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The Times finally notes the passing of Lang, the greatest gadfly

September 30th, 2005

Belated but well phrased salute to distinguished Yale mathematician’s idealism, insistence on attention, meticulous documentation

Letters round out the picture of uniquely passionate seeker of accuracy in math and public discourse

We too found him alarming in his reformist rage but always salutary

Serge Lang finally (after more than two weeks) receives some of the respect he deserves from the New York Times with a delayed obituary today (Sept 25, 2005), which is surprisingly positive.

OBITUARY

Serge Lang, 78, a Gadfly and Mathematical Theorist, Dies

By Kenneth Change and Warren Leary

Serge Lang, a leading mathematical theorist who became better known for his academic jousts with nonmathematicians on social and political issues than for his work in geometry and the properties of numbers, died Sept. 12 in Berkeley, Calif. He was 78.

The Yale University mathematics department, where Dr. Lang taught for more than 30 years before retiring this year, announced the death but gave no cause.

Throughout his life, Dr. Lang railed against inaccuracy and imprecision and felt that the scientific establishment unfairly suppressed dissident ideas.

Beginning around 1977, he adopted a more activist approach, writing letters and articles – sometimes even buying newspaper advertisements – to challenge research that he considered unscrupulous or sloppy. He would pull together his writings and add news articles, Congressional testimony and other documents into what he called files and mail the compiled documents to scientists, journalists and government officials.

“He just thought by presenting everyone all of the primary documents, everyone else would be able to see what he saw,” said Kenneth A. Ribet, a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. “It was a very effective tool.”

Edward G. Dunne of the American Mathematical Society said: “Lang was always meticulous in his documentation. These things multiplied. People would be receiving 25-, 35-, 100-page documents from Lang.”

One focus of Dr. Lang’s ire was the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. Dr. Lang mounted a one-man campaign against Dr. Huntington’s nomination to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986, dismissing Dr. Huntington’s use of mathematical equations to relate factors like economic development and political instability as “pseudoscience” and “nonsense” – “a type of language which gives the illusion of science without any of its substance.”

Dr. Lang also challenged Dr. Huntington’s description of apartheid in South Africa in the 1960’s as a “satisfied society.”

Dr. Huntington, who said the math was not meant to be rigorous but rather a “shorthand” of his arguments, twice failed to win election to the academy.

Controversially, beginning in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Lang sided with skeptics who doubted that AIDS was caused by human immunodeficiency virus, arguing that the scientific evidence connecting them was weak and faulty. He criticized the denial of research money to Peter Duesberg, a skeptic on the H.I.V.-AIDS link.

He was never convinced otherwise. A week before his death, he mailed out his latest file, a dozen pages of letters and e-mail messages about two papers he had written about the AIDS debate that had been rejected by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Lang also threw in a whimsical document, “The Three Laws of Sociodynamics,” which states, among other things, that “the power structure does what they want, when they want; then they try to find reasons to justify it.”

Dr. Lang started his career as one of the nation’s leading thinkers in fundamental mathematics, using aspects of geometry to study the properties of numbers, and evolved into a gifted but challenging teacher.

Decades of students discovered that if they did not pay attention in class, Dr. Lang would throw chalk. “He would rant and rave in front of his students,” Dr. Ribet said. “He would say, ‘Our two aims are truth and clarity, and to achieve these I will shout in class.’ ”

He was a prolific author, having written more than 40 mathematics textbooks and research monographs and well over 100 research articles.

Born in Paris in 1927, Serge Lang moved to California with his family when he was a teenager.

He graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1946 and received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton in 1951. He taught at the University of Chicago before becoming a professor at Columbia in 1955.

Dr. Lang resigned his Columbia professorship in 1971 because of the university’s handling of antiwar protesters.

He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985 and was a member of the American Mathematical Society, but forcefully challenged both bodies at times over the election of new members and other issues.

He resigned from the mathematical society in 1996, because the society’s journal had refused to publish an article he wrote about AIDS.

“He described himself as a congenital troublemaker,” said Paul Vojta of the University of California, Berkeley, who had been a postdoctoral student at Yale under Dr. Lang.

Dr. Lang’s research focused on number theory and algebraic geometry. He won the Frank Nelson Cole Prize in 1960 from the American Mathematical Society for his insights on algebra.

Well worded but too brief

Certainly, this biography shortchanges him on many points, and perhaps suggests the usual reflexive disrespect for his anti-HIV stance from the Times, whose record is abysmal in this respect. And while it makes his alarming behavior in the cause of his ideals fairly plain, it omits the fact that he was popular with students despite it (he was chosen to speak on Parent’s Day at Yale last year). There are bigger flaws, including the omission of his seminal book, “Challenges” (Springer Verlag, 1998). Indignant Lang supporters are promising to write in and set the record straight, if they can.

But on the whole Kenneth Chang and Warren Leary (two reporters!) are quite respectful, and their account is strangely pregnant in its truncation. Lang fairly leaps from the physical page as a man bursting with life, about whom far more could be said, and that only space constraints (we presume not editorial prejudice and lingering irritation at Lang’s challenges to decisions at the Times) force this too sketchy account which tries to pour his life force into two below-the-fold columns.

Biggest omission: “Challenges”, a very great book

Liveliness and clarity were two brilliant attributes of Lang which shine through and we can imagine many readers would think of buying his magnum opus, “Challenges” (Springer Verlag, 1998), that is, if they had bothered to mention it. Was the mention of this masterpiece of singlehanded political research, now an unmatched reference for science sociologists, edited out? We can imagine it might have been, simply because it is the most embarrassing record of the mistakes and irresponsibility of top academics and editors in the US that exists.

So let us say now that any public affairs intellectual, science student or media iconoclast who doesn’t take the chance of buying a copy of the admittedly high priced “Challenges” before it disappears from the market will remain forever underresearched and undereducated in how things are done behind the scenes in the corridors of academic and editorial power. Currently $47.95 at Amazon new and still $36 used, it’s worth every cent, especially because Lang always had this unique habit of reproducing primary documents, as a colleague notes.

What isn’t said is that these included the letters his hapless victims wrote back in reply to his challenges, letters which became the best evidence against them. These often funny (to the reader) missives were self indictments because they showed how much the correspondents preferred that their errors and misleading public statements be forgotten or whitewashed than any corrections made. They formed many classic examples of the problem of correction of error and irresponsibility in the intellectual arena that Lang sought to root out.

Maybe one reason we feel the obituary is suitably vivid is the picture of a younger Lang from 1962 that smiles from the page with bright eyed intensity, all perky, fox terrier alertness and michievous, though modest, humor. Are we wrong to sense that the writers have had their own personal dealings with Lang, and knew his worth, as well as how alarming he could be? Maybe one or both of them were his students.

Forceful clarity

The slightly crackpot aspect of Lang’s over-the-top behavior in pursuing truth in the political arena is not just hinted at, it is plainly mentioned. Fair enough. Together with his idealism, this was certainly the aspect of Lang’s personality that distinguished him from his peers. He was disturbingly reactive, where they were polite and agreeable, and complacent about their own mistakes, which were properly only sins when they showed how little it mattered to them to correct them. But the point was that Lang cared, and they didn’t, and from their point of view he was bound to be a troublemaker, as he freely admitted he was.

Fully involved as a teacher, moreover, he would throw chalk at the inattentive and “rant and rave” in class, as the Times notes:

Decades of students discovered that if they did not pay attention in class, Dr. Lang would throw chalk. “He would rant and rave in front of his students,” Dr. Ribet said. “He would say, ‘Our two aims are truth and clarity, and to achieve these I will shout in class.’ “


A former pupil now at Harvard complains this makes him “sound like a madman”, and another, Sean Westmoreland, has written this letter to the Times:

To the Editor

Re: Re: Serge Lang, 78, a Gadfly and Mathematical
Theorist, Dies

A fact. An opinion. A hole in the ground.

To hold the distinction between these three types in
whatever arena they might appear, and demand that his
students do so as well, was Serge Lang’s constant
business. He may have hurled chalk by way of
punctuation, but that was merely a bonus.

I am tempted, in reviewing his obituary, to object to
the manner in which serial details align toward the
impression that he was a screaming madman,
incidentally blessed with a mathematical brilliance
that withered when exported to the realms of politics,
journalism, or other, softer fields. Rather a large
charge, so let me share one opinion that changes
nothing: from first meeting him as a Yale
undergraduate to the days before he died, I regarded
Serge Lang as the warmest and most intellectually
generous teacher I have ever known.

Those with a more fluent command of mathematics can
speak to his specific greatness, but it is hilarious
to read that Serge came to be “better known for his
academic jousts with nonmathematicians on social and
political issues than for his work in geometry and the
properties of numbers.” Better known by whom?
Mathematicians? Editors at the New York Times? The lay
public clamoring for the hot new thing in algebraic
geometry?

You write that political scientist Samuel P.
Huntington was the “focus of Dr. Lang’s ire,”
contributing to the impression that Lang’s political
engagements were byproducts of eccentricity, zealotry,
borderline derangement. Why, the story almost writes
itself.

In his book “Political Order in Changing Societies,”
Huntington classified apartheid-era South Africa as a
“satisfied society.” Following Lang’s scrupulously
documented challenges to this claim, among others,
Huntington said the following in a 1987 interview
published in the New Republic magazine:

“The term “satisfied” has to do with whether or not
there are measurable signs that people are satisfied
or not with their lot. That lot may be good, fair, or
awful; what this particular term is describing is the
fact that the people for some reason are not
protesting it. When this study was done in the early
1960’s, there had been no major riots, or disturbances
[in South Africa].”

Times readers may evaluate to what extent Huntington
can distinguish, as Lang would say, “a fact from a
hole in the ground.”

One of his former students has reminded me that Serge
would often flag an important theorem by saying you
should absorb it so comprehensively as to remember it
three days after you died. Sometimes it was seven.
Members of his cc list were, as it happened, receiving
his latest mailing several days after his end.

Who knows what may be coming next?
Suspense.

-Sean Westmoreland
New York, New York

One might grant that Lang was a little mad to ride roughshod over the normal niceties of social behavior, since it tended to lead to superficial dismissal. On the other hand, he was an activist fighting a creeping conformist complacency about standards which he had a right to be indignant about, since he was an educator who was protecting the minds of all students.

Disturbing the complacent

Certainly no one else in the establishment was as responsive to the quality of what his fellow intellectuals said and wrote in public discourse. At least, that is, from Lang’s particular point of view, which was whether it was factually accurate or misleading. Lang cared, passionately, about accuracy and truth, and showed it without hesitation. As the Times hints, by the standards of his victims he seemed to dispense with the collegial niceties that ordinary tact and diplomacy requires. Time and again, however, Lang would expose this politesse as a cover for the laziness and irresponsibility of teachers, editors and reporters who polluted the stream of public discourse with specious claims and nonsense, falsehoods which might become universally believed.

Even so, the fact remains that Lang could be alarming. In his defense we would say that Lang’s intensity was probably the single irresistible force that could move the immovable object of mediocrity in position and power. Friends and students found that together with his strength of character and moral purpose his redeeming feature was his essential good humor, underlying but always there. Typically it burst out at the end of every excited tutorial rant, in the form of a punctuating giggle after his points were made.

In our experience this wasn’t just to relieve the social tension or the seriousness of his points. It seemed that Lang had to giggle at himself and at his predicament, as he found himself almost alone having to stand up for values which in the earlier part of his life he had thought would never be in question. But it was also he mightily enjoyed his work, and his role in serving true knowledge and his students.

To laugh if not to weep

When the idealistic mathematician and educator (he wrote many current textbooks) met the fraying standards of modern professorial and editorial politics the result was an explosive bewilderment which had to end in laughter. After all, the moral failure of human beings formally dressed up in power, pomp and influence to behave according to the standards they represent is always a little ridiculous.

The peculiar genius of Lang was precisely not to allow any such perspective to interfere with what had to be done. He particularly refused to be distracted by any of the social emotions which so often compromise truth. He simply asked people who purveyed error in misleading public statements to clean up their act, and to correct their position in accord with the facts.

Above all he would not allow the natural reluctance most of us have to confront and oppose other members of the club or society to which we belong to divert him from this higher public good, which was to ensure that the public and especially young minds are not misled by higher-ups.

The reaction of most of us is to go easy on fellow members, just as the Times does in this obituary. Harvard’s great oversimplifier Samuel Huntington is let off the hook even though his humiliation at the hands of Lang is mentioned (he was twice blackballed from getting into the National Academy of Sciences at Lang’s public instigation, and finally never admitted, even though adorning the Harvard faculty), by allowing him to plead that his plainly silly and specious comments and formulae in his writings on comparing national societies were simply “shorthand”. What is not mentioned is that Huntington rated South Africa a “satisfied” society at the height of apartheid. (For a scathing obituary of Huntington as scholarly apologist for the elite, see The Oxonian Review)

Lang’s demolition of HIV/AIDS pretense

Like any good mathematician, and Lang was a brilliant and productive one, he sought to exclude false premises from his own reasoning and false reasoning from his conclusions. And he sought the same for the informing of students and the public which, in a democracy, is supposedly the ultimate arbiter of public goals and the means by which they are achieved.

This is why Lang took up his battle against the paradigm hijackers of HIV/AIDS with such determination, since there is probably no greater example of false conclusions derived from false premises extant, according to the peer validated scientific review literature by Peter Duesberg and others which Lang read and respected, and even added to in his challenges to the CDC to correct its specious formulations and definitions in preparing AIDS statistics.

Controversially, beginning in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Lang sided with skeptics who doubted that AIDS was caused by human immunodeficiency virus, arguing that the scientific evidence connecting them was weak and faulty. He criticized the denial of research money to Peter Duesberg, a skeptic on the H.I.V.-AIDS link.

He was never convinced otherwise. A week before his death, he mailed out his latest file, a dozen pages of letters and e-mail messages about two papers he had written about the AIDS debate that had been rejected by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One can’t blame the writers for this perfectly correct yet shallow and subtly disparaging formulation (how about “pointed to serious flaws in the theory”?) of Lang’s efforts to correct the facts of the gospel of AIDS, because we realize that they have perforce to write something that fits with the assumptions of the people that surround them at the Times, a paper that has barely covered the review dispute in AIDS and which has shown little curiosity as to why the issue remains alive year after year despite their continuing editorial assumption (guided we assume by Larry Altman, their chief medical correspondent on this matter, who is a child of the CDC in that he is a graduate of their training program) that it is dead.

Pussycat under the tiger

But the slight implication that Lang was barking up the wrong tree is inappropriate, since they have no a priori reason to believe that he did not know what he was talking about in this regard. If they had actually read what he wrote, they would certainly know that he did know what he was talking about. Lang’s File on AIDS is a masterpiece of clarity and a revelation on the topic, and anyone who reads the relevant pages of Challenges can see that for him or herself.

The Times obituary unfortunately shows the great extent to which Lang’s behavior could easily be misunderstood. Lang threw chalk in the classroom, it reveals. “Makes him look like a madman,” our correspondent from Harvard complains. Actually we don’t think so. But the obit should have made it clear that Lang was not an unreasonable man, just indignant. His fierceness was passion for truth and scholarship, and the accuracy that embodied it. Aside from that, Lang was a pussycat who wouldn’t have harmed a fly, and probably never did.

Lang criticised misbehavior in dealing with information and knowledge as an abstract failure, not a personal one. He didn’t have a knife out for those guilty of it, but a pen for them to make corrections. He wanted simply to correct any deviations from high standards of accuracy and to clean the public record. He would never, in fact, criticize personal or political motivation or even speculate about it, not even in private conversation. He had a marvelous disinterest in the myriad emotional reasons why factual statements in thought and speech go awry, but a very great interest in keeping them on the rails when they were liable to serve as a guide for young minds.

The roots of public unreason

The resistance to his cause seemed to baffle him. Why would anyone not want to serve the truth if they were in a position of public responsibility, either editorial or especially educational? And the truth seemed to be that very often he was simply facing a certain stupidity. The kind of obtuseness he faced was the dimmed vision that comes even to good minds when the simple goal of truth is obscured by the need to go along to get along, where what Joe says is more important than to read for yourself.

As Mark Twain often observed, when it comes to politics very few people think with reason. They think with their feelings, and those feelings are based on their adherence to a group and its ideology. They may simply be blind to anything that disagrees with that ideology, unable to read it or listen to it or credit it.

To quote the classic analysis of humanity’s ruling intellectual flaw from “Corn Pone Opinions”:

The black philospher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views that interfere with his bread and butter. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities. He must restrict himself to corn-pone opinions, at least on the surface. He must get his opinions from other people: he must reason out none for himself: he must have no first-hand views.

… Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest–the bread-and-butter interest–but not in most cases. I think. I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being’s natural yearnings to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise – a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectively resisted, and must have its way.

A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties”-the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety”the one which can’t bear to be outside the pale; can’t bear to be in disfavor; can’t endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, “He’s on the right track!” uttered, perhaps, by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confer glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. for these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.”

Needed: a salute to character

Seen it happen, indeed, especially in the case of HIV/AIDS, in science and out a vast parade ground for sheep. Not, however, in Lang’s case. He was one of the few men inside the modern establishment who never lost one iota of his youthful principles to comfortable conformity or to hear the precious words of a fellow ass, “He’s one of us!”

The sad thing is that the Times obituary is evidently written as best they can by men who either personally or institutionally cannot seem to recognize or celebrate that strength of character and purpose. Instead they represent Lang as a mild crackpot who never recognized the error of his ways in AIDS, threw chalk in class and generally created personal trouble where he was outside his field of expertise.

The truth was the opposite. Lang was a highly disciplined, independent mind who cherished accuracy in education and public life. He was without the slightest interest in advancing his interests through conformity or collegiality. His very qualification and merit was signalled by the perception that he was “difficult”. He was an expert in the issues he took up, not only because he applied his rigor and precision to each one and challenged his correspondent to meet the same standards, but because kept his focus on the ideas and not personal relations.

What Lang’s real distinction says about society

The great failure of his colleagues was not to pay him more attention and respect. Recently, Lang was first given and then disrespectfully refused permission to distribute his File, or packet of documents, on the questions he and others raised about the claims and statistics of HIV/AIDS paradigm, to the audience inside the hall at Yale where a visiting mainstream lecturer on the topic was to speak. In his late seventies, undaunted, Lang stood outside the door to hand out the information which he felt Yale students should possess, but which was being withheld from them.

It is precisely this kind of uncompromised and uncompromising, thinking and principled man that should be listened to, and listened to carefully, when the important public issue is, for instance, whether a generally accepted paradigm, such as HIV/AIDS, which they so strongly object to, is justified or not.

It is because such men and women are a rare species, that his death is a great loss. Lang, in his way, was utterly unique on the US intellectual landscape.

One way to stay healthy: keep out of hospital

September 27th, 2005

Who shall guard the guardians?

The ability of bacteria to evolve immunity to current antibiotics is a dark cloud on the horizon of modern medicine, and an increasingly hot news topic as efforts are made to cut down on antibiotics in the food chain.

What many people may not realize, however, is the extent to which human behavior compounds the serious problem of infection in hospitals. Doctors and nurses in US hospitals do not wash nearly often enough, according to Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York State who is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org) in the New York Sun today (Sep 27).

Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

What this can lead to is a real horror story:

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

Superbugs

BY BETSY MCCAUGHEY

September 27, 2005

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/20634

Three-year-old McKenzie Smith was taken to the hospital with a rare hereditary disease. She died, not from the disease she came in with but from an infection she got in the hospital, her distraught parents explained in the New York Post. The Post also reported that another little girl, Grace Murphy, treated on the same pediatric floor, died from the same infection a few months later.

Construction in hospitals is almost always to blame for the type of infection these little girls got – Aspergillus. It’s a fungus found in soil and old buildings, and when disturbed, its deadly spores can float through elevator shafts, windows, vents, and hallways into patients’ rooms. According to the grieving families, the little girls were treated within yards of the construction. The dust was so thick, McKenzie’s mother Michele told the Post, that she could run her finger through it on virtually every surface in her daughter’s room.

Hospitals undergoing construction are supposed to seal off the work site, move patients with weak immune systems as far away as possible, and monitor the environment for spores. Mrs. Smith was constantly wiping down her daughter’s room, struggling to remove the dust as it piled up. It makes you wonder whether hospitals are doing everything they can to protect their patients from deadly complications.

McKenzie died four years ago. Though Aspergillus is a rare infection that affects only a handful of people each year, her death is a sad indication of a vastly larger and underreported health crisis. Each year, 2 million people in our country contract infections in the hospital, and more than 100,000 die from them. All of us have heard of one of the most common infections, Staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus. It’s so widespread that it’s becoming a household name. Nearly all these infections have a common cause: poor hygiene.

Staph germs race through a hospital because of unclean hands, contaminated equipment, bacteria-laden uniforms, and inattention to proper procedures. Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

Dealing with hospital construction is an unusual problem, but what is not unusual about Michele Smith’s plight is that she had to constantly clean her daughter’s room. All too commonly, family members are left to their own devices, scrubbing the bathroom floor or wiping up. When Lydia Dyroff’s mother went into a Florida hospital for bypass surgery, she did her best to clean her mother’s room, but it wasn’t quite enough.” It needed professional care. We complained to many, but nothing seemed to help” Lydia later recalled in an e-mail to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Her mother contracted a Staph infection that didn’t respond to medication. Her wounds didn’t heal, and she eventually died.

Staph infections are growing more dangerous because, increasingly, they cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics. Patients who get MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often spend months in the hospital and go through several operations to cut out infected tissue. Sixty percent of Staph infections are now drug-resistant.

