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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.”


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