To the Editor:
Michael Fumento’s review of Robert S. Root-Bernstein’s book, Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus [Books in Review, July], concludes reassuringly that “the AIDS heretics have been given ‘room to express their concerns’ and have been found wanting.” (“AIDS heretics” is the phrase Mr. Fumento uses for those who question whether the human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] causes AIDS.) But Mr. Fumento’s attempt to reassure his readers seriously distorts the facts.
One fact is the gross disproportion between the attention accorded the view that HIV causes AIDS and the “heretical” questioning of it. The “AIDS heretics” have succeeded in having only about eight articles published in the scientific literature during the same period in which more than 77,000 articles premised on HIV’s causal role have appeared. A much more important fact is that since 1984, virtually every dollar of funding from the federal government for AIDS research has been devoted to work premised on the causal role of HIV and awarded only to grant recipients who do not question that causal role. Something like $4 billion of taxpayer monies is now given annually to the HIV “orthodoxy,” and not a nickel to the “heretics.”
Such a disproportionate research focus on a single avenue of investigation could conceivably be justified if it had resulted in some meaningful advance. But, to the contrary, this massive, narrowly targeted expenditure of public monies has not resulted in saving or prolonging a single life. There is no medical gain to which anybody can point resulting from the “orthodox” view that AIDS is a viral disease. Far from it: a recent authoritative study of the drug AZT, which the orthodoxy had claimed would moderate the effects of the supposed viral pathogen, has determined that AZT neither reduces morbidity nor increases longevity. Moreover, it is clear and undisputed that AZT is toxic. Perhaps this is why Arthur Ashe, who recently died at age forty-nine after years of treatment with AZT, expressed misgivings in his posthumously published autobiography about having blindly followed the prescription of AZT.
Nor can the remarkable targeting of all federal research funds on HIV be justified in terms of the most basic epidemiological facts about AIDS—that it predominantly affects males and populations which abuse recreational drugs. No virus known to science singles out one sex or a host which engages in a particular form of self-abuse.
Mr. Fumento’s reassuring conclusion is thus deeply inadequate. The issue is not whether so-called AIDS heretics have been granted “room to express their concerns”; the question is why the community at large is seemingly not concerned when precious research dollars are targeted on a single theory which has produced no progress toward medical success, instead of being more broadly distributed to maximize the chance that a terrible and costly epidemic can be controlled. The HIV orthodoxy, which Mr. Fumento represents, seems more interested in self-perpetuation than in balanced scientific inquiry.
Mr. Fumento’s review does have the virtue of exposing readers in a short space to the style of arrogant and dismissive argument which the orthodox have made their own and which, indeed, becomes more shrill and less scientific as the years roll by, while they fail to save or even prolong victims’ lives. For example, Mr. Fumento concludes that a recent epidemiological study in Nature supposedly “devastates” my view that heavy use of such drugs as “poppers,” cocaine, and amphetamines can cause AIDS-defining diseases, and proves the pathogenic role of HIV. The study documented that all those who had developed AIDS were “heavy drug users” and were HIV-positive. But epidemiology cannot decide between a causal and a noncausal correlate of a disease. This can only be done by functional tests of drug and HIV toxicity. And nine years of HIV research have failed to show any HIV toxicity to human cells whatsoever. In fact, HIV is mass-produced for the “AIDS test” in permanently growing T-cells. In contrast to HIV, the toxicities of illicit recreational drugs, including nitrites, cocaine, and amphetamines, have been documented in the literature since 1909.
Similarly, Mr. Fumento characterizes as “nonsense”—again, that characteristically emotive use of language—my view that AZT, not HIV, killed Kimberly Bergalis, even though it is beyond dispute that AZT kills T-cells at 250-millionth of a gram per liter while HIV has never been shown to be toxic to any human cell.
The fundamental “concerns” which underlie Root-Bernstein’s book and my own work ought to be shared by all who call themselves scientists, and indeed by all citizens: that not only the prevention and treatment of AIDS but the scientific enterprise itself is being jeopardized by the people whose attitudes and tactics Mr. Fumento’s review embodies.
