The Air-Brushing of History

Two new books about the origins of AIDS tell it like it wasn't

In recent months (October 2011 and March 2012) two new books about the origins of AIDS have been released: The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pepin, and Tinderbox by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. Both books have enjoyed generally positive reviews in the scientific and lay press.

Both volumes start off with the assumption that the oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of AIDS origin has been disproved and that the bushmeat origin theory is now proven.

Review of The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pepin

Review of The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pepin [C.U.P. 2011]

"The Origins of AIDS" by Jacques Pepin [Cambridge University Press], which came out in October 2011, has received a fair amount of attention in the press, almost all of which has been complimentary. I have a rather different take on the book.

Review of Tinderbox by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin

Review of Tinderbox by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin [Penguin USA; 2012]

The Origins of the AIDS Pandemic

A Quick Guide to The Principal Theories and the Alleged Refutations

PREAMBLE: The oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of origin of AIDS proposes that an experimental OPV made in a unique manner was administered to nearly one million Africans in the 1957-1960 period, leading to the infection of perhaps 10 to 500 people from the former Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi with the pandemic strain of HIV-1, thus initiating the AIDS pandemic. (UNAIDS has proposed that by 2010 over 80 million people had been infected with HIV-1, of whom some 46 million had died from AIDS. Even if some statisticians claim that the true figures are nearer to two thirds of these, AIDS still represents the most disastrous infectious disease epidemic that our species has ever experienced.)

The Bushmeat Gang (The Gang That Couldn't Tell The Time!)

[This is a response to Worobey et al.: "Island Biogeography Reveals the Deep History of SIV" (Science; 2010; 329; 1487), and to the related article by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in the New York Times, "Precursor to HIV was in Monkeys for Milenniums" (NY Times; September 16, 2010).]

The Donald McNeil article in the New York Times invited comments from the public, and in the following 24 hours 101 comments were logged before the Comments section on this topic on the Times web-site was closed.

A New and Important Paper by Brian Martin

The Death of an American Hero

Walter A. Nelson-Rees, 1929-2009

Once again I have the sad task of having to report the death of a fine scientist, and a good man. Below I include a link to the excellent obituary notice that was sent me by Walter's partner of the last fifty years, Jim Coran, which reveals many unexpected and little-known details about Walter's life and scientific career.

Walter A. Nelson-Rees Obituary

In addition, I would like to add some words of my own.

The Death Of a Truthful Man. Pierre Doupagne, (1923-2008)

It is with sadness that I have to report the death of Pierre Doupagne, the former technical assistant at the Laboratoire Medical de Stanleyville, (LMS) in the Belgian Congo. He died peacefully in hospital in Liege, Belgium, on October 24th, 2008. He was 85 years old.

Although he was not one of the four doctors based at the LMS in the latter half of the 1950s, Pierre Doupagne was the man whose skills underpinned their work - and in the end he played a significant part in the origins of AIDS debate that began some 40 years later.

More Worobey Misinformation

The AIDSOrigins Webmaster has just drawn my attention to the following article on the Web. Apparently entitled: The AIDS Conspiracy Handbook, it was written by Juliet Lapidos.

It lists several wacky theories about the origins of AIDS. One of the theories that features is the OPV theory, and Ms Lapidos sums up as follows:

HIV-1 in 1908? Another Sad Comedy of Errors from Michael Worobey

October 9th, 2008.

As forecast in my piece "Worobey's wobbly research", first posted on this site on March 19th, 2008, the Canadian molecular biologist Michael Worobey has just published new calculations about the age of the AIDS virus, HIV-1, which place its origins even further back in time.

His work appears in the form of a lengthy letter to the journal Nature, entitled "Direct evidence of extensive diversity of HIV-1 in Kinshasa by 1960", by M. Worobey, D.E. Teuwen, M. Bunce, S.M. Wolinsky et al.; [Nature; 2008 (October 2nd); 455; 661-664.]

A Nobel Prize for Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi

Congratulations to Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute who, it was announced yesterday, have just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discovery of the AIDS virus (now called HIV) in 1983. They shared the prize with Harald zur Hausen, from Germany, who discovered the link between Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

Michael Worobey’s Possession of 1950s Tissue Samples from Stanleyville (Kisangani)

Michael Worobey’s first active participation in the origins-of-AIDS debate is believed to have occurred in late 1999, when Professor Bill Hamilton (a highly-respected evolutionary biologist, then rated by many as the “star” of the Royal Society) was seeking someone to accompany him on his second trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to test the SIV of wild chimpanzees.

Some background. Since I first met him in 1993, Bill Hamilton had been my mentor, and he wrote a powerful and highly supportive foreword to “The River”. In July 1999, after the book was completed but before it was published, Bill and I spent just over a week in the DRC, but we had some quite serious disagreements during the trip, which focussed on whether I was there mainly to help him with the collection of samples from local chimpanzees, or was also there to conduct my own historical research into Lindi Camp and the Laboratoire Medical de Stanleyville. We had obtained visas from the rebel government based in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) that were good for six further months, and Bill in particular wanted to return there to do more research. Since he and I were, by late 1999, still going through a cooling-off period (and since I was busy dealing with the response to The River, published in September 1999), Bill looked around for a companion in his own Department of Zoology at Oxford University, and came across a young Rhodes Scholar, Michael Worobey, who suggested that they also bring along a Canadian friend of his, Jeff Joy, who had practical skills and experience of living in the wilds.

Michael Worobey’s Wobbly Research into the Early History of HIV

Michael Worobey’s wobbly research into the early history of HIV.

In late October and early November 2007 there was coverage in several media outlets (mainly in the US) of a newly-published study entitled “The Emergence of HIV/AIDS in the Americas and Beyond”. The lead author was Michael Worobey, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Contested Testimony in Scientific Disputes: the Case of the Origins of AIDS

Professor Brian Martin, the sociologist of science from Wollongong University, Australia, first entered the origins of AIDS debate in 1991, when he arranged for the publication of Louis Pascal's seminal monograph on the OPV theory: "What Happens When Science Goes Bad?". He has never concealed his belief that the OPV hypothesis has not been fairly treated by mainstream Science, and since about 1997, he has given me a great deal of helpful feedback on my work. During the last 15 years he has written a number of essays on origins-of-AIDS - and his sense of fairness and balance, plus his track-record as a defender of free speech in Science, have won the respect of all sides in the debate. At the Royal Society conference in 2000, he made a speech on "The burden of proof and the origin of AIDS" which caused a significant amount of defensive anger among supporters of Hilary Koprowski and the bushmeat theory. In his latest essay on "Contested Testimony", available here, he examines the question of whose testimony on key issues such as the CHAT campaigns in Africa (that gathered by Stanley Plotkin and associates, or that gathered by Edward Hooper and associates) is more likely to be reliable.

EH 3/11/07

"Back in ten minutes" - A Personal Message From Ed Hooper

I have greatly enjoyed the feedback and comment which this site has engendered since it first opened three years ago.

During those three years I have received thousands of messages and enquiries, and I have replied to the great majority. Occasionally one slips through the net, and to those persons I have failed to respond to, I do apologise.


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