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Altman leaving Times

Mediabistro signal that “staff doctor” may be exiting

Roadblock to good science removed, at least in AIDS

But immovable pyramid of politics will remain


There is not a crime, there is not a vice which does not live in secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away. – Joseph Pulitzer.

lawrence_altman.gifInteresting blip from MediaBistro today, a site that follows media job changes and similar. A recurring theme is the great bloodletting from newspapers whose classified ads have been replaced by Craigs List. This has now hit the Times, which recently offered buyouts and is now having to contemplate forcible layoffs. Included in either the former or the latter is none other than Larry Altman, whose CDC bred politics have been a big factor in the Times’s skewed coverage of AIDS science and medicine in the last 23 years.

By this we mean that Dr Altman, a graduate of CDC training in disease chasing, has shown a mysterious lack of evenhandedness in covering the vexed debate over the cause of AIDS, ever since his reports of Robert Gallo’s claim that HIV was a “probable” cause of AIDS in 1984 somehow turned into “the cause of AIDS” within a few weeks, and the phrase “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS” has been boiler plate in Times reporting ever since.

The man who sold out the Times

If there is one man who is largely responsible for the Times pusillanimous and one-sided coverage of AIDS science over the years, where reporting on an extremely fine scientist, Peter Duesberg, and his high level, peer-reviewed, unanswered critique and review rejecting HIV as the cause of AIDS or any human ailment, has been minimal to non-existent it is surely Lawrence K. Altman, whose cooperation with the self-interested policies of scientists and NIAID officials in keeping readers in the dark as to the real merits of the scientific doubts on HIV is an example not only of petty cowardice and dereliction of professional duty as a journalist, but also a failure to observe the Hippocratic oath he presumably swore to when embarking on his medical career, such as it was and is.

new_york_times_building.jpgNow that he is about to be removed from the scene, this large personal roadblock in the way of properly balanced coverage of the scene in AIDS science and medicine will dissolve, but we wonder how much difference this will make now, so late in the game. The Times in its enfeebled state is in no position to face up to its public duty and confess how badly it has behaved in this arena. Its culpability as the leading print institution in daily newspapers in this country is so enormous that even the great moral duty it has to stop misleading the public is probably not enough to make it change course now.

Here is the report from MediaBistro:

NY Times Expects Newsroom Layoffs (NYO):

The New York Times announced that it’s all but a done deal that the paper will have to lay off staffers in the newsroom. The drop-dead deadline is fast approaching for newsroom staffers to volunteer for a buyout. An internal memo from the paper’s assistant managing editor, Bill Schmidt, said that the paper expects it will be forced to cut the newsroom through layoffs. NYP: “While we will not know the hard count until that time, every effort to handicap the outcome suggests that we are almost certain to fall short of the number of volunteers we will need,” Schmidt said in a memo to staffers yesterday. Radar: Reporters and editors who have either already made up their minds or are strongly leaning towards accepting the buyout include investigative reporter Philip Shenon of the Washington bureau, education reporter Karen Arenson, Jane Gross, and Lawrence K. Altman, the staff “doctor” who has been writing about medicine and evaluating the health of presidents for 39 years.

As in the retirement of John Maddox of Nature, one can only sadly reflect on how a great career has been flawed by taking sides in a scientific paradigm dispute, when to remain objective in such cases is the first professional duty of a science reporter and editor. The internal politics of science, where scientists are influenced by their own self-interest, should never carry over into journalism and see reporters and editors carry water for the prominent mainstream scientists and bureaucrats whose careers are founded on the status quo.

But this is what has happened in the science coverage of AIDS in the Times and elsewhere, where other media follow the Times’ lead.

In a sin even greater than publishing the fictions of Jayson Blair on its front page, the Times – the newspaper of record – has failed to live up to its public responsibilities for 23 years and counting. And the name that will go down in history as most responsible for this appalling mistake is Lawrence K. Altman.

7 Responses to “Altman leaving Times”

  1. Michael Says:

    One more down and out, leaving but 999,998 more closed-minded-biased-nonthinkers in positions of influence and authority yet to go.