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California
To the Editor:
I was disappointed in Michael Fumento’s review of Robert S. Root-Bernstein’s Rethinking AIDS. Mr. Fumento had earlier performed an important service by putting the AIDS problem in perspective in his own book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS. But his condescending critique of Root-Bernstein’s scholarly book is marred by questionable assumptions. Mr. Fumento insists that HIV infection is a rigorous prerequisite for clinical AIDS. He dismisses the failure of HIV to cause any symptoms resembling AIDS in chimpanzees by citing the failure of certain viral diseases in rabbits and cats to cause diseases in humans. But the genetic material and protein constituents of chimpanzees and humans are 99-percent identical, which lends much more significance to the failure of HIV to cause AIDS in chimpanzees than the failure of other viruses to cross barriers among remotely related organisms. Mr. Fumento also ignores the fact that the number of HIV-infected persons in this country since 1987 has remained at a constant level of 1 to 1.5 million but the annual rate of clinical AIDS has been only about 30,000. This amounts to an annual AIDS incidence of 2.3 percent among HIV-infected individuals, giving them a life expectancy of 33-50 years. Since infection occurs on the average only from 20 years and up, the life expectancy of infected individuals in the general population begins to approach normal.
Another example of Mr. Fumento’s faulty logic in rejecting alternative causes of AIDS is seen when he cites the failure of his friend to develop the disease despite multiple immune-suppressive treatments following a severe accident. A single failure is hardly convincing in view of the statistics just noted. It becomes less significant when contrasted with the years of repeated self-inflicted immunosuppressions in high-risk groups occasioned by habitual intravenous and other drug use and the multiple infections encountered by those engaged in promiscuous homosexual behavior involving anal intercourse, fisting, rimming, etc. The infections include high incidences of cytomegalo virus, herpes virus, hepatitis virus, Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis, gonorrhea, and a host of fungal and protozoan parasites.
My own skepticism about singling out HIV as the sole essential factor in AIDS arose from my research experience with the leukosis viruses of chickens, which were discovered 80 years ago and were the first identified agents of the retroviral class to which HIV belongs. I developed a method for assaying these viruses over 30 years ago, and found that 95 percent of the birds in the large flock I was studying were infected. Yet only 50 percent of them developed the classic avian type of leukemia attributed to the virus. It was found by others that the disease occurred in virus-free flocks, although somewhat later on the average than in the infected ones, and probably had more to do with the conditions of modern poultry-raising than with infection.
As for the latest claim of an exclusive causal role of HIV in AIDS in a recent paper cited by Mr. Fumento, it is noteworthy that no tests were made for the many other micro-organisms known to occur in the homosexual population under scrutiny (see above), so the conclusion is hardly warranted. Even the rejection of a causal role for drug use, which is the central theme of the paper, is clouded by serious internal inconsistencies in its drug-use classification of subjects, so the entire enterprise is open to question.
Root-Bernstein has done an exhaustive job of compiling the facts about AIDS. He has maintained an open-minded attitude throughout, and has not ruled out the possibility—some would say probability, more would say certainty—that HIV is the main culprit in AIDS. Others would say that HIV infection is itself only the result of immune deficiency and as such just an indicator of certain kinds of risk behavior. The fact is that AIDS is an extremely complex syndrome of diseases that is most likely the result of a complex set of causes. The one thing we know definitely is that it is strongly associated with certain behaviors, and the only sure way to reduce its incidence is to modify those behaviors. Root-Bernstein’s book is an important contribution to acknowledging this fact of life. Mr. Fumento’s facile dismissal of the book does a disservice to present and future AIDS sufferers by discouraging a broadscale study of the problem.
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
Virologist to the Virus Laboratory
University of California
To the Editor:
Michael Fumento uses the following argument to explain the failure of chimpanzees infected with HIV to get AIDS: the myxomatosis virus, which kills rabbits, does not harm humans. And the feline leukemia virus, which kills cats, also does not affect humans. We are led to suppose that it was foolish of experimenters even to think about injecting chimps with HIV. “How can Root-Bernstein not know this?” Mr. Fumento condescendingly asks.
The myxomatosis and HIV cases are not even remotely comparable, however. The key point about the human immunodeficiency virus, which Mr. Fumento fails to tell his readers, is that it did “take,” or replicate, within the chimpanzees. The myxomatosis virus, on the other hand, is highly host-specific, and replicates only within rabbits and (some) hares.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) fully expected that the chimps would contract AIDS. Inject them with polio virus and they do get polio. On being informed that the virus had replicated within chimps without causing AIDS, the director of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute said it was a blow to the viral theory.
The infection of these animals was an expensive proposition for the NIH: 150 chimpanzees were infected at a cost of $50,000 each. Chimpanzees are endangered and a thick rule book must be used by those who handle them. NIH virologist Robert Gallo even took the precaution of cozying up to Jane Goodall, inviting her to address his annual NIH-sponsored AIDS meeting. Meanwhile the chimpanzees had to be kept “clean”—free of other experimental pathogens. In retrospect, Jane Goodall must be delighted. For ten years, the HIV-positive chimps have been frolicking about in their cages, contentedly eating bananas, all the while remaining in perfectly good health.
