You know what crazy is? Crazy is majority rules. Take germs for example.
April 24, 2006 1:32 AM   Subscribe

It is estimated that due to an infected polio vaccine, 10 million to 30 million people in the United States from 1955 through early 1963 were inadvertently exposed to live Simian Virus #40, a pathogen linked to various cancers. If it happened before, maybe it happened again. Perhaps AIDS was just another accidental contamination originating in an American lab - this time a hepatitis vaccine gone wrong. Why assume conspiracy Dr Cantwell?
posted by missbossy (74 comments total)

What I don't understand is, if HIV has nothing to do with AIDS, why do all the treatments that reduce HIV viral load seem to prevent AIDS?
posted by effugas at 2:08 AM on April 24, 2006

Just goes to show, you don't have to have a grip on reality to get through med school.
posted by Dasein at 2:37 AM on April 24, 2006

The question of SV40 in polio vaccine as it relates to human cancers has been thoroughly investigated in this Institute of Medicine report which concludes that "although SV40 has biological properties consistent with a cancer-causing virus, it has not been conclusively established whether it might have caused cancer in humans. Studies of groups of people who received polio vaccine during 1955-1963 provide evidence of no increased cancer risk."
posted by scblackman at 2:38 AM on April 24, 2006
The theory is far from conclusive...
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:43 AM on April 24, 2006

The 'deliberate infection' theory of HIV is impossibly stupid. In the 1970s, we didn't understand enough about viruses, or the immune system for that matter, to make any such thing.

After thirty years of very intense research, we _might_ be able to make such a virus, although it would probably be a feat on the order of the Manhattan Project.

The theory that it was accidental cross-contamination from monkey-based vaccines... that's certainly possible. But there's no WAY it was deliberate.
posted by Malor at 3:08 AM on April 24, 2006

Oh, and from the end of the "contamination" article:
The man-made theory of AIDS is not based on conspiracy theory. The theory warrants a full scientific investigation - and the secret history of HIV and AIDS needs to come out of the closet.
I've never yet seen anyone use the phrase 'secret history of' that was remotely credible. And claiming it's "not based on conspiracy theory" when it certainly IS a conspiracy theory is incredibly stupid.

They should take this guy's keyboard away. He has no business writing articles.
posted by Malor at 3:11 AM on April 24, 2006

That Cantwell is an ass and obviously doesn't know much about virology, or microbiology in general.

Not like my favorite, Boyd Graves. He's got a killer flow chart that proves HIV was no accident. In fact, HIV was the result of many steps! --- In the laboratory! ---
posted by shoos at 3:34 AM on April 24, 2006

And lest we forget the grand-poobahs of HIV deniers/conspiracy theorists: Peter Duesberg and Thabo Mbeki.
posted by scblackman at 4:29 AM on April 24, 2006

If you really want to see viral conspiracies look at the current mumps outbreak. Clearly some evil force is behind these attempts to bring back defeated diseases like mumps, measles and polio. I have a nickname for this dark force. I call it Ignorance.
posted by srboisvert at 4:31 AM on April 24, 2006

Oh, God.

Every time I see this bullshit, I want to scream. HIV doesn't cause AIDS? How many fucking friends have you buried, 'doctor'?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:36 AM on April 24, 2006

Im still trying to figure out what these jerks have to gain by attempting to dissassociate AIDS from HIV. I think that's a much more interesting conspiracy...
posted by Jimbob at 4:41 AM on April 24, 2006

it is important to note that this belief is theory, not proven fact.

There's a sentence that gives one a warm fuzzy in any article that is supposed to be, somehow, grounded in science. A better sentence would have been, "it is important to not that nano-bacteria are a hypothesis. Their pathogenicity is a wild-assed assumption based on their presumed existance."

His timelines leave much to be desired in that, for things to work the way he describes, AIDS would have to have a much longer gestation period in the third world than in New York. Maybe that's what the orbital mind control rays really do.

He's right about things like fetal bovine serum, but he's also clouding the issue. The biotech industry and FDA have recognized that as a hypothetical danger and have been moving towards serum free culture media for years. Or maybe I've just not looked hard enough and Sigma also sells fetal chimpanzee serum too.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:00 AM on April 24, 2006

posted by public at 5:16 AM on April 24, 2006

Other books by Dr. Canwell's Aries Rising Press. . .

Oh wait. There are none. Seems that he had to create a whole publishing company to get his crap out. That's always a good sign that you've got something worth while to say, when even none of the crazy publishers out there will touch it.
posted by tiamat at 5:25 AM on April 24, 2006


There's alot of really weird politics wrapped up in HIV not having evolved. If someone's responsible, someone's gotta pay for it.

More disturbingly, if HIV doesn't cause AIDS, doing things that give people HIV isn't unsafe, because AIDS comes from "something else".
posted by effugas at 5:59 AM on April 24, 2006

These types of arguments really torque me -- they just aren't rhetorically viable. I don't know that much about the biochemistry of HIV, but I do have a good source of information for interested folk.

AEGIS is the most comprehensive public clearinghouse of HIV/AIDS related information available. This particular URL links to the definition of HIV and of AIDS. It is easy to read and helped me begin to understand what researchers mean when they use those terms.