  2. Cathyvm Says:

    999,998 meme Gottliebs, clinging to the wall, 999,998 meme Gottliebs, clinging to the wall, and if one meme Gottlieb should accidentally fall, there’ll be 999,997 meme Gottliebs, clinging to the wall…

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    Hehe …clever. And apt.

    Except, ladies and gentleman, we believe you are overlooking a point on the other side, ie “what if”. What if Lawrence K. Altman, New York Times medical correspondent for over two decades, and “writing about medicine” for 39 years, had been a principled and professional reporter, not to mention a decent human being?

    What if he had acted in a way consonant with the public service requirements of his high professional standing and his influence on the direction taken by his editors, partly, no doubt, on his advice, and taken care to ensure that, whatever Dr Anthony “Anyone who mentions Duesberg will be sent to Coventry forever” Fauci ordained, coverage at the Times of the disputed cause and its high level (as in ‘above Altman’s head’) reviews in the mainstream literature rejecting it as absurdly inconsistent with scientific reality, let alone itself would have been objective ie politically neutral, and covering each side’s position according to its peer reviewed and acknowledged merits and the credentials of the scientists supporting each side, hardly a difficult trick even for a doctor, a species almost as notorious as reporters for its lack of training in independent thought.

    If he had behaved in such a proper manner it would have ensured that the mighty Times did not mislead the public for twenty three years by choosing sides in a dispute still unresolved inside science for political reasons which are no business of any Times reporter to join in, especially when the dispute is clearly decided hands down in the journal literature ie the review met no convincing rebuttals at all, and none at the peer reviewed high level of the journals which carried the initial comprehensive critiques which unequivocally rejected HIV as the cause of AIDS, something that needs to be appreciated by anybody reading the post and surprised to find the world’s greatest newspaper charged with being misled and misleading in this way.

    What a world of difference this would have made. Seems doubtful that any of this would have been successfully repressed , concealed and censored by the NIAID leader and his coteri of HIV paradigm enthusiasts among scientists, not excluding Harold Varmus etc.

    In other words, Larry the K is not 1 in 999,999 but possibly the key to the direction in which the 999,999 lemmings rushed.

    So one might say he was 1 in 3 or 4.

  4. yello Says:

    Is it just me, or does the AIDS juggernaut seem to be rather subdued lately?

  5. MartinDKessler Says:

    Hi yello, I think that the seemingly subdued juggernaut may be due to the predictable vaccine trial failure. What’s puzzling to me is why the leaders in the establishment were so surprised about it’s outcome. A cynic would say that Fauci and Gallo were pretending to be surprised. Gallo’s dramatic statement that the failure was similar in scope to the Challenger disaster. I don’t think the analogy is apt except for the very real possibility of a funding deficit. The major donors for the AIDS debacle may be questioning why with all the money AIDS has received NOTHING has come of it – no vaccine – no cure – nada. That Fauci said they might have to go back to the basics – like learning more about the biology of HIV – might strike some like us dissidents as kind of strange. You’d think with all the “research” on this purported retrovirus they would really know every last thing about it – what about the biology don’t they know? Well everything – they never really had one of those bugs to study -and unless I’m mistaken, just bits and pieces – no retrovirus – no isolation – no electron photomicrographs – nada. The interesting coincidence of Altman leaving the Times and the bankruptcy of the Merck Vaccine trials seems to me more than just a coincidence.

  6. Michael Says:

    I thought it best to keep the following safe for posterity by posting it safely here on NAR.

    It is a post that had been left on Tara Smith’s Aetiology Blog site, but was quickly disemvowelled (sic) and made unreadable by the blog host.

    It was only up for a few minutes, and had been left by someone posting as Dr. Rethinkerus DoubleDockus. Upon disemvowelling, it was reposted by Tara as attributed to “Michael Geiger”, but not before some valiant dissident copied and pasted the original elsewhere.

    As such, here it is, in all its splendor and glory,

    The much too hot to handle by Tara Smith, The Banned, The Censored, The ONE, and The ONLY, The DISEMVOWELLED AETIOLOGY POST”

    Well, alright now, boys and girls! On that pleasant note, perhaps it is time we move on with the subject of this blog. After all, it is a blog about the “Science of Aetiology”. Since Tara is seemingly not well enough to create an interesting post, perhaps we could help her out.

