Science-challenged Michael Specter takes on paradigm busters in AIDS, exposes them as ‘silly, dangerous, anti-Western nonconformists’
Evident hand holding by John Moore leads to inaccuracies, red meat for critics
A provoking email from Cornell researcher John P. Moore, well known for painting macaque pudenda with proposed HIV microbicides, was sent today (Sun Mar 4) to Harvey Bialy, Peter Duesberg and other HIV∫AIDS paradigm critics to alert them to the New Yorker article this week (Mar 15 issue) denouncing “The Denialists” and their “Dangerous attacks on the consensus about HIV and AIDS”.
The text of the email consisted of the following jibe:
I’m sure even a non-intellectual retiree” without a university affiliation can work out how this article came to be written….
Moore’s triumph is that Michael Specter, presumably with his and Anthony Fauci’s handholding, has managed to write his article, a quick six page summary of the situation, as a generally accurate highlighting of some of the salient facts but as usual with a subtle but effective built in bias, which presents the paradigm-busters in a poor light throughout, equating them in the mind of any skimming power reader with ignorant truck drivers dispensing home made berbal remedies, anti Western South African politicians who distrust Western medicine, and the unfortunate vitamin promoter Mathias Rath, whose enthusiasm for essential nutrients is trashed as unscientific (Rath allegedly having refused to speak to the author, presumably having read his other paradigm promoting AIDS pieces. Rath denies this, however, in a well expressed letter to New Yorker editor David Remnick.)
In other words, those who are trying to bring science and reality to bear are painted as antiscience, by invoking their less educated fellow travelers, while those who blindly support the paradigm are praised by implication as pro-Western science and enlightenment, though they are – like the writer, it appears – strangers to the massive literature of the field, and have never read the mainstream papers which defeat the assumptions that drive their emotions.
The prejudicial slant is of course seen at once in the headline and subhead, where the word “denialist” immediately triggers a strong association of HIV∫AIDS paradigm critics with the numbskulls invited by the president of Iran to his Holocaust conference in Teheran last year. The headline inside the magazine is “The Denialists” and the subhead, “The dangerous attacks on the consensus about HIV and AIDS”.
However, the advertising flap on the newstands is even more egregious. Loud and clear, it headlines “The AIDS Denialists” and subheads “Michael Specter on bad science that kills.” Precisely where this authoritative decree that the critics are purveyors of “bad science that kills” comes from is mysterious, since what little science Specter quotes is incorrect, and it is not clear that he has even heard of PubMed and how one can read the literature for oneself, even if one is a mere New Yorker writer.
No wonder John Moore is crowing – it must be a nice relief from the recent embarrassment of data showing that microbicides doubled the chances of HIV transmission. (But can this be correct, when Nancy Padian showed in the biggest study on transmission that between heterosexuals engaged in conventional sex HIV transmitted not at all? Perhaps John should call her for comfort).
There is little or no science in the piece, and what there is is too often misleading. Most egregious is the blatant parroting of the HIVNET line that nevirapine is the best thing in the world for Virus ridden pregnant women, one that has “saved hundreds thousands of infants’ lives”. It is as if Celia Farber’s article for Harpers last March was never written, or at least never read in the offices of the New Yorker.
Science ‘faction’ from a PubMed challenged scribe
Here are some of the key tidbits – factions, one might call them, a new literary device just invented for the purpose by HIV propagandists recruited in the media by John Moore and Anthony Fauci – designed to pass on the AIDS meme from the pen of Michael Specter to the prejudices of the reader without passing through the minds of either, let alone the minds of the apparently PubMed illiterate New Yorker fact checker, one Michael Peed, or editors.
What they all add up to is the theme, constantly pounded into the heads of readers, that any suggestion that the myriad inconsistencies with science and common sense exhibited by the HIV∫AIDS paradigm deserve penetrating review is not only dangerous to the public health but, well, just silly, to use a favorite Gallo word.
The problem, of course, is that it is Specter that is being silly–foolish to waste his talent and the advantage of his post at the New Yorker in the supine service of inferior sources merely because they occupy high perches in the mainstream system, water carrying for the conventional wisdom when he is in the best possible position to scrutinize it and discover why a scientist of the highest ability and credentials has found himself bound to deny its validity for twenty years at such great personal cost.
Indeed, his performance is a sad contrast with the efforts of Seymour Hersh, who with his piece on Bush’s plans for Iran last week provided a lesson for Specter in not taking government handouts as gospel, but doing a little investigative work to double check whether those in power are abusing their advantage.
