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How scientists block dissent from the media in HIV?AIDS

Why journalists should be permitted to give their individual judgement

The expertly handled Lia Miller media piece last Monday An Article in Harper’s Ignites a Controversy Over H.I.V.:

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The New York Times

March 13, 2006

An Article in Harper’s Ignites a Controversy Over H.I.V.

By LIA MILLER

In his last issue as the editor of Harper’s Magazine, Lewis Lapham has left a parting gift for his successor: a firestorm in the media and among AIDS researchers.

The source is a 15-page article in the March issue, titled “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science,” by Celia Farber. Ms. Farber, a longtime magazine journalist, has been a polarizing figure because she has frequently written about the position of “AIDS dissidents,” who argue that H.I.V. does not cause AIDS.

The Harper’s article centers on a clinical trial in Uganda for the drug Nevirapine that was later criticized for poor methodology and treatment of some test subjects. But the final third of the article focuses on the tangentially related topic of Dr. Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leading AIDS dissident, and his strained relationship with the National Institutes of Health.

Soon after the article’s publication, rebuttals to Dr. Duesberg’s theories and to other aspects of Ms. Farber’s article were posted on Web sites like The Nation (www.nation.com) and www.poz.com. A 37-page document, written by eight prominent AIDS researchers, was posted on the Treatment Action Campaign Web site (www.tac.org.za), a group that campaigns for greater access to H.I.V. treatment in South Africa. Harper’s received a surge of letters and phone calls.

Roger Hodge, who will succeed Mr. Lapham at Harper’s next month, said that Mr. Lapham initially assigned Ms. Farber an article about Dr. Duesberg’s cancer research, but the assignment was changed when news of the drug trial broke. Mr. Hodge edited the article.

“We knew, of course, that everyone would be upset,” he said, adding that the article was thoroughly fact-checked. “This is a very contentious subject. We have gotten some very, very thoughtful responses. But other pieces have generated a lot more mail.”

John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and one of the authors of the Treatment Action Campaign’s rebuttal, said he was shocked when he first saw the article. He said it seemed apparent that Mr. Hodge wanted to “teach the controversy” of Dr. Duesberg’s ideas, a controversy that he said AIDS researchers had resolved long ago. He added that Harper’s reputation had “taken an irreparable hit.” Dr. Duesberg didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Benjamin Ryan, an editor at large at HIV Plus magazine who writes a monthly health column on Gay.com, said he had lost faith in Harper’s. He said, as did many scientists, that the article was poorly fact-checked and had glaring errors.

Ms. Farber says that neither she nor Harper’s endorse Dr. Duesberg’s position, but that she is simply reporting on an unpopular view. “People can’t distinguish, it seems, between describing dissent and being dissent,” she said.

“I’m very familiar, since 20 years, with the hysteria end of the spectrum, the rage that breaks out when one touches certain tenets of dogma,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “Anger has been the dominant emotion in AIDS for a long time, almost the only emotion that seems to really function. Anger is connected to fear. I understand it. I’m used to it. I hope we can transcend it.”

Mr. Hodge said the magazine stood behind the article and Ms. Farber.

“The fact that she’s been covering this story does not make her a crackpot — it makes her a journalist. She’s a courageous journalist, I believe, because she has covered the story at great personal cost.”

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

was interesting for what it revealed about the way reporters have been handicapped in covering the HIV?AIDS dispute by a clever Catch-22 used on them by those trying to escape scrutiny of the paradigm.

The New York Observer with its usual smarts fastened onto that aspect in a Daily Transom comment on Celia Farber in Harper’s, which highlighted a problem which has long corrupted HIV?AIDS journalism: print reporters operate with one hand tied behind their back when they investigate issues in the science of HIV?AIDS. Even after twenty years, during which they build up exceptional expertise and instinct for truth in this area, they have to be careful to maintain the stance of “objectivity”, and not express any opinion of their own as to which side is right.

Ms. Farber says that neither she nor Harper’s endorse Dr. Duesberg’s position, but that she is simply reporting on an unpopular view. “People can’t distinguish, it seems, between describing dissent and being dissent,” she said.

What could possibly have confused people about the difference between description and outright dissent?

The one thing we do know, “categorically,” is that the myths that have sprung up from Africa about AIDS are “positively absurd,” [Farber] exploded, citing theories that HIV is rampantly spreading AIDS throughout Africa. “this really lifts off into science fiction.” […] “I suspect “they” got to him [Nelson Mandela]–Jimmy Carter and all those believing AIDS is pandemic in Africa, Black Africans know that to be loved by the West, you talk their line all the way–especially on AIDS.”

