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Fraser Nelson launches all-out attack on his own journalistic reputation

with 46 comments

Not content with embracing global warming denial, dallying with anti-vaccination paranoia, and organising a £35-a-head pseudo-debate on AIDS, it seems that the editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson, has now gone one step further in his quixotic struggle against scientific rationalism. This week’s magazine  features an op ed by the notorious AIDS crank Neville Hodgkinson, dismissing HIV science as ‘the AIDS religion’.

Here’s an extract from a post I did on Hodgkinson earlier this year:

During the early 1990s, Sunday Times medical correspondent Neville Hodgkinson was bamboozled into running a series of articles – over a period of two years – claiming that:

“a growing number of senior scientists are challenging the idea that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS”…

“This sensational possibility, now being contemplated by numerous doctors, scientists and others intimately concerned with the fight against the disease, deserves the widest possible examination and debate.”

Hodgkinson declared in December 1993.

“Yet it has been largely ignored by the British media and suppressed almost entirely in the United States… The science establishment considers itself on high moral ground, defending a theory that has enormous public health implications against the ‘irresponsible’ questioning of a handful of journalists. Their concern is human and understandable, even if we might expect our leading scientists to retain more concern for the truth while pursuing public health objectives.”

As with the tobacco industry’s “scepticism” over the link between smoking and cancer, the views promoted by Hodgkinson tended to focus on gaps in the established explanation (many of which have since been filled) rather than on any empirical research showing an alternative cause. But he did use one of the recurrent rhetorical motifs of the AIDS denial movement – highlighting the case of an HIV-positive “AIDS dissident” who refused to take anti-retroviral drugs but remained healthy.

Jody Wells has been HIV-positive since 1984. He was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1986. Today, seven years on, he says he feels fine with energy levels that belie his 52 years. He does not take the anti-HIV drug AZT…

He feels so strongly about the issue that he works up to 18 hours a day establishing a fledgling charity called Continuum, “an organisation for long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS and people who want to be”. Founded late last year, the group already has 600 members.

Continuum emphasises nutritional and lifestyle approaches to combating AIDS, arguing that these factors have been grossly neglected in the 10 years since Dr. Robert Gallo declared HIV to be the cause of AIDS.

Tragically – if predictably – Jody Wells was dead within three years of the article being written.

Although Hodgkinson left the Sunday Times in 1994, his articles on the “AIDS controversy” continued to be disseminated online, lending valuable credibility to the denialist cause – and have been credited with influencing Thabo Mbeki’s embrace of AIDS denial in the early part of this decade.

Since his ignominious exist from the Sunday Times, Hodgkinson has largely been a marginal figure within the UK media, but perhaps Fraser Nelson could help to change all that…

Written by Richard Wilson

October 24, 2009 at 6:42 am

46 Responses

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  1. Some of your critique is justified but I think you’re still too biased to think and communicate rationally about all this HIV/AIDS stuff Richard.

    You can read Neville’s article here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/all/5457978/does-hiv-mean-certain-death.thtml

    Sadun Kal

    October 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm

  2. Sadun, you have no idea what you’re writing about. Neville Hodgkinson, like many of the other denialists, is prepared to pretend to people with HIV that a published study shows that treatment doesn’t work, by quote-mining and misrepresenting it. How on earth can any human being find this acceptable?

    http://www.helpforhiv.com/antiretro.pdf

    “Anti-Retro Drugs Fail to Increase HIV Patient’s Lifespan”

    http://www.bookslut.com/features/2006_09_009885.php

    “what I just told you about is a ten-year perspective study. And when they looked over those ten years the utopian dream did not pan out. Their HIV levels are going down, whoop-dee-doo, but they are not living longer. Its a very strange position to be in. Those of us on the skeptical side have never been more right but we have never been more hated.”

