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New York Native
29 February 1988
To continue from my last column in Native #253: A year ago Peter Duesberg, Professor of Molecular Biology at Berkeley, provided a devastating refutation of the prevailing hypothesis that HIV is the cause of AIDS, in the March 1, 1987 issue of Cancer Research. His 21-page essay, "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality", was written at the invitation of Cancer Research, the oldest and most prestigious journal in its field; it had been subjected to thorough peer review, and was published as being scientifically sound and important. The article received no official response, and government scientists, under the crypto-military discipline of the Public Health Service, have not been allowed to discuss it publicly.
In July 1987, an interview I conducted with Prof. Duesberg appeared in the New York Native (issue 220, reprinted in issue 118 of Christopher Street). Subsequently, the November 1987 issue of Bio/Technology featured Duesberg's "A Challenge To The AIDS Establishment", in which he summarized his arguments about HIV in a single page. Berkeley University issued a press release on this article, as well as on the previous article in Cancer Research. The Berkeley alumni magazine, California Monthly, of December 1987, contained an excellent article by editor, Russell Shoch. And the January 1988 issue of SPIN magazine had an interview with Duesberg by Celia Farber.
Despite a blackout in the mainstream media, Duesberg's ideas are becoming harder to ignore. Outside the United States, interviews with Duesberg have been carried on the Canadian Broadcasting Company Radio, on Channel 4 (London) television, on BBC Radio, and on Italian television. In the United States, articles on Duesberg appeared in the New York Post, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
The February 9, 1988 syndicated column of Jack Anderson and Joseph Spear, reaching millions of readers, was entitled, "AIDS Researcher [Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute] Shuns Skeptics". The column strongly criticized the lack of official response to the critique of Duesberg, and in particular, the stonewalling tactics of Gallo. ("Gallo did not return at least a dozen calls for comment.") After portraying Duesberg's ideas as quite credible, and Gallo's evasiveness as deplorable, the column ends with a choice understatement:
Hundreds of millions of research dollars are spent each year on the assumption that HIV causes AIDS. Medical experts we questioned believe that federal health authorities would be embarrassed if that assumption were wrong.
The ball is now in the court of the "AIDS virus" experts – Gallo, the "discoverer" of the so-called "AIDS virus"; Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who is in charge of federal AIDS funding; Dr. Myron Essex and Dr. William Haseltine of Harvard University; Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Instute in Paris, who isolated HIV (then called LAV) a year before Gallo; and Dr. Jay Levy – to defend their hypothesis that HIV is the cause of AIDS. The ethics and protocol of scientific dialogue demand that they submit a formal, written response to an appropriate medical journal, with Cancer Research and Bio/Technology being the most obvious choices. It goes without saying that their reply should contain adequate references for all assertions made, and that it should respond to each and every specific point of Duesberg's critique. If they are unable to defend the HIV hypothesis, then they should admit this publicly, so that the medical and scientific communities would know where things stand.
In the absence of an official response to Duesberg's critique – and as awareness of Duesberg's ideas is beginning to break through the media blackout – a number of statements have appeared, which have been taken to be responses to Duesberg. These statements are really attempts at stalling or disinformation, rather than genuine contributions to dialogue.
The New York Times/Boffey article
Following articles in the New York Post and the Washington Post, and in response to goading from the New York Native, the New York Times finally broached the topic of Duesberg on January 12, 1988. Philip M. Boffey's article, "A Solitary Dissenter Disputes Cause of AIDS", was somewhat hostile to Duesberg, and contained a number of distortions, but at least maintained a tone of civility. Boffey was forced to admit that "no scientist working on AIDS has published a detailed response to Dr. Duesberg", and that "scientists acknowledge that there is much they do not understand about HIV".
Boffey portrays Duesberg as a "solitary dissenter" who has come up with new theories that have withered on the vine because no one was interested in them. ("His paper sank without a ripple in the scientific world, winning few if any converts.") This follows the tack of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), whose press officers have attempted to give the impression that Duesberg's ideas are too "off the wall", too "off-beat", or too "insignificant" for their terribly busy scientists to bother replying to. This is misleading. Rather than advancing any new theories, what Duesberg has done is put the prevailing hypothesis to the test. The issue is not whether "Dr. Duesberg is wrong", but whether the HIV hypothesis is correct. It is the HIV hypothesis that needs to be defended, not any supposedly novel ideas of Peter Duesberg.