A new report (September 15) in the medical journal “Clinical Infectious Diseases” warns that another large group of infections, including Acinetobacter, Pseudonmonas, and Kliebsiella, to name a few, are rapidly becoming drug resistant. You’ve probably never head of these other “superbugs,” even if someone in your own family has suffered from them, because most hospitals say as little as possible when there’s an infection problem.

A few hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa have virtually eradicated the worst drug-resistant infections. How? Through rigorous hygiene, meticulous cleaning of equipment in between patients, testing incoming patients to identify those carrying dangerous bacteria, and strictly isolating them to prevent transmission to other patients. Unfortunately, most hospitals don’t make hygiene a top priority. It’s time they did.

Medical schools should also be teaching future doctors how to protect patients from infection. Some medical schools are stressing the importance of curbing the use of antibiotics. That’s good, because overuse of antibiotics wastes money and causes bacteria to morph into new, drug-resistant strains. But limiting the use of antibiotics won’t stop hospital infections. No hospital has ever eradicated infection merely by controlling the use of these drugs.

It’s hard to believe, but most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how germs are transmitted from patient to patient on clothing, equipment, and hands, and what can be done to prevent it. It’s ironic. Medical schools have committees to ensure that bioterrorism is covered, but not hospital infection, a far more immediate threat to most of us. How could a hospital stop a covertly introduced contagion from racing through its patients if it cannot even stop a common infection from spreading? When medical students put on their white coats and swear the Hippocratic Oath, they should be taught how to do no harm. They should learn it before they go out on the hospital floors and touch their first patient.

Ms. McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org).

September 27, 2005 Edition. Section: Opinion

Shades of Semmelweiss!

One way to stay healthy—keep out of hospital

September 27th, 2005

Who shall guard the guardians?

The ability of bacteria to evolve immunity to current antibiotics is a dark cloud on the horizon of modern medicine, and an increasingly hot news topic as efforts are made to cut down on antibiotics in the food chain.

What many people may not realize, however, is the extent to which human behavior compounds the serious problem of infection in hospitals. Doctors and nurses in US hospitals do not wash nearly often enough, according to Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York State who is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org), in the New York Sun today (Sep 27).

.

Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

What this can lead to is a real horror story:

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

Superbugs

BY BETSY MCCAUGHEY

September 27, 2005

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/20634

Three-year-old McKenzie Smith was taken to the hospital with a rare hereditary disease. She died, not from the disease she came in with but from an infection she got in the hospital, her distraught parents explained in the New York Post. The Post also reported that another little girl, Grace Murphy, treated on the same pediatric floor, died from the same infection a few months later.

Construction in hospitals is almost always to blame for the type of infection these little girls got – Aspergillus. It’s a fungus found in soil and old buildings, and when disturbed, its deadly spores can float through elevator shafts, windows, vents, and hallways into patients’ rooms. According to the grieving families, the little girls were treated within yards of the construction. The dust was so thick, McKenzie’s mother Michele told the Post, that she could run her finger through it on virtually every surface in her daughter’s room.

Hospitals undergoing construction are supposed to seal off the work site, move patients with weak immune systems as far away as possible, and monitor the environment for spores. Mrs. Smith was constantly wiping down her daughter’s room, struggling to remove the dust as it piled up. It makes you wonder whether hospitals are doing everything they can to protect their patients from deadly complications.

McKenzie died four years ago. Though Aspergillus is a rare infection that affects only a handful of people each year, her death is a sad indication of a vastly larger and underreported health crisis. Each year, 2 million people in our country contract infections in the hospital, and more than 100,000 die from them. All of us have heard of one of the most common infections, Staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus. It’s so widespread that it’s becoming a household name. Nearly all these infections have a common cause: poor hygiene.

Staph germs race through a hospital because of unclean hands, contaminated equipment, bacteria-laden uniforms, and inattention to proper procedures. Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

Dealing with hospital construction is an unusual problem, but what is not unusual about Michele Smith’s plight is that she had to constantly clean her daughter’s room. All too commonly, family members are left to their own devices, scrubbing the bathroom floor or wiping up. When Lydia Dyroff’s mother went into a Florida hospital for bypass surgery, she did her best to clean her mother’s room, but it wasn’t quite enough.” It needed professional care. We complained to many, but nothing seemed to help” Lydia later recalled in an e-mail to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Her mother contracted a Staph infection that didn’t respond to medication. Her wounds didn’t heal, and she eventually died.

Staph infections are growing more dangerous because, increasingly, they cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics. Patients who get MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often spend months in the hospital and go through several operations to cut out infected tissue. Sixty percent of Staph infections are now drug-resistant.

A new report (September 15) in the medical journal “Clinical Infectious Diseases” warns that another large group of infections, including Acinetobacter, Pseudonmonas, and Kliebsiella, to name a few, are rapidly becoming drug resistant. You’ve probably never head of these other “superbugs,” even if someone in your own family has suffered from them, because most hospitals say as little as possible when there’s an infection problem.

A few hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa have virtually eradicated the worst drug-resistant infections. How? Through rigorous hygiene, meticulous cleaning of equipment in between patients, testing incoming patients to identify those carrying dangerous bacteria, and strictly isolating them to prevent transmission to other patients. Unfortunately, most hospitals don’t make hygiene a top priority. It’s time they did.

Medical schools should also be teaching future doctors how to protect patients from infection. Some medical schools are stressing the importance of curbing the use of antibiotics. That’s good, because overuse of antibiotics wastes money and causes bacteria to morph into new, drug-resistant strains. But limiting the use of antibiotics won’t stop hospital infections. No hospital has ever eradicated infection merely by controlling the use of these drugs.

It’s hard to believe, but most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how germs are transmitted from patient to patient on clothing, equipment, and hands, and what can be done to prevent it. It’s ironic. Medical schools have committees to ensure that bioterrorism is covered, but not hospital infection, a far more immediate threat to most of us. How could a hospital stop a covertly introduced contagion from racing through its patients if it cannot even stop a common infection from spreading? When medical students put on their white coats and swear the Hippocratic Oath, they should be taught how to do no harm. They should learn it before they go out on the hospital floors and touch their first patient.

Ms. McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org).

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

One way to stay healthy—keep out of hospital

September 27th, 2005

Who shall guard the guardians?

The ability of bacteria to evolve immunity to current antibiotics is a dark cloud on the horizon of modern medicine, and an increasingly hot news topic as efforts are made to cut down on antibiotics in the food chain.

What many people may not realize, however, is the extent to which human behavior compounds the serious problem of infection in hospitals. Doctors and nurses in US hospitals do not wash nearly often enough, according to Ms. McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York State who is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org), in the New York Sun today (Sep 27).

.

Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

What this can lead to is a real horror story:

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

Superbugs

BY BETSY MCCAUGHEY

September 27, 2005

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/20634

Three-year-old McKenzie Smith was taken to the hospital with a rare hereditary disease. She died, not from the disease she came in with but from an infection she got in the hospital, her distraught parents explained in the New York Post. The Post also reported that another little girl, Grace Murphy, treated on the same pediatric floor, died from the same infection a few months later.

Construction in hospitals is almost always to blame for the type of infection these little girls got – Aspergillus. It’s a fungus found in soil and old buildings, and when disturbed, its deadly spores can float through elevator shafts, windows, vents, and hallways into patients’ rooms. According to the grieving families, the little girls were treated within yards of the construction. The dust was so thick, McKenzie’s mother Michele told the Post, that she could run her finger through it on virtually every surface in her daughter’s room.

Hospitals undergoing construction are supposed to seal off the work site, move patients with weak immune systems as far away as possible, and monitor the environment for spores. Mrs. Smith was constantly wiping down her daughter’s room, struggling to remove the dust as it piled up. It makes you wonder whether hospitals are doing everything they can to protect their patients from deadly complications.

McKenzie died four years ago. Though Aspergillus is a rare infection that affects only a handful of people each year, her death is a sad indication of a vastly larger and underreported health crisis. Each year, 2 million people in our country contract infections in the hospital, and more than 100,000 die from them. All of us have heard of one of the most common infections, Staph, short for Staphylococcus aureus. It’s so widespread that it’s becoming a household name. Nearly all these infections have a common cause: poor hygiene.

Staph germs race through a hospital because of unclean hands, contaminated equipment, bacteria-laden uniforms, and inattention to proper procedures. Amazingly, doctors fail to clean their hands before treating patients 52% of the time according to research by infectious disease expert Didier Pittet, M.D. Equipment contaminated with bacteria – like stethoscopes – are used on one patient after another without being cleaned. Doctors and nurses carry bacteria from bedside to bedside on their own lab coats and uniforms, and some hospital workers even wear their scrub suits out on the street and then back to work.

Dealing with hospital construction is an unusual problem, but what is not unusual about Michele Smith’s plight is that she had to constantly clean her daughter’s room. All too commonly, family members are left to their own devices, scrubbing the bathroom floor or wiping up. When Lydia Dyroff’s mother went into a Florida hospital for bypass surgery, she did her best to clean her mother’s room, but it wasn’t quite enough.” It needed professional care. We complained to many, but nothing seemed to help” Lydia later recalled in an e-mail to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Her mother contracted a Staph infection that didn’t respond to medication. Her wounds didn’t heal, and she eventually died.

Staph infections are growing more dangerous because, increasingly, they cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics. Patients who get MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, often spend months in the hospital and go through several operations to cut out infected tissue. Sixty percent of Staph infections are now drug-resistant.

A new report (September 15) in the medical journal “Clinical Infectious Diseases” warns that another large group of infections, including Acinetobacter, Pseudonmonas, and Kliebsiella, to name a few, are rapidly becoming drug resistant. You’ve probably never head of these other “superbugs,” even if someone in your own family has suffered from them, because most hospitals say as little as possible when there’s an infection problem.

A few hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Iowa have virtually eradicated the worst drug-resistant infections. How? Through rigorous hygiene, meticulous cleaning of equipment in between patients, testing incoming patients to identify those carrying dangerous bacteria, and strictly isolating them to prevent transmission to other patients. Unfortunately, most hospitals don’t make hygiene a top priority. It’s time they did.

Medical schools should also be teaching future doctors how to protect patients from infection. Some medical schools are stressing the importance of curbing the use of antibiotics. That’s good, because overuse of antibiotics wastes money and causes bacteria to morph into new, drug-resistant strains. But limiting the use of antibiotics won’t stop hospital infections. No hospital has ever eradicated infection merely by controlling the use of these drugs.

It’s hard to believe, but most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how germs are transmitted from patient to patient on clothing, equipment, and hands, and what can be done to prevent it. It’s ironic. Medical schools have committees to ensure that bioterrorism is covered, but not hospital infection, a far more immediate threat to most of us. How could a hospital stop a covertly introduced contagion from racing through its patients if it cannot even stop a common infection from spreading? When medical students put on their white coats and swear the Hippocratic Oath, they should be taught how to do no harm. They should learn it before they go out on the hospital floors and touch their first patient.

Ms. McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York State and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (www.hospitalinfection.org).

September 27, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

The difficulty in communicating science news to the public

September 25th, 2005

The Op Ed piece the other day (Sept 18), “Dangling Particles”, which argued that science needs to clean up its language and presentation if it is to be understood by the public, made a very good general point. Science reporters these days seem to need a lot of help in conveying good science to the public.

We are especially happy that Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall said one particular thing, which many fail to state for fear of playing into the hands of the Intelligent Design crowd: that evolution is still an unfinished theory in the sense that it needs to be completed with the gaps filled in with explanation and evidence for the jumps, though not by God, we would hope:

The very different uses of the word “theory” provide a field day for advocates of “intelligent design.” By conflating a scientific theory with the colloquial use of the word, creationists instantly diminish the significance of science in general and evolution’s supporting scientific evidence in particular. Admittedly, the debate is complicated by the less precise nature of evolutionary theory and our inability to perform experiments to test the progression of a particular species. Moreover, evolution is by no means a complete theory. We have yet to learn how the initial conditions for evolution came about – why we have 23 pairs of chromosomes and at which level evolution operates are only two of the things we don’t understand. But such gaps should serve as incentives for questions and further scientific advances, not for abandoning the scientific enterprise.

This debate might be tamed if scientists clearly acknowledged both the successes and limitations of the current theory, so that the indisputable elements are clearly isolated. But skeptics have to acknowledge that the way to progress is by scientifically addressing the missing elements, not by ignoring evidence. The current controversy over what to teach is just embarrassing.

The New York Times

September 18, 2005

Dangling Particles

By LISA RANDALL

Cambridge, Mass.

SCIENCE plays an increasingly significant role in people’s lives, making the faithful communication of scientific developments more important than ever. Yet such communication is fraught with challenges that can easily distort discussions, leading to unnecessary confusion and misunderstandings.

Some problems stem from the esoteric nature of current research and the associated difficulty of finding sufficiently faithful terminology. Abstraction and complexity are not signs that a given scientific direction is wrong, as some commentators have suggested, but are instead a tribute to the success of human ingenuity in meeting the increasingly complex challenges that nature presents. They can, however, make communication more difficult. But many of the biggest challenges for science reporting arise because in areas of evolving research, scientists themselves often only partly understand the full implications of any particular advance or development. Since that dynamic applies to most of the scientific developments that directly affect people’s lives – global warming, cancer research, diet studies – learning how to overcome it is critical to spurring a more informed scientific debate among the broader public.

Ambiguous word choices are the source of some misunderstandings. Scientists often employ colloquial terminology, which they then assign a specific meaning that is impossible to fathom without proper training. The term “relativity,” for example, is intrinsically misleading. Many interpret the theory to mean that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. Yet although the measurements any observer makes depend on his coordinates and reference frame, the physical phenomena he measures have an invariant description that transcends that observer’s particular coordinates. Einstein’s theory of relativity is really about finding an invariant description of physical phenomena. Indeed, Einstein agreed with the suggestion that his theory would have been better named “Invariantentheorie.” But the term “relativity” was already too entrenched at the time for him to change.

“The uncertainty principle” is another frequently abused term. It is sometimes interpreted as a limitation on observers and their ability to make measurements. But it is not about intrinsic limitations on any one particular measurement; it is about the inability to precisely measure particular pairs of quantities simultaneously. The first interpretation is perhaps more engaging from a philosophical or political perspective. It’s just not what the science is about.

Scientists’ different use of language becomes especially obvious (and amusing) to me when I hear scientific terms translated into another language. “La théorie des champs” and “la théorie des cordes” are the French versions of “field theory” and “string theory.” When I think of “un champs,” I think of cows grazing in a pasture, but when I think of “field theory” I have no such association. It is the theory I use that combines quantum mechanics and special relativity and describes objects existing throughout space that create and destroy particles. And string theory is not about strings that you tie around your finger that are made up of atoms; strings are the basic fundamental objects out of which everything is made. The words “string theory” give you a picture, but that picture can sometimes lead to misconceptions about the science.

Most people think of “seeing” and “observing” directly with their senses. But for physicists, these words refer to much more indirect measurements involving a train of theoretical logic by which we can interpret what is “seen.” I do theoretical research on string theory and particle physics and try to focus on aspects of those theories we might experimentally test. My most recent research is about extra dimensions of space. Remarkably, we can potentially “see” or “observe” evidence of extra dimensions. But we won’t reach out and touch those dimensions with our fingertips or see them with our eyes. The evidence will consist of heavy particles known as Kaluza-Klein modes that travel in extra-dimensional space. If our theories correctly describe the world, there will be a precise enough link between such particles (which will be experimentally observed) and extra dimensions to establish the existence of extra dimensions.

Even the word “theory” can be a problem. Unlike most people, who use the word to describe a passing conjecture that they often regard as suspect, physicists have very specific ideas in mind when they talk about theories. For physicists, theories entail a definite physical framework embodied in a set of fundamental assumptions about the world that lead to a specific set of equations and predictions – ones that are borne out by successful predictions. Theories aren’t necessarily shown to be correct or complete immediately. Even Einstein took the better part of a decade to develop the correct version of his theory of general relativity. But eventually both the ideas and the measurements settle down and theories are either proven correct, abandoned or absorbed into other, more encompassing theories.

The very different uses of the word “theory” provide a field day for advocates of “intelligent design.” By conflating a scientific theory with the colloquial use of the word, creationists instantly diminish the significance of science in general and evolution’s supporting scientific evidence in particular. Admittedly, the debate is complicated by the less precise nature of evolutionary theory and our inability to perform experiments to test the progression of a particular species. Moreover, evolution is by no means a complete theory. We have yet to learn how the initial conditions for evolution came about – why we have 23 pairs of chromosomes and at which level evolution operates are only two of the things we don’t understand. But such gaps should serve as incentives for questions and further scientific advances, not for abandoning the scientific enterprise.

This debate might be tamed if scientists clearly acknowledged both the successes and limitations of the current theory, so that the indisputable elements are clearly isolated. But skeptics have to acknowledge that the way to progress is by scientifically addressing the missing elements, not by ignoring evidence. The current controversy over what to teach is just embarrassing.

“Global warming” is another example of problematic terminology. Climatologists predict more drastic fluctuations in temperature and rainfall – not necessarily that every place will be warmer. The name sometimes subverts the debate, since it lets people argue that their winter was worse, so how could there be global warming? Clearly “global climate change” would have been a better name.

But not all problems stem solely from poor word choices. Some stem from the intrinsically complex nature of much of modern science. Science sometimes transcends this limitation: remarkably, chemists were able to detail the precise chemical processes involved in the destruction of the ozone layer, making the evidence that chlorofluorocarbon gases (Freon, for example) were destroying the ozone layer indisputable.

How to report scientific developments on vital issues of the day that are less well understood or in which the connection is less direct is a more complicated question. Global weather patterns are a case in point. Even if we understand some effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is difficult to predict the precise chain of events that a marked increase in carbon dioxide will cause.

The distillation of results presented to the public in such cases should reflect at least some of the subtleties of the most current developments. More balanced reporting would of course help. Journalists will seek to offer balance by providing an opposing or competing perspective from another scientist on a given development. But almost all newly discovered results will have some supporters and some naysayers, and only time and more evidence will sort out the true story. This was a real problem in the global warming debate for a while: the story was reported in a way that suggested some scientists believed it was an issue and some didn’t, even long after the bulk of the scientific community had recognized the seriousness of the problem.

Sometimes, as with global warming, the claims have been underplayed. But often it’s the opposite: a cancer development presented as a definite advance can seem far more exciting and might raise the status of the researcher far more than a result presented solely as a partial understanding of a microscopic mechanism whose connection to the disease is uncertain. Scientists and the public are both at fault. No matter how many times these “breakthroughs” prove misleading, they will be reported this way as long as that’s what people want to hear.

A better understanding of the mathematical significance of results and less insistence on a simple story would help to clarify many scientific discussions. For several months, Harvard was tortured by empty debates over the relative intrinsic scientific abilities of men and women. One of the more amusing aspects of the discussion was that those who believed in the differences and those who didn’t used the same evidence about gender-specific special ability. How could that be? The answer is that the data shows no substantial effects. Social factors might account for these tiny differences, which in any case have an unclear connection to scientific ability. Not much of a headline when phrased that way, is it?

EACH type of science has its own source of complexity and potential for miscommunication. Yet there are steps we can take to improve public understanding in all cases. The first would be to inculcate greater understanding and acceptance of indirect scientific evidence. The information from an unmanned space mission is no less legitimate than the information from one in which people are on board.

This doesn’t mean never questioning an interpretation, but it also doesn’t mean equating indirect evidence with blind belief, as people sometimes suggest. Second, we might need different standards for evaluating science with urgent policy implications than research with purely theoretical value. When scientists say they are not certain about their predictions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve found nothing substantial. It would be better if scientists were more open about the mathematical significance of their results and if the public didn’t treat math as quite so scary; statistics and errors, which tell us the uncertainty in a measurement, give us the tools to evaluate new developments fairly.

But most important, people have to recognize that science can be complex. If we accept only simple stories, the description will necessarily be distorted. When advances are subtle or complicated, scientists should be willing to go the extra distance to give proper explanations and the public should be more patient about the truth. Even so, some difficulties are unavoidable. Most developments reflect work in progress, so the story is complex because no one yet knows the big picture.

But speculation and the exploration of ideas beyond what we know with certainty are what lead to progress. They are what makes science exciting. Although the more involved story might not have the same immediate appeal, the truth in the end will always be far more interesting.

Lisa Randall, a professor of physics at Harvard, is the author of “Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions.”

The letters that have commented on this editorial include one today (Sept 25) that makes the following point:

The crucial criterion for any scientific theory is that it must make testable predictions (not “post”-dictions). Would the proponents of intelligent design please tell us what are the testable predictions of their “theory”?

The same question might be asked of HIV?AIDS theory. What testable predictions has it made which have proved out?

None at all, it seems.

September 23, 2005

Science and Uncertainty

To the Editor:

“Dangling Particles,” by Lisa Randall (Op-Ed, Sept. 18), is insightful in describing the difficulties in communicating scientific news, which is often complex, to a public that prefers a simple story.

It bears repeating: the appeal of the simple story is based in human nature and in the universal longing for security, certainty and predictability.

It is regrettable that so few people have acquired the emotional discipline to override this longing and that only a minority has learned to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity as a normal part of life.

David C. Balderston

New York, Sept. 20, 2005

September 25, 2005

The Testable Theory

To the Editor:

Re “Dangling Particles” (Op-Ed, Sept. 18):

Lisa Randall, in her discussion about evolution, may have inadvertently opened the door to the creationists when she says that “evolution is by no means a complete theory.”

One of the favorite ploys by the creationists has been to claim that evolution is only a theory that has not been proved. Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of scientific methodology would know that no theory can ever be proved since it must always be subject to experimental verification.

The crucial criterion for any scientific theory is that it must make testable predictions (not “post”-dictions). Would the proponents of intelligent design please tell us what are the testable predictions of their “theory”?

Ahren Sadoff

Ithaca, N.Y., Sept. 19, 2005

The writer is a professor of physics at Cornell University.

