Seeds of Doom - Chapter 4
Story of a controversial theory about the origin of AIDS
Chapter 4: Suppression of Dissent
In 1987 an independent researcher named Louis Pascal happened to formulate the same theory on the origin of AIDS: polio vaccines, SV40, experiments in the Congo and all the rest. He wrote an article and sent it to 13 biologists and researchers in the field of AIDS. No reaction. Then he sent the manuscript to 3 scientific journals. One refused it with no explanation, another refused it because it considered the theory implausible, and the third did not answer.
Pascal had a different article accepted by an African magazine, but unfortunately it went out of business before it appeared. Pascal also wrote a big new article for a medical ethics journal, but they refused to publish it because it was too long. This long article was finally published in December 1991<ref name="ftn46">(PASCAL, L., Science and Technology Analysis Research Programme, University of Wollongong (AUS) , 1991).</ref> by an Australian university after more than 4 years, and then only because a professor named Brian Martin thought that Pascal had been the victim of what he termed "suppression of dissent" - the censure or blocking of an uncomfortable idea by a power group, in this case the scientific community.
Why were Pascal's ideas not accepted?<ref name="ftn47">My suggested reasons are taken from those listed by Martin (MARTIN, B., BioScience , 1993). Martin's article had been rejected by the "British Medical Journal" (MARTIN, B., Social Studies of Science , 1996).</ref> Was it because they are threatening for the image of medicine and medical research? Or was it because Pascal was not a professional researcher, not affiliated with any institution? Because if you don't have a piece of paper saying who you are you don't count? No, it was because Pascal's articles are not written in the dry concise style required by scientific journals. He is too passionate. It's his fault; he should have stuck to the rules.
But in the end it was published. ...500 copies? Nobody even noticed it. But a few months later when Curtis' article appeared in Rolling Stone it was a different story.<ref name="ftn48">The Rolling Stone article, followed by a series of Curtis articles in the "Houston Post", prompted coverage in the rest of the lay press, and was presented on TV. For a bibliography see Prof. Brian Martin webpage at the following page:
See also (KYLE, W. S., Lancet , 1992); (Anon., Science , 1995); (SCHULZ, T. F., Lancet , 1992); (STRICKER, R. B. et al., Lancet , 1992); (RATNER, H., Lancet , 1992); (LECATSAS, G. et al., Lancet , 1992); (GOLDBERG, B., Lancet , 1992)</ref> Rolling Stone has a circulation of hundreds of thousands of copies.
Reaction of the scientific world
So what was the reaction of the scientific world to the theory? One scientific journal in particular took the trouble to follow the case. Not just any journal, one of the most prestigious in the world - you know it already - Science: "Debate on AIDS origin: Rolling Stone weighs in"<ref name="ftn49">"The rock-and-roll magazine's hypothesis" was considered either "speculative" or "irresponsible" (COHEN, J., Science , 1992a). But not every researcher was prepared to discard the theory so easily (FOX, C. H., Science , 1992). In two internal statements, both WHO and FDA affirmed that the theory had no scientific basis. (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 324-5.</ref>. Curtis' theory was just another of a long line of "wild speculations".
Now, in a scientific debate whom do you believe? Rolling Stone, a rock mag, or Science, one of the most famous scientific journals in the world? No! Try to think with your own head and read the article! Science did not furnish any proof to refute the theory; it merely stated that the "experts" considered it implausible. Curtis disagreed with them and wrote to Science contesting the criticism and restating his position.
