Who Are the Real AIDS Denialists? – Testing the 'Moore Assertion'

A very interesting and instructive exchange between myself, Harvey Bialy and the New York Times-celebrated Op. Ed. author Prof. John P. Moore, self-appointed “Major General in the War on AIDS” and spokesperson for "The Scientific Community," recently appeared on the AIDS Wiki. The exchange was prompted by an offer to Prof. Moore to participate in a moderated debate with Dr. Bialy, who wrote in part:

"I propose a simple debate at the AIDS Wiki on the etiology of AIDS. I further propose it take the following form:

I will present one fully referenced (with PDF files that the moderator can hyperlink) challenge to your favorite and livelihood-sustaining hypothesis, and you can demolish my feeble arguments in the same fashion. We will continue this for one additional round, and then move on to the next challenge. I have maybe seven such challenges.

At the end, we will have produced the first fully documented, real scientific debate on the cause of AIDS. Interesting that after 25 years none has ever been held before, Bob Gallo’s promise in the PNAS in 1989 not withstanding."

Within the hour, Prof. Moore had replied to me by email:

"Participating in any public forum with the likes of Bialy would give him a credibility that he does not merit. The science community does not u2018debate' with the AIDS denialists, it treats them with the utter contempt that they deserve and exposes them for the charlatans that they are. Kindly do not send me any further communications on this or any related matter."

Despite Prof. Moore's expressed wish to discontinue communication, he in fact continued conversation with Dr. Bialy and myself for several days thereafter. By the end of this exchange, Moore had produced (and "more" than thrice) what we now call "The Moore Assertion." In the professor's inimitable style,

"… I’ll expand a very little…about why it’s not appropriate to u2018debate' with HIV denialists who also happen to be scientists, by profession or self-proclaimed… The principal reason is that there’s nothing to debate… A secondary one is that there’s nobody worth debating with. One should only debate science with credible scientists, and no credible scientist could ever dispute the causative role of HIV infection in AIDS. I repeat, in case you have missed the point: Any scientist who claims that HIV does not cause AIDS (or that HIV does not exist) is simply not credible, essentially as a point of definition. The evidence is so overwhelming that a credible scientist could not fail to understand and accept it… Would astrophysicists and geologists debate with people who believed the moon was made of green cheese?"

More succinctly, "The Assertion" denies that there is any scientific reason to doubt HIV as the cause of AIDS because a vaguely defined "scientific community" has already pronounced on the matter ad nauseum. This is vigorously defended by the ultra-orthodox AIDS cadres that Moore represents, even though the only semblance of a "real" debate in the literature occurred in the journal Science in 1988.

It ran under the logo of a "Policy Forum," with Peter Duesberg arguing against, and William Blattner, Robert Gallo, and Howard Temin arguing for, the HIV/AIDS hypothesis. In his book Oncogenes, Aneuploidy, and AIDS, Bialy gives an entertaining and accurate description of this “heavyweight science fight." Here is the last paragraph of the linked excerpt

"After the u2018Policy Forum' appeared, Peter all but begged Dan to sanction another round, to no avail. And so just when it was getting good, the bout was declared a technical draw on an inexplicable and non-appealable decision of commissioner Koshland. There was never to be a rematch. The failure to extend the discussion in the pages of Science was significant. Most scientists have neither time nor inclination to follow specialist literature in fields outside their own. They depend, consequently, on journals like Science and Nature to tell them what is considered important. Having read, as best they could at the time, the arguments of the Policy Forum, and then seeing nothing more than vulgar anti-Duesberg editorials in the scientific press and worse in the popular media, even a partially persuaded non-specialist could and would eventually concur with the u2018overwhelming evidence' of Team Virus, although it has become even less overwhelming now than it was in 1988."

The truth of the "Moore Assertion" is a key point of dispute between the two camps. Indeed, in the absence of a satisfactory resolution of its validity, it remains the principal impediment to ever discovering the real scientific merits of the virus-AIDS hypothesis that have nothing to do with the consensual basis of the claim. Until now, assertions of this type were like the Riemann hypothesis in number theory – important but impossible to resolve due to a lack of technical tools. With the ascendance of the internet, however, the "Moore Assertion" is readily testable as a scientific hypothesis. All that is required is to take an anonymous, electronic straw poll of the readership of Nature and Science, the world's two most prominent science journals, asking whether they would support a series of debates, organized and held under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, between Peter Duesberg and David Baltimore (the two most prominent and best-credentialed spokespersons for the two sides) on the cause of AIDS.

The goal of such an electronic straw poll would not be to generate an actual debate between Duesberg and Baltimore, but to test the "Moore Assertion" that "there is nothing to debate and no-one worth debating with, and the issue has already been decided by u2018overwhelming evidence' by the u2018scientific community.'"

To take this experiment out of the gedenken, we propose the following letter to the editors of Nature and Science:

"In the interests of once and forever ending the disquieting and possibly harmful pseudo-debate over the cause of AIDS that has been simmering at the margins of the journals and popular media for almost two decades, we urge you to use your good offices to take an electronic straw poll of your readers in which you simply ask them to respond to the following question. Would you support a series of debates between David Baltimore and Peter Duesberg, to be organized by, and held under the auspices of, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, on the etiology of AIDS?"

If you would like to see this experiment performed, you may meaningfully contribute by sending a joint email to Don Kennedy and Philip Campbell, (the editors of Science and Nature respectively) expressing your agreement with the letter above (and carbon-copying me) so we can, in the words of Prof. Moore, “keep at the maths…someone has to do it, after all.” (Please address them by name in your email.) In contradistinction to the "Moore Assertion," we present the "Brown/Bialy Conjecture":

"No matter how many emails are received by the editors of Science and Nature in support of the above experiment to test the u2018Moore Assertion,' they will never allow such an experiment to take place."

We speculate that the reason is because they know full well what the uncomfortable result would be.