Dr. Simpson – Gildemeister read chemistry at
Christ Church College Oxford where he obtained
a D.Phil. He later did further research at Tübingen
He has taken a keen interest in the AIDS debate and
has worked as an adviser to Meditel Productions.
Dr Simpson – Gildemeister continues to challenge
some of the basic tenets of orthodox medicine and
pharmaceutical research through his reflections on
the combined impact of the placebo effect and the
questionable use of misguided probability ratios on
the credibility of double blind placebo-controlled
THE AIDS DEBATE – 20 YEARS
Those were worrying times indeed, back in the early eighties, when one heard that there was a killer virus around which specialised in targeting gays. So, when the US Health Secretary announced in 1984 that ‘her’ Robert Gallo had found the culprit and that a vaccine was expected in two years’ time, things didn’t seem too bad. It could have been worse if I had had much to do with Americans, which I didn’t.
I was very naive in those days. I had no inkling of what a dreadful lot of
liars virus hunters were. They just said anything, like novelists, writers or artists – they said anything they felt like if it suited them, nobody could prove them right or wrong. But I did wonder: why were they so unsure about some of the basics, eg. how long the period of silent infection (latency) was. First, it was 9 months, but this increased as time went by. I thought it was because virologists were discovering unknown quirks about this nasty little virus (HTLV-LAV-HIV).
Fair enough, science has its surprises, that’s how it goes. But the thing became a bit of a joke and Peter Duesberg summed it up neatly: the latency increases by one year every year. It was not for good scientific reason, but the powers that be, were just making it up as they went along, because the predicted number of AIDS cases weren’t turning up. There was nothing scientific about it – no unexpected on/off mechanism, for example. In those days, the Great and the Good (who knew what they were talking about – NOT) taught that a new disease/virus spreads exponentially until everybody susceptible either became infected and developed a natural immunity, or succumbed (Farr’s Law).
Around 1986-7 I happened to meet an old friend on a train, Michael Attwell (another television man, the whole of AIDS dissent seemed to be in the hands of television people, not scientists) who set me straight about a number of questions swirling around in my head. He could answer my question “weren’t antibodies those things which protect you from viruses”. Yes, he replied – normally. But in the case of HIV, the natural antibodies were ‘non-neutralising’. Gosh, I thought, better keep quiet and not show up my ignorance further. As a lapsed molecular biologist I should have known about things like that, and not have someone who had a degree in PPE, ie. general knowledge, explain what different sorts of antibodies there were.
This incident was to prove typical – a foretaste of what AIDS would turn out to be: medical “experts” were just hopeless gas bags who went round spouting statistics, ie. lies, damn lies, and statistics; laboratory experts were fascinated by their instruments (DNA sequencers), blissfully unaware that the whole concept of viruses was based on Rous’ work in 1913 on five scrawny chickens. Nobody ever repeated his findings (perhaps they tried but didn’t tell), not that that worried anybody. The lack of thinking beggars belief: that in-breeding might harbour its own pitfalls, that Pasteur’s accomplishments in the 1860s on fermentation, yeasts, silk worms etc. were not relevant to living human beings.
And poor Robert Koch, inventor of the famous Postulates, wasn’t all he was hyped up to either. He never could induce disease in wild-type (normal) cells, they had to be those specially bred for that purpose. Koch’s Postulates had to be modified to include the word susceptible. This meant that the Postulates were a tautology – if cells became infected, they were susceptible, if not, they weren’t. Clever, innit!
Relief from the many absurdities of the serious matter of AIDS came when by chance I saw Joan Shenton’s AIDS: The Unheard Voices. Joan was an old friend from Oxford days (she, I knew, like Attwell, was another whiz-kid with antibodies, antigens and the like, who had struggled her way through fashionable Oxford society and a Modern Languages degree)! A while later, I asked her what the response to her programme was : shouldn’t there have been a huge outcry? Had not the government, at considerable cost, been warning us for a number of years in television ads and a leaflet to every house in the country, that we’d all be dying if we didn’t practise safe(r) sex? Mind you, they obviously weren’t too sure whether sex was safe with a condom or just safer (if it broke or people mistakenly put it over their head? was left unclear).
Medical science thereafter became a lot more sane again as I became familiar with Professor Peter Duesberg from Berkeley, a distinguished virologist – Peter the Great – who in his inimitable and amusing way explained that HIV was a tiny virus which only had 3 or 4 genes, barely sufficient to survive, let alone cause the multitude of diseases that HIV was credited with : as varied and contradictory as lymphomas (a form of cancer, ie. cells growth), a wasting disease, cachexia, (cell loss), PCP (a type of pneumonia) and dementia, that HIV. It was a great relief to be able to have one’s questions answered merely by ringing up the great man.
Over time I realised that Joan had been making herself very unpopular with her peers – commissioning editors – by espousing her politically incorrect ideas, and in danger of sinking. It was the least I could do to allow her to continue her work, so that others might see the light and give them the opportunity, like me, of laughing at the fantasies being aired in The Lancet, BMJ, NEJM and the media beholden to the Government’s Chief Medical Officer.
