Why I Quit HIV: The Aftermath

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I want to start
with an apology. I regret that I have not been able to individually
answer every email I've received in the wake of my essay, "Why
I Quit HIV
," which recently appeared on Lew Rockwell. I
am grateful for this forum, and I hope that I will be able to clear
up some confusion people appear to have experienced. I'd also like
to express my gratitude for the many, many positive and indeed inspirational
letters I've received.

Now I’d like
to address some common questions I received.

Many people
inquired what impact the article would have on my job or career.
I have not quit my job, nor have I been fired (so far). I've
simply abandoned one area of research — I doubt I'll ever be able
to publish in mathematical biology again, but that was the risk
I knew I was taking. Thank you all for your concern.

A few individuals
kindly suggested that I inject myself with the blood of a late-stage
AIDS patient. While such an act might sensationalize my viewpoint,
there are a number of problems with such an "experiment."
First, I can only imagine the non-HIV contaminants that might be
found in such blood. Second, the data and results contained in the
literature are sufficient to cast doubt on HIV. But most importantly,
such an "experiment" would hardly settle anything, given
the "latency period" of 10-15 years for progression to
"AIDS."

Many people
insisted that I don't know what I'm talking about because I offer
no alternative explanations for AIDS. There are many alternative
explanations for "AIDS," or severe immune deficiency.
The immunosuppressive effects of malnutrition, chronic drug abuse
(pharmaceutical as well as recreational), parasitic infections,
psychological stress, and other risks were well-established long
before "AIDS" became recognized in the early 1980s. The
fact is that most (but not all) AIDS patients do belong to risk
groups whose members are subject to one or more of the above assaults.
This fact can be checked by reading the annual
CDC surveillance reports
, although drug use is hidden because
the CDC gives priority to "sexual transmission." And I
should point out that the correlation between positive antibody
tests and immune deficiency doesn't necessarily imply that HIV is
the cause. To shamelessly steal an analogy from Peter
Duesberg
, just because long-term smokers often tend to develop
yellow fingers along with lung cancer, does not mean that yellow
fingers cause lung cancer. This is what we refer to in statistics
as a "lurking variable" — correlated but not the cause,
and hence confounding the issue. In any case, pointing out the flaws
in an existing theory in no way obliges me to produce an alternative.

I did receive
several emails from people like myself who work or have worked with
AIDS every day, people who have growing doubts or who have abandoned
the theory altogether. These include doctors, pharmacists, biologists
and social workers.

"I
volunteer in a Community Health Center, which was started twenty
years ago, mainly for HIV positive people, though our clientele
has expanded to all sections of our community. Also, as a former
physician and then a psychiatrist, I was never able to understand
this mysterious ’disease’, and your writing has clarified a
lot of that mystery."

And there was
also the following quote, from a social worker who works with HIV-positive
prisoners:

"Having
worked with women with HIV in a prison environment, they always
seemed more scared than sick."

The letters
that particularly affected me were those from people diagnosed with
HIV, or who have lost loved ones to AIDS. I have lost count of the
number of people who have told me that they are convinced their
friends and lovers died from AZT poisoning rather than HIV. I have
nothing to offer but my utmost sympathy. I've received mail from
people who are HIV-positive and healthy for years without any AIDS
medications. I have also gotten more letters than I was expecting
from people whose lives have been seriously affected by false positive
diagnoses, including a man who lost his position in the military
after a positive HIV test, despite being at very little risk, and
despite having had malaria and numerous vaccinations. He's out of
work now.

"I
am a low-low-low-low risk group guy who has been diagnosed with
HIV as a part of yearly tests (military). As a hetero[sexual], monogamous
(10 years with one NEG[ATIVE] partner), non-IV drug using male…I
was skeptical. However the “system” is not skeptical and it has
subsequently tubed my previously successful career…The fact that
I have had malaria and about a billion weird immunization shots
(incl[uding] Anthrax) has not been brought up as possible source
of false positive.”

