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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

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Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. - Samuel Johnson

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. – Mark Twain

Although science has led to the generally high living standards that most of the industrialized world enjoys today, the astounding discoveries underpinning them were made by a tiny number of courageous, out-of-step, visionary, determined, and passionate scientists working to their own agenda and radically challenging the status quo. – Donald W. Braben

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Theory of intelligent design disproven – Onion

December 28th, 2005

According to the most reliable news source on the planet, a lesser known theory of intelligent design was exploded by the actions of the Dover School board this year.

Theory of Intelligent School-Board Design Disproven

The Onion

December 28, 2005 | Issue 41•52

DOVER, PA—The controversial “theory of intelligent school-board design,” which holds that local school boards are “imbued by their creator with minds of irreducible complexity,” was decisively disproven by the actions of the Dover School Board this week. “The ignorant and incompetent decisions of this school board clearly indicate that their opinions are not informed by any sort of higher intelligence,” said Dover citizen Hank Jervis, one of thousands of locals currently mobilizing to oust the current school board in the next scheduled elections. “Obviously, there is no all-knowing, all-powerful superintendent guiding their demonstrably incorrect policies.” Critics of the theory argue that the new evidence supports the alternate view that school boards, instead of being created perfect and without error, rather evolved over the eons out of a morass of political, social, and religious special-interest groups, some of which are better-suited to adapt to change than others.

Christmas present for the Libyan held doctors and nurses – a retrial

December 27th, 2005

The spirit of Christmas has smiled on the Bulgarian nurses in Libya who were waiting to be executed for looking after children who tested positive for the “AIDS virus”. They are to get a new trial, and their death sentence has been lifted.

Libya lifts ‘HIV medics’ sentence

(BBC) Libya’s supreme court has overturned death sentences on six foreign health workers who were charged with infecting Libyan children with HIV. It has also ordered a retrial of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor in a lower court.

The six were sentenced to death in May 2004 for infecting 426 children with the HIV virus in the city of Benghazi. They have always maintained they are innocent. Bulgaria, the US and the European Union had urged their release.

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This comes after Bulgaria went along with the blackmail request of Libyan authorities to trade the lives of these innocents for a sum of money large enough to balance the penalty Libya was forced to pay for its useless and appalling killing of hundreds of airline passengers in the Lockerbie downing.

Presumably if the funds get transferred Libya will eventually stop persecuting these unfortunate angels of mercy whose only mistake was to trust the Libyan authorities.

Even the HIV=AIDS crowd argues that it was unhygienic conditions at the hospitals that are the real problem being covered up in this diversion. But without the HIV=AIDS superstition (for that is what it is, according to the current scientific review literature) there would be no belief system to back any accusation at all, of course.

But perhaps one shouldn’t blame the Libyan officials entirely. The original New York Times report from October (below) is attached to remind us how the ignorance and superstition of the Libyan prosecutors merely mirrors the scientific confusion in the medical minds at work in the hospitals of the country, as advised by the WHO and Luc Montagnier.

Perhaps the case will turn out to have a silver lining after all – the arguments presented in the court case, if they are translated and published for the world to read, may expose this confusion and the inconsistency of the HIV?AIDS paradigm to the public gaze more clearly than ever before.

After all, lawyers in court deal in reason and evidence and it seems likely that the questionable nature of the HIV?AIDS paradigm may emerge under the spotlight, and that at least one or two of the representatives of the Western press in attendance may notice.

On the other hand their editors may have no stomach for that line of enquiry, even if it is called to their attention. And the source – Libya – is already tainted by its absurd prosecution of the Bulgarians.

A complete report from UPI is Nurses to be re-tried in Libya:

Analysis: Nurses to be re-tried in Libya

UPI – Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Date: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 11:27:59 AM EST By ROLAND FLAMINI, UPI Chief International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) — Later this week, officials from the United States, Britain, Bulgaria and Libya are expected to reach agreement on a compensation package that is the reverse image of a similar settlement from five years ago, even if in very different circumstances. The negotiations in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, are due to resume Dec 28 to agree on financial assistance for the families of 426 Libyan children infected with HIV/AIDS in a hospital in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, seven or eight years ago, the exact date being a key factor in the ensuing court case.

The amount mentioned in the international media with a reasonable degree of reliability is $10 million per family. From all accounts the money will be paid by Bulgaria, with European Union support, because five Bulgarian nurses working in Libya were originally tried and sentenced to death before a firing squad in connection with the mass infection. Britain is negotiating on the EU’s behalf: It holds the rotating EU presidency.

The mirror image is derived the fact that slightly more than a year ago the Libyan government agreed to a $2.7 billion compensation settlement to the American and other families of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which crashed on the Scottish village of Lockerbie. The agreement worked out as roughly $10 million per family. Two Libyan officials were indicted on charges of planning the terrorist attack.

This week’s expected deal comes after the Libyan Supreme Court on Sunday overturned the death sentences of the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor and ordered a new trial having found “irregularities” in the old one. Although the lower court trial had been widely criticized by observers as a travesty of justice, and the Bulgarians claimed that some confessions had been obtained under considerable duress, the decision of the country’s highest court had been far from a foregone conclusion, and might even have been something of a surprise, particularly for its speed and clarity. An informed source said the court seemed to have acted independently and was not following “a directive from the tent,” that is from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who likes to spend time in a Bedouin tent in the desert.

U.S. Department of State spokesman Justin Higgins welcomed the verdict overturning the death sentences Sunday and said, “A way should be found to allow the medics to return to Bulgaria and Palestine.” In Sofia, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov said, “We hope that the swiftness and the effectiveness demonstrated by the Libyan courts…will help solve the case as soon as possible.”

The case unfolded against the background of a series of important developments in Libya’s emergence from its isolation in the international community imposed by the punitive U.N. sanctions following the Lockerbie bombing.

In 1998, 19 Bulgarian nurses and two Palestinian doctors were arrested in connection with an outbreak of the HIV/AIDS virus among children in the Al Fatah hospital in Benghazi. A year later, 13 of the Bulgarians were released, but six nurses — one was later acquitted — and a Palestinian doctor were subsequently charged together with nine Libyans with deliberately infecting the 426 children with HIV-infected blood products as part of an international conspiracy managed by a foreign intelligence service.

At the time, Gadhafi was still refusing to hand over for trial under Scottish law the two officials who were alleged to have planned the Pan Am bombing. But by the time the trial began in July 2003, the situation had changed dramatically. The Lockerbie tribunal had ended with the conviction of one of the two Libyans and the acquittal of the other, and talks had begun on compensation for the families of the Pan Am 103 victims. Equally significant, Gadhafi had made his historic offer to the United States to abandon his nuclear weapons program and to renounce the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.

The international community was able to shift away from sanctions, but the trial was a road block on the way to diplomatic conciliation.

From the start, the case against the medical workers had been highly questionable, and became more so as the lower court trial progressed. Two AIDS experts, Luc Montagnier and Vittorio Colizzi, testified the virus was a rare type prevalent in West Africa. They estimated the outbreak had started in 1997, that is, before the arrival of the Bulgarian medical workers, when an infected child was brought in for treatment of another condition. Poor standards of hygiene in the hospital had led to an infection of the blood product subsequently used on other children. But in May 2004, the six medical workers were found guilty by the Benghazi court and sentenced to death before a firing squad.

The verdict produced a wave of international protest, and a flurry of diplomatic activity by the EU and Washington. Libya was anxious to find a way out of the impasse, but the case had generated much emotion in Libya. The families of the affected children — 50 young AIDS victims have since died — had organized, and were demanding the conviction of the Bulgarian nurses. Another problem was that Benghazi, a traditional rival of Tripoli, resented any attempt by the central government to overturn the verdict. At one point, Bulgarian media reported Libyan and other Arab officials had urged Sofia to demonstrate its support for the Arab world by withdrawing its support of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. The Bulgarians refused to pull out of the U.S.-led coalition, and kept their military contingent in Iraq. “I would not like to think that the Bulgarian position on the Iraq crisis will influence relations between Bulgaria and Libya,” President Purvanov said at the time.

When Libya first proposed compensation to the victims as a way of easing the public opposition, the Bulgarians saw it as blood money and an implied admission the nurses were guilty. Still, discussions went ahead involving the Moammar Gadhafi Foundation, which is run by the leader’s son Seif al-Islam, on the one hand, and Bulgaria, the EU, and the United States on the other. With Sunday’s Supreme Court verdict in effect taking the process back to square one, the question of the nurses’ responsibility has been separated from the tragedy of the children and the issue of compensation, as the Bulgarians had wanted.

There was speculation Tuesday that following the Supreme Court’s severe public criticism of the government’s case, the prosecutors may decide not to insist on a new trial, and the Bulgarians will be quietly released. Yet another possibility is that a new trial will be held outside Libya.

But the Supreme Court’s verdict removes another in the series of leftover problems standing in the way of full resumption of diplomatic relations between Washington and Libya that are in any case wanting only the exchange of ambassadors. It also brings Gadhafi closer to a new relationship with the world.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

All rights reserved.

Libyan Court Delays H.I.V. Case Verdict:

December 23, 2001

Libyan Court Delays H.I.V. Case Verdict

A Libyan court postponed its verdict today in the case of six Bulgarians and a Palestinian, all doctors and nurses, accused of injecting 393 children with H.I.V.-contaminated blood.

It was the second time in four months that the judges had postponed their verdict. They were originally scheduled to hand down a ruling in September.

The chairman of the three-judge panel said the postponement was necessary ”to review the files of evidence further.” The verdict is now scheduled for Feb. 17, he said.

The indictment said the infection was part of a conspiracy by foreign intelligence to undermine Libya’s security and its role in the Arab world and Africa.

One of the defense lawyers for the group criticized the move.

”The adjournment creates additional tension and has a bad effect on the health of the defendants,” the lawyer, Vladimir Sheitanov, told the Bulgarian news agency BTA from the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The defendants have been in custody since early 1999.

The five Bulgarian nurses, a Bulgarian doctor and a Palestinian doctor have said they are not guilty of charges of murder and conspiracy.

Prosecutors charged them with giving blood contaminated with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, to 393 children at Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi. Twenty-three children reportedly developed AIDS and died.

If convicted, they could be condemned to death.

Nine Libyans are also on trial in the case, charged with negligence.

The long-running trial, which began in February 1999, has drawn international criticism.

Critics charge that Libya may be trying to divert attention from horrendous conditions at state-run hospitals. The defense lawyer, Othman el-Bezanti, told the court that the infections stemmed from poor hygiene at the hospital and the reuse of syringes.

Bulgaria accused Libya of holding a political trial and repeatedly called for an independent team of international experts to study the case and testify. The court refused to allow expert opinion from Switzerland and France.

The human rights group Amnesty International said there were ”serious irregularities” in pretrial proceedings.

Many Bulgarian doctors and engineers work in Libya, where salaries are higher than in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian foreign minister, Solomon Pasi, was in Tripoli today, but the Bulgarian Embassy denied that he had come to hear the verdict.

Bulgaria said it welcomed the court’s decision to delay the verdict.

”For us, the delay is encouraging as it means that as of today there is no solid evidence that could warrant the most severe sentences,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

The delay ”means the court is considering all facts seriously and the door remains open for a favorable outcome,” the spokeswoman said.

Justice Minister Anton Stankov, a former judge, agreed.

”This is a positive sign,” he said. ”From my experience I know that long delays are always favorable for the defendants. We view the court’s decision for a new delay as a sign of its determination to uncover the truth.”

* Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Here is the long New York Times article from October 17, Time Is Short for Bulgarian Nurses Facing Death in Libya:

NYTimes

FOREIGN DESK

Time Is Short for Bulgarian Nurses Facing Death in Libya

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL; MATTHEW BRUNWASSER CONTRIBUTED REPORTING FOR THIS ARTICLE. ( International Herald Tribune ) 1117 words

Published: October 17, 2005

In 1998, at a time when her country was mired in hyperinflation, Valya Chervenyashka left her rural Bulgarian village and went to work as a nurse in Benghazi, Libya, for $250 a month, to pay for her daughters’ college educations.

Today, Ms. Chervenyashka and four other Bulgarian nurses, as well as a Palestinian doctor whose family moved to Libya in 1967, are under death sentence in a Libyan jail and could face a firing squad. They are accused of intentionally infecting more than 400 hospitalized Libyan children with the AIDS virus, in order, according to the initial indictment, to undermine Libyan state security.

They were also charged with working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

”Nurses from little towns in Bulgaria acting as agents of Mossad?” said Antoanetta Ouzounova, 28, one of Ms. Chervenyashka’s two daughters. ”It all sounds funny and absurd until you realize your mother could die for it.” Although the motive of subversion has been dropped, the death sentence stands. The Libyan Supreme Court is to hear the nurses’ final appeal on Nov. 15.

With that date approaching, President Georgi Parvanov of Bulgaria plans to raise the case at a meeting with President Bush in Washington on Monday, Bulgarian officials say. International AIDS specialists, including Dr. Luc Montagnier, who discovered the AIDS virus, have traveled to Libya to study the situation and have testified that the children were infected as a result of poor sanitary practices at the hospital, Al Fateh Children’s Hospital, in Benghazi. The nurses have testified that they were tortured in the months after their arrest in 1999.

In a handwritten 2003 declaration to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, one, Snezhana Dimitrova, described part of the torture. ”They tied my hands behind my back,” she wrote. ”Then they hung me from a door. It feels like they are stretching you from all sides. My torso was twisted and my shoulders were dislocated from their joints from time to time. The pain cannot be described. The translator was shouting, ‘Confess or you will die here.”’

For seven years the nurses’ plight has simmered on the back burner of international politics, especially since Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons in 2003.

Last year, even as Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission, were protesting the case, the commission invited Colonel Qaddafi to Brussels for lunch, and the United States lifted the trade embargo against Libya.

But with time running out, negotiations to secure the nurses’ release are ”not moving well,” Ivailo Kalfin, the Bulgarian foreign minister, said in a recent interview here.

Solomon Passy, leader of the Committee on Foreign Policy of the Bulgarian National Assembly and a former foreign minister who has visited Libya five times on the case, said Bulgaria needed more international support, calling the nurses ”hostages.”

”The Libyans need to know they won’t get carrots, like they won’t get taken off the terrorist list, until they release the nurses,” he said. Libya remains on the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. If the nurses were Italian or British or American, some diplomats say, the case would have provoked a major international protest.

Mr. Kalfin, the foreign minister, said with a shrug, ”It is one thing when Britain raises an issue; it is another when Bulgaria raises it.”

Libyan officials have suggested that Bulgaria pay $10 million in compensation for each of the 420 children Libya accuses the nurses of infecting, according to Bulgarian and European Union diplomats, saying the families might then express forgiveness toward the nurses and ask for dismissal of the court case, a procedure permitted under Islamic law. The Libyans drew parallels to compensation payments the Libyan government agreed to make to families of the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the work of Libyan agents.

The Bulgarian government has rejected the idea, Mr. Kalfin said, adding that it was absurd to compare the nurses to terrorists, and that Bulgaria would not pay ”blood money since the nurses are not guilty.”

Still, a senior European Union diplomat, speaking of covert activities on condition of anonymity, said there had been extensive ”underground meetings” about a payment. Hoping to broker a deal, the European Union has sent diplomats and medical teams to Libya to study and consult on AIDS. It has flown dozens of children to Europe from Libya for medical treatment and held training sessions for doctors in Libya.

Bulgaria recently agreed to send Libya 20 of the 50 pieces of medical equipment it had requested, and even offered to restructure the $27 million in Libyan debt it holds.

Around the time the doctor and nurses were arrested, a team of World Health Organization doctors was dispatched to study Libya’s rapidly growing AIDS problem. Its internal report, which was provided to a reporter by an official, said the factor ”mainly responsible for the current epidemic” was the accidental spread of the virus in medical procedures. It added that sterile supplies and better equipment were needed.

Three years later, Dr. Montagnier was hired by Colonel Qaddafi’s son to reconstruct what had happened at Al Fateh Children’s Hospital.

”Some of the children were infected before the Bulgarian nurses even arrived, and others after they left,” Dr. Montagnier said in a recent telephone interview. He said most of the children were also infected with various subtypes of hepatitis C, which can be transmitted to children only by injection, clear evidence that ”there were many errors in hygiene in this hospital at the time.”

But at the trial, in 2004, a group of medical specialists from Benghazi disputed the Montagnier report.

Dr. Montagnier said that testimony ”contained many mistakes showing that they didn’t understand much about H.I.V.,” the virus that causes AIDS.

”The hospital,” he said, ”needed a scapegoat.”

Photos: Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were convicted in 2004 of infecting children with the AIDS virus at a hospital in Libya. At left, Ashour al-Sultani contracted the virus at the hospital in 1998 and transmitted it to his mother, Juma al-Sheikhi. (Photo by Yousef Al-Ajely/Associated Press); (Photo by Jehad Nga for The New York Times)

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company | Privacy Policy | Home | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top

Politically savvy medical columnist covers AIDS skeptics

December 20th, 2005

Independent analyst makes radical proposal

A seasoned New York based medical columnist with long experience of medical politics, Marcus Cohen, has completed a five article survey of the establishment of the HIV=AIDS paradigm over the last two decades, and concluded that the unproven theory contains too many inconsistencies to be accepted without question.

Writing in the monthly Townsend Letter, a respectable, multi page (133 pages in the new issue for Jan 2006) print and Web journal serving doctors and patients with coverage of alternative medicine, Cohen has completed five articles in a series on AIDS of which the final and latest instalment AIDS in Africa: Medical Neocolonialism? is up today on the web site of the Townsend Letter at Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients. (For full text see below – click ‘Show’ at end of post).

Cohen lives on the Upper East Side of New York, just off Fifth Avenue, and he has considerable experience of medical politics in New York State, having taken an active part in supporting the cause of Emanuel Revici, the cancer specialist who treated patients with a still unique alternative therapy.

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SPECIAL NOTE: Emanuel Revici’s therapy consisted of fatty compounds – lipids – designed to convey trace elements and minerals such as selenium to the patient, delivering high amounts with reduced potential toxicity. Revici had a long and successful career in Europe in the twenties and thirties and America from the forties to the nineties, but was persecuted by the medical authorities who mounted a legal attack on his unorthodox treatments, and took away his license. Other doctors at his center continued to administer his therapy.

Revici died at the age of 101 in 1998, but not before Cohen played a role as patient advocate in a movement which helped to restore his license in 1997, after winning over the state legislature, the governor and New York State Board of Regents.

One reason for that vindication was that Revici’s regimen was successfully tested in Belgium at the University of Louvain by Joseph Maisin, a established figure who was the director of the cancer institute there, and the president of the mainstream International Union Against Cancer. He reported that nine of 12 terminal cancer patients responded to Revici’s regimen with a dramatic improvement.

Revici admirers claim that the main reason his approach has not made headway in the US in the years since Revici’s death is that the large scale studies the FDA requires for approval are not financially viable for commercial companies since his nutritional approach cannot be patented.

This story is worth mentioning here since Revici also reportedly gained good results with AIDS patients with the his lipid-based delivery of selenium, zinc and other essential trace nutrients, as long as the patients did not also take AZT as prescribed by their GPs, as some did without informing Revici. Interestingly enough, the same Revici anti-viral therapy was applied to the parading Lipizzaner horses of Vienna, with equal benefit, supporters claim.

**************************************

As a result of this experience, Cohen deplores the current situation in New York where any practicing licensed GP is unable to try out unorthodox treatments, including even standard nutrient regimens, without risking being threatened with loss of license by the medical establishment.

Cohen is also an expert on Lyme disease and the author of the recent Lyme Disease Update: Science Policy and Law (Lyme Disease Association, 2004) with a foreword by Brian Fallon of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

With experience of the excessive bias towards conventional wisdom in medical practice in New York, which precludes doctors from independent initiative by threatening them with loss of license, Cohen was primed to approach the HIV?AIDS paradigm debate with an open mind. The result of his research and personal interviews with leading scientific dissidents is that he concludes in his series that the HIV=AIDS paradigm is due for serious review, and alternatives should be considered.

His survey of HIV?AIDS includes interviews with AIDS critic Celia Farber of SPIN, Gear, and Esquire, Michael Ellner, founder of HEAL (Health Education AIDS Liaison) and a professional hypnotist whose view of HIV?AIDS as a mass scientific and medical delusion was formed in the very beginning of the epidemic, and Roberto Giraldo, pictured here left, an MD trained in internal medicine, specialist in tropical diseases, well known critic of HIV=AIDS and passionate advocate of nutritional factors from South America whose current longtime position as a technologist in the laboratories of clinical immunology and molecular diagnosis at a major hospital in New York City gives him an informed perspective on one key to the paradigm’s claims – he is in charge of HIV tests.

Cohen writes that he doubts media reports on AIDS in Africa are an accurate guide to what is happening on that continent, and repeats the main points of Peter Duesberg’s critique for his readers. He picks up on the point that the transmission rate for heteropsexuals is far too slow to support an epidemic, and points to the huge amount of money which is distorting the choice of treatment of patients:

I would add about the children that such treatment, lacking at the very least a positive HIV antibody test, is also unethical.

Apart from Duesberg’s critique, it’s worth calling attention to mainstream studies which show that it requires an average of 1,000 sex acts between discordant heterosexual couples (one HIV-positive, the other negative) to pass along the virus – an impossibly slow, ludicrously ineffective transmission rate.3

Finally, there is the corrosive power of the colossal amount of money invested everywhere in AIDS research and treatment. Celia Farber and other keen observers of the African AIDS scene have supplied examples aplenty of the lavish sums available to AIDS research and treatment facilities, to African MDs for attending AIDS conferences, in comparison with the paltry funds doled out to deal with historical sub-Saharan African diseases related to malnutrition, poverty, and unhealthy sanitation.4 Imagine under such circumstances the temptation for Africans dependant on healthcare for a living to draw the AIDS net around as many people as possible . . .

A radical but wise proposal

Cohen ends his survey of HIV?AIDS with this excellent prescription for Africa, more radical than any proposed by HIV?AIDS questioners so far:

Morally, the constructive course to follow in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS would be for the developed nations of the world to provide or lend money to African countries: leave these countries to move forward with desperately needed improvements in sanitation, to rebuild infrastructures that bring adequate medical care to citizens afflicted by poverty-related diseases, to relieve conditions that breed malnutrition (which perpetuates susceptibility to the many illnesses that have ravaged Africa for centuries).

Above all, first wait and see if such improvements lower the death rates among Africans. Then, if the alarming rise in deaths reported in recent years doesn’t abate, consider HIV as a possible reason, and lend money on the stipulation that it must be used to block the spread of AIDS. Then, but only then, get on with the condomizing of sub-Saharan Africa, of every “underdeveloped” nation on the globe where AIDS has manifested.

Perhaps a copy of this Townsend Letter column by Marcus Cohen should be forwarded to Bill Gates, before that well meaning philanthropist shovels more millions to Africa to finance AIDS drugs in what is otherwise a world changing, life-giving initiative of his foundation.

Of course, in a way Gates will actually help to carry out Cohen’s prescription since his aid is directed agaist other diseases than AIDS, especially malaria, and will help to improve the African health infrastructure generally.

