HIV/AIDS: SCIENCE OR RELIGION?
By David Crowe
March 3, 2003
[This is the text of Crowe's talk to an Alive and Well (http://aliveandwell.org
) meeting in Los Angeles on February 19, 2003]
"When religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for
medicine, now when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake
medicine for magic" -Thomas Szasz
There appears to be little in common between the beliefs of medieval
Christianity and modern science. We learned in grade school how the open
exchange of ideas was suppressed back in the dark ages, and how learning
was discouraged in favor of dogmas handed down hierarchically from the
religious elite to the peasants through several rigid, filtering layers.
We also were taught that scientific thought is now advanced by
egalitarian, intellectual, public debates between people who rise to the
top of the scientific community through their intelligence, careful
experimentation, open exchange of ideas and information, use of the
scientific method and hard work. Everyone, we copied off the blackboard,
is now exposed to rapidly evolving scientific theories rather than rote
learning of the catechism of an immutable religious dogma.
How We Learn About
Is there a problem in how we learn about the superiority of modern
thought? Are we actually guilty of rote learning ourselves, accepting
what we were told because it makes us feel superior to those ignorant
peoples of centuries ago? Do we believe, without questioning, because
the conclusions of science both support our hopes for the future as well
as sending shivers up our spine as our darkest fears of the unknowable
are realized? Can we claim that we hold a scientific belief when we just
believe what we were told?
How do the majority of people, those outside the scientific elite of our
society, learn about new scientific theories and, perhaps more
importantly, decide whether to accept or reject them? Their beliefs
about HIV and AIDS, for example, cannot be based on a critical
examination of the evidence because so few have ever read even a single
scientific paper. Is there really much difference then, between a
medieval peasant being told that sinners will spend eternity burning in
Hell, and an ordinary citizen of this country being told that if he or
she has sex without a condom they risk contracting a fatal virus?
Ossification Of Beliefs
Early Christianity was an informal religion, with few written religious
texts of its own. Jesus, for example, often taught through parables,
folksy stories with a moral lesson, such as the Sower and the Seed or
The Prodigal Son, rather than through recitations of dusty texts. Yet,
within a few hundred years the Christian church had accreted layer of
dogmas, many with little grounding in the founding principles of the
Celibacy, for example, was not part of early church doctrine, and some
religious scholars believe that it was originally designed to stop the
practice of some priests, of handing down their position and church
property to their children. This leakage from the bottom of the
hierarchy threatened the whole hierarchical structure. Yet, from this
beginning, celibacy became a strongly defended Catholic dogma.
One of the dogmas of modern living is that HIV causes AIDS. It also did
not start this way. In the first papers by Robert Gallo (not a man known
for bashfulness) he only stated that HTLV-III (what he called HIV then)
"may be the primary cause of AIDS"[Gallo, 1984]. Stephen Epstein, in his
1996 book "Impure science" [Epstein, 1996] shows how this tentative
hypothesis became accepted fact through the emboldening of scientists
who referenced it. Only 3% of papers published in 1984 used Gallo's
papers to support an explicit, unqualified assertion that HIV caused
AIDS. By 1985, 25% of scientific papers. And, by 1986, 62%. Epstein
found this trend even when the Gallo papers were the only ones
referenced! Hypothesis became fact by repetition.
Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize for his invention of the Polymerase
Chain Reaction (PCR) once echoed Gallo by starting a paper with the
sentence "HIV is the probable cause of AIDS", and then went searching
for a reference to support it. He read the original Gallo and Montagnier
papers, found them lacking, so started asking his colleagues in his lab,
and at conferences. They either said he didn't need a reference for the
statement, got angry or, like Luc Montagnier, just looked uncomfortable
and walked away [Duesberg, 1996].
One would think that a debate over such a fundamental point of medical
science would be a big news item, but it only rarely surfaces in the
news, and then often as a `Man bites Dog' story. One of these times was
early in the days of Duesberg's dissidence. Another, more recently, was
when South Africa's President Mbeki started asking questions about the
cause of AIDS, and even established a Presidential Commission to
investigate. Coverage of dissenters is usually written from the
perspective that any sane person would disagree, just as a journalist
might provide coverage of a flat earth society conference. Journalists
focus on individuals, giving the impression that there are only a
handful of renegades.
Those who believe and defend HIV/AIDS dogmas play on a weakness of
journalists - there is no news if nothing new is happening. If top
scientists claim that it is beneath their dignity to debate to such a
preposterous notion and refuse to comment further there simply is no
story. Journalists who get nosy can be told that it is irresponsible to
dredge up hypotheses that were disproven years ago (which already makes
the journalist feel inadequate, because they won't know of these
debates, because they never happened) and that, besides, such `reckless'
reporting will only make people give up safe sex, which will cause
of life, all because of the reporter's selfish desire for a scoop.