For months I have been trying without success to get any of the leading government "AIDS experts" to discuss the question, "What is the proof that HIV is the cause of AIDS?". I have not been allowed to speak to them, and they have not been allowed to speak to me. At the NCI, officials in "Cancer Communications" (from whom "clearance" is required) have told me repeatedly that none of their "scientists", from Robert Gallo on down, is "interested" in discussing the etiology of AIDS. It is therefore infuriating to read in Boffey's article that Fauci has stated: "The evidence that HIV causes AIDS is so overwhelming that it almost doesn't deserve discussion any more".
As a member of the press, I believe I should be allowed to speak to Fauci, so that he can supply me with just one or two bits of "overwhelming evidence" that HIV is the cause. Or is the evidence so overwhelming, that no one should be allowed to discuss the matter any more? What exactly is Fauci trying to say? Does Fauci believe that he and his colleagues have an obligation to reply to Duesberg, or is the public supposed to accept the "AIDS virus" theory as a matter of faith, or perhaps as a matter of patriotism?
The NCI/Blattner statement
One morning last June, in response to my efforts to obtain a response from the NCI to Duesberg's Cancer Research article, an NCI press officer, Florence Karlsberg, called me and read a statement which quoted the NCI's chief epidemiologist, Dr. William Blattner. She said that the statement could not be sent out, but only read over the telephone. Several days later, she called again to say that the Blattner statement would be made public, and that I would be sent a copy. Several weeks later, having received nothing, I called Karlsberg back, and was told that the Blattner statement would not be made public after all.
A couple of months later, I was told by another NCI press officer, Kate Rudden, that I would not be allowed to speak to Dr. Robert Gallo, Dr. William Blattner, or any other NCI scientists. Rudden said she had relayed my request to them, to discuss the cause of AIDS, and they were "not interested". By a fluke I later managed to get Dr. Blattner on the phone. He said that he was unaware of my request to speak to him, but that he would be willing to discuss the cause of AIDS. (Had Rudden been lying?) Blattner then asked me if I were a newspaper person. I said I was. He became very nervous, and said he couldn't talk to me until I had been cleared by "Cancer Communications". I asked him if I could tell "Cancer Communications" that he was interested in talking to me, and would he be in for the rest of the afternoon. He said he didn't know, and hung up. I then called "Cancer Communications", and was not allowed to speak to Kate Rudden, or any other press officer. Thus are the "scientists" of the NCI protected from the dangers of free enquiry.
Recently Paul Varnell, a writer for the gay Chicago newspaper, Windy City Times, began calling the NCI and asking them the same questions I had: What proof is there that HIV is the cause of AIDS? What response did the NCI have to the arguments of Peter Duesberg? He received the same run-around that I had, and was not allowed to speak to any "scientists". Varnell was persistent, and finally reached a sympathetic press officer who was unaware that the June 1987 statement was not supposed to be released. After Paul Varnell received the Blattner statement, he sent a copy to me and wrote a story for the Windy City Times, in which the NCI Statement was reprinted, along with the November 2, 1987 University of California at Berkeley press release on Duesberg.
The very first sentence of tne NCI statement contains a horrible grammatical mistake, indicating that Blattner, despite his doctorate, doesn't understand subject-verb agreement:
The weight of epidemiologic data do not support the belief of University of California, Berkeley, scientist Peter H. Duesberg that "AIDS virus is not sufficient to cause AIDS and that there is no evidence, besides its presence in a latent form, that it is necessary for AIDS."
Obviously, the noun, "weight", is singular, and requires the singular verb, "does", not the plural verb, "do". (The Windy City Times corrected Blattner's grammatical mistake in its reprint.) At any rate, the "Blattner statement" is totally inadequate and inappropriate as a response to Duesberg, for the following reasons:
- The "Statement" is in the form of a press release based on comments by William Blattner. It is not written by him.
- The "Statement" contains no references whatever. Not a single assertion is backed up by data or by references to published material. For example, one has no idea what is meant by "the weight of epidemiologic data".
- The "Statement" has an abusive tone which is not appropriate for Blattner to employ towards a scientist who far outranks him in the scientific community.
- The "Statement" has never been officially released by the NCI.
- The "Statement" is completely unresponsive to the main points of Duesberg's Cancer Research article. It does not address itself to a single one of Duesberg's arguments why HIV cannot be the cause of AIDS: namely, the consistent biochemical latency of HIV; the fact that HIV does not and cannot kill cells in vivo; the body's more than adequate immunological response to the virus; the virus's low level of infiltration in the body, even in patients who are dying from AIDS; the contradictions and absurdities of the "latency period" postulated by Gallo and the other champions of the "AIDS virus"; and the abundant epidemiological evidence that argues against HIV as the cause.