If HIV is as wrong a candidate for causing immune deficiency as the top level reviews in the literature indicate, it will be a sad irony if Gates’ efforts are at cross purposes because no one has brought the dissidents in AIDS to his attention, and made sure that he is properly advised that the heresy is not crackpot but very intelligent and informed, and not so far dealt with, let alone dismissed by any serious scientific response.

This is the state of affairs which is apparent to any impartial and thoughtful observer who examines the state of affairs in HIV?AIDS for themselves, as Maruc Cohen demonstrates.

Here is Cohen’s latest column, AIDS in Africa: Medical Neocolonialism?

From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients

January 2006

Townsend’s New York Observer

by Marcus A. Cohen

AIDS in Africa: Medical Neocolonialism?

There is an approach which asks why is this President of South Africa trying to give legitimacy to discredited scientists, because after all, all the questions of science concerning this matter had been resolved by the year 1984. I don’t know of any science that gets resolved in that manner with a cut-off year beyond which science does not develop any further. It sounds like a biblical absolute truth, and I do not imagine that science consists of biblical absolute truths.

—Thabo Mbeki, President, South Africa, opening address, first meeting of Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, Pretoria, May 6, 2000

AIDS, HIV, and anti-retroviral drugs had seldom blipped across my healthcare radar before last summer, when I cautiously wrote my first column on these polarized, politicized topics, an interview with medical hypnotist Michael Ellner, president of HEAL (Townsend, Aug./Sept. 2005). The column on Ellner dwelt on his experience during the early period of AIDS, starting in 1981 with the initial CDC report about the appearance of this illness in five gay men in Los Angeles. Oriented toward nutritional treatment for AIDS, Ellner mostly observed a relatively small subculture of the New York City gay community, whose lifestyle included frequent anal sex and heavy use of nitrites (“poppers”) and other recreational drugs. The column ended with Ellner’s recollections of the effects of AZT on people diagnosed with AIDS, right after treatment with this highly toxic drug became the mainstream regimen (1987), and many patients on the original high dosage died.

An interview with Dr. Roberto Giraldo followed (Townsend, Oct.). Giraldo, a specialist in internal medicine, had predicted the emergence of AIDS among US gays while practicing in his native Colombia in the late 1970s. Giraldo had extensively read studies about the sexual and drug habits of gay men in the U.S. and Europe, and warned that continuation of their lifestyle would result in the complete collapse of the immune system. Giraldo maintained, and still maintains, that the immune deficiency characteristic of AIDS is mainly a toxic reaction to the abuse of recreational drugs and the often-accompanying malnourishment; he’s never bought into the theory that HIV is the cause of this condition. My column on Giraldo ended with his relocation to the US in the late 1980s.

My next two columns on AIDS focused on sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in the 1990s (Townsend, Nov. and Dec.). These featured two field reports from Africa by investigative journalist Celia Farber, published in 1993, and Farber’s memories and reflections on polarized responses to her efforts to get at the truth about African AIDS. She offered the latter at an interview in Manhattan, her home base, this Sept.

As I begin the fifth in this unexpected series of columns on AIDS, summing up the situation in Africa, my acquaintance with the medical literature and journalism1 about this illness has broadened. Still, I have reservations about the validity of much data for AIDS incidence, transmission, and mortality in Africa. And I’m still stuck on crucial questions concerning the accuracy of the media coverage and analyses of the African AIDS scene, particularly those originating in the West.

The Medical Establishment View of AIDS in Africa

Mainstream medicine’s position on the cause and treatment for African AIDS is the same as it is elsewhere around the globe: Since 1984, HIV has been presumed to be the infectious agent. Since 1996, AZT and protease inhibitors, in tandem, have constituted the presumed proper treatment.

How AIDS is defined, diagnosed, and thought to spread in Africa differ markedly from the definition, criteria for diagnosis, and people at greatest risk in the US, Europe, and certain developed nations elsewhere in the world. My third column on AIDS (Nov. Townsend) detailed these differences.

Here, I must stress that the varying definitions have fostered the AIDS establishment’s hypotheses that the illness mainly transmits heterosexually in Africa. Foremost among the reasons put forward: unusual promiscuity, and the supposedly common practice of “dry sex” (see my December column for the latter). Pregnant women and nursing mothers are thought to transmit HIV to fetuses and children.

I must also emphasize that the belief in heterosexual transmission has engendered a corollary belief of sorts: HIV is rampantly epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, threatening to depopulate a number of countries if unchecked by anti-retroviral drug therapy.

Critiques of Mainstream Positions on African AIDS

Research literature is available on the prevalent views of African AIDS. Were I to review these studies here, it might well lead to yet another column on the subject. Were I to critique the AIDS establishment’s positions as briefly as possible, in addition to the likelihood of oversimplifying them, I would plunge myself in a medical, political whirlpool where only adept swimmers should venture. Instead, I’ll toss the critiquing to experts who doubt that HIV causes AIDS, contend that the toxicity of anti-retroviral drugs outweighs possible therapeutic benefits, and scoff at the idea of any heterosexually transmitted AIDS pandemic in Africa.

Professor Peter Duesberg is the most frequently cited debunker of HIV causation, the first distinguished scientist to publish a major challenge to the cardinal tenets of AIDS orthodoxy.2 Duesberg presented a paper to the second meeting of the AIDS panel convened by South Africa President Mbeki in Pretoria, June 22, 2000. He titled it, “The African AIDS Epidemic: New and Contagious – Or – Old Under a New Name?”

Before zeroing in on African AIDS, Duesberg described elements that historical microbial and viral epidemics had in common, listed in contrast characteristics of diseases caused by factors which were chemical or non-contagious or physical, and summarized in comparison the characteristics of AIDS in the US and Europe.

He then analyzed AIDS in Africa, to see whether it measures up to the historical and epidemiological literature, basing his analyses on data from the WHO in Geneva, the UN, the US Agency for International Development, and the US Census Bureau. I’ll paraphrase some of his most astute points and conclusions.

1. AIDS in Africa is not following the bell-shaped curve of an exponential rise and subsequent steep drop with immunity of historical infectious epidemics. Rather, it “drags on like an environmentally or nutritionally induced disease,” evidently affecting a very small segment of the African population.

2. AIDS in Africa accounts for roughly 75,000 out of a total of approximately 12,300, 000 deaths per year, 0.6% of all mortality.

3. “It is impossible to distinguish clinically African AIDS [defined chiefly by the Bangui definition] from previously recognized, concurrently diagnosed, conventional African diseases.” Unlike microbial conditions, African AIDS is clinically unspecific, more like certain chemically and nutritionally caused illnesses.

4. Estimated increases in HIV antibody-positive Africans do not seem to correlate with decreases in population in any African nation. They correlate instead with unprecedented simultaneous increases in population. The population of Africa has leaped from 274 million (1960), to 356 million (1970), to 469 million (1980), to 616 million (2000).

5. The WHO reports African AIDS cases cumulatively (since they began tracking AIDS) rather than annually, creating an “impression of an ever growing, almost exponential epidemic, even if annual incidence rates decline.”

6. AIDS in African children is highly compatible with malnutrition, parasitic infection, and poor sanitation – not with heterosexual transmission of HIV. Thus, it’s inappropriate to treat children symptomatic of illnesses long recognized to be due to these conditions with toxic DNA-chain terminators and other anti-HIV drugs.

I would add about the children that such treatment, lacking at the very least a positive HIV antibody test, is also unethical.

Apart from Duesberg’s critique, it’s worth calling attention to mainstream studies which show that it requires an average of 1,000 sex acts between discordant heterosexual couples (one HIV-positive, the other negative) to pass along the virus – an impossibly slow, ludicrously ineffective transmission rate.3

Finally, there is the corrosive power of the colossal amount of money invested everywhere in AIDS research and treatment. Celia Farber and other keen observers of the African AIDS scene have supplied examples aplenty of the lavish sums available to AIDS research and treatment facilities, to African MDs for attending AIDS conferences, in comparison with the paltry funds doled out to deal with historical sub-Saharan African diseases related to malnutrition, poverty, and unhealthy sanitation.4 Imagine under such circumstances the temptation for Africans dependant on healthcare for a living to draw the AIDS net around as many people as possible . . .

Comments by Dr. Roberto Giraldo and Michael Ellner

Interviewed in late April and late August of 2005, Dr. Roberto Giraldo and Michael Ellner commented on past and current developments in African AIDS. Ellner and HEAL, the organization he directs, favor immune-boosting nutritional treatments for AIDS, and work to educate patients and doctors worldwide about the benefits of nutritional therapy. Besides internal medicine, Giraldo has specialized in infectious diseases. He’s also earned an MS in clinical tropical medicine. Over the years, he’s conducted much of his research in the area of secondary or acquired immune deficiencies, especially those occurring in developing nations. Since 2000, he’s served as a member of the South African Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel, and served a number of African countries as advisor on nutrition and diseases related to poverty.

Regarding the definition of AIDS by the WHO in Bangui in 1985, both Giraldo and Ellner told me they clearly perceived the hand of the US CDC pulling strings behind the scenes.5 Both were dismayed by official awareness campaigns trumpeting that AIDS was inevitably a death sentence, drummed into the minds of Africans not medically wise enough to shut their ears to the hypnotic drumbeat. Celia Farber observed the same effects of these campaigns in central Africa in the early 1990s: “AIDS Brain,” she said, was the term in widest circulation for the terror they aroused, citing instances where patients with typical African illnesses shunned medical clinics for fear that they would be more profitably diagnosed, then treated for AIDS.6

“Out Of Africa” Once More, With Celia Farber

A sense of remoteness overcomes me when I linger over academic discussions of diseases. I’ve devoted my career in healthcare to helping patients survive life-threatening illness, to exposing conditions and developments which hinder their recovery. Nearing the end of my series of columns on AIDS, I feel an urge to return to excerpts from Celia Farber’s reports from the bush in Central Africa: with the shock of a smack in the kisser, her word pictures give us sharp close-ups of Africans – individuals sick, dying, or dead, and their suffering kin – entangled in the mazy AIDS business.

“It was an eerie drive from the airport in Entebbe back to the hotel in Kampala. Prior to Idi Amin, prior to the last three decades, Uganda was known as the ‘pearl of Africa,’ and was said to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Some say that the Garden of Eden was in Uganda. Now it is one of the poorest, disease-ridden countries in Africa. It is also known as the AIDS center of the world. The road to Kampala was lined with people building and selling coffins. Simple wooden boxes with black crosses on the front . . .

“Sam and I were looking for a place to have lunch in downtown Kampala. We went to a roadside café and ordered grilled chicken. Upon asking for a toilet, I was shown through the kitchen and into the backyard, where a whole separate world was bubbling. There were chicken parts everywhere – heads, feet, feathers, and live chickens pecking in the mud – women standing over vats of dirty water, rinsing potatoes in them, coils of black smoke, and a rancid, oily stench. The toilet was a shack with a hole in the ground. In fact, every toilet I saw in Uganda, except in the hotel, was a hole in the ground. I went to inspect the toilets at Mulago Hospital, the major hospital in Kampala, and even there – a hole in the floor, covered in excrement and buzzing with flies . . .

“Although the poverty in Uganda was shocking and brutal, it wasn’t the most distressing thing about it. The real depressing thing was the lack of any kind of infrastructure. It seemed like chaos on earth, genuine chaos . . . The government had crushed the country, the people, and then vanished, and left a population steeped in lawlessness, chaos, and poverty . . .

