HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Nobel Prizes Illustrate How Research is Done and Evaluated

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/10/21

In the previous post [“Nobel Prizes Illustrate that Doctors are Not Scientists”, 19 October 2008], I emphasized contrasts between the Nobel Prize in Medicine and those in Chemistry or Physics. But the Prizes in Medicine and those in Chemistry and Physics also have much in common:
— Laureates almost never receive a second such award.
— Some of the awards came only after the lauded breakthrough had been desperately resisted or ignored by the mainstream.
— Some proportion of honored recipients of the Prize were later disparaged for some of their other ideas.

Those empirical facts illustrate important but little understood facets of scientific activity.

That Nobel laureates typically don’t later do further Nobel-worthy work demonstrates the importance of serendipity in scientific discovery. If there existed a “scientific method”, then those who had best mastered the method would always do the best work and would be awarded a succession of prizes; but there is no such method — or at least science is almost never done that way (see Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method).  Science is a communal activity. One of its greatest strengths is the communal activity of peer review — and when peer review fails (typically as a result of bias or incompetence), science becomes unreliable. Furthermore, the Zeitgeist — the contemporary communal context of knowledge and ideas — that any given generation of scientists experiences is an important determinant of when a particular advance will be made; hence the many instances of “simultaneous independent discovery” that can produce controversies about priority, about “Who did it first?”. That’s why awards singling out individuals make for a distorted view of science and of the characteristics of the individuals who are midwives to the great discoveries.

One of the least widely appreciated facts about science is that counter-mainstream evidence or theories are almost always fiercely resisted, even when those claims later become not only accepted but so highly valued as to bring Nobel awards (see Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 [1961] 596-602). There’s no difference in that respect between fields. A few examples in Physiology and Medicine include:
— Marshall and Warren (2005, bacteria as causes of ulcers).
— Paul Lauterbur (2003, magnetic resonance imaging) had his first paper about that rejected by Nature. He later remarked that “You could write the entire history of science in the last 50 years in terms of papers rejected by Science or Nature” (cited at p. 161 in The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory).
— Stanley Prusiner (1997, prions as infectious agents); for many years he was sneered at for believing that proteins could behave like that.
— Barbara McClintock (1983, “jumping genes”).
— Peter Mitchell (1978); the prize was awarded in Chemistry, but really for physiological work, “for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemi-osmotic theory”, a view that had been pooh-poohed for years before he was vindicated.
— Einstein’s Prize Citation (1921) emphasized his work on the photoelectric effect and Brownian motion with only a very cautious mention of relativity as being controversial — still, a considerable advance over the earlier widespread and intense opposition to relativity theory.
— Planck’s quantum theory (1918 Prize) had been so thoroughly ignored or disbelieved for so long that Planck later enunciated what has become known within Science Studies as “Planck’s Principle”: new ideas don’t win by convincing the opposition, they win only as the opponents die off.

In Chemistry and Physics, the resistance to challenges to mainstream views has sometimes taken the form of asserting that something is totally impossible, so that very few people even try it, for example, superconductivity not only at temperatures appreciably higher than “absolute zero” but in ceramic materials rather than metallic substances (Physics Prize, 1987, Georg Bednorz and Alexander Müller); or the maser and laser (Physics Prize, 1964, Charles Townes) — in his autobiography, Townes relates how eminent elder statesmen in physics urged him to drop work along these lines because such devices were impossible and his efforts would bring the Department into ill repute.