Here is Specter’s best factional account of what is going on in the political science of AIDS:
(Keynote opener) Zeblon Gwala is a truckdriver who is instructed by his grandfather in a dream to dispense herbal remedies from a storefront in downtown Durban to hundreds of clients who would rather pay half their pay for his ubhejane (Zulu for black rhinoceros) than take antiretrovirals from the West, even though he has “no idea how it works”, but says “people who were on the edge of death go back to work.”
Silly fellow, silly people, typical paradigm challengers with faith in magical cure-alls.
Health minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang supports ubhejane, as does the mayor of Durban and a retired professor of sociology who says antiretrovirals are “so toxic that they can cause more harm than good” – even though (according to Specter) “ARVs have proved to be the only successful treatment for the mllions of people infected with HIV”.
Even the educated South African elite are silly.
President Thabo Mbeki embraced a “powerful industrial solvent” as a cure in 1997.
Mbeki is clearly silly.
Manto Tshabala-Msimang’s “antipathy towards pharmaceutical AIDS treatments has long been an international scandal” and she “astonished participants at an international AIDS conference in Toronto by presenting a government public-health display that focussed on beetroot, olive oil, garlic, lemons, and African potatoes. Antiretrovirals were included only after furious protest.”
‘Dr Beetroot’ also silly. Who would imagine that key nutrition is relevant to African AIDS in the slums and villages of Africa? First and foremost they need AZT and protease inhibitors.
“Denying the scientific consensus about what causes AIDS” is now seen in an Australian court, where the “denialist” Perth Group “insists that AIDS in gay men results from drug abuse and repeated exposure to semen. Last month, the President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, disclosed that he had found a secret remedy for AIDS and asthma, and announced that he would begin to cure AIDS on Thursdays and asthma on Saturdays.”
Silly Perth denialists, meet the President of Gambia, in a juxtaposition that tells the reader all s/he needs to know.
South Africa has “the world’s deadliest AIDS epidemic. Nearly a thousand people die of AIDS every day…(and) only about two hundred thousand receive the drugs”, but there are “hints the government might be open to a new approach”, but Mbeki, an economist who is one of Africa’s most respected leaders, has never disavowed the view that HIV medicines are Western inventions aimed at maiming Africans” and has “hinted at CIA involvement in propagating the belief that HIV causes AIDS.”
Oh silly, benighted, paranoid Mbeki, to imagine that Westerners may not have African interests at heart.
At the ubhejane clinic, “the baby’s mother died of AIDS shortly after giving birth. The father died of AIDS before she was born” and all the infant has left is her old grandmother, who tells Specter she “believes in President Mbeki” while the clinic’s ex-truck driver assures him “the people who want to take those ARVs can take them, but they don’t cure anything. The side effects are like poison, and people get sicker.”
Ignorant people, silly truck driver – but wait, has the truck driver been reading the Lancet issue last year that showed that half of US AIDS patients who died died of drug effects? Surely not.
The “eminent molecular biologist Peter Duesberg” discovered cancer causing genes in a retrovirus, won an international reputation and election to the National Academy, was mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize, “without Duesberg’s research, there might have been no significant progress in treating AIDS”, he has been highly praised by Robert Gallo, and has argued in more than a dozen papers that HIV is a harmless passenger virus, which cannot cause illness only after many years — but he is no match for Michael Specter and his informants, for as Specter tells us flatly “with HIV, more than a decade can pass between te moment a person becomes infected and the time when he becomes visibly ill. Duesberg also has written that no virus can cause disease after the body starts to produce a neutralizing immune response.”
Silly, denying, high ranking Duesberg. Though it should be pointed out that Duesberg never expressed the latter thought. What he has written and said repeatedly is that a virus cannot cause illness after it has provoked an immune response which has reduced its presence to negligible or non-existent presence, as in AIDS.
At the AMFAR meeting in Washington in 1988, Anthony Fauci, the “federal governments leading AIDS expert, sat silently for hours…(but) finally erupted. “This is murder,” he said after listening to Duesberg speak. “It’s really just that simple.”
Sensible man, Fauci, cutting through the hot air of HIV denialism to the eternal verity that HIV was the cause of two quite different incipient pandemics, AIDS in the US and Europe and AIDS elsewhere. It’s the virus, stupid!
“The Internet has made it possible for every conspiracy theory to flourish. There are three basic versions of the HIV-denial credo.”
Silly, denialist conspiracy theorists, unable to agree even among themselves!
“The second argues that, even if the virus is harmful, the risks of antiretroviral drugs far outweigh the benefits: AIDS drugs are poisons, pushed by doctors corrupted by the pharmaceutical industry.”
