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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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.
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Brilliant revelation ignored – Serge Lang’s book Challenges

October 2nd, 2005

Serge Lang’s “Challenges” is such an enlightening book that we feel we should repeat and expand on our mention in the previous post of this unique Lang legacy. “Challenges” is a completely trustworthy guide to intellectual skulduggery and mendacity in the top ranks of the US scientific intelligentsia and academy, and it is unique in how far it goes to detect and exhibit it.

To repeat, any public affairs intellectual, science student or media iconoclast who doesn’t buy their own copy of “Challenges” will remain forever underresearched in how things are done in the corridors of academic and editorial power. Currently a hefty $47.95 at Amazon new and still $36 used, it’s worth every cent as a prime source.

Apart from Lang’s unerring objectivity, the book is special because Lang always nailed his victims by reproducing primary documents, so you can see for yourself the contempt they have for his ideal of accuracy. These self indictments show how much the corrspondents prefer that their errors and misleading public statements be forgotten or whitewashed than any corrections made. They are classic examples of the problem of correction of error that Lang sought to root out.

What many don’t realize is that in science correction of error is as hard as anywhere else. Walter Gilbert the crack Harvard biologist who won a Nobel for his great advance in DNA analysis once told this correspondent that if he ever took up a new line based on a journal report of an experiment, he would redo the experiment himself, and often found that it was simply wrong.

Gordan Moran, an established authority on irresponsibility and censorship in science by virtue of his classic book, “Silencing Scientists and Scholars in Other Fields: Power, Paradigm Controls, Peer Review, and Scholarly Communication (Ablex 1998), is now writing a second one on the difficulties of correcting false statements and research in science, art and other studies.

Lang’s “Challenges” goes beyond this general book level discussion by presenting letters, articles and all the other evidence to nail down exactly what went wrong in the reporting of facts in the investigation and reporting of the greatest professional scandals in science in recent decades, including the Baltimore case, the Gallo case, and the case of HIV and AIDS.

In these Lang clearly demonstrates that the investigations were compromised and the facts were manipulated by the principals, and glossed over and misreported in the mainstream press. The figures under investigation were never forced to take full responsibility for deplorable acts which flouted the spirit and the professional practice of science, not to mention abused the public trust and robbed the public purse.

In fact, after temporary setbacks in the form of official reprimand, forced resignation and withdrawn credit for discovery, the principals now are all thoroughly rehabilitated in books and articles and restored to their previous lustre, at least in the eyes of those not in the know. They now occupy peaks of positional power as high as ever. In Baltimore’s case, his presidency of Cal Tech is the West Coast equal of his previous position, the presidency of Rockefeller University, from which he was deposed by professorial disapproval.

The omission of mention of “Challenges” in the Times obituary last Sunday is a sad example of how this indispensable resource has been conveniently ignored by the establishment it aims to reform. Thus power speaks to truth. The result has been that the book is rare and not read by many who would find it exciting and rewarding fodder for their desire for truth rather than fiction in science and scholarship.

In fact, “Challenges”, together with Harvey Bialy’s “Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter Duesberg”, Duesberg’s own “Inventing the AIDS Virus” (Regnery, 1996) and Gordan Moran’s “Silencing Scientists and Scholars in Other Fields” are the prime bookshelf in this field, sine qua non briefings for anyone who wants to know how scientists and their editors really behave.

Here are the sparse Amazon editorial and customer reviews of “Challenges”:

Editorial Reviews

Book Description

This collection, based on several of Lang’s “Files,” deals with the area where science and academia meet the worlds of journalism and politics: social organization, government, and the roles that education and journalism play in shaping opinions leading to policy decisions. In discussing specific cases in which he became involved, Lang addresses general questions of standards: standards of journalism, standards of discourse, and standards of science. Recurring questions concern: – How people process information and how misinformation is spread and accepted – Inhibition of critical thinking and the role of education: teaching students to think clearly and independently — or conditioning them to accept dominant modes of perception uncritically – How to make corrections, and how attempts at corrections are sometimes obstructed – The extent to which we submit to the authority of those higher up, and whether one can keep the higher ups accountable, possibly in the face of evasions, stonewalling, and intimidation – The competence of so-called experts – Our responsibility for what we say or write – The use of editorial and academic power to suppress or marginalize ideas, evidence, or data that do not fit the tenets of certain establishments By dealing with case studies and providing extensive documentation, Lang challenges some individuals and establishments, at the same time that he challenges us to reconsider the ways they exercise their

Book Info

In discussing specific cases in which the author became involved, he addresses general questions of standards, standards of journalism, standards of discourse, and standards of science. Paper. DLC: Science – Moral and ethical aspects – U.S.

Product Details

* Paperback: 816 pages

* Publisher: Springer; 1 edition (October 30, 1997)

* Language: English

* ISBN: 0387948619

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

The review posted below from Boston is prize exhibit 1, July 15, 2004

Reviewer: textgenie “textgenie” (New York, NY USA) – See all my reviews

I hope no one will be put off by the review below this one, presumably some supporter of Huntingdon for reasons other than good logic.

The guy just completely missed the thrust of Lang’s comment, which is to point out, as enlighted commentators always do (pity they have to bother, it is such an obvious fact) that such terms as Liberal or Conservative are impossible to define with any rigor, and should never be used in any purportedly rigorous academic discussion and analysis. So just the fact that Huntington sets out to do that proves him the ass that Lang finds him, and skewers so effectively.

These are journalistic terms and Huntington’s level of thinking is that of a journalist, not an academic, as Lang shows in his file on Huntington. Nothing wrong with that, unless it is represented as academic rigor, which Huntington apparently does as a habit.

It is Huntington’s hapless lack of rigor which infuriates Lang, and which the poster is too obtuse to understand. This is the whole point of Challenges, and one thing that makes it exceptionally useful as a reference. Standards of logic and evidence are loosening all over, it sometimes seems, and certainly Huntington is an example, as measured by Lang, unless he has reformed since (this is quite a long time ago).

Challenges is an expensive book at first glance but once one reads it one realizes that it is worth the price for every File included. This book has the power to make a difference, unless of course it is misunderstood for emotional reasons. It is the kind of work which justifies the search for intelligent life on earth, which can easily seem hopeless if one reads too much Huntington level commentary.