“There were power failures constantly. No medical supplies, even in the hospitals. People were crammed throughout the corridors of the hospitals, waiting, maybe for days, to get any attention . . . What medication they had was poor quality, often too strong, unspecific, and ineffective. People bought prescription medications from little shacks called drugstores that had smuggled them from God knows where. Deaths were not counted, except maybe at some hospitals, but many people just died in the villages. It was not known how many people had died in any given year, much less what the cause of death had been. To try to make sense out of AIDS, with HIV tests and T-cell counts and clinical case definitions, in this chaos seemed hopeless . . .” (Celia Farber, “Out Of Africa,” Parts One and For the Record Two, Spin, March, April 1993)

For the Record

In my interview with Celia Farber (Townsend, Dec.), we touched on a dispatch in The New York Times from correspondent Rachel Swarns.7 Swarns had attended an international AIDS panel convened by South Africa President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria in 2000, and reported back that Mbeki said he was aware that HIV causes AIDS. Farber attended the same conference, and noted in a report she published that Mbeki said nothing of the sort.8 In my column, I asked how Swarns could attribute a total fabrication to Mbeki. Recently, curiosity compelled me to get Mbeki’s speech and Swarns’ news story from the library.

Here’s what Mbeki really said: “What we knew (italics added) was that there is a virus, HIV. The virus causes AIDS. AIDS causes death and there’s no vaccine against AIDS.”9

Swarns’ version went: “Today, Mr. Mbeki said that he and his ministers know (italics added) that the human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS.”

Swarns didn’t fabricate. She took Mbeki’s statement out of context and changed the tense of the operative verb, misrepresenting him; in essence, Mbeki was expressing a neutral position on HIV.

Again for the record: My reports on NY’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct in Townsend (they began in 2001 and are ongoing), and my four columns in Townsend about censorship in medicine (Aug./Sept. through Dec. 2004) include many instances where theories on disease causation in vogue were dead wrong, where treatments introduced into community practice were later subjected to rigorous trial and proven harmful, where the majority of physicians and medical researchers clamped down dogmatically on free debate over appropriate treatment, where research clinicians with approaches new to or different from the corpus of accepted wisdom were ridiculed and denied funds to pursue and publish their studies.

In light of these instances, and there is in fact a lengthy list of them, eventually acknowledged by the mainstream,10 why should theories about the cause and treatment of AIDS be exempted from reexamination? Why – without question – should the AIDS establishment be handed “blank checks” on defining and managing AIDS and its therapy?

What is there in the nature of AIDS that accords Western governments and non-governmental organizations the right to “dictate” to sovereign African governments policy on controlling AIDS and priorities on healthcare spending?

Closing Thoughts

Morally, the constructive course to follow in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS would be for the developed nations of the world to provide or lend money to African countries: leave these countries to move forward with desperately needed improvements in sanitation, to rebuild infrastructures that bring adequate medical care to citizens afflicted by poverty-related diseases, to relieve conditions that breed malnutrition (which perpetuates susceptibility to the many illnesses that have ravaged Africa for centuries).

Above all, first wait and see if such improvements lower the death rates among Africans. Then, if the alarming rise in deaths reported in recent years doesn’t abate, consider HIV as a possible reason, and lend money on the stipulation that it must be used to block the spread of AIDS. Then, but only then, get on with the condomizing of sub-Saharan Africa, of every “underdeveloped” nation on the globe where AIDS has manifested.

Books have been published on why the more likely course is the one that Western governments and non-governmental organizations have already shamelessly, evangelically taken,11 the one that promises profits for the US and a sprinkle of other high-tech countries through what is essentially a medical form of neocolonialism, the one that portends an immense disaster for black Africans, especially women and children. Note well in this connection: in university studies where Africans clinically diagnosed with AIDS (according to the Bangui definition and its variants) are tested serologically for HIV, the majority of the test results prove antibody-negative!12

References

1. For example: Laurie Garrett, “The Lessons of HIV/AIDS,” Foreign Affairs, July/Aug. 2005; and Laurie Garrett, “HIV and National Security: Where are the Links? A Council on Foreign Relations Report,” Council on Foreign Relations, Inc., NY, 2005. Garrett studied immunology in graduate school, and her professional credentials include a Pulitzer Prize. Today, she’s a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. I dipped into the article and report cited above. Her report depends heavily on secondary and tertiary sources – astonishingly rare is a reference to a medical paper – and the analogy she makes between the bubonic plague that rapidly decimated late medieval Europe and the supposed AIDS pandemic now sweeping sub-Saharan Africa is as strained and thin as boullion. A thorough examination online at NewAIDSreview.com, under the title, The Black Death of the 21st Century – a CFR Report has this pivotal sentence about Garrett’s pieces: “Both are either magisterial or drivel depending on where you stand on the basic scientific assumptions of HIV/AIDS.”

2. Duesberg P, Retroviruses as carcinogens and pathogens: expectations and reality, Cancer Research, 3/1/87. Duesberg is Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley. For additional articles by Duesberg, see his website,Duesberg.com.

3. For example: Padian NS et al, Heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in northern California: results from a ten-year study, American Journal of Epidemiology, 8/15/97; also, Wawer MJ et al, Rates of HIV-1 transmission per coital act, Rakai, Uganda, Journal of Infectious Diseases, 5/1/05.

4. Celia Farber, “Out Of Africa,” Part One, Spin, March 1993; Farber wrote: “AIDS generates far more money than any other disease in Africa. In Uganda, for example, WHO allotted $6 million for a single year, 1992–93, whereas all other infectious diseases combined – barring TB and AIDS – received a mere $57,000.” In the same issue, Farber dug deeper into the funding situation: “Where there was AIDS there was money – a brand new clinic, a new Mercedes parked outside, modern testing facilities, high-paying jobs, international conferences.” She spoke about the AIDS money with a leading African physician . . . who refused to be named. “‘You have no idea what you have taken on,’ he said . . . ‘You will never get these doctors to tell you the truth. When they get sent on these AIDS conferences around the world, the per diem they receive is equal to what they earn a whole year at home.'”

5. Charles Geshekter, “A Critical Reappraisal of African AIDS Research and Western Sexual Stereotypes,” May 1999; accessible via Virusmyth.com. Geshekter, Professor of African History, California State University, Chico, is a member of the South African Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel. Two sections in the paper by Geshekter cited here detailed the CDC’s role in the WHO definition of African AIDS at Bangui in 1985 and exposed crude racist myths about African sexuality. Geshekter’s documentation is impressive. There’s no space here to exemplify it, but an excerpt from one paragraph summed up most of the conclusions Geshekter drew from his profuse sources: “It was upon these grossly unscientific claims, sweeping clinical generalizations, western notions of sexual morality, and 19th century racist stereotypes about Africans that AIDS became a ‘disease by definition.’ Africa was assigned a central role in promoting the premise that AIDS was everywhere and everyone was at risk.” See Virusmyth.com for published papers by Geshekter.

6. Celia Farber, “Out Of Africa,” Part Two, Spin, April 1993.

7. Rachel Swarns, “Mbeki Details Quest to Grasp South Africa’s AIDS Disaster, The New York Times, 5/7/00.

8. Celia Farber, “AIDS & South Africa: A Contrary Conference in Pretoria,” New York Press, 5/25/00.

9. Thabo Mbeki, text of the opening speech by the South Africa President, first meeting of his Presidential Advisory Panel on AIDS, Pretoria, 5/6/00; accessible via virusmyth.com>.

10. For example: Lawrence K. Altman, “Nobel Came After Years Of Battling The System,” The New York Times, 10/11/05; on the bacterial cause of ulcers, “just too wild a theory for most people.”

11. For example: Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997). Diamond is a MacArthur fellow, evolutionary biologist, and professor of physiology at UCLA. Guns, Germs, and Steel won a Pulitzer Prize. A sizable portion of the book, which dismantles racially-based hypotheses of human history, traces the colonial exploitation of black Africa from its origins to its current aftereffects.

12. For example: Ankrah TC et al, The African AIDS case definition and serology . . . , West African Journal of Medicine, April 1994.

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Calling Peter Falk – Colombo needed as a peer reviewer

December 18th, 2005

Spotting misleading science demands a certain detective’s skills

The Times’ Gina Kolata has sensibly pursued the question of how the peer reviewers for Science can have given the thumbs-up to such a misleading article as Dr Hwang’s account in May of an easy way to obtain stem cells from embryos.

Her article today (Sun Dec 18) is a news item on how “A Cloning Scandal Rocks a Pillar of Science Publishing”, recording the excuses offered by the editors of Science for the debacle.

The reviewers comment on the paper and also assess its quality, checking off boxes ranging from “reject” to “publish without delay.” About 25 percent of those reviewed end up being published. But the reviewers are not the science police, Ms. Bradford and outside scientists emphasized.

“We work on the assumption that the data are real,” Ms. Bradford said. “The question is, Do the data support the conclusions?”

But is this good enough? The problem here, as we understand it, is that of the 11 lines of stem cells cloned, some of the photographs were exactly the same, ie did not substantiate the claimed 11 different lines. That one reputable scientist might have misled reviewers is not as worrying as the fact that the reviewers did not notice obvious defects in the photographic evidence.

“What we do not understand is how one person could have hoaxed all 24 of the collaborators on the papers – all of whom seemed eager to claim the work as ‘our’ work at the time,” Dr. Zoloth said. “Did we see only what we yearned to see?”

In other words, the familiar phenomenon which contravenes the vital principle of science, which is that those practicing the vocation make it their first duty to check themselves and their perceptions for bias arising from wish-fulfilment, self-interest, or any other prejudice. Science after all is an objective practice, not a subjective art, which is why it is based on reproducible experiment and measurement by instruments and not subjective evaluation.

But anyway we think that the underlying problem is another one only hinted at in the account of the misery at Science, and among those watching with horror from elsewhere in the field as things unravel. It is the natural tendency for decent human beings to trust their colleagues in a field not to let them down.

But Dr. Hwang also held a news conference on Friday in which he insisted that the data were correct. And Dr. Schatten, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, did not really distance himself from Dr. Hwang, whom he had previously introduced as his best friend, or from the results.

“I still remain totally optimistic and convinced about all of this,” Dr. Schatten said. “I’m optimistic that at some point, I hope sooner than later, this is brought to a satisfactory conclusion that I think will be constructive for everyone including the man I still think of as my best friend.”

As Dr Hwang continues to deny there is any problem with the data, although he is withdrawing the paper, Dr. Schatten continues to emphasize his trusting relationship with him, though he probably knows that things will turn out to be as bad as they look now.

This is very natural behavior, arising from the need to affirm the virtue of confidence in colleagues, the collegiality of good science politics, and the desire to save the face of colleagues in public.

Unfortunately, these very decent and understandable characteristics of the kind of person one wants to work with may be inappropriate when pursuing scientific truth. Probably good science demands the investigative style of Peter Falk’s famous television crime mystery role as Columbo, in the long running series of the same name.

When Lieutenant Columbo investigates a crime perpetrated by a celebrity or other prominent person (the culprit is always at the top of his or her field) he is always civil and self-deprecating, a posture symbolized by his grubby raincoat and aging auto. But he is also always entirely uninfluenced by the fame and reputation of his target.

Seems to us the same attitude has to be adopted by peer reviewers in science if these kind of embarrassing confidence tricks are to be avoided in the future.

Such objectivity would also help in assessing the reviews of established paradigms, as in the many cases where the challenger is young and is reflexively poo pooed by reviewers and prevented from publishing, only to win the Nobel in the end.

In science after all it is not the credentials, or clubbiness of the claimant which determines the value of a new claim, but the argument and the evidence, which should be objectively assessed. Cosy collegiality should be reserved for the faculty club lunches and conference dinners where scientists bond, enhancing their cooperation and their careers, but kept out of their evaluations of scientific papers.

But of course the chances of that happening are probably minimal, given human nature. Possibly the answer is to include scientists from another field among the peer reviewers, or something similar.

Maybe someone at Science should give Peter Falk a call.

The New York Times

December 18, 2005

A Cloning Scandal Rocks a Pillar of Science Publishing

By GINA KOLATA

Science magazine has seen its share of controversies over the years: papers questioned and withdrawn and occasional accusations of scientific fraud. But none of those incidents, says Science’s executive editor, Monica M. Bradford, can compare to the turmoil that has been shaking the magazine for the last month.