—Interview with Celia Farber, Dec 1, 2005, The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients.

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Celia Farber: Has the Dissenter Become the… Dissentee?

The March Harper’s carries a piece by Celia Farber, who has written about AIDS—and HIV denialists such as Peter Duesberg—for 20 years. Says today’s New York Times:

Ms. Farber says that neither she nor Harper’s endorse Dr. Duesberg’s position, but that she is simply reporting on an unpopular view. “People can’t distinguish, it seems, between describing dissent and being dissent,” she said.

What could possibly have confused people about the difference between description and outright dissent?

The one thing we do know, “categorically,” is that the myths that have sprung up from Africa about AIDS are “positively absurd,” [Farber] exploded, citing theories that HIV is rampantly spreading AIDS throughout Africa. “this really lifts off into science fiction.” […] “I suspect “they” got to him [Nelson Mandela]–Jimmy Carter and all those believing AIDS is pandemic in Africa, Black Africans know that to be loved by the West, you talk their line all the way–especially on AIDS.”

—Interview with Celia Farber, Dec 1, 2005, The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients.

“Everybody who was wrong got journalism awards. Everybody who was right got all but driven from the profession,” Farber said.

Farber exposed the conspiracy between profit-hungry drug companies, researchers who wanted more funding, homosexuals who didn’t want the disease to be known as “the gay plague,” and conservatives who wanted to turn back the sexual revolution.

—March 19, 2004, New York Post, “Straight AIDS Myth Shattered.”

“Suffice to say, AIDS professionals will be aghast,” Farber declares. “Unless, of course, they’ve decided to take their cash and their ribbons and helicopter off to their chalets where they can hope to live out their days in anonymity.” [Rian] Milan’s findings debunk myths that the scientific community has been spreading for 20 years.

—Nov 4, 2001, New York Post, on the publication of Rian Milan’s “AIDS in Africa: In Search of the Truth” in Rolling Stone.

I fell silent, realizing from years of reporting on this issue how futile it is to argue when the big club of HIV has been pulled out. Like the child’s game of rock, paper, scissors, HIV is always the rock and the scissors.

—Celia Farber, 1998, Mothering, “AZT Roulette.”

March 13 05:58 PM | Filed as: Media

Comments

Celia Farber’s claims of objectivity and commitment to journalism – that her job is to “ask questions” – is about as sincere as Pat Robertson claiming the same of the homosexual lifestyle. At least Robertson wears his bias proudly on his chest.

Farber is a crank, a sad excuse for a journalist and unfortunately for the Harper’s fact-checkers, a patent liar – always has been on the HIV/AIDS topic. There are purveyors of misleading information – she is not one of them. Farber just outright lies. She treats scientific facts surrounding HIV/AIDS with the same care a termite does a piece of wood – she hacks it up, leaving nothing but a pile of unrecognizable shavings.

Many people have lost their lives by her words. She’s pathetic.

Posted by: Kate | March 13, 2006 07:55 PM

It is ludicrous for Farber to suddenly proclaim in 2006 that she is only the messenger. She has written on and argued for the denialist position for at least a decade and half. She wrote about nothing else in SPIN Magazine for years. There was never any question that she was espousing her own views. No one should be surprised by this new claim of being the messenger though. Her writing has been blatantly dishonest and misleading from day one. Like her apparent mentor Peter Duesberg, she simply ignores the principles of science, hiding all evidence contrary to her views while spotlighting the few specks of data that seem, at least to the untrained eye, to bolster her case. I have come to believe that HIV denialism, like Holocaust denialism, is a mental illness deeply rooted in problems accepting authority and an inability to admit error. Though sometimes harmless, in matters as grave as AIDS it has become criminal behavior resulting in the loss of thousands of lives.

Posted by: Martin Delaney | March 14, 2006 06:41 PM

what I loved was Harper’s editor Rodger Hodge telling the Times about the great personal cost to Farber of her “brave” reporting….really, Rodger? A greater personal toll than, say, losing both parents to AIDS, as more than 10 million African children have? Rodger Hodge, Rick MacArthur, and Harper’s should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2006 09:34 AM

Celia Farber is an extraordinarily gifted journalist who has had the temerity to report on an amazing scientific controversy that the national media and HIV/AIDS agencies would prefer to ignore or dismiss. This is the fact that some highly qualified scientists, including retrovirologists and Nobel laureates, believe that evidence is lacking that HIV causes AIDS. In reporting on the other side as well in the AIDS debate, Ms. Farber has acted as a truly objective journalist should and performed an outstanding public service. Her writings have helped to compensate for the extremely onesided party-line reporting that has typified the AIDS issue. Her article in Harper’s is a masterpiece that exposes the corruption in AIDS research and should merit the author a Pulitzer prize.