Once one has read Challenges, one realizes how fatuous the confortable analyses in the likes of Foreign Affairs and similar establishment pap journals are.

1 of 12 people found the following review helpful:

intellectually dishonest, un-rigorous, and irresponsible, April 1, 2004

Reviewer: A reader

This book is god-awful. It is an astounding piece of writing I thought I would only have to encounter in a freshman composition class. It’s amazing that a mathematician can have so little sense of logic, rigor, or intellectual honesty. The book is an utter waste of time, and I feel for the scientists who have the misfortune to come under Lang’s gun. It’s like being accused of being a (…)communist–you must reply, but the accusation itself is so sloppy and absurd, replying is the worst thing you could do. I’ll just give you one example from the book. (You can pick a page at random and find several similar examples on your own).

On pp 53-54, Lang finally gives an actual quote from one of Huntington’s books. It is a lengthy passage, wherein Huntington defines what he means by the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” It appears from this excerpt that these are important terms he will be using often, and so takes some time to define them. (Indeed Lang calls this definition of “liberal” the “cornerstone” of the book.) Now here is Lang’s response to the definition: “I object to Huntington’s sweeping generalities. I don’t know anyone whose point of view fits the definition of Liberalism . . . that Huntington gives. Military men sometimes run a country by force, sometimes they seek or get political power, . . . but I have seen no evidence that they universally and at all times ‘claim that the natural relation among men is conflict,’ . . . or the rest of what Huntington attributes to ‘the military ethic.'”

You read that right. Lang’s argument against Huntington’s definition of the terms as he will use them is: “that’s not what I mean by ‘liberal.'”

This level of “argument” goes on page after page. It’s appalling this thing was ever published, and appalling Huntington was ever even expected to reply to these ravings.

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:

A clean window into the realpolitik of science and academia, April 15, 2001

Reviewer: textgenie “textgenie” (New York, NY USA) – See all my reviews

This is a quite remarkable collection of insider documentation of the ways in which incompetent, hypocritical or even downright fraudulent star members of the science and academic establishment weasel, evade and lie when faced with the intellectual Exocet missile that is Lang.

Lang is a mathematician with zero tolerance for any reshaping of the truth and he evidently has a fierce passion for taking the lid off the instances he finds where the bureaucracy or the prestigious, Nobel laureated leaders of science are misleading the public or their students and collegues.

More than that, however, he has an infinite capacity for keeping to the exact point of his insistence on factual statements and this leaves his hapless victims no room for wriggling. The cases which he builds, reproduced here, which he calls Files because they are complete records of the exchanges he builds up in corresponding directly with the various luminaries he challenges, are rounded off with reprints of the published articles and other material evidence of the case at issue. These enable the readers to be fully informed and judge the case for themselves, and they are as factually objective as good mathematical proofs.

As a record of what happens when the cosy collegiate fudging and mutual backscratching and support against exposure that normally goes on behind the closed doors of the establishment, and a collection which includes personally directed letters and exchanges which are not normally exposed to public view, this stuff is unbeatable.

Any reader who has an ambition to lose the naive view and see what really goes on behind the scenes quite starkly illuminated, including cases which are in at least one instance – the case of AIDS– evidently gigantic examples of scientific irresponsibility if not downright fraud, should buy this book. It shows convincingly how much of the conventional wisdom of the media in celebrating some figures and denigrating others in major scientific disputes, such as the Baltimore case, is evidently quite unjust.

There are no rivals I know of for this work by an established and reputable academic who is rare if not unique in putting truth above collegiality, even if it has won him a reputation as a crank. If he is a crank, he is certainly an informed one who makes the reader his equal in that respect. What a pity this hasn’t yet reached a truly wide audience. It might change the ways things are done.

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful:

Exhaustively documented dishonesty among scientists, January 6, 2000

Reviewer: Michael Buchanan (Princeton, New Jersey, USA) – See all my reviews

Lang’s Challenges is highly recommended for those who expect honesty and openness in academic science. Lang is very experienced in dealing with cases of academic fraud and coverup, and provides an excellent model for his successors to follow. In a series of four or five self-contained cases (termed “files”) the controversy is presented from its source materials, then Lang describes his response, the subjects’ counter-response, third party contributions to the controversy, etc. Much of this is through verbatim citations of correspondence, augmented with commentary on outcomes, the presentation of the controversy to the public, etc.

The controversies themselves are quite significant, revealing the impunity and fraudulence of prominent researchers, disturbing nonscientific and even scandalous behavior of major funding organizations, and the wholesale deception of the public in regard to the AIDS phenomenon. I expect intelligent readers of all fields will find this book to be a revelation in regard to the business of science in academia and government, and they will gain an understanding of what may lie behind the news from those areas.

There are only four, which shows how neglected this remarkable resource is. That partly flows from the disinterest the old fashioned Lang had in the Net. He preferred paper mail and the telephone, which he would use to call up and launch into a conversation without a greeting or even saying who it was.

Recently, however, we heard he allowed a student to show him what his exposure was on the Web, and was fascinated. According to our informant, he read an Amazon review by this writer of Harvey Bialy’s “Oncogenes, Aneuplody and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter Duesberg”, another of the handful of really important books available exposing the secret lives of scientists who play politics with and censor the truth behind the scenes.

“He knows what he is talking about!” Lang reportedly said approvingly. As far as we are concerned, there could be no higher accolade. It occupies the opposite end of the spectrum from the Pulitzer prizes, where apparently the general idea is that the winner is coopted by the establishment into joining the club and losing all critical faculties as far as fellow members are concerned.

The chances of a Pultizer committee recognizing talent which opposes its comfortable assumptions seem to us as low as the judges of a piano contest recognizing the value of great originality. But perhaps we are prejudiced by the award of a Pulitzer to “The Coming Plague” (Penguin, 1994) by Newsday’s Laurie Garrett, now at the Council of Foreign Relations uncritically raising the alarm over global health threats with barely a reference to the scientific literature, as previously noted.

