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Toadstools at the Times

Public Editor speaks up for free debate, unaware of Times’ deadly HIV∫AIDS bias

Science joins in, giving Moore a free pass, but he trips up on excess

Even crackpot vegans deserve a hearing

clarkhoyt.jpgIn The Danger of the One-Sided Debate by Clark Hoyt the Public Editor of the New York Times talked last Sunday (June 24) about the Op-Ed page and discussed whether the Times has a responsibility not to run pieces by terrorist groups, and also, when carrying a politically provocative piece, whether it should make sure that an opposing view was also run.

This is interesting. Both issues seem highly relevant to the simmering paradigm quarrel in HIV∫AIDS, and the Times’ highly questionable behavior in mostly not carrying news and comment on the topic.

In fact over more than two decades, the paper of record has recorded as little news of the challenge to HIV as the cause of AIDS as possible. The name of Peter Duesberg has been featured a grand total of 16 times in 22 years, while the acronym “AIDS” has been mentioned 33,870 times. The only opinion the Times has carried in book reviews, columns and Op-Ed pieces have been squarely on the side of repressing the views of the distinguished scientist and his allies as decisively as possible.

moore.jpegThe title of the last Op-Ed piece on the topic by none other than our friend John P. Moore of Cornell, was Deadly Quackery, a label which told readers all they needed to know without even skimming the poorly argued and contemptuous column, whose style was as far from the collegial tone of genuine scientific debate as a drunken rape is from a chaperoned date.

The fact that the Times is highly vulnerable to the criticism of its own Public Editor in a great scientific battle of which he is unaware is what makes Mr Hoyt’s column dealing with two other issues on the Op-Ed page interesting.

Hamas terrorism, but how about HIV∫AIDS terrorism?

First, apparently last week the Times outraged some readers by giving a platform to a Hamas spokesman after its violent takeover of Gaza, so that he could make it clear “What Hamas Wants”.

One Joe Pensak of Massachusetts objected that this wasn’t balanced journalism, it was “more the dissemination of propaganda in the spirit of advocacy journalism” from a terrorist group which advocates flying the Palestinian flag over every inch of soil now occupied by Israel.

Replying to terrorist propaganda

The complaints of Joe and many other readers didn’t get very far with the editors. Andrew Rosenthal, editor of the editorial page, replied that he was under no obligation to “provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage” on the Op-Ed page and his deputy in charge of the page, David Shipley, explained that

“the news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week….and this was out opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say.”

Presumably this is what they would reply to any complaints that their coverage of the HIV∫AIDS dispute has been one sided.

Hoyt speaks up for responsible journalism

Clark Hoyt in his role as the Public Editor mustered a judicious spirit in the wake of these unyielding pronouncements and summed up as follows:

Op-Ed pages should be open especially to controversial idea, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

Free debate the lifeblood of truth

mushroom.jpegWell, Clark, we certainly agree with those sentiments. So we wonder how is it that the Op-Ed page published this diatribe by John P. Moore of Cornell on June 11 last year and never ran anything presenting the other side of the HIV∫AIDS debate since?

The Op-Ed piece, Deadly Quackery, was, we are forced to say, a scientifically foolish piece of political propaganda from beginning to end, and certainly no definitive reply to the well established and long running objections to the HIV∫AIDS paradigm in the best peer reviewed journals.

Moore must have reminded discerning readers of the White House style of late in dealing with the crumbling of the Iraq rationale, since his piece consisted mainly of flat claims and denials without much reference to good evidence, served up with uncalled for ad hominem bias and garnished with misplaced appeals to concern for the social consequences of questioning HIV∫AIDS.

H.I.V. causes AIDS. This is not a controversial claim but an established fact, based on more than 20 years of solid science. It is as certain as the descent of humans from apes and the falling of dropped objects to the ground.

So why reiterate the obvious? Because lately, a bizarre theory has gained ground — one that claims that H.I.V. is harmless, and that the antiretroviral drugs that curb the growth of the virus cause rather than treat AIDS. Such talk sounds to most of us like quackery, but the theory has emerged as a genuine menace to public health in the United States and, particularly, in South Africa.

Neutral observers (such as this blog, politically speaking) could be forgiven for interpreting that as “a genuine menace to the welfare of those in science defending the paradigm and gaining large grants to research microbicides which only boost HIV transmission according to the latest studies”.
Here is the full text of Moore’s mad tilt if you wish to read it again: The New York Times
June 4, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Deadly Quackery
By JOHN MOORE and NICOLI NATTRASS

H.I.V. causes AIDS. This is not a controversial claim but an established fact, based on more than 20 years of solid science. It is as certain as the descent of humans from apes and the falling of dropped objects to the ground.

So why reiterate the obvious? Because lately, a bizarre theory has gained ground — one that claims that H.I.V. is harmless, and that the antiretroviral drugs that curb the growth of the virus cause rather than treat AIDS. Such talk sounds to most of us like quackery, but the theory has emerged as a genuine menace to public health in the United States and, particularly, in South Africa.

