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Truth, beauty and paradigm power in science and society

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News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

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Sense at the Times from John Tierney


Why is/was Tierney the single voice of reason on HIV?AIDS?

Was he told to keep quiet?

A remarkable column of plain horse sense about HIV?AIDS appeared on Friday, June 15, 2001, as one of The Big City columns. It was written by John Tierney, and speaks to his scientific attitude and independence of mind.

Rereading it today, we wondered, what the heck happened to this guy? Apart from a few columns of Larry Altman where some of the problems with the paradigm peeped through, this is the only coverage we remember in the Grey Lady’s pages where God’s gift to Man, Reason, was employed to any extent.

Doesn’t appear that Tierney himself addressed the topic with such sense again, according to our Times search.

He only pointed out the obvious, which is that HIV?AIDS has never been a threat to the heterosexual population of the city, and Michael Fumento was quite right to say so in his book.

Checking Tierney’s background,

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Columnist Biography: John Tierney

John Tierney, whose column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays on the Op-Ed page, has been with The New York Times since 1990. He wrote about New York in “The Big City” column, which ran from 1994 to 2002, first in The New York Times Magazine and then twice a week in The Times’s Metro Section. From 2002 until 2005, except for a stint in 2003 in the Baghdad bureau, he was a correspondent in the Washington bureau, and wrote the weekly “Political Points” column during the 2004 presidential campaign.

John Tierney.

Mr. Tierney has written extensively about science and technology, economics and environmental controversies. His 1990 article in the Magazine, “Betting the Planet,” describing a wager about natural resources between the economist Julian Simon and the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, has been widely cited and reprinted. His 1996 article, “Recycling Is Garbage,” which called recycling one of the most wasteful activities in America, attracted a record number of letters from readers of The Times Magazine.

He is the author of “The Best-Case Scenario Handbook” (Workman Publishing, 2002), which explains, among other things, how to deal with a broken ATM spewing cash, how to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and even how to cope with a polite teenage child. Mr. Tierney is also the co-author, with Christopher Buckley, of the comic novel, “God Is My Broker: A Monk Tycoon Reveals the 7 ½ Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth.” A parody of self-help books, it tells the story of Brother Ty, a failed Wall street trader who becomes a monk and rescues his impoverished monastery by receiving stock tips from God. It has been translated for editions in French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish.

Mr. Tierney joined The Times as a metropolitan reporter in May 1990. Prior to that, he was a freelance writer for five years. He reported on six continents and published articles in The Atlantic, Esquire, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Reason, Rolling Stone, Washington Monthly, Playboy, Outside, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He has also been a contributing editor to Discover and to In Health. Mr. Tierney’s work included feature articles, science, humor, travel, profiles, hard news, reviews and columns.

From 1981 until 1985, Mr. Tierney was a staff writer for Science magazine. From 1978 until 1980, he was a general assignment reporter on the metropolitan staff of The Washington Star. From 1976 until 1978, he was a reporter for The Bergen Record.

As a summer intern, during his college years, Mr. Tierney worked as a reporter for The Minneapolis Tribune, The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Pittsburgh Press. He also worked as a part-time copy editor at The New Haven Register and as a stringer for The New York Daily News.

During the 1993-94 academic year, Mr. Tierney was a fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center in New York, researching the media’s coverage of environmental issues.

Mr. Tierney received the New York Publishers Association 1998-99 Distinguished Column Writing Award. He also received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Westinghouse Science Journalism Award in 1988 for a cover story in Newsweek, “The Search for Adam and Eve.” In 1983 he received the American Institute of Physics-United States Steel Foundation Science Writing Award.

Majoring in American Studies, Mr. Tierney graduated from Yale University. He was an editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine. Mr. Tierney was born on March 25, 1953, is married and has one child.

it seems he cut his journalistic teeth at Science, but left just after HIV was launched to scientific acclaim (did he object to Science’s supine posture towards this pr campaign?) and freelanced widely from 1985 to 1990, when he joined the Times. Maybe this early training at Science led him to pay attention to data and not to the spin of the NIH, and is what drove this piece. But did he know that he was writing against the sensitivities of the Science desk?

Perhaps this Yalie and his proclivity for correcting liberal myths (he was a champion of Julian Simon we see, and wrote a piece about how Simon won his bet with Ehrlich that the earth wouldn’t start running out of resources as quickly as Ehrlich claimed) was simply overlooked by those that rule HIV?AIDS reporting at the Times, until he did this piece. Then maybe Larry took him aside and over a quiet drink produced a piece of paper from his inner coat pocket and asked him to sign it – a pledge never to disturb the peace again with genuine reporting in this field.

The admirable Tierney even finishes by quoting Elizabeth Whelan suggesting that AIDS need not any longer be given a disproportionate share of resources!