This highly praised and prized book lost its authority with us on the basis of its half page (p. 383) dismissal of Duesberg’s extensive, peer reviewed review of HIV/AIDS as “debunked” and contradicting “overwhelming evidence”. That a professional and experienced journalist covering the science of disease didn’t credit a critic of impeccable standing, let alone notice for herself the absence of a single paper of proof that–or explanation of how–HIV caused AIDS in the “overwhelming” literature was more alarming than the coming plague in our eyes.

If there is one science book that deserves the Polk, Peabody snf Pulitzer rolled into one it is “Challenges”, but as its absence from the Times obituary presumably indicates, its chances are nil.

Enter the Web. Not only are its 816 pages freely advertised and available for a price at Amazon (sales rank 260,854 compared to #14,721 for Duesberg’s “Inventing..” and #287,590 for Harvey Bialy’s “Oncogenes”) but readers of Duesberg’s book may be drawn to his exemplary Web site http://www.duesberg.com and the Viewpoints page which lists excerpts from Serge Lang’s book http://duesberg.com/viewpoints/index.html.

Here anyone with a browser can read chunks of Challenges and there is nothing that the officials, editors and scientists that it condemns can do about it, other than maintain their silence about this diamond of a book and crank their noisemakers to drown out scientific and common sense among those who have not read it.

There is nothing like “Challenges” for the complete evisceration of the shallow attitudes that pass for thought in the conversation and writings of many scientists and journalists in this arena.

Lang trashes the trasher: the case of Cohen

Particular satisfying, for example, is the way in which Lang counters the fatuities of Jon Cohen, the Science writer assigned the putdown of Duesberg in 1994 which was accepted by many casual readers as definitive. Lang found Cohen’s questions (which Lang insisted be put in writing) so defective that he refused to deal with Cohen and wrote Daniel Koshland the editor of Science to say why.

Here is what he thought of the article:


One effect of the Science article of 9 December 1994 was to acknowledge officially, in the #1 magazine of the scientific establishment, the existence of an expanding challenge to the HIV/AIDS hypothesis and to the establishment’s way of dealing with this challenge in the past.

On the other hand, I regard the Science article of 9 December 1994 as tendentious and skewed, but here is not the place to make a comprehensive detailed analysis. However, I give a couple of examples.

First I object to personalizing dissent about the official line that “HIV causes AIDS” in the context of “The Duesberg Phenomenon.” I object to lumping together different people such as Harry Haverkos (who sponsored the NIDA May 1994 meeting on nitrite inhalants), the co-authors of the article on AIDS in Africa14 referred to in footnote 4, or myself among many others, as part of “the Duesberg phenomenon.” What has “not gone away” is that an increasing number of individual scientists, with different points of view, different backgrounds, and different responsibilities, have publicly documented reservations about the official position of the government or the scientific establishment concerning HIV and AIDS. Lumping together independent scientists under the single category of Duesberg “supporters” skewed the perspective on the dissenters and on their multiple reasons for dissent.

Second, the article completely omitted mention of dissenters such as Bialy and Haverkos, as well as many points raised by the dissenters. For example, the NIDA meeting of May, the position of Harry Haverkos on nitrite inhalants, the situation in Africa, the fact that malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, and influenza, test false positive on the HIV antibodies test, were still not mentioned in the Science article. The AAAS June meeting was mentioned in only one sentence: “In June, the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science) sponsored a daylong meeting at which the dissidents offered their points of view.” No indication was given what were these points of view.

Specific to Jon Cohen’s incompetence as a reporter was the footnote Lang appended in his book, just to make it crystal clear from the contact the unfortunate Cohen made with Lang to get some quotes from the Yale mathematician and find out why he supported a review of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis.

Footnotes for page 649

14 … Cohen tried to interview me. I asked that his questions be put in writing, and he faxed me a letter containing questions on 1 November 1994. I found Cohen’s questions and statements so defective that I refused to deal with him, and wrote a letter to Koshland explaining in detail why I refused to deal with Cohen. I made a line by line analysis of Cohen’s letter to me. For example, Cohen wrote me: “You extensively cite Duesberg’s writings and references that he has provided you with, yet I do not see any other references of AIDS literature. Have you investigated the AIDS literature to address the question about the link between HIV and AIDS?”

Cohen was referring to the present article, which I had sent to him before publication in the Yale Scientific. As I wrote to Koshland, Cohen’s statement (“Yet I do not see…”) documents blindness, as well as incompetence in processing information. To cite just two examples, in my article I quote from a paper by Papadopoulos et al (especially Bialy), and I devote an entire section to the paper by Ascher et al., published by Nature, and reported in the New York Times among many other newspapers which took seriously a press release by Nature. I did not get either of these papers from Duesberg. Bialy himself sent me his preprint.

In any case, what of it if Duesberg is kind enough to provide me with scholarly references at my request? I learned that malaria tests false positive for HIV antibodies from the Kary Mullis interview in the California Monthly, and I learned of a similar situation with respect to leprosy and tuberculosis from Neville Hodgkinson in the London Sunday Times. I asked Duesberg to provide me with the scholarly references to that effect, and he brought to my attention the actual scientific papers by others, reporting these facts. Scientifically, it does not matter who provided me with these references or when, but it was appropriate to acknowledge Duesberg for his bibliographical help.

There is intellectual pleasure in seeing someone finally nail the wriggling worms of specious and empty calumny which infest the public discourse about HIV/AIDS review.

Normally, to use another metaphor for a moment, it seems as impossible to take its practitioners to task as it is to shoot down a cloud of nerve gas with bullets.

Lang shows this is not the case after all. It can be done. He is uniquely willing to dig out individual worms from the rot and expose them to the light before chopping them with reason’s blade. It feels much as if we are relieved of some kind of worm under the skin ourselves.

What is sad is that even an accomplished journalist such as Jon Cohen is not atypical in his built in servility to mainstream opinion, even in the face of high qualified and established academic critics. If writers for Science can do no better, what hope is there for disinfecting the science pages in public discussion and ridding them of this bias?

The difficulty in communicating science news to the public

September 25th, 2005

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

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


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

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

The New York Times

September 18, 2005

Dangling Particles

By LISA RANDALL

Cambridge, Mass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

None at all, it seems.

