by Robert K. Funkhouser
Posted to Amazon.com, Nov. 7, 2006
Serious Adverse Events. By Celia Farber. Melville House: 2006, Pp. 345
In Serious Adverse Events, activist-author Celia Farber combines the unproven claims of Professor Peter Duesberg with her own ignorance and manipulates the facts to produce a massive illusion that people not familiar with the issues may naively accept as true.
Even though the scientific understanding of HIV and AIDS is built upon solid, peer-reviewed research (thousands of peer-reviewed papers and over 40,000 HIV or SIV genetic sequences in Genbank), the author skillfully plants doubts about the validity of the science and the honesty of the scientists involved, employing phrases like: “wished or dreamed into existence”, “retroviral faith”, “entrapped millions of minds”, “the core catechism”, and so on.
The author characterizes the 1984 press conference called by Margaret Heckler, then Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which she announced `the probable cause of AIDS has been found,’ as “a moment not only of scientific disgrace but a theater of the absurd.” Now, I had just read that press conference, unrelated to this review, and it seemed like a typical press conference where reporters asked the same question, with slight variations, over and over, and they tried to get the scientists to make a firm prediction as to when a vaccine would be available. It was anything but absurd, and certainly not a scientific disgrace. Heckler should have waited for Dr. Gallo’s scientific papers to be published, but please recall that in 1984 there was near panic in some risk groups because this mysterious disease, AIDS, was killing a lot of people. It was not absurd for H&HS to want to announce this important finding as soon as they reliably could. And the research had been done, four important scientific papers about the research had been submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals and approved for publication and would be published the next month. Because a government agency wanted to gain political points (the Reagan administration was under pressure to prove they were doing something about AIDS) by making this announcement prior to publication of the scientific papers in no way diminishes the validity of the science. The only absurdity here is the author’s description of the press conference.
The chapters on Peter Duesberg continue the illusion. Duesberg is first introduced by the author in the preface as a “retroviral titan.” Well, for those who don’t know, the “retroviral titan” made erroneous assumptions (unproven to this day) about AIDS more expectable from a 98 pound weakling than a scientist of “titanic” stature. The error the good professor made was to assume that because the two groups in which AIDS first showed up in significant numbers – men having sex with men (MSM) and intravenous drug users (IVDU) – shared a common factor, drug use, that drugs (amyl nitrites were popular among some members of the MSM group in the early 80’s) was the cause of AIDS when we now know that they shared something more significant: effective routes of transmission of HIV. With IVDU’s, the sharing of needles is a highly effective route of transmission. With MSM’s the effective route of transmission is anal intercourse, the most effective sexual route for HIV transmission.
Of course, the Duesberg-drug theory does not explain AIDS deaths in non-drug users with HIV, or in HIV-positive mothers who transmit the virus to their infants who then develop AIDS, or the AIDS cases of recipients of HIV-infected blood from blood transfusions. None of this seems to matter to Duesberg, who continues to insist that HIV is harmless, and that drugs (or other causes) explain AIDS despite the lack of proof of this claim, and despite overwhelming data that HIV causes AIDS.
A model example of how the author manipulates perceptions by selective use of facts is the chapter on the HIVNET012 study where the author uses quotes from a letter to Science magazine by Valendar Turner (a member of the Perth Group in Australia who despite tens of thousands of genetics sequences in Genbank, makes the incredible claim that HIV does not even exist) objecting to the study’s findings because of the lack of a placebo arm, while ignoring the rebuttal letter published in Science by the study’s principal investigators explaining why the findings were valid without a placebo arm (this was due to the fact that the efficacy of one of the study’s two test drugs, AZT, had recently been established and thus could serve as the control for assessing the efficacy of the study’s other test drug, Nevirapine). As the principal investigators described it, “”when an experimental drug is found to be superior to a control that itself is not harmful (thus replacing a placebo), the effectiveness of the experimental drug is thereby established.”
Such one-sided portrayal by selective use of the facts is, of course, dishonest. Further, the author does not explain why the placebo arm of the study was dropped, leaving one to suspect some nefarious behind-the-scenes manipulation. The reality is this – the placebo arm was dropped because the public interest group, Public Citizen, aggressively criticized perinatal HIV drug trials involving placebo controls because effective drugs to reduce mother to child transmission had already been discovered. In the words of Public Citizen’s Dr. Lurie, “It is simply unbelievable that any researcher would design a study in which no intervention whatsoever is offered to the women, particularly after the Thai/CDC results,” said Dr. Lurie. “What was the purpose of the previous round of studies if not to identify drug regimens that could actually be offered to HIV-positive pregnant women?” From the pressure brought by Public Citizen, the NIH and the United Nations (and others) made a joint recommendation to drop the placebo arms from all perinatal HIV drug trials.
This is all public information, easily found on the internet, so I find it implausible to think the author was unaware of it. However, to tell the truth would work against the obvious agenda of discrediting the trial, the drug, and all involved.
As fiction, the book is interesting. As non-fiction it’s rubbish.
Robert Funkhouser is an HIV Database Manager and Bioinformatics Programmer.