The theory, which we call AIDS denialism, has gained such currency with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa that his administration is reluctant to expand access to antiretroviral drugs. Despite generous allocations from the country’s Treasury and substantial assistance from foreign donors, only a quarter of those needing antiretrovirals receive them. This response is poor by the standards of middle-income countries, but it is especially troublesome in South Africa, which has more H.I.V.-positive people than any other country.

American AIDS denialists are partly to blame for South Africa’s backsliding AIDS policy. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, has described antiretrovirals as poisons. She is supported in these views by Roberto Giraldo, a New York hospital technologist who says AIDS is caused by deficiencies in the diet, and who served on President Mbeki’s AIDS advisory panel in 2000. The minister promotes nutritional alternatives like lemons, garlic and olive oil to treat H.I.V. infection. Several prominent South Africans have died of AIDS after opting to change their diets instead of taking antiretrovirals.

Another American AIDS denialist, David Rasnick, a regular letter-writer to South African newspapers, absurdly claims that H.I.V. cannot be transmitted between heterosexuals. Mr. Rasnick now works in South Africa for a multinational vitamin company, the Rath Foundation, conducting clinical trials in which AIDS patients are encouraged to take multivitamins instead of antiretrovirals.

In the past, South Africa’s Medicines Control Council acted swiftly to curb such abuses, and the Medical Research Council condemned AIDS denialism. But recent high-level political appointments of administration supporters to both bodies have neutered their influence. In South Africa, AIDS denialism now underpins a lucrative nutritional supplements industry that has the tacit, and sometimes active, support of the Mbeki administration.

By courting the AIDS denialists, President Mbeki has increased their stature in the United States. He lent credibility to Christine Maggiore, a Californian who campaigns against using antiretrovirals to prevent transmission of H.I.V. from mothers to children, when he was photographed meeting her. Two years later, Ms. Maggiore gave birth to an H.I.V.-infected daughter, Eliza Jane, who acquired an AIDS-related infection last year and died at age 3.

Mother-to-child H.I.V. transmission is now rare in the United States, thanks to the widespread use of preventive therapy and the activities of organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Sadly, this is not so in South Africa, where many children are born infected and then face short, painful lives. The health and lives of American children are also still under threat: a small clique of AIDS denialists is trying to block the provision of antiretrovirals to H.I.V.-infected children in the New York City foster care system.

Until recently, AIDS researchers and activists in the United States tended to regard the denialists with derision, assuming they would fade away. Unfortunately, this has not happened. Harper’s Magazine recently published an article by Celia Farber promoting the denialist view. There is a real risk that a new generation of Americans could be persuaded that H.I.V. either doesn’t exist or is harmless, that safe sex isn’t important and that they don’t need to protect their children from this deadly virus. A resurgence of denialism in the United States would have far reaching effects on the global AIDS pandemic, just as it already has in South Africa.

The AIDS denialists use pseudoscience and non-peer-reviewed Internet postings to bolster their false claims about H.I.V. The real facts about this virus have been uncovered by scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health, the British and South African Medical Research Councils, the Pasteur Institute and many other national research organizations. The public should seek AIDS truth from the latter sources.

It is sad when selling magazines and vitamin supplements is considered more important than promoting public health and scientific truth. The truth is that H.I.V. does exist, that it causes AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs can prevent H.I.V. transmission and death from AIDS. To deny these facts is not just wrong — it’s deadly.

John Moore is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University. Nicoli Nattrass is the director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town.

Any question of consequences depends on who is right of course, which is not a matter which is settled by propaganda of this type, since as this blog has pointed out time and again the scientific literature with its study results consistently embarrasses and contradicts the paradigm enthusiasts such as Moore.

Mushrooms galore

mushpois.jpegMoore’s poisonous toadstool in this case was partially edible, actually, since it was a good example of how those who stand on uncertain ground go overboard in asserting their claims. Despite its adamant opening (“HIV is the cause of AIDS. etc”) it entirely begged the central question at issue ie who is right about HIV, the point on which weighing the “dangers” of criticism versus the “dangers” of making a very large mistake depends.

And as a horrendously one sided statement on an unsettled issue of international importance, it was a troubling indication of how partisan some scientists become when their paradigm investment is threatened. The Times was surely irresponsible in not running a counter column. A balancing reply was urgently needed if readers are to have a chance of understanding the reasons the backstage debate still is live and kicking after twenty three years.

No replies allowed

As it turned out not even one letter objecting to any of this was printed, and several were sent. A capitulation from the South African ambassador insisting that the government was rolling out ARVs at a record rate was printed under the title South Africa and AIDS .

What was desperately needed to restore balance was an Op-Ed in response, written from a scientific point of view contradicting every piece of unacceptable reasoning and evidence advanced by Moore in the socially irresponsible manner which characterizes his style of answering HIV∫AIDS doubts.

As we have said, to our mind this signals nothing more powerfully than his own internal doubt on the matter. This has to be what generates so much such adamant and unscientific certainty in his writing (see AIDSTruth.org, Moore’s counter dissident site for more excess along these lines) in lieu of productive discussion.

