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Shoveling the stable (Frog 6)

October 24th, 2007

We return to the task of cleaning out the Augean stable of the Smith-Novella PLoS paper

There may be no end to its flaws, but we refuse to be defeated by sheer quantity

A service to newcomers, though tedious to the knowledgeable

herculescercopes.jpgRefreshed by our close contact with power, influence and celebrity, we return briefly to swatting two minor HIV apologists for their complacent insistence against all the evidence of the literature of the field that HIV causes AIDS.

Examining the real deniers of HIV/AIDS again

The notion has been endlessly eviscerated as logically and scientifically untenable for two decades, but Smith and Novella, being apparently somewhat illiterate in the science of the matter, still seem to view it as inviolable gospel, to be defended by faith bordering on religious zeal.

They deny paradoxical impossibilities that even laymen can see immediately are flaws as big as the Grand Canyon, and can only occasionally answer the challenges of the critics by reversing their arguments, as if they had none of their own, recalling the famous remark of Mathilde Krim of AMFAR to this author, referring to Peter Duesberg, the chief critic and tormentor of the HIV faithful and their exploiters: “Well, we can’t prove that HIV causes AIDS, but Peter can’t prove it doesn’t!”

So, we now embark dutifully on what we hope will be the final laborious half hour of the grand dissection of the PLoS Frog HIV Denial in the Internet Era, by the highly presentable and conventionally minded Tara C. Smith, University of Iowa epidemiologist and Aetiology blogger at SEED, and the modestly establishment and handsome Steven P. Novella of Yale. We believe it is important as a public service to continue, lest this misleading essay enter the uncritical bloodstream of the US media without any antidote.

A Herculean shoveling task

Here are the remaining errors in reason and understanding of good science which are paraded for the indignation of critics in this now notorious specimen of paradigm presumption, that is, the phenomenon of imagining that a working scientific assumption employed by most scientists in a field is by definition necessarily correct and accurate:

Reflex scorn of alternative medicine

Distrusting mainstream medical practitioners, many HIV deniers turn to “alternative” medicine in search of treatment. One such practitioner, Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati, suggests that “toxins” and drug use, rather than HIV, cause AIDS [18]. Dr Al-Bayati personally profits from his HIV denialism: for $100 per hour, Al-Bayati will consult “on health issues related to AIDS, adverse reactions to vaccines and medications, exposure to chemicals in the home, environment or workplace” ( Similarly, German vitamin supplier and HIV denier Matthias Rath not only pushed his vitamins as a treatment for AIDS [19], but his spokesman refused to be interviewed by Nature Medicine about the case because he claimed the journal is “funded to the hilt with drug money” [20].

Nowhere do these babes in the scientific woods show their political naivete more glaringly than in these comments, where they presume that alternative medicine is automatically quackery. Clearly they have no inkling (or at least for the purposes of their polemic prefer not to acknowledge) that standard medicine protects its territory as fiercely as a hungry mongrel defends a juicy bone, and heavy sanctions are rapidly visited upon practitioners for the smallest deviations, quite quickly extending to loss of license to practice.

al_bayati.jpgBut as history often has shown those who pursue alternatives to standard care may be honest pioneers trying to improve treatment. Certainly in the case of HIV/AIDS, there is every reason after a close reading of the peer-reviewed literature to suppose that men such as Al-Bayati are on the right track, and may be saving health and lives. To assume otherwise is to assume that the paradigm is correct without review or independent assessment of the mainstream studies carried out in the field to date, and the time for that is long past. In fact, for anyone who troubles to read that literature, there is no excuse for it at all, since year after year mainstream studies explode the basic assumptions of HIV/AIDS from the notion that HIV kills T cells to the idea that viral load correlates with immune dysfunction.

Meanwhile, Al-Bayati’s $100 fee is hardly outrageous exploitation of quackery in an era where most Manhattan lawyers won’t even speak to you for less than $300 upfront, and certainly not for a man with extensive qualifications in toxicology, including a Ph.D from the University of California at Davis in comparative pathology and who is a dual board certified toxicologist with two decades of professional experience.

