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Harpers article a watershed in HIV?AIDS debate

Reasons to expect the HIV?AIDS cruise ship to take on water

That Harpers should be the one journal which has finally broken out of the group hynotic trance of mainstream-liberal-progressive editors in this area now seems inevitable, even though fifteen years ago it rejected an early, 1990 piece on Duesberg and HIV?AIDS politics along similar lines that was written for the magazine, which we happen to know editor Lewis Lapham liked at the time as “the kind of thing we should be publishing”.

As described in an earlier post, however, this fell by the wayside when Jack Hitt, the sub-editor on the piece, passed a newstand one morning and saw on the cover of Policy Review, the magazine of the right wing Heritage Foundation, two articles by Duesberg and Bryan Ellison, his graduate student co-author at the time, on the topic.

These two Policy Review articles and the correspondence they elicited have remained ever since the most intelligent public debate ever conducted on the theory of HIV as the cause of AIDS to this day, with the later debate in Reason a close second.

Why Harpers was shy of joining in such a debate in the wake of Policy Review was never explained, but one can speculate that the editor either felt scooped or was unwilling to lie in the same bed as those at the other end of the political spectrum, even on a non-partisan scientific issue. Or it could have been simply that the writer wasn’t able to peg it on on-the-record scientific mischief, as Celia Farber is able to do this time around.

Now, after fifteen years, Harpers has been finally moved to put its reputation on the line with a new and more powerful cannonade fired by writer and critic Farber, who has been an indefatigable chronicler of the scientific and medical war over HIV?AIDS from its beginning in 1987, when she interviewed Peter Duesberg for SPIN magazine.

We are glad she has finally been rewarded for her courage and perseverance in the face of so many years of social and journalistic punishment. For the path that an HIV?AIDS critic has to follow is not a happy one. There are probably more anti-free-speech religious zealots at large in this field than in a Muslim anti-cartoon rally, and few editors even among science publications with the strength of mind and purpose willing to flout them or the scientific establishment in HIV?AIDS.

Farber’s achievement here rests on a number of factors, it seems to us. First, she writes in a exceptionally honest fashion, which tends to win over the reader from the beginning with its lack of ego. With a deep moral sensitivity and empathy for the victims of injustice and neglect at the hands of officious arrogance, Farber couches her stories in human terms that every reader can relate to.

Probably this talent is inherited from her father, the longtime radio chat pioneer and now grand old man of broadcasting Barry Farber, who speaks 26 languages and is the subject of a new Swedish documentary.

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“Possibly the only liberal monthly whose editors are sufficiently worldly and independent to host such non-pc material in this area.”

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Beware the public relations functionary who makes a revealing remark within earshot of his daughter. The current piece has a classic specimen towards the end, a foolish remark Celia heard that all by itself sums up and embodies the burden of conformist prejudice and pr antagonism which weighs down free public discussion of the questionable science of HIV?AIDS.

I noticed a very angry-looking NIH publicist standing at the back of the room admonishing a colleague, a scientist. who’d posed a question that somehow connected (cancer) to HIV. “You opened it up,” she scolded. “We got through it OK and you opened it up.” As the questioner tried to defend himself, a thickset man who’d been standing in the circle said loudly, as though intending to broadcast it across the room: “Well at least if he’s wrong about this he won’t be be killing millions of people.”

But her success in gaining the imprimatur of Harpers also reflects the responsive character and nature of one of the country’s more enlightened publications, possibly the only liberal monthly whose editors are sufficiently worldly and independent to host such non-pc material in this area.

Given that most of the press and the public has been successfully bamboozled by the HIV?AIDS scientific establishment and their activist (and often drug company financed, Farber notes) supporters, so that the science of HIV?AIDS is beyond criticism, many will wonder how this came about. How did one of the most reputable magazines in the States come to commit what may be a decisive political act, one which breaks the liberal silence on HIV?AIDS and its suspect science?

Perhaps because it isn’t essentially a political act at all. For example, asked about this, Farber, by nature an observer rather than an activist, typically bridles at the characterisation of the editorial action as political. “I think you are committing the same error as the orthodox media and science establishment”, she responds. “There is no mystery. It’s journalism. Simply put, Harpers is run by very intelligent, conscious people who read. And who know the difference, as (Yale mathematician and accuracy scourge) Serge Lang famously phrased it, between a fact and a hole in the ground. This is pure reportage. It is not interrupted, as it has been so many times, by social anxiety. For that I thank them.”