Posted by: Robert Houston | March 15, 2006 01:29 PM

What is the point of the Transom piece? Is it that sympathy for one side disqualifies one from writing about an issue? Then there would be no qualified journalists on anything, and HIV believers likewise should be silenced. Or was the point that journalists or editors who have a personal opinion on a scientific issue should issue conclusive scientific endorsements? This would be equally absurd.

The first three commentators engaged in scurrilous smear-tactics typical of HIV activist groups, which have become little more than goon squads for the government and the drug companies which finance them. One of the commentators leads a group – is it Project Misinform? – that is heavily bankrolled by the makers of HIV drugs. He speaks of “the loss of thousands of lives” from “denialism” when the nearly universal feature of longterm AIDS survivors has been refusal to take the drugs. In Lederer’s article in the current POZ (April), Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., founder of AMFAR, charges that “1200 mg a day of AZT (the first approved dose in the ’80s) killed thousands, as did so-called early intervention.” It was not Peter Duesberg but Robert Gallo who ignored the principles of science by announcing in 1984 that HIV was the cause of AIDS though it was absent in 64% of the AIDS patients he tested.

Posted by: Diogenes | March 18, 2006 02:10 PM

That last comment about the absence of HIV in most AIDS patients was a bit startling so I checked it out. The discovery paper for HIV (then called HTLV-III) states in the abstract: “Retroviruses… designated HTLV-III were isolated from…26 of 72 adult and juvenile patients with AIDS” (R.C. Gallo et al. Science 224:500, May 4, 1984). That’s only 36%, meaning that HIV could not be found in 64% of AIDS patients. To claim it the cause of AIDS on such a flimsy basis is a violation of Koch’s first postulate, which requires that the putative pathogen be found in all cases of the disease. This means that the “denialists” are correct: HIV failed the basic scientific principle for establishing causation.

This was one of the many striking points raised by Prof. Peter Duesberg in his critiques of the HIV theory. I have read several of his papers on AIDS and found them to be thoughtful, comprehensive, and meticulous in reviewing the data. Rather than “hiding all evidence,” as Mr. Delaney falsely claims, Duesberg examines it with respect to established scientific principles. His June 2003 paper (J. Biosci.) showss in Table 4 how the 17 claims of the HIV theory have each been disproven. In checking his references, I found they always accurately supported his statements. Ms. Farber’s quoted statements also ring true and are a refreshing change from the standard “group-think.”

Posted by: Researcher | March 19, 2006 02:17 PM

We have to agree with this, insofar as it points to a handicap of the few critical HIV?AIDS reporters which the defenders of HIV?AIDS have always taken advantage of, which is the absurdly blanket rule that all reporters (and editors) on the topic should be ‘objective’, and merely report on the two sides of the issue in a balanced fashion and refrain from coming to any conclusion of their own, but let the reader make up his or her mind.

The unbiased reporter

The comments provoked by this stricture are among the best so far. We like Diogenes’ comment best:

What is the point of the Transom piece? Is it that sympathy for one side disqualifies one from writing about an issue? Then there would be no qualified journalists on anything, and HIV believers likewise should be silenced. Or was the point that journalists or editors who have a personal opinion on a scientific issue should issue conclusive scientific endorsements? This would be equally absurd.

The first three commentators engaged in scurrilous smear-tactics typical of HIV activist groups, which have become little more than goon squads for the government and the drug companies which finance them. One of the commentators leads a group – is it Project Misinform? – that is heavily bankrolled by the makers of HIV drugs. He speaks of “the loss of thousands of lives” from “denialism” when the nearly universal feature of longterm AIDS survivors has been refusal to take the drugs. In Lederer’s article in the current POZ (April), Joseph Sonnabend, M.D., founder of AMFAR, charges that “1200 mg a day of AZT (the first approved dose in the ’80s) killed thousands, as did so-called early intervention.” It was not Peter Duesberg but Robert Gallo who ignored the principles of science by announcing in 1984 that HIV was the cause of AIDS though it was absent in 64% of the AIDS patients he tested.