Another popular assumption is that HIV rapidly results in AIDS, and AIDS
rapidly results in death. It is not clear exactly when and why this
belief arose, because AIDS is still a fairly young disease. Although
there is a high associated death rate, obviously not everyone diagnosed
with AIDS dies of the disease, some may die of traffic accidents,
suicide, adverse drug reactions and perhaps some will die of old age.
CDC statistics up to 1997 documented a 92% death rate [CDC, 1997] among
people diagnosed with AIDS before 1981. But, a footnote to this chart
indicates that "Reported deaths are not necessarily caused by
HIV-related diseases". CDC definitions of pediatric AIDS exclude
recovery by definition, once a child is diagnosed with `AIDS' they must
keep that label, even if they fully recover from the AIDS-defining
condition [MMWR, 1994].
Other research notes that the average time from HIV infection to AIDS is
about 10 years, both in North Americans with access to drugs [Munoz,
1997] and in malnourished Africans with no access to these `life saving'
compounds [Morgan, 2002].
A few researchers have studied so-called Long-Term Non-Progressors (LTNP),
people who are HIV-positive but who remain healthy for many years
without antiretroviral drugs.
This information does not support popular assumptions about HIV and
AIDS, so it is simply brushed aside.
HIV/AIDS `facts', as with so many medical `facts', often get created
through consensus meetings. With AIDS, this means that a group of
medical doctors, public health officials and researchers get together
and decide on
guidelines for testing or treatment for men, for women, for adolescents
or for children. By inviting only those who accept the `drugs into
bodies' philosophy of AIDS, it can be ensured that a pro-drug spin will
be published, and that fundamental assumptions will not be questioned.
This unscientific declaration then becomes the `standard of care', and
doctors below the authors in the hierarchy are virtually compelled to
work within this newly created box or risk being accused of malpractice.
Yet, the impact of financial conflicts among the writers of the
consensus position is rarely considered, nor the impact of the selection
process (if it is even made public).
"There would never be any public agreement among doctors if they did not
agree to agree on the main point of the doctor being always in the
right."----George Bernard Shaw
Language was used by medieval Christians to prevent communication of
anything except the most simple religious concepts to its adherents. It
was not until the 1960's, for example, that the Catholic church stopped
using Latin in its masses. Language is a protective barrier around a
hierarchical organization. The early church was concerned that if people
listened to religious text in their native language, they might form
their own opinions about theological issues. How much better to provide
a ritual with familiar sounds, but no real meaning.
Three different branches of Christianity used three different languages,
not one of which was understood by the average churchgoer. The Roman
Catholics used Latin, the Eastern Orthodox used Greek, and the Egyptian
church used Coptic. Worse than this, in the middle ages, many priests
did not even speak Latin, and consequently mumbled in a way that would
have been incomprehensible even to the few who did understand the
Well into the 20th Century much science was still published in Latin.
Scientists still use Latin or Greek to develop their own terminology,
which is legitimate if they are truly defining a novel concept. However,
you walk into a doctor's office with muscle pain, and leave with Myalgia
- have you been diagnosed or bamboozled? If you walk in with a runny
nose and leave with a prescription for Rhinorrhea medication, are you
While the bulk of language in medical science may be unintelligible to
most people, scientists need to communicate through a carefully designed
public subset of their language. What is `dumbed down' to the level of
the man in the street can be very manipulative.
The words `potent' or `powerful', for example, are often used to
describe toxic medicines, particularly for Cancer and AIDS. These imply
that the drugs have a powerful effect on the disease. Yet, this is
obviously not true, because drugs for neither Cancer nor AIDS ever
completely eradicate the disease. Cancer patients are told they are in
remission, not cured, and signs of HIV can usually be found in people
with AIDS, even when they have been taking drugs for a long time. [Saag,
These drugs do, on the other hand, have a very potent and powerful on
the patient. They can cause an amazing array of side effects including
serious anemia requiring blood transfusions, muscle wasting, bone
rotting (osteonecrosis in polite company), heart attacks as well as
pancreas and liver failure [aras.ab.ca, 2003]
There is a special mini-language used to describe patients. They can be
classified as Naïve, Experienced or Compliant. A Naïve patient is not
one who is stupid, but one who has never taken drugs before. An
Experienced patient is the opposite, someone who has taken lots of AIDS
Good patients are not only Experienced, but also Compliant. They take
their drugs when they are supposed to, and never miss a dose. Presumably
they don't whine and complain about side effects either, but just carry
their cross heroically to the grave.
Scientists often fight over names. Brontosaurus is no longer the
official name of a dinosaur because, although that name had been used
since 1879, it was many years later discovered that the name Apatosaurus
had been given to the same fossil in 1877. The naming purists won out.
Brontosaurus is history.