Perhaps equally little known is the fact that Nobel laureates not infrequently are or later become proponents of claims that the mainstream promptly dismisses — sometimes justifiably, sometimes not (see especially Chapter 9 in Fatal Attractions: The Troubles with Science). Frequently these offbeat claims are in quite other fields than the Laureate’s award:
— C. G. Barkla, Prize in 1917 for work on X-rays, later “discovered” the non-existent “J-phenomenon” concerning X-rays.
— William Shockley, Physics Prize 1956 for work on transistors, became infamous for his notions about race, genetics, and eugenics, a throwback to
— Philipp Lenard , Physics Prize 1905, who enthusiastically supported Nazism by publishing Deutsche Physik, a textbook of revisionist physics that excluded all work by Jewish scientists (including Einstein).
—  Luis Alvarez (Physics, 1968) became an intemperate proponent of the asteroid-impact theory of dinosaur extinction, which most evolutionary biologists find overly simplistic or even quite wrong.
—  Hannes Alfvén received a Physics Prize in 1970 “for fundamental work and discoveries in magnetohydrodynamics with fruitful applications in different parts of plasma physics”, yet his application of those very ideas to cosmology has remained ignored, effectively dismissed by the mainstream.
— Brian Josephson, Physics 1973, believes that psychic phenomena are worthy of study, something dismissed out-of-hand as rank pseudo-science by science groupies.
—  Kary Mullis (Chemistry 1993) is widely disparaged because he recognizes that the Emperor of HIV/AIDS theory has no clothes.
— Linus Pauling (Chemistry 1954) was derided for his insistence on the benefits of “orthomolecular” medicine, in particular the desirability of vitamin supplements (especially vitamin C) considerably higher than the official “recommended daily amounts”; he has not even yet been properly credited for stimulating the general understanding of the benefits of anti-oxidants, of which vitamin C is one.

That Nobel laureates rarely win a second such award, and that on all sorts of topics they may harbor opinions that most people find obnoxious or silly, underscores the role of serendipity in scientific discovery. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right preparation (Paula E. Stephan & Sharon G. Levin, Striking the Mother Lode in Science: the importance of age, place, and time, Oxford University Press, 1992); “with very few exceptions, it is not the men that make science; it is science that makes the men” (Erwin Chargaff, “A quick climb up Mount Olympus”, Science 159 [29 March 1968] 1448-9). As the saying goes, Nobel laureates are often people who have learned more and more about less and less, at times rivaling idiots savant in their extraordinary abilities narrowly restricted to one subject. (Some laureates, of course, are sensible even outside their specialty, and some remain apparently unspoiled by their celebrity status.)

Less obvious aspects of Nobel awards lend insight into differences among the sciences, for example, some of the differing mindsets of chemists and physicists is illuminated by the fact that  “Nobel Prizes in physics have been awarded about twice as often for experimental novelties as for theoretical ones, but in chemistry, experimentalists have been so honored five or six times as often as have theorists” (Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method p. 26).

It has highly unfortunate consequences that the public image of science is so largely colored by misguided beliefs about a “scientific method” that supposedly delivers reliable results no matter who the researchers happen to be, and the related belief that a few people so master “the method” as to be all-purpose wise men, and the implicit view that researchers are less subject to human fallibilities and failings than are businessmen and politicians. The most remarkable thing about science is that it has managed so often to become reliable despite being carried on by fallible individuals; for an analogy with the military, see pp. 303-6 in my book,  Beyond Velikovsky.

7 Responses to “Nobel Prizes Illustrate How Research is Done and Evaluated”

  1. heja said


    This is very interesting — thanks! The evidence you have shows clearly that the significance of these awards (and probably most other ones) is similar to that of a fashion show. It is to the extent that even the first fiercely resisted and then rewarded findings have an uncertain relationship with the ‘truth’.

    Take your example of Marshall and Warren (2005, bacteria as causes of ulcers). First resisted and pooh-poohed and then rewarded but the actual evidence is as good as for the HPV: most ulcer sufferers will have this type of bacterium but only few of those that carry the bacteria have the ulcers!

    Of course the big difference is that unlike HPV the helicobacter pylori can at least be seen and isolated and even subjected to Koch’s postulates (even if they are not fulfilled). But causation is not proven (possible that the bacterium is an effect, not the cause), nor do clinical attempts to eradicate the bacteria always work for getting rid of ulcers!


  2. Martin said

    While this comment is not quite on the subject, I saw this article in Science Times on 21st about a professor of epidemiology named Nathan Wolfe. He’s a good example, like the Nobel people, of ignoring the elephant in the room. I would gather that part of epidemiological expertise is a working knowledge of statistics and a pretty good ability to see patterns in data. Of course if the data are suspect (who would ever think that?) as in the case of AIDS, the statistics run on that data are suspect as well. I guess this is where “science” is at now.

