Time to separate state and scientce

Talk given at the International Conference on Science and Democracy, on 20 and 21 April 2001, in Napoli, Italy.

During my 25 years as a scientist I have watched science go from being one of the most ennobling and enriching of human activities to being a dangerous and ineffective machine.

As a young scientist I paid attention to how my older and more experienced colleagues went about the business of being a scientist. You could not help seeing the energy, passion, enthusiasm, and just plain joy of being a scientist and putting wonderful questions to each other and Nature. The science that I know and remember is in a word: exhilarating.

By its nature science is one of the most democratic of human activities. But it is a democracy of a special kind. Scientific discourse is not limited to privileged individuals, nations, races or world-views. All scientists are equal participants. Thus, science is democratic in its freedom of thought and activities.

But scientists have recognized over the centuries that majority opinion does not determine what is true. Scientists do not vote on what is true (this was more true in the past). As scientists we accept that what is true is independent of whether we believe it or not. Nature is the ultimate judge of what is true.

One of the most important and wonderful consequences of being a scientist is that we can change our minds when the evidence shows that we are wrong. I’m not saying that we do this easily. We fight vigorously for our views but eventually yield to superior argument and evidence.

This democratic science was possible when it was the activity of independent individuals. Sadly, democratic science has been replaced by the billion dollar institutions of government and industrial science. The direct consequence of this shift is that now “truth” is determined by majority opinion. Institutional science has murdered freedom of thought and discourse. Science is no longer the individual search for enlightenment and understanding but has become an instrument to further the particular goals of government and industry.

Like most scientists, I was taught in school that science is a self-correcting activity. All hypotheses, no matter how precious, were put to the grindstone of the scientific process, which was designed to preserve what was true and destroy what was false. But this delicate state of affairs was possible only when science was free—or, in fact, when science was broke, before the tragic union of government and science ushered in by the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.

Nuclear physicist Ralph E. Lapp, a researcher and adviser on the Manhattan Project, remembers what science was like before the shift: In those days no scientist ventured to ask the federal government for funds. He gathered together what money he needed from private sources or earned extra pay as a consultant to pay for his own research. But mostly he acted as a jack-of-all-trades and built his own equipment. Graduate students were required to take machine-shop practice and learn glass blowing. If he needed Geiger counters he made them himself, and he wired his own electronic circuits.

Before World War II, research and development funding for the sciences, public and private, amounted to about $250 million per year. Since 1980, US taxpayers have spent more than $93 billion on AIDS alone. And what have those billions bought?—a culture of conformity, whereby only HIV research is funded, creating the appearance that all researchers believe HIV is the cause of AIDS.

The forced unanimity of thought is not restricted to democracies. In The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko, Russian historian Zhores Medvedev describes the rise to power of an autocratic Soviet pseudoscientist, who over a period of decades corrupted and nearly destroyed Soviet biology and agriculture. Medvedev concludes that “monopoly in science by one or another false doctrine, or even by one scientific trend, is an external symptom of some deep-seated sickness of a society.” The general acceptance of Lysenko’s perverted scientific theories—designed to undermine Western science, primarily Darwinism—was heavily promoted by the government-supported media. “The peculiarities of [the Soviet] press,” Medvedev writes, “made possible popular support for one or another scientific trend selected by the political leadership, and complete suppression of the opposition.”

Medvedev easily could have been describing the way the public-health institutions of the United States have commandeered the AIDS debate. Because the NIH and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, control funding of virtually all academic research on AIDS, they can with impunity cut off funds to dissenting voices. Editors of peer-reviewed journals are pressured not to publish papers critical of the HIV hypothesis. Journalists who interview dissenting scientists are denied access to government sources, and accused of acting “immorally.” The result is a world in which the once-cherished process of scientific criticism is treated as social deviance—and punished as such.

In defending the purchased consensus, HIV researchers use statistical methodologies shown by their inventors to be invalid and conduct experiments without any controls. They take causes for effects, correlations for causations, and constants for variables. Most important, they haven’t stopped AIDS. What they have done successfully is instilled fear into human sexual relations—an amorphous fear, which most AIDS professionals as well as journalists argue has been valuable.

