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The Times talks – but only in the Business Media section – to remove the sting in Harper’s tale


Why the basic import of Duesberg is not going to be faced soon on 43rd Street

A nicely judged, “objective”, resolutely uninvolved piece, written over the weekend by Lia Miller for the New York Times’ Business section, An Article in Harper’s Ignites a Controversy Over H.I.V., is buried far from immediate notice today, Monday March 13, on page C5, noting, after three weeks silence, the Harpers piece and the teapot tempest it has brewed, but leaving the larger question strictly unaddressed: is Duesberg conceivably right?

The dissenters in HIV?AIDS must be pleased, for the article is shorn of the usual disparagement which creeps into every mainstream story on the dissenting view. But the science reporters and editors, particularly Larry Altman, must be slightly nervous that curiosity on the big question they have neglected so long might grow.

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.

Celia Farber is handled with care as a “long time journalist” rather than an insufferable “denialist”, editor Roger D. Hodge is allowed to confirm upfront that the piece was thoroughly fact checked, a scientist at Cornell who signed the 37 page rebuttal at TAC (Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa, which has posted it at TAC) is allowed to opine that Harpers’ reputation had taken an “irreparable hit” but not to quote specifics, “leading AIDS dissident” Duesberg was phoned but not reached, a magazine and Web gay columnist and “many scientists” are permitted to allege without a single example that the piece was “poorly fact-checked and had glaring errors”, Farber and Hodge are quoted as declining to take responsibility for Duesberg’s views, but merely for “covering dissent”, with Hodge standing behind Celia as no “crackpot” but “a courageous journalist” who has covered the story as a journalist at the cost of “great personal cost”.

On the while a nice job, in the inimitable Times style of handling a hot potato with tongs a foot long, which enables a reporter who knows nothing of the issue to cover the ground without a misstep.

Making the topic of Lia Miller’s assignment the lively reaction the Harpers article has provoked in certain quarters made it unnecessary for the Times reporter to read let alone report the Harpers article in detail, which presumably was the intention of the Times editors. It allowed the Times to deal with the topic and let the pressure off a little without placing itself in the line of fire. After all, if the Times has allowed itself to be led by the nose by a handful of misguided scientists and NIH officials who have willfully ignored the scientific literature for twenty years, which is the implication of the Duesberg section of the Harper’s piece, it has much to answer for.

Still, those copies of Harpers must be still lying on desks and perhaps even on the bedside table of more than one key figure at the Times, who must be asking questions of Larry and his colleagues, such as Nicholas Wade, who only recently has been thinking and writing about paradigm overthrow as we have reported earlier. We mentioned Duesberg to him a couple of months ago and were surprised to hear that he had neglected to read his Journal of Biosciences 2003 paper. Perhaps he has now.

The whole disturbance still threatens to turn into a scientific Katrina and puts these pillars of the HIV?AIDS established view into a slight pickle. For the Harpers article presents a problem for the Times if Farber’s coverage of Duesberg is taken seriously, for what it will lead to ultimately, if the can of worms is finally opened up fully, and Duesberg is eventually vindicated after a proper public illumination of his views and the twenty year failure of the scientists who run HIV?AIDS to produce argument or evidence to refute them, is a very grave accusation, far more momentous than anything the Times has faced to date in its recent history of having its credibility dented by its own Jayson Blair and Judith Miller’s misreporting, let alone the festering sore of its failure to report Stalin’s genocide long ago.

This is the accusation that its virtual complete omission of Duesberg’s views from its news and opinion columns over the years, and its occasional prejudicial damning of them when it has infrequently mentioned them, comprises a grave failure in journalistic responsibility to report the science of HIV?AIDS accurately and even handedly.

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If that unjustified assumption (that HIV causes AIDS) is as wholly wrong as Duesberg’s peer reviewed papers since 1987 say it is, (the Times has) been partly responsible for a waste of public funds running into the hundreds of billions world wide, and the premature deaths of thousands of people, including many prominent in the arts in New York City.

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The Times’ implicit endorsement of the conventional wisdom of AIDS in treating it as gospel over two decades, and mentioning Duesberg hardly at all, except in a dismissive review of his 1996 book, Inventing The AIDS Virus, by an insultingly inadequate mind in the mid-nineties, (this review , “Inventing the AIDS Virus” (April 7, 1996), by June E. Osborn, is mysteriously missing now from the notoriously inadequate Times search engine) but Duesberg’s letter in response to this shameful and abortive editorial disrespect is a classic:

(show)

AIDS and Drugs

(NYT) 589 words

Published: May 19, 1996

To the Editor:

In her review of my “Inventing the AIDS Virus” (April 7), June E. Osborn writes: “This book is destructive of personal morale, prevention efforts and public understanding both of H.I.V./AIDS and of biomedical science in general. It has the potential to wreak serious harm at a crucial point in the AIDS epidemic.” At the same time, Dr. Osborn faithfully defends the H.I.V.-AIDS orthodoxy with “enormous bodies of evidence . . . that firmly implicate H.I.V. in AIDS” but without being able to provide the one paper that proves that H.I.V. causes AIDS.

Yet 12 years and $35 billion after starting the war on AIDS in the name of the hypothesis that H.I.V. causes AIDS, America has no vaccine and no drug, has lost over 300,000 lives to AIDS and has yet to save the first AIDS patient. This is a sad testimony to the inability of the scientific and medical community to deal with AIDS properly.