  3. Henry Bauer said


    I think you’re referring to this:

  4. Martin said

    Hi Dr. Bauer, Yes, that’s the one. What Heja said makes a lot of sense. Another parallel is one of the most prestigious piano competitions, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Winners of this competition have rarely made the big time. The Van Cliburn has been called a beauty contest — my opinion is that the winner is the pianist who has offended the judges the least.

    Luc Montagnier, open letter to the Nobel Foundation

    October 29, 2008. Jesús García Blanca.

    BACKGROUND: On October 6 a press release of the Nobel Foundation reported that half of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Dr. Luc Montagnier for “the discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.” Since neither of them has so far gathered sufficient strength to write a letter rejecting the award, I felt an obligation to do so myself in their place. Ironies aside, it is important to know that initiatives are being made at the international level to prevent this Prize being handed over and to open a final debate on the HIV/AIDS issue to clarify the truth after 27 years of deception and manipulation (1).

    October 6, 2008.

    Dear Gentlemen:

    We have just learned that this institution has decided to grant half of the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2008 to Drs. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and me “for the discovery of human immunodeficiency virus” (2).

    First and foremost, we want to pass on our thanks for that honor and tell you that we understand this award as an attempt by the Foundation to help combat one of the worst nightmares of our time: AIDS. However, on behalf of the Dr. Barre-Sinoussi and myself I must inform you that we will not accept the prize for the following reasons.

    In 1983, the team that I led at the Pasteur Institute actually conducted the experiments to which you refer in your press release (3) in which we detected certain particles and reverse-transcriptase activity.

    Driven by our enthusiasm, for the sake of making a contribution of hope to so many sick people and — I must confess now — our biases as professional virologists, perhaps we were overly precipitate in claiming those two signs as activity of a retrovirus.

    We did not take into account that since 1972 it was known that reverse transcriptase occurs in certain normal cell processes (4), for example if they are under stress, and these were precisely the conditions that we had created in our laboratory (5).

    As for the particles, they were likely to have been actually “vesicles.” There is enough scientific literature that documents the presence of these particles in cellular processes associated with stress. The work of Bess et al. and Gluschankof et al. published in 1997 confirmed this: trying to purify HIV, the two teams obtained not retrovirus but human cell vesicles (6).

    Let me point out in our disclaimer that we closed our article published in Science in May 1983 by saying: “The role of this virus in the etiology of AIDS remains to be determined” (7). As far as we know, that challenge is still pending. I myself have been exploring since 1992 (8) the possibility that oxidative stress or other factors could influence the development of the disease (9).

    In fact, both Robert Gallo and I conducted between 1985 and 1991 a series of experiments which showed that HIV by itself does not destroy T4 cells; that HIV plus oxidizing agents destroys T4; and that oxidizing agents without HIV also destroy T4 cells. However, for one reason or another, we did not systematize these findings nor obtain definitive conclusions (10).

    It is very possible that the unpleasant affair of Dr. Gallo and itscomplex implications, along with the high-level political and economic pressures raised, were crucial in maintaining belief in a viral cause beyond what is scientifically justifiable.

    However, in 1997, in an interview (11) I gave to the French journalist Djamel Tahi at the Pasteur Institute, I explained that “the analysis of proteins of the virus requires mass production and purification.” And I recognized that we had not purified. At the insistence of the journalist to clarify our work in 1983, I told him: “I repeat, we did not purify.” And I explained that we had not published electron micrographs of HIV because “even after an Herculean effort” we had not been able to see particles with the “morphology of retroviruses.”

    So as a matter of the most basic scientific ethics, we cannot therefore accept the honor that you offer us. However, in order to maintain the purpose that led you take such a decision, namely to contribute to the fight against a terrible health problem, we would suggest that you give the Prize to all those scientists, doctors, lawyers, journalists and activists in general who have posed critical questions and have offered alternative solutions (12).

    Accept a cordial greeting.

    L.M. M.D.