For everyone
who has been affected by AIDS in one way or another, and for those
of you who have an abiding concern about doing science correctly,
please know that I read all of your letters and you are in my thoughts.
What I wrote was very personal, but it was also intended to serve
another purpose: the average person should be aware of all the information
that exists, not just what's been fed to us through the government
propaganda machine. The individual citizen should be able to make
informed choices about their health and their life. Let's not allow
overzealous, misinformed public health agencies to take away that
right from us.

The article
also attracted some comments from the blogosphere. The following
comments appeared at a blog called Aetiology,
which is owned and maintained by Seed
magazine:

"That’s
rich. First, as I mentioned, she’s a mathematician. I don’t know
what her background is in infectious disease epi[demiology]
(I contacted her but she did not respond), and she obviously
shows little understanding of molecular biology in her comments
about PCR (by her logic, any microbe shouldn’t cause us harm
because they are so tiny)." March
9, 2006 10:43 AM

Yes, I am just
a mathematician. I've never treated an AIDS patient, nor have I
worked with HIV in the lab. But in the course of my work, I have
studied both the microbiological and epidemiological aspects of
AIDS, and the current HIV theory fails to explain either of these.
Ever more convoluted explanations for HIV pathogenesis and epidemiology
are not the signs of a mysterious virus, but rather the signs of
a theory that is being shaped to fit the facts.

The following
quote, as well as the quote above, indicate some confusion over
what I had to say about PCR. This comes from an aspiring
microbiology student:

"To
understand my shock at the content of this article, you have to
understand how incredibly steeped in the doctrine of the AIDS
generation current education in Microbiology is. In the several
years I have been working on my B.Sc, I have taken probably five
courses that featured HIV or AIDS as prime examples of their
precepts, have taken a course from one AIDS researcher, and
have read about AIDS from several more. The idea of the AIDS virus
has been one of the best known and studied examples of classical
virology that we've ever had…I haven't read the whole article
yet, but from the part I've read, it seems that it's written by
a disgruntled HIV mathematician who got out of the race when
she discovered that her paradigm and that of the establishment
in this medical research field were radically different. From
what I read, her science seems fine, except for some pretty
disdainful and poorly-educated opinions on some of the best-used
and most well-understood DNA techniques, such as PCR, or Polymerase
Chain Reaction (the technique used by crime-scene units to
amplify very small amounts of DNA so it can be identified,
matched or analyzed):

If something
has to be mass-produced to even be seen, and the result of that
mass-production is used to estimate how much of a pathogen there
is, it might lead a person to wonder how relevant
the pathogen was in the first place.

First of
all – to say this, a person needs to have absolutely no concept
of how small DNA is, the degree of virulence of the pathogen
being studied, and essentially no concept of how microbiology
works. In short – a mathematician." The
AIDS “Theory.”

To be very
clear, I did not mean that HIV cannot be pathogenic because it is
so small, I meant it cannot be pathogenic because it is so
sparse; there is so little of it to be found. I was comparing
PCR to a Xerox machine, rather than a magnifying glass. We need
the Xerox machine because traditional virus culture techniques fail
to detect HIV. Worse yet, PCR is used to measure "viral load,"
but this quantitative use of PCR has never been validated.
As mathematician Mark Craddock has said, "If PCR is the only
way that the virus can be detected, then how do you establish the
precise viral load independently of PCR, so that you can be certain
that the figures PCR gives are correct?" An alarmingly simple
question, when you think about it; perhaps too simple for an AIDS
establishment already fully committed to "surrogate markers,"
protease inhibitors and "combination therapies."

And finally,
a random blogger at LibertyPost.org
appears to be lauding the toxicities of protease inhibitors:

"And
worse, she claims that protease inhibitors are killing HIV patients,
‘And the leading cause of death in HIV-positives in the last
few years has been liver failure, not an AIDS-defining disease
in any way, but rather an acknowledged side effect of protease inhibitors,
which asymptomatic individuals take in massive daily doses,
for years,’ when that’s exactly what you would hope for (mortality
drastically decreasing to the point that more deaths were the result
of side effects) if protease inhibitors were in fact EFFECTIVE
treatment for AIDS." posted
on 2006-03-03

Finally, I
received a series of odd emails from a prominent government HIV
researcher, which includes the following quote:

"The
AIDS denialists are making some noise about you being the u2018latest
PhD researcher' to refute HIV as the cause of AIDS. The document
they are citing…does not contain any new research, but only
repeats a lot of the standard denialist disinformation."

