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Incompetence In AIDS Epidemiology

by John Lauritsen

Speech To Forum On Causes Of AIDS

Bronx Community College, 16 December 1988

In the discourse on “AIDS”, the word, “epidemiology”, is used a great deal. Although the word is not clearly defined, most epidemiology consists of what I would call “survey research”. This is my field, one in which I have two decades of experience. And so I am on home ground in criticizing epidemiological research done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other branches of the Public Health Service (PHS).

Those of you who are following the debate over whether HIV is the cause of “AIDS” have probably read — or ought to read — the debate that appeared in the 29 July 1989 issue of Science. In that issue, Peter Duesberg argued that “HIV Is Not the Cause of AIDS”, and he was opposed by William Blattner, Robert Gallo, and Howard Temin, who argued that “HIV Causes AIDS”. Each side was permitted a rebuttal. In the decade that the “AIDS epidemic” has been with us, this is the only time that members of the “AIDS establishment” have condescended to defend the HIV hypothesis in open debate. And Gallo & Co. lost, in no uncertain terms. They did not even attempt to respond to Duesberg’s main arguments, and had to fall back upon ad hominem attacks and flimsy appeals to “epidemiology”. In his rebuttal Duesberg stated that epidemiology was not sufficient to prove that HIV was the cause of “AIDS”, that correlation is not the same as causation.

This is correct, and one of the first things a student learns in studying statistics: Correlation implies, but does not prove causation. Even if there is a strong correlation between two or more things, it is still necessary to dig in and prove, by whatever means are appropriate, that the relationship is one of cause and effect.

I’m going to go one step further and argue that, not only is epidemiology not sufficient to prove that HIV causes “AIDS”, but that the epidemiology — or survey research, as it were — done by government “scientists” is very bad. Their work has been far below the standards of professional survey research. I sometimes brood over whether their shortcomings are due to dishonesty or to incompetence, and conclude — both! They are dishonest and they are incompetent. And their incompetence stretches all the way from the CDC, whose periodic reports of surveillance information reveal that they are unaware of the most elementary statistical conventions, to the New York City Health Department, which (despite several Ph.D.’s in their ranks) have not yet mastered grade school arithmetic.

From the very beginning, the Public Health Service was determined to construct “AIDS” as a new disease caused by a new infectious agent. According to the official paradigm, “AIDS” is a single disease entity with a single cause, which is an infectious agent, which is a newly discovered retrovirus now known as HIV-1. In fact, not a single one of these propositions has been established scientifically. Not one of the two dozen diseases in the syndrome is new. Neither is immune deficiency new, and it is well known that the condition can have many causes, from chemicals, to malnutrition, to bad genes, to radiation, to old age. The prevailing “AIDS” paradigm consists of unsupported assumptions –the products of dubious research, of a self-perpetuating delusional system, of endless reiteration in the popular and “scientific” literature.

I began to study the “AIDS” literature in 1983, being particularly impressed that “AIDS” was not behaving like an infectious disease. Over time, the proportions of “AIDS” cases accounted for by each of the “risk groups” remained almost constant.

I have analyzed the proportions of “AIDS” cases accounted for by each of the “risk groups” at two points in time: as of December 1984 and then more than five years later, as of February 1990. 1 In these five years the number of “AIDS” cases increased more than fifteen-fold (from 7609 in 1984 to 117,781 in 1990), and yet the proportions of the various risk groups remain virtually identical. It is clear that “AIDS” is compartmentalized, confined almost entirely to two main groups: gay men and intravenous drug users (IVDUs). This is the central epidemiological puzzle of “AIDS”, and it must be explained. If “AIDS” is really an infectious disease, why is it not spreading? The compartmentalization of “AIDS” strongly suggests that environmental (or “lifestyle”) factors play a role in causing the syndrome, either as primary causes or as “co-factors”.

It became apparent as early as 1984 that the epidemiology of “AIDS” was more consistent with a toxicological model than with an infectious disease model. I began to focus upon the very heavy “recreational drug” use found among certain subsets of gay men, and in particular upon one drug: “poppers” or nitrite inhalants. The use of this drug has been confined almost entirely to gay men. All of you in the audience who are gay men know what poppers are. The rest of you have probably never heard of them. I’ll explain.

Poppers are little bottles containing a liquid mixture of isobutyl nitrite and other chemicals. When inhaled just before orgasm, poppers seem to enhance and prolong the sensation. Poppers facilitate anal intercourse by relaxing the muscles in the rectum and deadening the sense of pain. They are addictive, at least psychologically, and some gay men have been known to snort them around the clock. Some “AIDS patients”, in New York and San Francisco, had popper bottles on the table by their death bed; they continued to inhale them as long as they could breathe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly refused to regulate poppers, giving the excuse that every bottle of poppers was labelled either “room odorizer” or “incense”. Now, there is no evidence that anyone ever used poppers as “incense”, and the most parsimonious explanation for the FDA’s “hands-off” policy would be bribery; the FDA has for many decades been a notoriously corrupt agency. 2

I have collaborated since 1983 with Hank Wilson, a gay activist in San Francisco, who in 1981 founded the Committee to Monitor the Effects of Poppers. In 1986 we published a book together ( Death Rush: Poppers & AIDS), in an attempt to alert gay men to the dangers of poppers.