Thus in the end the Times piece was probably more of an embarrassment than an asset to the senior officers of the paradigm defense army with its fatal “Methinks he doth protest too much” style, as Queen Gertrude would have put it in Hamlet.

bulldogchampion.jpegWe dare say that as AIDSTruth.org has grown in adding more and more indiscreet ad hominem attacks and inadequate responses to scientific questions, the unfortunate Cornell research star is increasingly exposed as an energetic but half blind British bull dog whose barking and random grabbing of trouser cuffs does more to wake up sophisticated observers to the low grade politics of the field than a billboard in front of the Capitol.

Science’s Cohen fails again

The recent Science piece by Jon Cohen, HIV/AIDS: AIDSTruth.org Web Site Takes Aim at ‘Denialists’ celebrating the existence of his 150 views a day site allows Moore to demonstrate his talent for officiously closeminded insult to a sympathetic scribe who as we recall was once humiliated by Serge Lang, the Yale mathematician who was so appalled at Cohen’s blindness to the problems with official statistics in the HIV∫AIDS debate that he refused to be interviewed by him, writing to the editor of Science to tell him why.

As far as we are concerned AIDSTruth does the public a service by posting the text of this piece (Science 15 June 2007 Vol. 316. no. 5831, p. 1554) for the comparison it allows between Moore’s mushrooms and the quote from Peter Duesberg, who despatches the entire site with one verbal stake through the heart:

Peter Duesberg, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, whom colleagues have pilloried ever since he first questioned the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987, remains unswayed by the Web site, which he derides in an e-mail interview as a “scientifically worthless mix of ad hominems, opinions, intolerance, and religious energy–instead of a theory and facts.” Duesberg maintains that “many essential questions” about what he calls the “HIV-AIDS hypothesis” remain unanswered.

Seems to us that any rational reader seeing this remark side by side with Moore’s debating style will understand that good science is more likely to be found at Peter Duesberg’s site where all his excellent papers are immediately available than at AIDSTruth.org, whose style Moore is obviously very proud of but which may strike readers in a way that he does not expect:

Launched by AIDS researchers, clinicians, and activists from several countries, AIDSTruth.org offers more than 100 links to scientific reports to “debunk denialist myths” and “expose the denialist propaganda campaign for what it is … to prevent further harm being done to individual and public health.” The site also has a section that names denialists and unsparingly critiques their writings, variously accusing them of homophobia, “scientific ignorance of truly staggering proportions,” conspiracy theories, “the dogmatic repetition of the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or mischaracterization of certain scientific studies,” and flat-out lies. “There was a perceived need to take these people on in cyberspace, because that’s where they operate mostly, and that’s where the most vulnerable people go for their information,” says immunologist John Moore, an AIDS researcher at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

Judge for yourself, dear reader, where the mushrooms are likely growing in HIV∫AIDS.
HIV/AIDS: AIDSTruth.org Web Site Takes Aim at ‘Denialists’
Science 15 June 2007
Vol. 316. no. 5831, p. 1554
Jon Cohen

For 20 years, a small but vocal group of AIDS “dissenters” has attracted international attention by questioning whether HIV causes the disease. Many AIDS researchers from the outset thought it best to ignore these challenges. But last year, another small and equally vocal group decided to counter the dissenters–whom they call “denialists”–with a feisty Web site, AIDSTruth.org. It has started to attract international attention itself. “It’s great,” says Mark Wainberg, head of the McGill AIDS Centre in Montreal, Canada. “We really need to get more people to understand that HIV denialism does serious harm. And we were in denial about denialism for a long time.”

Launched by AIDS researchers, clinicians, and activists from several countries, AIDSTruth.org offers more than 100 links to scientific reports to “debunk denialist myths” and “expose the denialist propaganda campaign for what it is … to prevent further harm being done to individual and public health.” The site also has a section that names denialists and unsparingly critiques their writings, variously accusing them of homophobia, “scientific ignorance of truly staggering proportions,” conspiracy theories, “the dogmatic repetition of the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or mischaracterization of certain scientific studies,” and flat-out lies. “There was a perceived need to take these people on in cyberspace, because that’s where they operate mostly, and that’s where the most vulnerable people go for their information,” says immunologist John Moore, an AIDS researcher at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

Peter Duesberg, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, whom colleagues have pilloried ever since he first questioned the link between HIV and AIDS in 1987, remains unswayed by the Web site, which he derides in an e-mail interview as a “scientifically worthless mix of ad hominems, opinions, intolerance, and religious energy–instead of a theory and facts.” Duesberg maintains that “many essential questions” about what he calls the “HIV-AIDS hypothesis” remain unanswered.

Two factors led Moore and like-minded thinkers (who now number 11) to take off the gloves and hit back with AIDSTruth.org , which went online in March 2006. One was an article in that month’s issue of Harper’s magazine, “Out of Control, AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science,” which chronicled Duesberg’s travails for challenging dogma and also questioned the safety and effectiveness of an anti-HIV drug that’s widely used to prevent transmission from an infected mother to her baby. Moore and other Web site co-founders wrote a 35- page critique of the article. The second trigger was the situation in South Africa. “Many people who had fought denialism in the early 1990s had lost interest in the subject, but in South Africa, it was at its peak,” explains another founder of the Web site, Nathan Geffen of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. Geffen and others worried that his government might use the Harper’s article to justify further inaction. “South Africa has more people living with HIV than any other country, and it’s also been a place where AIDS denialism has had political support with terrible results.”