    1. For more information or contributions, see:
    4. Among other studies: Lauermann, V. DNA repair by recycling reverse transcripts. Nature, vol. 386, 6 march 1997. See also the references cited in Article 2-4 of the next note.
    5. For a detailed and rigorous analysis of what made the team in 1983 Montagnier and other equipment which later said they had grown isolated or HIV, see:
    6. GLUSCHANKOF, P. Mondor, I., GELDERBLOM, HR, SATTENTAU, QJ Cell membrane vesicles are a major Contaminant of gradient-enriched human immunodeficiency virus type-1 preparations. Virology. 1997; 230:125-133. Bess, JW, GORELICK, RJ, Bosch, WJ, HENDERSON, LE et al. Microvesicles are a source of CONTACT cellular proteins found in purified HIV-1 preparations. Virology. 1997; 230:134-144.
    7. BARRÉ-SINOUSSI, F., Cherm, J.C., et al. Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficency syndrome (AIDS). Science, 1983; 220:868-71.
    8. “By chance,” Montagnier in 1991 received a communication from Dra. Eleni Papadopulos which included the work she and subsequently the Group of Perth ( who heads came running in various scientific journals refuting the theory and viral-raising since 1988 – the oxidative stress as a cause of health problems involved AIDS on the label (along many others) and as a rational explanation for what happened in the experiments of Montagnier, Gallo and others. Montagnier promised to respond but never did (
    9. “I think now we should focus on the cofactors like we have done in HIV.” Intervention by Luc Montagnier at the Eighth International Conference on AIDS, Amsterdam, in July 1992. Posted on Rethinking AIDS case in the Journal of Holistic Medicine, num. 33-34, Madrid, AMC, 1993. “[Cause] of opportunistic diseases and cancers […] is due mainly to the decrease of T4 cells [and this fall a] potent oxidative stress [which] exists even in non-infected individuals because of malnutrition.” Intervention by Luc Montagnier at the European Parliament, Dec 8 2004, collected in PIETTEUR, M. (editor). AIDS in Africa, Belgium: Collection Resurgence, 2004, p. 179.
    10. Whoever it has systematized these findings and has drawn to definitive is the team of Dra. Papadopulos: are oxidizing agents that cause the fall of T4. View: Papadopulos-ELEOPULOS, E. TURNER, VF, PAPADIMITRIOU, JM, Page, BAP, CAUSES, D. Montagnier, T4 cells (acquired immune defficiency) and our Oxidative theory of “HIV / AIDS” (
    11 Continuum, vol. 5, No.. 2, Winter, pp 1997-98. 30-34 (
    12. See:,,,, and, among others.

  6. Open letter to the 2008 Nobel Prize Comité members;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

    Jesús García Blanca
    Independent researcher

    November 10, 2008

    Dear ladies and gentlemen:

    Because otherwise it would be insulting to your intelligence and underestimate your knowledge and skills information, I assume you are well aware of the scientific evidence that shows that papers published by Dr. Montagnier team does not describe the isolation of a virus.

    This means, of course, that you have awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize to Dra. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Dr. Luc Montagnier “by the discovery of Human Immunodeficiency Virus” knowing that such discovery has not taken place.

    I will not speculate on the specific reasons which led you to take such a decision, although my experience of many years fighting against the HIV/AIDS mounting has led me to conclude that this is a problem of Power, since the scientific problem is sufficiently clarified after the exhaustive work of Dra. Eleni Papadopulos team and, in regard to the health problems classified under the “AIDS” label, there are numerous alternative interpretations and proposals for treatments that have benefited a few people and could help many more once the appropriate political decisions were taken.

    Under these circumstances, what could I ask you? I am thinking on two things, which quite possibly some of you has been meditated, but I am going to explain here given the open nature of this letter:

    We could call the first the individual ethical argument: it is possible that not all of you want to deal with the consequences of the collective decision of the committee. If any of you were in that situation, I propose to publicly dissociate himself from the award of the prize as a matter of honesty.

    We could call the second the pragmatic collective argument: weigh what you have obtained in exchange for granting the prize and compare it with discredit that will suffer the Nobel Foundation reputation if the truth eventually ends imposing.

    While awaiting your responses and actions, received a cordial greeting.

  7. Sadun Kal said

    I read Jesús García Blanca’s comments just now, after finding this on the ARAS website:

    Click to access 20081115-NobelPrizeAnalysis-Garcia.pdf

    I think that they’re all great texts.

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