How come Mr. Fumento does not know all this? He has been writing about AIDS for years now and this is not the first time he has mentioned the chimpanzees as though they demonstrated not the weakness of the HIV hypothesis but the ignorance of those who disagree with him.
There is another and perhaps more important group that has been exposed to HIV. I refer to the more than one million doctors, nurses, and lab technicians who have worked with AIDS patients, or with the virus directly, in the course of a twelve-year epidemic. How many of them have come down with AIDS as a result of accidental needle-stick?
When I last checked with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the government was claiming seven such cases. Peter Dues-berg says that these patients’ names and medical records have never been released, however. There are one or two cases in the courts. The numbers are in any event statistically insignificant. Every year there are 15,000 cases of hepatitis infection from needle-stick.
Mr. Fumento mentions the Nature study, published in March of this year, supposedly falsifying Duesberg’s claim that drug use impairs the immune system and is the real cause of the various diseases we call AIDS. I was surprised to read in the New York Times last March that this study had been submitted to Nature in response to an article I had written about Duesberg for the San Francisco Chronicle‘s op-ed page last September. This must be the first study ever published in Nature in response to an op-ed piece, showing better than anything the intensely political character of “scientific” research in this field.
Researchers at Berkeley (not including Duesberg) have subsequently examined the raw data on which this study was based and have discovered that there were numerous cases of AIDS-indicator diseases within the HIV-negative cohort. These were not reported as AIDS cases in the Nature study, however, making it look as though AIDS-indicator diseases are more highly correlated with HIV than is really the case.
Mr. Fumento reports that there have been a “few dozen” cases of AIDS without HIV. The truth is that by 1987, in at least half of the so-called AIDS cases nationwide, no HIV test had been conducted at all. Patients were “presumed” to be positive. The CDC now says there have been over 43,000 such presumptive diagnoses. Last year there was quite a lot of publicity about cases in which no trace of HIV could be found, despite careful testing. These cases looked very much like AIDS (emaciated homosexual men with pneumocystis and ruined immune systems). At that point the CDC boldly claimed that this was an entirely new disease, which it called idiopathic CD4 T-cell lymphocytopenia (ICL).
“If they had admitted that the ICL cases were really AIDS cases, then that would be the absolute proof that HIV is not a necessary cause of AIDS,” Robert S. Root-Bernstein told me in an interview in April. “Everyone would understand that, and it would undermine everything that they have done in the last ten years. You’ll notice that within two weeks they had a new definition of a new disease. I think in the history of medicine that has to be the fastest.”
This is politics, not science. Mr. Fumento well knows that the official version of AIDS is seriously flawed. His own book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, exposing some of the more glaring epidemiological errors, was actually suppressed by an informal network of AIDS activists across the country. Even as I write, the old propaganda about everyone being at “risk” keeps on appearing in the news media. These stories, for the most part based on bogus World Health Organization statistics about AIDS in Africa, continue to be uncritically retailed by the New York Times and other newspapers. Yet in many respects Mr. Fumento remains a staunch defender of the official explanation of AIDS.
Michael Fumento writes:
Tom Bethell puts words in my mouth. I did not say “it was foolish of experimenters even to think about injecting chimps with HIV.” My point was this: many viruses cause disease in some animals but not in others, and therefore one cannot say that, since HIV does not cause full-blown AIDS in chimps, it must not cause AIDS in humans. Yet that is exactly what Peter Duesberg and Robert S. Root-Bernstein have been claiming. Incidentally, a virus we have been hearing much about lately, the one which killed several Navajo Indians and others, is another example of a species-specific pathogen. It kills humans about half the time, yet leaves its carrier, the field mouse, healthy.
It is certainly true, as Mr. Bethell states, that few health-care workers have gotten AIDS from needle-sticks. As I explained in my book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, this is commensurate with a virus that requires a very large dose to cause infection. Needle-sharing among addicts, in which a great deal of blood is actually transferred, can provide that dose. So can blood transfusions and anal intercourse. By contrast, coughing or deep kissing, while possibly resulting in a transfer of a tiny amount of virus, does not allow enough viral load to pass to cause infection. Likewise for the vast majority of needle-stick injuries.
Mr. Bethell does not tell us the names of the Berkeley researchers who disputed the findings of the Nature article, but Harry Rubin comes to mind. He also does not tell us, nor does Mr. Rubin, nor does Mr. Duesberg, that Duesberg charged one of his fellow Berkeley professors who worked on the Nature paper, Dr. Warren Winkelstein, with scientific fraud, or that Berkeley found Duesberg’s charge to be without sufficient merit even to proceed with an investigation. As Mr. Duesberg would no doubt readily admit, most of the Berkeley researchers who work in the AIDS field are quite horrified at his pronouncements.