The no-frills Web site receives no funding, doesn’t pay contributors, and features no ads. It refuses to debate whether HIV causes AIDS, which it says “is as certain as the descent of humans from apes and the falling of dropped objects to the ground.” It has also posted articles by authors of peer-reviewed publications who believe their findings have been distorted by people trying to prove that HIV/AIDS is a ruse. “The denialists tend to be grotesquely inaccurate,” says Richard Jefferys, an activist with the Treatment Action Group in New York City who also helped start the site. “It’s almost like the more outrageously inaccurate the claim is, the more they repeat it.”

To the delight of Jefferys and others, a Supreme Court judge in Australia in April cited a debunking article on AIDSTruth.org in a closely followed case that involved a man convicted of endangering life for not revealing he was infected with HIV to sexual partners. The man appealed, claiming that no studies prove HIV causes AIDS. His defense consisted of two “expert” witnesses, one of whom was extensively questioned about allegations that she had misused a researcher’s results on sexual transmission of HIV. The questions were inspired by an editorial posted on AIDSTruth.org . The judge concluded that neither defense witness–both of whom are branded as denialists on AIDSTruth.org –was qualified to express opinions on these questions. “There’s a constant concern that by rebutting these things, you’re giving them more credence–there’s a thin line between slaying the monster and feeding it,” says Jefferys. “The judge’s decision made the Web site seem really worthwhile.”

AIDSTruth.org has seen its popularity rise from about 60 unique visits a day to 150. But as Moore notes, “we’re certainly not high up in the Google rankings.” Then again, he argues, any effective rebuke to the “anti-scientific” opinions that attract so much attention is worth the effort. “If you ignore the denialists, they’re not going to disappear,” says Moore. “And they don’t like the fact that we can get in their faces. They’re used to being unchallenged.”

Intellectual terrorists at work

mushpoi.jpegBut good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, as the man said, so why was Moore allowed to get away with pulling the Times into his strategy of not allowing AIDS dissent a voice if he can possibly help it? Especially since the whole affair fits very well the definition of allowing terrorists a voice in the Times as propaganda without reply, as Joe objected.

In our view Moore and his fellow members of the goon quad in the defense of the HIV∫AIDS paradigm can be counted as intellectual terrorists because they perpetrate intellectual violence in the form of ad hominem attacks, refusal to debate, and censorship of recognition and reporting of a respectable paradigm dissent, not to mention phone calls to employers and colleagues of dissidents which have been reported from Moore and other paradigm priests.

The valid debate is thus veiled from the unknowing public even though it has been led by a scientist who without argument from anyone is an elite practitioner and academic whose objections have to be taken seriously, especially when the uncollegial public responses to him are not on the same intellectual level.

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This failure of reporting and editing will quite possibly be the greatest black mark in the newspaper’s history, far greater than the failure of individual reporters.
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With its violence and propaganda, by any reasonable standard this style of response is social terrorism with its flexing of political power, financial sanctions and professional ostracism, and if the Times coverage is not balanced outsiders will (as they do) get quite the wrong impression of the value of the points that are made by respectable critics against a paradigm whose logical flaws, according to the scientific literature, have been fatal from the very beginning of a long flight sustained scientifically only by hot air and misrepresentation of evidence.

Historical threat to Times’ stature

judithmiller.jpgHere is the crux of the problem: we have the public debate of a very large issue affecting the health of tens of millions cut off by Moore and his colleagues with the active cooperation of the world’s greatest newspaper, not to mention the leading science journal in the US. Not a shining example of the way the New York Times should meet its responsibilities and one that when exposed in the fullness of time will reduce the trust of readers a very large notch.

This failure of reporting and editing will quite possibly be the greatest black mark in the newspaper’s history, far greater than the failure of individual reporters such as Judith Miller

Even before she served 85 days in jail last summer for refusing to testify about her conversations with then-vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Miller wrote, she had “become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war.” Miller, whose prewar stories about whether Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction were later disavowed by the Times as inaccurate, said she regretted “that I was not permitted to pursue” the story further.

or Jason Blair:

Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception

A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.

jayson-blair.jpgThe reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.

Vegans should be allowed a defense

Meanwhile the fount of wisdom that is Clark Hoyt goes on to consider the similar imbalance of the Op-Ed page in publishing a critique of extreme vegans (*pron. according to the dictionary with a soft g not a hard one, in case you didn’t know) without including a voice of dissent.