In the case of HIV, politics played a much bigger role than even
Gallo originally claimed that HTLV-I (Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus I) was
the cause of AIDS. This was a bit hard to swallow, because he had
previously been claiming that it caused uncontrolled replication of
lymphocytes (cancer), and now was claiming that it caused the death of
this type of cell. He didn't even bother trying with HTLV-II, which has
only ever been detected in one person. So, he changed the `L' in HTLV
from Leukemia to Lymphotropic (which merely means `attracted' to
lymphocytes) and claimed that he had discovered a new virus, the
probable cause of AIDS, and it was in the same family as his previous
two viruses. This, he claimed, should be called HTLV-III.
Montagnier, of the Institut Pasteur, called his discovery LAV -Lymphadenopathy
(lymph node disease) Associated Virus, due to the characteristic swollen
lymph glands in many people with AIDS. He also claimed that this was the
probable cause of AIDS.
The name HTLV was doomed when it became clear that Gallo had covertly
used Montagnier's cell cultures to 'discover' his virus. Gallo had so
much political power, however, that calling it LAV, a direct slap in his
face, would have been impossible.
An agreement between US President Ronald Reagan and French Prime
Minister Jacques Chirac became the official history of a simultaneous
discovery, although many knew that this was a fabrication. Based on
this, HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, became the consensus name. This
had the added advantage that it solidified the association between the
virus and the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome.
"Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present
controls the past."-----George Orwell
Another example of the importance of naming occurred around 1994, when
it was widely agreed that Kaposi's Sarcoma was not caused by HIV, but by
another virus called Human Herpes Virus 8. [Chang, 1994] This is very
interesting, because this skin cancer was one of only two diseases that
started the whole AIDS thing in the first place, and now it turns out
that it was not caused by HIV, even though KS is still an AIDS-defining
condition, and HIV supposedly still causes AIDS. The name HHV8 simply
was not adequate, so the new name KSHV - Kaposi's Sarcoma Herpes Virus
was invented. Now, everybody would know that the causal link between the
virus and the disease was a `fact' just by speaking its name.
Presumably, not many people are going to read the literature and wonder
why about one-half of some age groups of schoolchildren in Egypt, where
the disease is quite rare, have antibodies to KSHV? [Andreoni, 1999]
Dogmas requires censorship, because otherwise people will be exposed to
a variety of opinions, and people have a nasty habit of not always
picking the `right' one. They must be protected from this.
I once took a moderated internet news group called sci.med.aids
seriously, and tried to start a civilized discussion regarding whether
HIV caused AIDS. The news group was established to allow a wide-ranging,
open discussion of all issues related to the science of HIV and AIDS.
Its moderators, well-meaning folks that they are, have standard codes
for various types of rejections. There are codes to reject spam,
advertising, abusive language, badly formatted posts and, most
interesting to me, one that effectively bans any discussion of the
hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS.
In 1996, I requested opinions on Dr. Peter Duesberg's just published
book "Inventing the AIDS Virus" [Duesberg, 1996]. The posting was
rejected. I then attempted to post a question asking for evidence that
HIV causes AIDS. It was also rejected using their special code for the
To eliminate the possibility that I was just not good enough or
scientific enough to post on this group, I wrote the most obsequious
email about an unnamed sick friend, superficially in praise of modern
AIDS researchers. I ensured that the posting had absolutely zero
scientific content. It was posted on the group in a flash. I quickly got
a response from a researcher looking for startup funds for a new
therapy, an offer to send me a free audio tape that could save my
friend's life, a vaccine researcher probably looking for trial
participants and an oncologist offering to treat my friend.
After a couple of days I told the newsgroup that it was all a hoax. Even
that posting was rejected ... because it "concerned the HIV<>AIDS
More recently, and more seriously, myself and a Ukrainian Statistician,
Vladimir Koliadin, have attempted to get raw data from the CDC on all
AIDS cases, excluding, of course, personal identifying information. We
wanted to see if we could find trends in the data that would contradict
the commonly quoted belief that AIDS drugs have improved the health and
increased the life span of HIV-infected people. Even though we were only
asking for data that we knew they had (as much of it had been published
for years up to 1997), after a number of emails back and forth, we were
finally told that "we are quite short staffed and have to prioritize
requests". [CDC, 2001]
The Concorde clinical trial found little or no benefit to the early use
of AZT, and also little value in the use of CD4 cell counts to measure
`progression' to AIDS. The problem with this trial was that it was
intended to compare the early prescription of AZT with later
prescription (i.e. after the diagnosis of AZT). We asked for data that
would allow us to analyze trends in health prior to the first use of
AZT, as opposed to their analysis that included the use of AZT in the
`placebo' arm. They recently wrote to us and told us that they did not
think that we could add any value to the analyses that they had recently
performed [Darbyshire, 2003], even though we have reviewed their papers,
and nothing like our proposed analysis appears there.
