Editor's Desk

by Paul Philpott

Manufacturing AIDS hysteria
A friend vaguely aware of my AIDS views called to inform me that I was wrong about AIDS being a rare disease in the US. "Did you know that last year 555,048 men came down with AIDS?" she said. That must be a cumulative number, I explained. Only about 40,000 men received an AIDS diagnosis last year.

What was she looking at? A flyer for "National Men's Health Week, 1999," distributed at her job by the National Men's Health Foundation. She reviewed her information, and spotted that the figure was indeed cumulative. "I thought it was for 1998 because all the other figures were for 1998."

She faxed the flyer to me, and I understood why she misread the statistic. The page listed several diagnoses, first AIDS, then others, such as mouth cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, tuberculosis, etc. For every one of the non-AIDS conditions, a caption read "cases in 1998."

But for AIDS, the caption read, "cases through 1998."

Naturally, I called the number at the bottom of the page (610-967-8620) to ask about this deception. The person who answered the phone was very knowledgeable about the figures, though she did not construct the page. She admitted that it was misleading, and that all the figures should have been annual.

So why did her group use the cumulative figure for AIDS?

"I don't know," she said. "I assume that's just the information the researcher received."

Received, no doubt, from some government agency with an interest in promoting the myth that AIDS affects lots of people.

More obits for academic freedom
"The Einstein College of Medicine is in an embarrassing fix," begins a brief "Below the Fold" editorial in the May 14 Lancet .

"The rumpus concerns that irrepressible scourge of the HIV community, Peter Duesberg." Although the editor declined to opine about how Einstein professors pressured their students to withdraw their invitation to Duesberg to speak on their campus, he did accurately recount the events (described in the April RA ), and revealed that he learned of the incident from a letter submitted by Yale math professor and RA member Serge Lang.

The incident also received accurate -- and sympathetic -- treatment in "The Academic Path to Pariah Status," a long article on the subject of academic freedom published in the July 2 Chronicle of Higher Education . The piece begins and concludes with the story of how Duesberg's heavy funding and international plaudits were stripped when he proposed that the HIV-AIDS model, though it attracted billions of tax dollars, was a scientific flop. The article describes many other incidents of professors having their careers shut down for expressing unpopular ideas.

Professors in the article reveal how this shut-down process -- as effective as a formal blacklist -- involves sly methods that leave no one culpable. One of them says only a few professors need to be punished in order to make the message plain to all -- practice "self-censorship" or expect to forsake your career.

Even the Associated Press recently covered the censorship of Duesberg (March 18), with a brief, sympathetic article devoted to the scandal, titled, "AIDS researcher is ostracized."

Evidence mounts that Duesberg's experience is typical.

Florida AIDS official Pierpont resignation
The Tampa Tribune finally covered the resignation of Manatee County "HIV/AIDS Prevention" Coordinator Mark Pierpont ( RA July). But it did so with a highly inaccurate column that failed to describe or evaluate the RA perspective that compelled Pierpont's action. The July 31 edition included a substantial rebuttal by Pierpont himself (and included his new email address, pierpontmassoni@hotmail.com). But the Tribune declined to print the following rebuttal that I submitted:

Mike Stobbe's article about Mark Pierpoint's resignation from his position as an area Health Department HIV/AIDS Prevention Coordinator greatly disappointed me ("Official challenges findings on HIV," July 12). Pierpont resigned because he has become convinced by the medical scientists who reject the HIV explanation of AIDS and who conclude that the real causes of AIDS include non-infectious factors such as narcotics, blood transfusions, hemophilia treatment, malnutrition, and anti-HIV drugs.

Rather than consider Pierpont's unconventional view, Stobbe wasted valuable print space disparaging it for non-scientific reasons, such as Pierpoint failing to show up for scheduled interviews with Stobbe and the chief of Florida's Bureau of HIV/AIDS, Tom Liberti, finding the episode "a little confusing."

Stobbe then discredited the AIDS reappraisal view in general with two paragraphs devoted to irrelevant personal information about the kookiness of an AIDS reappraiser who lives in Tampa, and with quotations from Liberti and a University of Miami medical school scientist, Margaret Fischl, agreeing that "the debate was pretty much settled" -- HIV does indeed explain AIDS. Stobbe accepted Liberti and Fischl's comments as the final words on the subject, but offered no scientific reason for doing so.

Stobbe mentioned only one scientist who advances the AIDS reappraisal view, UC-Berkeley retrovirologist Peter Duesberg. But Stobbe quoted neither Duesberg nor any of the other qualified scientists who agree with him, including two UM Medical School scientists -- Dr. Rudolf Werner, a professor, and Dr. Todd Miller, a researcher -- who work in the same building as Fischl.

A proper, useful treatment of this subject would have addressed the obvious questions: Why -- scientifically -- do Pierpont and many credentialed, professional scientists, such as two of Fischl's colleagues, reject the HIV explanation of AIDS? Why -- scientifically -- do Liberti and Fischl accept the HIV explanation for AIDS? And what -- exactly -- did Liberti find confusing about Pierpont's resignation?

I assume that when Stobbe covers other topics, he produces journalistically sound articles. But when covering AIDS, he, like most reporters, forgets to apply skepticism to consensus views advanced by government officials and university professors.
Imagine if I wrote an article rejecting the HIV explanation of AIDS because one of its supporters is kooky, another one is rude, a government official finds it "confusing" and agrees with a university professor that everybody else has rejected it. Stobbe would certainly recognize that such an article fails to meet requisite standards of journalism.

The Tribune could make amends by publishing an article that seriously considers the scientific reasons why some scientists regard AIDS as infectious and caused by HIV, and why other scientists regard AIDS as neither. With thousands of lives and billions of tax dollars annually at stake, Tampa residents should expect nothing less from their daily paper of record.