In terms of a rhetorical deconstruction, I offer this:

Working in an HIV clinic for two years, I heard a lot of alternative arguments to an HIV and AIDS causal link. None of them are not true logical (or scientific) arguments, only (il)logical arguments gussied up in science language. At their core, they are ethical or moral arguments, such as people get AIDS because they live wrongly. Any argument along this line, no matter how convincingly argued, does not meet the basic criteria of being falsifiable, i.e. it is not constructed in a manner that can be proven or disproven.

I often heard that no physical proof of a virus exists. It is a shrewd rhetorical move for those who don't accept the HIV-AIDS link to demand visual proof of an extracted virus (after all, we are a visual culture). Shrewd because the people who are listening to them are led to believe that science works on concepts such as "proof." Research and science is not about "proof", however, it is about "evidence." Researchers come up with questions, design ways of gathering data that might be relevant to those questions, gather data, and look at it in different ways to either support, or not-support a hypothesis about the question (such as an actual answer, the question's further validity, its link to other questions, etc.) As evidence accumulates, the likelihood of it being accepted as either "proven" or "true" increases.

The argument against HIV-AIDS is not only not falsifiable, but it also does not falsify the evidence that a link does indeed exist, i.e. a chip in the boulder does not cause the entire boulder to turn to dust. Tremendous amounts of anecdotal, qualitative, statistical, and quantative data (offered as evidence) have been accumulated to support a link between HIV and AIDS. The lack of a particular piece of evidence, or remaining questions/mysteries do not falsify the entire argument. That is a fallacy of logic. It does not invalidate the premise to those who study HIV and AIDS that a link does indeed exist. We are not talking cold fusion here.

It is also helpful to remember that the reason people study the HIV virus is to treat people who are infected and prevent others from acquiring it. It is not necessarily scientifically helpful in this endeavor to do the research that is being demanded as "proof" that a link exists. HIV/AIDS researchers have the evidence they need to advance their study and do their research designed to treat the disease. Proving the validity of the disease itself is a minor concern. Just because this particular component of evidence has not been provided to moral and religious doubters and other skeptics does not falsify the evidence that has been accumulated. We do not *disprove* the existence of Mars because we can't produce a sample of martian soil. Similarly, we didn't *prove* the existence of the moon when we landed on it. Of course, there are still those who think the moon landing was a conspiracy as well.

I hope this helps, it was well-intended nevertheless.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2006

What I don't understand is, if HIV has nothing to do with AIDS, why do all the treatments that reduce HIV viral load seem to prevent AIDS?

Cantwell didn't write that, nor does he believe that. I'm not educated in bio-chem, so I can't argue either way. But none of you have proven that any statements he made are false. He is dismissed as a wacko because he claims there is a unified effort to distort and hide the truth. Isn't it a fact that governments have experimented on their unknowing citizens, and that it has resulted in death? Are you asserting that no government would do such a thing? That self-publishing connotes a wack job? I'm not saying that he's right-on-the-money, but none of you have helped expose him as a fraud. You've simply stated it. Lastly, though I'm probably revealing my ignorance on the subject (if I haven't done so already) and general stupidity, I've never been quite satisfied with the "official" story. That's why this one appeals to me.
posted by sluglicker at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2006

More disturbingly, if HIV doesn't cause AIDS ...

But it does. So, well, not much point in the rest of this speculation.

I think people who are dissassociated from AIDS, say people who haven't had friends die of it, don't fathom how offensive and dangerous the "HIV doesn't cause AIDS" wankery is. This isn't some fun little X-Files conspiracy theory to play with, this is a life or death fight against a very dangerous virus. Science matters.

It's a little like the creationists who put their fingers in their ears and deny evolution. Only in the case of HIV, people are dying. The best example of the danger is Mbeki. His willful ignorance has caused thousands of his countrymen in South Africa to die because he has not supported appropriate HIV treatment.
posted by Nelson at 6:33 AM on April 24, 2006

Cantwell's article is wrong and misleading on several counts, and since his evidence is purely rhetorical, disproving his rhetoric effectively disproves his argument.

1) The largest misleading element is his claim that the Aids epidemic started in Western gay populations before it started in Africa. This is poppycock. It was first recognized in Western gay populations. There are two reasons for this. The first is that health care in such populations is substantially better and more centralized (see the CDC's involvement in identifying "gay cancer" as more than an isolated problem), leading to tracking and recognition of new diseases. This is particularly heightened in the case of Aids, in which opportunistic infections, like KS, which are rare to non-existent in healthy people, make for a striking presentation. But the largest reason is that different opportunistic infections kill people in the developing world. In Africa, even today, TB and malaria, as well as toxoplasmosis and other OIs are the main causes of death from Aids. In parts of the world where such diseases are endemic even without the addition of AIDS it's much harder to see the epidemic of the underlying immune system weakener until you already know to look for it. I'm surprised that an Aids researcher wouldn't know this as it's some of the most basic HIV epidemiology out there.

2) There are blood samples dating back at least to the sixties in which HIV has now been detected. This significanlty disrupts Cantwell's batshitinsane timeline, and further calls into question his inability to distinguish between an epidemic and the growing incidence of a disease. It takes time for diseases to take hold in populations.

Cantwell is an asshole spreading fear and paranoia. He presents no serious or credible arguments which would exempt him from the lowest circle of hell.
posted by OmieWise at 6:37 AM on April 24, 2006

It is estimated that due to an infected polio vaccine, 10 million to 30 million people in the United States from 1955 through early 1963 were inadvertently exposed to live Simian Virus #40, a pathogen linked to various cancers.