Posted by: Diogenes | March 18, 2006 02:10 PM

The laughable idea that the reporter doesn’t develop an informed view of his or her own derives from a standard practice in journalism of not using reporters who are partisan in a dispute to cover that dispute, which a priori is reasonable enough. Like judges who are related to a defendant, they must recuse themselves.

The problem is that no distinction is made between a partisan and a reporter who studies and reports on a scientific issue where the evidence backing opposing judgements about the explanation of phenomena is in dispute , ie the facts backing a theory.

The reporter who draws on many sources on both sides of such a factual dispute about the validity of a theory may well end up one of the most expert lay observers in the field. His or her opinion of which side is right becomes very valuable to those who cannot spare the time to follow the science, or may not be able to understand it without long study, but who have to make policy decisions.

But the politics of HIV?AIDS have become so twisted that it is only those who agree with the paradigm of HIV=AIDS that are allowed to express their own opinion, usually extending to disparaging those who would disagree with them.

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“lack of objectivity”, a rule which has had the result in the case of HIV?AIDS that those who report on the dissident view have been almost completely shut out of mainstream journalism for two decades.

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This places a peculiar handicap on the reporters in HIV?AIDS. The burden is that if they are sufficiently interested to thoroughly fathom the science for themselves, perhaps simply by covering it long enough in their reporting, they tend to make up their own minds about who is right, the paradigm supporters or their critics. But they are not allowed to say so without losing their license to report on the topic.

The statement “I personally believe Duesberg is right” immediately disqualifies them from being the “objective” reporters so much beloved in journalistic myth here in the US. They are seen as “biased” in favor of Duesberg’s position. For some reason, however, offering a partisan opinion is fine if they support the paradigm, which history shows those with only a shallow exposure to Duesberg’s critique tend to do, often adding a little scorn and derision of Duesberg to boot.

If you conclude Duesberg is right, you are not ‘objective’

Those reporters who decide that it is Duesberg who is the reliable scientist in this altercation have plenty of reason to do so, since his critiques are enduring, repeated over the years without having to adjust significantly to new data (with one exception, the alleged`success of the HAART regimen in helping HIV?AIDS patients live “normal lives”), validated (refereed by peers who would dearly love to contradict him but apparently cannot do so effectively and so fail to stop publication of his papers in reputable journals) and are in effect endorsed by more hostile examination than any of the conventional papers in the field. They are treated differently, however. People with this judgement don’t get hired because they are not “objective” ie biased in favor of the consensus.

This seems a total misapplication of the standard rule of US journalism that reporters should not be involved in the politics of a field they cover, and should not take sides in a political dispute they report lest they be accused of “lack of objectivity”, a rule which has had the result in the case of HIV?AIDS that those who report on the dissident view have been almost completely shut out of mainstream journalism for two decades.

On the other hand, the evident bias of Larry Altman, Nicholas Wade and other science reporters and editors at the New York Times should have been questionable according to the conventional journalistic view, since they chose sides in a dispute with equal professional credentials on both sides (if anything, Peter Duesberg with his impeccable record, exceptionally generous NIH funding and early membership of the National Academy was in fact superior in reputation to Robert Gallo). But they have felt perfectly fine hewing to the paradigm position, and no one has criticized them for being partisan.

It is not only this one-sided license which is wrong. It is also the fact that the topic is science, which is meant to be a non-political activity. In political or social disputes, editors may well wish to hire reporters who are not taking part in the theater they are covering. But this is science we are reporting.

Of course, the thinking probably goes along these lines: the HIV?AIDS paradigm supporters quote the most established scientists in senior positions, and credit the majority opinion in the field. This is what editors prefer. Thus it seems perfectly OK for Times reporters to go along with those in power and support the conventional view in a scientific dispute. After all, what better sources could they use than those at the top of a field?

But in the case of HIV?AIDS, the paradigm skeptic Duesberg and many of his top supporters are equally well or better qualified as a reliable source. There are few if any better qualified than Peter Duesberg to make a good judgement on the paradigm issue. Not only is he clearly an exemplary scientist, since his work won him awards, golden boy funding from the NIH, a seat in the Academy at an early age, and even talk of him qualifying for the Nobel in the letter column of Nature, but he has never been accused of lowering scientific standards, or publishing questionable papers, as both Robert Gallo and David Baltimore, his chief opponents in the matter, have been.

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What is tragic is that they may be defending the paradigm at the cost of their own lives.

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And of course he has studied the whole question a lot longer and more thoroughly perforce than his opponents, apparently believing that it is the science that is at issue and not the politics.