This wasn’t the case, however, with a May 21 op-ed by Nina Planck, an author who writes about food and nutrition. Sensationally headlined “Death by Veganism,” Planck’s piece hit much closer to home than Yousef’s. It said in no uncertain terms that vegans — vegetarians who shun even eggs and dairy products — were endangering the health and even the lives of their children. A former vegan herself, Planck said she had concluded “a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

Her Exhibit A was a trial in Atlanta in which a vegan couple were convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty in the death of their 6-week-old son, who was fed mainly soy milk and apple juice and weighed only 3.5 pounds. The column set off a torrent of reader e-mail that is still coming in — much of it from vegans who send photos of their healthy children or complain bitterly of being harassed by friends and relatives using Planck’s column as proof that their diet is dangerous.

In this it’s pretty clear that the couple simply starved the baby to a skeletal death and the issue of whether all nutrients necessary to health are included in a vegan diet is not really involved.

But Planck had taken the opportunity to launch a severe critique, and Hoyt reasonably felt that it was unfair not to provide some rebuttal, and let readers decide who was right.

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you — not her obligation, Rosenthal and Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

There is another side.

Rachelle Leesen, a clinical nutritionist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that Planck’s article “was extremely inflammatory and full of misinformation.” She and her colleague Brenda Waber pointed me to a 2003 paper by the American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization for food and nutrition professionals. After reviewing the current science, the A.D.A., together with the Dietitians of Canada, declared, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

Even though Planck replied with 250 studies from the ADA she seems to be grinding the wrong axe since the child had obviously died of not enough food, rather than the wrong kind, says Hoyt. So a reply was valid and desirable.

Charles Boring, the Fulton County prosecutor who handled the case, told me it was “absolutely not” about veganism. Planck and Shipley said they were aware of the prosecutor’s contention. Shipley said, “We were also aware, though, that the convicted couple continues to insist that they were trying to raise their infant on a vegan diet.”

But the jury didn’t believe them, and leaving that out put Planck’s whole column on a shaky foundation.

Op-ed pages are for debate, but if you get only one side, that’s not debate. And that’s not healthy.

Why so many mushrooms, Clark?

We heartily agree with the last sentence and suggest that Clark trot over to the Science Section and ask the CDC trained Larry Altman why they have not found someone to reply to the Moore Op-Ed “Deadly Quackery” in over a year.

mushroompoisonous.jpegCould it be by some chance that it reflects the power of the sleek-suited Dr Anthony Fauci at NIAID and his edict many, many years ago in the AAAS Observer in 1989 that

“AIDS has created a whole new interaction between scientists and the press (…) Journalists who make too many mistakes or who are too sloppy are going to find that their access to scientists may diminish”?

Surely not. It is difficult to imagine that one bureaucrat, even a man who was called a hero by President Reagan, could have such influence over the greatest newspaper in the world.

But what are those poisoned mushrooms doing growing on the desks of so many editors at the New York Times?
The New York Times
June 24, 2007
The Public Editor
The Danger of the One-Sided Debate
By CLARK HOYT

THE op-ed page of The New York Times is perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day — the war in Iraq, abortion, global warming and more.

“We look for opinions that are provocative,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page. “Opinions that confirm what you already thought aren’t that interesting.”

But some opinions provoke more than others. Two very different columns by guest contributors, one last week and one last month, caused enormous reader outcries and raised important questions. Are there groups or causes so odious they should be ruled off the page? If The Times publishes a controversial opinion, does it owe readers another point of view immediately? And what is the obligation of editors to make sure that op-ed writers are not playing fast and loose with the facts?

The most recent column was by Ahmed Yousef, a spokesman for Hamas, the party elected to lead the Palestinian government and a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. He wrote Wednesday about “What Hamas Wants.”

Many readers were outraged, complaining that The Times had provided a platform for a terrorist. One, Jon Pensak of Sherborn, Mass., said that allowing Yousef space in The Times “isn’t balanced journalism, it is more the dissemination of propaganda in the spirit of advocacy journalism.”

Well, yes. The point of the op-ed page is advocacy. And, Rosenthal said, “we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion.”

David Shipley, one of Rosenthal’s deputies and the man in charge of the op-ed page, said: “The news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week. … This was our opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say.”

I agree that Yousef’s piece should have run, even though his version of reality is at odds with the one I understand from news coverage. He wrote blandly, for example, about creating “an atmosphere of calm in which we resolve our differences” with Israel without mentioning that Hamas is officially dedicated to raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” which would mean no more Israel.

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

Rosenthal and Shipley said that, over time, they try to publish a variety of voices on the most important issues. Regular op-ed readers have seen a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a lot of other information to help judge Yousef’s statements.

This wasn’t the case, however, with a May 21 op-ed by Nina Planck, an author who writes about food and nutrition. Sensationally headlined “Death by Veganism,” Planck’s piece hit much closer to home than Yousef’s. It said in no uncertain terms that vegans — vegetarians who shun even eggs and dairy products — were endangering the health and even the lives of their children. A former vegan herself, Planck said she had concluded “a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

Her Exhibit A was a trial in Atlanta in which a vegan couple were convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty in the death of their 6-week-old son, who was fed mainly soy milk and apple juice and weighed only 3.5 pounds. The column set off a torrent of reader e-mail that is still coming in — much of it from vegans who send photos of their healthy children or complain bitterly of being harassed by friends and relatives using Planck’s column as proof that their diet is dangerous.

