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Harper’s prints six pages of HIV?AIDS letters

“Gallo versus Farber” headlined on cover – A torrent of overclaiming by Robert Gallo – Farber suggests solution: do the experiments

Here’s a first look at Harpers this month, for those still bereft of their subscription or newstand copies, as we are (click the photos twice for supersize). This copy is from Barnes and Noble on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, one of the few places to have it today. On the front flap, there is a special listing for the Gallo versus Celia Farber letters column debate, six pages of it: “Robert Gallo and Celia Farber, an Exchange”. On the cover, also, “Robert Gallo and Celia Farber”. Not a word about the Impeach Nixon essay by Lewis Lapham, which attracted so much attention to the same March issue. Clearly Roger D. Hodge, the new editor, recognizes the importance of continuing the debate.

The lead letter is by Rebecca Culshaw, the assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Tyler who modeled HIV?AIDS for ten years until she recently gave up on it making any sense, and posted her renunciation of HIV as the cause of AIDS, Why I Quit HIV on LewRockwell. She commends Harper’s, saying that the paradigm is a model which neither accounts for observations nor yields good predictions, and after twenty years without a cure or a vaccine, it is high time for a scientific debate.

Next is Mark Biernbaum, Ph.D., a gay, HIV+ psychologist and researcher who had not heard of the issue before he read Farber’s piece, and found it confirmed doubts that had long gathered in his mind. “I wondered why my friend passed away from liver failure…” He has often interrupted medications on his own initiative and recently his doctor has backed him on the stand, advising him to stay off the drugs as much as possible because they are immunosuppressive. He is baffled by the “vitriolic, character assassinating responses” he had seen to the Harper’s piece and sees no reason why Duesberg should be called “crazy” and Farber a “crackpot” for suggesting chronic drug use and malnutrition cause illness. “In science”, he says, we “test rival hypotheses in order to rule them out. No hypothesis regarding AIDS can be rejected until its espousers receive funding to test it.”

This is followed by what may be the most politically significant letter, by activist playwright Larry Kramer, the HIV+ founder of ACT-UP. It is a classic example of how the Farber’s piece, appearing in the very long established (a century and a half) and well trusted Harper’s, throws a spanner in the mental works of all who have long taken the conventional wisdom of HIV?AIDS as scientific and medical gospel, only to find the reputable Harper’s questioning not only the way the research is done, but the science itself. First Kramer hurries to mark the piece as outlandish – “putting aside the question of how (it) got into an estimable magazine like Harper’s” – “scary”, “validating secret fears, irrational as these fears may or may not be”,”, “even I can see holes in her arguments”, “she portrays the NIH as horrific (but) millions of us who a few years ago were counted as dead are still alive” which “in my eyes this alone makes Dr Anthony Fauci… a hero of great stature”, “much of what Farber dredges up is not new”.

That comforting set of beliefs out of the way, Kramer then allows that “her argument has not been answered to the satisfaction of a lot of people. I would guess that it is going to be a lot less easy now to sweep this debate under the carpet by naming Farber and Duesberg and other “crazies” and “HIV-deniers.” Agreeing that “too much money and greed” control treatment he calls for a more mature discussion with “less namecalling”, and returning AIDS to the top of the agenda because it “is still spreading like wildfire”

Next up to bat, a couple of MDs at the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Richard Marlink and Catherine Wilfert, who claim to have devoted a substantial portion of their lives in pursuit of the truth about AIDS, without finding a single persuasive reason to doubt that HIV causes AIDS – to think otherwise is to “fantasize”, they say – or that nevirapine is not “safe and effective” in preventing mother-to-child transmission. Without treatment “millions of children across the globe will sicken and die by the millions”.

Marlink and Wilfert claim rather wildly that the Harper’s piece is “grossly inaccurate”, “years of careful research has proven beyond doubt that HIV causes AIDS”, that antiretrovirals “save lives”, the “egregious errors’ include confusing “longterm use of drug cocktails including nevirapine” with “a single dose to prevent mother to child transmission” which is not “harmful”, and that several studies have confirmed this, including HIVNET 012, whose records may have been a mess but whose conclusions were still valid, as the Institute of Medicine panel confirmed. Placebos were not included in the trials because once “AZT (sic) was shown to dramatically reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus it would have been unethical, according to accepted international standards, to deny protection to infants by providing their mothers with a placebo.”

