Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

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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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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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

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The CFR lets Laurie Garrett loose on AIDS and global security

Last evening (Jul 18 Mon) the Council of Foreign Relations held a jam packed briefing on its new cause for alarm over global AIDS, which is the impact it will supposedly have on US and global security.

A theme kicked off by President Bill Clinton as he was about to leave office, and heartily taken up by Richard Holbrooke, his Ambassador to the United Nations, the security angle on reasons to worry about Global AIDS has been developed for five years now. Holbrooke pushed through a resolution at the UN in July, 2000 calling on member states to teach AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment strategies to UN and national uniformed personnel.

How much has been achieved in this respect in the five years since is the topic of a UN report issued yesterday, On The Frontlines. The UN has set an example by encouraging the 65,000 military personnel stationed with UN operations to undergo voluntary HIV screening, as well as educating them about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and equipping them with a plastic I.D. HIV/AIDS Awareness Card for Peacekeeping Operations, and five or six condoms weekly during foreign deployment.

However, Peter Piot, the director of the United Nations AIDS program,. UNAIDS, admitted that there was a lot more to do to get the UN peacekeepers under control. According to Larry Altman at the Times in U.N. Cites Lag in Educating Peacekeepers About AIDS today

many among the 105 countries that provide uniformed troops to the peacekeeping missions still have a long way to go to meet the Security Council’s goal for education and prevention programs, the officials said. The missions involve more than 66,000 frequently rotated uniformed personnel and more than 13,000 international and national civilians serving in 17 peacekeeping and related field operations.”AIDS is still not part of the core military business everywhere,” Dr. Peter Piot, the director of the United Nations AIDS program, said in providing the Security Council with a progress report.

According to Holbrooke,

some “United Nations peacekeepers were bringing AIDS to regions and some were bringing it home with them, as the Finns found out in Namibia.” Similar transmissions “happened all over Africa and in Cambodia,” he said.

And according to Piot,

More than 94 percent of those surveyed said that they knew H.I.V. could be transmitted through unprotected sex and exposure to contaminated blood, and 87 percent had received AIDS awareness training. But less than 2 percent said they had been briefed about AIDS by their commanding officers.

The full Times piece is as follows if you want to read it:

(show)

The New York Times

July 19, 2005

U.N. Cites Lag in Educating Peacekeepers About AIDS

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 – United Nations officials said Monday that despite progress in fulfilling a mandate five years ago to better educate peacekeeping forces about AIDS, they had not fully met their goal.

The effort began in 2000, amid concern that peacekeepers could be helping to spread H.I.V. in countries they were assigned to or after coming back home. The United Nations Security Council declared AIDS a threat to the political and economic stability of many countries and mandated inclusion of H.I.V. prevention programs in peacekeeping missions. The officials said they had introduced AIDS education and training programs in all peacekeeping missions and were offering H.I.V. tests, promoting use of condoms, and distributing information kits to troops.

But many among the 105 countries that provide uniformed troops to the peacekeeping missions still have a long way to go to meet the Security Council’s goal for education and prevention programs, the officials said. The missions involve more than 66,000 frequently rotated uniformed personnel and more than 13,000 international and national civilians serving in 17 peacekeeping and related field operations.”AIDS is still not part of the core military business everywhere,” Dr. Peter Piot, the director of the United Nations AIDS program, said in providing the Security Council with a progress report.

Most United Nations peacekeeping efforts depend on troops from low- or middle-income countries. Though the number of peacekeepers is tiny compared with the hundreds of millions of people at risk of becoming infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, many of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, with the world’s highest rates of H.I.V. infection.

One hope is that peacekeepers will further contribute to H.I.V. prevention efforts by sharing information with the local population.

Richard C. Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, who is regarded as the father of the resolution the Security Council passed in 2000, said Monday that at the time some “United Nations peacekeepers were bringing AIDS to regions and some were bringing it home with them, as the Finns found out in Namibia.” Similar transmissions “happened all over Africa and in Cambodia,” he said.