Silly, naive mistrust of an entire profession.
“The “poison” argument has been proved untrue in hundreds of studies across the globe, among women, men, drug users, homosexuals, and infants.
Silly denialists of proven science, though we won’t mention last year’s New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet studies, and certainly not Celia Farber’s Harper expose of the shenanigans in NIAID and HIVNET. After all, poison has a certain beneficial effect on those invaded by parasites of all kinds.
“Most perniciously, there are those who argue that sub-Saharan Africa where “as many as twenty million have died–simply has no AIDS epidemic. Instead, they blame the absence of proper nutrition or clean water–factors that certainly exacerbate the effects of AIDS but do not cause it.”
Silly indeed, since obviously there is more to AIDS in Africa than that, though we won’t mention other diseases, or that malnutrition produces exactly the symptoms that most characterizes AIDS in Africa.
On the Internet where anyone can profess to be an expert, rumor sites can make all these theories seem plausible, particularly to a new generation that has not been educated properly about the risks of HIV. One site, virusmyth.net, has more than a thousand Web pages attached to it”
Silly inexpert people, taken in by thousands of pages of mis-education. Let’s not mention New AIDS Review or You Bet Your Life, on which unmistakably well informed and intelligent corrspondents, including Duesberg and other first class experts in the field, have mercilessly trounced Anthony Fauci, Robert Gallo, John Moore and their claims, on which Michael Specter seems to be drawing without any discrimination whatsoever.
“Duesberg’s influence gained new momentum when Mbeki… discovered his work (in 1999) while rooting around onthe Internet… For Mbeki and many other South Africans whose world views were defined by their struggle with apartheid, it is understandably hard to see white white men in lab coats as people who want to help them.”
Absurd Mbeki, suspicious of Western attitudes towards the dark continent and ripe for conspiracy theorists on the Net. So much for truffle hunting in cyberspace, where in fact enlightenment for Michael Specter in the form of his much beloved mainstream science is only a click or two away at PubMed, which superresource languishes unexploited by this otherwise assiduously informed writer.
“Mbeki rare addresses scientific solutions to the AIDS epidemic” even though “in 2000 he appointed a Presidential advisory panel which included Duesberg and other denialists, to study the cause of AIDS”, (because) he was so brutally repudiated by world leaders and public-health professional that he essentially ceased talking about the issue. But,… Mbeki has since urged Africans to turn away from the medicine that most of the world has come to rely on.”
Silly Mbeki, quietly resisting a paradigm that penalizes public review at any indication of such “dangerous” tendencies.
Meanwhile Herbert Vilakazi, the academic who is “notorious
for his disdain for Western medicine” disagrees with “most researchers (who) would say that any potential medicine–herbal or chemical–nees to be subjected to the rigors of testing and analysis.” “I have personally seen hundreds of people who have taken ubhejane, and they get relief… The situation in America is one of intolerance. There are ARVs. Only one approach to treating this deadly illness is permitted”.
Nonsensical Mr Vilekazi needs to be taught the difference between the anecdotal experience of mere individuals and the reliable controlled studies from HIVNET, and to ignore any evidence that the results of those studies are interpreted to parallel the paradigm even if they appear to put a very large spanner into its central works.
Mathias Rath is reported to have evaded talking to Specter while at the same time posting lengthy letters to the editor of the New Yorker on his main Web site, and claiming that “a historic public debate between Dr Rath and The New Yorker has generated global interest”, and the government is criticized by a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres for doing nothing to stop him selling his multivitamin pills in the country’s poorest townships. “The whole thing was disgusting” she says, “and it cost lives.” She did what she could to “counteract the government’s false information” (Specter). “Rath has been criticized in public statemens by many organizations, including UNAIDS, the South African Medical Association, an the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society. In the United Stated the FDA has informed Rath that it considers advertisements on his Web site misleading.”
Ridiculous Mathias Rath, railing against the pharmaceutical drug cartel in expensive ads in the New York Times and elsewhere. Clearly he is an amateur and a menace, distributing vitamins to the poorly nourished, when he could be standing aside for the rush to deliver as many toxic ARVs to Africans as possible.“A study, called HIVNET, which found that just a few doses of Nevirapine, an antiretroviral given to the mother at the beginning of labor, and then to the infant within the first three days of life, dramatically reducing the risk of passing on the virus. The regimen is cheap and easy to use, and is now in place throughout the developing world. In just a few years, it has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of infants.