So why shouldn’t the Times reporters give him equal time?

We imagine it is because against all logic then they would be considered not “objective”. But how ridiculous, whatever the reason, that they should have ignored Duesberg and the critique of HIV?AIDS for twenty years, except for barely three or four short news items and a review of his book, Inventing the AIDS Virus, by an insultingly inferior scientific mind.

A scientific issue, not political

Whether HIV is the cause of AIDS is a scientific issue, not a political one. It is a scientific issue that has been intensely politicized, but it is still not a political issue. The rush of activists to the defense of the paradigm, apparently at the implicit bidding of the drug companies who fund most or all of them, according to the Harpers article, is motivated by various emotions, none of them scientific.

The defense of the paradigm by the scientists standing on top of it is also possibly motivated by politics and psychology, rather than pure professionalism or innate love of truth, because their status and remuneration are heavily dependent on it. Many accuse them of this self-interest in their judgement. No one knows if this is true, of course, and whatever their motivations, they are irrelevant to the decision of who is right, and these intense politics just interfere with real science.

Certainly AIDS activists and their political demands have interfered with HIV?AIDS science from the start, pushing to release dangerous drugs early from incomplete trials before science has validated their effect. And they are still at it, according to the piece by Farber, which mentions that most if not all major activist groups in this arena are funded by the drug companies, and always have been. What activists are most active in is defending the ruling paradigm against challenge, acting in effect as the palace guard of the HIV?AIDS scientific elite. What is tragic is that they may be defending the paradigm at the cost of their own lives.

The tragic irony for the press in its turn may be that with the oddly unbalanced demand for “objectivity” HIV?AIDS reporters at the Times and elsewhere have ended up allied with the activists in shutting out the paradigm critique. They have become palace guards for the paradigm too.

For editors in the media, following the rule of hiring only uninvolved, objective reporters to cover an issue, have seldom hired reporters who are open minded to the dissident case, but published instead the ones who follow the established paradigm line that any challenges are spurious by definition.

****************************************************

If the issues in science are not to be fathomed by outsiders, especially expert, worldy and perceptive writers and reporters with no initial axe to grind themselves, how will government officials ever hope to escape being taken in by a baseless paradigm which scientists succeed in getting funded, which is what has happened in this case according to all the critics?

****************************************************

Thus they too have betrayed their own interests and policy and have used the reporters who are biased, rather than the ones who are objective when they first approach the story. In the case of Nicholas Wade of the Times for example, and probably most others, they have hired and published reporters who by their own admission (recently made to us after a CUNY panel) have not recently kept up with the papers Duesberg has so carefully prepared under such intense (and therefore validating) peer review. Surely such reporters are the ones who should be doubly banned from taking sides in a scientific dispute if they have not even read the source material.

This is the giant flaw in the system that can be seen in the Lia Miller article last week, sticking out like a sore thumb for everyone to see. The sad irony is that Harper’s editor Roger Hodge and writer Celia Farber, who have set such a proud example in not knuckling under to the ignorant media consensus on HIV?AIDS and instead explored the topic for themselves and made up their own minds, as good reporters and editors do, are evidently sticking to this very rule in the current affair, even though they are the ones who should break it and firmly stand up for the validity of Duesberg’s views as they have thoroughly researched them.

Handcuffed by a misapplied rule

For as the Observer points out, given the opportunity to say to Lia Miller of the Times that Duesberg appears to them to be right, neither Celia or Harpers editor Roger D. Hodge is willing to say this. Handcuffed by the obligatory myth of “objectivity” of US journalism, even after preparing a 15 page article over two years (with Celia over twenty years seasoned experience in this area) on this disputed issue in science, they apparently feel forced to pretend they haven’t made up their own minds.

As the Transom points out, in fact Farber clearly has made a judgment, as her interviews show. And why shouldn’t she? It may not be the scientific judgement of a scientist, but it is the highly informed opinion of a perceptive researcher in the field. We see reason to believe that Roger Hodge has made up his mind too, at least on the basis of becoming well informed on the case in editing the article and getting it into a form that he, as Harper’s new editor, would have to stand behind as valid. But if the two of them have made up the minds, they don’t want to tell us, because it is not their business as journalists to be “partisan”, as Hodge has put it to us.

Not being professional scientists, they have no authority to decide for all of us about scientific questions, for sure. But after unusually careful study – which certainly in Hodge’s case was utterly objective, since as far as we know he had never heard of the issue before the first draft of the article came in – their opinion is better informed than most people outside science, and most people in it.