In short, the NCI's "Statement" of June 1987 was nothing more than a stalling tactic, designed to fend off questions which the NCI was unwilling and unable to answer.
The Village Voice/Fettner article
The Village Voice has consistently followed the government line on AIDS – from every twist and turn in the HIV mythology, to the alleged benefits of AZT. The issue of February 2, 1987 contained an article by Ann Guidici Fettner, abusively entitled: "Dealing With Duesberg: Bad Science Makes Strange Bedfellows".
In any debate, opponents can disagree about facts and about the interpretation of facts. This is to be expected. And people make mistakes. One also learns from experience that people can become very attached to their positions – even honorable and worthy opponents will sometimes stubbornly defend a proposition long after it has ceased to be tenable. However, there are other times when one becomes aware that one's opponent is not motivated by a desire for the truth.
Charles Ortleb (Native #251) has already dealt with Fettner's silliness and vulgarity, as well as her concealed loyalty to Robert Gallo. I'll admit that I find her prose style pretty hard to take. She lurches back and forth from lofty and affected moralizing, to a smarmy coquettishness, to the obscenities and slang terms of a by-gone era (as though she were trying to persuade someone, somewhere, that she is still "hip").
I'll deal with a few of her lies and breaches of ethics. To begin with, there is lying through photography. Perhaps here the blame should be put on Village Voice editor, Richard Goldstein, rather than on Ann Fettner. The Voice sent out a team of photographers to shoot Duesberg in Berkeley. They treated him like royalty, shot him in many different poses, and left. After an hour, they returned and took still more shots. After all that, the photograph published in the Voice shows Duesberg leaning forward, his hands stretching towards the camera. His eyes are almost closed, and his expression is tense. The camera angle is grotesquely crooked and lopsided. The lighting is harsh, from the side and below – the kind of lighting known as "monster lighting", because of its use in horror movies. The photo makes Duesberg look sinister and demented – like a "mad scientist" from a cheaply-made science-fiction/horror movie.
In fact, Peter Duesberg is a very photogenic man. I have photographed him on two occasions, and found it almost effortless to obtain excellent portraits. Other excellent photographs of Duesberg have accompanied articles in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Sentinel. When Duesberg appeared on a gay cable television program here, he looked fine in every frame. All photographs need not be flattering, but they should at least be truthful. The Village Voice published a photograph that does not look anything like Peter Duesberg – a cheap propaganda trick.
When Fettner interviewed Duesberg, she flattered him in every way, agreed with him again and again, and indicated that she was simply thrilled to be talking to such an important scientist. Duesberg anticipated reading a glowingly favorable account of his ideas. He was to be sadly disillusioned.
Out of the long interview she conducted, Fettner quotes only a few sentences of Duesberg's, and these are hopelessly mangled and torn out of context. After attributing to Duesberg a bit of anti-gay gibberish, which is probably her own – Duesberg denies having said it, and it is unlike anything else he has either written or said in interviews – she comes out with an obscenity, which will not be reprinted under my byline.
From Fettner's article, no one would know what Duesberg's ideas are, or where to find them. Fettner doesn't want the reader to know. Instead of giving the exact issue where Duesberg's major article appeared, she simply says it was "published last spring in the scientific journal, Cancer Reports" [sic]. No date is given, and the name of the publication is wrong. Although she mentions the publication, Bio/Technology, she does not inform her readers that Bio/Technology also published a one-page article by Peter Duesberg, in which he summarized his objections to the HIV hypothesis. Nor does she permit her readers to know of interviews with Duesberg conducted by myself and by Celia Farber, or of the article by Russell Shoch in California Monthly (a magazine with a readership of 100,000 Berkeley alumni).
After spewing out quite a bit of impertinent and distasteful gossip, Fettner suddenly shifts gears and goes into some rather wild speculation on ways in which HIV might cause AIDS. We are asked to "suppose" this, that, and the other thing, with an emphasis on co-factors and auto-immunity.
These speculations were probably fed to Fettner by people in the "AIDS virus" inner circle, perhaps by "Bob" Gallo himself. It is clear that Gallo & Company now realize that last year's HIV model (in which HIV caused immune deficiency by killing T-cells) will not fly. Therefore, they are desperately trying to imagine ways in which HIV could indirectly cause AIDS. This is their privilege, of course. There is nothing wrong with speculation. But the issue remains: what evidence is there to support the hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS. Proof requires a great deal more than speculation.