Bet they all drank milk too.
posted by three blind mice at 6:43 AM on April 24, 2006

sluglicker writes "I've never been quite satisfied with the 'official' story."

What part of the official story hasn't worked for you? Seriously? My disdain for Cantwell is based on the fact that he should know better, but my question to you is sincere.

The official story is that a simian virus, very similar to HIV, crossed the species barrier probably as a result of hunting and butchering monkeys. That virus mutated to be viable in humans. We know that HIV mutates very easily, with just 30,000 copies/ml (a medium amount of the virus), every possible mutation of HIV occurs once a day. This is why resistance to anti-HIV drugs is such a danger. Once the virus was established in humans, it spread as it does today, through blood and sexual fluids. The virus typically takes ~10 years to cause AIDS in humans. This is well understood. AIDS is the condition in which the human immune system is so depressed that infections, commonly called opportunistic infections to denote the fact that they are secondary to the disease but largely unable to cause problems except in people with already compromised immune systems, begin to make the person with HIV very ill. Without treatment such infections end up killing the person infected with HIV. Opportunistic infections are similar throughout the world, in other words, they all come from the same set of human diseases, but in different parts of the world different OIs are more prevalent.

If this seems at all farfetched as a scenario, compare it to the fears about avian flu currently flying around. It's precisely the same, with the differences only inherent in the means of transmission and effects of the virus. In all important particulars, the proximity of animals to humans, the crossing of the species barrier, the necessity of viral mutation to lead to an epidemic, it is precisely the same. Even if there is no pandemic caused by H5N1, the pathway is well understood and explained.
posted by OmieWise at 6:50 AM on April 24, 2006

Then it's a good job humans are not descended from monkeys.
posted by Joeforking at 6:54 AM on April 24, 2006

2) There are blood samples dating back at least to the sixties in which HIV has now been detected. This significanlty disrupts Cantwell's batshitinsane timeline

Thanks. That's the kind of refutation I was asking for. Can you link to an authoritative source?

It does help. Thank you, sir.
posted by sluglicker at 6:56 AM on April 24, 2006

A quick Google found this at the New Scientist website:


• The world’s first known case of AIDS has been traced to a sample of blood plasma from a man who died in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1959

Of course their sources, while listed, are not very well delineated. I learned it myself in an epidemiology of HIV course, so have no source handy.
posted by OmieWise at 7:02 AM on April 24, 2006

Avert has much more, and it's sourced much better, with the three major pieces of information: the early findings of HIV in blood and tissue samples, a retesting of some of the vaccines commonly implicated in vaccine "experiment" failures, and the similarity of HIV-1 to sHIV, all coming from Nature articles.

While self-publishing does not denote crackpotness in and of itself, since one of the pillars of science is peer-review, publications in Nature trump self-publishing every single fucking time.
posted by OmieWise at 7:08 AM on April 24, 2006

While self-publishing does not denote crackpotness in and of itself, since one of the pillars of science is peer-review, publications in Nature trump self-publishing every single fucking time.

Very close, but not a bulls-eye. Why are you so angry?
posted by sluglicker at 7:25 AM on April 24, 2006

Why are you so angry?

Because these arguments are sophistry and it's a waste of time to try to refute them.
posted by Nelson at 7:55 AM on April 24, 2006

...and they kill people.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:58 AM on April 24, 2006

Not like my favorite, Boyd Graves. He's got a killer flow chart that proves HIV was no accident. In fact, HIV was the result of many steps! --- In the laboratory! ---

If only he didn't charge $7 to download his chart, the rest of would see the truth!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2006

sluglicker writes "Very close, but not a bulls-eye. Why are you so angry?"

I don't know that the first sentence means. When I read the second sentence I thought, I'm not that angry, but then as I thought about it more, I realized that I am angry.

I'm angry about this specific instance of conspiracy theory laced disinformation because I get to see the harm it does in the HIV clinic where I work. People come in, and, through a complex amalgam of lack of education and knowledge, urban myth, conspiracy theory, denial, and abdication of personal responsiblity, they make choices that harm their chances of treating their (very treatable) HIV. This twaddle about the conspiracy of silence surrounding the origins of HIV certainly contributes to that by suggesting that the recommendations of medical personnel are not to be trusted. After all, if "they" are responsible for infecting all of these people with HIV, "they" might well just be wanting to hurt me more right now. This isn't a theoretical danger, I know of many patients who either now or at some point in the past refused treatment on these grounds. In this regard, Cantwell's cant can't be separated from the HIV doesn't cause AIDS bullshit which has the same level of scientific sophistication (very little) and causes the same sort of harms.

On a less personal level, this kind of stuff pisses me off because it achieves precisely the opposite of what it claims to achieve. There is an element to conspiracy theories, which is always used to validate them, which suggests that by not accepting the "official" explanation, the proponents of the theory are somehow sticking it to the man. If it weren't for the brave conspiracy theorist we'd all be sheep with no hope of ever breaking out of the cycle of propoganda and deceit that "they" are trying to foist on us. It's an attractive position, and, as mrmojo suggests, impossible to falsify, and one which, when applied to politics, might have some traction. When applied to science, however, it only serves to authorize the views of people who don't understand the science on a given subject. The very idea that there is an "official" version of some scientific theory mistakes arguing by assertion and authority (the province of the conspiracy theorist) with arguing by evidence based in hypothesis and experiment (the scientific method). The two are not the same.