    http://aras.ab.ca/articles/popular/200706-FarberHIVAlive.pdf

    …the drugs are no longer universally seen as lifesaving. A paper published in 2006 in The Lancet reported the results of a large study that tracked 22,000 HIV positive people between 1995 and 2003. It found that the drug therapy that they received, known as HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy), did not ‘translate into a decrease in mortality.”

    http://whatifeverything.com/whatif/PDFs/HIVandAIDSin2007ABriefUpdate.pdf

    “Treatment Does Not Equal Life: The largest study of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) contradicts popular claims that HAART extends life. Tracking 22,000 previously treatment-free HIV positives that began medications between 1995 and 2003, authors discovered, Viral response improved but such improvement has not translated into a decrease in mortality.”

    This is the explanation of what the study actually shows:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/12/bad-science-peer-review-goldacre?commentid=63866b4b-cab5-4464-9fc2-7724b2e26df8

    BLBS

    October 24, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    • I think I got a pretty good idea about what I’m writing about. And I think you’re right about the misrepresentation. I think Neville is unscientifically relying on the judgment of people like Duesberg, Bauer etc. and not deliberately misleading anybody though, but it’s not cool in the end.

      Nevertheless I insist that Richard Wilson, and you, are “too biased to think and communicate rationally about all this HIV/AIDS stuff”. By rationally I mean in a scientifically rigorous way… which requires an open-mind, willingness to admit mistakes even if they’re your own and attempting direct verification of scientific evidence/arguments, instead of leaning on the judgment of authorities.

      Sadun Kal

      October 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm

      • How many of the 203,964 papers on HIV listed in PubMed have you read?

        BLBS

        October 26, 2009 at 12:27 am

  3. Very few probably. Don’t forget that I’m on the side of the critics, and I do what I do because there are no adequate responses to the criticisms. If there was any clear proof in those 203,964 papers showing that the arguments of the Perth Group are totally meritless, and if anybody had the awareness and knowledge about such proof, then someone would probably be able to communicate it clearly by now. But there are no real responses to the arguments of the Perth Group anywhere to be found. Thus I have no chance to perform “a direct verification of scientific evidence/arguments” against the Perth Group’s critique.

    Sadun Kal

    October 26, 2009 at 12:38 am

    • “I’m on the side of the critics”

      Critics of what?

      BLBS

      October 26, 2009 at 2:43 pm

      • The claims that “HIV” is proven to exist as a distinct retroviral agent.

        Sadun Kal

        October 27, 2009 at 6:16 am

  4. And where is the evidence for those (cough) “claims” to be found?

    BLBS

    October 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    • They’re claimed to be found in those 203,964 papers yet when asked nobody can tell where… The main papers claimed to support those claims are nevertheless discussed in detail in the PG’s papers and their arguments have never received proper counter-arguments.

      Sadun Kal

      October 27, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  5. Define “proper”

    BLBS

    October 27, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    • Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear. Without misrepresenting PG’s arguments. Without simplifying. In detail. Point by point. Much like the arguments of the Perth Group…

      Sadun Kal

      October 27, 2009 at 6:10 pm

      • And how do you decide that an argument is “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear.”?

        BLBS

        October 27, 2009 at 7:21 pm

  6. There shouldn’t be any logical fallacies for example, including ad hominems. The arguments should deal only with the evidence and the logic behind whatever argument is at hand. No emotions. No misrepresentations. No conflicting, vague statements. No unsubstantiated assumptions presented as proven facts etc.

    Sadun Kal

    October 27, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    • And you think that’s enough criteria for you to decide whether or not a description of retrovirus isolation is “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear.”?

      BLBS

      October 28, 2009 at 12:21 am

      • I’m not sure I understood what you’re asking. I was talking about how the counter-arguments against Perth Group’s should look like to be “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear.”.

