Smoke and Mirrors from Stanley Plotkin
In the past on this site [for instance in "Plotkin's Chums (1): Eminent scientists sign their names to falsehoods"], I have referred to identical or nearly identical letters written by Stanley Plotkin and his allies to TV executives and film festival organisers, urging them not to show "The Origins of AIDS" documentary. The reason they offer for writing such letters is inherently dishonest, for each letter is based on the false assertion that the OPV theory of AIDS origin has been disproved.
Apart from legal threats delivered through their lawyers, this letter-writing campaign has been one of the major approaches that Dr Plotkin’s group have used in their ongoing attempts to counter, and indeed to suppress, the OPV hypothesis.
I have received copies of many of these letters, which I am holding in reserve for an appropriate moment. However, I have decided that it worth posting details about one such initiative on this web-site, to give readers some idea about how Dr Stanley Plotkin operates.
Plotkin’s latest ploy.
In September 2006 I received an e-mail from Arnie Gelbart, executive producer of Galafilm, the co-producers of "The Origins of AIDS". He said that following a recent broadcast of the film by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), letters of criticism from Dr Mark Wainberg and Dr Stanley Plotkin had been addressed to the head of news, and the executive vice president of CBC. He asked if I could provide any material to send to CBC to help them respond to these claims.
I realised almost immediately that Dr Wainberg was not only, as he described himself, a co-chair of the 16th International Conference on AIDS (the major world conference on that disease, which had just been held in Toronto).
He was also an active member of Dr Plotkin’s team of "OPV theory refuters": one of the nine collaborators who, since 2004, have assisted Plotkin by writing identical or nearly identical letters to TV companies and film festivals, urging them not to show a film ["The Origins of AIDS"] which they claimed was "dangerous" and "misleading". The fact that in this instance the two men had written separately to CBC, as if one was disinterestedly supporting the legitimate concerns of the other, struck me as rather revealing.
However, this latest initiative represents a good example of how Stanley Plotkin has chosen to respond to the OPV theory.
He has never made any sincere attempt to respond to the majority of the points made in, or questions raised by, The River, or in my follow-up articles. And he has never attempted to provide a convincing account of his own involvement, which was significant, in the 1950s OPV trials in the Belgian Congo.
Instead, Dr Plotkin’s approach has been as follows:
a) he has misrepresented certain specific points in the history which he believes cannot be checked; on the basis of these falsehoods he then later asserts that he has "proved Hooper wrong";
b) he has encouraged and assisted the placing of alleged counter-arguments to the OPV theory (such as the negative testing of vaccine samples; phylogenetic dating; and "wrong sub-species" of chimp) in the medical literature; most of these articles have apparently been written by his allies and collaborators, or else by scientists whose grants, and indeed careers, now seem to depend on their continuing to promulgate such arguments;
c) even though the arguments mentioned in (b) may later be revealed as dubious, flawed or bogus, Plotkin ignores all counter-evidence, and instead points to these published articles in order to assert that "Hooper’s allegations have been refuted"; (a surprising number of people, including scientists who should know better, appear to have been taken in by this approach, perhaps basing their reasoning on the assumption that "if it’s good enough for Nature and Science, it’s good enough for me");
d) he has provided copies of the articles cited in (b) to TV stations and film companies, and then pressured them not to broadcast a "misleading" film;
e) he and Koprowski have used a combination of letter-writing and legal initiatives in order to chip away at publishers, conference organisers and journal editors, with the intention of discrediting me personally, and/or eliminating The River and the "Origins of AIDS" documentary from the public domain.
[In these five foregoing points alone, I have used quote marks to indicate the spirit of what has been said, rather than direct quotations from Dr Plotkin.]
Dr Plotkin’s response to the OPV/AIDS theory has relied heavily on the fact that he has developed a predominantly favourable reputation among the virology and vaccine communities during a long career. He uses this existing goodwill as a base which places him in a good position to persuade friends that his claims on this issue ought to be believed, or else on occasions, I suspect, to call in favours.
However, his active role in this debate has also relied heavily on clandestine methods. He and his allies have relied on misinformation, obfuscation, and pressuring witnesses into adapting their stories on significant points - or else into silence. This is a "smoke and mirrors" approach. There is no evidence to indicate or suggest that Dr Plotkin himself is a spook, but the methods he has used have been tried and tested over many years by members of the intelligence community.
