Fast Food Etiology: The Invention of the AIDS Virus by Science and Nature

In April of 1984 Margaret Heckler, Reagan's Secretary of Health, held a press conference, unprecedented in the history of medical science, at which she announced that “an American researcher has discovered the (very sotto voce) probable cause of AIDS.”

At the time no peer-reviewed publication supporting this grand claim had yet been published, although as pointed out many times, the patent protection for the “AIDS test” was already in place.

Shortly after, the spate of papers, on which the virus-AIDS hypothesis rested were published. I reproduce the abstracts of the two most important ones below. It is clear from their titles and language that there was very little hard proof to support the claim of the press conference.

Homology of genome of AIDS-associated virus with genomes of human T-cell leukemia viruses.

Arya SK, Gallo RC, Hahn BH, Shaw GM, Popovic M, Salahuddin SZ, Wong-Staal F.

A T lymphotropic virus found in patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or lymphadenopathy syndrome has been postulated to be the cause of AIDS. Immunological analysis of this retrovirus and its biological properties suggest that it is a member of the family of human T-lymphotropic retroviruses known as HTLV. Accordingly, it has been named HTLV-III. In the present report it is shown by nucleic acid hybridization that sequences of the genome of HTLV-III … virus geek gook to the end of the abstract

Science. 1984 Aug 31;225(4665):927–30

Molecular cloning and characterization of the HTLV-III virus associated with AIDS.

Hahn BH, Shaw GM, Arya SK, Popovic M, Gallo RC, Wong-Staal F.

We recently reported the isolation and characterization of a novel human T-lymphotropic retrovirus, HTLV-III, in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and in those at risk for the disease. After extensive sero-epidemiological studies, together with numerous virus isolations from these patients, we concluded that HTLV-III is the causative agent of AIDS. Here we report the molecular cloning and characterization of two highly related but distinct forms of the HTLV-III genome. … Molecular biology geek gook having nothing to do with the etiological claim … The availability of the cloned HTLV-III genome will … facilitate the development of diagnostic and therapeutic measures in the treatment of AIDS.

Nature. 1984 Nov 8-14;312(5990):166–9

At the very end of 1984, the following paper appeared in Nature in which the virus officially went from associated to cause. Here is its abstract.

The CD4 (T4) antigen is an essential component of the receptor for the AIDS retrovirus.

Dalgleish AG, Beverley PC, Clapham PR, Crawford DH, Greaves MF, Weiss RA.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is characterized by opportunistic infections and by ‘opportunistic neoplasms’ (for example, Kaposi’s sarcoma). Persistent generalized lymphadenopathy (PGL) is epidemiologically associated with AIDS, especially in male homosexuals. A subset of T lymphocytes positive for the CD4 antigen (also termed T4 antigen), is depleted in AIDS and PGL patients. A retrovirus found in T-cell cultures from these patients is strongly implicated in the aetiology of AIDS because of the high frequency of isolation and the prevalence of specific antibodies in the patients. Here we have detected cell-surface receptors for the AIDS retrovirus (human T-cell leukaemia virus-III (HTLV-III) and lymphadenopathy-associated virus-1 (LAV-1) isolates) by testing the susceptibility of cells to infection with pseudotypes of vesicular stomatitis virus ….mol. bio. geek gook having nothing to do with the very strong last prepositional phrase. Hence, we conclude that the CD4 antigen is an essential and specific component of the receptor for the causative agent of AIDS.

Nature. 1984 Dec 20-1985 Jan 2;312(5996):763–7

Now do not think that everybody in molecular biology and virology bought this beefless burger, but the majority went along with it with the following justification, which some reading this will remember as a frequent refrain.

Even though the evidence is a bit shaky, it would be irresponsible not to proceed as though the hypothesis was proved because of the public health implications. And in the future, you can be sure that there will be more than enough additional evidence to back us up.

The really responsible response by the government officials in charge of protecting the health of the nation, as opposed to a politically inspired press conference, should have been: At the moment, we have what looks like the beginning of an epidemic of a strange and complex and until now, fatal assortment of maladies, and it appears to involve a sexually-transmitted and blood-borne agent, as well as non-contagious risk factors associated with life-style and drug consumption. Until we know for sure what the etiological agent or agents are, we advise the strict use of condoms when engaged in sexual intercourse and the abstinence from any form of drug abuse, recreational or pharmaceutical.

But instead, history marched along for 25 years as it has. Today when one asks a defender of the failed virus-AIDS hypothesis to supply some scientific proof in the form of a series of logically and experimentally connected papers, the answer (if you get one, cf. here) is invariably: “I can't do that, you fool. Don't you know, that in science it is the totality of the evidence that matters?”

To which I respond, as might you: OK, I agree. So tell me exactly when did the “totality” of the published evidence reach critical mass? To which I receive this invariant reply: “I see, serious conversation with you is impossible,” which often includes some mutation of “bugger off !”

I am reminded at such moments of the words of the Chinese philosopher, Mencius, in “The Unwobbling Pivot,” as translated for us by The Poet, Ezra Pound:

“If the root be in confusion, nothing will be well-governed.”

June 22, 2006