    I therefore suggest a new topic of discussion, such as, let’s say,

    ”The Likely Viral Origin And Aetiology of Trolls, or Trollitus Incognitus Unawarenus Disease or TIUD”

    To begin such a discussion, we must first of all uncover the full definition of “Trollitus”. As the definition of any disease is always dependent on its symptoms, we will first analyze the sysmptoms:

    Some, if not even the majority of the mostly juvenile sufferers of Trollitis, seem to share many common symptoms and we will analyze these in depth. The leading symptom of Trollitus is that sufferers unwittingly project the image of trolls upon anyone who just so happens to disagree with them on a particular subject. As such, the disease seems to begin in the brain, and then extends to affecting eyesight, as the patients begin to see trolls everywhere but in the mirror. Everything they read seems to be filtered through visions of trolls and they become incapable of understanding what they are reading.

    From the brain and eyes, it seems to extend down into the gut, which exhibits intense feelings of twisting, knotting, and discomfort to the sufferers. Relief is often found by lashing out at those they perceive to be trolls, without being aware that they themselves are, or have turned into one themselves. It progressively travels through the body and exhibits itself in the throats and mouths of sufferers, who tend to babble incoherently at their loved ones and associates endlessly but quite needlessly about trolls.

    From there, it extends into the extremities. The mouth begins to angrily utter nonsense and ad hominems to the point of foaming. The feet slam upon the floor, and the fingers beat relentlessly on the keyboard or tap, slap, or beat upon the desk. And all the while, the heart is racing, the chest tightens, and breathing becomes restricted, which then affects oxygen levels in the brain, often resulting in noticeable dementia and brain wasting, with some dropping over dead rapidly, some slowly, but each and every sufferer is also found eventually even to die with a 100 percent mortality rate. Therefore, it is found that Trollitus, once acquired is always a highly deadly disease.

    Some Trollitus Denialists ask, “Is Trollitus actually not merely due to over-emotionality and not even viral in origin? Is it actually viral, and what is the mechanism for such? Are the symptoms of Trollitus the definition of the disease, or is this the definition of juveniley inspired immaturity and growing pains that are based in beliefs, and as such, due to biased, bigoted intolerance?

    The answer, is that Scientific Consensus, through analyzing many of the sufferers, has now been reached.
    It has been determined by those of us who have been generously funded by taxpayers to study these cases, that, as the symptoms are quite obviously physical in nature, there absolutely must be physical origins such as a virus or retrovirus at work. Period. End of discussion.

    As an epidemic of Trollitus is sweeping through the masses, with a substantial number of cases particularly found in those in the field of virology, this points out again to a viral origin. As such, it is of the utmost importance to demand more funding, as wll as early intervention and rapid rollout of treatment for this disease by the government. AZT has been found to quickly quiet the minds of sufferers, who within just a few months of treatment, do eventually refrain from babbling about seeing trolls.

    As it is obviously viral in origin, and as the sufferers are easily and early diagnosed as the ones who have visions of seeing trolls everywhere, these are the ones who must be quarantined and put onto immediate antiviral and antiretroviral treatments, just to keep civilized society and government officials safe.

    The Trollitus Denialists must be shut up, removed from our government and universities and labs, and must be kept from interfering with our “Great Work”, as public health, safety, and all of our lives hang in the balance.

    As even just a few days of suffering with this disease is proven to be highly contagious, and as it has been shown that Trollitus has become associated with heart attacks, liver failure, immune system dysfunction, inflammations, palpitations, brain wasting, and 30 associated diseases, it is crucial that sufferers are given early treatment.

    As such, we will be rounding up all of those, particularly the posters on the Aetiology Blog site, who have repetitively projected and used the word “Troll” upon others. We will be quarantining them and treating them with the lifelong AZT and ARVs that for some strange reason are being rejected by the gay and black HIV positive communities.