In such a situation the scientific method calls for new, alternative hypotheses to compete with the unproductive H.I.V.-AIDS hypothesis. The scientific method functions very much like the free market economy: it provides the taxpayer and the patient with the most competitive and productive scientific theory.

“Inventing the AIDS Virus” has done exactly this. It provides a coherent and extensively documented alternative AIDS hypothesis. It is proposing that American and European AIDS is the medical consequence of the long-term consumption of recreational drugs and of antiviral drugs like AZT. This hypothesis is a synthesis and extension of the Centers for Disease Control’s very own pre-1984 “life style” hypothesis of AIDS, and of many recent studies that document the toxicity of AZT. The drug-AIDS hypothesis is very testable and could prevent, even cure, AIDS at a fraction of the annual $7.5 billion Federal AIDS budget currently invested in the unproductive H.I.V. hypothesis. In the light of the drug hypothesis, H.I.V. is a harmless passenger virus, and AIDS is an entirely preventable, and in part curable, consequence of the drug epidemic.

One would expect Dr. Osborn to give an alternative to the failed H.I.V. hypothesis some serious consideration. Yet there is not a single complimentary sentence in her review. Wearing her H.I.V.-AIDS blinkers, she not only misunderstands but also misrepresents the drug-AIDS hypothesis.

For example, contrary to Dr. Osborn’s assertion, “Inventing the AIDS Virus” does not assert that “gay men in whom AIDS was diagnosed in the early years . . . were not being truthful if they denied drug use.” The book documents with dozens of references that if asked, gay men with AIDS all reported abundant recreational drug use.

Also, contrary to Dr. Osborn, I do not “dismiss” AIDS in other countries. Both Chapter 6 and Chapter 8 and an appended scientific paper deal extensively with AIDS in other countries and its causes, which are malnutrition, parasitic infection and poor sanitation.

In the face of our AIDS epidemic and in the name of science, I object to a partial and political review of my book. Isn’t our common enemy AIDS rather than Peter Duesberg and other H.I.V. dissidents? Should AIDS be the winner of this debate because dissidents must be losers? Wouldn’t it be prudent to divert a few million dollars from the annual $7.5 billion AIDS budget into just one alternative hypothesis?

Peter Duesberg Berkeley, Calif.

) suggests that the responsible reporters in the area did not ever take the time to read Duesberg’s papers properly, since it is inconcievable that anyone intelligent and versed in the science could fail, if they did so, to respect his arguments as valid criticisms of the status quo, refereed as they were in the highest journals by peers who, politically speaking, were certainly nervous, and anxious to find as much fault as they could, and prevent publication of these “dangerous” views, which if they were as sound as the peer reviewers were forced to acknowledge, were not dangerous at all to AIDS patients, whom they would rescue from noxious drug regimens which would be revealed as misdirected, but a danger to the welfare and position of the HIV?AIDS scientists themselves.

To put it bluntly, if the New York Times has thus unjustifiably lent its weight to the dominant paradigm which Duesberg has so thoroughly critiqued and rejected over so many years by reporting only one side of the dispute, and using the HIV assumption in all its coverage without concern over its validity, in fact, reinforcing it with the mantra repeated in almost every report, “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS”, it has, if that unjustified assumption is as wholly wrong as Duesberg’s peer reviewed papers since 1987 say it is, been partly responsible for a waste of public funds running into the hundreds of billions world wide, and the premature deaths of thousands of people, including many prominent in the arts in New York City.

March 13, 2006

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

By LIA MILLER

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

(show)

The New York Times

Printer Friendly Format

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

4 Responses to “The Times talks – but only in the Business Media section – to remove the sting in Harper’s tale”

  1. Middleman Says:

    You can get this layman’s complete views on HIV/AIDS here if interested: Evolutionary Middleman

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    An exemplary essay! If only the entire population of the world had such an openminded and genuinely critical attitude in dealing with ideas that challenge the conventional wisdom they have heard for years.

    We are talking of adults of course. Children by definition must learn the basic from the previous generation, and trust their teachers until they master the subject, whether it is science or music.

    Unfortunately too many then maintain this suitable childhood attitude when they are supposedly grown up, and refuse the painful responsibility of assessing new ideas without prejudice. The POZ and Nation comment threads, like many others on this topic, are litmus tests for the presence of these adult children in this discussion.

    Here however we have a brilliant example of the mature adult attitude showing how it should be done. What a pity this model is lost on the first one to write a comment. Luckily the second comment puts him straight.

    But let’s note that once again arrogance goes with a closed mind, and not with a highly informed mind, which is modest, as the blogger demonstrates.

    One would think that the more you know, the more arrogant you might be. But as Aristotle and every other great mind has pointed out, the more you know, the humbler you become.

    Blogger John is in a highly evolved state of mind as far as we are concerned.

  3. Dean Esmay Says:

    Minor error: You refer to Duesberg’s book as “Inventing The AIDS Myth” but I believe the proper title is “Inventing The AIDS Virus.”

    (Thanks, Dean, fixed. – AL)

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    Correct, Dean, thanks, a Freudian slip. We posted before adding the important fact that the review is now missing from the Times search engine. Duesberg’s letter is still found, though.

    Anyone who knows where a copy is to be found (of the oruginal April 7 1996 review by June E. Osborn) please say.

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