For a while Duesberg’s persistence in sticking to the scientific facts seemed to bear fruit. Maddox no less, editor of Nature, attended an Alternative (ie. Duesbergian) AIDS conference in 1992, signalling an open mind on the matter. The International AIDS Conference in Berlin in 1993 had a sizeable dissident contingent for the first time at a major AIDS conference, though Duesberg himself was not invited (to spoil the fun?) even though he actually was in Berlin at the time to visit his aged mother who lives there. Later that year, another conference in London, AZT on Trial, was a great success, and there were appropriate reports of these events in mainstream medical journals. The Concorde Trial was a further blow to right-thinking AIDS scientists, which showed that AZT didn’t help anyone, and all who took it died.
But thereafter Big Pharma, led by the infamous Burroughs Wellcome whose mega-profits financed all the AIDS nonsense, got its act together and counter-attacked. All opposition to the official line was stifled by the simple device of not financing any non-HIV research. Joan had to admit (temporary?) defeat and went off to write her side of the story, Positively False.
In the spring of 1995, Meditel had to shut its offices (and dissident drop-in centre) in Covent Garden. Its extensive library and filing cabinets now graced my spare bedroom. Just before doing so, in December 1994 a freshly-minted German virologist, Stefan Lanka, dropped in and announced that while HIV did indeed not cause AIDS, it did not even exist!
Hey, wait a minute, hadn’t we all seen plenty of photos of HIV to prove him wrong? No, we hadn’t. What we had seen were electron-micrographs of T4 cells (they were the ones which mattered most in AIDSology) with parts helpfully coloured in in purple by artistically-minded computer wallahs, which purported to show HIV attacking T-cells, or alternatively escaping from T-cells after they had multiplied and killed them off. In a famous duo of photographs, one in the New Scientist said HIV was attacking, and the same photo in the National Geographic said HIV was budding out. This was no clerical error – how were the experts to tell what on earth was really happening? In an electron microscope, the sample investigated is placed on a slide in a very high vacuum and covered by a thin layer of metal to make the sample electrically conducting. That being so, nobody could tell what was happening, no biological process was being sequentially caught on camera as in an optical microscope. In other words, the whole thing was a complete artifice, in modern parlance, a grotesque dumbing-down. Grotesque, because I have been laughing myself silly about HIV/AIDS since about 1990, whereas many millions are still quaking in their boots being worried to death by all the horror stories put about by “experts.” What jerks!
Lanka, then 31, did not have it all his own way. Who did he think he was, waltzing in late on to the AIDS scene? What did Peter the Great have to say about it, that’s what mattered. Not too much, as I recall. While minding Joan’s shop in my flat, Peter would ring from time to time, midnight here was a convenient time for him to talk in California. I had made it my secret ambition to “turn” him to the by now prevalent Lanka view (except in America) that HIV didn’t exist, let alone do anything. I thought it would not be too difficult. After all, Duesberg was a true scientist who had rekindled my interest in science, and who was prone to say “you know, anything is possible in science . . .”, that’s what is different about science vis-à-vis other fields of human endeavour. Wouldn’t it be marvellous, I thought, if one of the early stars of retrovirology would see the light and come out and say “sorry folks, we goofed.” Back in the early 70s, when retroviruses were discovered, not because any new virus particles had been seen, but because the enzyme reverse transcriptase had been identified, which begat reverse transcription, which begat retroviruses.
Coming from Duesberg, it would have been devastating. No waffling Montagnier, no bombastic Gallo and the rest of them could have claimed that he didn’t know what he was talking about. He could have explained precisely, in gory detail, how it all came about and why. Instead, we got a rebuttal to the Lanka and Perth Group case, claiming that cloning of HIV was better than its isolation. Ordinary people would be quite happy to see ordinary evidence of isolation – everybody knows what isolation means, it means showing that it exists, period. Occham’s Razor. As if Duesberg had suddenly forgotten his English!
Meanwhile, the polymerase chain reaction had been invented – and what a feast the AIDS scientologists had! They claimed that HIV, far from being barely detectable, a main Duesberg plank, had all along been replicating furiously from the moment of infection, curious that nobody had noticed for the previous 15 years. But the new scientologists were clearly somewhat unsure of their ground. Instead of talking about virus particles (virions), they talked about viral “load” and “copies”. Did they mean load as in a load of tripe or in load of tomatoes; and copy as in photocopy? Everybody knows what load and copy mean: they do not mean individual particles. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know or visualise what a virus particle is that is passed from person A to person B.
And so the dreary virus tale drags on. For example, a clever new virus called SARS flooded in from East Asia, and caused less than a hundred deaths in Canada (but somehow spared the US completely). Or, a bird flu virus from China or Vietnam that might mutate into a mass killer (like AIDS) – they’re pathetic.