    As such, the government will now increase funding for research, and will pay for the full treatment and hospitalizations, which will have the added benefit of keeping the remaining scientific population at work, and will keep pharmaceutical business and employees at work.

    But further increased funding will be needed, as there is currently no cure, no vaccination, and none in sight for a thousand years.

    Dr. Rethinkerus Doubledockus

    http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2008/05/on_hiatus.php#comment-873331.

  7. Truthseeker Says:

    As reader will find if they follow that link above, Tara Smith’s Aetiology blog continues to host comment discussions of the merits or otherwise of HIV/AIDS dissent, with considerable mutual scorn and derision given full vent by Smith and her fellow paradigm faithful and on the other side, the dissenters, whose exasperating presence has provoked the estimable blog hostess in her last post to wonder what she might do for relief.

    Interestingly, a fairly balanced piece of advice followed almost immediately in her Comment thread, as follows:

    Tara, I do understand your frustration with those who you now label as trolls, and I assume you are referring to the hiv dissident community. Certainly, many times, myself included, out of pure frustration we are indeed guilty as charged. Guilty of harassment, mud-slinging, contempt, name-calling, even pure hatred, and more at times.

    However, it seems to me that I remember an email that was sent to you very early on in the discussions, that encouraged and advised you to take a neutral stand on the issue, and simply to be a real “moderator”, instead of pitting one side against another.

    You responded to that email with a “Hell no, I will NOT BE NEUTRAL on this issue”.

    Well, this IS your blog, and you ARE entitled to your own opinions and beliefs and to run this site any way you see fit.

    However, as with ALL choices in life, every choice has its consequences.

    You yourself set the tone for the discussions by choosing to label those who you disagreed with as “denialists”. You chose to tell them how wrong they are and how right you are. You yourself have had a full hand in creating an atmosphere of animosity here.

    There is an old saying that “As one sows, so shall they reap”.

    I must say that as long as you yourself continue to deride others whom you disagree with, or tolerate the rethinker community to be slandered and labeled and impugned by those who also happen to agree with your own beliefs, I would tend to think that such animosities will likely continue in the future.

    There is much you could do to diffuse all of the hostility, but, as of yet, I have not seen you do so. But as I said, you are entitled to run this blog any way you see fit.

    Though I for one, would greatly appreciate if you were to take the position of an actual “moderator” in discussions, and be fair, tolerant, accepting, and allowing of everyones contributions, as well as intolerant and unaccepting of all ad-hominems, including your own.

    I thank you in advance, and look forward to a new and improved Aetiology site in the future, where all, and not just those you agree with, are valued and treated respectfully and equally.

    If you would but set the tone, I promise you the rest of us will do our best to follow. And please do discipline us fairly if we should not toe the line. That doesn’t mean we will all always agree with each other. It means that we will treat each other with the dignity, respect, and freedom, that all of us are entitled to, especially when we do simply disagree.

    Thank you.

    Posted by: Ahemmmm | May 1, 2008 2:30 PM

    This seems to be a reasonable suggestion, but unlikely to be followed, as Tara’s earlier response to an email along the same lines from the same writer apparently showed:

    However, it seems to me that I remember an email that was sent to you very early on in the discussions, that encouraged and advised you to take a neutral stand on the issue, and simply to be a real “moderator”, instead of pitting one side against another.

    You responded to that email with a “Hell no, I will NOT BE NEUTRAL on this issue”.

    As her response and the rest of the comment thread shows all too clearly, supporters of the paradigm such as Tara and her followers tend to assume as a premise of all their thinking that the paradigm must be right. In other words, the judgment is rendered before the case is tried, whether or not this or that small point may be granted.

    Equally, the dissenters, having devoted a considerable amount of time to looking into the question themselves, and finding such a forest of paradox and inconsistency that even the Samurai sword of scientific logic cannot cut a path through it easily, are equally compromised by having made up their minds with certainty before any discussion occurs.

    It is this certainty allows emotions on both sides to well up and overflow with resentment, rage and blind frustration at the pigheaded, one sided, unreasonable, obdurate, closeminded deafness of the obviously wrong debaters on the other side, without the ameliorating effect of a philosophically more sophisticated participant’s openmindedness in discussion, borne of doubt, which engenders a willingness to hear and listen to the other side’s points in case they have a point, and may prove one wrong after all.