Treating raw data and other products of a research project as the
private property of investigators is a common form of censorship in
medicine. In Science Fictions , John Crewdson describes how Gallo would
only share his reagents with researchers who were unlikely to be
critical, and often forced other researchers to agree to significant
restrictions on what they could do with them [Crewdson, 2002]. In the
`Bluestone' affair, Erdem Cantekin, a member of a research team
attempted to release data that showed that antibiotics were not
effective for treating ear infections, but instead found his career
derailed after the leader of the same research team counter-attacked. [Crossen,
2001; Bell, 1992] A recent survey of life scientists found that data
withholding is a significant impediment to the free flow of information,
and that it is more likely to occur when commercial interests are
present. [Campbell, 2002]
Hierarchies are common methods of arranging complex organizations,
whether religions, governments, companies or medical research.
Hierarchies control decision making, define and refine dogmas, and put
limits, sometimes extremely tight, on legitimate dissent. Even today, in
the Catholic church (and others), only the leadership at the top can
make policy changes, others have to work within the system.
Members of the hierarchy benefit from the status and wealth that it
provides them, but they are also aware that they can easily be expelled
if they become a threat. Any one person is expendable. Even popes have
been deposed. This may be why people within hierarchies are so
conservative. They know that they have much power, but also know that if
they use it in unexpected ways, they are liable to find themselves with
a knife in the back - literally or figuratively.
Entering a hierarchy requires special training which, in the case of
medicine, involves medical school or graduate school. Schmidt's 2000
book Disciplined Minds contends that graduate school is designed more to
squeeze highly intelligent people into their place in the scientific
hierarchy, than it is to provide a place and time for open exploration
of science. He believes that the `comprehensive examinations' that are
part of most curriculums are designed not to test knowledge, but rather
to determine whether the student is prepared to submit to the system by
completing a highly demanding project that may be completely meaningless
The hierarchy in HIV/AIDS is revealed by examining how the information
on HIV/AIDS flowed down to us from Robert Gallo, a researcher at the
National Institutes of Health. After registering his claim with the US
patent office (which already had Montagnier's claim, but was having
`difficulty' processing it) reported his discovery to his boss, Margaret
Heckler, who then announced that American scientists had found the
probable cause of AIDS at a press conference. Then they reported their
results in an unprecedented four papers in the prestigious journal
Science. Then the floodgates opened as the non-scientific media reported
on the press conference and provided diluted summaries of the scientific
publications. Although we have been virtually
drowned in information on HIV and AIDS since then, the flow of
information has been very clearly downhill, with us, the general public,
the the bottom, receiving much, but without permission to transmit much.
The concept of a God who (dis)embodies Perfect Goodness is found in many
religions. But, equally important to some religions, is the notion of
Perfect Evil - Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Devil.
The contrast between Capital `G' Good and Capital `E' Evil strengthens a
hierarchical organization, because everything within the organization is
classified Good and everything opposed to it is Evil. The more serious
the external threat, the less attention is paid to internal
We know that we live in a world of shades of grays, not black evils and
white goodnesses. But, moral decisions are so much easier to make if one
simply has to choose between perfect Good and perfect Evil.
Medieval Christianity made people's decisions a lot easier by creating a
fallen angel - Satan - to take the rap for everything bad that happened
or that threatened the power of the hierarchy. People who did evil
things, worshipped other Gods, worshipped the same God in a different
sect, or who were trying to reform the church from inside, could easily
be accused of being `possessed' by the Devil.
Perfect Evil means that you never have to stop and say "Sorry". Whether
burning Joan of Arc at the stake or killing Infidels in battle you
didn't have to worry about the commandment - "Though shalt not kill".
That does not apply to the eradication of Evil.
Striking a blow against the Devil is more important than saving the life
of the person possessed. If they cannot be reclaimed for the forces of
Goodness by persuasion, they must have the devil beaten out of them. If
this kills them, it also kills Evil.
HIV is the modern day Perfect Evil. It stands with a small, select group
of fatal diseases, such as cancer and Ebola. People who are told that
they are possessed by HIV are immediately shaken to the core and often,
in a sense, die right on the spot. If they beg for hope, they are
usually told that they can only save themselves by religiously taking
doses of antiretroviral drugs. When the illnesses come, whatever their
cause, they are now programmed to blame them on HIV.
"It is easy - terribly easy - to shake a man's faith in himself. To
take advantage of that to break a man's spirit is devil's work."---George
HIV is the trump card of disease. If you have HIV nothing else matters.
If you are an IV drug abuser and you have Tuberculosis AND you test
HIV-positive, then HIV caused your Tuberculosis, which is now classified
as AIDS. But, if you are an IV drug abuser and you have Tuberculosis and
you DON'T test HIV-positive, then taking drugs caused your Tuberculosis.