There is no official story of anything having to do with HIV. There are accepted scientific theories which are challenged and revised as the data no longer fit them. This is why, in science, self-publishing almost always denotes crackpot, because it means that the author of a given theory is operating outside the scientific mainstream not simply with respect to accepting the standard theories, but also with respect to having to justify their conclusions. Instead, those conclusions become justified by people who by definition don't know enough about the subject to judge.

But this notion that "the man" is trying to suppress the truth about science is stupid, and worse, it leads to stupid people. It authorizes curious people to stop trying to understand why folks who've done a lot more work than they have in a given area agree that one explanation is the best, and instead rest at the level of vague unease and intellectually lazy dishonesty. Even the level of critique of the supposed "official story" frequently turns out to be nothing more than vague unease, impossible to fully satisfy with rational explication and evidence. The conspiracy theorist is at heart an uninformed semanticist who can always find another layer of picayune quibble with which to satisfy their unease and reject the accepted and scientifically validated theory. If there is a "they" I can't think of a situation that "they" would like more.

Not incidentally, turning creationism into a conspiracy theory (teach-the-controversy-intelligent-design) was the smartest move, leading to the dumbest people, that the fundamentalists could have made.
posted by OmieWise at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2006 [3 favorites]

uh, rest of the world...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:09 AM on April 24, 2006

I could have said that much more succinctly:

I'm just fucking sick of people claiming better understand through and because of ignorance. In the case of HIV the harm is readily apparent, but see also things like GW Bush claiming that he doesn't read newspapers in order to achieve better understanding. The stance is not only anti-intellectual, it's morally indefensible.
posted by OmieWise at 8:24 AM on April 24, 2006

You working in a clinic, I'm sure you've seen a lot of things most of us haven't. I didn't mean to seem insensitive. I just wanted to know some facts and where they came from. Most of us (myself included) couldn't do the job you do every day. Thank God there are people who can.
posted by sluglicker at 8:43 AM on April 24, 2006

Omniwise: answer flagged as fant-fucking-tastic.

Keep up the good work.
posted by lalochezia at 9:25 AM on April 24, 2006

Anyone who knows the story of Marshall, ulcers, and H. Pylori knows that the scientific/medical community can be slow to question established wisdom. That’s why these "people are dying" comments are completely off the track. The seriousness of the problem means that we should want to get it right, not that we should avoid questioning the predominant theory. That being said, high stakes are not an excuse to ignore the (mountain of) evidence in support of the leading theory.

I've known few conspiracy theories that stand up to even critical scrutiny, nevermind contrary evidence, of experts. They sure are popular in the coffee shops, though.
posted by dreamsign at 9:30 AM on April 24, 2006

Omniwise -- Flagged fantastic as well. Well done, and should be the definitive comment on the subject!
posted by blahblahblah at 9:31 AM on April 24, 2006

Just one comment: Ever seen the movie "Outbreak"??

LOL, ok, just trying to lighten the mood a bit. :-)
posted by AmyMay at 9:31 AM on April 24, 2006

OmieWise: what's your take on this recent Harper's article? It covers the point of view that a majority of AIDS cases are caused by the toxicity of the drugs used to treat the HIV virus--an interesting read IMHO (but then, IANAD either). Here's a (long, sorry) money quote:
Nobel laureate Kary Mullis, who discovered the revolutionary DNA technique called the polymerase chain reaction, has long been a supporter of Duesberg, but he has grown weary of the AIDS wars and the political attacks on contrarian scientists. “Look, there’s no sociological mystery here,” he told me. “It’s just people’s income and position being threatened by the things Peter Duesberg is saying. That’s why they’re so nasty. In the AIDS field, there is a widespread neurosis among scientists, but the frenzy with which people approach the HIV debate has slacked off, because there’s just so much slowly accumulating evidence against them. It’s really hard for them to deal with it. They made a really big mistake and they’re not ever going to fix it. They’re still poisoning people.”

Duesberg thinks that up to 75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued, he says, thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2006

dreamsign writes "That’s why these 'people are dying' comments are completely off the track."

They aren't completely off track. They suggest that science needs to be involved when we reevaluate science. That's all. They're impassioned because conspiracy is trying to pose as science. H. Pylori is just as important for suggesting that science and not opinion wins the day as it is for suggesting that recieved scientific wisdom can at times be wrong.
posted by OmieWise at 10:34 AM on April 24, 2006

I missed that article, which is strange, since I get Harper's. I don't have time to read it now, but the paragraphs you linked aren't very convincing to me for two reasons:

1) The reporting is bad, or Mullis doesn't know what he's talking about. AIDS is a syndrome defined by either a lack of immune system function or by opportunistic infections. If you don't have a CD4 count below 200 or a series of OIs within a year, you don't have AIDS. Even if the meds are killing people the notion that they're causing AIDS just seems like a serious lack of understanding of the terms involved, a not incidental one in light of what's being discussed.

2) There's no doubt that the meds are pretty toxic. They aren't prescribed to people who aren't headed for death if they aren't treated anyway, though. There's more discussion of that specifically in this comment of mine, the whole thread is filled with speculation about the morality of the HIV does not cause Aids and the drugs are the problem position. But even if the meds killed every person to whom they were given, how does Mullis account for all of the people who died of "gay cancer" and AIDS before the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs?
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on April 24, 2006

I'll shamelessly steal something from another MeFite...

There are four basic things you must accept in order to be considered a reasonable person.