In addition, he has been able to employ collaborators or assistants to do much of the dirty work for him. This is an approach that requires access to money, of which both Stanley Plotkin and his former boss, Hilary Koprowski, have acquired a great deal in the course of their long careers. (Plotkin was for many years managing director of the Aventis Pasteur (now Sanofi Pasteur) vaccine house, and is still listed as a consultant to the CEO of that company. There is evidence, moreover, that this company has funded some of the Plotkin group’s more dubious activities in Africa. Koprowski is said to be worth more than $30 million, following his patenting of monoclonal antibodies in the US and Japan. This is a technique that was actually developed by Caesar Milstein at the Medical Research Council in the UK, but for which Koprowski managed to acquire some of the more lucrative patents.)
These are among the tactics which doctors Plotkin and Koprowski have used in a bid to persuade others to accept their "modified" versions of events. As a rule, only people who are backed up against a wall, or who are very worried about potential consequences, resort to such tactics.
I now have many examples in which I can prove that Dr Plotkin, Dr Koprowski and their allies have deliberately misrepresented the truth. If they feel they can disprove this, then perhaps they should sue me for libel or defamation. I will gladly see them in court.
In the past, Dr Plotkin has threatened me with legal action once, and Dr Koprowski has threatened either me, or my publishers and myself in tandem, on at least three occasions. On each occasion, either I or my publishers have responded robustly, and no response has been received from the other side....until (in the case of Koprowski) a few years pass, and he once again threatens litigation in a different form or format.
A study of Dr Koprowski's history reveals that this is a tactic to which he has resorted often during his long scientific career; in fact, he has used the threat of legal action as a device for getting his own way ever since the 1950s. As far as I can determine, he has not encountered very many opponents who are unafraid of him, and who are fully prepared to oppose his legal threats.
In any case, in recent years doctors Plotkin and Koprowski have adopted a different tack. They steer well clear of me, but instead they employ lawyers in a bid to pressure book publishers and television executives into not publishing books, or not broadcasting films, on this subject.
I have decided that enough is enough. I now have so much evidence about the activities of these doctors and about the untruths they have told, especially about their activities in Africa, that I feel it is time to invite them to put up or shut up. If they believe that they have evidence to show that I'm a liar, then let them produce that evidence.
Even though there are strong suggestions that the two doctors read the items posted on this web-site, I do not expect to hear back from them. This is despite the fact that they would clearly love to sue me for libel or defamation. However, as they and their lawyers know, "libel" is not libel if the writer has evidence to support what he claims - which I have, and which they, in very many cases, clearly do not!
In any case, I believe it is vitally important that some of their approaches to modifying the truth are exposed, even if the process, for several reasons, has to be a gradual one. Accordingly, copies of Dr Plotkin’s and Dr Wainberg’s letters to CBC can be read below, as can the three enclosures that accompanied Dr Plotkin's letter. The letter that I wrote to Jerry McIntosh, Director of Independent Documentaries at CBC, in response to the claims in the two doctors’ letters can also be read.
Finally, just to complete the CBC history, I am led to believe that a polite but robust written response from a CBC executive to doctors Wainberg and Plotkin had already been drafted, or possibly sent, even before my letter to CBC arrived. Apparently it was pointed out that "The Origins of AIDS" had raised valid questions about how AIDS might have started. It was also apparently pointed out that, contrary to Plotkin's and Wainberg's claims, neither the bushmeat nor the OPV theory had been proven or disproven, and that it was therefore legitimate for a responsible news organisation like CBC to continue to examine and discuss both theories.
Ed Hooper. November 23rd, 2006; slightly adapted December 8th, 2006.
September 25, 2006
Re: "The Origins of AIDS" documentary, and subsequent complaints about its recent broadcast by CBC.
Dear Mr McIntosh,
My name is Edward Hooper. I am the author of a book entitled The River, and I featured as a talking head in the later stages of the Galafilm/MFP documentary, "The Origins of AIDS", a film that ends up offering considerable support to the oral polio vaccine [OPV] theory of origin of AIDS. I personally am strongly persuaded that this theory explains how the AIDS pandemic began.
The OPV theory proposes that pandemic HIV-1 arrived in humans via an OPV called CHAT, which was administered to nearly one million colonised Africans in the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi in the late 1950s and which, uniquely for such a vaccine, was prepared in the cells of the common chimpanzee, the animal that is host to a simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) that is the immediate ancestor of HIV-1.
The documentary has been extremely well-received and has won several awards, which is why opponents of the OPV theory have been trying so hard to suppress it.