Of course, when you think about it, if drug users get TB without HIV,
then at least some of the HIV-positive drug users didn't get sick from
HIV makes risk analysis trivial. If you are an HIV-positive mother, you
will be warned that breastfeeding doubles your risk of infecting your
baby, and that therefore you MUST formula feed your baby. You won't be
told that doubling your risk actually means that 86% of babies will NOT
be infected by breastfeeding [Dunn, 1992]. And, research by Coutsoudis [Coutsoudis,
1999] showed that exclusive breastfeeding might be associated with no
How is the very significant health risk of formula feeding compared with
the risk of HIV infection? Very simply, it isn't. Since HIV is fatal,
every baby who is HIV infected will die. Every formula fed baby, on the
other hand, might die or might not. Pedantic types, like me, point out
that 100% of babies have to be formula fed in order to benefit (if it is
a benefit) only the 14% [Dunn, 1992] of them who will be infected (if
that is the right term). This means that the benefits of preventing HIV
infection must be 7 times greater than the risks of the formula feeding
that is being prescribed.
Perfect Goodness is the domain of God, of course. But, some of the
Goodness trickles down the hierarchy. The Pope might not be perfect, but
he (and it is always a he) is infallible. One presumes that Cardinals
come close to this standard, because any one of them could be the next
Pope. Bishops and Priests have been known to sin, sometimes very
publicly, but at that level, one expects some imperfections, such as
fondling the altar boys, drinking, fondling the altar boys, keeping a
mistress, fondling the altar boys, gambling, etc. Those outside the
hierarchy can drink their droplets of Goodness by obeying the dictates
of the church, learning its dogmas and, of course, giving generously of
their worldly goods.
With AIDS it is clear that the medical profession represents the Forces
of Goodness, organized into a massive hierarchy. At the top are a
handful of researchers and the heads of an alphabet soup of US and
international health organizations, such as the CDC, NIH, FDA, NIAID,
WHO, Unicef and UNAIDS. Then come the thousands of AIDS researchers,
doctors and health bureaucrats who so envy those at the top. Then the
nurses, social workers, the NGOs, the media and the politicians. We, the
people, are clearly at the bottom.
The forces of Perfect Goodness are the only ones that can, most assume,
bring salvation. The sacrament of communion for this religion is not
unleavened bread and wine, but a rainbow of pills with a glass of water.
War - Metaphor & Reality
The contrast between Simple and Perfect Goodness and Simple and Perfect
Evil makes war a simple analogy. Through recorded history, right into
the present, war has often been more than an analogy, with religions
being either the cause of wars, or the excuse for wars.
Christianity was characterized early on by a peaceful, `Turn the other
cheek', approach to life. But, gradually, it became, like so many
religions, used to justify war. When the Church and State were working
together it was easy to define their mutual enemies as Satanic, and turn
war into a holy activity.
The War analogy has long been used by mainstream medicine. The "War on
Cancer" is a good example (of the analogy, not of a successful war).
Over 100 medical papers since 1975 contain the phrase `magic bullet' in
their title. Terms like `weapon', `fight' and `target' are common. The
tools used, particularly for drawn-out medical battles, are similar to
some of the world's most feared weapons - radiation and toxic chemicals.
With wars come victims. And in a drawn-out fight between the doctor and
HIV, the patient can often become collateral damage. For a recent
disease, AIDS has one of the best developed history of medical toxicity,
even though the disease's first drug, AZT, was not approved until 1987
"Cured yesterday of my disease, I died last night of my physician."----Matthew
Prior (17th c)
Admiration of Enemies
Ironically, the use of the war metaphor leads to an elevation of
enemies. The 11th Century French Song of Roland praises the heroism of
slain warriors on both sides of this battle between Christians and
Muslims. Bravery in battle is clearly aligned with Godliness.
HIV is regarded with awe by the many AIDS scientists who have joined the
medical crusade against it. No matter how hard they battle it, the virus
cannot be eradicated from the body. [Harrington, 2000] No matter which
medications they prescribe, the virus mutates around them. Antibodies
are produced, but they are ineffective. Vaccines it evades thrice before
breakfast. No matter how intense the war, this Devil is never
Strangely, the army of Goodness - Modern Medicine - rarely suffers
casualties. No matter how often medical professionals are exposed to
HIV, they rarely get AIDS. According to the CDC 1997 surveillance
report, only 54 US health care workers are believed to have acquired HIV
infection through on the job exposure, and only 25 of them have
contracted AIDS. That was out of a cumulative total of 633,000 US AIDS
cases, so occupational cases make up 0.004%.
