The publication of my HIV/AIDS book brought e-mails, phone calls, and even old-fashioned letters from a variety of individuals. A few of them smelled somehow wrong, for example, on 10th August 2007:
“FROM: “Joseph Newton” <email@example.com>
I have been reading about AIDS online and your name keeps coming up. You seem to have views on alernative theories of AIDS. I am wondering if you could point me to some of your writings on AIDS. I am eager to learn more.
Thank you for your time.
If this guy has been reading about AIDS online, and my name kept popping up there, why didn’t he just go to the links to my writings? If where he saw my name didn’t have links, anyone going on-line for information would nowadays immediately Google and find those links; on-line searching would be easy, and much quicker than e-mailing a stranger whose receptivity is not known.
Funny coincidence, too, that he should have the family name of one of the world’s most famous scientists.
And I don’t like the carelessness, leaving that typo, “alternative”. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but when I first approach someone from whom I’m asking a favor, I try to put my best foot forward and make an impression of being careful as well as literate.
But I gave “JCN” the benefit of doubt and responded substantively — with items that he would have known about if he really had seen my name popping up:
“The main thing I contribute that is new is an analysis of just about all the published HIV-test results for the USA. It shows that HIV is not a spreading infection and isn’t correlated with AIDS incidence. Therefore what HIV tests detect cannot be the cause of AIDS.
The most comprehensive discussion is in my book ‘The Origins, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory’ (McFarland 2007), more info at http://www.failingsofhivaidstheory.homestead.com
The book also discusses how it is possible for medical science to go so wrong, and how it went wrong in this instance
I published the analysis of HIV-test data earlier in 3 articles, and abstracts and pdf’s of those are at http://hivnotaids.homestead.com
I appreciate your interest and welcome comments on what I’ve written.
The response was immediate:
This is all very helpful.
I have ordered your book.
I appreciate your being open to my asking more questions as I try to understand this all. I am an advanced graduate student in public health interested in the whole AIDS issue.
What’s going on here?
“an advanced graduate student”?!?
Who ever described himself like that?
The graduate students I’ve known identify themselves as master’s students or as doctoral students. What on earth is an “advanced” graduate student?!
And that makes the earlier typo even more surprising, because one of the few things for which I’ve envied modern-day students is their typing facility. Then too, “try to understand this all” doesn’t seem like an English-speaking individual.
Still, as a life-long teacher at the college level, my natural inclination is to overlook such infelicities and to strive to educate. But I couldn’t shake the suspicion that this individual was not who he claimed to be, and didn’t want me to know too much about him or her. What was almost certain, though, was that this was NOT a graduate student; apparently someone fishing for information of some sort — but what? All my writings about HIV/AIDS are publicly available. What else could s/he want to know? And why not ask it directly?
A few weeks later, I heard again from “Joe Newton”:
“Hello Dr. Bauer.
I am reading your book and I am just glued to it!
I have also been in conversation with David Crowe. Very smart man.
I do have a question. The link between race and HIV seems complicated and I think I understand what you are saying in your book. But I am unsure how that link happens. Do you mean dark skinned people have some genetic basis that attracts HIV?
Thanks again for all of your help.
Humph! — “. . . and I am just glued to it!”
With exclamation mark and all, a puerilism I might expect from perhaps an excitable middle-schooler, certainly not any graduate student I’ve ever encountered. No American graduate student ever tried to flatter me like this, neither in person nor by e-mail; they were never so obsequious. The occasional Asian student has been what I’ve regarded as overly respectful toward me, but that was a cultural norm; and “Joe Newton” didn’t seem Asian. S/he just didn’t ring true.
Still, I replied substantively, patiently, not pointing out that if s/he had really read those chapters in my book, then these questions were superfluous. My response was immediately appreciated:
“Thank you again Dr. Bauer
If I have other questions, do you mind if I write again?
Also, are you planning any lectures or seminars on AIDS or are you doing a book signing? It would be great to hear you speak!
“It would be great to hear you speak!”
What sort of graduate students has this “Joe Newton” ever been in contact with? Evidently not any who have ever taken a good writing course and thereby learned to use those exclamation marks more sparingly.
More than somewhat peculiar, too, to be asking about book signings and talks without saying where in these vast United States s/he is located.
But again I replied noncommittally but substantively. Sooner or later, I thought, I’d find out more about who this enquirer really was.
Occasionally there were clues that s/he was really looking for rather precise information:
“Hello again Dr. Bauer
I have now finished reading your book and I am amazed by it!! You must be famous by now given that it clearly proves Deusberg has been right all along.
I am now reading Ms. Farber’s book. So rich in history.
I have seen that Dr. Gallo is very critical of her book. That is no surpise. But the 56 errors they published did concern me. Until I found the Rethinking response to Gallo. I see you worked on that. Can you tell me which of the points addressed you specifically may have contributed to? It would be nice for me to be able to tie things together as I continue my quest to learn the realities of AIDS.
Thank you again
Uh-oh—DOUBLE exclamation marks.
And “You must be famous by now”, an obsequiousness quite worthy of Dickens’ Uriah Heep.
Why does s/he care what points I might have contributed, if her/his interest is substantive in “learning the realities of AIDS”?
I was noncommittal but seemingly responsive again: I couldn’t remember those details; and I freely gave some unasked-for information and tried a little needling by referring to “the not-unfavorable review in the International Journal of STD and AIDS” of my book. S/he was suitably impressed:
“WOW! I did not know that a review was published in the International j of STD and AIDS…do you have a pdf of that?? II now see it abstracted on your website..but would love the whole thing… THANKS and I will stay in touch.
Well, there’s a link in the abstract on my website to the whole thing as a pdf. Is s/he trying to present the impression of sub-par intelligence? And does s/he really believe that graduate students make a practice of mis-typing? Is this an attempt to convey excitement too great to be managed, revealed through typos and ?!?!