My help has recently been sought by Arnie Gelbart of Galafilm, who has sent me a copy of an e-mail to him from your colleague Christine Whalen, together with letters to the executive officers of CBC by doctors Plotkin and Wainberg, and a copy of Dr Plotkin’s editorial in Vaccine, entitled "Chimpanzees and journalists".
I think it's rather important that you (and CBC) have the full picture of what is going on here, which is rather different from what you might assume on the basis of the latter three documents.
I note that Dr Plotkin, in his letter to Dr Burman, describes CBC’s broadcasting of "The Origins of AIDS" as "a wilful act of ignorance and irresponsibility", and that Dr Wainberg, in his earlier letter, describes the OPV theory as one that is "dangerously misleading" and that has been "scientifically refuted".
The first thing to point out is that doctors Plotkin and Wainberg are not just casual allies in this matter. They have been actively collaborating for more than two years, writing a series of identical or near-identical letters to film festival directors, urging them to drop the "Origins of AIDS" documentary from their schedules. I have copies of some of these letters. Moreover I believe, but cannot prove, that these men have also written similar letters to other television executives.
Dr Wainberg is one of a group of eight or nine doctors who have consistently collaborated with Dr Plotkin in this initiative since (at latest) the summer of 2004. The group also includes doctors Beatrice Hahn and Bette Korber (two of the most prominent supporters of the "officially-approved" bushmeat theory of AIDS origin, and both virulent opponents of the OPV theory); Hahn’s former boss Dr Robert Gallo (who has described Plotkin’s former boss, the developer of CHAT vaccine, Dr Hilary Koprowski, as his "mentor"); doctors Robin Weiss and Simon Wain-Hobson (the two surviving organisers of the Royal Society conference on "Origins of HIV and the AIDS epidemic" in 2000); and Dr John Moore, an AIDS vaccine expert with a good command of the English language, who has been metaphorically described by colleagues as a "gun for hire", and who Dr Plotkin seems to have hired as a media and public relations advisor.
[Some further background. The bushmeat theory of origin proposes that pandemic HIV-1 arose via a single zoonotic (cross-species) infection in around 1931, after a bushmeat hunter or seller became infected with chimpanzee SIV, perhaps through a cut. It does not explain why AIDS (and not only the pandemic, but any of the other three known outbreaks) failed to appear before the twentieth century, and there is a 600-mile distance between the place where the bushmeat proponents believe the crucial zoonosis occurred, and Leopoldville/Kinshasa – the place they believe was the cradle of the epidemic. By contrast, the OPV theory can readily explain these two factors.]
If the arguments that Stanley Plotkin’s letter-writers made in their identical letters were proven, or even scientifically or historically reasonable, then one could not take issue with their campaign. But that is emphatically not the case.
Throughout the course of this campaign, their approach has been to present themselves as disinterested scientific “experts” who, because of their expertise, are party to the truth about how AIDS began. The reality, however, is that the letter-writers have a political agenda – that of suppressing open discussion of an uncomfortable alternative theory (OPV), by means fair or foul.
Almost every one of the scientific claims made by these men and women is either speculative, misleading, or just plain untrue. They rely on hypothesis and assertion, but when examined closely, it becomes apparent that their arguments are not supported by sound scientific reasoning. (I shall support these claims in more detail below.)
Their historical claims are based on a series of falsehoods - falsehoods which have been systematically placed in the medical literature in the last eight years, mainly by the same group of doctors and their allies. A group of three Belgian and Dutch scientists who have been working for Dr Plotkin since 2000, and whose work has been financed at least in part by the company of which Plotkin was formerly managing director (Sanofi Pasteur, formerly known as Aventis Pasteur) has pressured several of the witnesses whom I had previously tape-recorded, and quoted in The River, persuading them to adapt their testimony on key points. African collaborators of Dr Plotkin have used financial inducements to encourage certain African witnesses to do the same. Fortunately, not all of those so approached have acquiesced with this process, and I have evidence (much of it documentary evidence) to illustrate what has happened.
Before I go any further, I should provide some brief background about myself. Between 1985 and 1987 I was a Uganda-based freelance journalist working mainly for the BBC and the Guardian (but on a couple of occasions for CBC radio). I first came across the AIDS epidemic by chance in 1986, and I have been researching and writing exclusively about AIDS since 1987. Since 1990 I have written only three or four articles for newspapers or magazines, so it is hardly appropriate for Dr Plotkin and his allies to refer to me as a “journalist”, though it suits them to do so, and thus imply that I merely have a passing interest in the subject. I don’t much like pigeon-holing myself, but since I have spent the last 19 years researching and writing books about AIDS (and the last 16 years about the origins of the condition), I personally feel that the terms "author" and "science writer" are more appropriate.