1. Oswald did it.
2. O.J. did it.
3. The Holocaust happened.
4. 9/11 happened with planes and hijackers, not controlled demolitions and secret government conspiracies.

I'm thinking of adding a fifth to this list:

5. HIV/AIDS is not the result of a conspiracy or man-made accident.
posted by frogan at 10:42 AM on April 24, 2006

OmieWise, that makes sense--what I took most clearly from that article, though, is that any challenge to the 'conventional wisdom' of HIV/AIDS is met with strong, entrenched resistance. In your experience, is that appropriate? Do you think that we have a pretty solid understanding of the disease, and that the treatments are--for the most part--efficacious?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:48 AM on April 24, 2006

LooseFilter, since you seem to be making a good-faith attempt to understand what's going on here, you should know that the author of the Harper's piece in question has made an entire career out of "daring," "contrarian" "debunkings" of a widely-accepted, rigorously-defended consensus view.

These debunkings are scientifically illiterate; nevertheless, she has persisted in publishing them in the face of explicit, point-by-point refutation, far past any conceivably defensible moment.

And, yes, people are dying. I point this out not in any woeful, won't-someone-think-of-the-children sense, but in the literal sense that parrying garbage conspiracy theories has absorbed time and energy (most notably in South Africa, but here as well) that could far better have been spent doing meaningful science.

I should also point out that these irresponsible claims give the superficial color of credibility to the demonstrably batshit-insane - folks like the woman who, on the strength of her Farber-bolstered belief that "HIV is not AIDS," withdrew her infant daughter from antiviral therapy, predictably resulting in the death of that daughter.

In their narcissistic and wilful disregard for established science, the "AIDS debunkers" quite literally have blood on their hands. They disgust me, and if you'll forgive me for saying so, they ought to disgust you too.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:25 AM on April 24, 2006

Well, I'm not a doctor, but I've sat through a lot of epidemiological and medical conferences on HIV, and I have a lot of HIV patients in my own practice. I think the strong, entrenched resistance about the causes of AIDS is because there has been no decent alternative put forth which explains the data we have, and I don't know a practicioner who deals with the disease who hasn't had to deal with conspiracy laced questions from patients, often leading to poor outcomes.

I would also never underestimate the power and money of drug companies, but I don't know a doctor working in HIV who doesn't counsel waiting for necessity before starting the drugs and who doesn't take the toxicities very very seriously. Yeah, the drugs are really bad to take, and that's exacerbated by the chronic nature of the disease. They do keep a lot of people alive, though.
posted by OmieWise at 11:36 AM on April 24, 2006

In your experience, is that appropriate? Do you think that we have a pretty solid understanding of the disease, and that the treatments are--for the most part--efficacious?

I'm not OmieWise, but I have worked in research on HIV and IV drug use, so I have more than a passing familiarity with the state of knowledge on the issue, albeit not bang up to date.

Do you think that we have a pretty solid understanding of the disease.

Yes, and we have done for very many years now.

and that the treatments are--for the most part--efficacious

The treatments today are a downright miracle -- albeit a miracle of science. The anti-viral combination therapies, while not a cure for AIDS, mean that by and large the bulk of people who are HIV positive in the wealthy west can now live long and relatively normal lives.

These advances haven't been made by the AIDS heretics, who deny the link between HIV and AIDS. They are the product of the hypothesis -- and of course, that's the real test of any science. Does it enable you to make reliable predictions? And does it enable you to come up with reliable solutions to the problems? And the answer to both questions is 'absolutely'.

Like OmieWise, these kooks make me angry as well. There was a time, back in the early nineties, when I felt that -- although they were almost certainly wrong, there was value in pursuing alternative hypotheses, because of holes in the data and various anomalies. However, the data today is so strong that that time has now long passed and I don't believe it's possible to be an intelligent scientist and continue to oppose the HIV/AIDS hypothesis. Today, the only people who do so are either batting for a vested interest, or they're kooks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:41 AM on April 24, 2006

And of course, for every one person who gets their information on AIDS from the research literature, there may be a couple of hundred who gets it from Kanye West.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2006


The only problem I have with that is that a lot of people outside the USA didn't really care about the OJ thing. I for one have no idea if he really did it or not, because I don't care. That said, I do know the civil and criminal trials both came up with different answers.

That said, I suggest we adopt 1,3,4 & 5 as law on MeFi.
posted by tiamat at 12:14 PM on April 24, 2006

and that the treatments are--for the most part--efficacious

To put numbers on the answer, here is a 2003 article from a UK site that reports that the death rates from Aids have fallen by 80% since 1997. Not sure what today's numbers look like, but three years is still a long time in the world of HIV treatment.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:28 PM on April 24, 2006

That said, I suggest we adopt 1,3,4 & 5 as law on MeFi.

I can live with that. ;-)
posted by frogan at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2006

Regarding the toxicity of AIDS treatments, it is often very high, but through careful, randomized trials of the AIDS Clinical Trial Group, the Community Program for Clinical Research on AIDS, and others, therapies against both HIV and the opportunistic infections that accompany the decline in immune function have been refined to the point that survival after diagnosis has increased several fold, and HIV-infected individuals can lead fairly long, healthy, and productive post-diagnosis lives. The progression of the research to its present state is well documented in the Journal of AIDS, the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and a host of other rigorous, peer-reviewed literatures.