Role of HIV as refuge for incompetence, foolishness and spite – Christine’s tragedy

September 24th, 2005

Insiders knew that sooner or later the second shoe would drop in what is currently the saddest story in AIDS dissent, and today (Sat Sep 24) it has done so.

A short while ago (mid-May) Christine Maggiore, distinguished as a woman who tested HIV positive but who researched the science for herself and rejected it and its medical prescriptions, lost 3 year old Eliza Jane, the youngest of her two children in quite another way to conventional medicine. The child was treated for an ear infection with amoxicillin, a variant of penicillin with a known risk of severe and even fatal reaction in a small number of chilren, and died within 24 hours.

Needless to say, it could be predicted that once this became widely known those hostile to Maggiore as a mother who refused to accept the conventional wisdom of HIV/AIDS would look for ways to ascribe the death to HIV, and accuse her of being an unfit mother. The facts of the case entirely contradict this suggestion, since HIV has a long list of supposed symptoms but none of them are quick, and certainly not a matter of twenty four hours.

Adding ignorant insult to severe injury in this manner, however, it is not impossible that such an attack might very well start a process which could end in the removal of her remaining child to foster care and medication with injurious HIV/AIDS drugs (contrary to widespread lay belief, the scientific literature shows that these supposed wonder drugs only briefly give the appearance of benefiting the patient; soon they prove debilitating and physically deforming and eventually they destroy the liver and the patient dies).

(We raised this possibility at the time we heard the news but held back the comment for fear of adding to Christine’s burden at such a tragic point in her story, but have replaced the section now at the end of the May 19 post A lay dissenter’s travails and courage – Christine Maggiore) (We reproduce it here for expansion if you wish:

A personal tragedy

The reason we were thinking of Christine Maggiore today (Thurs May 19) is that we have learned that she has suffered the most grievous private tragedy that any parent can suffer in life. She has lost a child, her second born, her sweet natured and gentle three year old daughter Eliza Jane.

Her many friends all over the world were told of this in the following email, in which a friend describes the tragedy and conveys the news which Christine and her husband are too much in a state of shock and despair to convey.

All those interested in the disasters that current attitudes in medicine and particularly in AIDS can visit on even enlightened and courageous people should study this story, for it reveals that Christine’s irretrievable loss might have been, in a disastrous irony, the fault of the same drug based medical culture, and the panic that thrusts people into its arms, that she was fighting in AIDS.

I am deeply saddened to inform you that Eliza Jane, the younger of Christine Maggiore’s two children, died suddenly and unexpectedly of undetermined causes on Sunday (May 15th).

Christine, her husband Robin Scovill, and their son Charlie, are obviously in shock and deep despair, but are buoyed by their personal strength and their network of friends and family. I talked to Christine for a little while on Tuesday and, in between tears, we had the occasional laugh at memories of Eliza Jane’s lovely (but often challenging) personality.

Like most parents, Christine and Robin would do anything for their children, they meant the world to them, and losing one is simply the worst nightmare they could possibly endure. It’s no easier for Charlie, age 7, who has to endure the loss of his loved little sister. In his innocence of modern rules and regulations he wanted to bury her in their backyard garden, expressing his desire to keep her close to him.

Eliza Jane, 3 years old, was sick for several days with a condition that three different pediatricians diagnosed as a simple ear infection. None of them prescribed antibiotics, as most ear infections clear without them. All three pediatricians advised to start natural approaches. The condition did not appear worrisome or threatening. Eliza Jane still had flashes of her normal bouyant and independent personality, sometimes laughing and arguing with Charlie, although much of the time she was unusually restless and uncomfortable.

Eventually a reddened inner ear led Christine and Robin to use antibiotics and some tylenol as prescribed on the afternoon of Saturday, May 14th, by one of the three pediatricians who came to their home to see EJ. This would be the fourth time the problem was diagnosed as an ordinary ear infection, and the fourth time that they were told EJ had no swollen glands, no sore throat, and no congestion in the lungs -potential signs of worse or worsening condition. Some time after this Eliza Jane started to vomit and then suddenly, on Sunday night, went into cardiac and respiratory arrest. Heroic efforts by the ambulance crew and the E.R. trauma team could not revive her.

I am writing to let you all know about this, after checking the details with Christine and Robin. They wanted to write to everyone personally, but are obviously overwhelmed so they asked me to carry the news to you.

If you would like to send a card or letter with your sympathies, please send them c/o “Alive & Well, 11684 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA, 91604, USA”. If you feel so inclined, feel free to make a donation to Alive & Well or to a children’s charity of your choosing.

Eliza Jane will always be in the garden in a corner of our hearts, where the wind often makes the flowers dance.

It is impossible to read this story without your heart going out to a parent whose loss is so sudden and enormous. But if you read this account of the family tragedy more than once, your sympathy for Christine Maggiore may double, if that is possible. For what is clearly implied is very simply, that her child was allergic to the antibiotic given her, and that the reasons why it was administered despite misgivings are rooted in the culture of modern medicine which Maggiore has long fought to change.

It seems clear what happened. Three pediatricians, aware of the dangers of giving three year olds antibiotics, advised her to let the infection run its course, and let it be suppressed in the natural course of events by the immune system of the child. This evidently accorded with the parents’ own educated view that antibiotics were to be avoided if possible as a first line of defense, since adverse reactions are always possible, especially in young children.

Although the infection reddened the inner ear, there was no glandular or other systemic disturbance. One would have expected a natural remedy such as garlic to be applied. But then for some reason, against everyone’s instinct of caution, antibiotics were given in the end, and the systemic reactions which had been entirely absent up to that point appeared, including vomiting, and eventually cardiac arrest, with intervention tragically ineffective.

Of course, we do not know all the details and any outside speculation is without any medical authority. But apparently, in a catastropic irony, under the weight of parental reponsibility Christine Maggiore and her husband panicked on behalf of their treasured charge, and after years of pressure to do the conventional thing in AIDS, made a risky decision to entrust the welfare of their child to a standard tool of modern medicine and its drug infatuated approach. She gave in to what her whole life had been devoted, in her own case, to keeping at bay.

And once allowed to proceed, the establishment and its medication in effect gambled with the life of her child, and lost.

One can only hope that Ms Maggiore’s tragedy is not compounded by the fiendish ignoramuses of AIDS politics, who are likely to twist this failure of conventional medicine into an accusation that somehow links it with her rejection of conventional diagnosis and treatment of her “HIV positive” status.

The plain fact of the matter is that when Christine Maggiore finally gave conventional medicine her trust, it let her down.

This appears now to be happening. Here is the poorly reported Los Angeles Times story, which no one should read without knowing the background.

As we noted in our earlier post A lay dissenter’s travails and courage – Christine Maggiore, Ms Maggiore long ago rejected the mainstream interpretation of her “positive” HIV test, and she became one of the staunchest lay resisters of the mainstream ideology in AIDS/HIV, tirelessly bringing her message to the world that none of the narrative made any sense to her, and that she had discovered that there were reputable scientists and much peer-reviewed scientific literature resoundingly echoing her every doubt and presenting an alternative which made much more sense to her.

Meanwhile she avoided damaging and deadly mainstream AIDS drugs and lived a healthy life, bearing two delightful children with her equally independent husband, Robin Scovill, a film maker.

Then, out of the blue, she recently suffered the loss of one of her children, and all this changed. Her youngest child, Eliza Jane Scovill, went into shock and died within a day of being treated by conventional medicine for an ear infection. The treatment was a dose of amoxicillin, a variant of penicillin which is the standard treatment of ear infection, one of the most common childhood ailments. Apparently the child was unfortunately among the five to ten per cent of children who are liable to have a severe reaction to such medication.

As we noted at the end of our earlier post at the time, which was initially held back after being written for fear of causing further heartbreak for Ms Maggiore at the time of the loss of her child, the outcome of this great loss was all too predictable.

Instead of the obvious cause of the child’s death being acknowledged, the hounds of hell in the form of ignorant government officials, misinformed AIDS pediatricians, busybody social welfare workers, incompetent reporters and even her own pediatricians would likely beset the poor mother by ascribing the death in some way to HIV.

The ultimate threat foreseen in the predicted sequence of events was the possible loss of her other child, Charlie, who would be torn away from his mother’s arms on the grounds that her objection to HIV ideology and avoidance of its prescriptions is endangering and unsound—-when in fact it is backed by a substantial number of scientific papers – peer-reviewed, thus far unrefuted, mainstream scientific review literature.

Now this morning we have just such a turn of events. The Los Angeles Times is reporting precisely such developments and dangers, and recounting them with the usual mainstream media bias towards assuming these reactions are sound.

The reporters, Charles Ornstein and Daniel Costello, do not write or report as if they were familiar with the territory and its fault lines, because they fail to note the obvious cause of death of the child, obvious that is to any attentive practitioner of pediatric medicine, though apparently not to the coroner.

See this link at the Los Angeles Times

A Mother’s Denial, a Daughter’s Death

or expand the story here:

A Mother’s Denial, a Daughter’s Death

By Charles Ornstein and Daniel Costello

Times Staff Writers

September 24, 2005

Christine Maggiore was in prime form, engaging and articulate, when she explained to a Phoenix radio host in late March why she didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS.

The HIV-positive mother of two laid out matter-of-factly why, even while pregnant, she hadn’t taken HIV medications, and why she had never tested her children for the virus.

“Our children have excellent records of health,” Maggiore said on the Air America program when asked about 7-year-old Charlie and 3-year-old Eliza Jane Scovill. “They’ve never had respiratory problems, flus, intractable colds, ear infections, nothing. So, our choices, however radical they may seem, are extremely well-founded.”

Seven weeks later, Eliza Jane was dead.

The cause, according to a Sept. 15 report by the Los Angeles County coroner, was AIDS-related pneumonia.

These days, given advances in HIV care, it’s highly unusual for any young child to die of AIDS. What makes Eliza Jane’s death even more striking is that her mother is a high-profile, charismatic leader in a movement that challenges the basic medical understanding and treatment of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Even now, Maggiore, a 49-year-old former clothing executive from Van Nuys, stands by the views she has espoused on “The Ricki Lake Show” and ABC’s “20/20,” and in Newsweek and Mothering magazines. She and her husband, Robin Scovill, said they have concerns about the coroner’s findings and are sending the report to an outside reviewer.

“I have been brought to my emotional knees, but not in regard to the science of this topic,” said Maggiore, author of an iconoclastic book about AIDS that has sold 50,000 copies. “I am a devastated, broken, grieving mother, but I am not second-guessing or questioning my understanding of the issue.”

One doctor involved with Eliza Jane’s care told The Times he has been second-guessing himself since the day he learned of the little girl’s death.

Dr. Jay Gordon, a Santa Monica pediatrician who had treated Eliza Jane since she was a year old, said he should have demanded that she be tested for human immunodeficiency virus when, 11 days before she died, Maggiore brought her in with an apparent ear infection.

“It’s possible that the whole situation could have been changed if one of the doctors involved – one of the three doctors involved – had intervened,” said Gordon, who himself acknowledges that HIV causes AIDS. “It’s hindsight, Monday-morning quarterbacking, whatever you want to call it. Do I think I’m blameless in this? No, I’m not blameless.”

Mainstream AIDS organizations, medical experts and ethicists, long confounded and distressed by this small but outspoken dissident movement, say Eliza Jane’s death crystallizes their fears. The dissenters’ message, they say, is not just wrong, it’s deadly.

“This was a preventable death,” said Dr. James Oleske, a New Jersey physician who never examined Eliza Jane but has treated hundreds of HIV-positive children. “I can tell you without any doubt that, at the outset of her illness, if she was appropriately evaluated, she would have been appropriately treated. She would not have died.

“You can’t write a more sad and tragic story,” Oleske said.

It is a story not just about Maggiore and her family but about failures among child welfare officials and well-known Los Angeles County doctors.

Among the physicians involved in Eliza Jane’s care was Dr. Paul Fleiss, a popular if sometimes unconventional Los Feliz pediatrician who gained some publicity in the 1990s as the father of the notorious Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. He was sentenced to three years’ probation for conspiring to shield the profits from his daughter’s call-girl ring from the IRS, among other things.

“I don’t understand it,” Fleiss said of Eliza Jane’s death, “because I’ve never seen her sick or with anything resembling what she supposedly died ofÅ . I don’t believe I could have done anything to change this outcome.”

Fleiss, who said he could be “convinced either way” on whether HIV causes AIDS, has known the family since before Eliza Jane was born. In 2000, the county Department of Children and Family Services investigated Maggiore and Scovill after a tipster complained that Charlie was in danger because he hadn’t been tested for HIV and was breast-fed.

The department found no evidence of neglect, based partly on reassurances from Fleiss, according to an official report reviewed by The Times.

Now, with the death of Eliza Jane, authorities say they are poised to act.

Los Angeles police are investigating the couple for possible child endangerment, said Lt. Dennis Shirey, the officer in charge of the child protection section. DCFS officials say they have opened an investigation to determine whether the parents should be forced to test Charlie, now 8.

Maggiore said that she has spoken with police and expects to meet with the child welfare agency early next week. Scovill would not comment in detail.

Before Eliza Jane’s death, Maggiore said she had tested neither of her children. Since then, in anticipation of the visit by child welfare officials, she has had Charlie tested three times, and he was negative each time, she said.

“Would I redo anything based on what happened?” she asked rhetorically during an interview this week. “I don’t think I would. I think I acted with the best information and the best of intentions with all my heart.”

‘Doing a Good Thing’

Maggiore said she once bought the standard line.

HIV would evolve into AIDS. And AIDS, she firmly believed, would kill her.

For months after her condition was diagnosed in 1992, she was depressed and reclusive. Then she plunged into AIDS volunteer work: at AIDS Project Los Angeles, L.A. Shanti and Women at Risk.

Her background commanded attention. A well-spoken, middle-class woman, she owned her own clothing company, with annual revenue of $15 million. Soon she was being asked to speak about the risks of HIV at local schools and health fairs. “At the time,” said Maggiore, a slight woman who looks years younger than her age, “I felt like I was doing a good thing.”

All that changed two years later, she said, when she spoke to UC Berkeley biology professor Peter Duesberg, whose well-publicized views on AIDS – including that its symptoms can be caused by recreational drug use and malnutrition – place him well outside the scientific mainstream.

Intrigued, Maggiore began scouring the literature about the underlying science of HIV. She does not know how she became HIV-positive, but she came to believe that flu shots, pregnancy and common viral infections could lead to a positive test result. She later detailed those claims in her book, “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?”

Maggiore started Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a nonprofit that challenges “common assumptions” about AIDS. Her group’s website and toll-free hotline cater to expectant HIV-positive mothers who shun AIDS medications, want to breast-feed their children and seek to meet others of like mind. One of her tips: Mothers should share their wishes only with trusted family members and doctors who will support their decision to avoid HIV/AIDS drugs and interventions.

She has stayed healthy, she said, despite a cervical condition three years ago that would qualify her for an AIDS diagnosis. In a 2002 article for Awareness magazine, she facetiously refers to it as “my bout of so-called AIDS,” saying it coincided “perfectly with the orthodox axiom that we get a decade of normal health before our AIDS kicks in.”

During a March interview in her orderly, well-lighted home, Maggiore seemed, if anything, an exceptionally devoted mother. She served homegrown vegetables and fresh pasta to Eliza Jane, listening attentively as the healthy-looking little girl chattered happily about her two imaginary friends. At one point, when Eliza Jane wanted to swipe away a spider, her mother urged respect for the tiny creature. “He is part of our family,” she said.

What set Maggiore apart became clear only when she talked about her views on medicine.

She didn’t vaccinate either child, believing the shots did more harm than good. She rejected AZT and other anti-AIDS medications as toxic. “I see no evidence that compels me that I should have exposed a developing fetus to drugs that would harm them,” she said.

Maggiore hired a midwife and gave birth to her children at home; Charlie was born in an inflatable pool on her living room floor. She wanted to avoid being tested for HIV or pressured to use AZT in a hospital, although technically neither is required by California law.

She breast-fed both children, although research indicates that it increases the risk of transmission by up to 15%.

Scovill apparently shares her beliefs. Last year, he produced and directed a contrarian documentary, “The Other Side of AIDS,” which won a special jury prize at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Maggiore estimates that 50 HIV-positive women have come around to her point of view. The Times interviewed nine who said she helped them plot medical and legal strategies to avoid being forced to have their children tested.

Lori Crawford, a child welfare worker in Tempe, Ariz., said Maggiore helped her avoid an HIV test in North Carolina when she was pregnant with her daughter three years ago. Crawford said Maggiore informed her that North Carolina didn’t have mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and suggested she decline the test if health authorities in that state recommended it.

“Christine and her book saved my life,” said Crawford.

A Big Victory

In the 25-year history of AIDS, there have been many advances but few victories. Prevention of infections and deaths among young children is one.

“This is one of the biggest public health and medical successes in the United States,” said Margaret Lampe, a health education specialist with the division of HIV/AIDS prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of children found to have AIDS continues to plummet, even as the overall number of new AIDS cases in the United States remains stuck at more than 40,000 per year.

In 2003, only 59 children under age 13 nationally were found to have AIDS, according to the CDC. That’s down from 952 cases in 1992, officials said.

Health officials attribute the decline to regular testing of pregnant women and the use of antiretroviral drugs, such as AZT, during pregnancy and childbirth.

A 1994 study found that one quarter of pregnant HIV-positive women passed the virus to their babies when they did not take AZT. Subsequent studies found that the risk could be lowered to less than 2% when mothers received prenatal care, took a combination of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy and labor, and allowed their infants to be given AZT in their first six weeks.

Federal health officials and AIDS experts say that HIV unquestionably causes AIDS, although it can take more than a decade to develop. HIV tests detect antibodies to the virus and are accurate predictors of who is infected, they say.

Dr. Peter Havens, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said that contrarian HIV theories promoted on about 400 websites are “bogus baloney.”

“It’s all pseudoscience,” he said. “They choose one paper and deny the existence of 100 others.”

Crumpled Like a Doll

The first hint that Eliza Jane was ill came at the end of April, when she developed a runny nose with yellow mucus, Maggiore told a coroner’s investigator.

On April 30, Maggiore took her daughter to a pediatrician covering for Fleiss. That doctor found the girl had clear lungs, no fever and adequate oxygen levels, the coroner’s report said.

Five days later, Maggiore sought a second opinion from Gordon. In an interview, Gordon said he suspected an ear infection but believed it could be resolved without antibiotics. In a follow-up call, he said, Eliza Jane’s parents told him she was getting better.

Maggiore then asked Denver physician Philip Incao, who was visiting Los Angeles for a lecture, to examine her, the mother told the coroner’s investigator. He found fluid in Eliza Jane’s right eardrum.

On May 14, Incao examined her again and prescribed amoxicillin, Maggiore told the coroner.

Incao is not licensed to practice medicine in California.

The next day, Eliza Jane vomited several times and her mother noticed she was pale. While Maggiore was on the phone with Incao, the little girl stopped breathing and “crumpled like a paper doll,” the mother told the coroner. She died early the next morning, at a Van Nuys hospital.

Fleiss, Gordon and Incao all are known for their unconventional approaches to medicine. Gordon and Incao are staunch opponents of mandatory vaccination of children; Fleiss is a vocal critic of male circumcision. Incao did not return repeated phone calls this week.

Alerted to the case by The Times, several medical experts said that doctors who knew Maggiore’s circumstances – that she was HIV-positive, hadn’t been treated during pregnancy and had breast-fed her children – should have pushed for the child to be tested.

If she refused, they should have referred the matter to authorities.

According to interviews and records, Gordon and Fleiss have long known Maggiore’s HIV status and that she breast-fed her children.

Experts also said that when the girl became ill, any doctor who saw her should have treated her as if she were HIV-positive. That would have meant giving her a stronger antibiotic, such as Bactrim, instead of the relatively low-powered amoxicillin.

“If you look away from something you’re supposed to be looking for, that’s called willful blindness,” said Michael Shapiro, an ethicist and law professor at USC, “and willful blindness is one aspect of determining the negligence.”

In an interview this week, Fleiss said it would have been wrong to force Maggiore to test her daughter. “This is a democracy,” said Fleiss, who has treated the daughter of pop star Madonna.

Gordon said he wishes he had tested Eliza Jane when she was ill in early May, but he doesn’t believe he had sufficient reason to test her earlier.

“When it comes to HIV testing, I think that it’s still legally a gray area,” he said, depending on whether one believes the child’s life is in danger. In Eliza Jane’s case, he said, he did not.

David Thornton, executive director of the Medical Board of California, said his agency probably would investigate to determine whether the doctors erred, for example, in failing to report potential child neglect.

“If I would punish anybody,” said Nancy Dubler, bioethics director at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who learned of the case from The Times, “I would punish the pediatricians.”

The Focus Turns

Now that authorities have settled on the cause of Eliza Jane’s death, the focus has turned to the parents and their remaining child, Charlie.

Even when a child dies because he or she did not receive adequate medical treatment, the law is not at all clear about who, if anyone, should be held responsible. There are few precedents, and courts traditionally give parents and doctors wide discretion.

In two U.S. cases involving HIV-positive mothers who refused testing and treatment – neither of which involved a child who died – the courts appear to have issued conflicting opinions.

“There’s no easy answer,” said Dubler.

What is clear is that child welfare authorities had been told that Maggiore was HIV-positive in 2000 and that her son was at risk for the virus, according to agency records.

An investigator from the Department of Children and Family Services visited the home, according to a copy of the case report reviewed by The Times, but she did not have Charlie tested for HIV or talk to outside experts. She instead relied on her own observations and the assurances of Fleiss.

“Parents appear appropriate and extremely focused on child’s well-being in every aspect,” caseworker Rebecca McCauley wrote in February 2000.

Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director for the DCFS, acknowledged that his department may have erred.

He said the caseworker tried to do her job but relied entirely on Fleiss because the department, at the time, did not have its own medical experts to consult. But even with Eliza Jane’s death, Sophy said, it’s not entirely clear that Charlie is being neglected.

Legal experts said the problem lies in the official definition of neglect.

“DCFS is used to your prototypical neglect case where the house is filthy and the mother doesn’t care,” said Thomas Lyon, a USC law professor and expert in child abuse litigation. “They’re just not accustomed to the kind of neglect where you have an otherwise healthy, good parent.”

Word Is Getting Out

Since Eliza Jane’s death, Maggiore and her husband have kept a relatively low profile, her friends said. But word is slowly reaching HIV dissidents around the country.

Though shaken, most of them say they continue to support Maggiore and her contention that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

For her part, Maggiore said that her daughter’s death has taken a toll on her health; she’s had trouble eating, sleeping and, this past summer, simply breathing. She’s treated her symptoms with Chinese herbs, walked five miles a day and practiced yoga, and is now feeling better, she said.

She went to a sympathetic doctor, she said. “If I had gone to a regular AIDS doctor and told them I was HIV-positive, I have no doubt they would have blamed it on that.”

In the weeks after Eliza Jane’s death, her parents created a website, http://www.ejlovetour.com , in her memory. Maggiore wrote lovingly of her daughter, wavering between despair at her loss and acceptance that Eliza Jane had simply chosen, as Maggiore put it, to “go home.”

She struggled most with the whys.

“Why our child – so appreciated, so held, so carefully nurtured – and not one ignored, abused or abandoned?” she wrote. “How come what we offered was not enough to keep her here when children with far less – impatient distracted parents, a small apartment on a busy street, extended day care, Oscar Mayer Lunchables – will happily stay?”

This story is a classic which should be studied by all sociology students interested in how ungrounded and shameful emotions drive public discussion and politics in medical matters as powerfully as they did two millenia ago, despite the fact that that miraculous 21st century global Library of Alexandria, the Internet, with its Godlike guide Google, is at hand for anyone to use.

Exactly how the coroner, let alone the reporters, and all the other supposed experts in child care ready with a quote or for some way of exacting revenge on poor Maggiore for questioning what they imagine is the best science, are able to proceed without being aware of the clear and obvious likely cause of the death of the poor child is a mystery of modern medicine.

It has been known for a long time that administering penicillin (synthesised under various names) to very young children to cure ear infections is a procedure which leads to rare fatalities, even though it is the most popular treatment of conventional medicine, at least until recently. In Europe, however, it is less popular for that reason as well as concern that the use of antibiotics should be minimized to avoid disease agents building immunity.

We say until recently because we would hope that the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatricians last year might have reduced the popularity of this medication, since the Academy admitted that such treatment risks the rare but lethal possibility in one in twenty children (others say it may be ten per cent) that the child goes into anaphylactic shock ie has a hypersensitivity reaction and may even die.

This year the Department of Primary Health Care at he Institute of Health Sciences at Oxford University meta-study reviewing all studies in the field in 2005 found that antibiotics did little good anyway in such cases, since ear infections are mostly viral. The only slight benefit was that pain was reduced in 7 per cent of cases after two days. (See Antibiotics for acute otitis media in children, P. Glasziou et al. for the foundation for meta-analysis, the Cochrane Collaboration, pub in the Cochrane Library 2005 issue 3 (John Wiley )at The Cochrane Library)

The doctors involved in the care of the child apparently followed exactly the standard procedure and did not give the child the antibiotic immediately. Unfortunately, however, Maggiore’s instinctive wariness of antibiotics did not prevail, and amoxicillin was eventually administered. We say unfortunately because it is plain from the suddenness of the child’s decline and death immediately after the dose that this orthodox treatment was the likely cause.

Apparently the superstition about HIV is sufficiently strong that it blinds people to the obvious, however. The coroner’s suggestion that Eliza Jane died of “AIDS-related pneumonia” seems laughable. The noted AIDS/HIV reviewer Harvey Bialy has sent this letter to the Los Angeles Times:

Dear Sirs,

This is in response to the story you published yesterday regarding the death of the daughter of Christine Maggiore and Robin Scovill.

In order to have a diagnosis of ‘aids related pneumonia’, two conditions must be met. The patient must be HIV antibody positive, and there must be a clinical pneumonia. Whether Eliza Jane was in fact Ab+ is information that neither the LA Times nor the coroner’s office has as yet made public. However, according to *all* reports it is acknowledged the child suffered none of the textbook symptoms of pneumonia, and had previously been in excellent health for several years. Thus the crucial second condition appears completely unsatisfied. (A post mortem finding of PCP in the lungs means nothing since it is 100% ubiquitous in human beings). Thus we are left to ponder the only significant fact, and it is one of omission, in your story. On what basis did the coroner conclude the child died of ‘AIDS related pneumonia’?

After more than 20 years of attempting to get straight answers about HIV/AIDS from so-called authorities, I am less than sanguine that this latest, simple query will be satisfactorily answered.

Sincerely

Dr. Harvey Bialy

Resident scholar

Institute of Biotechnology

Autonomous National University of Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico

bialy@ibt.unam.mx

h.bialy@natureny.com

Author of
xccA48&isbn=1556435312&itm=2″>Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: A Scientific Life & Times of Peter H. Duesberg
)

What is even more disturbing than this HIV-induced medical myopia is the way in which (according to this newspaper report) even the doctors who followed the perfectly conventional treatment for Eliza Jane are now taking refuge in the ideology of AIDS, whereby the presence of HIV is held to account for almost any death where it is assumed to be present. In this they are joining a stampede, for every other supposed expert consulted by the reporters seems to incline to the same view, even though it contradicts the conventional HIV/AIDS ideology in all important ways.

HIV is not something which kills a child in 24 hours; in fact it is notoriously held to take an average of ten years to work its supposed depredations. Moreover, toxic shock is not one of the 32 or more AIDS symptoms listed by the CDC. However keen they may be to add almost any ailment to the list (if we recall correctly, cervical cancer was added to it at some point), there just isn’t any way in which they can rationalize that one.

That none of the pediatricians and experts consulted by the reporters came up with the notion of toxic shock is astounding. That the coroner didn’t is amazing. It is general knowledge in the medical profession, and certainly among pediatricians. It is almost like an astronomer not knowing that Jupiter is a planet. Perhaps it was edited out. If so, one has to ask why. Instead, the story is built from beginning to end on the incredible assumption that HIV caused Eliza Jane’s death, based on the coroner’s conclusion reported here that the cause was “AIDS-related pneumonia” (we hear, however, that other causes were actually listed as well in the report released Sept 25).

Perhaps the preventive solution is that medical practitioners and officials should keep up with the literature of their field, and that in a complex world of information overload, lay people should not be prevented from doing their own research and helping the medical professionals that serve them to avoid such oversights. And the reporters in the media might also assist the public by writing news stories which are well informed and not inherently biased against such second guessing of the medical establishment, or as the case of AIDS shows, the scientific establishment.

To treat the information overloaded human beings who practice modern medicine and science as authorities who cannot be challenged is to risk iatrogenic (physician caused) calamities which all too often can amount to death. Recent estimates of iatrogenic death in the US range as high as 100,000 a year.

In Christine Maggiore’s case, the worst tragedy that can befall a parent, death of a child, looks as if it might be compounded by the second worst, having a loved and loving child ripped from her care. This is only one example of how an AIDS ideology which permeates society in direct contradiction to the expert review literature in the top scientific journals can lead to the greatest distortions of social justice.

Other examples include the recent conviction of an “HIV positive” prisoner for “assault with a deadly weapon” after spitting on and trying to bite guards.

So much for the 21St century being the century of science. If the review literature in AIDS is correct — and it is after all validated by the peer review system, the gold standard of science, and not only peer reviewed by the leading scientists in the field, but reviewed with intense determination to find fault, only to pass this test with flying colors as they were unable to find any grounds for rejection – this is the century of scientific superstition, at least in the field of AIDS.

Apparently those who want to bring science and religion closer together — and judging from all the conferences and lectures at Columbia University and elsewhere on this hot topic, they are legion – are succeeding very well.

The practical, specific result, in this and similar cases, is that parents who can think and read the lay and scientific review literature for themselves and develop a well founded skepticism of the mainstream HIV/AIDS narrative, are in danger of having their children torn from their grasp, based on a belief already soundly trounced in mainstream science periodicals.

Not a closed book, but an open page on the Net

When will reporters, responsible officials and even other scientists go and read the literature on which all good science and medicine is based? Apparently never, in a nation in which pediatricians cannot even read the recommendations of their own Academy. Unless the public takes the matter into its own hands, and reads some of the literature for itself, it will remain the victim of this reign of ignorance among its purported advisers.

Does science and medicine really have to be a closed book to those without union cards? Most people imagine that it is very hard to get access to the papers in science, let alone plough through their jargon and fathom what they are saying. But this is the age of Google. All you have to do is write in “PubMed” into Google, and you will find yourself faced wih a list topped by Entrez Pubmed:

Entrez PubMed

PubMed is the National Library of Medicine’s search service that provides access to over 11 million citations in MEDLINE, PreMEDLINE, and other related …

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi – Similar pages

Hit that link and you will find yourself at the fabled PubMed Search Slot (it’s at the top under the horizontal line). Type in say “ear infections antibiotics allergic reaction” and you will get such papers as

Aronovitx GH. Related Articles, Links

No abstract Middle ear infections in pediatric patients: treatment with amoxicillin.

J Infect Dis. 1974 Jun;129(0):suppl:S185-6. No abstract available.

PMID: 4152133 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Click on the listing and you can usually read the abstract, if not the whole article. Unfortunately as in this case occasionally there is not even an abstract, and even if there is to read the whole thing you have to join a university library or some institution which will let you have access.

This situation has been rescued by Google, however, since Googling will find most of the material conclusions of key papers referenced, explained and otherwise dealt with in the public-readership pages of the Web.

For instance, Googling “ear infections antibiotics children allergic reaction” will obtain a slew of standard information about the accepted treatment of ear infections in children.

Admittedly, a little more research may be necessary to light on the pages of the American Academy of Pediatricians at http:www.aap.org/, where the recommendations made in 2004 can be found. But they are very readable by the layman. And sources such as Yahoo now have very accessible briefs on the topic of ear infections and conventional treatment. All the warnings on antibiotics are there. Yahoo’s entry is as follows, hinting at the avoidance of risk in other countries where antibiotics are used much less enthusiastically than here:

On page Yahoo Health on Antibiotics for ear Infection

Why It Is Used

Antibiotics may be used to treat an ear infection. Amoxicillin is usually the first choice for treating otitis media.

Antibiotics are sometimes used to prevent infections in children who have had repeated ear infections (recurrent otitis media).

How Well It Works

Antibiotics are effective in most cases of ear infections. However, only 1 out of 8 children with ear infections needs antibiotics to clear an ear infection. In 7 out of 8 children, ear infections clear on their own. 2

A child with an ear infection should feel better within 48 hours after beginning antibiotics. If your child doesn’t feel better, call your doctor. A different antibiotic may be needed.

There is growing controversy over the use of antibiotics over a long period to prevent recurrent ear infections. A recent study showed antibiotics were no more effective than a placebo in preventing recurrent ear infections. 3 Also, many doctors are reluctant to prescribe long-term antibiotics because of the concern over the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics may be tried to treat persistent fluid behind the eardrum (chronic otitis media with effusion). However, the antibiotic may only temporarily clear the fluid from behind the eardrum.

Side Effects

Common side effects of antibiotics include:

* Nausea or vomiting.

* Mild diarrhea.

* Another infection, often due to another kind of organism, such as oral thrush or vaginal yeast infections.

Less common and more serious side effects of antibiotics include:

* Skin rashes, hives, or itching.

* Severe allergic reaction (rare).

Use of antibiotics to treat ear infections increases the risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Children who have been given ceftriaxone may complain of pain at the site of the shot.

See Drug Reference for full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

In many countries other than the United States, antibiotics are prescribed much less frequently for ear infections.

Amoxicillin is often the first choice for treating ear infections because it is effective against most organisms that cause ear infections, most children can take it, and it is less expensive than some other antibiotics.

The effectiveness of antibiotics in clearing persistent fluid behind the eardrum (chronic effusions) is being studied. Antibiotics may temporarily clear the fluid from behind the eardrum. Other treatment, such as tube insertion, may be needed to clear fluid from behind the eardrum, preventing damage to the eardrum and hearing loss.

From all these sources it is clear from the accounts of the tragic death available so far that the treatment the child received from the doctors called in by her parents was perfectly in line with conventional medicine, with the adverse effect a known risk for a subset of about five (possibly up to ten) per cent of children.

There is no conceivable way in which HIV could have been involved in the fatal systemic shock which is so obviously the cause of the child’s death, even if every outlandish claim of the current AIDS paradigm is accepted.

Therefore we expect that any rational enquiry will not harm Christine Maggiore with its conclusions. If anything, it will highlight the gross incompetence of the coroner and the experts quoted in the Los Angeles Times piece, all of whom seem to be overlooking what should be obvious to any qualified pediatrician.

But rationality may not rule. Ear infection is one of the commonest childhood ailments that result in medical intervention, and the risk of allergic shock to the standard medication, amoxicillin, which was applied in this case is a current concern.

For the Los Angeles Times article and those quoted in it not to mention this is an indication of just how distracting the preoccupation with and dominance of the HIV/AIDS paradigm can be, reducing all under its influence to a state of superstitious hysteria which blanks out reason and perception of even the most obvious other factors.

This is the danger that Christine Maggiore now faces. We wish her well, but worry that irrational forces will prevail and the extreme harm be done to her that has been done to other mothers in this arena, where children have been removed from the care of parents who refuse to accede to the prevailing mental framework of HIV/AIDS.

The ongoing tragedy of Christine Maggiore as an HIV-positive dissenter and now bereaved parent is thus one of the most unhappy results of the general acceptance of HIV/AIDS theory, and threatens to have consequences which can be fairly described as evil, the loss of her second child. For in the list of tragedies that can befall parents, surely the death of a child may be the worst, but the tearing of a child from their care is a close second.

Her case underlines the extreme importance of mounting continuous objective outside review of medical discussion and practice to ensure that scientific review literature does not continue to be ignored by the medical profession, the media, officials and the public, especially in the case of AIDS/HIV, on the natural but mistaken assumption that the scientific literature wholly supports conventional wisdom, when in fact as in the case of HIV it may contain many authoritative and unrefuted review papers which reject it.

Otherwise, as Maggiore’s case now shows in two distinct ways, uninformed claims and politics can destroy people’s lives by assuming authority in place of the best scientific and medical literature.

Yale’s Serge Lang, a firebrand of idealism, is lost to the academy and to science

September 16th, 2005

This morning (Fri Sep 16), we hear the unhappy and shocking news that a shining hero of truthseeking in the US academic and journalistic universe died on Monday (Sept 12) in his apartment in Berkeley. The French-born Serge Lang (1927-2005) went there from Yale last weekend, and after he failed to make an appearance his body was discovered on Wednesday. He was a heart patient.

The loss to the truthseeking community in the world is enormous. Serge Lang had no equal in the fierceness of his unrelenting battle for higher standards of accurate expression in the professional statements and behavior of establishment academics, editors and publishers, whether they were colleagues or not.

As a Yale professor of renown and enormous energy and productivity even at age 78, he was unusual if not unique in being an establishment critic within an establishment usually clubby enough to put collegiality before truth.

Lang was what all truthseekers should aspire to be, a one man anti-aircraft missile against nonsense and self-serving misstatements from on high in the academic world, publishing, or in one important case in science, AIDS. He thoroughly exposed the statistics and data in AIDS as poorly prepared and offering no persuasive evidence whatsoever for the ruling paradigm that the immune deficiency syndrome is caused by the retrovirus HIV.

Serge was vehemently against misleading statements and information, concealed falsehoods and professional hypocrisy of any kind in the public arena of academia and publishing. In a way this was natural since he was one of the leading mathematicians of his generation, a prolific writer of leading math textbooks and an uncompromising teacher who loved the role but did not stint on his demand that his students share the same high standards of accuracy as he did. But few have pursued an ideal in social behavior in any part of life as energetically, methodically and irresistibly as he did in trying to purify academic discourse, always sticking to the high standards he urged on others. Even his interviewers had to tread carefully.

Needless to say, his unrelenting efforts to change the behavior of his establishment colleagues in the academy and of other highly placed miscreants in the editing and publishing world met with dug-in resistance and appeals to collegiality which got nowhere with Serge.

His persistence in getting his target to retract misleading statements and inaccurate reporting was legendary, and when the correspondence reached a conclusion, whether success or stalemate, he would publish it in a “File” on the topic which would be distributed through the mail at his own expense to a hundred or so players in key positions in the information arena in the US. This included several editors and reporters at the New York Times who have to take responsibility for having failed time and again to inform their readers of issues which Lang exposed.

The accumulating Files resulted in a selection of the most important being published in “Challenges” (Springer Verlag, 1998 ISBN 0-387-94861-9)), a priceless guide to the distortions induced at the higher levels of science, academia and journalism by the incompetence, careerism, laziness and/or irresponsibility of the subjects of Lang’s attention. Probably no more authoritative and factually based expose of what goes on offstage in the offices of universities, journals or government will ever be done. Lang’s approach has always been more effective in revealing the abuse of truth in these circles than any Congressional investigation, for he got people to provide the very exhibits that condemned them in the letters they wrote to him.

Responsibility for their statements and actions in suppressing or misrepresenting facts was what Lang forced on officials, professors and editors, whom he would often castigate as being unable to tell a “fact from a hole in the ground”. In doing so he exposed the petty evasions and manipulative ploys undertaken by people in high position when caught misleading the public while politicking and networking at the expense of their professional and public responsibilities.

Thus in this office we received only a few days ago the latest instalment of his grand File on AIDS, a sub-file named “The NAS File”, which concerned the fate of two articles that Serge had submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as a member of that club. The National Academy is an elite institution in the US in which a new member is voted in by the other members already installed. Rejections of the aspiring member sometimes follow, as in the case of Harvard’s Samuel Huntington, whom Lang famously blackballed a couple of decades ago on the basis of Huntington’s use of poor mathematics and spurious economic reasoning in his sociology texts comparing nations.

Traditionally all submissions to the Proceedings by members were once accepted without peer review except for a cursory reading by a friendly colleague, but since Linus Pauling and Peter Duesberg disturbed the political waters with submissions on vitamins and AIDS that attracted hostility the editorial reviewing of articles for signs of political embarrassment seems to have escalated somewhat, and Lang has been caught in this trap.

The two papers he submitted were accompanied by a review from Berkeley emeritus professor of molecular and cell biology Richard Strohman who concluded: “In my opinion the two papers submitted by Professor Lang constitute an excellent basis for reexamination of the standard theory of what is called HIV/AIDS.” In fact, Strohman stated that “I have reviewed the two papers submitted by Serge Lang and have reached the firm conclusion that their publication in the PNAS is not only merited, it is essential.”

Predictably the PNAS Editor in chief, Nick Cozzarelli, after sniffing the political wind, curtly rejected the articles as unsuitable, stating the transparently false excuse that they were “opinion pieces” and not “research articles”, according to “experts on the PNAS board” that he had consulted. The insulting brevity of the letter, and its lack of grace, suggest to us that Nick Cozzarelli was seriously afraid of providing any opportunity whatsoever for Lang to engage him in dialogue, and it is worth quoting in full:

“Dear Dr Lang:

I have consulted with experts on the PNAS Editorial Board and we cannot accept either of your articles for consideration in the journal. Neither of them are research articles. They are instead opinion pieces.”

Sincerely,

Nick Cozzarelli

16 Barker Hall, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology,

University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley Ca. 94720

Short, sharp, and entirely disrespectful, this is the letter of a coward and a scoundrel, we would like to say, borrowing for a moment the fierceness of Lang. Except that Serge would never concern himself with personal motives or politics, or bother to discern the kind of man he was dealing with. Following his own ruling principle, he would keep the discussion on the very firm, steel rails of objective facts. What was the misstatement he was objecting to, and when would the person who made it acknowledge the error and correct it?

His driving concern was correction, not condemnation, and he could not be diverted into discussing or even acknowledging politics and personal advantage, those great distracting and distorting influences in modern knowledge. Such objectivity wasn’t easily believed by his victims, who naturally viewed him as narrow and uncollegial, in other words, unfriendly if not obsessive. But anyone who got to know Serge found that he was a warm and cheerful soul, who would end most of his observations with a giggle. But as a mathematician and as a truthseeker, he was principled and perfectionist.

This kind of scientific objectivity freed of politics and personality is precisely the aim of this AIDS science news blog, of course, though we admit to occasionally lapsing into personal ridicule as the absurdity of small minded people clothed in the power of position and dignity of high office overtakes us, since humor serves to lighten the otherwise deadly earnestness of taking exception to their foolish and in the case of AIDS ultimately murderous mistatements.

Characteristically in the case of the Proceedings rejection of his AIDS papers at the end of this May, Lang immediately answered the wretched Cozzarelli with a firm response:

“My two papers consist almost entirely of factually verifiable statements. They provide original sources to document the contradictions within the establishment position concerning “HIV/AIDS” and the toxic, pathogenic effects of anti-HIV drugs on people.

Just how great a loss Serge Lang will be to the truth seeking community in the world is emphasized by this personal style, in which he strictly adhered to the standards he sought to persuade others to follow, namely, in an issue of disputed truth, to stick to “factually verifiable statements”.