And, grad students and experienced Internet users do use lots of abbreviations, but if one writes “j” instead of Journal, wouldn’t you expect to see just “IntJSTDAIDS”?
One thing is clear about “Joe Newton”: s/he is trying to create an impression of lack of sophistication, of a certain carelessness — maybe someone with whom one could drop one’s guard? Or is it just that whoever is creating this persona doesn’t really know much about graduate students?
Enough already. I’ll be citing further tidbits from these exchanges, and “Newton’s” equally inept exchanges with several others, in future posts; with me they went on for months. But let me now jump ahead to the time, almost a year ago now, when a computer-savvy colleague took an interest and traced the origin of “Joe Newton’s” e-mails to the University of Connecticut. But that meant nothing to me at the time. Now it does, of course, since S. C. Kalichman, one-time “New-York-located” reviewer on Amazon.com [Introducing Seth Kalichman — Kalichman’s Komical Kaper #1, 8 March 2009], has revealed himself as Seth C Kalichman of the University of Connecticut. Now one understands why “Joe Newton’s” e-mails originated there.
My correspondence with “Joe Newton” enriches my understanding at several places in Kalichman’s book. For example, other readers might find it incongruous that “So I started corresponding, conversing, and visiting the insiders of HIV/AIDS denialism” is followed almost immediately by “Not really knowing who I am, they took me under their wing to enlighten me about the truth about AIDS” (xiv) — how could he converse with people who didn’t know who he was?
By pretending to be someone else, of course, but Kalichman doesn’t share that crucial item with his readers. Again, when he writes, “My relationships with denialists created some complicated arrangements” (xiv), Kalichman doesn’t explain what complications were created, or why, for the benefit of those readers who don’t know about “Joe Newton” and his ilk. Or, what could he be referring to when he writes (10), “Actual experiences have reinforced denialists’ beliefs that the establishment is conspiring against them” — What actual experiences? And “I am sure that some of my own actions in researching this book will be touted as evidence that the AIDS orthodoxy is out to get them”? Which of his actions? Uninformed readers can only remain puzzled, but those who “knew” SCK as “JCN” or some other of his aliases might quite possibly draw the inference of an unfriendly hidden agenda from the fact that he tried to mask his identity when communicating with us.
The clumsiness of Kalichman’s attempt to masquerade as a graduate student is another anecdotal confirmation of what I’ve said often over the years, that good novelists have a much better understanding of human nature and human behavior than do so many professional psychologists. If a novelist — John Updike, say — rather than a professor of social (community/clinical) psychology had created the character, “Joseph Newton, graduate student”, I think he might have fooled me for a long time; certainly he wouldn’t have placed me on guard with the very first e-mail. Nor would Updike have chosen “Newton” as a name, he would have chosen something quite nondescript, not too common yet not too uncommon — “Johnston”, say. He would have avoided anything that would generate a pause for thought, even the coincidence of a name recalling one of science’s greats. Or, to the other extreme strategy, Updike might have generated a really intriguing name — Havercrombie, say — and would have had ready an elaborate genealogy together with ample information about lifestyle, including location. Anyway, I doubt that Updike would have chosen a graduate student’s persona, least of all one “in public health”, if he had wanted to draw me out about my views on HIV/AIDS: that could be done so much more plausibly and in so much more detail by posing as an interested lay person.
So I would advise Kalichman to stick with his academic last and to repress firmly any urges he might ever feel to try his hand as a novelist or playwright. And should he still feel the urge to hide behind a fake persona at some time, I would suggest avoiding all such whimsies as “Newton” or retaining his real middle initial. Coincidences do happen, of course, but they draw attention, and if you’re trying to pull wool over someone’s intellectual eyes, the last thing you want is to arouse attentiveness.
Kalichman would also do well to eschew any ambitions he might have to qualify as a private investigator. His techniques just aren’t up to it. Here’s a quite recent illustration:
On the 5th of February this year I received this e-mail:
“Subject: Lisa Eaton added you as a friend on Facebook
Lisa added you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know Lisa in order for you to be friends on Facebook.
To confirm this friend request, follow the link below:
The Facebook Team”
Never heard of her, but I checked at Facebook to see whether we had mutual friends who might have suggested that we get together.
Nope, no mutual friends.
So I had a look at Lisa Eaton’s profile:
So Kalichman ought not to seek a career as a novelist, nor as a private investigator. But if he remains a psychologist, perhaps he ought to take more care to abide by the “ETHICAL PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGISTS AND CODE OF CONDUCT”, drawn up and published by the American Psychological Association. It states, for example (emphases added):
“Principle C: Integrity
Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology. In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact….
8.07 Deception in Research
(a) Psychologists do not conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined that the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study’s significant prospective scientific, educational, or applied value and that effective nondeceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.
(b) Psychologists do not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.
(c) Psychologists explain any deception that is an integral feature of the design and conduct of an experiment to participants as early as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later than at the conclusion of the data collection, and permit participants to withdraw their data.”
Where a study would not be feasible without deception, the researcher is required to obtain approval for the research from the Human Subjects Committee or Institutional Review Board at his university or other place of employment. For example, the psychology profession’s Wiki states:
“Human subjects committees or Institutional Review Boards, which include researchers and lawyers that review and approve research at an institution must approve the use of deception to certify that it is both necessary and that a plan exists to debrief participants to remove and residual effects of the deception.”
One’s immediate reaction is that “Joe Newton” and his ilk violated rather clearly the accepted code of ethics of Kalichman’s professional association. Perhaps that explains Kalichman’s deployment of such euphemisms as “complicated arrangements” for his interactions with his research subjects.