There really isn't a substitute theory of AIDS, just wild speculation. However, the question of the causal link is distinct from the question of origins of the virus. But here again there is a reasonable theory of viral evolution, and there is wild speculation about intentionally or inadvertently man-made viruses. The former is also documented in peer-reviewed scientific journals; the latter in...well, nowhere.

I agree with the others in this thread: the debunkers may be having a lot of fun and receiving a lot of attention they otherwise might not garner, but they cause real harm and ought to shut up. Unfortunately, we can't stop them, but discussions like this will at least help spread the word to the intelligent and curious.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:11 PM on April 24, 2006

Where does Cantwell say that HIV doesn't cause AIDS? He seems to say the opposite?

that the AIDS blood test is worthless, and that HIV is a harmless virus that is not sexually transmitted. This group, headed by retrovirologist Peter Duesberg and other well-credential scientific "dissidents", believes AIDS is a toxic and nutritional syndrome. They blame AIDS on recreational drug use among gays - and poverty and malnutrition in Africa for the disease.

As a medical doctor and AIDS and cancer researcher, I am certainly not in accord with this group,

Guess he contradicts himself in other articles or something? I can't say I care to wade farther into his material, tho.
posted by undule at 1:52 PM on April 24, 2006

Guess he contradicts himself in other articles or something? I can't say I care to wade farther into his material, tho.

No, people are just leaping to conclusions without having read the material.

While self-publishing does not denote crackpotness in and of itself, since one of the pillars of science is peer-review, publications in Nature trump self-publishing every single fucking time.

While I agree that Cantwell's use of "Google it" in lieu of citations and his somewhat bizarre leaps of logic fail to inspire confidence, do keep in mind that publication in peer-reviewed journals is hardly a guarantee of anything. Exhibit A.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:50 PM on April 24, 2006

adamgreenfield, OmieWise, PeterMcDermott et al, many thanks for your thoughtful, informative answers. My ignorance on this subject has begun to be dispelled.

Also (off topic): ...the author of the Harper's piece in question has made an entire career out of "daring," "contrarian" "debunkings" of a widely-accepted, rigorously-defended consensus view.

I read Harper's pretty regularly--do they publish bunk on a regular basis?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:14 PM on April 24, 2006

You know, reading the article further, I'd be very interested in the reactions of those with specialized knowledge or experience to this passage (and the scientist to whom it refers):
No one has been more persistent in calling attention to the failings of AIDS research than Peter Duesberg, a virologist and cancer specialist at the University of California at Berkeley. If Duesberg’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he has been quite effectively branded in the international media as the virologist who is wrong about HIV. His name entered the popular culture in the late 1980s pre-stamped with wrongness. You knew he was wrong before you knew what he had said in the first place.

In 1987, Duesberg published a paper in the journal Cancer Research entitled “Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality.” He was, at the time, at the top of the field of retrovirology, having mapped the genetic structure of retroviruses and defined the first cancer gene in the 1970s. He was the youngest member, at age fifty, ever elected into the National Academy of Sciences. In this paper, which in the words of his scientific biographer, Harvey Bialy, “sealed his scientific fate for a dozen years,” Duesberg argued that retroviruses don’t cause cancer and concluded by detailing how and why the retrovirus HIV cannot cause AIDS.

As AIDS grew in the 1980s into a global, multibillion-dollar juggernaut of diagnostics, drugs, and activist organizations, whose sole target in the fight against AIDS was HIV, condemning Duesberg became part of the moral crusade. Prior to that 1987 paper, Duesberg was one of a handful of the most highly funded and prized scientists in the country. Subsequently, his NIH funding was terminated and he has received not one single federal research dollar since his pre-1987 Outstanding Investigator Grant ran out. Duesberg lost his lab facilities and had to move twice within a few years to smaller labs on the Berkeley campus, where he spent much of his time writing futile research grant proposals asking to test his hypothesis that AIDS is a chemical syndrome, caused by accumulated toxins from heavy drug use.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:34 PM on April 24, 2006

Another (this time quick) question for those in the know: is a treatment course for AIDS generally commenced upon discovery of HIV positive status, or must patients be symptomatic before treatment starts?
posted by LooseFilter at 10:42 PM on April 24, 2006

Another (this time quick) question for those in the know: is a treatment course for AIDS generally commenced upon discovery of HIV positive status, or must patients be symptomatic before treatment starts?

These days, if you may have been exposed to the virus, you can get yourself some Post-Exposure Prophylaxis which can actually stop the virus from infecting you.

However, even if you have been infected, you can get combination therapy which stops the virus replicating. The idea is to give it to people before they become symptomatic to prevent the kind of sickness that we used to see ten years ago.

They generally base the decision on when to begin treatment on the levels of T-helper cells. Once they drop below a certain level and you're body becomes less able to fight off opportunistic infection, then they start the treatment. However, you may well still be asymptomatic at this stage.

Here's a good introduction to the subject.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:40 PM on April 24, 2006

No, people are just leaping to conclusions without having read the material.

Absolutely correct.

Given that this was the first article on his website, I really didn't feel the need to read any further.

Now fire up the orgone accumulator. I need to get my psychosexual energy unblocked...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:51 PM on April 24, 2006

the OJ thing. ...I do know the civil and criminal trials both came up with different answers.