I doubt even George Orwell could have imagined that an autocratic regime would be able to successfully equate sex with death at the end of the millennium.

The AIDS Blunder

George Orwell warned us. He even got the date right. The year 1984 saw the birth of the HIV insanity—complete with techno-babble and AIDS-Speak.

The contagious, HIV hypothesis of AIDS is the biggest scientific, medical blunder of the 20th Century. Which makes it the biggest embarrassment that the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and hundreds of thousands of individuals who have built their careers and reputations on HIV will have to deal with in the years to come. I have come to realize that the magnitude of this embarrassment is the main obstacle to exposing the simple, clear and obvious fact that the central axioms of AIDS are false:

1) AIDS is not contagious.

2) AIDS is not sexually transmitted.

3) HIV does not cause AIDS.

4) The anti-HIV drugs are killing people.

It may come as a surprise that there is not even one study in the vast scientific, medical literature showing:

1) that a group of HIV-positive adults or children live shorter or poorer quality lives than a similar group of adults or children who are HIV-negative, or

2) that a group of HIV-positive adults or children who take the anti-HIV drugs live longer or better quality lives than a similar group of adults or children who are HIV-positive and do not take the drugs.

To counteract the natural reaction of utter disbelief, I pose a simple challenge that should undermine your confidence in the central axioms of AIDS. Come up with the name or names of the person or persons who are documented to have shown that HIV causes AIDS, or that AIDS is contagious, or that it is sexually transmitted, or that the anti-HIV drugs actually promote life and health. The task is not to find a list of people who have made these claims. That list is a long one. No, the task is to come up with the names of the people who have produced the evidence that shows those claims to be true or at least likely.

I have studied AIDS from the very beginning and I have not been able to find those names or the documents that contain the evidence supporting the axioms of AIDS. In fact, I do not know anyone who has found the names or documents.

So why do we read in the newspapers or see on the television everyday a growing litany of AIDS horrors and HIV statistics? Why do virtually all doctors and public health officials profess their unswerving allegiance to the dogma of HIV and the axioms of AIDS? The answer is simple once you see it.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry because advertising works. As noted above, since 1980 American taxpayers have spent over $93 billion on AIDS. You can buy almost unanimous support for just about anything with that amount of money. The $93 billion does not include the billions of dollars that the drug companies have spent on their AIDS-targeted products and the billions more in revenues they have pocketed from the sale of those products. By way of comparison, American taxpayers spent $22 billion to put twelve men on the moon. We got our money’s worth—we got to the moon. However, we have not yet saved the life of even one AIDS patient with those billions of dollars, and the first success is not in sight.

The tens of billions of HIV dollars support the more than 100 thousand doctors and scientists who have built their careers and reputations by simply accepting the HIV dogma and the axioms of AIDS. What these 100 thousand HIV scientists and doctors have not done with that money, however, is produce the evidence that shows that the AIDS axioms are scientific facts or at least likely to be true. As Peter Duesberg has often said about AIDS funding, “they could spend billions to study HIV on the moon if they wanted, but they can’t afford $50,000 to prove themselves wrong.”

If you think big science is devoted to the free exchange of ideas and committed to open debate you are in for a rude awakening. One thing critics discover very soon is that the high priests of HIV dogma rarely if ever address the specific criticisms of the AIDS axioms. Instead, they do everything possible to silence their critics.

Terminating grant support to dissident scientists who question HIV dogma and the axioms of AIDS is the auto-da-fé of our day. To save their careers most scientists stop asking embarrassing questions and prostrate themselves before the golden idol of HIV. The courageous (or stubborn, depending on you point of view) few who stick to their principles are forced to scrape up the money any way they can to do their research. Our lab, for example, relies on the generosity of wealthy individuals, private foundations, general donations, and we have even started a company in the hope that it will provide a long-term source of funds for our research.