        Sadun Kal

        October 28, 2009 at 12:25 am

  7. What are those arguments about?

    BLBS

    October 28, 2009 at 12:39 am

    • It feels like this will go on for eternity BLBS. If I believed in your sincerity I would keep on answering but I’m not a robot you know… Give me a reason to continue this game please, because I tend to stop paying attention to you at the moment. What are you trying to say and why aren’t you saying it directly?

      Sadun Kal

      October 28, 2009 at 12:56 am

      • I just find it fascinating that you can’t recognize that how an argument about virus isolation may appear to you as person entirely uninformed in the biological sciences says nothing about it’s legitimacy.

        In this context, your subjective judgments as to what is “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear. Proper, etc” have absolutely no value, because you have no basis for making those judgments. To imagine you do reflects a quite frightening combination of arrogance and stupidity. In the thread on Ben Goldacre’s blog, you were prepared to suggest to an HIV-infected individual that he was wrong to believe his doctors, and, when challenged on it, offered a pathetic and weaselly attempt at a re-interpretation of your prior unambiguous statement.

        Would you say it’s a logical fallacy to suggest there is something odd about the variability of HIV’s RNA by comparing it to other RNA viruses and misrepresenting how variable those other RNA viruses are?

        BLBS

        October 28, 2009 at 2:31 pm

  8. You’re sadly wrong about the Ben Goldacre thing. You misinterpret my words. If you read what I wrote again with paying more attention to the context of the exchange then it should become clearer: http://www.badscience.net/2009/10/aids-denialism-at-the-spectator/#comment-28403

    To summarize:

    Jonny is ashamed because he seems to have believed that his docs were trying to convince him to take drugs just for money or whatever, and he blames having doubts for his false beliefs. So I say that it wasn’t the doubt that made him hold false beliefs but it was the lack of critical thinking that should’ve accompanied a healthy doubt.

    Your misjudgment sources directly from your bias, nothing else. Or are you anti-doubt too, or what?

    Anyway, I know what science is and what it isn’t. If you can’t properly debunk an argument in 20 years then this indicates to me that the argument in question can be valid. It’s as simple as that. Either you have a proper counter-argument, or you don’t. And so far you don’t. As long as my need for a proper counter-argument isn’t met then I will keep bugging people like you with passion. Therefore, instead of arguing with me here, I suggest that all of you finally take some time to write a complete counter-argument against those of the Perth Group. Otherwise this will continue. And I have bigger plans for future.

    Sadun Kal

    October 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  9. No, that’s not a summary, that’s your post hoc attempt to pretend you meant something else and it insults the intelligence of anyone reading it. Why not quote what you actually wrote?

    “As far as I can see you still shouldn’t be ashamed of having doubts. The issue is that you apparently weren’t able to handle the doubts objectively. You ended up holding false beliefs about meds and docs and that’s the problem, not that you had doubts. Denial can render you biased for sure, thus doubts can even indirectly result in death. But doubts don’t always source from wishful thinking (denial), simply a desire to understand reality better can also give birth to doubts. In fact doubts are absolutely necessary for scientific progress”

    “ended up” = where the person is now, in care and following evidence-based medical advice. You characterize that as “the problem” and his doubts about HIV causing AIDS as “not” the problem.

    “Anyway, I know what science is and what it isn’t.”

    No, you don’t. And since you ignored the question let me ask you again:

    Would you say it’s a logical fallacy to suggest there is something odd about the variability of HIV’s RNA by comparing it to other RNA viruses and misrepresenting how variable those other RNA viruses are?

    BLBS

    October 28, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    • BLBS, it’s ridiculous that you consider yourself an expert on my thoughts too. It’s very very ridiculous.

      By “ended up” I was referring to something that ended up happening in the past, not something that is continuing to this day. Why would I say “Denial can render you biased for sure, thus doubts can even indirectly result in death” if I wasn’t agreeing with him that he was dangerously mislead because of “denialism”? But of course, what do I know about my own thoughts!? I’m not an all-knowing scientific God like you are…

      Misrepresentation, if deliberate, can even be considered fraud in my opinion, let alone a logical fallacy.