(How this result is scientifically established without the use of a placebo is not made any clearer than it was in the trial of AZT, with which their Freudian slip confuses the nevirapine trial.)

The next letter is a heart rending cry from Joyce Ann Hafford’s sister Rubbie King, who reports that when her sister joined the drug trial she “experienced a severe reaction almost immediately, but it was never suggested she stop taking the medicine. The idiots did not take her off the drugs until it was too late.” To these scientists the life of her sister meant nothing, she writes. “She was just another black guinea pig, whose life was reduced to nothing more than an “oops”. Meanwhile, I am left to raise her two children.”

She says her sister was an “incredible person, not a lab rat” and thanks Celia and Harper’s for the “dignity and respect” they have granted in “caring enough to tell the truth.”

Following this, the least pointed letter of the bunch, a long screed by a Greenwich Village MD, Paul Bellman, in private practice as a specialist in HIV+ patients for twenty years, who seems to have long been vaguely aware that things are not adding up but permanently unable to grasp the nettle that HIV is as irrelevant as Duesberg reasons it is. After the obligatory insulting description of Celia’s work he says its “rhetoric and poorly drawn examples” inspire him to add some “historical perspective”. He outlines how little was understood in the early days of HIV?AIDS, including “why it was so hard to find the virus”, so co-factors were thought crucial, and that this has led to the current notion that “overactivation of the immune system induced by HIV” might be the answer to some of the loss of CD4 cells. Some “desperate patients latched on to Peter Duesberg’s radical hypothesis that HIV wasn’t the cause of AIDS”, hoping for another therapy, but “Duesberg offered little more than rhetoric” and was “remarkably ignorant about the clinical realities.”

In the mid-90s the landscape was transformed by an “accurate viral-load test” and “virus shown to correlate strongly” with “clinical progression to AIDS”, so it became “crystal clear that HIV causes AIDS.” The only question is how, which is “far from being fully answered” and is crucial to meet the challenges of toxicity of the meds and drug resistance. David Ho’s promise ten years ago of a cure from antivirals has not been realized and we need to know how they can be “complemented” with other therapies.

Bellman names examples of drug companies funding members of the panels who control treatment guidelines and formulate clinical trials, and says he has sarcastically suggested that the HIVNET group at the NIH be “moved to the Department of Highways” because it only “greases the wheels of the pork barrel system.” He suggests “a great story” would be on the “small core group of key opinion leaders” who set guidelines and direct clinical funding, “run medical education and profoundly retard research into areas that frontline clinicians plead is important”, who need to be “exposed by brilliant reporters” and “careful editors.”

Finally, the letter from Robert Gallo, who as we understand it was actually the first to respond to “Out of Control:AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science” with a bullying letter before this one that he worked out jointly with other HIV researchers and activists, with its peremptory demand “by Monday evening” for Harper’s to apologize for printing Celia Farber’s article amd agree to retract it and publish a long correct version of the true science of HIV?AIDS.

Apparently Gallo eventually cooled down enough to write a more temperate and less presumptuous missive, which starts off well by saying Harper’s is a magazine he has “trusted for its high standards”. From then on, however, the comments of the Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore are a characteristic stream of Gallo sloganeering, overclaiming, and misrepresentation all aimed at dodging the bullet by denying the single issue that concerns him, which is Farber’s “misinformed view that HIV does not cause AIDS,” and not her other “innumerable other problems of fact and interpretation” (which possibly have less bearing on Gallo’s position and royalty income). “I will only say this,” Gallo promises, “There is more evidence that HIV causes AIDS than there is for the cause of any other single human disease caused by an infectious agent, past or present.” (Italics ours)

Gallo then explains that “not only has HIV fulfilled Koch’s postulates but also additional criteria that have been developed through the advent of new scientific methods.” Moreover “that HIV is the single cause of AIDS has been concluded by every single qualified group that has studied the question, including the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Centers for Disease Control, the US Institute of Medicine, the US National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association, the Canadian Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, the Pasteur Institute and the World Health Organization.”