But even if you get the money to do the work, you won’t be able to get your results published in American scientific or medical journals and you will no longer be invited to professional meetings. If you publicly question HIV dogma too loudly you risk ad hominem attacks and are accused of being a homophobe, or of encouraging people to stop taking AZT and the other DNA chain-terminating drugs (to which I plead guilty), or of causing people to stop using condoms.

Since the middle 1980s the United States has been engaged in a kind of medical McCarthyism, where anyone who asks questions about the HIV dogma is punished as a heretic. Those who are seen talking with a dissident are warned that they risk their careers and reputations if they continue. Even heads of state are not immune to threats and intimidation.

South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to receive intense personal attacks because he included on his AIDS Advisory Panel last year a number of scientists and physicians from around the world who dispute the mainstream dogma of AIDS. Having failed to silence Mbeki, the AIDS establishment has orchestrated an international campaign to portray him as insane because he insists on getting answers to some very simple questions:

  1. Why is AIDS in Africa so completely different from AIDS in the USA and Europe?
  2. How does a virus know to cause different diseases on different continents?
  3. How does a virus know if you are male or female, gay or straight, white or black?

Journalists who interview dissidents almost never see their work published or broadcast, they are no longer invited to mainstream meetings, and are vilified by former friends and colleagues.

On page 709 of his book Challenges, Serge Lang, the legendary Yale mathematician and member of the National Academy of Sciences, describes his unsuccessful effort to publish his commentary on Richard Horton’s (editor of The Lancet) review of Peter Duesberg’s book Inventing the AIDS Virus published in the New York Review of Books. Since the New York Review of Books would not publish his commentary, Lang sent a letter to the editor of The Lancet concerning the HIV scandal but it was turned down. He then sent a check along with his letter to have it published in the advertisement section of the journal. Yielding to Lang’s persistence, the editor of The Lancet finally published Lang’s letter (in the letters to the editor section) and returned his check.

There are countless more stories of censorship, intimidation, and financial and professional manipulation. But the discordant data still sits there, indestructible and unresolved.

With so many careers dependent on, and billions of dollars invested in, the HIV dogma and the axioms of AIDS, it is easy to see what is at stake. If some or all of the AIDS axioms are false (I’m certain that all of them are false), then we are faced with the biggest blunder of the 20th Century. It would require superhuman courage and integrity on the part of numerous government officials and the directors of the National Institutes of Health, the Medical Research Council, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control, and of countless physicians, scientists, health care workers, journalists, celebrities and average citizens, to admit that they made a big mistake—that they got it all wrong about AIDS.

Many informed critics think that the billions of dollars at stake is the biggest roadblock to ending the AIDS insanity. That money is certainly a formidable weapon in the service of the HIV/AIDS establishment. However, I think it is simple human embarrassment that is the biggest obstacle to bringing this insanity to an end. It is the fear of being so obviously and hopelessly wrong about AIDS that keeps lips sealed, the money flowing and AIDS rhetoric spiraling to stratospheric heights of absurdity.

The physicians who know or suspect the truth are embarrassed or afraid to admit that the HIV tests are absurd and should be outlawed, and that the anti-HIV drugs are injuring and killing people. We are taught to fear antibodies, and to believe that antibodies to HIV are a harbinger of disease and death ten years in the future. When you protest this absurdity and point out to health care workers that antibodies are the very essence of anti-viral immunity your objections are met with either contempt or embarrassed silence.

The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Medical Research Council, and the World Health Organization are terrorizing hundreds of millions of people around the world by their reckless and absurd policy of equating sex with death. Linking sex to death has put these organizations in an impossible situation. It would be intolerably embarrassing for them to admit at this late date that they are wrong, that AIDS is not sexually transmitted. Such an admission could very well destroy these organizations or at the very least put their future credibility in jeopardy. Self preservation compels these institutions to not only maintain but to actually compound their errors, which adds to the fear, suffering, and misery of the world—the antithesis of their reason for being.