The opening
of this email begins with the use of the pejorative and entirely
unnecessary term "denialist," and this was followed by
an "elucidation" of various aspects of virology that I
imagine were intended to persuade me to change my mind, despite
the fact that the arguments given were precisely those arguments
that led me to doubt HIV in the first place.

The arguments
I presented were not intended to be "new research," but
rather a short summary of the rather substantive questions that
scientists such as Peter Duesberg and others have raised, which
have still not been adequately answered. If the AIDS establishment
is so convinced of the validity of what they say, they should have
no fear of a public, adjudicated debate between the major orthodox
and dissenting scientists to settle the matter once and for all.
Yet all the major AIDS researchers have averted such a public debate,
either by claiming that the "overwhelming scientific consensus"
makes such a debate superfluous, or by saying that they are "too
busy saving lives." In place of public debate, clearly politically
motivated documents such as the Durban
Declaration
remain the establishment's standard response to
dissenting voices. Even a cursory reading of this pathetic document
reveals it to be a statement of faith, designed to divert attention
from dissenters at the very moment when they were threatening to
expose the orthodoxy in South Africa in 2000.

To clarify
an issue that has caused some confusion, it was not the mathematical
models themselves that caused me to doubt HIV, but rather
the scientific literature on which the models are based. Billions
of dollars have been spent on HIV, and this has not led to a greater
understanding of the virus, but rather to a series of unproven or
incorrect speculations which have been widely trumpeted in both
the scientific and lay press. Such a track record is indicative
of institutional problems in modern biomedicine.

The famous
Ho/Shaw 1995 Nature papers are a typical example of this
phenomenon. These were the papers largely responsible for popularizing
HAART (the so-called "Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy")
and the "Hit hard, hit early" regime as a treatment for
"HIV disease" and "viral load" as a measure
of treatment success. The mathematical models used in these papers
were claimed to show that HIV replicated furiously from day one
— in contrast to earlier evidence suggesting it to be quite inactive.
Even now, few people are aware that these conclusions were based
on very poorly constructed mathematical models. Anyone who has taken
a first course in differential equations can see that, if analyzed
properly, the models predict the onset of AIDS within weeks or
months after infection by HIV, before antiviral immunity.
(For anyone interested in a mathematical refutation of the Ho paper,
I refer you to Mark
Craddock’s analysis
. Similar criticisms have been directed at
the Shaw paper.)

This example
illustrates a central flaw in the HIV theory. The vast majority
of the literature I've seen uses what is known as circular logic
— you assume that something will happen, and then you mold the definitions,
models, experiments, and results to support that conclusion. Craddock
describes a typical example of circular logic in the Shaw paper:

"They
are trying to estimate viral production rates by measuring viral
loads at different times and trying to fit the numbers to their
formula for free virus. But if their formula is wrong, then their
estimates for viral production will be wrong too."

Such tactics,
by definition, are excellent at maintaining the façade
of a near-perfect correlation between HIV and AIDS, and of providing
seemingly convincing explanations of HIV pathogenesis. But the resultant
science does little to expand our actual understanding.

To fully appreciate
how such tactics became common, one needs to revisit the beginning
of AIDS science. In 1984, HIV was announced as the cause of AIDS
at a press conference before any supporting literature was
published and had a chance to be critiqued by the scientific community.
By the time the supporting papers were published, the lay press
had all but declared HIV to be "the AIDS virus," and debate
in the scientific arena was squelched. The current commonly used
orthodox tactic of arguing by intimidation and forcing the conclusions
to fit the facts became entrenched. Consider the time period in
the scientific literature, when HIV went from being "the probable
cause of AIDS" (1984) to simply "the cause of AIDS"
(1985). What changed? What happened to make scientists come to such
certainty? If you look at the actual papers, you'll see quite clearly
that the answer is: Nothing.