Mr. Bethell writes that “by 1987, in at least half of the so-called AIDS cases nationwide, no HIV test had been conducted at all.” That is because the HIV test only became available in 1985. Was the CDC supposed to exhume the corpses of those who had died previously? Almost all the “missing” 43,000 cases fall into that category.
I addressed the so-called non-HIV AIDS cases in my review. As Duesberg, et al. are fond of pointing out, AIDS is actually a syndrome of diseases, all of which can occur in non-HIV-infected persons. Thus, just as a person can have all the symptoms of tuberculosis without actually having tuberculosis, it is certainly possible for persons to display symptoms similar to those of AIDS patients and yet not be infected with HIV. To have several of those symptoms at once, however, is quite rare—though not so rare as to keep Duesberg’s followers from citing each and every case as proof of their conspiracy theory.
Mr. Rubin’s formula allegedly showing my lack of logic would actually ruin his case were he using correct data. Over three years ago, the CDC dropped its estimate of current infections to a flat one million, although I think that figure is still somewhat high. The CDC also states that for last year, 47,000 AIDS cases were diagnosed in this country. With a median lag time of ten years from infection to full-blown AIDS (median meaning the point at which half of all infections would become AIDS), we would expect that in ten years one million infections would lead to 500,000 AIDS cases, or an average of 50,000 a year. That jibes nicely with the 47,000 figure for last year and would jibe even better if the CDC lowered its estimate a little.
My point in citing my friend’s accident was not that one case disproves a general theory, but that if one were to use the extremely expansive Duesberg/Root-Bernstein definition of immunosuppression, practically everyone would turn out to be affected. It is possible to have any number of suppressive factors as defined by these gentlemen without being either an addict or a homosexual—yet it is homosexuals and addicts who are getting AIDS, not victims of car accidents. The Duesberg/Root-Bernstein theory of the amount of immunosuppression necessary to cause AIDS is essentially tautological: if you have gotten AIDS, your system was sufficiently depressed; if you have not, it was not. How handy!
Most of the $4 billion the federal government spends on AIDS each year goes into areas other than research. Of the remainder, much goes into trying to control the various opportunistic infections that accompany AIDS. A comparatively small amount goes to the study of HIV, and that has by no means been wasted, even though we have no cure. For example, the development of the HIV-antibody test has saved thousands of blood recipients each year from infection and death. Incidentally, we also have no cure for any other type of viral infection—despite the viral research of people like Harry Rubin and Peter Duesberg.
Yes, the benefits of AZT have been overstated by a medical establishment desperate to show results, but the study Mr. Duesberg cites only disputed the hypothesis that giving AZT at a very early stage of HIV infection was helpful. To quote the New England Journal of Medicine: “This study did not dispute the efficacy of zidovudine [AZT], but it questioned the advantage of early as compared with late treatment.” A more recent study, published in the New England Journal on July 29 of this year, again confirmed the efficacy of AZT in delaying the onset of serious illness in patients with HIV infection.
Moreover, while AZT certainly can be toxic in the same way many drugs are (especially those used in chemotherapy), neither of the two studies backs up Duesberg’s claim that AZT is actually killing people. We are thus left with no explanation as to why Kimberly Bergalis died other than that she suffered HIV infection which became AIDS.
It is amazing that Mr. Duesberg seems never to have heard of hepatitis B, a virus that, like HIV, is spread through blood and semen and, like HIV, disproportionately afflicts homosexual males and intravenous drug abusers.
Despite Mr. Duesberg’s claims to the contrary, HIV has been observed in the laboratory directly killing human cells, specifically a white blood cell called a leukocyte. It is also well established that over a period of years, persons with HIV progressively lose CD4+ cells and that, roughly speaking, the fewer CD4+ cells one has, the more susceptible one is to life-threatening infections. Indeed, the new definition of AIDS incorporates this. HIV is not “mass-produced . . . in permanently growing T-cells,” as Mr. Duesberg claims, but rather in T-cell lines. These lines remain permanent in the same way the human race does, not through immortality but through reproduction.
Nobody has been more critical than I of the AIDS establishment, and nobody has more heavily documented the mis- and disinformation emanating from that body. But that does not mean that if the members of the AIDS establishment say it’s sunny and bright out it must necessarily be dark and rainy. On the causal connection between HIV and AIDS there is overwhelming evidence, acknowledged by all but a handful of cultists.