Nor would Lang ever give up easily, or leave any part of his case unsaid. Thus Cozzarelli’s dismissive letter, which would have silenced most other supplicants, provoked two pages of evidently angry but coolly reasoned, single spaced rebuttal from Lang, including the following paragraphs:

I submitted the papers as “social science” because the main thrust involves people, how they fulfill their scientific (partly medical) responsibilities, and how they deal (or don’t deal) with the contradictions. Your invoking “experts on the PNS Editorial Board” confirms the extent to which the Editorial Board and yourself have missed the point: Experts about what? To what extent can we trust what so-called “experts” say in the scientific establishment, concerning both “HIV/AIDS” as a presumed disease and the establishment’s position about “HIV/AIDS”? My documentation shows in particular how “experts” contradict each other, so evaluations have to be based on actual evidence. not what “experts” say.

Since you gave no evidence for the extent to which I wrote “opinions” rather than facts, I have to make an ad hoc decision how to deal with your sweeping characterizations. How much of my article do I repeat to counter your sliver about my articles being “opinion pieces”? I choose to mention summarily a few titles of topics: The circularity of the CDC definition of “HIV/AIDS” (holding that only HIV-positive cases of 29 AIDS-defining diseases are called AIDS), the toxicity of anti-HIV drugs as stated for example in the “Boehringer-Ingelheim Medication Guide”, the CDC double U-turn (2001 and 2005) concerning the use of these drugs, the defective statistics, the recognition of the deficiency of the HIV-antibody tests by Harvey Fineberg (current president of the IOM) are not “opinions”. The quotes I used from Fineberg came from an interview with the journalist Jon Rappoport. I wrote to Fineeberg about this. I sent you a copy of my letter to him, and its enclosures. I have not had a reply from Fineberg. You don’t even give any evidence that you read my articles. I urge you to do so if you have not done so, to understand the substance behind the above titles.

The plot thickened as the unfortunate Cozzarelli tried to ignore this unanswerable complaint, and Lang expanded his File with a letter to Bruce Alberts, then the President of the national Academy of Sciences. Alberts hastily wrote back that he would put the matter before the NAS Council, but Lang should know that he was exiting as President before that meeting would take place, effectively handing off the hot potato to Ralph Cicerone at the end of June.

We will describe more of this File in a following post, but the point is made. Lang’s ability to stand up to his peers and insist they meet their public responsibilities in the accuracy of their factual research and the truth of their official statements, and not restrict free speech and twist the truth for their own ends, is going to be sorely missed. There is no one on the landscape with the established position, precision, commitment and passion to replace him.

AIDS heretics will be most at a loss, for apart from Peter Duesberg he was the only participant in the widening battle to open up the paradigm to serious review who possessed the talent, resources and moral courage to challenge his establishment colleagues with the kind of superlative rigor that nailed the CDC, in particular, for providing statististical nonsense in support of “HIV/AIDS”.

As he recently joked on the telephone to this writer, echoing the remark of President Johnson about why he didn’t want to fire J. Edgar Hoover (“Better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in!”), “I am the only person who is inside the tent, pissing in!”

Here is this morning’s Yale Daily News front page story:

Published Friday, September 16, 2005

Math professor Serge Lang dies at age 78

Lang is remembered for significant academic contributions, dispute of link between HIV and AIDS

BY ROSS GOLDBERG

Staff Reporter

Serge Lang, a noted mathematics professor emeritus and the most prolific modern writer in his field, died Monday at the age of 78.

Yale President Richard Levin said he did not know the circumstances of Lang’s death, but a colleague said he had been suffering from health problems. Lang, a member of the National Academy of Sciences who retired from Yale last year, was known for his activism in mathematical education and his controversial disputation of the link between HIV and AIDS.

“He was a forceful advocate for causes he believed in,” Levin said. “Sometimes he regarded himself as the conscience of the University.”

Mathematics professor Peter Jones said the volume of Lang’s work is believed to have surpassed that of 18th century mathematician Leonhard Euler, who held the record for total number of words written. Lang’s work includes hundreds of articles, books and textbooks, as well as “The File,” an anthology of academic inconsistencies that he distributed to friends and colleagues.

Economics professor John Geanakoplos, Lang’s longtime acquaintance and colleague, said “The File” was only part of his lifelong crusade against inaccuracy.

“There were famous people and causes that he found intellectually unscrupulous, and he wouldn’t rest until he got to the bottom of things,” Geanakoplos said.

In perhaps his most controversial claim, Lang argued that a causal link between HIV and AIDS has not been definitively established. Lang frequently handed out pamplets on campus at talks dealing with AIDS.

But Lang had more success in his campaign against Samuel Huntington, a Harvard political scientist nominated to the National Academy of Sciences. In an unorthodox campaign, Lang defeated Huntington’s nomination on the grounds that he used spurious mathematical reasoning.

Lang even went so far as to administer a “Huntington Test” to dozens of his students each year, said Avidit Acharya ’06, his friend and mentee. Lang had the students comment on passages from Huntington’s work to determine, as he would put it, whether they could “tell a fact from a hole in the ground,” Acharya said.

Lang’s demanding personality extended into the classroom, said Timothy Brandt ’06, a former student. Though Lang befriended his students, sometimes taking his class out to dinner at Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant, he did not withhold his criticism from them.

“He wasn’t afraid to tell you that you didn’t know what you were talking about, that you were full of it,” Brandt said.

Lang’s career research focused on algebra — for which he won the prestigious Frank Nelson Cole Prize — as well as algebraic geometry, number theory, and analysis. Jones said that he often stayed at his office late into the evening, and did not stop theorizing even when he got home. For years at a time, Jones said, Lang would call him each night to pose mathematical problems without pausing to identify himself or say hello.

Many of their discussions centered around the “heat kernel,” a mathematical concept that Lang believed could be used to approach research and instruction across a variety of mathematical branches. As with “The File,” he made publicizing the heat kernel his personal mission.

Despite Lang’s prolific research, teaching undergraduates was his principal passion. Geankoplos met Lang as a freshman at Yale in 1971, when Lang was touring the dining halls of various universities to evaluate their job offers.

“He decided that the best way to find out what the school was like was to sit down and have meals with the undergraduates,” Geanakoplos said. “He was tremendously engaged in what his students were doing and thinking.”

H5N1 threatens to paralyze America in a new pandemic, Laurie Garrett confirms

September 16th, 2005

In the aftermath of Bush’s mea culpa speech tonight (Thu Sep 15), ABC is sounding the alarm about Avian flu tonight just to rub it in how badly W has prepared for it – apparently even less effectively than for Katrina.

They draw heavily on two talking heads, Columbia professor and professional disaster preparedness analyst Irwin Redlener and our familiar friend, the leading infectious disease Cassandra in the world, chubby cheeked Lauri Garrett, currently happily ensconced as a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, where she is active as the chief adviser and report preparer on global health threats.

Seems that Laurie has at least temporarily exhausted her stock of excitement over AIDS as a security threat, the topic of her last report for the Council (could it be that two years work on this topic resulted in a dim awareness of how specious it is? Surely not) and has now moved on to something which has the potential to be a little more immediately dramatic in its consequences. So successful has she been in raising the alarm on this new global threat that the entire current issue of Foreign Affairs seems to be devoted to the topic.

From Ms Garrett and Dr. RedIener, who is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, we learn the terrifying possibilities inherent in bird flu if it somehow manages to jump from birds to humans in sufficient numbers finally to get going apace in human society and arrive by international flights into the US.

It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

This week, at the United Nations Summit in New York, both the head of the U.N. World Health Organization and President Bush warned of the virus’ deadly potential.

“We must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza,” Bush said in his speech to world leaders. “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.”

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Bush’s call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

“If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine,” he warns.

Already, officials in London are quietly looking for extra morgue space to house the victims of the H5N1 virus, a never-before-seen strain of flu. Scientists say this virus could pose a far greater threat than smallpox, AIDS, or anthrax.

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

Since this flu has never been seen among humans before, there is no natural immunity, according to Garrett. With the US way behind other countries in building stocks of vaccine, as things stand now it will be six months after the outbreak here before any vaccine becomes available. With no immunity in humans built up in the past, as many as 200,000 will die according to Federal forecasts.

Actually, it might be a good idea to call 1 800 I GOTFLU for your vaccine right now because Roche has made it – in the form of ‘Tamiflu’, a vaccine intended for ordinary flu which has turned out to be the only one which works against H5N1, the strain of flu involved. The US lack of planning amazes the Europeans – they have all been stockpiling vaccine for some time. The British have enough to protect a quarter of the population. The US is way down in the line for boosting its stocks which now amount to enough for merely two million people.

Given that the lack of readiness in the US is even less than that for a New Orleans flooding, it seems that all signs are that we are in for a repeat of 1918, they say – a lot of people will die.

Watching this out of the corner of one eye as we eat dinner, by the end of the two segments by this unified, choral narrative we find ourselves thoroughly convinced , and freely grateful to Laurie and Irwin for keeping on top of the situation and helping to prod the bureaucratic sluggery into tardy action on this vital front. In their short face-time on screen, the two have established emotional authority and leadership in our mind and heart.

Admittedly, the fact that Avian flu at present has been blamed for only 57 human deaths so far would normally give us pause, but we are too far gone in being mentally bathed by the warm electrons streaming from the TV, and the frequent comparisons to the great flu of 1918, which killed a massive number of people.

To date, there have been 57 confirmed human deaths, and another suspected one last week in Indonesia. Scientists say the humans have only been infected by birds. However, they add every infected person represents one step closer to the tipping point.

By tipping point, they mean the point where the virus mutates into something that can jump from human to human, not just from goose, duck. swan or chicken to human.

That is exactly what happened in 1918 when the global epidemic called the Spanish flu struck.

“The Spanish flu was killing people in two or three days once they got sick,” Bill Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society says.

“In 1918, my now-quite elderly uncle was a young boy, living in Baltimore, Maryland,” says Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the flu came through, and his family insisted that he could not go outside for any reason until the whole epidemic was over. He spent afternoons looking out the window and counting the hearses going up and down the neighborhood and trying to guess which of his schoolmates had died.”

Today, when H5N1 arrives, it may be necessary for cop cars to block off whole sections of the city in quarantine, not letting anyone in or out. Hospitals would also be quarantined. Grand Central and the subways would be deserted for fear of contamination.

By this time we have completely forgotten the multi-prize winning Laurie’s record of misreporting and neglect of scientific literature in AIDS, and the only salt we sprinkle is on our dish, not hers. This is no time for skepticism. Preparedness is all.

In fact, we pay close attention to the advice at the end of the program (which goes on to consider the effects of a nuclear strike in Manhattan and some other major disturbance that slips our mind) about how to prepare for such emergencies.

Here is the ABC list of pre-disaster to-dos:

1. Unless you are prepared you will be too scared to think straight. Redlener advises a “family plan” to think out beforehand what you will do.

2. Identify the risks in your area, and plan whether you will stay at home or agree on a location to meet up with other family members. Losing your family members undermines everything – the will to act and the ability to think.

3. Plan escape routes. Gather supplies to put in the car, and to stockpile in the house. The experts suggest food, water and medication for seven to ten days – one gallon of water per person per day (given the experience of New Orleans, shouldn’t this be three months?). Use canned food (can opener!) and dried food. Put some into a backpack to grab and be ready to go in a minute if the danger is approaching rapidly.

4. First aid kit, cash, coins, radio and duct tape to seal up the shelter windows and cracks against radiation. (Presumably this means you should add a few canisters of oxygen to supply the ability to breathe which otherwise would be curtailed). Don’t forget birth certificates, deeds , licenses and tax returns to enable resumption of normal life after the danger passes. There should be medical prescriptions for a few weeks. Extra clothes.

5. Remember that in most natural disasters the chances of dying are rather small. You will live, though your “level of comfort” will go down.

Makng a mental note to prepare our emergency kit and place it by the door ASAP, we switch off the television, have a cup of coffee, and regaining our mental alertness, promise ourselves to check into the science of avian flu. Tomorrow we will see what Pub Med has by Dr Malik Peiris, the most hands-on scientist quoted, who happens also to be the discoverer of SARS, held to account for 700 human deaths, but now apparently no longer a worry.

“Unlike the normal human flu, where the virus is predominantly in the upper respiratory tract so you get a runny nose, sore throat, the H5N1 virus seems to go directly deep into the lungs so it goes down into the lung tissue and causes severe pneumonia,” says Dr. Malik Peiris, the scientist who first discovered the so-called SARS virus, which killed 700 people and drew worldwide attention.

While we wait for the upcoming Frontline report on H5N1 on PBS (next Tuesday on NYC Channel 13 at 9pm, if we are not mistaken), here is the transcript of the ABC Primetime double segment, Avian Flu: Is the Government Ready for an Epidemic? Virus Poses Risk of Massive Casualties Around the World:

ABC News

Avian Flu: Is the Government Ready for an Epidemic?

Virus Poses Risk of Massive Casualties Around the World

Sep. 15, 2005 – It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities, and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu.

This week, at the United Nations Summit in New York, both the head of the U.N. World Health Organization and President Bush warned of the virus’ deadly potential.

“We must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza,” Bush said in his speech to world leaders. “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.”

According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Bush’s call to remain on the offensive has come too late.

“If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine,” he warns.

Already, officials in London are quietly looking for extra morgue space to house the victims of the H5N1 virus, a never-before-seen strain of flu. Scientists say this virus could pose a far greater threat than smallpox, AIDS, or anthrax.

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

No Natural Immunity

The Council on Foreign Relations devoted its most recent issue of the prestigious journal, “Foreign Affairs,” to what it called the coming global epidemic, a pandemic.

“Each year different flus come, but your immune system says, ‘Ah, I’ve seen that guy before. No problem. Crank out some antibodies, and I might not feel great for a couple of days, but I’ll recover,'” Garrett says. “Now what’s scaring us is that this constellation of H number 5 and N number 1, to our knowledge, has never in history been in our species. So absolutely nobody watching this has any natural immunity to this form of flu.”

Like most flu viruses, this form started in wild birds — such as geese, ducks, and swans — in Asia.

“They die of a pneumonia, just like people,” says William Karesh, the lead veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “When you open them up, you do a post-mortem exam. Their lungs are just full of fluid and full of blood.”

Karesh has been tracking this flu strain for the last several years as it has gained strength spreading from wild birds to chickens to humans.

“We start at a market somewhere in Guangdong Province in China,” explains Karesh. “And it’s packed with cages, and you’ll have chickens, and you’ll have ducks. You might have some other animals — cats, dogs, turtles, snakes — and they’re all stacked in cages, and they’re all spreading their germs to each other.”

In response, Asian governments have killed millions of chickens in futile attempts to stop the flu’s spread to humans.

“The tipping point, the place where it becomes something of an immediate concern, is where that virus changes, we call it mutates, to something that is able to go from human to human,” says Redlener, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness director.

Echoes of the ‘Spanish Flu’ Epidemic

Scientists in Asia and around the world are now working around the clock as they wait for that tipping point.

“Unlike the normal human flu, where the virus is predominantly in the upper respiratory tract so you get a runny nose, sore throat, the H5N1 virus seems to go directly deep into the lungs so it goes down into the lung tissue and causes severe pneumonia,” says Dr. Malik Peiris, the scientist who first discovered the so-called SARS virus, which killed 700 people and drew worldwide attention.

To date, there have been 57 confirmed human deaths, and another suspected one last week in Indonesia. Scientists say the humans have only been infected by birds. However, they add every infected person represents one step closer to the tipping point.

“Once that virus is capable of not needing the birds to infect humans, then we have the beginnings of what can turn out to be this worldwide epidemic problem that the experts call ‘pandemics,'” Redlener says.

That is exactly what happened in 1918 when the global epidemic called the Spanish flu struck.

“The Spanish flu was killing people in two or three days once they got sick,” Bill Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society says.

“In 1918, my now-quite elderly uncle was a young boy, living in Baltimore, Maryland,” says Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the flu came through, and his family insisted that he could not go outside for any reason until the whole epidemic was over. He spent afternoons looking out the window and counting the hearses going up and down the neighborhood and trying to guess which of his schoolmates had died.”

Disaster Would Require Massive Quarantines

Unlike the avian flu, the Spanish flu spread long before the international air travel routes of today. At that time, there were no non-stop flights from flu ground zero to the United States. But not anymore.

Karesh believes the avian flu could travel from China to Japan to New York to San Fransisco within the first week.

“It’s on people’s hands. You shake hands. You touch a doorknob that somebody recently touched,” Garrett says, referring to how the flu is spread.

Redlener, who is stationed at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, has been working with New York City officials to get ready for the deadly epidemic.

“The city would look like a science fiction movie,” according to him. “It’s extremely possible we’d have to quarantine hospitals. We’d have to quarantine sections of the city.”

“I could imagine that you could look at Grand Central Station and not see much of anybody wandering around at all,” Garrett agrees. “People would be afraid to take the subways, because who wants to be in an enclosed air space with a whole lot of strangers, never knowing which ones are carrying the flu?”

As for the hospitals, there would be scenes like the ones this past month in the stadiums of New Orleans and Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

“There wouldn’t be equipment and personnel to staff them adequately that you could really call them a hospital,” Garrett predicts. “You might more or less call them warehouses for the ailing.”

And, as happened in New Orleans, there would be no place for the dead.

“If you look at the expected number of deaths that could occur in cities across the United States, we are wholly unprepared to process those bodies in a dignified and respectful way,” asserts Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “We will run out of caskets literally within days.”

The prospects have become so bleak that in planning meetings held in New York City, veteran emergency responders have walked away.

“They just don’t know how we’re going to get through,” says Osterholm of those responders. “If we have a repeat of the 1918 life experience, I can’t imagine anything to be closer to a living hell that that experience of 12 to 24 months of pandemic influenza.”

If the flu does strike, victims at first would not know if it is the kind of easily treated flu that comes every year or the killer flu, known as H5N1.

The man in charge of making sure Americans are prepared in the event of a killer flu epidemic is the secretary of Health and Human Services.

“We would do all we could to quarantine,” says Secretary Michael Leavitt. “It’s not a happy thought. It’s something that keeps the president of the United States awake. It keeps me awake.”

The preparedness plan calls for Leavitt to run operations out of a crisis room in Washington.

When pressed as to how ready the country actually is, Leavitt replied, “Not as prepared as we need to be. We’re better prepared than we were yesterday; we’ll be better prepared tomorrow than we are today.”

The draft report of the federal government’s emergency plan, obtained and examined by ABC News’ “Primetime,” predicts as many as 200,000 Americans will die within a few months. This is considered a conservative estimate.

“The first thing is everybody in America’s going to say, ‘Where’s the vaccine?’ And they’re going to find out that it’s really darned hard to make a vaccine. It takes a really long time,” said Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In fact, the draft report says it will not be until six months after the first outbreak that any vaccine will be available, and then only in a limited supply.

“I imagine that not a lot of poor people will get vaccinated,” Garrett says. “If you think about New Orleans, this is a similar situation.”

‘Inadequate’ Stockpile of Medicine

While there is no vaccine to stop the flu, there is one medicine to treat it. Called Tamiflu, it is made by the Roche pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. Roche has been selling Tamiflu for years.

Only recently, however, did scientists learn of its potential to work against the killer flu, H5N1. That has since created a huge demand and a critical shortage.

“All of the wealthiest countries in the world are trying to purchase stockpiles of Tamiflu,” says Garrett. “Our current stockpile is around 2.5 million courses of treatment.”

According to Leavitt, that is a long way from the country’s ideal stockpile. “Our objective is to have 20 million doses of Tamiflu or enough for 20 million people,” he says.

He later admitted that only 2 million are currently on hand, but asserted that no other country is in a better position.

Officials in Australia, however, have 3.5 million courses of treatment, and in Great Britain, officials say they have ordered enough to cover a quarter of their population.

“I think at the moment, with 2.5 million doses, you are pretty vulnerable,” warns Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital.

“The lack of advanced planning up until the moment in the United States, in the sense of not having a huge stockpile I think your citizens deserve, has surprised me and has dismayed me,” he admits.

Faced with worldwide demand, the Roche company, which produces Tamiflu, has organized a first-come, first-serve waiting list. The United States is nowhere near the top.

“The way we are approaching the discussions with governments is that we are operating on a first-come, first-serve basis,” says Dr. David Reddy, head of the pandemic task force at Roche.

“Do we wish we had ordered it sooner and more of it? I suspect one could say yes,” admits Leavitt. “Are we moving rapidly to assure that we have it? The answer is also yes.”

When asked why the United States did not place their orders for Tamiflu sooner, Leavitt replied, “I can’t answer that. I don’t know the answer to that.”

Even leading Republicans in Congress say the Bush Administration has not handled the planning for a possible flu epidemic well.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says the current Tamiflu stockpile of 2 million could spell disaster.

“That’s totally inadequate. Totally inadequate today,” says Frist, who is a physician by training. “The Tamiflu is what people would go after. It’s what you’re going to ask for, I’m going to ask for, immediately.”

Leavitt says deciding who gets the 2.5 million doses of Tamiflu currently on hand in the United States is part of the federal government’s response plan. However, he also admits that thought has motivated the government to move rapidly in securing more doses of the medicine.

“It isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but if it happened the day after that, we would not be in as good as a position as we will be in six months,” he says.

However, in the end, even the country’s top health officials concede that a killer flu epidemic this winter would make the scenes of Katrina pale in comparison.

“You know, I was down in New Orleans in that crowded airport now a couple weeks ago,” Frist says. “And this could be not just equal to that, but many multiple times that. Hundreds of people laid out, all dying, because there was no therapy. And a lot of people don’t realize for this avian flu virus, there will be very little effective therapy available early on.”