Returning to
the Ho/Shaw papers, these have essentially been debunked by both
establishment and dissenting researchers, on biological as well
as mathematical grounds; they are now acknowledged to be wrong by
the scientific community, and it remains a mystery how they were
ever able to pass peer review in the first place. It is often asked,
"Why should we care at this point? Those papers are 11 years
old; our understanding has progressed since then." The short
answer is that "viral load" and combination therapies
are used to this day, despite the fact that they were originally
based on these incorrect papers. Although current therapeutic regimens
have been scaled back from the "Hit hard, hit early" dogma
that was popular ten years ago, the fact remains that a large population
of people have been, and continue to be, treated on the basis of
a theory that is fundamentally unsupportable.

Yet there is
another answer to this question which is even more fundamental.
It is a curious fact that few HIV researchers seem to be bothered
by the events surrounding the Ho/Shaw papers. You might imagine
that people might "care at this point" because of concern
over the integrity of science. You might imagine that people might
feel an urge to discuss how the papers got published, and if other
such mistakes have happened since that time. You might imagine that
the failure of the peer review process to detect such patently inept
research would send off alarm bells within the HIV research community.

You would be
wrong.

HIV researchers
know the Ho/Shaw papers are wrong, yet they continue along the clinical
path charted by the papers. They know that the quantitative use
of PCR has never been validated, yet they continue to use "viral
load" to make clinical decisions. They know that the history
of HIV/AIDS is littered with documented cases of fraud, incompetence,
and poor quality research, yet they find it almost impossible to
imagine that this could be happening at the present moment. They
know their predictions have never panned out, yet they keep inventing
mysterious mechanisms for HIV pathogenesis. They know many therapies
of the past are now acknowledged to be mistakes (AZT monotherapy,
Hit hard, hit early), yet they never imagine that their current
therapies (the ever-growing list of combination therapies) might
one day be acknowledged as mistakes themselves.

As a final
thought, I am often asked, "How could medicine have made such
a big mistake? How could so many people be wrong?." I believe
the answer lies in the disintegration of scientific standards that
have resulted, in large part, from the changing expectations of
academic scientists. I'm an assistant professor, and my father is
also a professor in the physical sciences, so I have had plenty
of opportunity to see exactly how research expectations affect the
quality of work we produce. It is clear to me that the pressure
to obtain big government grants and to publish as many papers as
possible is not necessarily helping the advancement of science.
Rather, academics (and in particular, young ones) are pressured
to choose projects that can be completed quickly and easily, so
as to increase their publication list as fast as possible. As a
result, quality suffers.

This lowering
of scientific standards and critical thinking has been apparent
in many aspects of research for some time, and after several generations
of students, it is now beginning to infiltrate the classroom — the
textbooks and the undergraduate curriculum. It is germane at this
point to indicate that many of the common arguments presented in
response to the queries of HIV/AIDS skeptics are essentially some
form of appeal to the use of low standards. (For example, "You
don't need a reference that HIV causes AIDS," "The fact
that HIV and AIDS are so well correlated indicates that it must
be the cause," "HIV is a new virus, and new viruses will
meet new standards," "Koch’s
postulates
are outdated and don’t apply in this day and age,"
"We don't need to worry about actual infectious virus, viral
u2018markers' should suffice," or "Real scientists do experiments;
they don’t write review articles on the literature.") All of
these observations are eloquently summed up, again by Craddock:

"Science
is about making observations and trying to fit them into a theoretical
framework. Having the theoretical framework allows us to make
predictions about phenomena that we can then test. HIV "science"
long ago set off on a different path…People who ask simple,
straightforward questions are labeled as loonies who are dangerous
to public health."

It
is this decline in scientific standards that I point to, when I
am asked how so many people could be so wrong. Given the current
research atmosphere, it was almost inevitable that a really, really
big scientific mistake was going to be made. But we can still have
hope for the future — hope that institutional and political pressures
will no longer continue to cost lives, and hope that we will soon
see honest dialogue and debate, free of name-calling and intimidation.

March
21, 2006

Rebecca
V. Culshaw, Ph.D. [send
her mail
], is a mathematical biologist who has been working
on mathematical models of HIV infection for the past ten years.
She received her Ph.D. (mathematics with a specialization in mathematical
biology) from Dalhousie University in Canada in 2002 and is currently
employed as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at a university
in Texas.

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