September 23, 2005

Science and Uncertainty

To the Editor:

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

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

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

David C. Balderston

New York, Sept. 20, 2005

September 25, 2005

The Testable Theory

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Ahren Sadoff

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

The writer is a professor of physics at Cornell University.

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

September 12th, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New York Times

September 6, 2005

TELEVISION REVIEW; Through Shakespeare, Lessons of Life And Devotion

By ANITA GATES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.O.V.

The Hobart Shakespeareans

PBS, tonight at 10, check local listings.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the story in the LA Times

September 6, 2005

latimes.com : Education

Shakespeare, to expand their globe

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

By Merrill Balassone, Times Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson in teaching

By Steven G. Kellman

09/01/2005

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

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

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

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

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

The Hobart Shakespeareans

Dir. Mel Stuart

Some dissent.

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

©San Antonio Current 2005

This is an interview with Rafe and the filmmaker Mel:

The Atticus Finch of Hobart Elementary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mel, what led you to this documentary?

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

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

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

Fifth-graders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s an endorsement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I meant from other teachers or politically correct folk.

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

Exactly.

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

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

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

« AlterNet Home

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

September 9th, 2005

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

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


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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2005

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

Canadian Press

September 8, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Canadian Press 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

(Here is the full Times report:)

The New York Times

September 8, 2005

Glaxo to Acquire Canadian Vaccine Maker for $1.4 Billion

By ANDREW POLLACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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


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

(Here is the Times story by Celia Dugger:)

The New York Times

September 9, 2005

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

By CELIA W. DUGGER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The New York Times

September 8, 2005

Virus Ravaging India’s Poor Stirs Call for Counterattack

By SOMINI SENGUPTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Wednesday alone, 30 new patients were wheeled in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Gorakhpur for this article.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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

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

“AIDS repeats its dreadful patterns across this continent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air conditioning for igloos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duesberg smashes through on the Western front

August 5th, 2005

One of the most remarkable comebacks in science is happening as you read this blog. Peter Duesberg is winning on his Western front—cancer—the world war he had all but lost in the East—AIDS.

Stymied for twenty years in trying to overturn the Soviet-style dictatorship of the promoters of HIV/AIDS, Duesberg has also been blockaded for even longer in trying to overturn the richly funded and currently still fashionable theory of mutation in “oncogenes” as the cause of cancer.

Thirty years ago, having been responsible himself for kickstarting the paradigm by discovering the first and only proven example of an oncogene in a chicken virus, Duesberg then demonstrated his utter political impracticality (ie integrity, public spiritedness and vocational idealism) by soon renouncing the whole idea of oncogenes in humans—that individual human genes are linked to specific cancers eg prostate or breast. In fact, the first article he wrote which eviscerated the theory of HIV causing AIDS (in Cancer Research in 1987) only did it as an afterthought. The paper was in fact largely aimed at the other hollow paradigm, which also proved too entrenched to dislocate. Nobel prizes which would have gone to Duesberg were awarded to inferior scientists who toed the line.

Now, however, Duesberg is finally proving victorious on this Western front, where he can be said to be overrunning Europe and soon the world, since his new (though once mainstream) theory of where to look for the cause of cancer—in aneuploidy, the phenomenon common to cancer cells before they are cancerous, where they prove to have abnormal numbers of chromosomes, up to twice as many as a normal cell, in fact. Duesberg is attracting followers galore among the best of his opponents, who are already trying to steal his thunder and play down his contribution. They are also trying to keep their cake while it is being eaten up, of course, by suggesting that both oncogenes and aneuploidy are involved in cancer, Like cancer, oncogene theory is not going to die easily.

Upcoming reviews of Bialy book

All this is explained with hyperlucidity in Harvey Bialy’s powerful sleeper of a book, Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Life and Scientific Times of Peter H. Duesberg, which we have mentioned previously as the equivalent of a Stealth Bomber attack on the HIV and oncogene paradigms. Published last summer, it is being read by the scientific cognoscenti in ever widening circles but as yet has not reached the tipping point, it appears. But two powerfully supportive reviews are about to appear, adding to the review in Nature/Biotechnology last year in which the Australian independent-minded scientist and consultant George Miklos endorsed it as fully describing why both the HIV/AIDS and the oncogene paradigms have proved sterile as scientific explanations.

The two reviews, both of them scientifically well informed, will appear in the Journal of Scientific Exploration online, one of the more cogent and scientifically informed platforms for political dissent in science on the Web. They make the situation very clear, by quoting key points from the Bialy book, and we will give them a post to themselves following this one.

Tom Bethell tells non-scientists why aneuploidy is the new path to cancer’s mysteries, and oncogenes are not

Such reviews which boil down and clarify in stark outline the problems in AIDS, cancer and science in general that Bialy’s book exposes are what is needed. For the one problem with Bialy’s brilliant book is its paradoxical virtue, namely that it is too precisely and concisely expressed in scientific terms to be easily understood by the lay public, even though it is also full of telling scientific and social anecdote. Now, however, a very accessible account of what is involved on the oncogene side has been written by the essayist Tom Bethell in the Spectator.

If you come from outside science this will tell you all you need to know about what “aneuploidy” is, and why after years in the wilderness Duesberg is showing every sign of being given a seat anew at the High Table in science.

THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR JULY/AUGUST 2005

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Is cancer caused by gene mutations?

Tom Bethell

THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR JULY/AUGUST 2005

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Is cancer caused by gene mutations?

Tom Bethell

SCIENTISTS THESE DAYS TEND TO BELIEVE that almost any trait can be attributed to a gene. The gene obsession, showing up in science journals and on the front page of the New York Times, culminated in the Human Genome Project. The human genome was sequenced, then that of the fruit fly, the mouse, the chimpanzee, the roundworm, yeast, and rice. Computers cranked out their mindless data. It has been a bonanza for techies and the computer industry but the medical benefits have remained elusive.

Now they are talking about a Cancer Genome Project. It would determine the DNA sequence in 12,500 tumor samples and is supposed to reveal cancer causing mutations by comparing the order of the letters of the genetic code in tumor cells with sequences in healthy tissue. But there is no single cancer genome, and the project will not improve our understanding of cancer.