And if the issues in science are not to be fathomed by outsiders, especially expert, worldly and perceptive writers and reporters with no initial axe to grind themselves, how will government officials ever hope to escape being taken in by a baseless paradigm which scientists succeed in getting funded, which is what has happened in this case according to all the critics?

We for sure want to know what they think. And we don’t view it as in any way compromising their journalistic professionalism to tell us. They should be prepared to give the public guidance, since they both presumably approached the subject with impartiality in the first place, and have studied it exhaustively. In fact, they are among the best people to ask who do NOT have an axe to grind. It is the paradigm scientists and their followers who are “partisan.”

Of course the absurdity is that their opinion is anyway inherent in the article and the way it is written for all to see. The mere fact that it is assigned, and successfully written, edited and published, implies the endorsement of the writer and editor of the material as worth taking seriously as an alternative viewpoint. If Hodge didn’t believe Duesberg was making valid points which have not been answered successfuly by the defenders of HIV?AIDS, he surely wouldn’t give him so much valuable space in his magazine. Harper’s instead would also point out key defects in his position and show that he had been convincingly answered and wasn’t able to refute the replies. The article would more prominently feature people who disagreed with him and deplored his influence.

It is time for this rule in journalism to be reassessed, and for reporters to be permitted to talk as individuals about this scientific dispute without being handcuffed by those in power.

(More in Comments below)

10 Responses to “How scientists block dissent from the media in HIV?AIDS”

  1. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    I agree with you in principle, Truthseeker, but think that it is a lot you ask — and especially so when you consider that you write under a pseudonym

  2. truthseeker Says:

    The two things are not related, are they? Both Hodge and Farber have the platform and backing of a major cultural institution and can therefore easily afford to say precisely what they think, and in our opinion should do so instead of giving in to an inapplicable principle of “objective” journalism which is used to keep them quiet.

    We would do so with relish if we had a similar platform and we were allowed to do so by the other members of the institution, which may or may not be the case with these two courageous and intelligent literati, since it is possible that there are others at Harpers who also consider it not politick. We are not even saying it is politick, since we are never sure of what the shifting winds of power politics will bring. We are simply saying the journalistic reason for hesitating to do so is spurious.

    The only reason we here are superficially pseudonymous in writing this web log (apart from it giving us the rare opportunity to use the royal ‘we’) is explained straightforwardly below, and as you know yourself genuinely enquiring emails are answered and signed. If one is independent there is a certain need to fly under the radar of the pr staff of various established institutions, who may not welcome critics with open arms if they detect they are critiquing their spokesmen with such keen disappointment. Speaking truth to power has to be done with discretion in any age, or power will not listen at all, preferring to imprison and execute revolutionaries who lack their own power base.

    If you mean however that we fear the calumny of the ignorant goon squads of the NIH and drug company funded paradigm defenders in HIV?AIDS you are quite wrong in our case, though we understand that others who are more sensitive and imaginative and find it nerve wracking, or threatening to their family or their institution. These goons and the rest of the politically and emotionally driven rabble on the Web who instantly form a lynch mob as soon as their favorite self destructive belief is called into question are simply offensive, in our view. Who cares what they write?

    What they say does not carry any weight with anyone responsible who wishes to deal with this question on an informed and well educated level, as far as we know. Of course it is disturbing to encounter people who expose the less savory flaws of human nature so freely on the Web, which seems to be a litmus test for innate manners, and everyone prefers not to disturb a skunk.

    But what they say carries no weight with decent folk who are trying to see clearly what is really going on in this matter, in which billions in public funds and many tens of thousands of lives are at stake.

  3. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    If I’ve put my name and reputation out there, and spoken my views freely, then it seems more likely to me that others like myself who do not have the backing of a major magazine or other such platform should be able to do so as well. Such backing is hard to obtain and probably even harder to keep. I don’t think you should attack the integrity of people who are putting their names and reputations on the line. If you want to write about the standards of journalism, that would seem interesting — but why use as examples two individuals who, it seems to me, are evidencing extreme courage in the face of unrelenting criticism and attack. I think this post, although containing some very interesting comment on journalism, is unkind. You are not walking in their shoes.

  4. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    One other thing — everyone involved in this debate is “partisan.” That, unfotunately, is unavoidable, as the debate is so entirely polarized — there is no middle ground. We are all partisan because that is all that is allowed here.