The benefits of fitting in with the paradigm are not an influence on opinion

Deniers argue that because scientists receive grant money, fame, and prestige as a result of their research, it is in their best interest to maintain the status quo [15]. This type of thinking is convenient for deniers as it allows them to choose which authorities to believe and which ones to dismiss as part of a grand conspiracy. In addition to being selective, their logic is also internally inconsistent. For example, they dismiss studies that support the HIV hypothesis as being biased by “drug money,” while they accept uncritically the testimony of HIV deniers who have a heavy financial stake in their alternative treatment modalities.

Apparently in the minds of our two tyros Al-Bayati charging a modest $100 an hour for his heavily researched expertise weighs as heavy in the balance as the billions being spent on research, drugs and infrastructure by the paradigm army and its supportive governments and corporations. To argue that millions in grant money, fame and prestige don’t oil a paradigm is silly enough, but to equate generous drug company funding for HIV=AIDS activists and their organizations with the money raised by the vitamin advocates and alternative medicine practitioners who fight the paradigm is deluded. The fantasy that HIV dissenters are in business to make money off their books is also absurd, though not specifically mentioned here. Sales are typically in the hundreds or low thousands.

Critics’ case is distorted, or completely misstated

Portraying Science as Faith and Consensus as Dogma

Since the ideas proposed by deniers do not meet rigorous scientific standards, they cannot hope to compete against the mainstream theories. They cannot raise the level of their beliefs up to the standards of mainstream science; therefore they attempt to lower the status of the denied science down to the level of religious faith, characterizing scientific consensus as scientific dogma [21]. As one HIV denier quoted in Maggiore’s book [10] remarked,
“There is classical science, the way it’s supposed to work, and then there’s religion. I regained my sanity when I realized that AIDS science was a religious discourse. The one thing I will go to my grave not understanding is why everyone was so quick to accept everything the government said as truth. Especially the central myth: the cause of AIDS is known.”

On the contrary, the objections of critics to HIV/AIDS have been peer reviewed at the highest level and they have exposed the mainstream premise that HIV=AIDS as not meeting rigorous scientific standards, but rather, as based on faith and uncritical acceptance. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood, unworthy of publication by the Public Library of Science. The initial very thorough review and rejection of the paradigm in 1986 and 1987 in elite journals stands without rebuttal after twenty years, and mainstream studies in the literature since have continually confounded the initially absurd claim with their results.

What these defenders of the faith are referring to is that debate has been successfully banned from nearly all scientific journals and other media except for the Web. Having used hostile politics to shut out debate, or even mention of the objections of critics, from scientific journals, the New York Times and most other media, the paradigm defenders have successfully moved all complaints to the Web where they can ignore them more readily, or think they can.

We wonder how long that will be true. In fact, the Web now publishes much journalism and other writing which can be relied on by readers as credible, sometime more credible than newspapers and television coverage, since it may draw on more sources among its many readers and is more subject to their immediate correction, and can have much wider readership than many books. We like to think that this blog is one example of more informed and reliable information on HIV/AIDS and its validity than mainstream media and even scientific journals, where the paradigm is an unquestioned assumption of virtually all HIV/AIDS research and discussion.

But the disparagement of criticism as ‘unscientific’ is anyway a red herring – current dissent is based on the best scientific standards, and on reading the mainstream peer-reviewed literature, and using it to expose the contradictions of the claim that HIV causes AIDS, or anything else, and the lack of credibility of the claim that the drugs are aimed at the right target and have a beneficial effect.

Naturally, with so much science of record contradicting the paradigm, and the paradigm so blatantly and unreasonably opposed to scientific and common sense, the dissenters certainly must point to the religious impulse as the only thing that can account for so many loyalists such as Tara clinging to a scientifically unjustified and dangerous belief. The faith of the experts can likewise only be accounted for in this way, as long as the motivation of self-interest is ruled out by the presumably impeccable character of the leaders of the field.