... to different questions. Did he do it on the balance of the evidence as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by Jenga at 5:40 AM on April 25, 2006

Loosefilter, briefly: no, Harper's does *not* have a (long) history of printing bunk. They've recently, though, under the guidance of longtime editor Lewis Lapham, begun to stray so far into contrarian-for-the-sake-of-being-contrary territory that they've squandered whatever credibility and goodwill they might ever have enjoyed - which was a substantial amount. It's sad, really, and this article, while the worst of it, is not the only example.

Farber's "if Duesberg's name sounds vaguely familiar" line is disingenuous in the extreme. If his name sounds familiar at all, it is solely because Farber has quite literally been pushing his name and his agenda in many dozens of articles (in SPIN, the New York Press, and elsewhere) for almost twenty years now. She is his sole journalistic air supply, or at least the only journalist writing about Duesberg with access to the national media.

As a onetime ACT/UP activist my ownself, I can tell you the the shadowy "AIDS industry" or "AIDS conspiracy" Farber blames for suppressing the truth simply does not exist - not in anything like the form she and her fellow-travelers claim it does. To imply that a conspiracy was somehow mobilized between government, academic bioscience, Big Pharma, and the activist community, which thereafter fixed on HIV because it represented some perfect confluence of interests...well, it's just ludicrous, the idea falls apart at first inspection. (Among other things, it's also an insult to the heroic work done by ACT/UP chapters, particularly the local Treatment and Data Committees, which has always been overshadowed by the protests and such.)

Having been on the ground at the time I can tell you that there were *many* alternative theories of causality embraced by the activist community, for years, and that they were only discarded with the greatest reluctance. It's hard to overstate the suspicion of the Big Pharma/government nexus that was - with some justification, I might add - current in ACT/UP circa 1990.

But the overwhelming majority of activists were eventually convinced by the HIV thesis because, as others have pointed out upthread, it met all the standards of rigorous scientific inquiry. It was testable, and one could make useful predictions based on it. Above all, treatments based on it were efficacious.

And to me, that's all the proof I need. My bottom line, as a nonscientist, is that people I know and care deeply about are alive and active today because of the therapies Duesberg and Farber and Lapham would have you believe are nothing but poison. I admit this is effectively a naked appeal to sentiment that would get me laughed out of the discussion by Oxford Union standards...but happily, the real world isn't a debating society. I'd far, far rather these amazing people be alive and kicking than burnish some perverse sense of contrarian street cred.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2006

You want to rephrase this one:

"5. HIV/AIDS is not the result of a conspiracy or man-made accident."


"5. AIDS is caused by the virus HIV, which was not created by humans."

because a central part of the conspiracy theory is often that AIDS is not caused by HIV.

While I'm here:
"4. 9/11 happened with planes and hijackers, not controlled demolitions and secret government conspiracies."

You mean secret *US* government conspiracies because the official story does involve a conspiracy between the government of Afghanistan and the terrorist organization Al Qaeda to "commit 9/11", does it not?

Your 4. should really be:

"4. What has been presented to us by the government and media is more or less the true story of 9/11."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:07 AM on April 25, 2006

For what it's worth, the letters section of the latest issue of Harper's appears to consist entirely of refutations of the "Out of Control" article.
posted by sneebler at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2006

"4. What has been presented to us by the government and media is more or less the true story of 9/11."

Except for the Iraq part, right?
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:23 PM on April 25, 2006

Just for the record, I don't actually believe #4 at all -- in fact, frogan was gratuitously rude to me on another thread on that very topic.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:09 PM on April 25, 2006

(PeterMcDermott, adamgreenfield, many thanks again for your responses.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:31 PM on April 25, 2006

Just for the record, I don't actually believe #4 at all -- in fact, frogan was gratuitously rude to me on another thread on that very topic.

Was I? Shucks, maybe I just need to tighten down my tinfoil hat...

Although, I do like your rephrasing of No. 5. At least we can agree on something. ;-)
posted by frogan at 11:56 PM on April 25, 2006

sneebler writes "For what it's worth, the letters section of the latest issue of Harper's appears to consist entirely of refutations of the 'Out of Control' article."

I read this, and then her response, which included the stunning statement that she didn't have room, nor was the letters column of Harper's the place, to address all the errors of fact in some of the letters, but trust her, they were there. It's strange, but I'm considering canceling my Harper's subscription over this article (which I orginally missed). I'm all for investigative reporting, but this kind of anti-science shit seems misguided at best and dangerous at worst.
posted by OmieWise at 6:52 AM on April 26, 2006

Seriously, you should. There has to be some feedback mechanism decisive enough to convince Lapham et al. that you don't give the color of plausibility to lethal ideas like these.

It's as if the Atlantic Monthly let Gene Ray write a physics a time when Time Cube theory was literally killing people.

I know we're long into a historical milieu where the standards of scientific evidence count for little, and public discourse has degraded until it's little more than "he said/she said," but I'd like to believe that there are some standards left. Where human lives are concerned, certainly.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:13 AM on April 26, 2006

There was an exchange between Duesberg and Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, in the New York Review of Books, back in 1996.

