April 23 talk: How I became an HIV Skeptic
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/05/01
I’m exceedingly grateful to Brian Carter for arranging the meeting of Alive & Well in Los Angeles on 23 April. I’m also grateful to Brian for meeting me at the airport at very short notice after USAir had taken 2 days to get me from Virginia to LA.
I’ve never had a more attentive and rewarding audience. I benefited also from several people sharing what I had known only in the abstract, what an excruciating dilemma it is to feel perfectly healthy and yet to be told to start taking drugs that, you’ve observed in others, have devastating “side” effects.
I hope to be able eventually to post some video of the discussions we had at the meeting, in the meantime here’s a rough transcript of my introductory remarks.
I came to deny that HIV causes AIDS in a different way, for different reasons, than perhaps anyone else. Most of you — most people in support groups like this one — probably become involved because of some personal experience — at first- or second-hand — of the confusion and the harm that’s done by the dogma that being “HIV-positive” means being infected by a deadly disease.
Some people became dissidents — AIDS Rethinkers, HIV Skeptics, what some of the extremists call “AIDS denialists” — because they work in virology or immunology or epidemiology or something like that, and they saw that the technical data don’t fit with HIV/AIDS dogma.
But I got into Rethinking because I’d long been interested in trying to understand how science works, especially how unorthodox views, minority views, contribute to the progress of science. That background gave me this tremendous advantage: I already knew, before I’d read anything about HIV or AIDS, that a long-standing scientific theory can be quite wrong, even when “everybody” accepts it. I knew that not only in general, in principle, but because I’d come across all sorts of examples, not just the story of Galileo that everyone has heard of but many more, right down to recent years when a Nobel Prize was given for the discovery that most ulcers are caused by bacteria, a discovery that the mainstream had pooh-poohed for a couple of decades. Or, perhaps most relevant to HIV/AIDS, I knew that a Nobel Prize had been given in the 1960s for the discovery of the virus — the very first lentivirus, with a long latent period — that caused mad cow disease and similar brain diseases; and I knew that 30 years later a Nobel Prize had been given for showing that these brain diseases are NOT caused by a virus at all, but by misshapen proteins called prions — an idea that had been laughed at and pooh-poohed by the mainstream consensus for a couple of decades.
For most people without this background knowledge of the history of science, very much including medical science, I think it’s just very difficult to believe that a mainstream consensus — what “everyone” believes — could be so wrong for so long as it has been about HIV/AIDS. I think that’s perhaps the greatest barrier to having AIDS Rethinking taken seriously.
I originally studied chemistry, and I did research for many years before I began to realize that science isn’t as straightforward and trustworthy as the simple stories about “scientific method” make it out to be. In particular, I’d been interested in a film that was supposed to be of a Loch Ness monster, and I looked in the scientific literature to find out what to think about the film, and I couldn’t find anything. Why couldn’t science enlighten me about something that so many people are interested in?
So I wanted to understand how science ticks, how it chooses what to look into, so I switched from doing chemistry to studying and later teaching and writing about what’s nowadays called science studies or science and technology studies, a sort of mixture of history of science, and sociology and philosophy of science, really everything about how science works and how it interacts with other academic fields and with society as a whole.
My interest in unusual cases, anomalies, brought me in touch with people who actually study things like cold nuclear fusion, acupuncture, psychic phenomena, UFOs, and so on. Around 1980, we set up the Society for Scientific Exploration as a forum for critical, intellectually rigorous discussion of topics like that, things that mainstream science ignores. Early on I became Book Review Editor of the Society’s Journal of Scientific Exploration, and so I was always on the lookout for new cases of ignored science. That’s how I read, in the mid-1990s, the book written by Bryan Ellison with initial cooperation of Peter Duesberg, which claimed HIV isn’t the cause of AIDS. I thought it made a very plausible case, but I didn’t understand the biology well enough to feel qualified to make up my mind about it.
So I continued to look for more books about it, and about 5 years ago read Harvey Bialy’s scientific biography of Duesberg. In one place it said something I knew couldn’t be true, that teenage men and women from all across the United States had tested HIV-positive about equally in the mid- 1980s. That was impossible. HIV was supposed to have gotten into the US some time in the 1970s, was supposed to spread mainly through sex, and years later supposedly produced noticeable numbers of AIDS cases among gay men in a few big cities. No way could a sexually transmitted disease have already been spread evenly among teenage girls and boys by 1985, if it entered the US in relatively isolated communities of gay men in the 1970s, and if AIDS had so far been seen only there.
After a while I decided to check the reference in case Bialy had misquoted in some way. He hadn’t. So I thought there’d be other, later, scientific articles that would show this claim to be wrong. Instead, I became utterly astonished, unbelieving, at what I found. Every new article I looked at reported the same relation between testing HIV-positive and age, race, sex, and geography (urban versus rural).