      Sadun Kal

      October 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm

      • So you agree that is misrepresentation:

        “Man and chimpanzee DNA differ by less than 2% but variation in the composition of the “HIV genome” (derived from analysis of “pieces” measuring 2% to 30% of the presumed total) measures between 3-40%. By comparison, two RNA containing viruses (polio and influenza, the latter after 27 years of dormancy,) vary by less than 1% as do RNA molecules self-assembled in test tubes denied the organising influence of living cells.”

        BLBS

        October 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm

      • It appears to be that way. I’m still checking if they concede such an error somewhere, but if I can’t find anything of that sort I intend to directly ask Val Turner about it.

        It might make you happy to see that they don’t repeat that claim about polio and influenza in this document though: http://www.theperthgroup.com/LATEST/PGRevisitHIVExistence.pdf

        I guess they totally gave up on virology after the BMJ debate… We’ll see…

        Sadun Kal

        October 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm

  10. OK then.

    “To date, neither Montagnier nor anybody else has published an electron microscopy (EM) picture of a particle which is claimed to be “HIV” showing all the morphological characteristics of retroviral particles.”

    On whose definition of “all the morphological characteristics of retroviral particles” is this statement based?

    BLBS

    October 28, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    • See ref 2: Gelderblom.

      Sadun Kal

      October 28, 2009 at 11:29 pm

      • Where exaclty in the paper does it claim to define ““all the morphological characteristics of retroviral particles.”?

        BLBS

        October 29, 2009 at 12:37 am

  11. I don’t have the paper.

    But wikipedia claims that they are “enveloped particles about 100 nm in diameter” and textbooks give a size like 80-120 nm… Whatever characteristics you choose to rely on the extreme differences are clear; 136, 160 236 nm etc. and that’s the point. To quote from the document: “…the American “HIV” is twice the diameter of the European “HIV”, and all other “HIV” particles.”

    It’s not the PG’s problem if the orthodoxy constantly relies on multiple, sloppy definitions and ignores conflicting data. It’s just more evidence that “retrovirology” is pseudoscience.

    Sadun Kal

    October 29, 2009 at 1:22 am

  12. “I don’t have the paper.”

    That always helps. Since it was written in 1987 and is about “Fine structure of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and immunolocalization of structural proteins” I think it’s safe to say it does not attempt to define “all the morphological characteristics of retroviral particles.” If you ever get to read it and find out it does, come back and let us know.

    What is “the point”? Who says virus particles always have to be within a certain range, and who defined what that range is? Viruses incorporate host cell proteins, some have double cores. This is a picture of the size distribution of HIV-1 and MMTV, doesn’t look the least bit unusual to me:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/pmc/articles/PMC369243/figure/f3/

    The HIV-1 data are from this structural study:

    http://www.nature.com/emboj/journal/v22/n7/full/7595054a.html

    This is the “US Study” about which the Perth Group write: “In the USA study the corresponding dimensions are 236 nM
    and 160 nM.” Can you explain how they arrived at those numbers?

    http://www.healtoronto.com/virol230bess.pdf

    BLBS

    October 29, 2009 at 1:57 am

  13. I’m still checking if they concede such an error somewhere, but if I can’t find anything of that sort I intend to directly ask Val Turner about it.

    Your method of determining whether the Perth Group is misrepresenting the literature is to ask THEM?

    Do you think they are going to say “yes, we misrepresented the literature”?

    Perhaps there might be a more objective method? Like learning some science.

    Chris Noble

    October 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm

  14. @Chris; At the moment my view is that they indeed made flawed statements. So I expect them to either prove you wrong or admit their mistake. If they can’t say “Yes, he was right” and if they can’t prove you wrong either, within a month or so, then I’ll let them know that they lost my trust and I’ll publicly make a fuss about it here and there until things change. I think it’s an effective strategy.