ABC News’ Rhonda Schwartz, Michael Bicks, Samantha Chapman, Maddy Sauer, Simon Surowicz, Jill Rackmill, Steve Baker, Monica DelaRosa, and Jennifer Needleman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

Are AIDS skeptics flagging? A few inspirational words from Rafe Esquith

September 12th, 2005

In AIDS, activists of the skeptical kind range widely in type and scientific expertise. They go from the few notable scientists willing to step forward and confirm that the most intensely reviewed scientific literature demolishes the reigning paradigm, to lay people who smell numerous rats and say so loudly and clearly even though they cannot always quote the scientific literature to advantage.

It is surprising that any of them survive. Together, they face a wall of resistance from well placed scientific opponents, the fellow traveling daily and weekly media, careerist government officials, hugely profitable global drug companies, pandering mainstream publishers, confidently uninformed Hollywood personalities, trench-informed doctors and nurses, authority wielding NGO personnel in afflicted foreign countries, statistically adept UNAID researchers, smugly collegial grant officials in establishment foundations, fearful AIDS patients, angry gay activists, and a vast flock of sheep.

By flock of sheep which we mean the high proportion of such woolly, baa-ing critturs, temperamentally speaking, among the uninformed public, who apparently now have an almost religious belief in this paradigm inculcated by ads for testing, AIDS walks, NIH officials appearing on the Charlie Rose show, the coverage of New York Times reporters and editors, AIDS runs in Central Park, social endorsements by movie stars, and so on, so that questioning it subjects the AIDS skeptic to being recategorized as insane and possibly dangerous.

Faced with the immovable mass of this international congregation of the high church of HIV-AIDS, it would hardly be surprising if after many years the irresistible force of AIDS truthseeking might falter in its determination, and truthseekers bow down under the weight of their social burden.

However, the surprising thing is that few of them do so. In fact Truthseeker, having long acquaintance with many of these naive idealists of science and human nature, knows few examples of any important dropout, let alone any turncoat, among the ranks of this frequently ragged rebel army, more than one of whom live on the verge of eviction while their opponents roll in the financial hay.

The only exceptions we can think of right now are Jad Adams, a young British author who after early on writing one of the best book exposes of what he saw as the self-evident AIDS boondoggle early in the affair (Jad Adams, “AIDS: The Virus Myth”, St Martins Press, 1989) apparently retired injured in the aftermath of a storm of scurrilous press attacks in London (though also some support in Nature, see early post here) and moved on to other topics to pay the rent, and Walter Gilbert.

The renowned molecular biologist Gilbert, 1980 Nobel prize winner for a seminal advance in the lab analysis of DNA, was a star at Harvard until he retired to pursue his artwork. Years ago he was quite willing to say to this writer for publication that Peter Duesberg was probably right about HIV and it was quite possible that AIDS had another cause entirely, and later he went on record on film saying so. The quote is now used by the skeptics (eg see http://www.virusmyth.com/ site, a repository for key skeptic texts up to the last couple of years, when the webmaster ran out of money) as an exhibit to show that, with Kary Mullis, there are two Nobelists who support their questioning.

For several years Gilbert even used Peter Duesberg’s 1989 review in the Proceedings of the National Academy as an impeccable example of how to challenge a paradigm for his graduate student seminar. Interestingly, as Nature Biotechnology’s founding science editor Harvey Bialy has pointed out, not a single one of Gilbert’s brainy graduates was moved to write a rebuttal and make their name at the beginning of their careers. Could this be because, tutored by Gilbert, they all recognized its unanswerable quality? But eventually Gilbert tired of the press exposure and cried off further interviews on the topic, perhaps understandably (though in the view of some, still irresponsibly) preferring to conserve his political capital for his own fights.

Of course, the unswerving dedication of AIDS skeptics to their cause may simply be a reflection of the fact that the AIDS establishment, secure and even smug in its dominance of all information outlets from the New York Times to Charlie Rose to science journals to college textbooks, has seen fit not to offer any cash sum to persuade any of them to cross over.

Certainly no one has contacted Truthseeker with a substantial offer, which we find vaguely insulting. How is it that our efforts to illuminate this situation, and turn over the stone beneath which numerous Truthconcealers hide, has met with no attractive counter offer? We hereby announce our willingness to entertain any offer of any kind significantly over the six figure mark. Please email “Sellout@newaidsreview.com” as soon as possible.

After all, it is not as if such an offer is without precedent. One merely has to turn to page 177 of what is currently the definitive evisceration of the theorizing and antics of the AIDS-HIV paradigm and its promoters, “Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: A Scientific Life and Times of Peter H. Duesberg”, by Harvey Bialy, North Atlantic Books (see earlier post). Here we find a prime example of temptation from the devil.

In the fall of 1994, as Bialy tells it, Duesberg was invited to the San Francisco opera by an old colleague from the NIH passing through on the way to China, one Stephen O’Brien. At drinks afterwards O’Brien reached into his tuxedo and fished out a folded manuscript, saying “This has already been accepted at Nature. All you have to do is sign.”

The text turned out to be, under the heading “HIV causes AIDS: Koch’s postulates fulfilled”, a rehash of the arguments of the self-serving epidemiology of AIDS that purported to show that HIV is the cause of AIDS, while assuming it.

When Duesberg took the mansucript in hand (he was to be listed as one of the three co-authors, and thus redeemed in the eyes of the world and restored to his previous cardinalship as the incorruptible and reliable authority in the field) and corrected its content and its title, Steve O’Brien wrote to him that though he considered Duesberg “one striking exception” to the numerous “blatant examples of fraud in science”, he thought that his “campaign that HIV does not cause AIDS is not so compelling and I am afraid wrong, just wrong” and that “I believe you should consider signing the article for your own good.”

Of course, Duesberg didn’t sign it and the article never ran in Nature, eventually surfacing in the obscure Current Opinion in Immunology two years later, with a note saying mysteriously that Duesberg had declined joint authorship. The letter, meanwhile, reposes in the Peter H. Duesberg Archive of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. Anyone who can gain access to it can read who it was that Steve O’Brien had in mind when referring to scientists who had perpetrated “blatant fraud” in duping the scientific community, a list which unfortunately is omitted by Bialy’s book on the advice of the publisher’s lawyers.

Anyhow, with this precedent in mind we find ourselves humbled that no representative of the AIDS establishment has approached us with an offer of any kind, and while encouraging them to do so, we realize that it is simply an indication of how unimportant we are compared to Peter Duesberg, on whose metaphorically mighty shoulders ride all who call attention to the anomalies and absurdities that have been airbrushed out of the AIDS picture.

Let’s acknowledge that Duesberg in declining the opportunity to sell his soul to the devil and put his name to a paper which he found repellent was not just giving up renewed membership in the Bob Club, as the AIDS scientific establishment was known in the early days. He was giving up millions of dollars, both in the renewed flow of Government funding for his laboratory that would quickly come with collegial status and also the private investment money which of late in various ways magically streams into the pockets of scientists who get a slice of the action.

Some of that money flows into the pockets of many of the AIDS-HIV promoting groups listed above who cooperate and coordinate with each other in maintaining the AIDS-HIV paradigm and its consequences. In fact, the few journalists such as Celia Farber brave or foolhardy enough to pursue their investigation of the underside of AIDS are having a field day finding out just how heavily dependent on drug company money are AIDS-HIV activist groups. The inspiring answer is that the drug companies fund their operations to a high level, and that the agitation seen at AIDS Conferences would never happen without this kindness.

As far as investigative journalists go, in AIDS, at the moment as far as we know Farber is unique except for Liam Scheff, the young journalist who took the lid off the AIDS Orphans Used as Drug Test Guinea Pigs scandal in New York (see earlier post). That such people exist let alone continue their work and their moral outrage under current conditions seems amazing to us. But neither shows any signs of weakening.

Nor does the remarkable Harvey Bialy, the founding science editor of Nature Biotechnology who now teaches at the Institute of Biotechnology at the Autonomous National University of Mexico in Cuernevaca. Bialy, however, having delivered his broadside against the tyranny of Duesberg’s opponents in both cancer and AIDS, in the form of his hyper-intelligent, no-foolishness-overlooked book last year, is waiting for the slow but possibly explosive final outcome of this sleeper, which takes the lid off the egregious bending, subversion and diversion of science into profitable but ultimately empty cul-de-sacs in both fields, as it works its way through the reading lists of those in the know towards the attention of outside journalists and other interested parties, such as government officials, congressional staff and just possibly in the end the public prosecutor responsible for detecting scams on the public purse.

Meanwhile Bialy has apparently taken refuge in art for the moment, starting a heavily visited weblog featuring his collages and poetry at http://bialystocker.net/ which is strongly influenced as is all his Web posting and email by humor drawn from the Goon Show, a British radio show of the fifties featuring Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers, whereby Bialy develops and speaks in the voice of Eccles, an alter ego drawn from the show.

This tendency to metamorphise from an earnest AIDS discussionist into a humorist is an urge felt by many in the game of critiquing AIDS-HIV ideology from the famously witty Peter Duesberg on downwards, including this author. Perhaps it is caused by the inescapable tediousness of repeating the same obvious flaws in the AIDS-HIV hypothesis time after time to the slower witted adherents of the paradigm, many of whom seem to have given up independent thinking almost completely. That, and the hilarity induced by the sheer gigantic absurdity of some of the unscientific beliefs promulgated with a straight face by the powers that be in the field.

Just to take one example, the idea of an army of testers going around in major American cities and now increasingly among the hapless poor of Namibia and other African countries, and points further east in Asia and Russia, using a questionable test for antibodies to an agent to mark future victims of the disease supposedly caused by the agent which is typically absent, is such an outrage to common sense, let alone science, which tells us that in any other case whatsoever antibodies are a sign of cure in the absence of the agent, this idea is such an absurdity that it is impossible for its humor to remain repressed, however unhappy the result may be when the unfortunate Namibians, Indians and soon Chinese are beset with lethal “drug cocktail” antidotes at cut rate prices from the global drug companies via aid from UN member nations and their NGOs partly funded by the right-thinking promoters and audiences of large rock concerts.

Laughter at this cartoonish if ultimately murderous picture is in fact one of the few rewards of an uphill fight that never seems to get anywhere for the skeptics of AIDS, so the example of an idealist such as Rafe Esquith who has achieved such magical results by pushing his vision against the envious and petty resistance of his colleagues is worth quoting.

Actually it is Esquith who is worth quoting for the encouragement his example offers to all such idealists who find themselves alone in the crowd they are trying to benefit.

Who is Rafe Esquith? A teacher who has achieved miracles with passion and purpose.

We thought of the passion of Peter Duesberg and his supporters last night when PBS rebroadcast the latest POV segment, a documentary about Esquith. Rafe Esquith is an elementary school teacher in “Koreatown”, Los Angeles, whose teaching led the New York Times to call him a genius and a saint.

Esquith is by his own account an ordinary man distinguished by two things, a passion for teaching and faith in his charges, who consist of 9-11 year olds from a district in Los Angeles which has many ambitious immigrant parents from countries such as Korea and Mexico who send their children to the school, but who do not speak English at home.

In some kind of educational miracle Esquith has taught their children to read and act Shakespeare, and he has achieved such winning success at this that the children have given invited performances in the old Globe theater in England, at the Supreme Court, for the National Press Club, and at Shakespeare festivals around the country. Do these eager kids understand the plays they read and act in? The documentary shows that they understand them well enough to cry and laugh with Shakespeare’s characters as they read. They recite the lines with more meaning than many professionals.

The New York Times

September 6, 2005

TELEVISION REVIEW; Through Shakespeare, Lessons of Life And Devotion

By ANITA GATES

In a fifth-grade classroom in a poor and dangerous part of Los Angeles, Hobart Boulevard Elementary School pupils (mostly Latino and Asian) are doing ”Hamlet.” They are so good at it that at one point Sir Ian McKellen, who has played Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, Richard II and Richard III, drops in to watch, to do a little recitation of his own and to praise them.

”The best thing about the Hobart Shakespeareans is that they know what they’re saying,” Sir Ian tells them, adding that this cannot be said of every adult who has ever appeared in a Shakespearean play.

In Mel Stuart’s fine and passionate documentary ”The Hobart Shakespeareans,” which has its premiere tonight on the PBS series ”P.O.V.,” several things are clear. The 49-year-old teacher, Rafe Esquith, is a genius and saint. The American education system would do well to imitate him. These children’s lives have been changed by their year with this man. And it is not all about Elizabethan drama.

Mr. Esquith’s pupils play guitar. They name the six states that border Idaho. They discuss whether Huckleberry Finn would be doing the right thing to turn in his friend Jim, a runaway slave. They visit the Lincoln Memorial on a class trip.

Their classroom world operates like the real one: with money. In this case the currency is play money, in which they are paid salaries. It costs more to sit at the front of the class than in the back. Not doing your homework brings a $50 fine. At Christmas, Mr. Esquith gives them real Barnes & Noble gift certificates.

But it is the yearlong study of a single Shakespearean play that symbolizes Mr. Esquith’s methods and his success. It is thrilling to hear Brenda De Leon read a speech of Ophelia’s beautifully, to watch Lidia Medina express Gertrude’s pain and to see Alan Avila, who was considered a problem student by a previous teacher, tackle the title role of the melancholy Danish prince. At the outset, Mr. Esquith explains what ”Hamlet” is about: death. ”They’re throwing skulls all over the graveyard,” he says.

During Christmas vacation, the children in the play come in every day to work on it. Mr. Esquith tells the camera that this is teaching them discipline, teamwork and sacrifice. He is a man fond of mottoes: ”Be nice and work hard.” ”There are no shortcuts.” As Hamlet says: ”Words. Words. Words.”

But words have impact. This is clearest, on a class visit to the campus of U.C.L.A., Mr. Esquith’s alma mater, when he tells the children: ”This is the life you’re working for. You can do this.” He has Ivy League pennants on his classroom wall, gifts from former students who have gone on to those schools, to prove it.

P.O.V.

The Hobart Shakespeareans

PBS, tonight at 10, check local listings.

Directed and produced by Mel Stuart; Alex Rotaru, co-producer, editor and cinematographer; Tamara Blaich, Chad Baron, associate producers; additional photography by Damani Baker, Chad Baron, Jerry Henry and Mel Stuart.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Permissions | Privacy Policy

As usual, Esquith’s accomplishment is partly an uphill battle against the conformity and inertia of those less inspired. While the children often go on to Yale and Harvard, Esquith is left dealing with the hostility and envy that national attention and money from Oprah Winfrey and other sponsors has engendered among the other teachers at the school, which the documentary omits, but which can be read in the news coverage of what is to many people the most sensational story in teaching.

What we like and think is relevant here is the courage Esquith has shown in the face of years of overwork, underfunding and sniping from his colleagues.

While Esquith has won honors, such as the National Medal of Arts from President Bush (which he keeps locked away in a cabinet for safekeeping) and the National Teacher of the Year Award (which he accepted wearing a tuxedo with his white tennis shoes), his peers have not always been kind. He has received hate letters from fellow teachers who feel their efforts have been overlooked in light of Esquith’s national attention, and he gets his fair share of cold shoulders on campus.

His classroom too has come under fire — vandalized and burglarized by gang members. And his students say they are picked on for being in the Shakespeare productions, ostracized as “snobs” by former teachers and fellow students alike. For Esquith, it’s not about making an easy path for his students but about opening doors for them to work hard and create better lives for themselves.

However, support for Esquith’s valiant efforts to prove that kids can achieve wonders if properly inspired now comes from other successful people, perhaps demonstrating one of life’s great principles, that those who attempt great things must seek support from the great and not from the small.

At first, Esquith and his wife, Barbara, funded his program out of their own pockets and with prodigious expenditures of their time and energy. Today, donations from major corporations and private individuals cover the cost of the class’s extra-curricular activities None of these funds are used to supplement Esquith’s salary as an inner-city school teacher.

Some say that Esquith’s successes are the product of a singular sense of mission, and therefore not examples broadly applicable to an education crisis in which poor kids in poor schools fall ever farther behind. But what Esquith has proved, albeit through singular sacrifice, is that with the best educational tools – tools that society could provide if it wanted – any kid can succeed. That, for Rafe Esquith, is the American dream.

“With all my thrilling experiences in the movie business, this was a wonderful film to shoot,” says producer/director Mel Stuart. “We can see these kids blossom and open up. It’s a testament to the powers of art and to the difference one thoroughly committed person can make.”

It is on the record of people like this, who show that commitment and passion can achieve the world in the end, that one can expect the AIDS idealists to succeed sooner or later in opening up the door to free speech and outside review in this problematical field, where the truth seems to be that two decades and billions of dollars, not to mention many lives, have been wasted barking up the wrong tree.

Here are a few paragraphs from Esquith’s book, “There Are No Shortcuts”:

Perhaps I have an unusual view of the world of education, but each and every day I walk into my classroom and I remind myself of something important: I remember whom I work for. It’s not my principal, who is a good guy with many positive qualities. It’s not any of his assistants, some of whom I like and some of whom never met Will Rogers. It is certainly not the children, although some teachers forget this and actually believe the children should have an equal voice in the daily running of a classroom.

I work for the parents and the taxpayers. They are the people who pay me and they are the people I serve. It’s my job to provide them with the best service I possibly can. This is not always easy or convenient. I simply believe that anyone who becomes a teacher must accept that there are certain parts of the job not described in the contract. As a teacher, I accept the fact that not all the children will be easy to teach. I know that I will often be called on to stay after school to help a child in need. I know that large amounts of my personal time will be spent shopping for my class and planning my lessons. My wife, Barbara, a nurse for fifteen years, taught me that her shift at the hospital did not end when the clock struck a certain hour; it ended when her patients were well cared for, comfortable, and in the hands of the next shift. If that meant staying an extra hour on certain days because a patient needed a hand held or a back rubbed, Barbara was there. It was the job. The same is true for other service professions, and teaching is no different.

In an elementary school, the single most important factor in determining the progress of your child is: Who will be the teacher for the year? Your child will be spending thousands of hours with this person. We all know that the teacher creates the weather in a classroom. Will it be a happy place? Will your child be challenged without being frustrated? Will your child have a voice? We have all been in classrooms and know that it’s the teacher who holds the answers to these crucial questions.

As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your elementary-aged children should happen a few months before their next school year. This is the time when schools begin to pencil in which teacher will teach which grades. Most parents know nothing about this process. When this selection occurs, the current school year is well under way and the parents have been to Open House, have seen report cards, and have had a parent conference. Most parents assume that they’ve done their duty until they turn up the following year to meet the new teachers and check on their child’s progress. Yet one of the most important things parents can do is to be part of the process of teacher selection for the next school year. I’ve seen schools where the local PTA is actually part of the hiring process, and this is as it should be. But this isn’t what happens at the Jungle and many other schools, and parents need to know what is going down.

Not too hard to see a parallel here with disease science, practised as a profession rather than a vocation, and as a consequence filled with mediocrities whose ambition is realized through politicking rather than passion for discovery.

Certainly what is happening in science in some quarters is not what the public thinks, and it needs to send its representatives to find out what is going down.

This is the story in the LA Times

September 6, 2005

latimes.com : Education

Shakespeare, to expand their globe

# A Koreatown teacher sets high goals for his fifth graders. The results are chronicled in a PBS documentary.

By Merrill Balassone, Times Staff Writer

The bell shrills at Hobart Elementary in the heart of Koreatown, signaling the end of the school day. The campus quickly empties, but no one budges in fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith’s classroom. Instead, more children file in; some perch on filing cabinets bordering the room and some former students, still enjoying summer vacation before the start of middle school, pack into the back.

Today is an important day for this group, the Hobart Shakespeareans, and a hush falls, punctuated only by excited whispers. The cast list is being announced for this year’s Shakespeare production, “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

The children, ages 9 to 11, know there are months of work ahead of them. Esquith has asked them to sacrifice video games and television. These children, many from immigrant families who don’t speak English at home, will memorize and perform the unabridged work. But they are inspired by the students from years past, who have traveled the country to perform and attended top-notch universities, and whose fans include actors Ian McKellen and Michael York. Many alumni, some still children themselves, return to help the new actors memorize their parts and master the rhythm of the lines.

The young troupe is the subject of a PBS documentary, “The Hobart Shakespeareans,” directed by Mel Stuart that premieres on “P.O.V.” at 9:30 p.m. Friday on KCET in the Los Angeles area. The hourlong film chronicles the group’s year of rehearsals as they prepared for their performance of “Hamlet” in 2003.

Esquith’s students suffer from poverty and struggle against the influences of gangs and drugs, which result in a culture of low expectations. To compete with students from more privileged schools, his classes work twice as hard. His rallying cry, echoed in a banner at the front of the classroom: “There are no shortcuts.”

Nearly all his students arrive at 7 a.m. — an hour before school starts — for extra math work and spend their recess and lunch breaks learning guitar. After school is Shakespeare rehearsal, and on Saturdays and vacations, students practice grammar and math, while alumni can get SAT tutoring and help with college applications. The students read higher-level literature, such as “Lord of the Flies,” “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“I ask these children to defy the culture of their neighborhood,” Esquith said. “I want my kids to know that they’re just as good and just as American as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington or Dr. Martin Luther King. My worst fear is that they will become ordinary.”

Brenda De Leon, 12, who starred in the production of “Hamlet” as Ophelia, said her experience as a Hobart Shakespearean broadened her horizons and taught her to set higher standards for herself.

“In other classes, they don’t expect much — if you got average grades they would be happy with you,” said Brenda, who now hopes to attend an Ivy League school and become an AIDS specialist. “I was very shy and wouldn’t participate in class. In Rafe’s class, there was lots of work and lots of sacrifice, and I learned I had to be excellent all the time.”

As a Shakespearean, Brenda also took trips: one to perform in front of 1,000 people in Hawaii, where she also swam with dolphins; a trip to Ashland, Ore., for its annual Shakespeare Festival; Washington, D.C., for a tour of American monuments; and South Dakota to learn about Native American heritage.