Not a single one of these AIDS cases was in a paramedic or surgeon, even
though these two groups are most likely to be exposed to HIV-positive
blood. [CDC, 1998]
I quote 1997 statistics because after that, the CDC perhaps began to
understand that the lack of casualties among the warrior class was a bit
embarrassing, and stopped publishing statistics on HIV and AIDS among
health care workers.
The victims of this war, like most wars in fact, are the collateral
damage - the civilians, the people diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS
who provide the battleground. There are attempts to award them heroic
status through their death, but this is inextricably associated with
their acceptance of the HIV=AIDS dogma. Those who do not accept are `in
denial'. The implication being that they
deserve their death because they refuse `a better life through
Church/State Power Sharing
The very early Christian church deliberately kept itself separate from
the state. Christians were taught to "Give to Caesar those things that
are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's".
But, by the middle ages the church hierarchy and European royalty had
become tightly entwined - not completely integrated, as the Lords of
worldly and otherworldly power often fought over the hearts, minds,
bodies and wealth of the populace. Sometimes kings would have the upper
hand, appointing compliant bishops to ensure that the church and its
influence was subservient to his needs. At other times, particularly in
the 1100's and 1200's a strong Pope would keep kings in check by
threatening to deny them access to religious ceremonies and services,
and through alliances with friendly kingdoms.
A good illustration of this was the pressure brought to bear on the
famously bad King John of England by Pope Innocent III. He invalidated
all religious services in England, excommunicated the King and, perhaps
more importantly, lined up the more compliant King of France to invade
England. Due to a combination of this, and internal pressure, John caved
in and signed Magna Carta in 1215. The Pope's concern was that John was
setting himself above religious authority, not that he was crushing the
British nobility under this thumb. And nobody cared about the Serfs.
When things were going well, however, Church and State worked closely
together. The Church could give moral authority and, in the early days,
had a bureaucratic infrastructure that helped primitive governments to
function. Bishops often acted as the King's regional administrators.
Modern medicine, and AIDS in particular, is also based on cooperation
and tension between Governments and Science. Governments create and
enforce policy, Scientists create the facts that form the mental
environment within which Governments operates. Governments tax the
population to pay for research to manufacture more facts.
When scientists threaten dire consequences, particularly those due to an
infectious disease threat, governments listen. They know that if they
ignore the threat, and the disease breaks out they will be blamed. If
action is taken and nothing happens, scientists will usually look like
they prevented a crisis. If, on the other hand, the crisis occurs
anyway, they usually can claim that it would have been much worse
An example of government's genuflecting to the medical establishment
occurred during the 1970's Swine Flu scare. President Gerald Ford did
what seemed to be a very smart thing when faced with a clamor for
universal vaccination of Americans - he called all the top scientists in
the US together to meet with him, including arch-rivals Sabin and Salk.
He asked if any of them had concerns about universal vaccination.
Silence. He invited all the scientists to come into his private office
for a private chat after the general meeting. Nobody came. Consequently,
vaccination of every American was attempted. Luckily, a variety of
problems made this impossible, particularly among the very young and
elderly, because the final death toll was: Swine Flu 1, Swine Flu
Vaccine: at least 25 from Guillaine Barre syndrome alone (with about 500
cases of this illness in total and a billion dollars in lawsuits against
the US government). [Laitin, 1997] Given that adverse reactions are
usually significantly under-reported, the actual toll of illness and
death might have been considerably higher.
More recently, a whisper of heresy from South African President Thabo
Mbeki resulted in the `Durban Declaration', a document with the tone of
a religious creed [Durban, 2000]. In a pre-emptive strike a week before
an international AIDS conference in Mbeki's country, more than 5,000
people signed this document condemning Mbeki, who had merely raised the
question of whether HIV caused AIDS, not attempted to answer it himself.
Part of the shock was that a politician, a man outside the scientific
hierarchy, would concern himself with evaluating a scientific question.
Heretics and Traitors
"All great truths begin as heresies"-George Bernard Shaw
"That is the essence of science. Ask an impertinent question, and you
are on the way to a pertinent answer." -Jacob Bronowski
Heresy was not the most heinous crime in early Christianity, they took
murder, greed and adultery more seriously. But as the religion became an
integral part of feudal systems, this crime rose to the top of the heap.
Mindless loyalty was important in feudal times to keep society
functioning in the presence of enormous inequities of power and wealth.
Today's medical dissidents in AIDS, Cancer and other areas of medicine
usually see major problems with the dominant paradigm, but are faced
with institutions that do not want to discuss them. This is not an
argument over minutiae, it is about the very fundamentals. AIDS
dissidents argue that HIV tests just drive people into hopelessness and
into taking toxic drugs that will kill them. There is almost no room for
compromise with those who fully accept the HIV=AIDS=Death theory, and
feel that antiretroviral drugs, for all their known flaws are the only
Prior to 1987, Dr. Peter Duesberg was considered to be one of the top
retrovirologists in the world. For 25 years he claims that he never had
a grant application turned down [Duesberg, 1997]. But, after his
infamous Cancer Research paper was published [Duesberg, 1987] arguing
that retroviruses, including HIV, could not cause disease, he found the
scientific world turning against him. From that point on, not a single
one of his government grant applications was approved, and he has had to
rely on a small amount of private funding and his university salary to
do any research at all.