It involves a dazzling paper in which South Korean scientists announced not only that they had produced cloned human embryos and extracted their stem cells but that they had done so with such efficiency that it seemed almost easy.

The publication of that paper, celebrated by Science with great fanfare on May 19, has now turned into a debacle. And the mood in Science’s editorial offices on the 10th floor of a gray marble office building in Washington has gone from elation to distress and exhaustion.

On Friday, Science announced that that paper was in the process of being withdrawn. In the meantime, investigations continue into what actually happened at the South Korean research labs and where the truth lies.

“This has become so dramatic,” Ms. Bradford said, saying she could think of no precedent at the journal. “In a sense it has been unlike anything else.”

For Science, the chain of events began on Tuesday, March 15, when the manuscript arrived by e-mail. It was clearly a high-profile paper, and its lead author, Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University, was known at the journal.

He had published a previous paper in Science, on Feb. 12, 2004, announcing that he had, with great difficulty, cloned a human embryo and extracted stem cells.

Still, Science put this latest paper from Dr. Hwang’s lab through the same process it put the nearly 12,000 other papers received this year, Ms. Bradford said.

Papers are sent to one or two outside experts on the journal’s board of reviewing editors who advise on whether they are appropriate for Science magazine. Seventy percent of submitted papers are rejected. The others are sent to at least two additional scientists for in-depth review.

The reviewers comment on the paper and also assess its quality, checking off boxes ranging from “reject” to “publish without delay.” About 25 percent of those reviewed end up being published. But the reviewers are not the science police, Ms. Bradford and outside scientists emphasized.

“We work on the assumption that the data are real,” Ms. Bradford said. “The question is, Do the data support the conclusions?”

On May 12, after having passed scrutiny by three outside reviewers, Dr. Hwang’s paper was accepted for publication, faster than the journal’s average time from submission to acceptance, which is about three months.

When the paper appeared May 19, it met with enormous acclaim. Dr. Hwang traveled the world lecturing on his work and scientists trekked to South Korea to visit the lab and see how the feat was accomplished.

The first hints that something might not be right came in November. By Dec. 9, Ms. Bradford and her colleagues – Katrina L. Kelner, the deputy editor, who has an office next door; another editor, working from another city, whom Ms. Bradford would not identify; and the editor in chief, Donald Kennedy, who is at Stanford – were trying to get some answers.

As the weeks passed, Dr. Hwang, was hospitalized for stress but insisted that his group had really cloned human embryos and created 11 lines of stem cells, as his paper reported. But one of his co-authors, Dr. Roh Sung Il, said the data were fraudulent.

One question was whether photographs, described in the paper as being stem cells derived from cloned human embryos, were frauds. Dr. Roh said they were actually from a large computer file of stem cells and not derived from cloning experiments.

Another question involved the veracity of the DNA fingerprints in the Science paper that were used to show that a stem cell was genetically identical to a person who provided cells for cloning.

“We sent a series of questions to the authors,” Ms. Bradford said. “How did this high resolution image get put together? Look at all your images. Go through your data. The same with the DNA fingerprinting: go through your data. What are your answers?”

But despite repeated calls and e-mail messages to South Korea, Ms. Bradford said Thursday, “We haven’t gotten any answers yet.”

All along, Science’s news department, a group of journalists at the magazine, was kept separate from the editorial investigation.

Colin Norman, Science’s news editor, said the editors on the editorial side “tell us when something is going to be released to the press, but not much more.” In fact, he said, “I only know what I’m reading in the press at the moment, which is pretty amazing.”

The story continues, with its twists and turns. On Dec. 12, the one American author on the paper, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, asked that his name be taken off and his university began an inquiry. On Friday, Dr. Schatten and Dr. Hwang told Science they wished to retract the paper.

But Dr. Hwang also held a news conference on Friday in which he insisted that the data were correct. And Dr. Schatten, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, did not really distance himself from Dr. Hwang, whom he had previously introduced as his best friend, or from the results.

“I still remain totally optimistic and convinced about all of this,” Dr. Schatten said. “I’m optimistic that at some point, I hope sooner than later, this is brought to a satisfactory conclusion that I think will be constructive for everyone including the man I still think of as my best friend.”

Dr. Kennedy said in news conference by telephone on Friday afternoon, “As of now we can’t reach any conclusions with respect to misconduct issues.” He also said that as of now the journal’s editors did not know the exact reasons that Dr. Schatten and Dr. Hwang asked that the paper be withdrawn.

If the paper is withdrawn, Dr. Kennedy said, “There will have to be a retraction statement, and it will have to contain more than we now know about the authors’ reasons for retracting it.”

He added, “I can’t state chapter and verse, but it is more than we have gotten now.”

Dr. Hwang and Dr. Schatten were the only 2 of the paper’s 25 authors who asked that it be retracted, Dr. Kennedy said. Ordinarily, Science requires each one of a paper’s authors to sign a statement agreeing to a retraction. Ms. Bradford said that despite quite a bit of effort, she and her colleagues had been unable to get even e-mail addresses for all of the authors. But Dr. Kennedy said Dr. Hwang was trying to reach the members of his group.

Meanwhile, stem cell scientists and ethicists continue to follow the story with what Laurie Zoloth, an ethicist at Northwestern University, describes as “a kind of collective mesmerized despair,” and some troubling questions.

“What we do not understand is how one person could have hoaxed all 24 of the collaborators on the papers – all of whom seemed eager to claim the work as ‘our’ work at the time,” Dr. Zoloth said. “Did we see only what we yearned to see?”

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Stem cell debacle – fraud not quite confirmed, but data bad, and promise clearly exaggerated

December 17th, 2005

Another sorry tale of scientific three card monte is pretty much confirmed today (Dec 17 Sat) as the now notorious Korean researcher, Dr Hwang Woo Suk, has asked Science to discredit his own headline making article in May, which reported his lab breakthrough towards making stem cell therapy a reality. His results were misleading, and athough he hasn’t admitted it, seem to have been duplicitous.

As Gina Kolata wrote yesterday:

Last May, a stunning research paper in Science, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, instantly changed the tenor of the debate over cloning human embryos and extracting their stem cells. A team of South Korean scientists reported in the paper that they had figured out how to do this work so efficiently that the great hope of researchers and patients – to obtain stem cells that were an exact match of a patient’s – seemed easily within sight.

But that rosy future has been cast into doubt with the statement last month by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who led the team that wrote the paper, that it contained fabricated evidence. Questions have also been raised about earlier research and a new debate has begun.

The news has the sad but salutary effect of raising two questions in science that have long been swept under the carpet by the media who act as public relations spokesmen for the leading scientists who feed them news.

1) How come the peer reviewers at Science didn’t detect fraud visible in the very photographs attached to the paper they approved, which Korean graduate students soon exposed on websites?

2) Is the whole fanfare for stem cell therapy overblown, yet another example of exaggerated promise designed to win funding for a line of research which is probably a cul-de-sac, at least in the short run? Examples of such unjustified or overpromoted calls on the public purse that critics can point to include genes that cause cancer, the human genome project, and the new cancer genome project.

At least the normally somnolent New York Times is alert to the dangers in this case, as today’s report by Nicholas Wade, “Cell Researcher’s Retraction Leaves Vexing Questions”, makes clear.

Now that Dr. Hwang Woo Suk has asked Science magazine to withdraw the June 17 article in which he reported what seemed a striking advance toward the goal of treating patients with their own regenerated tissues, scientists have two formidable tasks ahead of them.

The first is to decide how much of the work of Dr. Hwang, of Seoul National University in South Korea, can be relied on. The second is whether scientific journals’ procedures for detecting spurious claims can and should be improved.

… Scientists disagree as to whether Science’s reviewers should have detected the problems with Dr. Hwang’s article. “Should reviewers have caught some of this? Yeah, probably they should have,” said John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Science’s board of reviewers. “Obviously great claims require great proof, and maybe more people should review such a paper,” he said.

Dr. Arthur Levine, dean of the University of Pittsburgh medical school, where a committee is investigating the work in the Science article for possible misconduct, said he agreed that Science’s referees “might have been more critical, but that is hindsight.” He added, “Almost six months have elapsed since the paper was published, and it had been widely read by many fine scientists without challenge.”

The New York Times

December 17, 2005

Cell Researcher’s Retraction Leaves Vexing Questions

By NICHOLAS WADE

Now that Dr. Hwang Woo Suk has asked Science magazine to withdraw the June 17 article in which he reported what seemed a striking advance toward the goal of treating patients with their own regenerated tissues, scientists have two formidable tasks ahead of them.

The first is to decide how much of the work of Dr. Hwang, of Seoul National University in South Korea, can be relied on. The second is whether scientific journals’ procedures for detecting spurious claims can and should be improved.

The editor of Science, Dr. Donald Kennedy of Stanford University, said yesterday that he would allow the paper to be retracted if all the other authors agreed with the request. Dr. Gerald P. Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, the senior author, asked to withdraw his name from the article on Monday.

Dr. Hwang had conceded that there were problems with some of the data in the article, Dr. Kennedy said, but that “there is certainly no basis right now for a charge of scientific misconduct.”

Dr. Hwang claimed yesterday that he had succeeded in making embryonic cell colonies from some patients, but that the cells were killed by a fungus. His withdrawal of the paper and his acknowledgment of problems with some of its data have inevitably raised doubts about his previous work.

“It is clear now that every experiment published by Hwang will have to be confirmed in some way before being believed,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge.

Scientists disagree as to whether Science’s reviewers should have detected the problems with Dr. Hwang’s article. “Should reviewers have caught some of this? Yeah, probably they should have,” said John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Science’s board of reviewers. “Obviously great claims require great proof, and maybe more people should review such a paper,” he said.

Dr. Arthur Levine, dean of the University of Pittsburgh medical school, where a committee is investigating the work in the Science article for possible misconduct, said he agreed that Science’s referees “might have been more critical, but that is hindsight.” He added, “Almost six months have elapsed since the paper was published, and it had been widely read by many fine scientists without challenge.”

Unlike readers, a journal’s reviewers can demand more data on points that do not persuade them. But reviewers are unpaid, and their main task is to judge whether the data presented to them support the claim being made. Dr. Kennedy said that the reviewers could not be expected to detect deliberate falsehoods and that he could not see any generic fault in the peer review system.

Dr. Levine said he saw “terribly important lessons” in the Hwang incident, chiefly that the senior author of an article is responsible for its integrity and must therefore be “intimately familiar” with the data. However, the true test of science is replication of a claim by others, Dr. Levine said.

Other scientists have expressed the fear that a replication – the success by a second laboratory in cloning human cells – might have seemed to vindicate Dr. Hwang’s work, if the present criticisms had not come to light. Any Nobel Prize might then have gone to him, not to the scientists who had apparently come second. “If the procedure works indeed and other labs would have repeated it, the credit would have gone to Hwang,” Dr. Jaenisch said.

In the wake of the problems with the June Science article, scientists are now looking more skeptically at some of Dr. Hwang’s other work. In an article published in Science in March 2004, he claimed to have performed the first nuclear transfer with human cells, the cloning procedure in which a nucleus from a person’s adult cell is inserted into a human egg, from which embryonic stem cells are obtained.

An unusual feature of the 2004 paper is that Dr. Hwang inserted a woman’s nucleus into her own cell. Both Dr. Jaenisch and Dr. Gearhart said that Dr. Hwang had offered a reasonable explanation for this self-cloning procedure and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

But Dr. Robert Lanza, a rival cloner at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., said the design would protect Dr. Hwang against critics who asked for the donor and cell to be subjected to a DNA fingerprinting test.