Thoughtless exaggeration of critics’ views

Others suggest that the entire spectrum of modern medicine is a religion [22]. Deniers also paint themselves as skeptics working to break down a misguided and deeply rooted belief. They argue that when mainstream scientists speak out against the scientific “orthodoxy,” they are persecuted and dismissed. For example, HIV deniers make much of the demise of Peter Duesberg’s career, claiming that when he began speaking out against HIV as the cause of AIDS, he was “ignored and discredited” because of his dissidence [23]. South African President Mbeki went even further, stating: “In an earlier period in human history, these [dissidents] would be heretics that would be burnt at the stake!” [1].

In fact, this description by HIV “deniers” of the way things have gone is perfectly accurate. Duesberg two decades ago was a golden boy of science, a National Academy member whose NIH grants were never turned down; in fact they culminated in a $350,000 grant to do whatever research he liked. But he has never been able to get one dollar OK’d by his colleagues since his stand against their newly lucrative HIV∫AIDS paradigm in 1987, even when his grant application was strongly supported by the ex-editor of Science.

Even though he was invited to the NIH recently to give a lecture on his productive new ideas on the development of cancer, he is still unable to find support from his peers for any grant proposal, after having about twenty refused – a striking contrast with his previous record of having every single grant he ever applied for from the NIH passed with flying colors.

Shame on you, authors

These babes-in-the-scientific-woods make fools of themselves with this paragraph, especially. More than that, it is morally revolting to misinterpret what stands as a shame of science, the lethal financial punishment of a scientist of integrity for standing by his judgment and his publications despite being turned into a pariah for it.

The invidious confusion of elite, peer-reviewed dissent with crackpot notions such as creationism

HIV deniers accuse scientists of quashing dissent regarding the cause of AIDS, and not allowing so-called “alternative” theories to be heard. However, this claim could be applied to any well-established scientific theory that is being challenged by politically motivated pseudoscientific notions—for example, creationist challenges to evolution. Further, as HIV denial can plausibly reduce compliance with safe sex practices and anti-HIV drugs, potentially costing lives, this motivates the scientific and health care communities to exclude HIV denial from any public forum. (As one editorial has bluntly phrased it, HIV denial is “deadly quackery”) [24]. Because HIV denial is not scientifically legitimate, such exclusion is justified, but it further fuels the deniers’ claims of oppression.

This is a perfect voicing of the blatantly unscientific attitudes of these paradigm defenders, who, rather than confidently expose the supposed flaws in HIV criticism, would rather censor the objections with prejudicial politics, and vociferously claim that the doubts are dangerous to efforts to combat HIV, when that is precisely the premise that is being doubted – that is, whether HIV is the right target for dangerous anti-HIV drugs.

Repeating doubter’s claims as if they were a priori baseless

Expert Opinion and the Promise of Forthcoming Scientific Acceptance

Although the HIV deniers condemn scientific authority and consensus, they have nevertheless worked to assemble their own lists of scientists and other professionals who support their ideas. As a result, the deniers claim that they are just on the cusp of broader acceptance in the scientific community and that they remain an underdog due to the “established orthodoxy” represented by scientists who believe that HIV causes AIDS.

In an effort to support its claim that an increasing number of scientists do not believe that HIV causes AIDS, Reappraising AIDS has published a list of signatories agreeing to the following statement:

“It is widely believed by the general public that a retrovirus called HIV causes the group [of] diseases called AIDS. Many biochemical scientists now question this hypothesis. We propose that a thorough reappraisal of the existing evidence for and against this hypothesis be conducted by a suitable independent group. We further propose that critical epidemiological studies be devised and undertaken” [25].

The HIV critics do not condemn scientific authority and consensus per se, but only when it blatantly flouts the findings of the peer-reviewed scientific literature of the field, produced by the very same authority.

The line of defense that takes comfort in the idea that the generals of HIV/AIDS are the ones who can rattle their medals and issue science by edict because they are at the top of their profession, and their critics are a motley crew of outsiders, runs up against the simple fact that review and rejection was initiated by the top man in the field.

Peter Duesberg is a scientist whom even his opponents have to recognize has a track record that well outclasses Robert Gallo, Anthony Fauci and John P. Moore rolled into one, both in theoretically informed science experiments and in debate. Moreover, given the extraordinary institutionalized pressure against the free debate of his case against HIV∫AIDS, it is actually very significant that several thousand professionals have taken a position in public that supports the demand for proper independent review.