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you — not her obligation, Rosenthal and Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

There is another side.

Rachelle Leesen, a clinical nutritionist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that Planck’s article “was extremely inflammatory and full of misinformation.” She and her colleague Brenda Waber pointed me to a 2003 paper by the American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization for food and nutrition professionals. After reviewing the current science, the A.D.A., together with the Dietitians of Canada, declared, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

Planck said she was aware of the A.D.A.’s position but regarded it as “pandering” to a politically active vegan community.

I won’t rehash the scientific dispute in a case in which Planck has her experts and the A.D.A. paper cited more than 250 studies, but I think The Times owes its readers the other side, published on the op-ed page, not just in five letters to the editor that briefly took issue with her.

I even question Planck’s Exhibit A, poor little Crown Shakur, who was so shriveled at his death that doctors could see the bones in his body. His death, she wrote, “may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.”

Maybe, if by nutrition you mean a discussion about whether you feed a baby anything at all.

The prosecutor argued — and the jury believed — that Crown’s parents intentionally starved him to death. News coverage at the time said that the medical examiner, doctors at the hospital to which Crown’s body was taken and an expert nutritionist testified that the baby was not given enough food to survive, regardless of what the food was.

Charles Boring, the Fulton County prosecutor who handled the case, told me it was “absolutely not” about veganism. Planck and Shipley said they were aware of the prosecutor’s contention. Shipley said, “We were also aware, though, that the convicted couple continues to insist that they were trying to raise their infant on a vegan diet.”

But the jury didn’t believe them, and leaving that out put Planck’s whole column on a shaky foundation.

Op-ed pages are for debate, but if you get only one side, that’s not debate. And that’s not healthy.
The public editor serves as the readers’ representative. His opinions and conclusions are his own. His column appears at least twice monthly in this section.

10 Responses to “Toadstools at the Times”

  1. cervantes Says:

    Good morning, Friday June 29; Re Latest on NYT.

    A correction on the date of Fauci’s quote is in order. It was in 1989, not 1969.

    Also, is “Jayson” or “Jason” the correct name of the NYT’s wayward reporter?

    Happy trails, Dave (Cervantes)

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Oops, 1989 of course. But the guy’s name was Jayson Blair, and he certainly embarrassed the Times by covering its front pages with sensational fiction phoned in from his apartment a few blocks away, in 2003. Now if he had been a science reporter he wouldn’t have been found out, it seems, since the officials of NIAID from Fauci on down have been filling the front page with fiction since 1984, and Larry Altman the messenger has not been called on the carpet for any of it, as far as we know.

    The whole thing is extraordinary when you consider how hypersensitive those that run big institutions are when it comes to accusations of plagiarism. Look at this report on some hapless freelancer who copied a few harmless lines from a TV episdoe he was using for inspiration: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=FB0915FD3C5A0C728DDDAC0894DE404482” rel=”nofollow”>NBC Admits Plagiarism In Feature Before Derby:

    May 11, 2006 New York Times
    HORSE RACING; NBC Admits Plagiarism In Feature Before Derby
    By RICHARD SANDOMIR

    A freelance writer will no longer receive assignments from NBC Universal Sports after copying two passages from a 2002 episode of ”The West Wing” in his script for a feature that preceded the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

    Ken Schanzer, the president of NBC Universal Sports, confirmed that the plagiarism had occurred. He would not identify the writer but said, ”He won’t work here anymore.”

    The short feature, which was preceded by a commercial for the final two episodes of ”The West Wing,” looked at the difficulties faced by Barbaro’s trainer, Michael Matz, who survived a plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa, then led three children to safety; Alex Solis, who broke his back in a track spill two years ago but rode Brother Derek on Saturday; and Brother Derek’s trainer, Dan Hendricks, who was paralyzed in a motocross accident.

    In the script, read by NBC’s Tom Hammond, Matz was extolled because he ”ran into the fire to save the lives of three children.” Hammond paused dramatically and added, ”Ran into the fire.”

    The two-hour opening episode of the fourth season of ”The West Wing” included a plot line in which two pipe bombs exploded and killed 44 people in the swim team’s facility at the fictitious Kennison State University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

    Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet, delivered a speech praising the rescuers who ”ran into the fire to help get people out.” He paused and added dramatically, ”Ran into the fire.”

    The Derby script summed up the changed lives of Matz, Solis and Hendricks by saying that the ”funny thing about life is that every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to meet its challenges, we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”

    In ”The West Wing,” Bartlet said, ”The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”

    The similarities between the Derby feature script and the script for the episode of ”The West Wing,” written by Aaron Sorkin, were discovered by a reader who sent an e-mail message to The New York Times.

    This incident of plagiarism follows one in which Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore, was found last month to have extensively copied passages from two authors’ books for her novel, ”How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.” She maintained that she had read the other books but that the passages in question were ”unconscious and unintentional.”

    Also last month, William H. Swanson, the chief executive of Raytheon, admitted that he had failed to give credit to material in a book he wrote called ”Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management.” More than half of the 33 rules had been taken from ”The Unwritten Laws of Engineering,” by W. J. King in 1944.

    * Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

    Presumably the outrage is because it is a property issue, and executives can understand that, while the concept of an international paradigm support system in science being at heart a sidewalk shell game is a little beyond their grasp.

    Perhaps the The Hoax , like The Constant Gardener, will let some light in, but probably not.

    The literary and journalistic frauds of the present era — the fudgings, thefts and fabulations of James Frey, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Kaavya Viswanathan and their sorry ilk — are small potatoes compared to the work of Clifford Irving. Mr. Blair led readers of The New York Times to believe he’d been to Texas; Mr. Frey convinced Oprah Winfrey and many others that he’d been to jail. But Mr. Irving, back in the early 1970s, conned a major publishing house and a popular magazine into buying a much bigger and more brazen lie.

    He told them that Howard Hughes — the words “reclusive billionaire” were not actually part of the man’s name, though they often seemed to be — had appointed Mr. Irving to be his official biographer. Claiming to be in regular contact with his subject, and forging handwritten letters to back up his claim, Mr. Irving pocketed a large advance (some of it meant for Hughes) and produced a manuscript apparently spun out of a mix of careful research, inspired guesswork and pure invention.

  3. MacDonald Says:

    Mr. Truthseeker, your breathtakingly detailed argument is unfortunately fatally flawed by your use of confounding analogies. However much you want to appeal to the average American’s understanding of Middle Eastern anti-Israel types as bad guys, the Hamas Op-Ed. does not correspond to the Moore mash, quite to the contrary.

    Just as David Shipley says, the Times has given us an opportunity to hear a voice that’s normally censored in all mainstream debate. No one need fear that Hamas have been, are or will be allowed to say anything unchallenged. As you note yourself, the calls for censure and censorship have already sounded in places almost as prominent as this blog, and will continue to do so.

    The only fear at play is that the enemies of the republic won’t remain faceless, voiceless, inhuman to the tax paying multitudes of said republic, whose civil liberties have been effectively and indefinitely suspended with the final realization of the Orwellian continuous war.

    In your analogy, then, Duesberg is Hamas, and the clamouring chorus of censors who deem American ears too tender, American minds too impressionable to be exposed to aught but our own state propaganda represents the Moores of the mushroom field.

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    Yes, you are right, in this case Duesberg is in the same position as Hamas, he should get a hearing even if people are prejudiced against him before he is given space. We need to hear other points of view, especially opposing ones, before we can judge an issue on an informed basis. On the other hand, you could also say that he is the establishment that has given way to the newcomers with their crazy HIV∫AIDS idea, and been prevented or at least handicapped from showing how bad it is.

    In the case of the vegan dispute, a factual assertion seems to have been made – that a pure vegan diet will leave a baby or anyone deficient in certain nutrients – and a factual counter claim should have been presented to avoid misleading the reader, if the initial claim is wrong. In that case, you also have Duesberg as the corrector of facts, not allowed to gain a hearing.

    That analogy either besmirches or compliments him depending on whether the ADA is right in arguing that a vegan diet is enough. We would say they are more or less right. Protein intake might be inadequate for a vegan unless he/she eats enough nuts, beans and/or seeds, which shouldn’t be too difficult. The crucial element is B12, which isn’t supplied by vegetables, but is manufactured exclusively by bacteria, yeasts, moulds and algae. (So eat yogurt, normal folks!) If you don’t have eneough B12 it leads to anemia and neurological problems, which is another reason why a vegan might seem cuckoo (truth in jest). But the microorganisms used to make tofu, tempeh, miso and tamari (soy sauce), or those in the sea water around seaweed, may provide B12, and the body stores it for a long time.

    The issue is balance, and whether you should hear from the side deplored by the mainstream. Seems to be fundamentally the same old issue of free speech, and where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable provocation by bad or crazy people. Presumably all agree that someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there isn’t any should be suppressed. That would be by analogy the HIV∫AIDS boys and girls. Otherwise the principle seems to be free speech demands letting neoNazis and such parade and broadcast however obnoxious to the mainstream. In that case Duesberg would appear to be the neoNazi, obnoxious to the conventional thinker, even though he is in fact the mainstream traditionalist in science trying to retain decent standards and the scientific method. In fact, the HIV∫AIDS gang with their spurious scare are the neoNazis of AIDS.

    This is why the smearing of anti-HIV commentators as “dangerous” dabblers in “pseudoscience” should have no force anyway, even if it were true. Free speech is the way to sort out the truth. The real problem is that so many people form their ideas from their emotions, so that if they are for example anti Semitic they adopt Holocaust denial claims without reviewing both sides. So a wrong idea trumpeted loudly doesn’t necessarily lead to people looking for correction from the other side. They may even avoid it. That is why, according to this blog at least, it is human nature which is the roadblock in HIV∫AIDS correction, and you have to understand human nature to account for all the ways in which the expert system has gone off the rails and over the cliff.

  5. MartinDKessler Says:

    The Duesberg – Hamas analogy is a poor one. A more apt analogy would be that Duesberg as a respected Israeli politician offered a way of solving the Palestinian problem by dealing with Hamas which would be counter to the Israeli establishment of not dealing with terrorists at all. Of course the formerly great Israeli poititican would be silenced in the press both in Israel and by the New York Times.