Cancer has proved resistant to every “breakthrough” and treatment hype, and the new approach will only sustain the error that has dominated cancer research for 30 years. Since the mid-1970s, leading researchers have doggedly pursued the fixed idea that cancer is caused by gene mutations. I believe it will prove to have been one of the great medical errors of the 20th century.

WHERE TO BEGIN? One place is a story in the Washington Post, a few months back, headlined “Genetic Test Is Predictor of Breast Cancer Relapse.” The test “marks one of the first tangible benefits of the massive effort to harness genetics to fight cancer,” Rob Stein wrote. No real benefits yet? I think that is correct. Two well-publicized genes supposedly predispose women for breast cancer, but in over 90 percent of cases these genes have shown no defect.

Genes that (allegedly) cause cancer when they are mutated are called oncogenes. They were reported in 1976 by J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus, who were rewarded with the Nobel Prize. Varmus became director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under President Clinton; Bishop, chancellor of the University of California in San Francisco, one of the largest medical-research institutions in the country. The two scientists had “discovered a collection of normal genes that can cause cancer when they go awry, Gina Kolata later reported in the New York Times. About 40 such genes had been discovered. Normally harmless, “they would spring into action and cause cancer if they were twitched by carcinogens.” When mutated, in other words. This was “a new era in research.”

The following week, on October 20, 1989, Science magazine also reported the award. The article claimed: “…the work of the Bishop-Varmus group has had a major impact on efforts to understand the genetic basis of cancer. Since their 1976 discovery, researchers have identified nearly 50 cellular genes with the potential of becoming oncogenes.” Their work was “already paying off clinically.”

And so it went. Researchers began to find more and more of these oncogenes; then “tumor suppressor genes” were added. Now, in the Washington Post article, we read that “researchers sifted through 250 genes that had been identified as playing a role in breast cancer.”

So, up to 250 genes are “playing a role.” The Sanger Institute, which was also involved in the human genome project, claimed recently that “currently more than one percent of all human genes are cancer genes.” The latest figure is 25,000 genes in total for humans, so that is surely where the 250 “cancer genes” came from.

At the beginning, the oncogene theory posited that a single gene, when mutated, turned a normal cell into a cancer cell. We have gone from 1 to 250, the latter “playing a role.” This “multiplication of entities” — genes — is the hallmark of a theory that is not working. It’s what philosophers call a “deteriorating paradigm.” The theory gets more and more complex to account for its lack of success. The number of oncogenes keeps going up, even as the total number of genes goes down. Six years ago some thought humans had 150,000 genes in all. Now it’s one-sixth that number. How long before they find that all the genes “play a role” in cancer?

IT ALWAYS WAS UNLIKELY that a single mutated gene would turn a cell into a cancer cell. Mutations occur at a predictable rate in the body. As the cells of the body number perhaps trillions we would all have cancer if a single hit was sufficient. Then came the “multiple hit” theory. Three or four, maybe six or seven genes would all have to mutate in the same cell during its lifetime. Then, bingo, your unlucky number had come up. That cell became a cancer cell. When it divided it just kept on and on dividing.

Meanwhile, the underlying theory never changed. The research establishment remains in thrall to the idea that cancer is caused by gene mutations. It was and is unable to lay its hands on the genes responsible, but it believes they are in there somewhere.

There are several problems with the theory, but the most basic is this. Researchers have never been able to show that a mutated gene, taken from a cancer cell, will transform normal cells in the petri dish. They are unable to show that the allegedly guilty party is capable of committing the crime. They can transport these mutated genes into test cells. And the supposed deadly genes are integrated into the cell’s DNA. But those cells do not turn into cancer cells, and if injected into experimental animals, they don’t cause tumors. That’s when the experts said, well, there must be four or five genes all acting at once in the cell. But they have never been able to say which ones, nor show that in any combination they do the foul deed.

There is even a genetically engineered strain of mice called OncoMouse. They have some of these oncogenes in every cell of their small bodies. You would have thought they would die of cancer immediately. But they leave the womb, gobble up food, and live long enough to reproduce and pass on their deadly genes to the next generation.

I have a suggestion for Gina Kolata, who still works on these issues for the New York Times. Why not try asking Varmus or Bishop exactly which genes, either individually or in combination, cause cancer in humans or anything else? I tried calling Bishop at UCSF a few months back but couldn’t get through. He will respond to the New York Times, surely. But maybe not with a straight answer.

The desire to start over with a “cancer genome project” tells you they know they are not even at first base. Dr. Harold Varmus, now president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, told the Times in March that the new project could completely change how we approach cancer.

Completely change? Maybe we do need a complete change. What about his decades-old Nobel work? Was that a waste? In a way I think it was worse than that, because when an erroneous theory is rewarded with the top prize in science, abandoning that theory is difficult. The backtracking required is an embarrassment to all.

JOURNALISM PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE. Especially in the field of medical science, there is a big problem. It exists at all major newspapers and I don’t mean to single out the New York Times. Science journalists don’t see themselves as qualified to challenge the experts. If a reporter were to do so, quoting nonapproved scientists, top-echelon NIH officials would surely complain to editors, and the reporter would be reassigned. The nation’s health would be said to be endangered.

All this contrasts with the far greater freedom that journalists enjoy in the political arena, including defense and foreign policy. About 35 years ago, leading newspaper editors decided to chart their own course and form their own judgments. The context was the Vietnam War, more specifically the Pentagon Papers. A big report critical of U.S. policy was leaked to the press, and the Nixon administration went to great pains to suppress it. National security was invoked, judicial restraining orders were issued, but eventually the “public’s right to know” trumped “national security.” The material was published.

That was the background from which Woodward and Bernstein and the Watergate investigation emerged a year later. And we were the better off for it. The real danger, then and now, was that of unchecked government power. And we are seeing that exercised in the realm of medical science, where we do not have a press that dares to think independently.

HOW DID THE IDEA TAKE ROOT that gene mutations cause cancer? Well, in the 1920s researchers bombarded fruit flies with X-rays and mutant flies resulted. Humans exposed to large X-ray doses a hundred years ago proved to be at high risk for skin cancer and leukemia. It was convincingly shown that X-rays produced both mutations and cancers.