The resolution was also a response to reports of sexual abuse and exploitation in peacekeeping areas.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the United Nations under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, said that the resolution “turns out to have provided the jolt that we desperately needed” to make AIDS a priority issue for his office.

Wars and the unsettling conditions after their settlement create conditions that increase the risk of H.I.V. transmission. Factors making troops and people in the war zones more vulnerable to H.I.V. include the youth of the troops who are separated from their families and who are often economically better off than those in countries they are serving. Also, troops often do not use condoms in having sex with multiple partners in war zones.

Dr. Piot and Mr. Guéhenno said the lack of reliable data on the number of troops who were H.I.V.-infected in 2000 made it difficult to determine the effectiveness of efforts since then. Many governments keep such information “a military secret,” Dr. Piot said.

Initial analysis of a scientifically controlled survey of 660 uniformed peacekeepers of all ranks serving in Liberia and conducted in May and June by the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced mixed findings.

More than 94 percent of those surveyed said that they knew H.I.V. could be transmitted through unprotected sex and exposure to contaminated blood, and 87 percent had received AIDS awareness training. But less than 2 percent said they had been briefed about AIDS by their commanding officers.

In India, where recruits must be uninfected before joining the military, AIDS has become the fifth leading medical reason for dismissal from the army and the second most common cause of death in the navy, Dr. Piot said.

He concluded that the best strategy to control H.I.V.’s threat to national security was to bring the epidemic under control.

Toward that goal, the Council on Foreign Relations recommended in a separate report that health officials use a technique known as molecular epidemiology to verify or refute claims that so-called rogue states and groups have deliberately spread H.I.V.

Another council recommendation was that “hard hit, impoverished nations should take steps to preserve their trained elites, within both military and civilian sectors,” by providing them with life-extending anti-retroviral drugs. But the report cautioned that providing such drugs only to the elite could prove demoralizing, even destabilizing, to the general population.

As these comments reveal, the premise running through the minds of the elite and their advisers in dealing with global AIDS is that HIV is the cause of AIDS, and that it is readily transmitted through sex, both assumptions repeatedly contradicted in the best (most thoroughly peer reviewed) scientific literature, not to mention the evidence of the news for the past two decades, which has so far recorded no evidence of any spread of AIDS in the heterosexual population of Europe and America.

However, it appears that scientific literature is written in a language foreign to those who advise the UN and the Council, advisors who include the well known science journalist who prepared the report presented last night at the Council of Foreign Relations, namely Laurie Garrett.

For yesterday as the UN held a session marking the fifth aniversary of that resolution 1308, the first ever on a health issue, the Council released its own report, “HIV and National Security: Where Are the Links?” aimed at providing fresh insight into this new reason to take global AIDS seriously.

The live Council briefing on the report mainly featured Holbrooke, a tall man who now who is Vice-Chairman of Perseus LLC, and CEO of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, and the multi-prize winning Laurie Garrett, the tireless, curly haired one-time Newsday reporter who has transformed herself into a veritable national institute for detecting threats to global health, her best sellers on the topic (The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance ((Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994) and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (Hyperion, 2000)) helping her win all three of the most prestigious awards in journalism, namely a Peabody, two Polks and a Pulitzer.

Garrett, who is at present a fellow at the Council and wrote the report, was revealed by her first book, The Coming Plague to be less than thoughtful about her topic, which judging by her perfunctory, rat-a-tat style she evidently covered by simply accepting everything the established authorities in a field told her and pasting the snippets together more or less in sequence by date. In other words, she was an unusually energetic but entirely typical uncritical reporter of the conventional wisdom, and was subsequently rewarded by prize committees accordingly.