Following this full dress parade of top level institutions who have adopted his scientific opinion Gallo replays his vision of how the culprit was identified and prosecuted, beginning with his 1984 claim of a “linkage” of HIV to AIDS.

He recalls finding “evidence of declining CD4 T-cells” in the “1 in 1000 to 2000 “healthy” Americans with HIV antibodies”, his early finding that the “virus primarily targets immune-system cells (now known as CD-4 cells), which he doesn’t mention is now abandoned by the field; he remembers that “we could pick out patients with AIDS or pre-AIDS within blind coded samples”, that “infected blood donors went on without fail to develop AIDS”, and other claims which are less than meets the eye either because the possibility that drugs administered to HIV+ patients lead to “AIDS” is discounted, or because any symptom without HIV is not counted as “AIDS” (transfusion cases have predictably “all but disappeared”, for example). Gallo denies any trouble isolating virus from any patient with antibodies, and says his HIV blood test is close to perfect.


Special note:

How Gallo proved that HIV was not the cause of AIDS

The most remarkable sentence Gallo pens here is the one saluting his moment of epiphany when he decided that HIV was the cause of AIDS: “In 1984, when my colleagues and I were first to claim—and in my view demonstrate—the linkage of HIV to AIDS, we showed that we could isolate HIV from forty-eight individuals who had AIDS.” This has a special effrontery will tickle long time admirers of the pr genius of HIV?AIDS’s greatest scientist, and not just because it was Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur who first “linked” HIV to AIDS in a 1983 paper.

For the little appreciated result of the paper from 1984 that Gallo is talking about is actually the opposite of what Gallo said it was, and which the New York Times reported. The paper actually demonstrated that HIV was almost certainly not the cause of AIDS. The world, however, was misinformed by the hasty front page reporting of Larry Altman of the New York Times, who wrote that the four unpublished papers would identify HIV as the cause of AIDS, and the rest is history.

We describe the true contents and result of the paper in our next post, just in case anybody is interested. These show that Bob Gallo actually preceded Peter Duesberg by two years in demonstrating that the least likely candidate for the cause of AIDS was the retrovirus which, it later transpired in a legal battle between the US and France over royalties, Gallo had newly discovered in two federal Express packages from Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute.

Since this result is not widely appreciated we will cover it in detail in our next post so that Robert Gallo can get the full credit he so richly deserves.

End of special note


Gallo says that “Ms. Farber” completely misrepresents the history of HIV therapy by following the “strange logic of a few dangerous people” that these medications are harming people or may themselves cause AIDS – (does Gallo realize this includes Larry Kramer?)-. On the contrary current antiretroviral treatments have allowed people to live to a “reasonably normal age” and all but ended pediatric AIDS in the developed world, which “alone could prove that HIV is the single cause of AIDS.”

In the mid-1980s he and his colleagues worked with “several lab technicians” who “accidentally infected themselves with HIV and in every case went on to develop AIDS. This is more evidence than Robert Koch ever had before he claimed a microbe caused a disease.”

He is sorry that after 25 years there are people who refuse to accept this overwhelming body of evidence. He puts it down to a “disturbing rise in anti-science opinion” and he is surprised that Harper’s has embraced this trend “especially given the tragic consequences of the anti-IV nihilist rhetoric in lives lost.” This is “about preserving human lives” and “there is no room for.. shallow and sensationalist thinking.”

This parade of propaganda lines interspersed with faulty claims presents a tempting target for Celia Farber in her two and a half column reply, but in the imperturbable Harper’s manner she smoothly avoids falling into that muddy pit. “Much of the critical response generated by my article has focused on a very brief summary of Peter Duesberg’s critique of the medical consensus regarding HIV and AIDS”, she notes, and a long article could certainly be written about that and other critiques of the HIV hypothesis. But “I did not write that article”. She has instead written the story of three lives changed, one ended, by the war on AIDS, and how AIDS science has been corrupted by quasi-religious zealotry and powerful financial interests.

The heart of the piece, she says, was how whistleblower Jonathan Fishbein exposed the NIH coverup of the disastrous clinical trial in Uganda (HIVNET 012) of the highly toxic nevirapine from Boehringer Ingelheim, which killed Joyce Ann Hafford in Tennessee. Scientific standards have slipped and controls for safety and scientific validation have been removed, while bad science is “defended with missionary zeal”.