Working at the NIH in the 1960s, the biochemist Bruce Ames used bacteria to detect the mutagenic properties of various substances. Some carcinogens proved to be mutagenic, hence the gene-mutation theory of cancer. Robert A. Weinberg, who directs a cancer research lab at MIT, says that by the 1970s he and others had come to believe that “Ames was preaching a great and simple lesson” about carcinogens: “Carcinogens are mutagens.”

Some are, but some of the best known are not. Neither asbestos nor coal tar, found in cigarettes, are mutagenic. They are carcinogens but they don’t affect the DNA — the genes. But there was one more crucial discovery still to be made. Or rather, rediscovery.

Robert Weinberg later claimed that a mutation in a single gene indeed had transformed a cell in vitro. But it turned out that the cell-line, one that had been provided by the NIH, was already “immortal,” or cancerous. It did not have the right number of chromosomes.

Normal cells have 46 chromosomes — 23 each from mother and father. Such cells are “diploid,” because their complement of chromosomes is doubled.

In case you never took biology, genes are segments of DNA strung along the chromosomes. The largest chromosomes, such as Chromosome 1 or 2, include several thousand genes each. Sometimes babies are born with one extra copy of the smallest chromosome, and because it is in the germ line this defect is in every cell of the body. Such babies have Down syndrome. Having an extra chromosome is serious business.

Here is the key point: cancer cells do not have the correct complement of chromosomes. Their “ploidy” is not good, so they are said to be aneuploid. Cancer cells are aneuploid. This defect arises not in the germ line, but in the grown body. Cells divide in the course of life, by a process called mitosis, and sometimes there is an error in the division. The chromosomes do not “segregate” properly (do not end up equally in the two daughter cells) and an extra chromosome may be hauled off into one of the new cells. Such over-burdened cells will usually die, but sometimes the error repeats and magnifies and increases. The cell just keeps on dividing, its control mechanisms overridden by the abundance of extra DNA in the cell. A tumor forms in that part of the body, and that is cancer. Some cancer cells may have as many as 80 chromosomes instead of 46. They may actually have double the right number of genes.

The aneuploid character of cancer cells is the first thing that Theodor Boveri and others noticed when they began to look at cancer under the microscope, 100 years ago. Leaving unresolved the question of what causes aneuploidy, early researchers thought that this was surely the genetic cause of cancer. Mutation didn’t enter into it. But gradually the early research was buried. In the last generation, textbooks on the cell and even textbooks on cancer have failed to mention aneuploidy or its bizarre chromosomal combinations. Weinberg wrote two books on cancer without mentioning aneuploidy. Overlooking what was plainly visible in the microscope, researchers worked for years with those defective, immortalized cell lines, assuming that their extra chromosomes were unimportant.

An analogy suggests the magnitude of the error. Cells today are compared to factories, so let’s think of an automobile plant. A cancer cell is the equivalent of a monster car with (let’s say) five wheels, two engines, and no brakes. Start it running and you can’t stop the damned thing. It’s hazardous to the community. The CEO wants to know what’s gone wrong so he sends underlings into the factory. There they find that instead of the anticipated 46 assembly lines, there are as many as 80. At the end of the process this weird machine gets bolted together and ploughs its way out the factory door.

But today’s gene mutation theorist is someone who says: “That’s not it. The extra assembly lines are irrelevant. What is happening is that three or four of the tens of thousands of workers along the assembly lines are not working right!” In the analogy, genes along the chromosomes correspond to workers along the assembly lines.

Any CEO would fire the lunatic who thought a few errant workers, and not the bizarre factory layout, had caused the mayhem. But in the realm of cancer research, those who do say that are rewarded with fat grants, top posts, and awards. That’s a measure of what has happened to cancer research.

I HAVE LEFT THE MOST DRAMATIC PART to the end. The man who rediscovered the old work on chromosomes and cancer and has drawn attention to it ever since, supported by investigations of his own, is none other than Peter Duesberg of U.C. Berkeley. He was already in the dog house at NIH for saying that AIDS is not an infectious disease and that HIV is harmless. All his grants were cut off in retribution. But as a member of the National Academy of Sciences he could still publish in respectable journals. So for the last seven years he has been drawing attention to the cancer matter. The NIH is pursuing the wrong theory, he says. Talk about persona non grata! No more grants for him! (And he has not received any.)

A researcher at the University of Washington who became controversial at NIH in an unrelated field warned Duesberg that “in the present system of NIH grants, there is no way to succeed.” No matter how much they prate in public about thinking outside the box and rewarding “high-risk” proposals, “the reviewers are the same and their self-interest is the same.” In the cancer field, grant proposals are reviewed by, and won by, proponents of the gene mutation theory.

Wayt Gibbs published a good article about Duesberg’s cancer findings in the Scientific American (July 2003). And this response is beginning to emerge in journals like Science: Er, well, there’s nothing new here … We have always known that aneuploidy is important in cancer. (Yes, but it was forgotten and then buried beneath the paper mountains of new research.) There is a quiet search for a “political” compromise: Can’t we say that both gene mutation and aneuploidy “play a role” in the genetics of cancer?

A leading cancer researcher, Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins, told me some time back that “at least 90 percent of human cancers are aneuploid.” More recently, his lab reported that aneuploidy “is consistently shown in virtually all cancers.” A few years ago, Varmus from Sloan-Kettering did answer my e-mail query, writing: “Aneuploidy, and other manifestations of chromosomal instability are major manifestations of many cancers and many labs have been working on them.” But, he added: “Any role they play will not diminish the crucial roles of mutant protooncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.”

But why not? Maybe aneuploidy is sufficient.

At the end of May, Duesberg was invited to speak at NIH. His topic: “Aneuploidy and Cancer: From Correlation to Causation.” About 100 people showed up at Building 10. The Genetics branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is interested in aneuploidy, and well aware of the political sensitivities. But I am told that the director of the NCI Andrew von Eschenbach, a political appointee, is not particularly interested in aneuploidy. He should be, though, because he is a cancer survivor himself and in speeches calls for “eliminating the suffering and death from cancer by 2015.”