Anxious to repudiate the idea that she is anything less than an objective writer, she recalls being interviewed by Malcolm Gladwell sixteen years ago, for a piece he never wrote, examining the psychology of so-called AIDS dissidents. “I said to him, we could talk about my childhood if you like, and your head might spin, but it would contain no revelations about why I see what I see. I see what I see. Because it’s there. You’re looking through the wrong end of the lens. Look at the story. Eye on the ball.”

Fair enough. That’s probably why Harpers likes her. At 156 years old and financially above the fray (it is supported largely by a private foundation) Harpers is essentially a generally skeptical rather than politically partisan magazine, given to politely but mercilessly deconstructing cultural attitudes and exposing the unwitting foolishness they often give rise to.

That power and money now drive great swathes of scientific research and may have led to the Enron of science in the case of HIV?AIDS is not something which Harpers was likely to overlook once they found the right writer, and it seems that destiny brought them Farber, whose feeling for the tragedy of human weakness on display throughout HIV?AIDS is a match for the Harpers predilection for pointing out the human flaws of the culture.

With a young editor, Roger Hodge, now taking the reins from Lapham after this issue, the magazine’s deep rooted realism about human nature seems likely to be applied to other scientific topics in future. For Hodge, who edited the Farber piece, is a philosophy scholar who hails from a ranching family in West Texas, and he is evidently not fazed as so many liberal editors and columnists are by scientific material.

In fact, there is more science in this new March issue, which follows Farber’s piece with “Viral Marketing”, a two page deconstruction of the Bird Flu medication panic by Peter Doshi, a young Harvard postgraduate who is also studying the inconsistencies of HIV?AIDS, and then a lengthy piece on the history of flash mobs adorned with several graphs. The few science-as-culture critics in the nation have a new space, it seems.

Reported and edited over nearly two years, “Out of Control” is polished to a careful brilliance and seems factually unassailable when measured against what we know of the deplorable situation in HIV?AIDS science.

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“It is a real contribution to sanity that a clear call for reexamination of HIV?AIDS has been made by a respected journal on the basis of a thorough report.”

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Clearly Farber with her years of practiced investigative reporting on this topic is on firm ground with her revelations of malpractice at the NIH, given that her main source from public records was a key figure in the scandal, the whistleblower Jonathan Fishbein, who was initially fired by DAIDS for discovering the very flaws in research studies he was explicitly hired to uncover.

Not really a whistleblower, but merely a man who tried to do on the inside the job he was hired to do, Fishbein has now been reinstated with full pay, and it looks as if the investigation into the extent of the coverup of bad research will continue.

The impact of the story

But what will be the impact of this story, the first serious exposure in a politically influential journal of the corruption in the state of HIV?AIDS, and the arguably false science upon which it is based? Given the psychological politics of this twisted scientific issue, it is a real contribution to sanity that a clear call for reexamination of HIV?AIDS has been made by a respected journal on the basis of a thorough report. While the editors take no sides the very publication of the piece is an powerful endorsement of its content as factually accurate (Harpers fact checks its authors assiduously, unlike the New York Times) and worthy of serious consideration.

One immediate blessing is that its factual credibility should spike the gunbarrels of the shoot-from-the-hip armchair gunslingers who interfere with honest discussion on the Web with their trolling and reflexive defense of the status quo in HIV?AIDS, and who torment the very few skeptical bloggers such as Dean Esmay (at http://www.deanesmay.com) who have tried to open up the debate.

Esmay was the first and still the only blogger to provoke serious discussion of the HIV issue in the blogosphere more than a year ago, and his files contain lengthy discussions which are worthwhile further reading (see the Category “Questioning the HIV/AIDS Establishment” on his site). As a result Esmay became personally convinced Duesberg’s critique is sound, and that HIV probably does not cause AIDS, but he tired of the way the dispute affected his reputation and popularity, and moved away from the topic.

Will Harpers’s more restrained editorial view, which merely asks for renewed and open debate, succeed in that goal in the corridors of power in government, science and the media?

There are several reasons we think so, though it is all too easy to be naive in the field of fantasy that is politics. In the first place, Harpers has a good deal of influence in liberal Democratic circles, and is widely respected across the political spectrum, partly because of its style is more literary and its critiques more cultural than politically partisan.