Here we reach the point where the neglect of the investigative work of other journalists and commentators by Specter and his editors, let alone his inability or unwillingness to check PubMed for himself, apparently in favor of trusting the likes of John Moore, begins to be egregious and indeed dangerous. Have the New Yorker editors and fact checkers not read the piece in Harpers last March, where Celia Farber made it clear beyond reasonable doubt that nevirapine HIVNET research – the study is not called HIVNET, by the way, that is the research network for HIV drug efficacy trials, is there any fact checking going on here at all? – stinks, to put it mildly, and is no basis for prescribing a toxic drug to mothers or newborns. Don’t New Yorker editors read or credit Harpers?
Durban professor of epidemiology Abdool Karim, also at Columbia University in New York, tells Specter that the Durban Declaration produced in 2000 by “more than five thousand researchers who had gathered for the conference was “one of the saddest documents in modern scientific history”, as it stated “that the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is “clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous”, and meets “the highest standards of science”", yet Mbeki’s spokesman said that it would quickly find its way to “the dustbins of the office.”
Absurd Mbeki spokesman, trashing a document of faith expressed by so many scientists – even though they were apparently lacking hard evidence for their belief, otherwise why would they need to make a statement of faith? Do such points not occur to Specter at all when preparing this survey?
The deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who diametrically opposes the views of her boss Tshabala-Msimang on how to deal with the epidemic, pins a beaded AIDS ribbon on Specter’s lapel, calls him “our brother”, and tells him she will speak out regardless of a year long ban on her speaking on AIDS. This is not my truth. But it is the truth…we are a country in great pain and mourning. But I still believe the truth will win.”On this upbeat note, the article ends, with the flag for truth planted firmly in the pro-paradigm camp by Specter, who has not written one word in the entire piece implying that the many objections, scientific and otherwise, to this conventional wisdom deserve serious consideration any more, if they ever got it.
This is not to say that Specter is trying to put his finger on the weighing pad at checkout. Indeed, if the intelligent reader strips the piece of its Moore influenced angles, there is plenty of sense from those who disagree with the paradigm included in this piece. One even wonders where Specter stands in private on this issue. For in fact, on that basis, with the Moore-ish bias removed, it would be a very clear account of why there are two sides to this issue, and why the “denialist” should be attended to very carefully indeed by all those who determine policy and spending in this area, particular the very large funders like Gates, Clinton and Soros who have bankrolled the established new initiatives to combat African disease.
Indeed, while it is hard to believe that any casual reader will not be propagandized by this piece, as is usual in the mainstream media, it is possible to guess that the more hardbitten minds in law, insurance, and Wall Street and in other fields of science who typically have to put their money behind their minds will be informed and alerted to the scientific can of worms that is HIV∫AIDS in a way which may disappoint the celebrating John Moore, since they are well aware from their work how often working journalists even at the New Yorker, which gives them more time than most for getting things right, are misled in areas where they fail to adopt an investigative stance, which in this case involves failing to go to PubMed and checking out the scientific literature for themselves, which Specter evidently has failed to do, preferring to trust John Moore.
But all in all, given the way an otherwise deft piece of journalism is spoiled by prior mental framing, it really is about time that David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker and a very fine writer and reporter in his own right, caught on to what is going on in HIV∫AIDS. But possibly the AIDS meme has taken up residence in his head, as it obviously has in Michael Specter’s, and stands ready to kill all intruding ideas that might threaten its welfare.
The New Yorker now stands as yet another journal whose high reputation will eventually be tarnished by the inevitable fall of the house of HIV∫AIDS, along with the New York Review of Books, who also entrusted its fair pages to a writer (Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet) who was not quite up to penetrating the claims of Robert Gallo and Anthony Fauci.
Fauci must be quite thrilled at the publication of this piece. It once again establishes what Robert Gallo complained about in his testimony to the Adelaide court recently, that “no one reads the papers.”
For clearly no one at the New Yorker, despite the NIH providing easy access to more than 16 million papers on medical science from your nearest keyboard, is PubMed literate. Perhaps they should simply hire some first year student at Mt Sinai as a part time intern.
Short of that, Anthony Fauci, John Moore, and the rest of the media bullies who have preserved the HIV∫AIDS bubble from pricking by media outsiders for twenty two years, will probably succeed for another twenty.
Unless, that is, the wave of court cases around the world begins to unearth the extent of the missing science in HIV∫AIDS, and the vast paradigm’s grotesque inconsistency with itself and with the study data it has spawned.
Which, come to think of it, a certain judge in Adelaide may publicly recognize any day now. Either that, or John Moore will be sending around another triumphantly rude email.