Open Letter to my Representatives in Congress
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/03/27
With all due respect: Why we are spending so much on HIV/AIDS? Overall and also compared to other diseases? In 2008, “U.S. federal funding to fight HIV totaled $23.3 billion”.
By the end of 2007, not much over 1 million Americans had supposedly been infected by HIV; so in just one year, 2008, we spent $23,000 for every American who had ever been infected. Or look at it this way: There were 37,000 new cases in 2007: in 2008 we were spending $630,000 per each new infection in the previous year.
We — taxpayers, via the federal government — pay for treatment: HIV/AIDS is the only disease for which objections to “socialized medicine” don’t apparently apply. We pay for “education” and “prevention” activities. We provide billions of dollars in foreign aid specifically targeted to HIV/AIDS.
Compare just the research funding for HIV/AIDS with that for other diseases:
Why are we spending nearly 100 times as much on HIV/AIDS research, per patient and per death, than on research into heart disease? $2800 compared to $29 per patient, $207,000 compared to $2700 per death?
Or compared to diabetes, 15 times as much per patient and 70 times as much per death?
Would it be churlish to suggest that you enquire into what we have received and are receiving in return for these enormous expenditures?
I hope you won’t think it out of order for me to suggest that you exercise the same skepticism toward what you hear from medical and scientific experts as you are wont to exercise when questioning corporate executives and the experts that they bring with them.
You are familiar with the phenomenon that distinguished economists will disagree with one another over what specific facts mean and what the best policy might be. You are also aware that the opinions of expert economists are sometimes influenced by their political views and even by their personal vested interests.
Admittedly, economics is scarcely a hard science; but experts disagree with one another in the hard sciences, too. One of the best-kept secrets in science is that the major breakthroughs that we celebrate in retrospect were, at the time they were proposed, fiercely resisted by the overwhelming consensus of leading contemporary experts — the overwhelming consensus of leading contemporary experts has been wrong on notable occasions, on really significant issues. It wasn’t only Galileo who experienced that, it was also Charles Darwin. And Albert Einstein. And Gregor Mendel, who first discovered the laws of heredity. And Alfred Wegener, whose concept of continental drift has now become a universally accepted belief. Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory, went so far as to say that new ideas don’t triumph by convincing the opponents, the new ideas win out only as those opponents die off. That’s no different nowadays than it was in the past, in fact in some respects it may be worse now, because of the heavy and pervasive intrusion of commercial interests into scientific research and into federal agencies concerned with science and medicine.
Another aspect of this resistance to new ideas, this inertia of the status quo, is that accepted theories are clung to long after the evidence has shown them to be invalid, because no such theory is abandoned until a comprehensive better one has been developed. Unfortunately, the hegemony of the old hinders development of the new. At any rate, Popper’s notion that scientific theories can be falsified by contradictory evidence isn’t borne out in practice.
You are surely familiar with the oft-quoted warning by President Eisenhower about the influence on public policy of the military-industrial complex. What has been realized only by a few so far, however, is the power exerted nowadays by the medical-pharmaceutical-research-industry-government complex. A number of books in the last few years, by editors of leading medical journals and prominent medical scientists and social scientists in academe, have described in some detail how widely conflicts of interest are spread throughout medical science, in academe and in federal agencies. An appreciably large part of public policy relating to medical matters is tainted by influence exerted by pharmaceutical companies through direct and indirect payments to practicing physicians and to academic and government researchers. If you want to look at only one book about all this, perhaps it might be “Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion”, by Daniel S. Greenberg, whose name you may recall from his decades of informed and instructive commentary on the interaction of Science with Washington DC. If you doubt that dedicated academic scientists could be influenced by filthy lucre, Greenberg has a more recent work about that, “Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism”.
But let me not digress too far from the matter of HIV/AIDS. Please look into the question of what we have received in return for massive investment in HIV/AIDS research. Quite specifically:
How reliably do positive HIV tests diagnose a life-threatening active infection?
What do we know about how HIV produces immunedeficiency?
No matter what you hear from mainstream experts, the documented facts are that HIV tests have never been shown to detect active infection, and the tests were not approved for that purpose. As to the mechanism of HIV’s action, there are half-a-dozen or more theories, none of which has sufficient evidential support to have gained universal acceptance.
You may not feel qualified to question the experts on technicalities. Please bear in mind the wisdom expressed many decades ago by a Nobel Laureate in Physics, Lord Rutherford (when such locutions didn’t transgress public sensitivities or political correctness): “If you can’t explain your physics to a barmaid it is probably not very good physics”.
What you and your colleagues can certainly do is to ask the experts to cite the publications in which it is proved that HIV tests detect active infection; those that showed definitively how HIV destroys the immune system; and, indeed, those that proved that HIV cause AIDS.
My prediction is that you will be met at first with answers about “overwhelming evidence”, “25 years of research”, “no single paper but a cumulation of evidence”, “universal agreement”, and the like. It will take some persistence before you are given specific references — and I can’t guarantee that you ever will get them. But if you do, please have those publications examined by some of the experts who hold the minority view that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, competent experts whose opinions have been shoved aside for decades, informally barred from the leading professional journals. Let these dissenting experts explain to you exactly how those publications do NOT prove what the mainstream experts suggest that they do. You will then have your own ideas how to proceed further and whom to believe. You don’t need to understand technicalities to judge whether people you question are being responsive or evasive. Sound inferences can be drawn when people are persistently unable or unwilling to give direct answers to straightforward questions. Keep this lesson of history always in mind: the overwhelming consensus of leading contemporary experts has been wrong on notable occasions, on really significant issues. No matter how incredible it may seem, HIV/AIDS is one of those issues.
Is it insufferably and unwarrantedly arrogant of me to make these suggestions and assertions?
My own view has been formed not through any deep understanding of molecular biology, but by noting the consequences of the contemporary conventional wisdom about “HIV/AIDS”. For example, in every tested group — blood donors, pregnant women, military cohorts, drug abusers, gay men, college students, in every social sector and in every country and culture — the highest rate of testing positive is among people of African ancestry, and the lowest rate is among people of Asian ancestry. Caucasians are 50% more likely than Asians to test positive. Blacks are more than 10 times as likely as Asians to test positive. To me it’s obvious that those racial disparities cannot be a result of different tendencies to practice risky sex, because these disparities cut across all social and cultural sectors.
There are other incongruities as well:
— Again on racial disparities, though blacks are far more likely to test “HIV-positive” and to die from “HIV disease”, they become infected at later average ages than others and survive to greater average ages than others — in other words, they are MORE susceptible to “HIV disease”, and at the same time LESS debilitated by it.
— Though breast-feeding by “HIV-positive” mothers is supposed to risk infecting babies, babies are less infected, the more they are breast- rather than formula-fed!
— More on the matter of age: The highest probability of “contracting” HIV is between the ages of 35 and 45, quite different from the age of greatest risk for sexually transmitted diseases, where adolescents and people in their early twenties are at greatest risk. Strangely enough, the highest mortality among “HIV-positive” people is also in that age range of 35-45, and it has been since records were first kept in the early 1980s.
— Among “people with AIDS”, the death rate does not increase sharply with age, as it does with every other illness and with all-cause mortality.
But perhaps I’m going too far too soon, so let me close with my initial question and pleas:
Why are we spending so disproportionately on HIV/AIDS? Where is the proof that HIV tests detect active infection? How does HIV infection destroy the immune system?