    @BLBS; Why do you think that’s their ref exactly? I think that they actually cite one of the “References for HIV taxonomy slide”, not the Bess paper.

    And why are retroviruses commonly defined as having a size around 100nm if they can also easily have 250nm or whatever. Sloppy definitions?

    Sadun Kal

    October 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    • I thought you were very familiar with The Perth Group’s work? Those numbers are claimed to be the “average “HIV” particle diameter” from the study by the “USA team, principal author Julian Bess.” I’ve posted the link to the PDF, which doesn’t say anything about average particle diameters, so I want to know how The Perth Group arrived at those numbers.

      Roughly how big do you think a viral particle with a double core is likely to be compared to a particle with a single core?

      BLBS

      October 29, 2009 at 5:11 pm

      • Your last question is irrelevant to our exchange. Let’s say 230nm. But my question was: “And why are retroviruses commonly defined as having a size around 100nm if they can also easily have 250nm or whatever. Sloppy definitions?”

        But you’re right about their ref. being the Bess paper, sorry, I didn’t properly read the whole part. I’m not sure how they arrived at those numbers, they measured the particles in the images perhaps. Why do you ask me here, and not them?

        Sadun Kal

        October 29, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  15. No, it’s not “sloppy definitions” (what and whose “definitions” are you referring to anyway?), a particle with a double core is, not too surprisingly, about twice the size of of a particle with a single core. Look at the cEMs from the EMBO paper.

    I’m asking you because you’re the one that said the Perth Group’s arguments are “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear” and so I thought you’d be able to explain why they cite a paper as showing specific “average diameters” when it contains no such information. If they extrapolated from the paper, they have to explain how they did it in their article and they don’t. Bad science right there.

    In addition to the fact that it relies on their own unqualified definition of what “purified” means, I don’t think this statement is true:

    “The first and only EM pictures of “purified HIV” were published in 1997.”

    I found a couple of papers in about 30 seconds, just while looking for information on particle size distribution. Does it ever occur to you that the many years of education and training the authors of a paper like the one from EMBO went through makes them considerably better informed than Val Turner, an emergency room physician whose definitions are extrapolated from texts he lacks the knowledge to understand? The EMBO authors have actually purified virus particles and micrographed them, Turner never has and never will.

    BLBS

    October 29, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    • “…a particle with a double core is, not too surprisingly, about twice the size of of a particle with a single core.”

      And does it cease to be a retrovirus when it has multiple cores?

      “If they extrapolated from the paper, they have to explain how they did it in their article and they don’t. Bad science right there. ”

      We’re not discussing a scientific paper in case you didn’t notice. Your criticism may be somewhat justified but but the document is created just for a presentation at a small conference. If you got quetsions, ask them! Why is that so difficult for you? Why do you prefer spending your time with me on an irrelevant blog instead of confronting them directly?

      Sadun Kal

      October 30, 2009 at 12:34 am

      • Howcome you don’t know? If you don’t know, how did you come to the conclusion that the Perth Group’s arguments are “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear.”?

        And no, a particle with a double core does not cease to be a retrovirus…

        BLBS

        October 30, 2009 at 12:47 am

  16. And why are retroviruses commonly defined as having a size around 100nm if they can also easily have 250nm or whatever. Sloppy definitions?

    It is a description rather than a definition. There is an important difference. Your simplistic and naive understanding of science is showing again.

    The way retroviruses form by budding from the surfaces of cells leads to a distribution of sizes.

    Once again, in their haste to deny the existence of HIV, the Perth Group come up with criteria which deny the existence of all retroviruses.

    Chris Noble

    October 29, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    • So the size of the particle is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the particles are retroviruses?

      Sadun Kal

      October 30, 2009 at 12:38 am

      • No, but the Perth Group’s specious so-called criticisms relating to HIV particle sizes are completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the particles are retroviruses. That question has been answered, and they are. If you don’t think that’s the case, read the EMBO paper and explain what you think it shows.