[Barry] Bloom goes on to invite Duesberg to prove that HIV is innocuous by means of a simple experiment. He writes that if Duesberg's "convictions are as deeply felt and as strong as stated in his polemics, and if he sees the stakes as high as he advertises in proving that HIV is unrelated to AIDS, it is surprising that he has not availed himself of the noble tradition of self-experimentation." Here is a startling challenge. Duesberg accuses me of using "the argument of fear." If there is nothing to fear from HIV, he can easily prove it. If Duesberg seriously believes that HIV is harmless, let him inject himself with a suspension of the virus.
Ad hominem attacks are the equivalent of literary violence in any non-scientific debate. Horton shares responsibility for using this technique with the "respected" Barry Bloom, "If Duesberg seriously believes that HIV is harmless, let him inject himself with a suspension of the virus." But calling into question the seriousness of my beliefs and willingness to do an experiment is not a scientific argument.
The practice of self-experimentation has an established place in medical research and to mention it is not to make an ad hominem attack. The best contemporary example relevant to the issue at hand is provided by the Australian researcher Barry Marshall. During the early 1980s it became apparent that a bacterium, later named Helicobacter pylori, was associated with inflammation of the stomach. The question posed was this: is H pylori a cause of gastritis or is its presence merely a reflection of another as yet ill-defined process? The analogy with HIV is precise. In April 1985, Marshall described how he ingested a preparation of the bacterium obtained from another individual: he "swallowed the growth from a flourishing three-day culture of the isolate." One week later Marshall developed symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and headache. Samples of his stomach wall were taken which showed areas of inflammation. By self-experimentation Marshall provided the most convincing evidence then available that H pylori could cause gastritis. His contribution to our understanding of peptic ulcer disease is now regarded as seminal.
posted by russilwvong at 2:24 PM on April 27, 2006

Quite good editorial piece from Nature Medicine about the absurdity of AIDS denialists:

"People with ill-conceived ideas calling themselves mavericks (or in this case, 'rethinkers') will always be among us. Still, it's difficult to gauge what motivates AIDS denialists to champion their views in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The denialists almost universally invoke distrust of what they call "pharma-corporate vested interests" and they exploit fears arising from controversies over drug pricing or safety. Some even claim that antiretroviral drugs actually cause the symptoms of AIDS.

Despite their deep distrust of science, people who promote these views seek scientific credibility, repeating the tired theories of a tiny minority of scientists who say they are unconvinced that HIV causes AIDS. To support their ideas, some AIDS denialists have also misappropriated a scientific review in Nature Medicine which opens with this reasonable statement, "Despite considerable advances in HIV science in the past 20 years, the reason why HIV-1 infection is pathogenic is still debated" (Nat. Med. 9, 853–860; 2003). For the record, we think that the scientific evidence that HIV causes AIDS is conclusive and that antiretroviral drugs save lives."

posted by scblackman at 5:57 AM on April 28, 2006

That challenge to Duesberg is awesome.
posted by OmieWise at 8:03 AM on May 4, 2006

I really wouldn't write Duesberg off just yet.
posted by shoos at 5:32 AM on May 5, 2006

Why not?
posted by OmieWise at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2006

so...back to the Harper's article...And I sincerely want to know:

1. The assertion that there are "more than 4,000 documented AIDS cases in which there is no trace of HIV or HIV antibodies." Can anyone point to the literature that supports this? Duesberg claims his sources as "peer-reviewed scientific literature." If there are people with AIDS who don't have HIV, well, then, we need to ask more questions, don't we?

2. I know that waiting for drugs to be tested and approved became personal for many people (particularly in the late 80s and early 90s when we knew so little and feared there would never be any hope), but the fact that"Anti-HIV drugs such as Crixivan were approved in as little as six weeks, and cast as a triumph of AIDS activism" scares the pants off me. "We're dying out here" shouldn't have any sway with the FDA, should it? Hell, why not try every scheme someone thinks of and hope the shotgun approach eventually shakes out with someone benefitting in some way, right? Activism that hamstrings or circumvents the agencies meant to protect the public from lethal substances (the FDA in this case) is no better than the "Pro-Lifers" blocking access to abortion clinics, IMO.
2a. There’s some fictional writing on the shotgun approach that always stuck with me: Norman Spinrad’s “Journals of the Plague Years" and a character in William Gibson’s “Mona Lisa Overdrive” (IIRC). The HIV/AIDS positive people basically fucked anyone who was positive like them, and at the end of a very long string of chance and luck, the “cure” evolved in someone’s bloodstream due to exposure to every variant of the virus. Fiction, yes, and written during the 80s when we were as scared as we were ignorant (relative to where we are today), to be sure…But there’s something appealing about fucking for a cure…
3. No one here has expressed anything on the issue of Joyce Ann Hafford and the fact that she died during an HIV/AIDS clinical trial treating a disease she DIDN’T have.

4. No one here has commented on the assertion that basic HIV tests aren’t even being done (let alone re-tested to rule out false-positives) in many places in Africa; that mere symptoms alone are enough to get one diagnosed as “HIV positive.” Is there some backup for these assertions? Any refutation? Seems like something I could accept given that in the “enlightened” world of Western Medicine, Joyce Ann Hafford was placed into a clinical trial she had no business being in…

As for the “five assertions you must accept to be considered reasonable”: I’m with you on #2-4 (and thus justify my username for many by disputing #1), but #5 is phrased badly…”HIV/AIDS is not the result of a conspiracy” would be sufficient: until we get to the real root of HIV/AIDS, we don’t know what in the world caused it, caused it to spread, etc. a Freakanomics text from 50 years from now might have the answer, but for now we’re too close to rule out human folly/neglect/etc. as a contributing “man-made” component of the disease(s).
posted by I, Credulous at 1:22 PM on May 11, 2006

...and then he noticed that this thread is deadsville...

posted by I, Credulous at 10:29 AM on May 12, 2006

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