Independent review is blocked, but not impossible: who can sort this out?

These signatories do not, however, suggest who the “suitable independent” group should be, since, presumably, many scientists have already been “indoctrinated” into believing that HIV causes AIDS. (Indeed, many of the signatories to this statement lack any qualifications in virology, epidemiology, or even basic biology.) They also ignore thousands of epidemiological studies that have already been published in the scientific literature. And the signatories fail to provide a convincing case that there is widespread acceptance in the scientific community for their marginal position.

Probably all thinking people in science recognize that something has to be done about the peer review system, and the solution has to be some kind of more independent review.

The problem is difficult, but as science feeds on more and more money with ever increasing public and private investment, it may be the only way to stop takeovers by paradigm mafia in fields which are not well understood by outsiders, as has happened in this case. Here the leaders of a field ignore the fact that tens of thousands of papers are written on assumptions which are disproved by those studies that (inadvertently) test them. So successful has been the takeover that the rest of the scientific community never hear a proper account of the problems, so assume all is well, and that any critics they meet are kooks.

We need a Congressional investigation of HIV/AIDS

Presumably the only solution in the realm of independent review will have to be a Congressional committee staff investigation and public hearing, which this blog advocates as the only means to force full public scrutiny and debate of this vexed issue, although we recognize that unless a powerful and influential political leader takes action to promote this solution, it will continue to be prevented by Anthony Fauci, the director of NIAID, his staff and the leading scientists who defend the paradigm from such outside scrutiny.

The presumption that many papers written on an assumption prove that assumption

Nevertheless, Farber wrote in a 1992 article that “more and more scientists are beginning to question the hypothesis that HIV single-handedly creates the chaos in the immune system that leads to AIDS” [26]. Similarly, a March 2006 article appearing on the AIDS denial Web site “New AIDS Review” claims that, in reference to the theory that HIV causes AIDS: “…the fabric of this theoretical mantle is threadbare to the point of disintegration” [27]. Mainstream scientists, of course, do not believe in the imminent demise of the HIV theory; instead they continue to produce novel research on preventing and treating HIV and publish thousands of papers every year on the topic.

Whether the challenge to the orthodoxy spreads or is beaten back depends on science and media politics, where the smaller community is unlikely to win soon against a very successful and well financed, virtually universal belief, supported by a wide range of emotions and moral attitudes in its followers, and which employs a goon squad led by Gallo, Moore and Fauci to inquisition heretics ruthlessly.

While we are delighted to be quoted accurately by these under researched authors, we should point out that what we “deny” is that their heroes of HIV∫AIDS are being honest or intelligent in interpreting their own data, which is to say, we promote good science against those who deny it, for what reason only they know (but see list of human frailties in the heading above this blog).

It is the mainstream scientific literature which shows that there is no good reason to believe that HIV causes immune dysfunction, and more than forty strong reasons to believe it doesn’t, and that the drugs are misdirected and only cause damage to patients, conclusions that have stood for 22 years without rebuttal and are annually confirmed by more mainstream studies.

Forty reasons why HIV is a crock

augeanstableshercuules.jpegWhat are these reasons? Being short of time, like our readers, we can only quote from The Scorn of Heretics, our expanded review talk on AIDS skepticism to the conference on Democracy and Science in Naples in 2001, wherein we listed the basic inconsistencies inherent in the paradigm which prevent credibility on any other basis than blind faith, which is appropriate to a religion but not to a science.

Here is the relevant section, if you wish to check it.

The litmus of common sense

“The most significant signal to outsiders is the endless list of challenges to
common sense inherent in the seventeen year old hypothesis.