A summary of the medical case against poppers: Poppers are immunosuppressive. They cause anemia, lung damage, serious skin burns, and death or brain damage from cardiovascular collapse or stroke. Poppers cause genes to mutate and have the potential to cause cancer by producing deadly N-nitroso compounds. Poppers have been used successfully to commit suicide (by drinking) and murder (victim gagged with sock soaked with poppers). There are strong epidemiological links between the use of poppers and the development of AIDS, and especially Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). A six-fold decrease in the incidence of KS over the past five years parallels a sharp decline in the use of poppers.

Obviously poppers are not the cause of “AIDS”, since they were not used by the non-homosexual “AIDS” cases. However, the drug is clearly hazardous to the health and high on the list of probable co-factors for causing “AIDS”.

Although there is a very powerful connection between “AIDS” and drugs, the CDC has consistently obscured the connection. For several years the CDC presented its surveillance statistics using a so-called “hierarchical presentation”. They listed the largest “risk category” first: homosexual/bisexual men. Then they listed the next largest category, intravenous drug users (IVDUs), but they counted people here only if they had not already been counted in the first category. What this did was to submerge the overlap group: IVDUs who were also gay men; these were counted as “homosexual/bisexual men”, but not as IVDUs. As a result of this statistical obscurantism, the CDC’s tables showed IVDUs as comprising only about 17% of the “AIDS” cases, whereas in fact they comprised at least 25%. The CDC finally abandoned this form of statistical trickery after an article of mine exposing it was published in half a dozen gay newspapers. 3

In light of the compartmentalization of “AIDS”, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the drugs used by IVDUs made them sick, either as sole cause or as contributing co-factor. However, the government has done everything it can to suppress this hypothesis.

The official line is that “AIDS” is caused solely by an infectious agent, HIV-1, and that IV drug users became “infected” by sharing needles. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, there is no evidence that all, or even most, IVDUs with “AIDS” ever did share needles. It has simply been assumed, but the research has never been done to verify the assumption. To be sure, we know that some IVDUs do share needles. But we also know that many IVDUs have never shared needles, and for very good reasons. For many decades they have been well aware of the dangers of getting such deadly diseases as serum hepatitis this way. And besides, why should they share needles? An addict with a $60 a day habit can certainly afford a one-time purchase of $2 for a needle. The research to determine whether or not all IV drug users with “AIDS” actually had shared needles would be simple, straightforward, and inexpensive, and it is incomprehensible why such research has not been done.

Heroin and other drugs injected by IVDUs are known to be immunosuppressive and otherwise dangerous. It is blatantly probable that the drugs themselves (not shared needles) are the reason that IVDUs are developing “AIDS”. For many decades IVDUs have been dying of pneumonia. This is nothing new. Dr. Polly Thomas, of the New York City Health Department, has admitted that an IVDU with pneumonia and HIV antibodies would be counted as an “AIDS” case, with the assumption that HIV was the sole cause — however, if the same IVDU had pneumonia but no HIV antibodies, it would be assumed that the drugs were the cause. And yet there would be no difference in the clinical profiles: of the “AIDS-pneumonia” case or the “drugs-pneumonia” case.

It is amazing and deplorable that so many “AIDS” groups and public health departments have issued posters and brochures directed to IVDUs, telling in great detail how to sterilize needles. The message is clear: continue shooting up drugs, but play it safe by sterilizing your needles. (Drugs are safe, but needles are dangerous.) This insanity is taking place in the midst of a so-called “War Against Drugs”!

By definition all of the IVDUs with “AIDS” were drug users. And yet, from the meager information we have, it is possible that nearly all of the gay men with “AIDS” were also drug users. Research ought to have been done years ago to find out the characteristics of people with “AIDS” (PWAs) within each of the risk groups. As it is, we know virtually nothing about the IVDU, transfusion, or hemophiliac cases, other than the “risk group” label that has been slapped on them.

A little information about gay men with “AIDS” comes from a study of the first 50 gay men with “AIDS”, conducted by the CDC in 1982-1983. 4 In this study, the “AIDS” cases were compared with controls drawn from public venereal disease clinics and from private practices. The controls turned out to be almost complete clones of the cases, with one exception: they did not have “AIDS” — yet. Nevertheless, the controls were far from healthy, and a number of them developed “AIDS” shortly after the study was completed.