To say that the HIVNET trial suffered merely from “record-keeping problems” is “obscene”, she says.

Drug company money is everywhere – Boehringer Ingelheim funds the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (source of the letter from two MDs above) substantially, and the panel that judged the HIVNET 012 results valid included six (of nine) receiving annual NIH grants from $120,000 to nearly $2 million, some from the division responsible for the trial. If it was valid, “why did the FDA tell Boehringer Ingelheim to withdraw its application or face a public rejection?”

Contrary to the Glaser MDs, her article did distinguish long-term nevirapine treatment from single-dose, and reported continuous treatment killed Joyce Hafford, illustrating “the callous disregard with which many patients are treated by the medical establishment that speaks in their name.” Meanwhile the “life saving” nevirapine is being given poor pregnant women around the world while the FDA has refused to approve it for mother-to-child transmission of HIV in this country.

As to Gallo’s response, his “research has been the subject of several devastating investigations, one of which found him guilty of scientific misconduct”. He minimizes the the HIVNET scandal and ignores Joyce Ann Hafford, “which is typical”, her life and those of five others Celia has more recently discovered safely filed away under “lessons learned” in the long march against HIV, like the thousands of lives cut short by high dose AZT.

His letter is “riddled with assertions of fact that dissolve under careful scrutiny into highly debatable interpretations of ambigious data”. But the letters section of a magazine is no place to debate the fundamentals of AIDS science.

And this is the heart of the issue, she says: the claims and counter claims of Gallo, Duesberg, David Ho and the Perth Group (“which has advanced its own highly original critique of the HIV paradigm”) cannot be adjudicated in magazines or on blogs.

“Mark Biernbaum gets it exactly right. Only carefully designed studies that rigorously test the various hypotheses about AIDS can advance our understanding of this disease. The suppression and demonization of competing viewpoints, and the refusal to acknowledge mistakes, especially when those mistakes cost lives, will accomplish nothing.”

Referee wins the first round in a knockout

Rather like a referee parting two boxers and telling them the match is over till they get weighed, Farber and Harper’s thus win the first round (there will be another round of letters we hear) decisively by rising above the fray with what seems to them the only possible constructive suggestion for outsiders to make. Let’s stop all the namecalling and wrangling over untested claims, they say, and the interpretations without proof (there is none yet for HIV as the cause of AIDS or explanation of how it works and no sign there ever will be) and give money to Duesberg and others to test the validity of HIV and the best alternatives as the cause or causes of AIDS.

We at NAR would say that the longed for conclusive evidence is in fact already there, in the literature, if only people would read it, though confirming studies will always be welcome. In fact, in the Fermat manner we plan soon to post the promised solution to HIV?AIDS that the literature seems to us to indicate without much doubt as soon as we have time to do so.

Meanwhile, we certainly agree with the emphasis on providing funds to Peter Duesberg and anybody else who wants to provide further evidence that HIV is or is not the cause of HIV?AIDS. Duesberg has already suggested experiments which the ex-editor of Science, Daniel Koshland, strongly supported without avail at the NIH. The most telling sign that something has been very wrong with the science of HIV?AIDS from the very beginning has been the scorning of Peter Duesberg, an effort to consign him and his questioning to oblivion which now even extends to a refusal to fund his research in cancer.

For it is this reluctance to support, ie effort to silence a scientist who enjoyed the best reputation of anyone involved in the field then and who has done nothing since to deserve any less regard, and who may even be the most promising cancer researcher now at work, which is precisely what makes the HIV/AIDS hypothesis reek like fish which has been rotten for twenty years.

2 Responses to “Harper’s prints six pages of HIV?AIDS letters”

  1. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    Nice recap, truthseeker. Also, very good disection of Gallo’s original findings. Well done!

  2. truthseeker Says:

    Thanks Mark, yes, it is rather remarkable that a paper which deserved to be placed in the mallest room in the house served instead as the foundation for what appears to be the greatest confidence trick in scientific history, one which is still not recognized by people who have spent every day in the trenches dealing with its consequences, as recent comments here have shown.

    If Gallo had decided to enter business instead of perpetrate nonscience he could have been another Bill Gates.

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