DNA fingerprint tests were indeed demanded by Science’s reviewers for the 11 colonies allegedly derived from patients in the June 2005 paper, and Dr. Hwang provided them.

But critics have said that in some cases the fingerprints Dr. Hwang provided have the identical background noise, as if a single test were being presented twice, instead of two tests having been made independently.

Dr. Lanza also pointed to a similar article by Dr. Hwang in the August 2005 issue of the journal Molecular Reproduction and Development. The identical photograph, a test of pig embryonic cell colonies, seemed to have been presented twice but as representing different cells. The first photo shows embryonic cells said to have been cloned from an adult pig, and the second embryonic cells labeled as from a fertilized pig egg.

Dr. Lanza also expressed doubt about the cloned dog, Snuppy, which Dr. Hwang announced in Nature, Science’s rival publication, in August 2005. Nature’s editors should have required a test of the mitochondrial DNA of Snuppy and the dog it was cloned from, Dr. Lanza said. If a true clone, the mitochondrial DNA of Snuppy and the egg’s donor would be different.

But Dr. Hwang, in a very brief report with little data, reported only that the nuclear DNA of Snuppy and the adult cell donor were identical. This would not rule out the possibility that the two dogs were in fact identical twins obtained by splitting an embryo and delaying the gestation of the second twin. “I think it’s essential that he immediately allow independent testing of the original and cloned animals,” Dr. Lanza said.

Dr. Gearhart agreed, saying, “That would be the very first thing that anyone would have asked.”

Seoul National University is conducting an inquiry into Dr. Hwang’s work, and its committee, with access to Dr. Hwang’s colleagues and data, may be in the best position to decide which, if any, parts of his work are valid.

For the committee members’ findings to have credibility, Dr. Gearhart said, it was “critical they bring in people from outside and who know the field.”

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Gina Kolata’s news analysis yesterday, “Scandal for Cloning Embryos: ‘A Tragic Turn’ for Science”, also noted the backstage problems in science that the case may signal.

Scientists and ethicists caution that the full story is not in, but they are staggered by how the research has unraveled so far.

“This is a tragic turn,” said Laurie Zoloth, director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society at Northwestern University. Stressing that she considers Dr. Hwang innocent until proven guilty, she asked, however, whether the edifice of stem cell research was built on sand.

“We depend entirely on the truthfulness of the scientific community,” Dr. Zoloth said. “We must believe that what they are showing us and what they say has been demonstrated is worthy of our concern and attention.”

The South Korean story, Dr. Zoloth added, raises questions about whether the science is good. “Good as in true and real and morally worthy of our funding,” she explained. “That is so most especially in this twilight sort of terrain with a lot of open questions that people disagree about. At least we thought that the step-by-step slow technical achievements had placed the science on a trajectory.”

“Is this our version of W.M.D.?” Dr. Zoloth said.

….”In one sense, this puts us back to where we were before May of 2005, when there still was some uncertainty about whether this would work at all,” Mr. Doerflinger said. “In another sense it does illustrate in my mind how hype and ambition have gotten ahead of the science.”

The New York Times

December 16, 2005

News Analysis

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: ‘A Tragic Turn’ for Science

By GINA KOLATA

Last May, a stunning research paper in Science, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, instantly changed the tenor of the debate over cloning human embryos and extracting their stem cells. A team of South Korean scientists reported in the paper that they had figured out how to do this work so efficiently that the great hope of researchers and patients – to obtain stem cells that were an exact match of a patient’s – seemed easily within sight.

But that rosy future has been cast into doubt with the statement last month by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who led the team that wrote the paper, that it contained fabricated evidence. Questions have also been raised about earlier research and a new debate has begun.

Scientists and ethicists caution that the full story is not in, but they are staggered by how the research has unraveled so far.

“This is a tragic turn,” said Laurie Zoloth, director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society at Northwestern University. Stressing that she considers Dr. Hwang innocent until proven guilty, she asked, however, whether the edifice of stem cell research was built on sand.

“We depend entirely on the truthfulness of the scientific community,” Dr. Zoloth said. “We must believe that what they are showing us and what they say has been demonstrated is worthy of our concern and attention.”

The South Korean story, Dr. Zoloth added, raises questions about whether the science is good. “Good as in true and real and morally worthy of our funding,” she explained. “That is so most especially in this twilight sort of terrain with a lot of open questions that people disagree about. At least we thought that the step-by-step slow technical achievements had placed the science on a trajectory.”

“Is this our version of W.M.D.?” Dr. Zoloth said.

A vocal opponent of cloning human embryos voiced a similar concern. “Certainly, if these reports are true, it’s a tragedy for science,” said Nigel Cameron, president of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He said the episode showed that stem cell research and cloning to create human embryonic stem cells, “is a hype balloon and it’s been pricked.” Not so, said the ethicist Arthur Caplan, an outspoken supporter of stem cell research. “We know that in science, speed kills if you go fast, and that’s what the South Koreans did,” he said. “It’s also clear that they will do whatever it takes to right this ship. At the end of the day, critics of stem cell research will try to use this, but they won’t get very far. People bending the rules in other countries doesn’t reflect badly on us.”

The promise of cloned human embryonic stem cells remains, said Dr. George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

“The goal is still there and the medical value is still largely theoretical but no less than before.”

Dr. Cameron, however, said the political implications of the South Korean scandal are huge.

When it seemed that the South Koreans had taken a giant leap forward in stem cell research, he noted, “we panicked into thinking that we have to join in.” Politicians and patient groups argued that cures were around the corner if scientists could get the needed support. States poured money into stem cell programs.

The collapsing South Korean claims, Dr. Cameron added, made him ask: “Where’s the beef? Where are those cures? Why is it that there is no private money going into this research? The business community values it at zero.”

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of anti-abortion activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that he has argued for some time that the stem cell proponents were exaggerating the state of the science and misleading the public about scientific accomplishments. They promised cures that, if they ever came, would not come any time soon. But Mr. Doerflinger said that when he tried to point out what he saw as misleading claims, ” no one would listen.”

Now, he said, with the collapse of some of the South Korean scientists’ research, the situation may change.

“In one sense, this puts us back to where we were before May of 2005, when there still was some uncertainty about whether this would work at all,” Mr. Doerflinger said. “In another sense it does illustrate in my mind how hype and ambition have gotten ahead of the science.”

“How am I going to exploit it?” he said. “You don’t have to. It’s just speaking for itself.”

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

The whole episode serves to reinforce the skepticism which this site and all too few other media platforms for science critics purvey about AIDS and other paradigms which the critics say resemble fund raising science bubbles than legitimate avenues of mainstream research spending, at least at the exaggerated levels that they attain with overblown promises.

Tom Bethell’s new book, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery)”, scores a bullseye on this topic with his chapter on “The Stem Cell Challenge to Bioengineering” (p 131).

The seasoned science skeptic Bethell mentions that Gina Kolata’s current caution on scientific breakthroughs including stem cell research follows a dinner party three years ago when “DNA star Jim Watson…told her at a dinner party that Dr. Judah Folkmanm “is going to cure cancer in two years”, a report she wrote up on the front page of the New York Times, to her subsequent embarrassment.

As a result, the Times has put stem cell setbacks on the front page, including the difficulties with the expected cure for Parkinson’s disease (which resulted in the transplanted fetal cells growing all too well, emitting so much dopamine that they “writhed and jerked uncontrollably” with no way to remove them). This is one example of the general danger of embryonic stem cells: they are cancerous.

Other media have been suitably wary, as many of the claims (for example, that adult stem cells could revert to other types of tissue) turned out not to be true.

In other words, the premature promise of stem cells has been well noted before this example of conscious fraud. Hopes are hyped. Real breakthroughs may be decades away.

Bethell quotes Von Baer, a 19th Century resident of Germany and Russia, who said that “all new and important ideas must pass through three stages: first dismissed as nonsense, then rejected as against religion, and finally acknolwledged as true.”

Bethell cracks that stem cells show that today the process is reversed. The new idea is “first hailed as true, then bolstered by religious opposition, and finally acknowledged as false.”

Certainly it is true that there is much in Bethell’s book that makes one wonder if his own skepticism is driven by religion, though nothing explicit. But in this case, at least, he has the followers of Mammon on his side.

The stock market shows what hard headed businessmen and investors think of the current promise of stem cells: not much. Embryonic stem cell drug developer Geron’s stock is $8.74 this week, compared with nearly $70 in March 2000.

The real irony is that Dr Hwang might have been suckered by the very hype that presumably won him support and an easy ride through the obstacle course of peer review. For the only point of committing such fraud, as far as the scientists who comment can explain, is that if you pretend to make a breakthrough and someone else genuinely succeeds soon afterwards, then you get the Nobel, not them.

Here are the main news stories on the topic of Dr Hwang’s three card monte for the past week or so:

Korean Scientist Said to Admit Fabrication in a Cloning Study by Nicholas Wade (Dec 16 Fri)

The New York Times

December 16, 2005

Korean Scientist Said to Admit Fabrication in a Cloning Study

By NICHOLAS WADE

Correction Appended

(Correction:Because of an editing error, a news analysis yesterday about a colleague’s statement impugning the stem cell research of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, a South Korean scientist, misstated what Dr. Hwang said about it last month. Dr. Hwang admitted then that an error had been made in submitting photographs that accompanied an article about his research, but he has not publicly admitted that he fabricated evidence, and has defended his research.)

The South Korean scientist who claimed a stunning series of advances in cloning and stem cell research has admitted that critical parts of one discovery were fabricated, a colleague said yesterday.

The colleague, Dr. Roh Sung Il, a co-author of a paper in the journal Science last June in which the scientist, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, claimed to have created stem cells from 11 patients, told the Korean television station MBC, “Hwang today made statements totally contrary to what we have believed is right. ” Dr. Roh added, “Nine of the 11 stem-cell lines he had said he created didn’t even exist.”

But in a press conference this morning in Seoul, Dr. Hwang defended his work, saying he had proof of his success. He said the patient-tailored stem cells had become badly contaminated but that five frozen stem cells were being thawed for analysis.

Barbara Rice, a spokeswoman for Science, said the journal had asked all of the co-authors of the disputed paper “to clarify these unconfirmed rumors that we are getting.” Dr. Hwang, at his news conference, said he had asked Science to withdraw the article as a result of the uproar.

Over the past two years, Dr. Hwang, a veterinary medical researcher who turned 53 yesterday, became a hero in South Korea and an international celebrity.

Last year he claimed to be the first to clone a human cell, inserting an adult cell’s nucleus into a human egg to make embryonic cells. This year he said he had done the same thing in 11 patients, the first step to the dream of treating people with their own regenerated tissues. And for good measure he said he had cloned a dog as well, a feat that has long frustrated other clone researchers.

This morning, Seoul National University Hospital said Dr. Hwang had been hospitalize there for a week for treatment for stress and was released today. Later, when asked at the press conference why Dr. Roh would have said he had faked some of his work, Dr. Hwang said that Dr. Roh had visited him at the hospital yesterday and raised concerns about the research. Dr. Hwang said he had agreed that some of the work needed to be verified, and that he expected to accomplish that in 10 days. But he said: “We retain our original core technology. We found out later that our management had been poor and as the head of research I feel a grave responsibility.”

The first hints of trouble with Dr. Hwang’s research came earlier this year, when reports emerged that women who worked in his laboratory may have donated eggs for an experiment in cultivating stem cells from a cloned human embryo. Last month, an American collaborator, Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, severed ties with his group, citing “ethical violations” over the way the eggs were obtained.

All these achievements, and his earlier work as well, are now under suspicion.

Dr. Hwang’s new troubles were presaged earlier this week when Dr. Schatten, the senior co-author of the Science article, wrote to the journal asking that his name be withdrawn from the article and urging Dr. Hwang and the other co-authors to retract it. Dr. Schatten wrote that he had “substantial doubts about the paper’s accuracy” and had heard that some of the experiments had been fabricated.