How do we know whether Duesberg is another Galileo, or an
attention-seeking huckster, like the people behind the Piltdown Man hoax
of 1912 that fooled archaeologists for 40 years, or the cronies of
Philippine dictator Marcos who fooled many anthropologists and the
National Geographic Society with the faked Tasaday stone age tribe in
the early 1970s [MacLeish, 1972], the proponents of cold fusion,
perpetual motion machines or human cloning?
One of the clues that this is not a conspiracy theory of madmen is that
many AIDS dissidents are serious scientists. Apart from Duesberg, some
of the most active and outspoken are Kary Mullis who won a Nobel Prize
for the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction, the so-called `Perth
Group' from Australia, including Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and Val
Turner, David Rasnick, a protease inhibitor drug designer, Charles
Geshekter, a professor of African Studies, Gordon Stewart, a Public
Health consultant, Mohammed Al-Bayati, a toxicologist, Roberto Giraldo,
a nutritionist, Vladimir Koliadin, a Statistician, Etienne de Harven, a
retired Virologist, and Sam Mhlongo the head of the department of Family
Medicine at Go-Rankuwa Hospital in South Africa. There are hundreds or
thousands of others, including doctors, lawyers, people with and without
formal scientific educations and, not least, HIV-positive people who
have quit or never taken the drugs, but have more motivation than most
to educate themselves.
Punishment for religious heretics has sometimes been severe,
particularly when the religion was able to harness the legal powers of
the state. Although many were just re-educated and released, the first
executions of reformers occurred in 1022 at Orleans. Death by burning
was legalized by Frederick II of Germany and Sicily in 1231. Torture was
permitted by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The first Grand Spanish
Inquisitor, Torquemada sentenced 2,000 to be burned to death in the
The HIV/AIDS dogmatists have not yet imposed the death penalty on any
person, although mandating antiviral drugs on children comes close. It
is not far-fetched to consider that, in a place with the death penalty,
transmission of HIV to a person who later dies could be construed as
first degree murder.
Mark Wainberg, former President of the International AIDS Society stated
in a major Canadian newspaper that AIDS dissidents should be jailed
[Picard, 2000]. Several men have been jailed for having sex without
revealing that they were HIV-positive at the time. In the case of
Nushawn Williams, he supposedly infected 6 women in less than a year.
The best estimates are that the risk of transmitting during heterosexual
intercourse is about 1 in a thousand. Statistically, he must have had
sex millions of times to stand an even chance of transmitting to all
these women. But, statistical implausibility did not stop him from being
sent to jail.
One woman in Canada, Sophie Brassard, had custody of her children taken
from her because she refused antiviral medications. Her logic was that
she had been HIV+ and healthy for a decade without antiviral
medications, but the courts ruled against her.
The Tyson's in Oregon were forced, by court order, to stop breastfeeding
their baby and agree to give Felix AZT - or lose custody.
Valerie Emerson was luckier. She believes that one of her children died
from AZT, after which she pulled herself and her second child off the
drug. Partly because the child then recovered his health completely, she
won her court battle.
Dragging a few people to court has a chilling effect on many others.
People who have heard about these cases are likely to either submit
without a fight, or pretend to submit, and do subversive things like
breastfeeding a baby in secrecy. Few will publicly defy the system.
Scientists are not treated much better. Punishments include an inability
to publish, get grants, find graduate students to work in your lab or be
promoted. The media, taking their lead from the majority of scientists,
either ignore them completely, or write about them with thinly disguised
skepticism, or sarcasm, or allusions to `dangerous' ideas.
I have compared religion and science with, I hope, some success. A big
gap is that, although I have identified a parallel between Satan and
HIV, I have not identified a parallel with God. But, perhaps there is.
Ultimately the motivation of the major players in HIV/AIDS boils down to
money. It is no coincidence that Gallo contacted the patent office
before announcing his claims about HTLV-III. Without doing this he stood
to lose the royalties that would accrue to him, even as a government
employee, for this invention.
This shows that the equivalent of God in modern HIV/AIDS science is
Mammon. It is not just medicine that has been corrupted by money, the
crisis in Enron, Worldcom was caused by an uncontrolled desire for
Just as medieval religion made unthinking loyalty holy, and questioning
authority into a sin, the late 20th Century made the Worship of Money
into a new religion. The creation of new medicines, particularly for
long-term chronic conditions, became one of the ways to achieve the
highest levels of holiness in this sect. Patenting a blockbuster like
Viagra turns many researchers, and all pharmaceutical companies, on.