One page in the book in particular indicated she had no understanding of the scientific literature which resoundingly rejected HIV as the cause of AIDS, in peer-reviewed papers in leading journals in which peer-reviewed refutations have never been attempted. In fact, it seems clear she had never read this literature with any attention, a state of grace she was evidently in in 1989 when we briefly met her in the Press Room at the 1989 AIDS Conference in Montreal and mentioned Peter Duesberg, the leading HIV-AIDS reviewer, who had just recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy a comprehensive, 200 footnote article rejecting the new paradigm totally. Garrett proved incapable of dicussing the paper although she said she was certain Duesberg was wrong.

In the book, p 383, she dealt with Duesberg as follows:

Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, British astronomers, anounced in 1986 that the AIDS virus came from outer space.

And sidestepping altogether the issue of the origin of HIV, University of California at Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg declared it didn’t matter where HIV originated. The virus had nothing to do with AIDS, he said. Duesberg claimed that AIDS was not an infectious disease and had no association with any virus: the diseae commonly called AIDS had existed since the beginning off time, but seemed “epidemic” in the 1980s because people were injecting narcotics, snorting nitrites, taking amphetamines, getting parasitic dieases thaat scientists labeled “AIDS”, and leaading what he called a “self-destructive gay lifestyle.”

(Here Garrett appended a footnote:

208: Peter Duesberg’s views have been so widely published that it is difficult to narrow a list to key sources. For Duesberg’s perspective, see B. Guccione Jr., Interview, September 1993:95-108 (she apparently means SPIN Magazine); P. H. Duesberg, “Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome: Correlation, but not Causation”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 86 (1989): 755-64; J. Miller, “AIDS Heresy,” Discover, June 1988:63-68; P. Duesberg, “A Challenge to the AIDS Establishment,” Biotechnology 5 (1987):3; and P. Duesberg, “Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality,” Cancer Research 47 (1987):1199-1220.)

She then continued:

“I don’t mind to be shot up with it as long as it is a clean virus, without other junk, because I am fully convinced it’s not the cause of AIDS,” Duesberg said.

While Duesberg’s theories were debunked point by point by scientists all over the world, the public attraction to his ideas was strong, in part because they suggested that such things as consistent condom use might not be necessary. And because blame for having a deadly disease could be leveled straight at the victim—the individual who had led a “bad lifestyle” that caused an illness.

At this point she then made the perhaps unfortunate mistake of appending the following footnote:

209: For examples of counterarguments to Duesberg’s theories,see J. Cohen, “Keystone’s Blunt Message: It’s the Virus, Stupid.” Science 260 (1993); P.Brown, “MPs Investigate AIDS Maverick”, New Scientist, June 6, 1992:9; D. Concar, “Patients Abandon AIDS Drug After TV Shows,” New Scientist, July 13, 1991:13; J. E. Groopman, “A Dangerous Delusion About AIDS,” New York Times, September 10, 1992:A23; J. Weber, “AIDS and the ‘Guilty’ Virus, New Scientist, May 5, 1988:32-33; and A. G. Fettner, “Dealing with Duesberg,” Village Voice, February 2, 1988, 25-29.

Having thus demonstrated that rebuttal of Duesberg was confined to journalism rather than any scientific papers, at least as far as her own reading was concerned, Garrett then continued:

Though evidence for HIV as the cause of AIDS, the bona fide existence of a pandemic of infectious immunodeficiency, its evolutionary link to a family of monkey viruses, and its recent large-scale outbreak on earth was overwhelming, collective denial coupled with historically valid feelings of group persecution woiuld continue to support acceptance of dark, conspiratorial theories….

and goes on to detail popular fantasies of AIDS as “genocide against the black race”, or “the virus was produced in a germ-warfare laboratory”.

Thus her brief mention of this key topic amounted merely to repeating general establishment claims without any backing in the peer-reviewed literature, and the gratuitous smearing of Duesberg’s stature by association in the reader’s mind with ignorant or fantasy science. In truth one enduring problem for Duesberg’s scientific opponents has always been his impeccable stature and performance as a scientist, fully recognized by all before he undertook the dangerous politics of paradigm challenge.