Duesberg challenged the audience to prove him wrong. He is looking for diploid cancer: a solid tumor with the correct complement of chromosomes. He is not much interested in the compromise solutions — “a bit of both theories.” Prove me wrong, he says. A woman in the audience did suggest cases of tumors that looked diploid, but Duesberg knew the literature here and immediately referred her to a more recent study showing that these tumors, on closer microscopic inspection, proved to be aneuploid.

Maybe in the end he will show that in order to achieve a real breakthrough, it’s important not to be funded by the NIH. If so, we will all have learned a very expensive lesson.

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator.

JULY/AUGUST 2005 THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR

Who can be blamed?

If all this Duesbergian science proves out, and in both AIDS and cancer it is enshrined in the highest peer reviewed scientific literature, those responsible for misleading the world for so long on AIDS will not only have the shattered lives and eventual deaths of millions on their hands, deaths which include hundreds among the flower of art and culture in the US as well as millions of trusting innocents in the rest of the world, but also the responsibility of stalling the work on cancer of a scientist who is among the very best in the world.

In other words, to put it bluntly, the Bob Club and their fellow travelers among scientists, journalists, politicians and bureaucrats may well have blocked the discovery of a preventive for cancer in the last eighteen years. They not only crippled the work of Duesberg by vetoing his access to public funds (an interference which continues to date, and which was alleviated only by the intervention of private patrons such as Robert Leppo of San Francisco) but they diverted vast amounts of attention, personnel and public money to a scientific chimera.

Did they do this knowingly? This is the $64,000 question in science. There are many arguments to suggest that such self-interested opposition to enlightenment is unconscious, because it is self-deceptive and driven by all kinds of supportive emotions—envy, greed, fear and loathing—which are unseen devils in the subconscious of us all.

What makes it hard to accept that the right hand did not know what the left hand was up to is the degree of intelligence of most of the Club members. None of them have the fleet lightfootedness of Duesberg’s penetrating wit, which grasps the finer points so rapidly that while waiting for his lumbering opponents to catch up in debate, part of the brain is left idling and unfortunately liable to concoct a wickedly amusing phrase at their expense.

But Robert Gallo, Anthony Fauci and David Baltimore are no dummies, as their highly successful career moves show. At some point in the last twenty years, even these Ptolemaic apologists must have finally appreciated the mountainous size of the anomalies in the HIV/AIDS paradigm they have tried to explain away, and the complete absence of explanation or preventive that their theory has led to.

Or cure. Do they really think that the HAART regime counts as a cure, and renders the criticism null and void? According to Duesberg’s 2003 Journal of Biosciences wrap up, the scientific literature states that whatever temporary improvement may be felt or imagined by patients, it does not prevent eventual death, which it hastens fourfold.

But of course, in science as in life those committed to a viewpoint rarely read opposing arguments without prejudice, if they read them at all.

The CFR lets Laurie Garrett loose on AIDS and global security

July 18th, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

According to Holbrooke,

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

And according to Piot,

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

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

The New York Times

July 19, 2005

U.N. Cites Lag in Educating Peacekeepers About AIDS

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Here Garrett appended a footnote:

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

She then continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cont. Next post

The pressing need to spend $22 billion on global AIDS

July 7th, 2005

For twenty one years, there has been one consistent theme sung and trumpeted by all involved in the burgeoning and now global AIDS ideology, and that is the extreme importance of spending as large amounts of money as possible in combating the dread threat of a virus scientifically established as extremely un- or not at all infectious which lacks any peer-reviewed scientific explanation or proof of its supposed depredations, or indeed any proven significant presence in patients who are supposed to be deteriorating unto certain eventual death under its influence.

Yes, sir, the importance of spending ever larger sums of money defending against this terrifying threat in which a 9 kilobase wisp of RNA that hadn’t been observed by the health system directly or indirectly throughout human history until it popped up seemingly out of nowhere or perhaps from the moon or Mars or some distant star three decades ago is one of the few certainties of HIV AIDS.

Never mind that cancer, stroke, heart attack, TB, malaria and other well understood health threats decimate the populations of nations world wide with far greater totals of annual victims, the vital necessity of raising as much as possible to combat AIDS worldwide is the one sure thing of the field.

Anyone with political ambitions feeding off an image as a human rights advocate can say nothing guaranteed to win more instant approval from all quarters than to suggest that the disproportionate sum already applied to AIDS is still inadequate and must be immediately expanded by yet more billions if the global pandemic is to be prevented from swallowing what might be ultimately the entire population of the planet, given that unlike any other disease agent, there is nobody whose immune defenses can overcome this “insidious” and “cunning” virus.

So today we are not surprised to learn that the UNAIDS agency has upped the ante to $22 billion:

$22 Billion needed in 2008 to Reverse Spread of AIDS, UNAIDS reads a press release forwarded by a pr agency.

Almost US$22 billion will be needed in 2008 to reverse spread of AIDS in the developing world, according to latest estimates. These figures feature in a new report on estimated funding needs produced by the UNAIDS Secretariat, to be released to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board at the end of June.

$22 Billion needed in 2008 to Reverse Spread of AIDS, UNAIDS

Almost US$22 billion will be needed in 2008 to reverse spread of AIDS in the developing world, according to latest estimates. These figures feature in a new report on estimated funding needs produced by the UNAIDS Secretariat, to be released to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board at the end of June.

(I-Newswire) – Building on previous estimates, these figures have been developed using the latest available information and with the invaluable input from a newly established Resource Needs Steering Committee and Technical Working Group which are made up of international economists and AIDS experts from donor and developing countries, civil society, United Nations agencies and other international organizations.

“We have come a long way in mobilizing extra funds for AIDS, moving from millions to billions, but we still fall short of the US$22 billion needed in 2008,” said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. “AIDS poses an exceptional threat to humanity and the response needs to be equally exceptional, recognizing the urgency as well as the need for long term planning and financing.”

The revised estimates indicate funding needs of approximately US$15 billion in 2006, US$ 18 billion in 2007 and US$ 22 billion in 2008 for prevention, treatment and care, support for orphans and vulnerable children, as well as programme costs ( such as management of AIDS programmes and building of new hospitals and clinics ) and human resource costs ( includes training and recruitment of new doctors and nurses ).