While there is nothing wrong with private companies making money, it
must be tempered by a sense of morality. Corrupting research to make a
medicine look useful when it is harmful, is immoral and criminal. Yet,
those who practice it, often find themselves sheltered by their
institutions. [Wilmhurst, 2002; Wilson, 2001]
There is a whole area of research where scientists study the influence
of money on the analysis of clinical trials. For example, [Stelfox,
1998] found that researchers with financial relationships with
manufacturers of calcium channel blocker drugs were more likely to
publish papers with favorable reviews of them. [Barnes, 1998] found that
the conclusions of review articles were strongly associated with the
affiliations of the author. [Cho, 1996] found that original research
articles with pharmaceutical sponsorship were more likely to draw
pro-industry conclusions. [Bekelman, 2003] found that a quarter of
investigators, on average, have industry affiliations, and they are more
likely to reach pro-industry conclusions in their research.
Peter Wrobel, an editor for the British scientific journal Nature,
commented that "there is so much commercial involvement in modern
biology [so] it would be a waste of space for us to require of authors
that they list all commercial interests in their discoveries." Recently,
the New England Journal of Medicine commented that anything under
US$10,000 was too small to worry about, and wouldn't qualify as a
conflict of interest.
AIDS scientists usually draw conclusions that favour industrial
interests. Patented or patentable drugs are almost always seen as the
solution to the disease, rather than non-toxic ways to strengthen the
immune system. Condoms are the preferred method of prevention. Formula
is preferred over breastmilk for children of HIV+ mothers. Cesarean
sections are recommended instead of natural birth.
The Ultimate Heresy -
"Does it Exist?"
Religion is the worship of God. Seriously questioning the existence of
God is the ultimate religious heresy. But, it's also a worldly heresy,
because it threatens the organization built up around belief in that
God. Questioning the existence of God in the middle ages would have been
inconceivable. Even the most radical medieval heretics would never have
Questioning the existence of HIV is today's ultimate heresy. Even asking
the question is heretical. In fact, it is rare for anyone to question
the existence of any virus.
But, if HIV exists, why has it never been purified, not even from
artificial culture systems? [Bess, 1997; Gluschankof, 1997] How have its
RNA and proteins been identified without purification? How can the
accuracy of tests be known when they cannot be validated by virus
purification? How can a virus that, if detected at all, can only be
detected by the most sensitive techniques known to man, be biochemically
active? These are reasonable questions. But, they threaten the whole
multi-billion-dollar structure based on the acceptance of this virus.
That structure cannot tolerate people asking them.
Every generation believes that it is vastly superior to those who came
before. We find it difficult to believe that our knowledge and methods
of learning have much in common with the way beliefs were developed and
distributed hundreds of years ago in a society that was largely
Yet, if we are honest, very little of our information about scientific
issues is direct, and few people take the trouble to examine the basic
science, if it is even available.
We may believe in scientific discoveries because they either make us
feel good, or because they provide a frisson of fear, like an alien
movie. HIV/AIDS fulfils our deepest fears. Just like so many bad alien
movies, there are no outward signs of who has been captured until the
alien life form bursts out, and then it is simply too late.
We want to believe that there are simple solutions to mysterious and
complex problems - a pill, perhaps. But a quick solution would,
paradoxically, not generate much respect for science. We would quickly
take it for granted. Nor would it generate billions of dollars in
Religion and Science both promise us a better life, although Religion
may emphasize a better after-life, and Science a better here-and-now.
These organizations are both usually tightly controlled through a
hierarchical structure, even though they both have their roots in free
thought and egalitarianism. Reform is made more difficult when the same
organization creates the dogmas, constrains the debates about the
dogmas, and controls the interpretation of new ideas. Both began very
inward looking and self-critical, but gradually evolved into
over-confidence and intolerance as they acquired more power and
Control is not absolute, however. It takes work to see around the
facade, but not an inordinate amount. It takes courage to challenge the
system, even if it is only questioning the advice of your own doctor.
But, not more courage than any of us have. It takes education to analyze
flaws in research, but we live in a highly educated society with free or
affordable access to many materials. It takes stamina to struggle to get
closer to the truth, knowing that no matter how hard you try you will
never achieve absolute truth. But, if you look back after a while, you
will be able to see how far you have climbed.
"Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no
remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings."-Helen
My aim tonight is not to impose a new dogma. I hope you will mull over
my analogies with religion and find some flaws, and perhaps some
parallels that I did not even touch on. But, if I can stop you from
simply accepting ideas as scientific because they come from someone
whose job description is `scientist', if I can challenge you to make
truly independent decisions about your personal health, I will have
accomplished all that I could hope for.
"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant
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