With AIDS, perhaps the most devastating effect of this new antiscience is in the realm of clinical trials. Most drugs that are approved by the FDA must complete three phases of human clinical trials—phase I for toxicity, phase II for short-term effectiveness, and phase III, the most vital, for the ultimate measure of morbidity and mortality (that is, whether the drugs actually benefit patients).

None of the lauded HIV protease inhibitors approved by the FDA has yet completed a phase III clinical trial.

In order to satisfy the requirements for licensing, however, two phase III protease inhibitor clinical trials were initiated: a 1,200-patient Boston-centered study and a 3,300-patient trial in Europe. (With AZT, only the Europeans kept their study going long enough to see the true results, despite the fierce protestations of activists and health care workers. In the end, the so-called Concorde study gave us the answer about AZT—not only did the drug not work, but there was a 25% higher mortality rate among those taking AZT compared to those that didn’t. [Seligmann, M., et al. (1994). Concorde: MRC/ANRS randomised double-blind controlled trial of immediate and deferred zidovudine in symptom-free HIV infection, Lancet 343, 871-881])

But the protease inhibitor studies were all stopped well before their designed completion dates. On February 25, 1997, a Boston Globe headline trumpeted: AIDS Trial Terminated; 3-Drug Therapy Hailed. The article reported that 63 of the 579 Boston trial subjects receiving two drugs had died or developed new AIDS-associated illnesses, while only 33 of the 577 individuals receiving the new three-drug “cocktail” had died or gotten sicker. It also mentioned that, as late as mid-January, 1997, a “peek” at the results of the two drug regimens had concluded that they had not “yet diverged enough to warrant stopping the study.”

When the triumphant results were reported, Fauci dramatically announced that the trial had provided evidence that combination treatments including protease inhibitors “can reduce the risk of death” from AIDS.

You don’t have to be a scientist to follow the logical difficulties here. It seems highly unlikely that between mid-January 97 and mid-February 97 the data had changed enough to stop the phase III trial. Even the leader of the Boston trial admitted that there was no statistical difference between the deaths in the two treatment groups. When the study was concluded, there were eight deaths among those taking three drugs, compared with 18 deaths among those taking two. Using these mortality figures at face value is like stopping a basketball game in the first quarter as soon as your team is leading and declare victory. As everyone knows, the lead can oscillate back and forth throughout the game. The same is true of clinical trials.

In short, we don’t know if the combination therapies work to “reduce the risk of death,” because it has not been proved. So why did Fauci and his allies halt the phase III trial before it yielded statistically significant results?

Protease inhibitors were internationally hailed as miracle drugs in 1996, without the benefit of proof. As long as phase III trials were under way, they posed a dangerous uncertainty. A completed trial that resulted in an unsatisfactory result would be difficult to explain away. From the HIV/AIDS establishment’s perspective, the safest course of action was to stop the game, declare victory, and hope nobody would call them on it.

AIDS research has become a virtual puppet for the titanic, symbiotic forces of industry and government. I recently attended a small, elite conference focusing on the “chemotherapy of AIDS,” where 43 of the 100 people present were pharmaceutical company representatives who ran to the phones after each session to call in the results. During one session, I asked a leading proponent of cocktail therapies how the patients receiving the cocktails were doing. He said that some were healthy enough to work. Then I asked whether, during the course of therapy, the 20 individuals did better, stayed the same, or got worse. He did not answer. It was an embarrassing moment for the audience. Then I asked: “Your patients should have done better, right?” Again, he was speechless.

Even more disturbingly, one presenter suggested that “clinical endpoints are dead” in phase III trials. In other words, he believes that clinical trials will no longer use morbidity and mortality as endpoints—they will no longer be designed to determine whether drugs actually work. The excuse given for dropping phase III clinical trials is that they are unethical and too costly; we are henceforth supposed to assume that the drugs under evaluation reduce morbidity and mortality before this has actually been demonstrated.

To date, there is still no clinical trial that has proved that the protease inhibitors—either taken alone or in combination with other antiviral drugs—reduce the mortality or improve the quality of life of AIDS patients.