  6. Truthseeker Says:

    There is no strong analogy between Hamas and Duesberg intended, just the similarity in position relative to free speech. Just being opposed to the conventional wisdom of rulers puts one in an unpleasant position, since it automatically taints one in the eyes of most people, who take a position on virtually every issue based on the functioning of some organ other than their brains, usually their gut or heart.

    Poor Duesberg, a member of the elite Academy of Science and the golden boy of the NIH endowed with its Outstanding Investigator Grant of $350,000 to “do whatever you think fit”, was reduced by this change in image to an unfunded pariah who is associated with all kinds of less distinguished denizens of the scientific underworld, who believe they have found a kindred spirit in their tilting against establishment icons of all types, not to mention attracting anybody and everybody who is against the status quo.

    All he did was stand up for correct science and the public interest, even when the Devil arrived in San Francisco, took him to the opera and produced a capitulation for him to sign for reentry into the club! Perhaps he didn’t realize that the standards of a well brought up German academic didn’t necessarily translate to American soil, rather like the odd and increasingly out of date values of the English “gentleman”.

  7. MacDonald Says:

    Bush just commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence – no jail time, no impeachments.

    HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY OCEANIA!

  8. MartinDKessler Says:

    Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

  9. Servo Says:

    I didn’t realize this was a Duesberg worship site. Duesberg is wrong, man. . Stop talking about sometihng you don’t test for. There’s no such thing as a gold standard pure particle reference for the test, there’s no such thing as the thing. It’s just a bunch of pieces of broken crap they form together to talk about whether ‘Duesberg’s right or Duesberg’s wrong.”

    He’s wrong, chump, and he’s been wrong for 20 years. He’s right about azt, but wrong about the nothing broken crap in Robert Gallo’s cancer dishes being anything worth talking about, and everybody knows it.

  10. Truthseeker Says:

    Refreshing anti-BS candor, Servo. But you’ll have to excuse us, we have removed all the inarticulate filth in case the intelligent minds who are the target audience of this blog are put off, and erased the friendly mirror we held up to it in this response at first, yesterday. Yes, we sympathize, since it really does seem like a now-you-see-it-now-you don’t Virus. And in general it is really hard to get the mind round such a huge subject with so many permutations and combinations of ways of escaping the simple truth, the truth that the thing is a theoretical dog and has been a dog from the beginning, theoretically speaking, and we are happy to join you in your impatient outburst if you can also justify your impatience as well as express it. There is nothing there and if it was there it wouldn’t do anything. OK. These darn fellows will invent anything they can get away with, right?

    However not all onlookers are as sane and have as much direct horse sense as you do, and you’ll have to forgive us if we go on and on at great length in simple terms to get newcomers to understand what is going on on the premise that at least the basic premise of the paradigm is right, and that the Virus is present at some point somewhere in the vast research structure that has been built to examine and describe it at the coast of so many millions.

    The whole scheme is such a scientific mess that triumphant iconoclasts may go overboard and say it is a Fantasy Virus as well as a Fantasy Pandemic, and that Duesberg is right about the latter but wrong about the former, which is a big relief for them since they can’t stand him to be too often right for some reason.

    But to us that is like saying a totally inaccurate copy of the NIH campus built out of Leggo is wrong because Leggo bricks don’t exist as such. Bit of a stretch, never really justified very persuasively here at this site despite being given all the rope in the world, and the establishment thinkers who joined in being made the target of as much abuse as such Total Rethinkers could throw at them..

    We currently find Duesberg’s logic and evidence here as persuasive as the rest of his response to the HIV∫AIDS claims and that they defeat the suggestions that it is all an Fantasy Virus as well as a Fantasy Pandemic, but if you have proof he isn’t right why don’t you produce the relevant persuasive reasoning and paper(s)?

    He is certainly right about everything else, to the extent anyone can be right about anything as questionable and corrupt as a body of scientific literature based on theoretical nonsense and if you don’t believe that simply read the papers he wrote and compare them with the comments on AIDSTruth.org, especially the ones where his predictions have all proved out whereas none of the HIV∫AIDS priests have. Validity is gauged by accurate predictions in science.

    That should tell a man like yourself everything, since you have such impatience with claptrap. An impatience which we share, by the way. Pointing out that HIV is not the cause of AIDS and that the Virus is not There in patients is beginning to seem like writing posts on the Sun coming up in the East every morning. Sooner or later we will adopt your swinging style and say The Hell With It! After all, what is the point of fighting human nature?

    But if you want to show the vaunted Virus is nothing but bits and pieces you have to explain why the world says otherwise, and why a very great scientist is suddenly wrong on this one huge point. References, please, if you have any we haven’t quoted. Or if you can’t produce any, is there something else that Duesberg has said that you can show is wrong? Surely this man can’t be such a good scientist and writer as well?

    By the way, what is it that you dislike about giving a man his due, if he happens to be a great scientist? Always wondered about this odd envy, or whatever it is.

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