An Interesting Question

Printer-friendly version
Section: 

A man recently wrote in to this web-site to ask me an interesting question: why was it that I was still writing about the origins of AIDS? He reasoned that for most people (at least in the West) AIDS is now a treatable disease; most of the people who were involved with the CHAT oral polio vaccine in the 1950s are now dead, and in any case it is unlikely that my theory of origin will ever be definitively proved as true. Under these circumstances, why keep going? Was it just in order to apportion blame?

It was a good question, and it made me re-examine my own motives for remaining actively involved in this debate after 31 years of studying AIDS, and nearly 28 looking into the origins of the disease. I wrote back with the response that follows below.

At the end I asked the man who had written me if he would mind if I reproduced our correspondence on this site, provided that I did not reveal his name. He has just agreed to this. In his reply, he modestly asserts that he is "not someone with a broad range of research like yourself, I have my life's experiences and observations but nothing more."

Below is my attempt to explain why I am still doing what I do, followed by my correspondent's initial email. He is now anonymised as "Mr X".

Ed Hooper July 6th, 2017


Dear Mr X,

First of all, let me offer a sincere thankyou for your kindly and very thoughtful letter. As far as I recall, I have not received such a message before now, and it really did make me reflect about the question you had asked. That's good: it is always important to re-examine the reasons why one is doing something, all the more so when it has been one's main undertaking and area of research for the last 30 years, as it has been for me.

Thanks also for providing such a full background to your involvement, before posing the question.

I'm glad that you state that one important aspect of my role should be "to encourage those developing vaccines to make very sure they are dispensing the chemicals they want to dispense and none other. And that they keep very accurate very public records of everything they do, and that these records are permitted to be examined by anyone who wishes to examine them."

I agree wholeheartedly.

But I don't agree that this is "the only lesson left that [my] research has to give". And I also emphatically don't agree with your contention that I am "now more involved in promoting the stigma of AIDS than [I am] in helping. To place blame now, at this time since its now 2017 isn't really helpful anymore."

I have to be frank, and admit that I'm actually quite upset that you believe that my only purpose is trying to place blame. I have always emphasised that I am not engaged on a witch-hunt. As evidence, I offer the fact (referred to somewhere on the site, I believe) that I have received more than one approach from lawyers eager to initiate a class-action law-suit against the now-deceased Dr Koprowski, and have rejected all such approaches. I believe that it is my role to cast light on the problem, not to blame or to prosecute those who are implicated by my research.

I think there are many important things which my research reveals, both about the way Science is carried out, and about the sometimes ugly realities of our modern world, the realpolitik. To some extent I believe (forgive me, for I know this sounds a bit pompous) that it provides a cautionary tale for the world, a morality tale for the ages.

One important aspect (as you have pointed out) is the importance of doing accurate science, and recording accurately what one has done. In many places in the story I have told these basic principles have not been observed. But there are many other examples. One is the importance of making sure that, whatever one might be told by the ambitious promoters of a medicine or vaccine, thoughtfully-devised checks and balances are in place. Then there is the desirability of monitoring, and as far as is possible controlling, political and commercial interference in the practice of science and medicine.

I agree with several of your points: the major players are now dead; for most people (at least those in the West) AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease; and it's unlikely that it will ever be proved beyond doubt that the origins of the pandemic took place in the way that I propose. But what if the accumulation of evidence gets to a point where the hypothesis is proven beyond reasonable doubt? Would not that have some real importance for the study not only of HIV/AIDS, but also of other viruses and diseases?

From the perspective of HIV/AIDS, there is the possibility that an accurate understanding of how the AIDS pandemic began may yet lead to an effective vaccine, or even a cure. If a study of the bloods of those now elderly people who were vaccinated in 1958 in the Ruzizi Valley could be done, then what might be learned from that? We may presume that they were exposed to a novel virus which caused the deaths of some people (probably a small number), but which failed to infect others, such as themselves. Why was that, and is there something in their blood which might help others resist the impact of the virus? (As an aside, I spent more than a year discussing with a leading UK government scientist the viabaility of mounting such a study among the former vaccinees, thus far - I am sad to say - without positive results.)

From the perspective of molecular biology and genetics, it is important to highlight the ways in which Bad Science can cause immense damage. In this instance, I believe that the Bad Science involved the attempt to put dates on the phylogenetic analysis of HIV which, as I have explained on the web-site, has been based on the dogmatic - and in all likelihood false - assumption that the HIV-1 pandemic began with a single transfer from a chimpanzee to a human, rather than through a mass exposure (via the vaccine) in the late 1950s. We now have the undesirable situation where a small group of scientists have gained almost total control over research into the prehistory of SIVs and HIVs. These same people have enormous investment (through such things as grants, reputations and potential awards) in their interpretation of the raw data being proved right. Under such conditions, truth and self-interest can easily become conflated and blurred, and there is a tendency to falsely believe that one's own hypothesis (which might otherwise be termed one's own propaganda) has been proven.