For months my mind was spinning, because the published data about HIV tests clearly prove that the tests don’t identify an infection. Why hadn’t anyone noticed this before? Or, rather, why hadn’t they followed up on some of the published statements in several early articles, that the data were not what the theory would have predicted?
I spent quite a bit of time in a sort of mental yo-yo: the data seemed unarguable — but if they are, others would have seen it, so I must be wrong somewhere; I just couldn’t see where. And then I was surprised over and over again when I tried to interest people in looking at my data collection to tell me where I was wrong: No one wanted to.
And then I began to realize that I was now experiencing for myself the sort of thing that I’d been studying for 20 or 30 years as an abstract academic exercise, what happens to people who see things that the mainstream consensus refuses to see.
I wrote to the Army HIV Research group, who had published a lot of the test data; and I asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Army never replied. The CDC told me I had the data right — but they could be explained in terms of an infection.
That floored me, and it still does. Many groups have been tested: military applicants and active military and Reserve personnel; pregnant women; newborns and their mothers; blood donors; members of the Job Corps; gay men; drug abusers. Except of course for the babies, in all of them the age for maximum rate of positive tests is around 35 to 45, nothing like what you find with sexually transmitted diseases in general. But perhaps the most astonishing thing of all is that black people — people of African ancestry — always test positive at far higher rates than others do, and Asians at much lower rates than others. Those differences are seen in every social group, in every country. If you believe HIV/AIDS theory, then you have to accept the racist notion that behavior, sexual behavior in particular, is genetically determined to such a degree that it overrides all social and cultural conditioning. I find that unbelievable.
Anyway, since no one wanted to listen, I decided to write a book, about what the tests show and about how the scientific mainstream and the big public media censor any questioning of HIV/AIDS dogma. Now if you’ve ever tried to get a book manuscript looked at, you’ll know what a hassle it is. Most every publisher will look only at manuscripts referred by a literary agent. If you’ve ever tried to get a literary agent — as I have a number of times over the years — you know it’s maybe even harder than finding a publisher. I searched the Internet and found two publishers who accept manuscripts direct from would-be authors. So I sent my manuscript off to both of them, with the required self-addressed stamped envelopes for reply. Within a week, I already had one of them back, and I said to myself a few choice bleepable words about getting rejected without even a careful reading. I didn’t even open the letter until the next day. It said, “We’re very interested … “.
Extraordinary luck. Ginny Tobiassen, the editor at McFarland publishers who got my MS to look at, had just read Celia Farber’s article in Harper’s magazine, about how a clinical trial of antiretroviral drugs killed a pregnant woman. The drug was known to be toxic, but they wanted to know how large a dose could be safely given.
However, Ginny didn’t like the second part of my book, a long complaint about censorship. She asked, did I have other material I could use; and by the way, the manuscript was too short, McFarland publishes chiefly reference works for libraries and need at least 75,000 words.
Well, I’d tried to keep my original MS short, because most trade publishers want to produce and sell cheap. But now I could write what I really wanted to: How the HIV/AIDS story isn’t unique, there are many others like it in the history of science and medicine. Part II of my book says a bit about how science really gets done, and gives examples of how medical science has gone wrong in the past including the very recent past. (You might have seen last Sunday on “60 Minutes” an acknowledgment that “cold fusion” has been acknowledged to be real, after 20 years of being called pseudo-science.) Part III of the book outlines how things went wrong specifically with HIV/AIDS, from the start, when it was said that the first AIDS cases were “young, previously healthy, gay men”. They weren’t. Their average age was in the mid-to-late 30s; I suppose that’s pretty young, but it isn’t what we think of when we’re told that something affects “young men”. And as John Lauritsen had pointed out from the very beginning, what was significant about them was not that they were gay but that they did a lot of drugs. Lauritsen claimed he’d never met a gay AIDS patient who didn’t, at least eventually and in private, admit to some sort of drug use. As to “previously healthy”, to the contrary, these early victims had histories of all sorts of infections and many antibiotic treatments as well as some exposure to “recreational” drugs.
A number of people have told me they knew some of those who died of AIDS in the early days and that they were not drug addicts. After AZT was introduced, people were killed by that very effectively, even though dosages were gradually reduced over the years. For the unhealthy lifestyle that a small proportion of gay men practiced in the 1970s, read Larry Kramer’s novel, “Faggots”; watch the movie “Between Ocean and Sky”; and recall that Dr. Josef Sonnabend had warned his fellow gay men in New York in the 1970s that they would ruin their health if they didn’t stop getting infections and using antibiotics.
Back to how I got into this, and how the book was published. It might never have been, but for Ginny Tobiassen at McFarland who not only saw merit in my very inferior first attempt but then also helped me enormously at every step of writing and re-writing what became the final version.
This entry was posted on 2009/05/01 at 4:32 pm and is filed under antiretroviral drugs, HIV risk groups, HIV skepticism. Tagged: 23 April 2009, Alive & Well. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.