“Before, I felt that Koreatown was the whole world,” Brenda said. “Then I saw that there were better communities and neighborhoods. There weren’t always gangs.”

Esquith said the trips are an opportunity to teach the children real-life skills, such as how to manage a budget, plan meals and even tip the maids.

“When we travel, we won’t stay in Motel 6 — that’s not what we’re working for,” he said. “I’m tired of walking into a hotel and seeing that the only Latinos there are the workers. I want my Latino students to be running these hotels someday.”

As a young teacher, Esquith worked four jobs, including graveyard shifts, to raise the money for trips and to purchase books and musical instruments for his students. Still, he would arrive at Hobart at 6:30 each morning wearing his signature uniform: a crisp button-down shirt, sweater vest and tie, with white Adidas sneakers.

His schedule eventually took him past the brink of physical exhaustion, but even that didn’t slow him down. He once climbed out of a hospital window after a severe asthma attack so he wouldn’t miss a trip with his students. It took pleading from his wife, Barbara, a registered nurse, to make him realize the toll on his health.

“I had to grow up a little bit,” Esquith said. “If you’re all passion and no brains, you’re not effective. You’re no good to anyone if you drop dead.”

In 1992, an alumnus from Esquith’s first year of teaching, by then in his third year of Yale Law School, came to his rescue. He set up a nonprofit organization called the Hobart Shakespearean Foundation that now brings in about $200,000 a year in donations.

The documentary shows snippets of the troupe’s “Hamlet” performance, which is interspersed with rock songs and performed in Esquith’s classroom with stage lights and bleachers set up for the audience, which included British actor York.

“I cannot watch Mel’s documentary without being moved to tears,” York said. “There’s such a bad rap about education, immigration and all these ills, but here’s someone who has a solution and the dedication to carry it out. Rafe says his big fear is that the kids will be ordinary, but you have the sense that none of them are.”

York said he was particularly moved by a scene in which the students read an excerpt from “Huckleberry Finn” dealing with Huck deciding whether to turn in his friend Jim, an escaped slave, to the authorities. The children take turns reading, their sobs choking the words as they are overcome with emotion.

“I was truly amazed, and I’m not just talking about the Shakespeare,” York said. “It’s all the other things that go along with it — the extraordinary civility of the children.”

The motto “Be Nice, Work Hard” is another tenet the Shakespeareans must live by. On a recent afternoon during recess, the classroom is full of students who are learning to play guitar. The walls are covered with pennants from the nation’s top universities — Yale, Stanford, Harvard. Under the pennants are placards inscribed with the names of the students who now go there, with the date they graduated from Esquith’s class.

While Esquith has won honors, such as the National Medal of Arts from President Bush (which he keeps locked away in a cabinet for safekeeping) and the National Teacher of the Year Award (which he accepted wearing a tuxedo with his white tennis shoes), his peers have not always been kind. He has received hate letters from fellow teachers who feel their efforts have been overlooked in light of Esquith’s national attention, and he gets his fair share of cold shoulders on campus.

His classroom too has come under fire — vandalized and burglarized by gang members. And his students say they are picked on for being in the Shakespeare productions, ostracized as “snobs” by former teachers and fellow students alike. For Esquith, it’s not about making an easy path for his students but about opening doors for them to work hard and create better lives for themselves.

“I’m just this really ordinary guy that stuck with it,” Esquith said. “My job is done when they’re ready for their lives.”

This is a review from San Antonio Current by Steven G. Kellman:

A lesson in teaching

By Steven G. Kellman

09/01/2005

In The Hobart Shakespeareans, one instructor proves again that children rise to meet expectations

To find an early advocate of dumbing down the curriculum, look to Shakespeare’s Desdemona. “Those that do teach young babes/ Do it with gentle means and easy tasks,” she tells Iago. However, though Rafe Esquith reveres Shakespeare, the tasks he sets the young babes in his classroom are far from easy. Esquith teaches fifth grade at Hobart Elementary, a large public school serving a neighborhood in central Los Angeles so tough that the building sometimes has to be locked down to protect the children from violence outside. Most of his students are either Latino or Asian, and none speaks English as a first language. Yet Esquith inspires his 10-year-old charges to mount a production of Hamlet that astonishes Ian McKellen. “You understand every single word,” the master actor tells the young performers, in awe of an accomplishment that eludes most college students, and even their professors. “Once they’re in a culture of excellence, they do fine,” says Esquith about the correlation between expectation and achievement.

Fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith uses Shakespeare to teach vocabulary, fencing, ethics, and more. His unorthodox, award-winning dedication to a Los Angeles public school is documented in P.O.V.’s Hobart Shakespeareans.

The Hobart Shakespeareans focuses on preparations for the staging of a Shakespeare play that concludes the school year for each successive cohort under Esquith’s tutelage. It is a grander example of San Antonio’s “Shakespeare in the Barrio” program. But the film, which is scheduled for broadcast on KLRN-TV Tuesday, September 6, at 10 p.m., as part of the PBS P.O.V. series, is not confined to Elizabethan drama. Esquith also teaches math, geography, history, music, and baseball, as well as discipline, civility, and compassion. “We do Shakespeare because I personally love him,” he explains. But Hamlet becomes a pretext for the study of vocabulary, fencing, ethics, and much else.

“Be nice. Work hard.” If a secular institution must have commandments carved in granite, those two rules that govern the world according to Rafe would do just fine. The children enrolled in Esquith’s class are not there because of any special tracking. They happen to live in the impoverished district and are fortunate enough to be assigned a teacher so dedicated to his profession and pupils that he voluntarily comes to school six days a week. Esquith even holds sessions during vacations, and, until wealthy patrons began making donations, paid for group trips with his own funds. He expands the boundaries of the California classroom by taking his students to Washington, Gettysburg, Williamsburg, and Mount Rushmore. In a society that honored teachers as much as politicians, the pedagogical paragon of Hobart Elementary would be immortalized on the face of a South Dakota cliff.

The Hobart Shakespeareans

Dir. Mel Stuart

Some dissent.

Mercedes Santoyo, his principal, hints at the envy that Esquith’s international attention has aroused in fellow teachers. But director Mel Stuart (best known for the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) offers no elaboration. Sixth-grade teachers must consider Esquith a hard act to follow. Except for a glimpse of him lecturing in Houston, we are shown no interaction between Esquith and others except his adoring students and his devoted wife, Barbara. Nor do former students testify to his influence during a career spanning two decades. Ignoring the neighborhood, the camera remains riveted on Esquith at work. While reading about Huckleberry Finn’s moral dilemmas, several students are moved to tears. Learning about the reading list – including Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and A Catcher in the Rye – that these fifth-graders master, a viewer is moved to wonder why Johnny can’t read in twelfth-grade classes elsewhere. Like Jaime Escalante, who – portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver – taught calculus and self-esteem to disadvantaged youngsters in East L.A., Rafe Esquith is an inspiration to us all, and an admonition to all those Texas leaders who lack and limit education. •

©San Antonio Current 2005

This is an interview with Rafe and the filmmaker Mel:

The Atticus Finch of Hobart Elementary

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet. Posted September 6, 2005.

In a stunning new documentary, a fifth-grade teacher at one of the nation’s largest inner-city schools inspires his students to lead extraordinary lives, despite language barriers and poverty.

Documentaries today may be giving us what we hunger for. The film March of the Penguins, which reveals the birds’ harsh and glorious Antarctic mating season, has become the second highest grossing documentary in history, behind only Fahrenheit 9/11. Another documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, takes us inside a ballroom dancing competition for New York City’s fifth graders. A third film, The Hobart Shakespeareans (premiering on PBS Tuesday, Sept. 6), made by filmmaker Mel Stuart, follows Rafe Esquith’s fifth-grade class in inner-city Los Angeles as they learn to perform a full-text Hamlet by the end of their school year.

Whether it’s penguins or fifth graders, all these documentaries are about goodness, dedication and purpose, as well as respect and treating others well. There’s something joyful and painfully touching when we see the life force in action with purpose.

Rafe Esquith leads his fifth graders through an uncompromising curriculum of English, mathematics, geography and literature. His classroom mottos are “Be nice. Work hard,” and “There are no shortcuts.” Every student performs in a full-length Shakespeare play. Despite language barriers and poverty, many of these Hobart Shakespeareans move on to attend outstanding colleges.

Esquith, who grew up in Los Angeles and attended the city’s public schools, has taught fifth grade at Hobart Boulevard Elementary for over 20 years. “I don’t want my students to be ordinary,” he says. “I want them to be extraordinary because I know that they are. If a 10-year-old, who doesn’t speak English at home, can step in front of you and do a scene from Shakespeare, then there is nothing that he cannot accomplish.”

TERRENCE MCNALLY: Rafe, what led you to teaching and to Hobart Elementary?

RAFE ESQUITH: I became a teacher because my father taught me that a life without service is a wasted life. I found I had a knack for teaching, I taught at a middle-class school for two years. Great kids, but they didn’t need me. I was challenged by a principal to come to Hobart School, where there are 2,400 children, and I realized that we were a perfect match. These were kids who want a way out, and after many years of teaching, I figured out a way to help them get out.

Mel, what led you to this documentary?

MEL STUART: Luck. That’s a very important part of being a filmmaker. You have to be lucky. I was read in the paper that Rafe had won an award for teaching inner-city schoolchildren, nine and 10 years old, a curriculum that included performing Shakespeare. I’m a Shakespeare nut, have been since I was 13 and saw Henry V with Olivier. So I called Rafe and asked him, “What play are you doing next year?” and he said, “Hamlet.” I said, “Perfect, that’s the one I want to do.”

I was initially attracted to the film because of the Hamlet hook, but when I watched it, I saw so much more. What did you know before you decided to do it, and what surprised you?

MEL STUART: I went there planning to do Hamlet, but it turned out, they were playing baseball to learn to be American citizens, they were simulating a money economy in the classroom, they were reading the most incredible books. Rafe was guiding them through the great books of our literature.

Fifth-graders.

MEL STUART: Fifth-graders reading Catcher in the Rye and Malcolm X, or Huckleberry Finn. You see the effect it has on these kids. I only wish that my own children could have gone to Rafe’s class. I made the film because I want the whole nation to know what Rafe can do with children that don’t have the background and the money that other children in this country have.

Rafe, in the film and in your book you mention a turning point, when you realized that you were a pretty good teacher and you were a teacher kids liked, but that you weren’t making the difference you needed to make.

RAFE ESQUITH: You’re too kind. The truth is, I was failing, because the real measure of a teacher is not that the kids like him or that they do well at the tests at the end of the year. The real measure is where are these children five years from now, 10 years from now? What am I giving to these children that they’ll be using for the rest of their lives?

One night when I was really ready to give it up, my wife Barbara said, “Rafe you ought to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird.” In Atticus Finch, I found the model I was looking for. Early in that book his children ask, “Are we gonna win?” Finch says no. But he doesn’t run from the courtroom, he goes in and fights the fight anyway, because he believes strongly in Tom Robinson’s innocence and he’s going to speak the truth.

My classroom is that courtroom. I feel all the time that I’m a very ordinary human being, but what separates good teachers from other teachers is good teachers don’t give up. I tell the children not to give up. That means I can’t give up either.

Late in the documentary, you say, “I’ve won these awards, I’ve written this book, I’ve got this documentary, I could make more money doing something else, and I’ve been here 20 years now … But for 20 years I’ve been telling them this is important. For me to walk away would make me a hypocrite.”

RAFE ESQUITH: Well, we always say, “No child left behind.” I see a lot of teachers now who win an award or two, and they write their book and they get their website, and then they leave. Talk about no child left behind, they leave them all behind! I can’t do that.

What are some of the things you’ve come up with over the years? It’s looks like a totally unique world inside your classroom.

RAFE ESQUITH: You’re right, we’ve created a different culture — a culture that’s different from the neighborhood in which these kids live, a culture different from society. We do it through character development. We have the children develop a code of behavior. Right now I’m not in the classroom, but I’ll come back in an hour after I’m done talking to you, and the kids will be behaving perfectly because they don’t behave for me. A lot of children try to please adults. I don’t want them to please me, I’m a very small part of the story.

The real heroes in this film are the children who have the courage to walk the path that I’ve laid out for them. That means a push for excellence. Our society doesn’t value excellence, and I don’t think excellence is a switch you can throw on at 3 p.m.: Hey, now it’s Shakespeare time, now we’re gonna be excellent! I want them to have a code of excellence in the way they approach their mathematics and their literature and the way they write and the way they speak in front of people, and the way they play baseball and travel on the road. It’s not a dog-and-pony show, it’s a way of life in Room 56.

If I were a young teacher at your school, and I said, “My God, I walked through the neighborhood to get here this morning, I’m looking at what’s around here, I’m looking at the way kids were out in the parking lot, how can I possibly do what you do?” How do you transform them? Why do your kids buy in?

RAFE ESQUITH: First of all, lesson one, you are the role model, and you have to be the person you want the children to be. I want my kids to work hard, so I’ve got to be the hardest worker they’ve ever seen. It’s not a question of preaching. I’m at that school at 6 in the morning, and right away, the kids go, “My God, this guy is really gonna work hard, so I have to work hard.” I don’t raise my voice to these kids, I don’t humiliate these children. I’m a tough teacher, but if I want them to be nice to each other, I better be the nicest guy they ever met. So rule number one, be the person you want the children to be.

Mel, I’ve heard you say that this is one of your favorite two or three projects of your career. That’s saying a lot. Why?

MEL STUART: Number one, it is the most cinéma vérité film I’ve ever made. Nothing was re-enacted. Everything was the only take. Rafe has that incredible quality which he’s shy to admit, he can talk and walk at the same time. In our business it’s very rare to find somebody who can go about doing what he’s doing and still talk to you. He’s doing his business, and the kids don’t care and the class goes on, and you have a tremendous sense of reality. I never had to ask Rafe a question twice, the right answer always came out of his mouth. It’s a very rare art, and Rafe has it. There were no re-takes.

How did you choose to shoot it with Rafe occasionally speaking directly to camera?

MEL STUART: No, he doesn’t talk to camera. He talks to me, and that’s a very important difference. I don’t want him to talk to the camera, because first of all, it’s a very hard thing to look at a camera and be yourself. Most of the time Rafe’s walking this way and that around the classroom, and he has a thought and just hits me with it. If he hit the camera with it, it would look false. It’s just the thoughts coming out of his head, but always on the nose.

And we mustn’t forget how important all the children are in this. There was a moment when I was interviewing the little boy who plays Hamlet, and I ask him, “What did you think of Huckleberry Finn? What kind of experience was that for you?” And he said, “Well, I thought the characters were interesting. They held a mirror up to nature.” A 10-year-old Mexican kid just used that as a phrase. It blew me away! That was just a wonderful moment for me.

A point you make even more in your book than in the documentary, Rafe, is the value of reading above all else. In teaching to change their lives, reading is something you find enormously important.

RAFE ESQUITH: We have a Wall of Fame in my classroom. We have all the former students up who are in college now. I tell the children, there are a lot of different kinds of kids up there. There are jocks and there are artists and there are wild kids and there are shy kids. But the one thing they all have in common is they all read for pleasure and they all read well.

One of the things that’s wrong with the schools today is that in throwing basal readers at the children, and getting them to take all their tests and everything — has anybody ever asked the children how they feel about the reading program? The kids hate it. They despise the reading program. The companies will say, “Oh, but test scores are going up.” Their goals have to do with fluency and speed. My goals have to do with pleasure and passion. There’s a scene in the film when the kids are reading Huck Finn, and they’re absolutely in tears as Huck has to decide between heaven and hell, whether or not he’s going to turn Jim in ….

That is very powerful. Ten-year-olds together in a school classroom coming to a point in the book, and they cannot control their emotions.

RAFE ESQUITH: That’s what reading is supposed to be. We just finished Tom Sawyer and kids were hysterically laughing as Tom hoodwinks his friends into whitewashing the fence. My class’s reading scores are so high because my kids love to read. They read all the time. And it’s not because I’m such a good teacher, but I put great books in front of them. We forget Mark Twain’s a great product. Children read him in the 1800s.

Most kids won’t get these books until years later, if at all. And these are not just fifth graders. Most of them are either Asian or Latino, and in their homes English is not the first language.

RAFE ESQUITH: There’s a key to that also. When they get thrown Steinbeck or Twain in the eighth or ninth grade, and are told, go home and read this, many children are going to home environments where it’s just not conducive for reading. That’s why we read these books together in the class. When people say to me, gosh Rafe, this takes a long time, I say well so what? I’m not in a hurry. When I say there are no shortcuts, that’s for teachers too. We can’t look for these simplistic solutions to complicated problems.

You titled your book There are No Shortcuts. You have it spelled out on a banner in the front of your classroom. Where did that phrase come from and what does it mean to you, to your kids, and to the larger American society?

RAFE ESQUITH: I’m a learner and I once took kids to the Hollywood Bowl to see the great cellist Lynn Harrell play, and Lynn loved my class so much he pulled his kids out of private school in Beverly Hills and put them at Hobart.

There’s an endorsement!

RAFE ESQUITH: It was pretty funny to have these two white kids at Hobart. One of them wound up at Vassar and one of them wound up at Princeton, and they’re still in touch with me all the time.

We went backstage to visit Lynn and a young cellist looked up at Lynn Harrell, who’s 6 foot 5, and the little kid said, “You know, I play the cello, Mr. Harrell, but it doesn’t sound like that, how do you do it?” And Lynn just looked down and said, “Well, there are no shortcuts.” I was in about my fifth or sixth year of teaching, and I said, “Boy, that encapsulates everything I’m trying to get across to these children.”

It’s almost like a small tribe who share a certain set of iconic rules.

RAFE ESQUITH: Being in Los Angeles and loving basketball, I always used to tell the children, there’s nothing magic about Magic Johnson. This talented man worked for hundreds of thousands of hours in lonely gyms when there weren’t people cheering him on to create that magic. There are no shortcuts.

You openly tell the children you want a better life for them than the one their school, their neighborhoods or even their families offer. On field trips you put them up at hotels and feed them at restaurants. “There’s a scene in the bus on the way back from Washington, when you address them about how they feel about going back to their normal lives. What’s your thinking behind all this? Do you get flak for it?

RAFE ESQUITH: I don’t get flak for it; as a matter of fact I’ve got 60 kids showing up at 6:30 in the morning.

I meant from other teachers or politically correct folk.

RAFE ESQUITH: Sure, I teach with 125 teachers. Most of them are incredibly nice to me, and eight or 10 believe I’m the anti-Christ. And that’s OK. The best teacher who ever lived was Socrates and they killed him.

Exactly.

RAFE ESQUITH: So if they’re not shooting at me sometimes I’m probably not doing anything right. I do want a better life for these kids and surely, to live in a neighborhood where you hear gunfire at night is not the best thing to envision in your future. There are other children in America who don’t have to go to bed with that. I’m just trying to level the playing field.

“The Hobart Shakespeareans” premieres on PBS Tuesday, Sept. 6. Check your local listings for times.

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM, Los Angeles (streaming at kpfk.org), where he interviews people he believes can help create ‘a world that just might work.’

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The world prematurely accused of ignoring the vital goal of an AIDS vaccine

September 9th, 2005

The urgent need to fund the search for an AIDS vaccine at much greater expense than hitherto is being somehow overlooked, according to the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa speaking to scientists at the AIDS Vaccine International Conference in Montreal yesterday (Sept 8 Thu).

Stephen Lewis said he couldn’t explain this oversight, given the dire threat which looms over the planet.

Lewis said he can’t explain the lack of enthusiasm for the research in Canada and other developed nations.

“I don’t think the world yet realizes the carnage that is to come,” Lewis said. “I don’t think the world yet realizes the full, incomparable horror of AIDS, and its inexorable spread around the planet.”

(The full clip if you wish to read it is as follows)

Friday, September 9, 2005

Search for AIDS vaccine at risk due to lack of interest and funding: Lewis

Canadian Press

September 8, 2005

MONTREAL (CP) – The pursuit of a vaccination against AIDS is dying due to lack of funds and global commitment, according to the Canadian who is the United Nations point man on the fight against the deadly disease in Africa.

In a Tuesday evening speech to scientific researchers who are chasing a vaccine for AIDS, Stephen Lewis said the quest for a vaccine received $640 million US in funding in 2004, about half of the amount that should be dedicated to the research.

The UN Secretary General’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa pointed to recent high-level meetings on AIDS prevention where scant mention was made of the search for a vaccine.

“Your pursuit is in jeopardy,” Lewis said in prepared remarks to researchers at the AIDS Vaccine International Conference.

“Your collective voices must be heard on the funding dimensions of a vaccine. It can’t be left solely to activists. You’re the influential professionals. You should give no quarter. The world depends on it.”

Lewis was speaking at a conference organized by the Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics – a network of researchers working on clinical trials for a vaccine for AIDS and SARS. The federal government last summer pulled $34 million in funding towards the clinical trials.

Seven vaccines developed by the Canadian researchers were ready for clinical trials next year, according to the organization.

Lewis said he can’t explain the lack of enthusiasm for the research in Canada and other developed nations.

“I don’t think the world yet realizes the carnage that is to come,” Lewis said. “I don’t think the world yet realizes the full, incomparable horror of AIDS, and its inexorable spread around the planet.”

Lewis urged the scientists to emerge from their laboratories to become champions for the cause.

“The world desperately needs your voices,” he said.

© The Canadian Press 2005

Perhaps Mr. Lewis would have felt better if he had attended the invitation-only meeting at the New York Academy of Sciences a couple of months ago.

Here the top names in the AIDS vaccine effort gathered with a few close and simpatico colleagues to talk about the ongoing scientific progress and the approximate date of expected success in this urgent endeavor.