His letter was published by Science in May 1992<ref name="ftn50">(CURTIS, T., Science , 1992). Curtis replied to Cohen that the author of the theory wasn't Curtis himself, but an AIDS activist called Blaine Elswood, and that a scientific paper would soon be published. In fact the scientific version prepared by Elswood with the medical researcher Raphael Stricker, was at first rejected by the "BMJ" and then accepted by "Research in Virology", published by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which however took more than a year to publish it, and then only in abbreviated form. (ELSWOOD, B. F. et al., Research in Virology , 1993). In an unusual procedure, the shortened article was followed by a rebuttal from the journal's editorial board. They stated that although it was legitimate to raise questions about the origin of the AIDS epidemic and the possibility that it might have been caused by medical actions, there were two reasons to refute the OPV/AIDS theory: the Manchester sailor and the genetic distance between HIV-1 and SIV. (Anon., Research in Virology , 1993). See also (KOPROWSKI, H., Research in Virology , 1995). (ELSWOOD, B. F. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1994); (ELSWOOD, B. F. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1995); (STRICKER, R. B. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1997); (GOLDBERG, B. et al., J Theor Biol , 2000); (HAYFLICK, L. et al., J Theor Biol , 2000).</ref> and only then did Hilary Koprowski respond: "As a scientist, I did not intend to debate Tom Curtis when he presented his hypothesis about the origin of AIDS in Rolling Stone. The publication of his letter in Science... however, transferred the debate from the lay press to a highly respected scientific journal....".<ref name="ftn51">(KOPROWSKI, H., Science , 1992). Cohen, the author of the first Science article replied to Curtis that "there is a real problem with undetected virus contaminating primary cell cultures that are used to make vaccines", but "there also is a real problem linking that issue to the origin of AIDS" (COHEN, J., Science , 1992b).</ref>
Got it? According to Koprowski's reasoning, a theory can only be discussed if it is presented in a scientific journal. So, my ideas, your ideas, unless they appear in a scientific journal, don't count. Of course scientific journals can't just publish anything. All submissions are subject to quality control. And that's the curious thing, precisely because Koprowski's letter is full of errors and inaccuracies - even the notes are out of sync - and none of the facts he presents actually refute the theory.<ref name="ftn52">Although Koprowski's arguments seems to be final, in reality they could easily be rebutted. For instance he stated that the same pool of vaccine used in Africa was also used to vaccinate more than 7 million Polish children, but actually these articles reveal that the pool of vaccine used in Africa was used on just 3,000 persons in Poland, who were vaccinated by a different method. (Furthermore as Hooper later highlighted different batches of that vaccine pool were used in Africa and Europe (HOOPER, E., Atti dei Convegni Lincei , 2003) see pp. 59-73). For criticisms of Koprowski's articles: (CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996) see pp. 190-197, 258-62; (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 247-50; (PASCAL, L., , 1994) unpublished. Martin asked to Pascal to modify certain parts of the text to avoid legal problems, but Pascal refused and so Martin didn't put the text on his home page. B. Martin, personal communication, July 2001.</ref> Curtis once again disagreed and wrote to Science pointing out the errors in Koprowski's letter. And how did they react? They didn't publish his letter!<ref name="ftn53">T. Curtis, [letter to the editor], September 30th, 1992. Published in (CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996) see pp. 258-62.</ref> We can accept that, in order to have merit, a theory must appear in a scientific journal. But if they don't publish all our arguments, how can it be discussed?<ref name="ftn54">Martin questioned if the normal processes of peer review and publication within the scientific community are the most appropriate to benefit society as a whole (MARTIN, B., BioScience , 1993) and (HORROBIN, D. F., JAMA , 1990).</ref>
But that wasn't all. Immediately following publication of the article in Rolling Stone, the Wistar Institute, with whose support Koprowski had organized the vaccinations in the Congo, called together a panel of experts to evaluate the relevance of the theory.<ref name="ftn55">(BROWN, P., New Scientist , 1992a).</ref> After 6 months the findings of the group were presented at a press conference:<ref name="ftn56">The conference was held in New York, October 22nd, 1992. (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 252-4.</ref> "...we consider the probability of the AIDS epidemic having been started by the inadvertent inoculation of an unknown HIV precursor into African children during the 1957 poliovirus vaccine trials to be extremely low."<ref name="ftn57">(BROWN, P., New Scientist , 1992b). The report, dated September 18th, 1992, was never published, but it can be found on Martin's homepage.</ref> They didn't say "impossible", just "improbable".
Why? The report cited the OHTA's [he jokes again with a martial attack] test, where it was noticed that the virus had already disappeared during the first steps of vaccine production. But that study said nothing about the old method of vaccine production. Then the oral route is not an efficient way of infecting with SIV or HIV. It is possible, however, that some of the vaccinated individuals had sores, wounds or blisters in their oral cavity, thus increasing the chances of infection.
In addition, there is evidence that the virus can be transmitted from mother to newborn via breast-milk, or through oral sex. How many of the vaccinees were teething infants or kids, who bit their tongues in fear or anxiety? It's known that infants under 30 days were given 15 times the normal dose, to be sure that they were effectively immunized.
The Wistar expert panel's report ended with the following warning: "In closing, we feel compelled to mention that the current controversy highlights the problems and difficulties associated with using monkey tissue for production of vaccines administered to humans. To this day, live-attenuated poliovirus vaccine is produced in the United States and in most other countries using primary African green monkey kidney cells. [...] There may well be other monkey viruses that have not yet been discovered that could possibly contaminate vaccine lots."