Never in their report did the authors even attempt to explain what they had in mind when they designed their study, although they did admit that there was an inherent bias towards unity. In other words, the tendency would be falsely to overlook risk factors that were real. In their own words:

The expected impact of these potential problems in control selection and classification would be to minimize differences between cases and controls rather than to create false differences.

The only significant difference that the investigators were able to identify between cases and controls concerned the number of sexual partners. The “AIDS” cases had had more sexual partners per year, although the controls had also been remarkably promiscuous. For several years this “finding” formed the sole basis of the government’s risk reduction guidelines. They said, “To avoid getting AIDS, reduce your number of sexual partners.” Surely this advice was inane.

Considering the fatal flaws in sample design and selection, analyses based on comparisons between the “AIDS” patients and the controls fall into the category of “garbage in, garbage out”. The comparative data are worthless. However, the government researchers were wrong to plunge immediately into a comparative, case vs. control analysis. A professional analyst would first look at the data on the “AIDS” cases monadically (by themselves). When this is done, the findings are very interesting indeed.

When we look at the data on the “AIDS” cases monadically, we ask the questions, “What are these people like? What are their characteristics?” And the answer that comes out of this research is that these first 50 gay men with “AIDS” were highly promiscuous; that they had had many, many venereal diseases, over and over again; that they had been treated innumerable times with broad-spectrum antibiotics, powerful anti-parasite drugs, etc.; and, perhaps most important, that they were heavy drug abusers.

The majority of these gay men with “AIDS” had used at least half a dozen different “recreational drugs”, some of which are very dangerous. Nearly all of them were users of poppers, alcohol, and marijuana, and a majority were also users of amphetamines, cocaine, LSD and quaaludes. Other drugs frequently used were ethyl chloride, barbiturates, MDA, and phencyclidine. One-sixth of them were users of intravenous drugs, including heroin.

Looking at this profile, it is not surprising that these men got sick. Rather, it would have been amazing if any of them had remained healthy. There is only so much abuse that a body can take. These data ought immediately to have prompted an investigation into the role that recreational and medical drugs played in causing gay men to develop “AIDS”. But no. The sole conclusion the government researchers reached was to tell gay men: “Reduce your number of sexual partners!”

Another example of bad survey research with dire consequences is a CDC study which predicted that 99% of those who were “seropositive” ( i.e., who had antibodies to HIV-1) would go on to develop “AIDS”. I’ve written an extensive exposé 5 of this study, so won’t go into it now, except to say that I talked to the three authors of the study, and they agreed with me that their research did not support the “99%” conclusion. Nevertheless, the 99%-will-develop-“AIDS” nonsense is still being bandied about in the media, and is being used to scare perfectly healthy people into taking the poisonous drug, AZT. 6

On the topic of AZT, I have copies here of the exposé I did on the FDA-conducted AZT trials, which were the basis of the drug’s approval. 7 It would be inadequate merely to call the trials “invalid”. They were fraudulent. This we know from documents that the FDA was forced to release under the Freedom of Information Act. Among many other kinds of sloppiness and misconduct, the federal investigators knowingly used data that they knew were false. And they gave two excuses for using false data. Excuse number one: if they didn’t use the false data, they would have hardly any subjects left. And excuse number two: using the false data didn’t really change the results very much. Needless to say, these are the excuses of fools and scoundrels. No ethical scientist would ever knowingly use false data.

To sum up: at this point we don’t know exactly what “AIDS” is, or what causes it. We’d better find out. All reasonable hypotheses ought to be investigated — we’ve had too much premature closure, too many speculations that have ossified into dogma. However, I do believe that some day it will be established that “AIDS” is not a single disease entity, but rather divers conditions; that “AIDS” has multiple causes, of which the most important are chemicals (including both medical and “recreational” drugs). The truth will be known eventually. For right now, we know more than enough to justify proclaiming an urgent warning to gay men, IV drug users, and others: Don’t use drugs! And don’t take AZT!

1 I have updated the data and the graph for this book.

2 See Morton Mintz, By Prescription Only (A report on the United States Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and others in connection with the irrational and massive use of prescription drugs that may be worthless, injurious, or even lethal), Boston, 1967.

James S. Turner, The Chemical Feast: The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on Food Protection and the Food and Drug Administration, New York, 1970.

3 John Lauritsen, “CDC’s Tables Obscure AIDS/Drugs Connection”, Philadelphia Gay News , 14 February 1985.

4 Harold Jaffe et al ., “National Case-Control Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis carinii Pneumonia in Homosexual Men: Part 1, Epidemiologic Results”, Annals of Internal Medicine, August 1983.

5 Chapter III, “The Epi demiology of Fear”.

6 Native Issue 276.

7 Chapter II, “AZT On Trial”.

Graph showing proportions by risk groups.

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