  5. Truthseeker Says:

    Mark, you are misunderstanding what has been said. If you wish to stand up and stand for truth in this arena by attaching your valuable name to everything you write, feel free. You are not a professional journalist facing the problem that we outlined.

    The issue is not the integrity of Roger Hodge or Celia Farber, who have demonstrated that they have a level of high integrity seldom seen these days in print media in this arena, and who thereby expose themselves to the misunderstanding of Web commenters, who don’t even trouble to read carefully what they publish before they let loose with insulting objections. The Harper’s editor and his writer show great courage in exposing themselves to this kind of uninformed attack, and it is hard to protect them from it other than pointing out that decent and responsible people don’t take it seriously. If you want to be kind, join in and tell them that too.

    This post is about protecting public discourse from interference – not so much from that kind of interference from spoilers on the Web, some of whom are possibly motivated by who funds their activities, but from scientists who manipulate the press by pressuring editors to treat skeptical reporters as if they were unprofessional. The accusation is that they are “partisan”, if they examine and present the case of the skeptics, and then, God forbid, make it clear that they think it is valid, but professional if they ignore it completely or disparage it.

    Seems to us this is just a move in the game and it is something which should be countered. The public interest demands that informed journalists in this field say what they think. They are the only outsiders who are fully informed on the case. As for it being unkind to suggest that Harper’s’ editor and writer should stand up and stand for skepticism in HIV?AIDS, that is what they are already doing anyway in writing and publishing such an excellent piece, It is not partisan to do that nor is it partisan to drive it home by asserting their own judgement in public that the skepticism is justified, if that is what they feel.

    The whole point in the end is that this is not a political but a scientific debate, which has been twisted and obscured by politics inside and outside science so that objective analysts who approach the issue without bias at the start and then write about how the truth has become twisted and obscured by politics outside science and inside science are then called partisan.

    The true debate, which is all that matters, is whether HIV makes any sense as the cause of AIDS. In this no one is or should be partisan. Certainly I am not, Roger Hodge is not, Celia Farber is not, and I would hope you are not. Let science speak, and ignore the cacophony.

  6. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    Actually, I don’t think the issue is whether HIV causes AIDS — I think the real issue is scientific-pharma censorship. To me the issue is censorship in science, period, not just about HIV — but as a recent example, regarding the genetic test for breast cancer, which was pushed out before it was properly tested, despite critics pointing this out in the media. These days, to be a critic of science at all is the real issue. My stake in this debate is to end this censorship, and in that regard, there are those who have a strong stake in maintaining the censorship, and those who want to see it crumble. In other words — two sides, or partisanship. You say let science speak — that’s a lovely idea, but is not happening in practice. Hence, my concerns with censorship, rather than just the issue of HIV.

  7. Robert Houston Says:

    The onesided reporting that has been the general rule in HIV/AIDS has amounted to extreme partisanship – not “objectivity.” This has resulted in censorship of alternative views on the issue and thereby blocked investigation of the scientific question of whether HIV causes AIDS. In other words, you’re both right.

    (Dr. Biernbaum, may I ask a favor? You have posted some of the most perceptive and articulate comments that I’ve seen on the web regarding the Harper’s controversy, notably at Poz.com and the Observer.com. I noticed that your excellent comment at the Observer is missing today. Could you please type it back in? Thanks.)

    In the final analysis, isn’t the goal of investigative journalism to uncover the truth? In so doing aren’t reporters obliged to tell us their findings, at least in regard to what questions remain open and unresolved? The very fact that highly qualified, distinguished scientists in virology and the biosciences have concluded that HIV has not been proven to cause AIDS means that the issue must remain open. There is not even one case known of a modern scientist in the field of planetary sciences asserting that the earth is flat or is the center of the solar system.

    Truthseeker concluded his post about the Harper’s article, “The mere fact that it is assigned, and successfully written, edited and published, implies the endorsement of the writer and editor.” If they had written about Hillary Clinton, would that imply an endorsement of her to be president? What it implies is simply that the editor and writer believe the topic is deserving of attention. (Webster’s: to endorse is “to express support or approval of publicly and definitely.”) I would take Mr. Hodge at his word that he’s not a partisan, and it’s not entirely clear where Celia stands.

    I prefer Truthseeker’s alternate formulation in his last comment that “Harper’s editor and writer should…stand for skepticism in HIV?AIDS, that is what they are already doing anyway in writing and publishing such an excellent piece.”