Fettner concludes her piece by accusing Duesberg of holding back the fight against AIDS:
With so much new research being generated, and so much that needs to be done, why are we now forced to stop and deal with Duesberg's passe propositions?
Fettner's accusation is despicable. All that is being asked of Gallo, Fauci, Haseltine, Essex, or Montagnier, is that they should fulfill their obligations as scientists and defend their hypothesis, in an appropriate publication, against Duesberg's critique.
SPIN magazine/interview with Robert Gallo
The February 1988 issue of SPIN Magazine contains an interview with Dr. Robert Gallo, conducted by Anthony Liversidge. It is a coup for Liversidge, who persisted in dialing Gallo's number, dozens of times, until he finally got him on the line, without the usual interference from NCI watchdogs. Gallo spoke freely – indeed, all too freely. The determination of "Cancer Communications", to protect Gallo from the media at all costs, is now quite understandable.
This interview should be read by everyone who is trying to follow AIDS developments, to see what Robert Gallo is really like, this man who is widely regarded as the world's foremost expert on AIDS. I can only say that my jaw dropped in astonishment. Others have had the same reaction: shocked disbelief that a man like this could be regarded as the premier AIDS researcher.
Words almost fail in describing the interview. Gallo rants, raves, curses, and at times becomes completely incoherent. Let the following suffice as an example of his style:
There's no ax to grind. The whole world...everyone is working on the problem of this virus causing AIDS. There is nobody that doesn't work on this virus as causing AIDS. Nobody! Every virologist on earth will tell you the same thing. This is the cause of AIDS. I don't know a single person that debates that. There is always somebody that can pull up to make some trouble! I mean the virus is created in my lab. Or even though we predicted that a virus like this couldn't cause it, OK, well, it has caused it, but maybe the French found it first. I mean, it is one goddamn event after another. It's like a no-win situation. Everyone knows this is the cause of AIDS. Except maybe two people. There is no debate. Call 5,000 scientists and ask.
What does emerge from the interview is that Gallo is unwilling and unable to respond to Duesberg's critique. It is apparent that Gallo is not capable of presenting a reasoned argument, backed up with evidence, to support his hypothesis that HIV is the cause of AIDS. He comes out with some distasteful ad hominem attacks on Duesberg, and engages in speculation on ways in which HIV might do its damage (indirect mechanisms, auto-immunity, etc.), but doesn't know where to begin in verifying his hypothesis.
SPIN asked Duesberg for a response to Gallo's statements. In the calm, analytical language of a true scientist, Duesberg demonstrates the absurdity of the few substantive statements made by Gallo.
What does it all mean?
Although major scientists have not come forward to support Duesberg, many do support him privately. And Duesberg is by no means the only, or the first, scientist to dissent from the HIV orthodoxy. Many are waiting for the HIV champions to respond to Duesberg, for after all, the ball is in their court.
In almost a year since Duesberg's Cancer Research article was published, no scientist in the world has attempted to refute it. Further, in a year's time, no scientist has come forward to defend the hypothesis that HIV is the cause. For that matter, no paper has ever been published that systematically presented the evidence that HIV should be considered the cause of AIDS.
Duesberg has reaffirmed that he is "eager to debate Gallo point by point regarding HIV"; Gallo is intransigently unwilling to debate Duesberg. Presumably each of them knows his own strength.
If you were playing chess, and had established a positional and material advantage, and then suddenly your opponent left the table and refused to return, you would be entitled to say you had won the game.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect Gallo and his "AIDS virus" colleagues to respond to Duesberg. What could they say? If they could have responded, they would have by now. The consequences are so immense that one scarcely dares believe the possibility. But it is becoming ever clearer. Only one thing can explain the bizarre evasiveness of the "AIDS establishment": the stonewalling, the totalitarian suppression of dissent. Duesberg is right! HIV is not the cause of AIDS!
- Shurkin, Joel N., "The AIDS Debate: Another View", Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1988.
- Hill, Brian, "Billions for HIV: Are Research Dollars Wasted?", San Francisco Sentinel, January 15, 1988.
- Duesberg, Peter H., "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality", Cancer Research, March 1, 1987.
- Duesberg, Peter H., "A Challenge to the AIDS Establishment", Bio/Technology, November 1987.
- Lauritsen, John, "Saying No to HIV: An Interview with Professor Peter Duesberg", New York Native, July 6, 1987, reprinted in Christopher Street, issue 118.
- Farber, Celia, "AIDS: Words from the Front" (column), SPIN Magazine, January 1988.
- Schoch, Russell, "The 'AIDS virus' tests negative", California Monthly, December 1987.