The prescience of Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville 170 years ago had anticipated the underlying political and sociological bases of the AIDS Blunder. Instead of trying to recreate his magnificent achievement, below I quote from his masterpiece Democracy in America. Here is Tocqueville’s illuminating analysis of the tyranny of conformity.

“I do not know any country where, in general, less independence of mind and genuine freedom of discussion reign than in America.”

“In America the majority draws a formidable circle around thought. Inside those limits, the writer is free; but unhappiness awaits him if he dares to leave them. It is not that he has to fear an auto-da-fé, but he is the butt of mortification of all kinds and of persecutions every day. A political career is closed to him: he has offended the only power that has the capacity to open it up. Everything is refused him, every glory. Before publishing his opinions, he believed he had partisans; it seems to him that he no longer has any now that he has uncovered himself to all; for those who blame him express themselves openly, and those who think like him, without having his courage, keep silent and move away. He yields, he finally bends under the effort of each day and returns to silence as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.”

“Chains and executioners are the coarse instruments that tyranny formerly employed; but in our day civilization has perfected even despotism itself, which seemed, indeed, to have nothing more to learn.”

“Princes had so to speak made violence material; democratic republics in our day have rendered it just as intellectual as the human will that it wants to constrain. Under the absolute government of one alone, despotism struck the body crudely, so as to reach the soul; and the soul, escaping from those blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics, tyranny does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says to it: You shall think as I do or you shall die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains to you; but from this day on, you are a stranger among us. You shall keep your privileges in the city, but they will become useless to you; for if you crave the vote of your fellow citizens, they will not grant it to you, and if you demand only their esteem, they will pretend to refuse it to you. You shall remain among men, but you shall lose your rights of humanity. When you approach those like you, they shall flee from you as being impure; and those who believe in your innocence, even they shall abandon you, for one would flee them in their turn. Go in peace, I leave you your life, but I leave it to you worse than death.”

“[T]he power that dominates in the United States does not intend to be made sport of…. The slightest reproach wounds it, the least prickly truth alarms it; and one must praise it from the forms of its language to its most solid virtues. No writer, whatever his renown may be, can escape the obligation of singing the praises of his fellow citizens. The majority, therefore, lives in perpetual adoration of itself; only foreigners or experience can make certain truths reach the ears of the American.”

“It is true that courtiers in America do not say ‘Sire’ and ‘Your Majesty’—a great and capital difference; but they speak constantly of the natural enlightenment of their master; they do not hold a competition on the question of knowing which one of the virtues of the prince most merits being admired; for they are sure that he possesses all the virtues, without having acquired them and so to speak without wanting to do so; they do not give him their wives and their daughters so that he may deign to elevate them to the rank of his mistresses; but in sacrificing their opinions to him, they prostitute themselves.”

“Two things are astonishing in the Untied States: the great mobility of most human actions and the singular fixity of certain principles. Men move constantly, the human mind seems almost immobile.”

“When once an opinion has extended over the American soil and has taken root, one would say that no power on earth is in a position to extirpate it. In the United States, general doctrines in the matter of religion, of philosophy, of morality, and even of politics do not vary, or at least they are modified only after a hidden and often insensible travail; the coarsest prejudices themselves are effaced only with inconceivable slowness in the midst of this friction of things and men repeated a thousand times.”

“What struck me in the United States is the trouble one experiences in disabusing the majority of an idea it has conceived and of detaching it from a man whom it adopts. Writings or discourses can scarcely succeed at this; experience alone overcomes it; sometimes it must be repeated.”

Anyone who knows my friend and colleague Peter Duesberg, and what he has endured and suffered simply because he persists in exercising not only his constitutional rights but also his rights as a human being, can’t help but think of him when reading Tocqueville’s words.

I plagiarize Alexis de Tocqueville shamelessly in the next three paragraphs by replacing religion with science, but I hope to honor his genius in the process.