  8. Truthseeker Says:

    Seems to reduce, then, to a matter of language, and where you think the language places the editor and writer on the spectrum of approval from “This is worth mentioning but we have no idea whether it will prove out on examination” to “This is what we found and it appears to be right on close examination and fact checking”.

    Given the immense amount of time and work that Celia Farber has devoted to this vexed topic, about twenty years of talking to prime sources, reading the literature, checking points, and writing and speaking on it, always exposed to the often vitriolic contradictions and insults of the professional HIV paradigm supporters, her judgement is both highly informed and tested by fire.

    Therefore it is highly pertinent and should be freely expressed without her being threatened with expulsion from her profession, which is pretty much what has happened except for some unusually savvy editors who reject what is merely an extension of the rotten politics of the issue, which increasingly looks like the only support of the paradigm, apart from the snow job which the scientists blow over the landscape to bury the scientific literature and make sure no one reads it, since much of it roundly contradicts the paradigm (eg HIV positivity is probably impossible to transfer hetersexually, as one would expect).

    Roger D. Hodge is a philosopher by training and a Texan, and

    taking over the responsibility of editing Harper’s this month, and he has given the piece his full attention, editing it himself, and reading into the topic himself, and his opinion as an informed, responsible and independent editor of a respected journal is also highly pertinent to any member of the public, journalist, politician or businessman who needs to assess the possibility that Duesberg is right in his unshifting and unrelenting criticism of HIV?AIDS over two decades.

    Any suggestion that either of them are “partisan” if they tell us their judgement is in favor of Duesberg is absurd, and is obviously nothing but part of the disgraceful politics that have obscured the obvious from the beginning – that there is no proof that HIV causes anything, and that the idea that it does flies in the face of all logic, evidence and common sense. Year after year, the new claims and the new evidence prove groundless a paradigm that if it was a plane would normally have reached the end of the runway and being unable to lift off more than a few inches would fly straight into the trees and explode.

    In this case however the rotten politics have allowed the paradigm supporters to tell everybody that the smoking wreckage is not the plane at all, and that the plane has taken off and flown out of sight when no one was looking, and that it is now at 40,000 feet and champagne and caviar are being served, and any reporter that says this is clearly not true is “partisan.”

  9. DissidentSaint Says:

    I SUBMITTED THE FOLLOWING AS A POST TO NEW YORK OBSERVER’S [“THE DAILY TRANSOM”] ON 4/3/06:

    The New York Times quote does not specifically quote Ms. Farber accurately as saying she herself does not endorse Duesberg’s position, merely that in her role as a journalist, she is able to retain a certain level of objectivity.

    “Ms. Farber says that neither she nor Harper’s endorse Dr. Duesberg’s position, but that she is simply reporting on an unpopular view. “People can’t distinguish, it seems, between describing dissent and being dissent,” she said.”

    If you look at journalism stylebooks and guides for AIDS news reporting provided by NGOs who have a vested interest, neither do they encourage complete objectivity. Oh, I guess that depends on whether you are on the medically ‘correct’ side of the story, huh?

    So, your [New York Observer: The Daily Transom] blog starts a thread with a misinterpretation of her words. She is indeed describing dissent, even while she has a right to her own version of dissent, which may or may not be completely consistent with Peter Duesberg’s dissent. AIDS Industry Apologists seem to want to dismiss AIDS Dissidents as members of some cult of devotees of Deusberg, when the fact is we are independent rethinkers and disagree amongst ourselves on various points, including whether ‘HIV’ antibody positivity is an indication of infection with an innocuous or harmless passenger virus[Duesberg], a marker of a stressed immune system[Perth group] or none of the above; neither a wake-up call but a crank-call of non-specific origin].

    I do think her presentation of dissent is a little distorted, even AIDS Dissidents may agree, in that she is mostly familiar with Duesbergian Dissidence, and does not discuss the divide among AIDS Dissidents.

    http://forums.delphiforums.com/innocuous/messages?msg=1049.8

    [SEE ABOVE URL FOR DISCUSSION THREAD ON VIRUSMYTH FORUM ANALYSING EXCERPTS FROM “REPORTING ON HIV/AIDS IN AFRICA: A STYLE MANUAL,” PUBLISHED BY THE AFRICAN WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTRE]

    Kelly Jon Landis

  10. DissidentSaint Says:

    THE PREVIOUS LINK IS NOT DIRECTED TO THE CORRECT URL WHEN YOU CLICK ON IT EVEN THOUGH IT IS THE CORRECT URL TO READ IT… http://forums.delphiforums.com/innocuous/messages?msg=1049.8

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