Although the new disclosures are being presented as a blow to Korean science, they can also be seen as a triumph for a cadre of well-trained young Koreans for whom it became almost a pastime to turn up one flaw after another in his work. All or almost all the criticisms that eventually brought him down were first posted on Web sites used by young Korean scientists, although vigorous reporting by MBC television and the online newspaper Pressian also played a leading role.

The young scientists were more skeptical of Dr. Hwang than was Dr. Schatten, who agreed to be senior co-author on Dr. Hwang’s article this June in Science, even though all the experiments had been done in Seoul. The referees and editors at Science accepted the Schatten-Hwang article without spotting the problems that later came to light, although they did ask for extra tests that may have contributed to the denouement.

The debacle is particularly surprising to the many American scientists who visited Dr. Hwang’s lab at the Seoul National University and were impressed by the dedication of his 65 colleagues, the specialization of his lab into separate units for each aspect of cloning, and the technical skill of those who worked the micromanipulators used to suck the nucleus out of human cells.

The event that led to Dr. Hwang’s downfall, after a month of sniping at certain puzzling aspects of his published work, was the posting of a pair of duplicate photos on two Korean Web sites.

One of the new duplicate photos appears in the June Science article about the 11 patients and a second in the Oct. 19 issue of a lesser-known journal, The Biology of Reproduction, where it was reported as being of a different kind of cell.

In the Science article, the cell colony was labeled as being the fifth of Dr. Hwang’s human embryonic cell lines derived from a patient’s cells, but in the Biology of Reproduction article it was designated as an ordinary embryonic cell line generated in the MizMedi hospital in Korea, presumably from surplus embryos created in a fertility clinic.

Critics cited the duplication as confirming suspicions that Dr. Hwang had never successfully cloned any adult human cell and that his Science photos might instead show just human embryonic cell lines derived in the usual way from fertility clinic embryos.

Dr. Roh’s statements make that now seem exactly what happened.

Dr. Roh, the superintendent of MizMedi, was asked by The New York Times on Wednesday to say which type of cell was represented in the photos. Dr. Roh was the senior author of the article in Biology of Reproduction, which Dr. Hwang did not sign. Dr. Roh replied by e-mail that the photo had come from a large computer file of stem cell colonies and that a colleague had accidentally chosen one of the patient-derived colonies to illustrate the Biology of Reproduction article.

Dr. Roh had heard about the error just two hours earlier, he wrote in his e-mail message, and had already written to the editor of the journal requesting that the article be withdrawn immediately. “I really apologize again to have made a big mistake as a principal investigator,” he wrote.

He did not reply to an e-mail message seeking his comment on critics’ demonstration of how the 11 photos in the Science article could have been generated from just two cell colonies. But yesterday he told the Korean news media that Dr. Hwang had confessed to him that the Science photos in fact showed Dr. Roh’s fertility clinic cells, and not cells derived by Dr. Hwang from the adult cells of patients.

In an interview this week on MBC, Dr. Kim Sun Jong, a junior colleague of Dr. Hwang, said his boss had instructed him to take two photos of Dr. Roh’s clinic-derived stem cells and present them as evidence in the Science paper that 11 cell colonies had been successfully derived from patients.

Critics had already begun to screen Dr. Hwang’s previous research for errors. A few days ago they began questioning an article he published in Science last year, in which he announced the first establishment of a human embryonic cell line from an adult cell. The paper in Science this year claimed a greatly improved efficiency in the same technique, and was presented as the first step toward treating patients with their own regenerated tissues.

The criticism of the 2004 paper was that in the published DNA fingerprints of the donor and the cell colony derived from her cells, the trace moves backward a little at certain points. But since the trace is made by a pen moving across a paper strip, the pen cannot usually reverse its movement. The reversals, if real, would point to an abnormality in the machine or to the traces being hand-drawn, in the view of critics. Manual changes would be potential evidence of data manipulation.

John Gearhart, a stem cell specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said the trace was “certainly odd, to say the least.”

Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, said, “The traces appear to be hand-drawn.” But another stem cell researcher, Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute, said that, though not an expert in such matters, he could not detect any problem with the traces.

If there was a serious flaw with the 2004 paper, that would apparently mean that no human embryonic stem cell line has yet been created by nuclear transfer, the insertion of an adult cell’s nucleus into a human egg. Dr. Jaenisch said he could not recall any other published paper on the subject besides Dr. Hwang’s. “Right now it is very confusing for all of us and very sad,” said Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University and a co-author of the 2004 article.

But the fact that no one else has yet replicated Dr. Hwang’s work does not imply it cannot be reproduced, said Dr. George Daley of Harvard University. He has been waiting a year to get the necessary approvals to proceed along the same lines but he could see no technical obstacles to cloning human cells.

Dr. Daley said he had been impressed during a visit to Dr. Hwang’s lab in Seoul at the scale of the operation and the speed and efficacy of the people who worked there. “I have no reason to doubt their technical efficiency,” he said. “If there was any lab capable of doing what they said they did, it would be his lab.”

Dr. Hwang reported in August this year that he had cloned a dog. His brief article in the journal Nature, also with Dr. Schatten, shows two look-alike dogs but offers very little data to prove they are true clones and not identical twins produced by embryo splitting. Dr. Arthur Levine, the dean of the University of Pittsburgh medical school, said that a university committee exploring possible misconduct with the June 2005 Science article would include the Nature dog paper in its inquiry.

Monica Bradford, who as executive editor of Science oversees its selection and publication of research papers, said the situation was distressing for people at the journal, “because this was such a significant result and held so much hope for a lot of people and particularly for Korean science,” and also because “it’s spinning out in the press and no one knows the truth.”

But she said even if the work ended up being retracted, it would not challenge the journal’s review process, in which other experts are asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of research reports submitted for publication. Though the system has its flaws, “there is no other process that has worked as well,” she said.

Cornelia Dean and James Brooke contributed reporting for this article.

Correction: Dec. 17, 2005, Saturday:

Because of an editing error, a news analysis yesterday about a colleague’s statement impugning the stem cell research of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, a South Korean scientist, misstated what Dr. Hwang said about it last month. Dr. Hwang admitted then that an error had been made in submitting photographs that accompanied an article about his research, but he has not publicly admitted that he fabricated evidence, and has defended his research. Also because of an editing error, the article misstated the title of Richard Doerflinger, who maintains that stem cell proponents are misleading the public about their accomplishments. He is deputy director for pro-life activities – not “anti-abortion activities” – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

American Co-Author Wants His Name Off Stem Cell Paper by Nicholas Wade (Dec 14 Wed)

The New York Times

December 14, 2005

American Co-Author Wants His Name Off Stem Cell Paper

By NICHOLAS WADE

After several days of serious accusations about the validity of a prominent article on the cloning of human cells, the senior author, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, has asked for his name to be removed as co-author, the editors of the journal Science said yesterday.

They also said they were refusing the request because authors could not withdraw their names unilaterally and Dr. Schatten’s Korean co-authors, who did all the experiments, had not yet agreed to retract the article.

The lead Korean author is Hwang Woo Suk, a veterinary researcher at Seoul National University who came to sudden prominence with several striking successes in the cloning field in the last two years. In February 2004 Dr. Hwang reported in Science online that he had established a line of human embryonic stem cells by transferring the nucleus of adult cells to a human egg whose own nucleus had been removed. In June 2005 he said he had done the same procedure with 11 patients, using far fewer human eggs.

The report was hailed as the first step toward the goal of treating people with their own tissues, generated through embryonic cells.

For reasons that are unclear, Dr. Hwang invited Dr. Schatten to be the senior co-author of the article, and he accepted. But last month Dr. Schatten severed his collaboration with Dr. Hwang over the way human eggs were procured for the experiment and placed a correction in Science saying that his only role in the paper had been to analyze data and prepare the paper for publication.

Meanwhile, the paper has come under increasing criticism from Korean scientists. Their accusations, posted anonymously on Korean Web sites, first showed that some of the photographs of the 11 cell colonies were duplicates. Science acknowledged that the accusation was correct but said the duplication occurred when originals were replaced with photographs of higher resolution.

The critics then showed that several of the photographs overlapped, even though they were supposed to be of different cell colonies. Indeed, they said it seemed that as few as two cell colonies had been used to generate photographs.

The critics also noticed a strange feature in the DNA fingerprints taken of the cell colonies and the donors from whom they were supposedly derived. In several cases the pairs of fingerprints seemed to be identical, lacking any of the subtle differences expected in two independent tests.

If this were true, critics say, the paper would not have any evidence that the cell colonies came from the donors or that Dr. Hwang ever performed any successful nuclear transfer experiments.

Eight leaders in cloning technology, including Dr. Ian Wilmut of Edinburgh University, John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins and Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, have written to Science saying that they encouraged Dr. Hwang “to cooperate with us to perform an independent test of his cell lines” to see if they matched the donors.

Dr. Schatten’s confidence in Dr. Hwang’s results has also been shaken. In his letter to Science, released yesterday by the University of Pittsburgh, he said he wished to retract his co-authorship of the June 17 article because “my careful re-evaluations of published figures and tables, along with new problematic information, now casts substantial doubts about the paper’s accuracy.”

He also said that over the weekend he had “received allegations from someone involved with the experiments that certain elements of the report may be fabricated.”

The individual was not named, and Dr. Schatten was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Korean press accounts have quoted Kim Sun Jong, a member of Dr. Hwang’s laboratory who now works at the University of Pittsburgh, as saying in an interview with MBC-TV in South Korea on the program “PD Diary” that he was told by Dr. Hwang to make 11 or so cell lines out of the two or three he had in his possession.

The promise of Dr. Hwang’s Science paper is that it seemed to make the long-sought goal of therapeutic cloning quite practical by using only 10 or so human eggs per patient, compared with the 242 used in his 2004 experiment. If the article should turn out to have been fabricated, it would “give a black eye to science in general,” Dr. Gearhart said.

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

New Criticism Rages Over South Korean Cell Research

By Nicholas Wade (Dec 10 Sat)

The New York Times

December 10, 2005

New Criticism Rages Over South Korean Cell Research

By NICHOLAS WADE

A new round of criticism has broken out in South Korea over the accuracy of a recent article that reported a striking advance in human stem cell research.

In the June 17 article, Hwang Woo Suk, a veterinary researcher at Seoul National University, reported that he had developed embryonic stem cell colonies from 11 patients. The article, published in the journal Science, was hailed as a major step toward the goal of treating patients suffering from many serious diseases with their own, regenerated tissues.

But Dr. Hwang’s research, though praised by the South Korean government, faces mounting criticism from some Korean scientists. The newest questions about the paper concern DNA fingerprint tests carried out to prove that the embryonic stem cell colonies were indeed derived from the patient in question. The test, demanded by referees for Science, was necessary because cell colonies often get mixed up or overgrown by other cells in even the best laboratories.

Usually any two DNA fingerprint traces will have peaks of different heights and alignment and different background noise. But in several cases the pairs of traces in the Science article seem identical in all three properties, suggesting that they are the same trace and not, as represented, two independent ones.

If so, there could have been yet another innocent mixing up of data, as seems to have been the case with duplicate photos – an error that came to light earlier this week. But it is also possible that the cell colonies never existed and that a single DNA fingerprint from a patient was falsely represented as two traces, one from the patient and one from the embryonic cell line allegedly derived from him.

Monica Bradford, the deputy editor of Science, said that the journal had asked Dr. Hwang for an explanation and that experts probably needed to examine the original data in Dr. Hwang’s possession before any conclusions could be drawn.

The new charges have also attracted attention in South Korea. Thirty faculty members at Seoul National University wrote Dec. 7 to the university president, Chung Un Chan, saying that, as experts in the life sciences, “we find a significant part of the DNA fingerprinting data is inexplicable.”