    This is why most Web discussions on blog comment threads are more or less unprofitable in changing the minds of participants.

    (In our opinion, by the way, the two are not equivalent.

    The paradigm supporters’ irritation with the dissidents’ gadfly objections to what otherwise seems to them biblical certainty arises from a) an unwarranted faith in received wisdom and officially sanctioned claims, and b) a gross lack of attention to the problems and inconsistencies of established wisdom in this matter.

    Whereas the dissidents’ certainty that the paradigm defenders’ blockheaded blindness to these inconsistencies, and Ptolemeiac rationalizing in defense of the absurdities of the current ideology, is informed by far more thought about the issue and is thus more justified. After all, anyone who takes an unpopular position, which they know risks their reputation and is likely to incur scorn and derision, is bound to be spurred to more careful analysis, because they know that they will be tested at every turn, not to mention risk lethal financial and social sanctions.)

    But what should Tara do? One action that can be taken is to ban ad hominem remarks, which is the policy of this site. At least then the points made by either side will not be obscured by furious rants and biting sarcasm, even though often phrased in rather amusing and imaginative terms by the dissenters, who always seem to have more imagination and wit than the defenders for some reason.

    Exactly why this is is a matter for psychologists to pursue, but we venture to suggest that independent minds are usually better equipped than those who follow a party line, since they are by definition the more original thinkers. Party hacks can gain privileged positions merely by toeing the party line, which is usually a matter of memorizing and even studiously avoiding independent thought, as exampled by Tara Smith, Chris Noble and other notorious paradigm sycophants in the case of HIV/AIDS.

    One distinguished blogger who has followed our policy of banning ad hominem comments and who seems to be sticking to such a sensible policy far more closely than we have is the estimable Dr Henry Bauer, the distinguished author of the best recent book on the HIV/AIDS issue (see the link provided on our main page) along with Rebecca Culshaw’s shorter and sharper fusillade along the same lines (se also linked here on the front page Blogroll).

    Recently Dr Bauer rejected the ad hominem remarks of the notorious Chris Noble, much to his indignation, and had to explain to him what ad hominem means.

    Dr Bauer’s blog, by the way, is becoming one of the best sites to visit to catch up with the latest irrationality he has detected in the HIV/AIDS mess (for its link, see our Blogroll on the main page).

    Unfortunately this firm handed policy newly asserted by Professor Bauer in the face of Mr Noble’s spoiler has resulted in Bauer being attacked on the famously misleading HIV/AIDS disinformation site, AIDSTruth.org, for his supposed homophobia. Sadly, this ad hominem response. the accusation of homophobia, void as it is of relevant scientific logic or evidence for the HIV/AIDS faith, is now a common risk run by anyone who publicly dissents from the conventional wisdom, though for some reason we have not been accused of it here.

    Precisely why scientists and others arguing that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that patients should be preserved from deadly drugs administered on this basis should be counted as homophobic is a mystery that only anthropologists of science can address.

    Compare the policy of Dr Bauer with the response of the notoriously comely Tara (see her own picture at the top left of every page of her combative blog, Aetiology, see our link list) to Michael Geiger’s harmless post above suggesting that paradigm defenders of the reflex kind seen on Aetiology threads are the true trolls. What possible good can the process of reposting the post she objects to with its text eviscerated of vowels do? Does it preserve the thread from being muddied by jocular but quite appropriate meta-discussion of the motives and qualifications of posters?

    It is absurd.

    But then, this is perfectly consistent with the absurdity and low intelligence of most of the paradigm defense offered by HIV/AIDS ideology supporters, even by the nubile and energetic Professor Smith.

    In saying this about her defense and her arguments we are not, of course, being ad hominem, since we are otherwise fervent admirers of her image and her personality, of which we have no personal knowledge other than what is suggested by her lively blog and by her public service in providing some kind of platform for the dissenters, even if in her eyes they abuse the privilege somewhat.

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