This is the first time that specific attention is given to resource needs for longer term investments to improve country capacity in the health and social sectors through training of existing staff, recruiting and paying new staff and significant investments for building the necessary infrastructure. These financial requirements for the human resources and programme costs are preliminary, and will be further refined and improved.

Meeting the 2006-2008 resource needs would result in the following achievements:

— Prevention – A comprehensive prevention response by 2010, as is required to turn around the AIDS epidemic, based on the current coverage of services and the most recent evidence on actual rates of scaling up interventions.

— Treatment and care – 75% of people in need globally ( approximately 6.6 million people ) will have access to antiretroviral treatment by 2008, based on current coverage rates and rates of growth as seen in 2004.

— Orphans and vulnerable children – Increase of support from low levels of coverage to full coverage of all orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa, given that AIDS is responsible for more than 2/3 of children who have lost both parents, as well as AIDS orphans in other low and middle-income countries.

— Human resources – Covering the costs of recruiting and training additional doctors, nurses and community health workers in low-income countries, and two middle-income countries ( South Africa and Botswana ) and incentives to retain and attract people to the health sector. Future analyses will calculate costs for other health workers, including nurse practitioners, clinical officers and laboratory technicians.

— Programme costs – The construction of over 1000 new health centres ( to be available by 2010 ), based on the investments made during 2006-2008. An additional 19, 000 health centres and 800 hospitals would be renovated over the next three years to handle the scaling-up of HIV treatment and care.

According to the latest UNAIDS projections, a total of US$8.3 billion is estimated to be available from all sources in 2005, rising to US$ 8.9 billion and US$10 billion in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

As the response to AIDS is scaled up, funding estimates must be constantly revised and updated. UNAIDS will work with international donors and affected countries to refine the costing estimates, focusing particularly on strengthening health infrastructures.

UNAIDS has been producing resource needs estimates since 2001. Since that time there has been increased access to relevant data, a continuous improvement in the methodologies and new thinking about what comprises a comprehensive package of interventions to turn back the epidemic. The latest estimates constitute the best available assessment of global needs for AIDS and a rational basis for further discussion about AIDS funding in the international arena. The coverage levels presented in the analysis should not be considered as agreed targets, but the outcomes that could be expected if these resources were spent.

It appears that there is a funding gap between resources available and those needed of at least US $18 billion from 2005 to 2007. However, this is likely to be a significant underestimate. Determining the gap between resources available and resource needs is not a matter of simple subtraction. The resources available are based on pledges rather than budgets that have been finalized by governments; actual disbursements to countries are generally less than the total commitments; and the resources available are not necessarily being spent on the same sets of interventions that have been included in the resource needs estimations.

For more information, please contact Dominique De Santis, UNAIDS, tel. +41 22 791 4509, email. desantisd@unaids.org or Beth Magne-Watts, UNAIDS, tel. +41 22 791 5074, email. wattsb@unaids.org. For more information on UNAIDS, please visit http://www.unaids.org.

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E: cathy.bartley@ukonline.co.uk

E: peter.robbs@ukonline.co.uk

If this expanded activity is based on an entirely spurious medical fantasy, as the most intensely peer reviewed and peer cleared-for-publication-as-without identifiable-fault scientific literature finds it is, and a pack of some 2000 excruciatingly attentive scientists, doctors, journalists and other researchers also maintain in the face of exceptional social disapproval from a vast crowd of supporters none of whom have the same incentive to be sure of what they are talking about before taking a public position, then this is a seriously distorted allocation of aid money.

In fact, it is then a river of spending devoted to killing off the very people that the fundraisers and the people who support them in the assumption they know what they are doing believe they are rescuing.

Given the stink arising from what has been uncovered at the NIH now that the lid has been taken off the AIDS research arm of that gigantic institution (see preceding post ) , it may be time for all those leading and cheerleading the world in greasing the axles of this particular bandwagon to pause for review. Perhaps the staff employed by the President, Bill Clinton, Richard Holbrooke, and Jeffrey Sachs might be assigned to look into this festering issue instead of blithely ignoring it as politically untouchable. Perhaps there might be a sign of life from the appropriate Congressional investigating committee.

Will this happen, though? Cynics, step aside, we think it is just faintly possible. So we are going to call a few people to see what they think, Washington hands who have been around and know the inside of the Beltway like the back of their hands.

Who better to start with than Jonathan Fishbein, who has just been at least somewhat vindicated in his steel-spined whistleblowing as described in the previous post referred to, which exposed the sexually colored shenanigans of the disreputable bureaucrat running AIDS research at the NIH, and called into question the treatment of research studies on drugs there, in which according to Fishbein results were actually reversed, and reports were written up to say that atrociously run studies which were scientifically invalid nonetheless served to vindicate drugs which were widely suspected as being so damaging as to be useless.

We called Jonathan yesterday for a chat. We found him ebullient after the NIH report backing his criticisms, even though it was not yet revealed to have done so on the most important area of his criticism, the studies. The AP piece was based on a report by the NIH to the Senate Finance Committee which has not yet been made public, except by whatever public spirited bureaucrat got a copy to the AP reporter. Fishbein, who apparently has a lot of quiet support inside the agency he has been kicked out of, says he does not know the full contents yet.

The NIH report did at least make it quite clear that his allegations of gross misbehavior were valid. This is important since the misbehavior – sexually colored comments and the like – was aimed at members of his staff apparently in an attempt to scare them off in their investigations of procedural corruption.

So, given that a serious lack of integrity is what he found at DAIDS, the first thing we asked Fishbein was, had it made him doubt the whole story of AIDS, or at least give the naysayers a little more credit than he had before?

The answer to this was yes, it had somewhat, helped by an introduction he had received to Peter Duesberg, with whom he had had dinner in Washington two weeks ago when Duesberg was invited to the NIH to give an account of his new route to the cure for cancer, aneuploidy.

(If you don’t realize what that invitation means in regard to Duesberg, read the next post.)

On the other hand, he was hardly going to take any public position on it, given that his chief purpose now is to make sure that hearings on the NIH and his allegations is mounted on Capitol Hill, which is the only way he will achieve professional vindication and avoid the scarlet letter W for whistleblower emblazoned on his forehead forever.

What Fishbein told us we will post tomorrow.


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