The presentations by the renowned David Ho, the short but extremely charming hero of AIDS research into protease inhibitiors who found himself on Time’s cover in the late nineties for his pioneering of this supposedly effective anti-HIV regimen, and others of his ilk revealed the answers to these questions.

First, progress was nil. Secondly, it was unlikely to amount to anything in the foreseeable future ie at least a decade if not two. Thirdly, however, the vital importance of increasing the funding devoted to this line of work could not be overlooked.

Apparently boosted by the third or monetary factor and its prospect of success, and not the first two and the prediction of continual failure, the atmosphere of bonhomie generated during the meeting reached a climax in the gathering afterwards in an adjoining room, where drinks were served.

Certainly today it seems clear that their confidence is justified and anything to do with vaccines, even something as logically haywire as an AIDS vaccine, is likely to be well funded in the future. Vaccines are viewed as the profit wave of the future by the pharmaceutical companies, and they are being fully backed by the Western governments that are increasingly their partners in this global enterprise.

Only the other day (Sep 7) Glaxo announced it will buy a Canadian vaccine maker for $1.4 billion.

Hoping to become a major supplier of flu shots to the United States, GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday that it would pay $1.4 billion to acquire ID Biomedical, a Canadian vaccine maker.

The deal comes a week after Novartis offered $4.5 billion for the 58 percent of Chiron it does not already own, which would put Novartis in the vaccine business. So far, Chiron has rejected that offer as too low.

The takeover activity could reflect a change of perception among pharmaceutical companies, many of which have long regarded vaccines as an unattractive business.

“You’re seeing the big pharma companies recognizing the value of the vaccine business,” Anthony F. Holler, chief executive of ID Biomedical, said in an interview.

(Here is the full Times report:)

The New York Times

September 8, 2005

Glaxo to Acquire Canadian Vaccine Maker for $1.4 Billion

By ANDREW POLLACK

Hoping to become a major supplier of flu shots to the United States, GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday that it would pay $1.4 billion to acquire ID Biomedical, a Canadian vaccine maker.

The deal comes a week after Novartis offered $4.5 billion for the 58 percent of Chiron it does not already own, which would put Novartis in the vaccine business. So far, Chiron has rejected that offer as too low.

The takeover activity could reflect a change of perception among pharmaceutical companies, many of which have long regarded vaccines as an unattractive business.

“You’re seeing the big pharma companies recognizing the value of the vaccine business,” Anthony F. Holler, chief executive of ID Biomedical, said in an interview.

The flu vaccine business in particular seems to have become more attractive as shortages have lifted prices and concern has grown about a possible pandemic stemming from bird flu.

Last year the United States experienced a severe shortage of flu shots when Chiron’s factory in Liverpool, England, was shut down because of sanitary problems. Since Chiron was one of only two major suppliers, the shutdown deprived the United States of about half the expected supply of 100 million doses.

The supply outlook for this winter is still somewhat uncertain and will depend on how many doses Chiron can deliver.

In response to the shortage and federal efforts to recruit new suppliers, both GlaxoSmithKline and ID Biomedical had already been moving to enter the American market.

Glaxo, which already sells flu vaccine in dozens of countries, won United States approval last week but will sell only about eight million doses in this country this year because of capacity constraints at its factory in Dresden, Germany. Some of Glaxo’s vaccine was used on an emergency basis in this country last year.

ID Biomedical has been aiming for United States approval next year.

David Stout, president of pharmaceutical operations at Glaxo, said the acquisition “gives us immediate access to some capacity, state-of-the-art facilities, and product that is close to approval in the U.S.” He said owning the ID Biomedical factory would also allow Glaxo to produce bird flu vaccine, if necessary, for a possible pandemic.

Glaxo’s takeover of ID Biomedical would reduce the number of potential vaccine suppliers by one. The deal, however, and the possible acquisition of Chiron by Novartis, would put the American supply into the hands of financially stronger companies. The leading supplier of flu shots to the United States is Sanofi-Aventis.

Glaxo has said it planned to more than double the capacity at its German factory to 80 million doses by 2008. ID Biomedical, which now sells about 8 million doses a year to the Canadian government, is expanding capacity to about 70 million doses by 2007, with much of that output destined for the United States.

In an all-cash deal Glaxo has agreed to pay 35 Canadian dollars a share, or about $29.50. ID shares rose $3.46, to $29.46 yesterday.

The agreement does not preclude another company from making a higher offer, but Glaxo would have the right to match such an offer.

Biotech Monthly, an investment newsletter, said ID, which is based in Vancouver, was getting far less, relative to sales, than Novartis offered for Chiron. But Geoffrey C. Porges, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, disagreed, saying the relatively higher price offered for ID would pressure Novartis to raise its offer for Chiron.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Then we have the plan announced yesterday by four European nations to raise $4 billion on the bond market to enable drug companies to vaccinate the world’s poor children.

The new funds would roughly double the resources of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, an umbrella group of countries, international organizations, vaccine industry representatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

(Here is the Times story by Celia Dugger:)

The New York Times

September 9, 2005

Billions for Vaccines for the Poor to Be Raised in Bond Markets

By CELIA W. DUGGER

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 – Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Sweden will announce an agreement on Friday to raise almost $4 billion on the bond markets for an enormously expanded use of vaccines across the developing world. The World Health Organization estimates this undertaking will save the lives of five million children over the next decade.

Commitments from some of the participating nations have been secured only in recent days.

The new funds would roughly double the resources of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, an umbrella group of countries, international organizations, vaccine industry representatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the past five years, the alliance has financed the immunization of 78 million children and prevented more than a million child deaths, the health organization estimates.

The alliance’s board has already approved ambitious programs for 2006 to expand measles coverage in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as to help eradicate polio worldwide and increase the use of maternal and neonatal tetanus vaccines. These plans can go forward now that the new financing has been secured.

“We hope this pilot will demonstrate the feasibility and the power of this financing mechanism, and we look to gain more support from more countries,” said Paul Kissack, a spokesman for the British treasury.

The United States has declined to join the vaccine plan. Bush administration officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but said earlier this year that the long-term commitment to raise money through the bond market is not consistent with the annual appropriations process in Congress. The United States provides $60 million to $70 million a year to the alliance.

“We hope if this process is successful that the United States will reconsider its position,” said Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, the vaccine alliance’s executive secretary.

British officials have said they hope the new resources will help the world reach the goal adopted unanimously five years ago at the United Nations to reduce child deaths by two-thirds by 2015. More than 170 government leaders will gather in New York next week to assess progress in meeting the antipoverty objectives they set in 2000.

The pact marks the first time rich nations have used pledges of increased aid to back government bonds as a means of financing a major development program. This so-called international finance facility is the brainchild of Gordon Brown, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer.

Under the plan, income from the sale of the bonds would be provided to the global vaccine alliance to pay for vaccinations over a period of 10 years. The five participating nations would pay off the bonds over 20 years. The two largest donors are Britain, which has pledged to cover 35 percent of the cost, and France, which is covering a quarter.

The money will be used to purchase vaccines and bicycles to transport them, as well as to rehabilitate health clinics and pay health workers to do the immunizing in remote areas. Leaders of the alliance hope the vaccine plan will strengthen basic health services in poor countries, not just immunization efforts.

Yesterday, also, we had the front page story of the New York Times helpfully (for the cause of drumming up business for vaccines in general) telling us that it is for lack of a vaccine that a dreadful virus (Japanese encephalitis) is ravaging India’s poor, accompanied by a vivid picture of a wide eyed victim all skin and bones.

All were victims of the viral disease known as Japanese encephalitis, which causes high fever, aches, eventual coma and often death. It has struck this region with a particular fury this year, shining a harsh light on India’s inability to halt an entirely preventable disease that has killed or stunted some of its most vulnerable citizens for the last quarter-century – the young rural poor.

The director general of the state government’s health department said Wednesday that since July 1 the death toll had reached nearly 500, and those were only cases reported to government hospitals across the state. Reuters on Wednesday gave a figure of 600.

(Here is the full Times story by Somini Sengupta:)

The New York Times

September 8, 2005

Virus Ravaging India’s Poor Stirs Call for Counterattack

By SOMINI SENGUPTA

LUCKNOW, India, Sept. 7 – Government ministers descended on this storied North Indian state capital on Wednesday to kick off an ambitious rural health initiative. The city’s roads were freshly tarred, and banners hung along the main boulevard to welcome its chief guest: former President Bill Clinton.

But across town in a government hospital ward with paint peeling off its walls lay small children clinging to life. One, in her father’s arms, could barely swallow spoonfuls of milk. Another had been unconscious for 10 days. A third could not breathe on his own.

All were victims of the viral disease known as Japanese encephalitis, which causes high fever, aches, eventual coma and often death. It has struck this region with a particular fury this year, shining a harsh light on India’s inability to halt an entirely preventable disease that has killed or stunted some of its most vulnerable citizens for the last quarter-century – the young rural poor.

The director general of the state government’s health department said Wednesday that since July 1 the death toll had reached nearly 500, and those were only cases reported to government hospitals across the state. Reuters on Wednesday gave a figure of 600.

More than 1,500 suspected cases of Japanese encephalitis have been reported so far, according to the state.

And while the number of suspected cases is considerably higher than in past years – five times as high as the counts in the last few years at the King George Medical University hospital here, for instance – critics said that the rise should be no surprise to government health officials and that the misery inflicted could have been significantly reduced.

This year, only 200,000 of the 7 million children who needed to be immunized in high-risk areas of Uttar Pradesh were vaccinated, and other ways of preventing its spread – keeping pigs, which harbor the virus, at a safe distance from people, and spraying against mosquitoes, which ferry it to humans – were apparently inadequately pursued.

“There is gross apathy of the government,” said T. N. Dhole, a professor of microbiology at the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences here, fresh from a tour of some of the most badly affected district hospitals. “You could have reduced mortality if you had done a little homework before.”

Even as the rural health initiative begins, the United Nations released its annual human development report on Wednesday, showing unsettling rates of infant mortality in this country.

For every 1,000 Indian children, 63 die, according to the report, a rate worse than neighboring and far poorer Bangladesh. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous province, is one of the four Indian states with the worst rates of infant mortality.

Over all, India spends less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product on public health; the government has pledged to increase that share.

The encephalitis virus grows in wading birds as well as pigs; children are often the mosquitoes’ main victims.

Approved vaccines are in short supply worldwide, though another vaccine, derived from the cells of hamster kidneys, is widely available but yet to be approved by the World Health Organization. India says it plans to conduct clinical test trials of that vaccine, but that will not happen in time to help the children who need it now.

In Uttar Pradesh, the central government health minister, Dr. Ambubani Ramadoss, said in an interview here on Wednesday that he would encourage state health officials to mount a more aggressive spraying operation. State health officials have said health department staff members and vehicles, which could have been deployed to spray high-risk areas and monitor Japanese encephalitis, were deployed for local election duty in July and August – the crucial mosquito-breeding months.

Pigs are reared primarily by the caste groups, mostly poor and landless, who make up an important source of votes for the state’s ruling party. “Some political problems,” is how the state’s director general of health and medicine, O. P. Singh, put it. “They will try to separate next year.”

He was cheerful about the challenge. Next year, he said, the government would procure additional vaccines. “We will get vaccinations,” he said. “We will do it.”

In Gorakhpur, the eastern Uttar Pradesh epicenter of the epidemic, not a single corner of the three encephalitis wards in the local government hospital was free of misery and stink. Children were hooked up to nasal feeding tubes and oxygen tanks, and distraught parents camped out on the floor. In most beds, two children had been squeezed in. Additional beds spilled out into the hallways. Medical personnel have poured in from outlying areas to help.

On Wednesday alone, 30 new patients were wheeled in.

Dr. Ramadoss said it was primarily the state government’s responsibility to stop the epidemic. Then he corrected himself. “It’s a collective responsibility but implementation is for the state,” he said. “The state government has to be more proactive.”

Dr. Ramadoss pointed out that India was now a destination for medical tourism, its private clinics drawing foreigners seeking medical treatment.

By the time children arrived at the hospital at King George Medical University, they were either unconscious or suffering from seizures, or had lost some of their motor skills. Parents said they had watched their children deteriorate as they went from village doctor to local hospital to here.

As a rule, rural hospitals in this country are in short supply of oxygen, medicine and qualified staff.

“If you caught a child early on and gave him supportive treatment, yes, you would save some children,” said Rashmi Kumar, a pediatrician at the hospital. Of the six children who were in one of the encephalitis wards, she found it hard to say how many would survive.

The one ray of hope was Brijesh, 6, who had stood on his own and, holding his father’s fingers, walked a few steps along the hospital floor.

He was running a fever of 102 when he was admitted a week ago. He had had two seizures that very day. Before the fever gripped him, his father, Matadin, said, he would sprint across the village at the sound of a television set. Today he could barely whisper into his father’s ears. “Let’s go home,” he said.

Soon enough, Brijesh will be able walk like a normal little boy. But, the doctors say, his cognitive abilities might never fully rebound.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Gorakhpur for this article.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

We are not here inclined to question that there is such a virus attack in India and that vaccines may help repel it, since the story gives specific symptoms, and numbers of victims, and generally enough medical facts to make sense and fit with standard medical principles. But nowadays we retain a certain wary tendency to examine such stories in detail for such factors before swallowing them whole.

The reason is our standing familiarity with the extreme professional gullibility of correspondents for the Times and other respected media outlets when they are officially informed by the medical-scientific fraternity of a new viral threat, most famously in the case of AIDS, and perhaps in the case of SARS, mad cow disease and other slightly suspect tales of the modern virus hunting mania.

“AIDS repeats its dreadful patterns across this continent.”

One perfect example of the media gullibility we have in mind in AIDS was the report last night carried by the BBC on Namibia. The correspondent was a tall, baby faced, dark haired young Englishman named Barnaby, who one must say seemed unsuitably rosy faced and well fed as he intoned his dread story of local kids orphaned by parents who have “died of AIDS”.

Handsome in khakis and a billowing blue shirt, the kind sold on Jermyn Street for more money that would feed the African children he is covering for a year, Barnaby introduces us to one of six or eight children from a family that has lost both parents to “AIDS”, and is now beset by the loss of status and social support that brings, according to a report that we assume is accurate in that respect, at least.

“Sometimes my brothers and sister cry,” says the child who can’t be more than ten or eleven, who has big brown eyes. “When they go without food at night they know something is wrong. It makes me so upset.” The camera lingers on his face as his big brown eyes turn up to the faces of his listeners and his mouth turns down in despair.

They cut to a picture of a couple of grass roofed huts while Barnaby continues, in the singsong tone of personal urgency seemingly patented by British news reporters, to tell us that “their uncle is trying to force them out to take their house. Other relatives have stolen their frming tools and animals.”

His tone turns ominous: “African society, resilent and compassionate, is cracking under the strain of this disease.”

“The good news is that fewer Namibians are catching HIV today than they were a few years ago. The bad news is that damage may have already been done and the numbers of deaths will continue to rise and rise in the years ahead so that by 2020, according to the UN, more one third of all Namibian children will be orphans.”

The image switches to a group of children sitting on the ground attended to by a woman in a red shirt, black skirt and headkerchief who feeds them what looks like blue corn mash in a bowl.

“At a nearby school a sad group of orphans are taken aside each day and given the extra food because there is none in their broken homes and without it they are two hungry to learn,. The women who cook are volunteers like Numborga who can’t bear to see a generation slipping away.

The camera lingers on the children’s face close up as they lick their fingers of the last vestiges of a portion before taking another, their big brown eyes frowning as the camera and presumably the visitors peer at them behind the bars of their social zoo.

Then we cut to the woman in the red shirt again walking straightbacked through a field of long golden grass with her bowl on her head. She is curtseyed to by an old woman who then shakes her hand with a triple grip in the manner one had assumed was invented in the US inner city.

“Walking in the afternoon Namborka takes more food to another destitute household. Marinconga is 75 years old. She should be resting in the last years of her life., Instead she is caring for ten grandchildren because most of her children are dead. She says she has sleepless nights worrying about the future, and what will happen to Mateus who is eight, or Tengi who is six, or to any of them when their grandmother goes. “

All the while the camera is lingering on the big brown eyes of the children looking glum and trapped by the predicament into which they have been plunged, socially and mentally, though one gets the impression they have not made much sense out of any of it yet. (One can sympathize – they have lost their parents to a disease which is labeled AIDS and therefore presumably is not effectively treated if treated at all, and now they are threatened with loss of all possessions and all care except charity, while simultaneously being placed on the world stage via BBC World News.)

Then the windup. Barnaby Phillips, reaching for his starkest, most sombre tone, recites his windup line with the declamatory intonation of a poet and a Cassandra: “AIDS repeats its dreadful patterns across this continent.”

But then in the twinkle of an eye he returns to the upbeat, non committal tone of a professionally objective reporter ready for his next assignment as he signs off. “Barnaby Phillips, BBC News, Northern Namibia.”

(BBC World News Broadcast of Tue Sep 13, carried on Channel 21, WLIW, New York City )

Since the mainstream scientific AIDS literature as we have shown in the last few posts shows that the fantasy of heterosexual AIDS on which this story rests is scientifically, socially and sexually impossible, one wonders exactly what the diseases are in Namibia that might singly or together be responsible for the deaths of the parents of these Namibian orphans, and whether the national death rate shows any sign of change in the last decade, or has remained more or less constant as it has in South Africa, where “AIDS” is supposedly rampant.

In other words, the first place we would look would be the total of Namibian orphans over the last years. Have they multiplied or not? And if so, what diseases would that reflect, if “AIDS” was erased from the picture as spurious, as the mainstream AIDS literature shows it must be?

Even if one can’t blame the professionally gullible Barnaby for simply following the mainstream line as far as his young human exhibits go in the story of Namibian AIDS, as it is being scripted by the ever resourceful statisticians at the UN, can one perhaps blame his editors, or at least whomever the BBC has on staff or as a consultant advising them on medical matters, for not developing a more judicious view of Africa that the constant reiteration of this picture of the continent as a medical basket case blamed on “AIDS”?

That is, assuming that the BBC has medical or scientific advisors of some kind. On the basis of this kind of fairy tale, one wonders. If they do, then clearly they are not up on their research. The whole issue and debate about the viability of the global AIDS epidemic as founded on heterosexual transmission is no secret. It has been reported in Nature Medicine (Vol 10 Number 5 May 2004) and even in the popular press (Discover Magazine Vol 24 No. 06 1 June 2003).

Perhaps they were misled by the patently absurd efforts of the man who discovered the difficulty, Pennsylvania based consultant David Gisselquist, to blame it all on dirty needles used in the African health care system, which the UN in the Lancet and angry African medical authorities have dismissed as rubbish.

With both sides in that dispute calling each other racist, it is high time for cooler heads to admit that it is the heterosexual AIDS pandemic in Africa and everywhere else that is rubbish, as the heterosexual transmission rate of 1 in 1000 that everyone agrees on shows without the need for further analysis (see earlier posts).

But of course, at this stage that would be like the Jesuits questioning the existence of God – too clever by half.

Air conditioning for igloos

And as to the potential efficacy of an AIDS vaccine, we wonder when that will be questioned by the mainstream, since the very concept, as we have pointed out in previous posts, makes no sense at all. Vaccines are designed to prime the human body with antibodies, or rev up the tendency to create antibodies rapidly, to the agent they are designed to thwart.

Yet those counted as “AIDS” patients are precisely those who test positive for HIV antibodies, not the virus, which is mostly untraceable even in those with declining immune systems unless you use a very special method called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which can infinitely multiply the few residual molecules present.

In other words, the vaccine hunters, anxious to help “AIDS patients” fight off HIV, are trying in sophisticated ways to develop some way of vaccinating them to create HIV antibodies, when all the patients harbor in their blood is HIV antibodies, and quite enough of them.

This is rather like trying to work out how to get a shipload of ice through to the North Pole.

Small wonder that every year or two we hear of investor hopes being dashed as one vaccine initiative after another proves a cul-de-sac.

One has to question if the brains of all those involved in this absurd initiative have stopped working altogether. After all, supposing one did succeed in developing a vaccine that provoked the human body to produce antibodies to HIV. This is only what HIV itself would do if injected into the body, so why not do it directly? Just inject people with HIV. This would ensure that after six weeks they would have a plentiful supply of antibodies and a virtually untraceable residue of HIV (the scientific literature shows that there would be one active HIV per 10,000 human T cells, the immune system cells it supposedly destroys in some manner than has not yet been discovered even after two decades).

Well, one might answer, that negligible amount of HIV is the deadly agent that one must avoid at all costs, so an artificial method of creating the antibodies to it would be preferable.

Fine. But one would still end up with patients all of whom would “test positive for HIV”, since the HIV tests of both kinds are for the presence of antibodies, not the HIV itself.

If the vaccine was applied throughout the US, the entire population would test positive for HIV. And according to the Alice in Wonderland logic of AIDS as currently purveyed by the authorities, that would make them all candidates for medication with the current regimen of antiviral pills.

Since as has been pointed out in previous posts, this regimen brings with it the unpleasant side effects of large lumps and fatty humps, general debilitation, kidney and liver damage and in the end death, contrary to the fantasy of the uninformed that it enables patients to “live normal lives”, this would seem to be contraindicated for future public policy.

So the expensive efforts of the AIDS vaccine brigade will be by definition useless even if they succeed.

Such is the conclusion of any logical analysis of the situation. But as so often in the Lewis Carroll school of science and medicine that promulgates AIDS, logic is not the point.

That is why we confidently expect that the AIDS vaccine effort will be lavishly funded through the next two decades, just as the drinks party at the New York Academy of Sciences celebrated.

Benjamin Franklin comments on the AIDS dispute

September 1st, 2005

“If you will not hear Reason, he will surely rap your knuckles’, as Poor Richards says.” – Father Abraham in “The Way to Wealth”.


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