Them, too? It's already the fourth time that somebody warns against the use of monkey kidney tissue cultures in the vaccine production: Koprowski in 1960, Lecatsas, Ohta, and now the Wistar Institute panel. And still today the majority of polio vaccines are produced using monkey kidneys, when there are nowadays alternative methods of production, which are safer. Questions of interests? Don't change the subject...<ref name="ftn58">Tom Curtis was informed that an "aerosol" effect could have increased the probability of an oral transmission, but some other scientists were sceptical about this. (GOLDBERG, B., Lancet , 1992).</ref>
The Manchester Sailor
Basically, the panel of experts gave just one piece of evidence, which challenged the theory. The Manchester sailor. In 1959, a young man of 26 from Manchester, who had been in the navy, died the victim of diverse organisms, which literally devoured his body.<ref name="ftn59">(WILLIAMS, G. et al., Lancet , 1960) and also (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 21-5, 115-6, 121-3.</ref> It was a horrible death and I would rather spare you the details. Everything pointed to a collapse of the immune system. The doctors in charge of the man were so shocked and perplexed that they decided to take samples of his organs to carry out tests, perhaps at some later date, in the light of new scientific knowledge.
When the AIDS discussion began in the 80s, the case was reviewed<ref name="ftn60">(WILLIAMS, G. et al., Lancet , 1983). The case was first proposed in 1982 (NICHOLS, P. W., New England Journal of Medicine , 1982).</ref> but the samples were not submitted to a double-blinded test until 1990.<ref name="ftn61">(CORBITT, G. et al., Lancet , 1990) and also (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 117-21.</ref> The result was unequivocal. All the check samples were seronegative, while in 4 out of 6 of the sailor's samples the presence of HIV was detected. The young man was seropositive and died of AIDS.
But why should the Manchester sailor case have been such a crushing proof against the theory? Because he was in the navy and had apparently traveled in Africa between 1955 and 1957. But he had returned to England before the beginning of the Koprowski vaccinations in the Belgian Congo. So if the young man had become infected before 1957, that meant that HIV was already present in a human before the beginning of the vaccinations and therefore they had nothing to do with the AIDS epidemic.
Immediately after the press conference, Science published a very short editorial reporting that the panel of experts had demolished the OPV/AIDS hypothesis.<ref name="ftn62">(Anon., Science , 1992). For the article, the Manchester Sailor is the "putative coup de grâce". </ref> No reservations. No doubts. Period.
Curtis was again in disagreement and wrote to Science protesting that the group of experts had disproved absolutely nothing. The Manchester sailor could very well have been infected by a companion after his return to England because the symptoms of disease had not appeared until the end of 1958 when several thousand people had already been vaccinated. It was also possible that the young man had taken part in another of Koprowski's vaccinations, for example the one in Ireland in 1956. Moreover, a theory could not be refuted on the basis of one proof only.<ref name="ftn63">Martin wrote: "It is now the conventional wisdom in the history and sociology of science that a single piece of evidence is not sufficient to reject a theory. Within any general picture, such as a scientific paradigm, there are always some anomalies. These anomalies are either explained away or ignored so long as there are compensating advantages or insights to be gained from the wider picture. This is not to say that anomalies should be dismissed as trivial. Quite the contrary: they are important nodes of contention. But they are not alone sufficient basis to reject a theory. The importance placed on the Manchester seaman example by opponents of the polio vaccine-AIDS theory, and their lack of examination of alternative explanations, suggests the eagerness with which they have sought ways to dismiss the theory." (MARTIN, B., Townsend Letter for Doctors , 1994).</ref>
The lawsuit against Curtis
The letter arrived at Science at the end of 1992. And what was their response?... No, wrong! They published it.<ref name="ftn64">(CURTIS, T., Science , 1993).</ref> And once more Koprowski replied, this time not in a letter but with a lawsuit against Curtis and Rolling Stone for "...the destruction of (his) professional and personal reputation, for mental and emotional suffering, and for ...humiliation and embarrassment..."<ref name="ftn65">(HOLDEN, C., Science , 1993a).</ref> But just a moment. Where are scientific theories supposed to be discussed - in specialist journals or in the courtroom?<ref name="ftn66">During the lawsuit, Brian Martin intervened in "Nature" in favor of Curtis, critizising the use of legal action against writers and publishers discussing scientific issues (MARTIN, B., Nature , 1993).</ref> As someone later remarked, "Being burned alive as a heretic is admittedly worse than facing financial ruin, but except for the threat being different, we have seen this mode before."<ref name="ftn67">This sentence was written by Bill Hamilton. See (CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996) see pp. 254-7.</ref>
The lawsuit occupied Curtis full time for about a year but he was never brought to court.<ref name="ftn68">The lawsuit engaged Tom Curtis' brother, Michael K. Curtis, a lawyer, who wrote an article on the suppression of dissent with relation to Koprowski's defamation suit (CURTIS, M. K., William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal , 1995).</ref> At the end of 1993 the lawyers of the two parties reached an agreement whereby Rolling Stone had to pay a symbolic amount of one dollar in compensation to Koprowski and print a "clarification"<ref name="ftn69">(Anon., Rolling Stone , 1993).</ref> stating that the oral polio vaccine theory (OPV/AIDS hypothesis) was only "...one of several disputed and unproven theories..." on the origin of AIDS. The clarification praised the figure of Koprowski as a scientist and regretted "...any damage to (his) reputation that may have been caused by the article...".
