen any recent papers that have reported all the data about discarded positive tests (e.g. first ELISA positive, followed by two negative tests). In early papers this was sometimes reported.For example, Houn et al reported in Ann Clin Lab Sci in 1987 that 0.8% of blood donors tested by the CDC were positive on their first ELISA, but only 0.25% on the second. Out of these, only 31% were “strongly reactive”. Out of the doubly-positive group 86% were Western Blot positive and 58% were culture positive.But now, things have advanced, there is a protocol and people can only exit the protocol as positive or negative or (rarely) indeterminate. The messy intermediate results aren’t reported and it’s as if they don’t exist. The test protocol becomes “The HIV Test” but it’s black and white (or occasionally grey) results are just an illusion.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    “But, if HIV is not the cause of AIDS, then, what is??”Karen, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is another syndrome, which may or may not have more reality to it than AIDS. But it is an illness, if it exists as something differentiated from other ailments. It then presents the same problem, what is the cause of CFS?It is not relevant to the reality of AIDS or its cause or cure, unless you wish to say that it is one of the AIDS ailments. Perhaps it shares the ame cause, and cure. But it is not going to cause AIDS. One illness does not cause another illness. The cause of an illness causes whatever symptoms it causes, and they are named as an illness, or a syndrome if they are a bunch of illnesses or syptoms.That is our understanding, at any rate. We have no idea when an illness becomes a syndrome. Presumably the idea is that a cause provokes a bunch of symptoms which are then called a syndrome at some arbitrary point. But it seems pretty clear that unless CFS is the same thing as AIDS, its cause and its treatment are a separate issue. Certainly CFS -> AIDS doesn’t make much sense as a statement of cause, but we suppose it could mean that CFS is AIDS lite. But it is hard to see how thinking about that could be fruitful. Almost certainly AIDS is a result of taking too much of the wrong stuff into the body, and not enough of the right stuff, nutritionally speaking. Presumably CFS has the same origin and potential treatment. If that is what you mean, fair enough. But our purpose on this blog is to evaluate the claim for AIDS, its nature, its cause and its cure. If that helps throw light on the reality, cause and cure of CFS, that is a benefit too, and we are happy to provie it.

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    The possibility that a positive test is incorrectDavid, thanks for your comment, which very usefully draws attention to the key point that many overlook or dont ever encounter, which is that the error rate in HIV tests even of high accuracy has to be very great in populations where the occurrence of HIV – the incidence or prevalence, we are too lazy to look up which – is very low.Since the presence of HIV in the US population is only 1 in 250, one can work out what a 99% accurate test would find. We suppose it would get 5 wrong results in 500 tests, ie five positives, and the true figure would be two. So even in the US the number of false positives from random tests would be 3 in 5, or 60 per cent, even if the test is 99% accurate. An possibly the tests are less accurate than 99%, we imagine. If the true accuracy is 98%, then that would be ten wrong results in 500 tests, so only 1 in 5 positive tests would be correct. It is a pretty daunting thought that so many people are being plagued by wrong results, and suffer the impact of liver damaging drugs without any justification even if the darn theory was right, which looks about as likely as the possibility of riding a bicycle to the moon. Of course, the situation improves if they are retested, but so many seem to be tested only once. If we understand correctly, Christine Maggiore only tested positive once, then was negative in later tests. And Joyce Stafford was only tested once, according to Celia Farber’s article, if we recall correctly. (Will check later).

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