Today, surveys show that American heterosexuals still have unrealistic fears of AIDS, and the crisismongering goes on. It’s often justified as the only way to focus attention on the disease. But the constituency for AIDS is so well organized that the disease is guaranteed to remain a high public priority. It already gets more attention than other diseases that kill more people.

”AIDS was a genuine crisis in the 1980’s, but today it’s no more a crisis than any other chronic disease suffered by New Yorkers,” said Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, the president of A.C.S.H. ”We need to put AIDS in context and give it the proportionate share of resources. It shouldn’t be getting more than its share because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking the numbers are greater than they are.”

“Brainwashed”! Anthony Fauci must have had a fit when he read this. Probably picked up the phone straight away.

Here is the full column,

The Big City; In 80’s, Fear Spread Faster Than AIDS:

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NYTimes

METROPOLITAN DESK

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The Big City; In 80’s, Fear Spread Faster Than AIDS

By JOHN TIERNEY (NYT) 765 words

Published: June 15, 2001

IN July of 1988, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the estimated number of cases in New York City suddenly plummeted. The city health commissioner soon needed police protection.

Until that July, the city had estimated that 400,000 New Yorkers carried the AIDS virus. Then the commissioner, Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, reviewed the evidence and reduced the estimate to 200,000. He was promptly denounced by leaders of AIDS organizations and gay-rights groups, who accused him of lying to minimize the crisis.

Members of Act Up were arrested once for staging a sit-in at the Health Department, and again for occupying Dr. Joseph’s office. Hecklers trailed him at public appearances, chanting, ”Resign! Resign!” His home was picketed and spray-painted. There were death threats.

Now it turns out that Dr. Joseph’s estimate was actually too high. It might have been twice the actual figure, according to a new report from the American Council on Science and Health, a science advocacy group. The total number of AIDS cases diagnosed in New York City from 1981 through early 2000 was less than 120,000, the A.C.S.H. report notes.

That toll still makes AIDS a horrific tragedy, of course, but the disease never caused the widespread plague prophesied by so many activists, journalists and researchers. In their zeal for attention and money, they didn’t let facts interfere with fearmongering, and not many public officials had Dr. Joseph’s courage to stand up to them.

The campaign began on the cover of Life magazine in 1985: ”Now No One Is Safe From AIDS.” Federal officials said that AIDS could be worse than the black plague, and they conducted national television, radio and direct-mail campaigns aimed at heterosexuals. The officials wildly overestimated the number of AIDS cases, although they were more conservative than Oprah Winfrey, who warned that a fifth of heterosexuals could be dead by 1990.

Masters and Johnson warned that AIDS could lurk on toilet seats. A sex therapist, Helen Singer Kaplan, wrote a book, ”The Real Truth About Women and AIDS,” warning that condoms weren’t enough and that even kissing was a risk. Magic Johnson’s illness in 1991 was presented as the proof that H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, was finally breaking out into the heterosexual population.

BUT by then there was abundant evidence that the heterosexual breakout was not going to happen in America. The evidence had appeared long before that in New York, thanks in large part to the efforts of city workers like Anastasia Lekatsas. I once called her America’s most dogged street detective of AIDS, and no one disputed that label.

During the mid-1980’s she investigated the Health Department’s N.I.R. cases — ”no identified risk.” If a man claimed to have gotten AIDS from a woman, she would visit him, revisit him, interview his family and friends — and eventually she would almost always find that he’d been sharing needles or having sex with men.

While other cities were credulously reporting that the epidemic was spreading beyond gay men and drug users, in New York the heterosexual breakout did not show up in statistics. Among the first 15,000 cases in New York, there were only eight men listed as having gotten the virus through heterosexual sex, and even that number was probably too high. ”I have doubts about seven of them,” Ms. Lekatsas said, ”but we couldn’t prove anything.”

That evidence made it into some publications, notably Discover magazine, which in 1985 debunked the heterosexual breakout with a cover declaring that AIDS would likely remain ”largely the fatal price one can pay for anal intercourse.” A journalist, Michael Fumento, gathered the evidence in a 1990 book, ”The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS,” which many bookstores and distributors refused to sell because of opposition from gay activists.

Today, surveys show that American heterosexuals still have unrealistic fears of AIDS, and the crisismongering goes on. It’s often justified as the only way to focus attention on the disease. But the constituency for AIDS is so well organized that the disease is guaranteed to remain a high public priority. It already gets more attention than other diseases that kill more people.

”AIDS was a genuine crisis in the 1980’s, but today it’s no more a crisis than any other chronic disease suffered by New Yorkers,” said Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, the president of A.C.S.H. ”We need to put AIDS in context and give it the proportionate share of resources. It shouldn’t be getting more than its share because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking the numbers are greater than they are.”

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