However, it did not actually retract Curtis' article, nor did it mention having been published as part of a legal agreement. The costs of the case amounted to $300,000 for Koprowski and $500,000 for Rolling Stone. But why was Koprowski satisfied with a mere clarification instead of the retraction of the article, and why did he not insist on a trial? Was it perhaps because, according to American law, the onus would have been on Koprowski to prove that his vaccine had not been responsible for the AIDS epidemic?<ref name="ftn70">(CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996) see pp. 186-90.</ref> The lawsuit achieved one objective, however: it discouraged the lay press from publishing anything more on the theory.<ref name="ftn71">Bill Hamilton. See (CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996) see pp. 254-7.</ref> And Curtis' career as a journalist? Seriously impaired.<ref name="ftn72">(TYER, B, Houston Press , 2000). </ref> Science reported that Rolling Stone's clarification had closed the case and that Koprowski felt relieved.<ref name="ftn73">(HOLDEN, C., Science , 1993b).</ref>
At this point the theory seemed disproved for all time. But was it really? As we have seen, the only real evidence to refute the theory was the case of the Manchester sailor. And in 1995 a stupendous revelation made its appearance, presented by David Ho. Who is David Ho? What do you mean who is David Ho?
David Ho is a brilliant researcher in the field of AIDS.<ref name="ftn74">"Time", December 30, 1996 Vol. 148 No. 29. Ho was chosen as "Man of the year 1996" for Time, because of the role he played in the development of triple therapy. </ref> And, he was also a member of the panel of experts at Wistar Institute. Well, after their report was drafted, Ho, who is a bit pedantic, wanted to know more about the virus of the Manchester sailor. As it appeared to have been the first case in the world, he thought it might provide important insight into the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. He obtained the same samples, which had been double-blind tested in 1990. In his tests he also detected the presence of the virus, but although on one hand his results concurred with those of 1990, on the other, something did not convince him. So he had samples sent directly from the doctor who had been in charge of the sailor and carried out the tests again.
His conclusions, published in 1995, were rather surprising to say the least.<ref name="ftn75">(ZHU, T. et al., Nature , 1995) and also (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 362, 489-97, 601-3.</ref> The original samples were found to be seronegative, while those sent by the English laboratory had been seropositive. But the strain of the virus found in the latter belonged to a person who had probably died at the end of the 80s, and the samples themselves were discovered to be a mixture of tissue from at least 3 different people!<ref name="ftn76">The English group later retracted the 1990 article. (CORBITT, G. et al., Lancet , 1995); (MASOOD, E., Nature , 1995). Moreover, an investigation was started by the Central Manchester Healthcare NHS Trust. (CONNOR, S., Bmj , 1995).</ref> "...Either tissue samples were mixed up in a laboratory... or the samples were deliberately switched."
But who would have mixed up the samples? Well... it could have been an error. But then what was the real cause of death of the Manchester sailor?<ref name="ftn77">This raised two dilemmas up to today unresolved: the real cause of death of the Manchester sailor and how, when and where the samples were contaminated or deliberately switched. Some possible solutions are proposed by Hooper and Hamilton (HOOPER, E. et al., Lancet , 1996) and by Stricker and Goldberg (STRICKER, R. B. et al., Lancet , 1997). See also (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 516-8. </ref> Maybe he was one of those rare cases in which the collapse of the immune system is the same as those infected with AIDS, but which are seronegative. Extremely rare cases.
And so, discussion of the theory went on. But who was left? Lecatsas hadn't shown any further interest in it, Curtis had been eliminated by his lawsuit and Pascal... that was another mystery. No one had ever seen him. Of course Louis Pascal is a pseudonym. Louis Pasteur and Blaise Pascal: the great medical researcher and the great philosopher. Curtis, Martin and others had only communicated with him by letter but no one had ever met him in person. And in 1996... he disappeared completely.<ref name="ftn78">Brian Martin, personal communication, July 2001; (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 365-74.</ref>
What a story!<ref name="ftn79">The first book on OPV/AIDS theory appeared in 1996 written by the Australian scientific journalist Julian Cribb entitled "The White Death" (CRIBB, J., "The White Death.", 1996). Another review of the theory was published in Medical Hypotheses in 1997 (REINHARDT, V. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1997), but no relevant new element was published up to 1999. </ref>