They asked Dr. Chung to create a committee to investigate possible misconduct and added, “We are extremely worried that, by keeping silent, we are endangering the international credibility of the Korean scientific community, which in turn will cause irreversible damage to our country.”

The University of Pittsburgh, where Dr. Hwang’s American co-author, Gerald Schatten, is based, has asked its office that investigates research misconduct to look into this and other problems with the Science article.

Earlier this week the critics noted that several photographs, issued online by Science as a supplement to the June 17 article, were duplicates of one another, though they ostensibly showed 11 different cell colonies. But the duplication appeared to have an innocent explanation. The editors of Science announced that the originally submitted manuscript had 11 different photos and that the duplicates were submitted later, presumably by accident, after a request for higher-resolution copies.

Dr. Hwang did not respond to an e-mail inquiry sent yesterday. He has been hospitalized with an ulcer, said Lorenz Studer, a stem cell specialist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York.

Dr. Studer, who has visited the lab several times, said Dr. Hwang had a large operation with 65 people working around the clock, many of them specializing in minute points of detail in the cloning process, and had made evident progress on cloning human cells. Noting the attacks on Dr. Hwang’s work by other Korean scientists, Dr. Studer said, “It is really difficult for us to judge if there is a problem or someone who has an agenda.”

Dr. Studer is studying two of Dr. Hwang’s human cell lines in his laboratory but said he had not tested them and had no way of knowing if they were derived from the cloning of patient’s cells or from embryos from a fertility clinic.

Though the experiments reported in the Science article were done in Seoul, the person formally most responsible for the data is Dr. Schatten, whose name appears last on the Science article, the position reserved for the senior author. Dr. Schatten recently stated that his involvement was limited to analyzing data and preparing the manuscript. Such services do not usually merit senior co-authorship, raising the question of why Dr. Hwang offered it and why Dr. Schatten accepted.

Dr. Arthur Levine, the dean of the University of Pittsburgh medical school, said that Dr. Schatten was a scientist of stature and had contributed ideas to Dr. Hwang, but that “discussion doesn’t ordinarily eventuate in senior authorship.” He added that he knew for certain that Dr. Schatten “must be deeply regretting” having accepted the co-authorship.

Dr. Schatten was not available for comment yesterday, a university spokeswoman said.

The new critique was first raised Dec. 7 by an anonymous posting on a Korean-language Web site, the Biological Research Information Center. The writer commented on the improbability of two independent DNA fingerprints’ being so similar and concluded, “I cannot help but to say that there were no stem cells from the very beginning because the nearly identical fingerprinting patterns raises strongly the possibility of serious misconduct in experiments.”

The letter and its translation were provided by a Korean scientist at an American university who asked not to be identified because of the possibility of recrimination from the South Korean government.

Dr. Hwang has published three significant cloning advances since 2004, including the first cloning of a human embryo, and is somewhat of a national hero in South Korea. The current furor over his work arose last month when PD-Notebook, an investigative program on MBC-TV, a South Korean network, obtained human stem cell samples from Dr. Hwang and had them tested by an independent laboratory.

The results apparently did not match Dr. Hwang’s, and he then refused to cooperate further with the program. The 30 young scientists who signed the letter to the president of the Seoul National University asked him to follow the University of Pittsburgh’s example and set up a committee to inquire into possible misconduct. Dr. Levine agreed that Pittsburgh’s committee may not be able to get very far, given that all the data is in Seoul, and that it could be logical for the two universities to work together.

If misconduct in any part of the Science paper were established, it could well cast doubt over all of Dr. Hwang’s work. But his evident expertise and his generosity in helping other researchers have deeply impressed American visitors like Dr. Studer and Dr. Schatten. So the possibility that the issues raised by his critics are due to careless handling of data, in a scientific paper that has received far more careful public scrutiny than is usual, cannot be ruled out.

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Paul Theroux speaks up for teaching Africa to fish

December 15th, 2005

Rock star deplores charity aid

Paul Theroux has a striking Op Ed piece in the Times today (Dec 15 Thu). It backs what even the African economist Shikwati (see prev post July 7) has said: Africa needs assistance directed towards running its own affairs properly, not US media and celebrities projecting their own insulting fantasies on a great continent.

There are plenty of educated and capable young adults in Africa who would make a much greater difference than Peace Corps workers.

Africa is a lovely place – much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth. Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities busy-bodying in Africa loom especially large. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently in Ethiopia, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was Tarzan and Jane.

He also deplores the busybody menace Paul “Bono” Hewson, whose efforts to increase misdirected aid (massively plundered by thieving politicians and officials) only add to the problem.

Bono, in his role as Mrs. Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa’s ills, he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. He traveled in 2002 to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, urging debt forgiveness. He recently had lunch at the White House, where he expounded upon the “more money” platform and how African countries are uniquely futile.

Unfortunately, Theroux is unaware of the questionable activities of the AIDS do-gooders intent on delivering drugs to combat an HIV pandemic held to be bedevilling sub-Sahara, despite the mainstream AIDS scientific literature, which has repeatedly shown that heterosexual HIV epidemics are ruled out (the rate of transference is impossibly low, as we have posted earlier):

I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children’s Village. I am speaking of the “more money” platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief.

Cloaked both by science, which no social commentator seems capable of assessing independently, and humanitarianism, which no one in politics can afford to challenge, the AIDS “mythomaniacs” seem likely to pursue their business unchallenged in Africa, unless Tom Bethell’s new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, (Regnery) gains traction.

As we noted earlier, it contains a biting and highly readable chapter recounting the many absurdities and unscientific claims on which the claim of African AIDS is based.

It remains to be seen if this will have an effect of the public discourse in AIDS, however. The unrelenting Celia Farber’s many columns in SPIN exposing the hollowness of this fantastical story, purveyed uncritically by the New York Times for so many years in so many sensational and prominent reports, seem to have had little effect.

Perhaps books will have more influence, however. We understand Farber is hard at work on her own opus, which will doubtless contain the first hand reporting on Africa that marks her work and sets it apart from much other coverage of the HIV?AIDS paradigm and its flaws.

The New York Times

December 15, 2005

Op-Ed Contributor

The Rock Star’s Burden

By PAUL THEROUX

Hale’iwa, Hawaii

THERE are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment. If Christmas, season of sob stories, has turned me into Scrooge, I recognize the Dickensian counterpart of Paul Hewson – who calls himself “Bono” – as Mrs. Jellyby in “Bleak House.” Harping incessantly on her adopted village of Borrioboola-Gha “on the left bank of the River Niger,” Mrs. Jellyby tries to save the Africans by financing them in coffee growing and encouraging schemes “to turn pianoforte legs and establish an export trade,” all the while badgering people for money.

It seems to have been Africa’s fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help – not to mention celebrities and charity concerts – is a destructive and misleading conceit. Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions.

I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children’s Village. I am speaking of the “more money” platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.

If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60’s, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.

In the early and mid-1960’s, we believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades we kept on sending Peace Corps teachers. Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi’s university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, few of them replaced by Malawians, for political reasons. Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign nurses were needed in Malawi.

When Malawi’s minister of education was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the education budget in 2000, and the Zambian president was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa’s problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana, compared with the kleptomania of its neighbors. Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons these countries are failing.

Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa – an unproductive not to say insane idea. I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly. I would not send more teachers. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence in the form of a bond, or a solemn promise, for Africans trained in medicine and education at the state’s expense to work in their own countries.

Malawi was in my time a lush wooded country of three million people. It is now an eroded and deforested land of 12 million; its rivers are clogged with sediment and every year it is subjected to destructive floods. The trees that had kept it whole were cut for fuel and to clear land for subsistence crops. Malawi had two presidents in its first 40 years, the first a megalomaniac who called himself the messiah, the second a swindler whose first official act was to put his face on the money. Last year the new man, Bingu wa Mutharika, inaugurated his regime by announcing that he was going to buy a fleet of Maybachs, one of the most expensive cars in the world.

Many of the schools where we taught 40 years ago are now in ruins – covered with graffiti, with broken windows, standing in tall grass. Money will not fix this. A highly placed Malawian friend of mine once jovially demanded that my children come and teach there. “It would be good for them,” he said.

Of course it would be good for them. Teaching in Africa was one of the best things I ever did. But our example seems to have counted for very little. My Malawian friend’s children are of course working in the United States and Britain. It does not occur to anyone to encourage Africans themselves to volunteer in the same way that foreigners have done for decades. There are plenty of educated and capable young adults in Africa who would make a much greater difference than Peace Corps workers.

Africa is a lovely place – much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth. Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities busy-bodying in Africa loom especially large. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently in Ethiopia, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was Tarzan and Jane.

Bono, in his role as Mrs. Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa’s ills, he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. He traveled in 2002 to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, urging debt forgiveness. He recently had lunch at the White House, where he expounded upon the “more money” platform and how African countries are uniquely futile.

But are they? Had Bono looked closely at Malawi he would have seen an earlier incarnation of his own Ireland. Both countries were characterized for centuries by famine, religious strife, infighting, unruly families, hubristic clan chiefs, malnutrition, failed crops, ancient orthodoxies, dental problems and fickle weather. Malawi had a similar sense of grievance, was also colonized by absentee British landlords and was priest-ridden, too.

Just a few years ago you couldn’t buy condoms legally in Ireland, nor could you get a divorce, though (just like in Malawi) buckets of beer were easily available and unruly crapulosities a national curse. Ireland, that island of inaction, in Joyce’s words, “the old sow that eats her farrow,” was the Malawi of Europe, and for many identical reasons, its main export being immigrants.

It is a melancholy thought that it is easier for many Africans to travel to New York or London than to their own hinterlands. Much of northern Kenya is a no-go area; there is hardly a road to the town of Moyale, on the Ethiopian border, where I found only skinny camels and roving bandits. Western Zambia is off the map, southern Malawi is terra incognita, northern Mozambique is still a sea of land mines. But it is pretty easy to leave Africa. A recent World Bank study has confirmed that the emigration to the West of skilled people from small to medium-sized countries in Africa has been disastrous.

Africa has no real shortage of capable people – or even of money. The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa’s belief in itself, but even in the absence of responsible leadership, Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be – something they never get credit for. Again, Ireland may be the model for an answer. After centuries of wishing themselves onto other countries, the Irish found that education, rational government, people staying put, and simple diligence could turn Ireland from an economic basket case into a prosperous nation. In a word – are you listening, Mr. Hewson? – the Irish have proved that there is something to be said for staying home.

Paul Theroux is the author of “Blinding Light” and of “Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town.”

* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Onion reports China adopting extreme bird flu measure

December 14th, 2005

Hidden away on an inside page of the world’s most trusted news source (Issue 15-21 Dec 2005, p2, top left) is a report from China, briefly describing the ultimate measure taken by the Chinese authorities in guarding against the danger of world avian flu.

The rest of the world can only salute in awed gratitude the willingness of Chinese health officials to follow the implications of flu science to its logical conclusion.

The question now is, is the NIH and CDC prepared to undertake similar measures to guarantee against any problem in the United States, or will they in effect chicken out?

News brief

China Slaughters Population to Control Flu Outbreak

BEIJING—Chinese health officials entered a new phase of their bird-flu-containment campaign Monday by slaughtering all non-essential personnel, the Xinhua News Agency reported. “This weekend, we placed into bleach-filled plastic bags, asphyxiated, and then incinerated all 15 million residents of Beijing who may have come into contact with birds or the air through which birds have flown,” Vice Minister of Agriculture Zhang Baowen said. “We are also asking the World Health Organization for additional help in eliminating the human-borne vector of this virus.” Plans to connect the remaining 1.3 billion potentially infected citizens to high-voltage power lines extending from the Three Gorges hydroelectric dam will commence within the week.


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