In this case, however, the glaring headline “Impeach Him” may put off as many readers as it attracts and provoke many to dismiss the adjoining story in the issue, as tainted with the same partisan brush, though of course neither is partisan. On the other hand, some suggest it will get plenty of brief exposure on the desks of the White House, and rest longer on those of the New York Times editors and other media people of influence, who have been so long been the docile puppets of the NIH and AIDS activists in the HIV?AIDS matter.

In the second place, the piece after two years of writing, editing and fact checking – and two decades of experience on the part of the writer – is armor plated against factual criticism, with few chinks visible, and surely impossible for the public relations flacks at the NIH or any other institution, such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, to turn aside with their usual casual disparagement and hints of discredited science and danger to the public health.

(Following an AP story on Hafford’s death) so-called community AIDS activists were sprung like cuckoo birds from grandfather clocks at the appointed hour to affirm the unwavering AIDS catechism: AIDS drugs save lives. To suggest otherwise is to endanger millions of African babies. Front and center were organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which extolled the importance of nevirapine. Elizabeth Glaser’s nevirapine defenders apparently didn’t encounter a single media professional who knew, or cared, that the organization had received $1 million from nevirapine’s maker, Boehringer Ingelheim, in 2000. This was no scandal, but part of a landscape. Pharmaceutical companies fund AIDS organisations, which in turn are quoted uncritically in the media about how many lives their drugs save. This time the AIDS organizations were joined by none other than the White House, which was in the midst of promoting a major program to make nevirapine available across Africa.

It is hard to see how much of an explicit defense can be mounted against such revelations, which are supported by footnotes added throughout. We expect a significant silence on the part of such targets as the Glaser Foundation, which asked for an early copy of the issue last week. In fact, we predict that ignoring and poo-pooing Harpers will be the theme of the week in Washington at NIAID, just as it has been for twenty years the successful strategy in the paradigm debate. But this time, we predict, it won’t work very long.

Why it cannot be easily dismissed

For most importantly, the piece doesn’t hinge on the rightness or wrongness of that vexed paradigm, the HIV?AIDS theory of causation, even though its scientific impeccable critic Duesberg is given a full run for his money in the final section of the piece. So its complaints cannot be dismissed as those of inexpert journalists contradicting science they do not fully understand.

Instead, the piece’s moral and political outrage centers on the abominable abortion of scientific process and the lethal flouting of scientific standards that Farber has reported so clearly in the most important of the four hundred of so trials that the DAIDS has conducted over the past few years. The scandal of nevirapine which includes the misreporting and even reversal of the results of a trial in Uganda that indicated that the drug was too dangerous to use is something which will continue to be investigated, it seems clear, especially after this piece is widely read.

So all in all, we expect that the publication of this piece may be a watershed in the politics of HIV?AIDS science, which may at long last turn the tide towards reexamination of the science of HIV?AIDS from the outside. Probably editors in the press and producers in television will now be emboldened to consider alternative points of view in covering HIV?AIDS instead of merely parroting the party line as dictated by Anthony Fauci and his pr force.

It even seems possible that the continuing investigation by the Inspector General’s office of and awareness of the rot at DIAIDS may well result in a committee hearing of some kind, which will if it comes about provide the incentive and the opportunity for questioning scientists about the validity of the paradigm, and why it has had to be so strenuously protected as politically sacrosanct and scientifically unquestionable if it is in fact so clearly true.

Since such enquiry will no doubt call upon testimony by Peter Duesberg, we see every chance that a reassessment will be demanded of the theory at the heart of HIV?AIDS to see whether public funds are being spent on the right basis.

If this is the case, we forsee early retirement and perhaps eventually an orange jumpsuit for Anthony Fauci and his key underlings at the NIAID who have perpetrated what looks like scientific fraud in the administration and reporting of nevirapine trials, and renewed hope of placing HIV?AIDS medical thinking on a firmer scientific foundation than the current ideology, which has been so long refuted by the most tested scientific literature in the field, the intensely refereed (and thus validated) critical reviews of Peter Duesberg.

And lastly, a final reason for expecting “Out of Control” to begin a slow turning of the mammoth drug company cruise liner HIV?AIDS onto a new course. As we have noted, Farber’s contribution is by no means over with this seminal piece. For as noted on the first page of “Out of Control”, she is writing a book on her years of AIDS reporting for Melville House, a small but distinguished publisher in New York City.

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