As Duesberg has pointed out again and again, to believe in AIDS, we have to believe in the following:

An infectious viral disease where the virus’s rate of infection (1 in 500 sexual contacts) is outdone by the rate of human impregnation (1 in 10); a cell killing retrovirus, when otherwise retroviruses never kill cells; indeed, a virus provided to labs in immortal cultures of the same T cells it is said to kill off; a fatal virus that cannot easily be found in most patients, even dying ones, only antibodies to it; a disease where patients merely with antibodies can nevertheless die of the disease; a disease whose nature varies from place to place, being almost exclusively a homosexual and drug user ailment in North America and Europe, but heterosexual elsewhere; a disease that correlates with drug use in North America and Europe, yet is said to alleviated or prevented by a bowl full of other damaging and lethal drugs, never proved to be directly helpful, and causing the death of at least half the AIDS patients who die; a disease whose mechanism, including an up-to-twenty-year delay in onset, is as yet quite unexplained; a cell killing disease that also causes cell multiplying cancer, with no trace of the virus in the cancer; and a disease said to be a killer epidemic in Haiti and South Africa, with no significant change in overall mortality, and long endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where a population explosion has nonetheless added 250 million people in two decades.

Let’s pause for a breath before we complete the list, for that’s hardly all.

We also have to believe in

An epidemic mapped in Africa by the World Health Organization almost entirely without the benefit of AIDS tests, which themselves are problematic; a viral epidemic uniquely without initial exponential growth or bell-shaped rise and fall; a viral epidemic which has not found immunity anywhere; a killer disease where no doctor, nurse or researcher working with it has caught the disease; a disease with risk group, lifestyle, and malnutrition specific symptoms; a disease whose every symptom is shared with other diseases–in fact, a disease which would in every case be counted as those other diseases except for the supposed presence of antibodies to the “virus that causes AIDS”; a viral epidemic without a sign of a promising vaccine despite the best funded army of researchers in history; a viral disease which quickly achieves the antibodies of vaccination of its own accord; and a virus transmitted 25-50% through birth which has produced no epidemic among children.

That list is long enough, I think you will agree, that a New Yorker such as myself might be forgiven for saying “If you can believe all that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.”

Duesberg asserts and shows that all these paradoxes are resolved if we simply accept that AIDS is a drug phenomenon, or elsewhere a picture artificially created by gathering other diseases under the AIDS umbrella, where any occurrence of disease is relabeled AIDS if HIV antibodies are reckoned to be present. I know of no good reason to disbelieve him. One good reason to believe him is that there is no AIDS disease among HIV positive patients who abstain from recreational and medicating drugs.”

Every single one of those absurdities remains unexplained, unjustified and as unreasonable as ever, in 2007, with many of them confirmed and underlined by recent studies, especially ones that show that drugs are lethal, however relieved and delighted the recipients may feel when they are first granted their supposed blessings, including a psychological or a placebo effect of unusual intensity, no doubt, given the fear and panic engendered in the ignorant by “positive HIV tests”.

Only two arguments now in favor of HIV in AIDS

Meanwhile the only two arguments now adduced on the side of faith in HIV as the cause of AIDS in the public mind are these, and both are invalid:

1) That “correlation proves causation” in this case, HIV=AIDS, which for some reason is said to be the one exception to the rule that correlation never does prove causation, though it may suggest it, and anyway, the correlation between HIV and AIDS is the forced outcome of the definition of AIDS as any one of more than thirty symptoms occurring in the presence of HIV. The same symptom occurring in the absence of a positive HIV test is another illness entirely.

2) “But the drugs work, don’t they?”, the Jim Watson-Bill Clinton endorsed validation which is now contradicted by several recent studies, even if it made any theoretical sense at all, which it doesn’t. Half the current AIDS deaths in the US are due to liver and kidney failure, which is a drug symptom not on the list of AIDS problems.

Pace Gallo with his totally unconvincing HTLV-1 causing leukemia, it remains only too clear that retroviruses by nature do not cause any human illness.

Exhaustion sets in

At this point, we have to leave the rest of the shoveling out of the Smith-Novella paper till later, having once again exhausted the potential interest of any newcomer to this debate, which is the only purpose of rebutting its claims blow by blow in this arduous manner.

We hope that more knowledgeable readers will forgive us, since the real problem is that rebutting nonsense takes twice as long as writing it, the great advantage of those who defend a paradigm, Alas for truth in science.

But we refuse to be defeated.

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