And from a wider perspective, the origins of AIDS is important too. If we could be misled about such a crucial matter (one that has caused - though UNAIDS are loath to admit it - some 50 million deaths), then on how many other important issues are we being led up the garden path? I am emphatically not a conspiracy theorist, and most of the conspiracies that are mooted on the Web can be disproved by just a bit of common-sense research. But I do believe that there are some secrets which are withheld from "the masses" by the rulers of this world. They would probably argue that it is for our own good (and perhaps safety) that we do not know too much. Better, they would argue, that an elite group (such as themselves) controls access to certain information. But would you agree? Would you be happy to live in a world where you were regularly being sold patsies? (Not pasties, which are usually rather nice.)

I could write much more, but I hope that I have gone some way towards answering your question. Once again, thanks for asking it. As I said, I have not been asked this question before, but it is good to have to think once again about why it is that I do what I do.

If the web-site gives the impression that I am mainly intent on apportioning blame, then that would be a concern to me. Indeed, I think it might be worth my posting something on this topic. If you were to be fully anonymised (ie your name not mentioned), would you have any objection to my asking the Webmaster to post this exchange of emails on the site?

With best wishes,

Ed Hooper


Mr X sent a message using the contact form at http://www.aidsorigins.com/contact

Dear Mr. Hooper,

I've read a lot about the origin of AIDS with respect to your investigation of it's connection to a polio vaccine. I've read your stuff, I've read other's stuff. I've personally followed the AIDS epidemic from when I was just 19 in 1982 and just entering the gay world as a young gay man myself. I've had much of my life tinted by AIDS in the background of everything I've done. I've had HIV positve friends die. I've still have lots of HIV positive friends. I voluntered in 93-95 giving out the current info. on AIDS at the time on a 800 line to anyone who called, I read them what I had been given to say. Over the years I've watched as the drugs came along and helped many but didn't help all. I've been aware of what was happening in Africa and have tried to follow research on an AIDS cure as best I can. The internet was a great help in that, when it came along It seemed to make finding out more a lot easier.

I have not become HIV positive and realize its a combination of luck and the choices I have made. Today I date someone who is HIV positive and it doesn't make any difference to us now. Well, I say it dosen't make any difference, thats not entirely true, we are both aware of it and we both agree I'd rather not contract it so we do things that try to retain my negative status. For his part, he is aware of how he aquired it (a long time before he met me) and he is dilligent in his maintenance of his meds routine and associated good lifestyle habits.

I say all this to you to ask you a question. Before I do, I'd also like to say that my attitude towards AIDS has changed over the years. I've grown from the terror it once made me feel, to a more educated person who gave out info about it, to a person who knew many who died of it, to someone who knows many who lived through it, to someone that finally lost his fear of even talking about it, to even losing my worry about talking about it to someone with it. Its become a natural part of my conversation of life. Its become a part of the world I live in and one in which I know how to act towards now. So, my question to you is this: Why does it matter where AIDS comes from? I realize its an interesting question, and I think you may be on to something. But at this point, based on all you've shown us, even if you're right it will most likely be something that is never proved beyond a doubt. A long time ago, in the 80's I would have been more interested in the answer to the question. I would have been kind of interested in it all along. But as time has gone by it seems that the stigma of AIDS has come to be a more profound lasting impact than it might have been expected once we knew more about the disease.

It seems to me that you are now more involved in promoting the stigma of AIDS than you are in helping. To place blame now, at this time since its now 2017 isn't really helpful anymore. The people who may have involved in starting it are now most all dead. The people who died of it have died. The people who have it have it. The people have learned how to act around it. However it came to be, it is now a part of us all in one way or another. It seems to me the only lesson left that your research has to give is to encourage those developing vaccines to make very sure they are dispensing the chemicals they want to dispense and none other. And that they keep very accurate very public records of everything they do, and that these records are permitted to be examined by anyone who wishes to examine them. It seems to me that your work would be best targeted towards things like the U.N. where standards are set for certain kinds of things that affect all of humanity., and to other science orgainizations. You don't have to say you have proof of anything, but you do have documentation of something that makes it seem as if your theory is correct. You could lobby those organizations to set standards so that in future there won't have to be research like yours about new problems that may arise, as they will have made sure their records were well-kept, made public, and done according to the standards of the day. To keep at this blame game doesn't really provide any help to the AIDS - affected community. Which has grown to become the entire population of the world. We're all affected by it.

I'm glad you've done this work. I'd encourage you now to use it towards something more substantial than placing blame.

Sincerely,

Mr X