As long as a science finds its force in the sentiments, instincts, and passions that one sees reproduced in the same manner in all periods of history, it defies the effort of time, or at least it can only be destroyed by something that is its superior. But when science is slave to a particular fashion of thought or the interests of government and industry, it becomes almost as fragile as all the other powers on earth. Alone, science can hope for immortality; bound to ephemeral powers, it follows their fortune and often falls with the passions of the day that sustains them.

In uniting with different political powers, science can therefore contract only an onerous alliance. It does not need their assistance to live, and in serving them it can die. When governments seem so strong and laws so stable, men do not perceive the danger that science can risk by uniting with power.

Insofar as a nation takes on a democratic social state, and societies are seen to incline toward republics, it becomes more and more dangerous for science to unite with authority; for the time approaches when power is going to pass from hand to hand, when political theories will succeed one another, when men, laws, and constitutions themselves will disappear or be modified daily—and this lasting not only for a time, but constantly.

The late UC Berkeley professor Paul Feyerabend agrees with Tocqueville that “the time is overdue for adding the separation of state and science to the by now quite customary separation of state and church. Science is only one of the many instruments people invented to cope with their surroundings. It is not the only one, it is not infallible and it has become too powerful, too pushy, and too dangerous to be left on its own.” (Against Method, by Paul Feyerabend (1993) Verso)


Uncovering Watergate now seems trivial compared to what it will take to expose the 16 years of fraud, incompetence, and flagrant lying that have been going on behind a veil of scientific and medical jargon, credentials, and expertise.

President Clinton did his bit to thicken the protective fog encasing the AIDS Blunder. Last summer he declared AIDS to be a risk to the national security of the United States. That action allowed at least three additional federal institutions to play a direct role in maintaining and protecting the fiction of a global AIDS pandemic. These institutions are the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA). The involvement of the FBI, CIA, and NSA in AIDS represents a far greater threat to our freedoms than to HIV.

The most astounding thing to me about all of this is that the greatest threat to our democracies has turned out not to be goose-stepping soldiers in camouflage but rather the chronic fear peddled by white-coated scientists and physicians squandering billions of taxpayers’ dollars annually and their sycophants in the media.

Ultimately, the AIDS blunder is not really about AIDS, nor even about health and disease, nor even about science and medicine. The AIDS blunder is about the health of our democracies. I think it is highly unlikely that the AIDS blunder could have occurred or been maintained in a healthy democracy where continuous discourse and debate of all important issues is vigorous and healthy, where criticism flourishes and critics are cherished as national treasures.

The only way we can free ourselves from the AIDS blunder and bring an end to the tyranny of fear is to have an open international discourse and debate on all aspects of AIDS. We will have to come up with some minimally embarrassing ways to do this, perhaps modeled on South Africa’s Truth Commission set up to heal the wounds caused by Apartheid. Anger will be a natural response to facing the enormity of the scandal of AIDS. Anger has its place but it should be put aside quickly. It is a mistake to focus on villains and on whom to punish. The AIDS blunder is a sociological phenomenon in which we all share a measure of responsibility.

The AIDS blunder has taught me that a healthy democracy demands that its citizens keep a skeptical, even suspicious, eye on its institutions in order to prevent them from becoming the autonomous, authoritarian regimes they are now. The AIDS blunder shows that we need to rethink and restructure our institutions of government, science, health, academe, journalism and media. We must replace the National Institutes of Health as the primary gatekeeper of research funding with numerous competing sources of funding. We must restructure the peer review processes of scientific publishing and funding so that they do not promote and protect any particular dogma or fashion of thought or exclude competing ideas. A robust and mean investigative journalism must be revived, rewarded and cherished.

The AIDS blunder goes to the very core of our democracies. If we continue to be hoodwinked by techno-babble and institutional blather, and allow ourselves to be manipulated by cheap sentimentality and red ribbons then freedom and democracy will slip through our fingers.

Finally, as citizens we must take back the authority and responsibility for our own health and well being and that of our democracies.

David Rasnick, PhD is a visiting scientist University of California at Berkeley.

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