        BLBS

        October 30, 2009 at 12:55 am

      • Sadun, give up these silly loaded questions and stop trying to put words in my mouth.

        It is a pathetic rhetorical trick and only demonstrates that you are not interested in any answers to your questions

        Chris Noble

        October 30, 2009 at 12:56 am

  17. @BLBS; “Howcome you don’t know? If you don’t know, how did you come to the conclusion that the Perth Group’s arguments are “Scientific. Rational. Objective. Clear.”?”

    I’m making assumptions based on all the information I have, I don’t claim to have all the information to make flawless assumptions. My current level of knowledge still makes the Perth Group appear more scientific, rational, objective etc. than people who can’t do better than engaging in comment wars with relatively uninformed laymen, rather than confronting the scientists behind the arguments directly.

    I mean you got all this manpower, yet you’re all pathetically incapable of assembling a single document exposing the alleged pseudoscience of the PG… Apart from your actions, the amount of politics and bias against skeptics involved in the orthodox science is clear anyway…

    @Chris; I’m just asking if the size plays any role in the accepted definition of “retroviruses”. Do retrovirus-like particles start having different names when they’re too small, too big etc..? Or are the factors causing them to be labeled as retroviruses completely irrelevant to the size?

    Sadun Kal

    October 30, 2009 at 1:10 am

    • “assumptions” “current level of knowledge” – think that’s where the thread started. Despite these admitted inadequacies, you’re prepared to support and promote The Perth Group’s argument that everyone but them is wrong and that a life-threatening infection doesn’t exist. Then when challenged, you admit you don’t really understand what they’re saying, or whether what they’re saying is in any way accurate or relevant.

      The argument isn’t between them and me, it’s between them and the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and they already lost. I regret that you have not read it, and likely wouldn’t be able to understand it if you did. It doesn’t contain too many photos of models and gorillas.

      BLBS

      October 30, 2009 at 1:37 am

      • @BLBS; Actually you share the “inadequacies” too. You’re just having a hard time admitting them yourself. People in general like to believe that they know more than they could possibly do…

        “…you’re prepared to support and promote The Perth Group’s argument that everyone but them is wrong and that a life-threatening infection doesn’t exist.”

        That’s not their argument. And all I support is science. In this case this means that I think that the scientific community -or whoever feels like defending them- has to respond to criticisms to their arguments. It’s that simple.

        “The argument isn’t between them and me, it’s between them and the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and they already lost.”

        When and how? You can’t even put it into words can you? You believe that I’ll simply say “Oh ok, if you say so…”? Why not actually try to properly back up such claims by doing as I suggested and preparing a proper Counter-PG website or paper or article or whatever? You’re wasting everyone’s time posting comments in independent blogs all the time when you can achieve much more by putting up a reliable info source in a central location for everyone to see, at a website like AIDSTruth.org for example… Can’t you see that it’s startegically much more smarter!?

        @Chris; I’m just asking what I’m asking. I’m trying to understand the relevance of size to the act of labeling a particle as a retrovirus.

        Let me ask like this; what size were the biggest and smallest retroviruses in history?

        Sadun Kal

        October 30, 2009 at 1:53 am

    • Sadun. You are determined to ask rhetorical questions.

      Nobody is saying that size is completely irrelevant.

      Why do you continue to attack positions that nobody has made?

      You have already been given a reference showing the size distribution of a another retrovirus.

      Exactly what is your point?

      Chris Noble

      October 30, 2009 at 1:46 am

  18. […] any of the above support the actions of Matthias Rath in South Africa nor endorse AIDS denialism (although some sections of the Right do).  I think this is merely an example of people assuming that an individual who shares their views […]

  19. […] in the belief that its makers had intelligent and useful things to say, and running an op-ed piece dismissing HIV science as “the AIDS religion”. (see here for the original […]


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