Suffice it to say that evidence for HIV as the cause of AIDS was not overwhelming enough to lay the debate to rest, and it has continued unresolved and lively since. In fact the most intensely reviewed literature on the topic—Duesberg’s substantial number of therefore definitive critiques—has continued to be published with updates for nearly two decades now, with an accumulating pile of over fifteen trade and scientific books backing him on his political and scientific positions.

So anyone who possesses The Coming Plague has little reason to expect Laurie Garrett to be an informed and independent reporter on AIDS capable of assessing for herself the nature of the threat, and her subsequent career indicates likewise with its second alarmist best seller, her numerous prizes including all three journalism prizes (she is the only journalist to have won all three) her 1992-93 visiting fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health, and now her fellowship at the Council writing this report.

We might also add that all this Duesberg material reminds us of an incident at SEED magazine lst year, where editor Adam Bly, 21, the Montreal-born founder of the struggling new science magazine, had given Garrett a monthly column. Bly and his sidekick Don Hoyt Gorman, still new to the politics of American science, were conferring with Garrett and mentioned that they were thinking of covering Peter Duesberg. According to Gorman later, Garrett rose from her chair, saying that if Duesberg’s name ever entered the pages of SEED she would never write a column, and flounced out of the office. The gossip was repeated in the New York Post’s Page Six column, which however failed to mention that Adam Bly only talked her back into the fold by offering her courtside seats at the US Open final in tennis that year.

So it was with a frisson of concern that we found out yesterday that she is the thinker on whom the Council of Foreign Relations is now relying for its analysis of the global security threat in AIDS. As the SRO crowd of some 150-200 suited and tied members, AIDS officials, health workers and activists and NGO officials listened, twenty five of them in Washington via satellite, Garrett and Holbrooke informed them of their latest thoughts on the topic as enshrined in the report or prompted by Princeton N. Lyman, who was the moderator from Washington of the video conference which was piped around the world to Council members in a “secure, password protected teleconference” setup. Peter Piot, the balding, heavy set executive director of UNAIDS, participated but didn’t add much to his comments at the UN.

Among the alarming or absurdist (depending on whther you read the scientific literature or not) points made:

1) AIDS is a growing problem for the women of the world, and Garrett believes that there is an urgent need for a microbicide for women to apply in self defense. AIDS, she said, is a modern bubonic plague, though slower ie one which takes fourteen years to wreak havoc, not just one year.

2) AIDS is not a security issue now but it could become one. For example, a weakened South Africa crippled by millions of AIDS deaths might be unable to defend her diamond mines from terrorists.

3) Holbrooke having visited South Africa recently reported to the shocked audience that the health minister of South Africa had told him she believed that garlic was a useful palliative for AIDS, so his vision of the future of the country was gloomy.

4) Thailand is showing the right way, with a health minister who has been an AIDS activist in a condom suit when he was a student and now runs a competition for a Mr and Mrs Condom to promote condoms, with the help of a Condom Song.

5) The danger zones are Africa, India, Central Asia and Russia, Russian AIDS is being boosted by an inflow of heroin from Afghanistan. The Ukraine has a remarkable number of HIV positives, half as many as China. In the world at large 95% of HIV positives do not know they are positive.

6) Treatment is a black hole as far as money goes because people will continue to infect others and they will all need drugs for the rest of their lives. We need to prevent AIDS, not just treat it.

Today we turned to the report to see if there was any more rigorous thinking in it, such as the “startling new insights” as the Council press release promised.

We found the following Executive Summary inside the glossy cover, which is emblazoned with a large red ribbon patterned like wickerwork, and inside photos of tearful ‘totos’ (Swahili for children) staring at the camera or hoeing the ground in ragged clothes. One poorly composed photo is by Garrett herself, of orphans in Uganda outside aa tin roofed building staring at the Western visitor.

Is the report as alarmist as one might expect under the pen of Laurie garrett? Let’s see.

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