The great majority of those who have read my work, and in particular The River, would attest, I believe, that I am a careful and conscientious researcher, a good science writer, and a man of integrity. (Of course, the aforementioned scientists would doubtless disagree!) But at the risk of being accused of blowing my own trumpet, I will go further. In recent years, several scientists who are widely considered to be wise and impartial, and who are well-versed in this field, have told me (or others) that I probably know more about the subject of the origin of AIDS, in all its aspects (scientific, historical and political) than anyone else alive. One person who said this to my face was the great evolutionary biologist, Bill Hamilton, who was my mentor, and who wrote the foreword to The River. Sadly, Bill died in 2000, after paying a second visit to the Congo in an attempt to gather further faecal specimens from chimpanzees. After his death, this unassuming man was lionised, with one obituary describing him as "the greatest biologist since Charles Darwin".
Now let me turn to the "Chimpanzees and journalists" editorial by Dr Stanley Plotkin. It should be noted that Dr Plotkin is on the editorial board of Vaccine, in which the editorial appears, and that this little-known journal therefore provides him with a convenient mouthpiece for his views.
He bases his editorial primarily on an article in the same issue of Vaccine written by Dr Paul Osterrieth, which we may presume was commissioned by Dr Plotkin himself. Dr Osterrieth was head of the virology lab at the Laboratoire Medical de Stanleyville [LMS], where the CHAT vaccine experiments were carried out in the late 1950s. Osterrieth’s article is entitled: “Oral polio vaccine: fact versus fiction”, but unfortunately it relies heavily on the latter. Several of the claims that Osterrieth makes in that article are provably untrue, and some of his claims contradict statements he himself has previously made in published writings on this subject.
Dr Osterrieth has for several years been unreliable about what he did and did not do at the LMS. In the one page paper he presented before the Royal Society in 2000, entitled "Vaccine could not have been prepared in Stanleyville", Dr Osterrieth asserted that "[the polio] [v]accine was never handled in my laboratory, and contamination with chimpanzee cells was not possible". But I have seven or eight witnesses, Belgian and African, who state unequivocally that the polio vaccine in question (CHAT) was handled in his laboratory. Several other witnesses have told me that materials (organs and blood) from some of the 450-odd chimpanzees that were sacrificed at Lindi camp (a holding centre for over 500 chimps that was set up in the rain forest, some 15 kilometres from Stanleyville) were routinely brought to Osterrieth’s lab, so clearly contamination (either accidental or through vaccine production) was possible.
Furthermore, the chief LMS lab technician of that period, Pierre Doupagne, told me in 2002 that he himself had routinely prepared chimpanzee tissue cultures and given them to Dr Osterrieth, "to do what with, I do not know". That was a courageous admission for Doupagne (a personal friend of Osterrieth’s) to make, even if he was not prepared to go the whole way and admit what Osterrieth was doing with the tissue cultures. However, African assistants who were working at the LMS, one of them in Osterrieth’s lab, testify that Osterrieth himself was indeed preparing the polio vaccine there. This process was not complicated, for it simply involved the inoculation of a small quantity of the American-made polio vaccine into chimpanzee tissue culture, to make a larger quantity of new vaccine of higher titer, or concentration. (This is similar to the process of seeding a litre of warm milk with a spoonful of old yogurt, to produce a fresh pot of yogurt.) In short, it is clear that the title of Osterrieth’s article is misleading, and that in reality, vaccine could very readily have been prepared in Stanleyville, just as the lab assistants stated.
Supporting this analysis, I have three significant witnesses who held senior roles with respect to the Stanleyville research programme in the 1950s, and who have told me quite simply that Koprowski’s vaccine was being prepared in the cells of the Lindi chimps. Furthermore, I have eye-witnesses who confirm each individual step of the process, from the extraction of kidneys from an anaesthetised but still living chimpanzee (to minimise the risks of bacterial contamination), to the feeding of vaccine that had been made in Osterrieth’s lab to soldiers in the local army camp. Most of these steps are multiply confirmed.
To sum up, I believe there is overwhelming evidence (both documentary and testimonial) to show that Dr Osterrieth is not telling the truth about the work he did at the LMS.
However, in his editorial, Dr Plotkin predicates his entire argument on the assumption that the claims in Osterrieth’s "Fact versus fiction" article should be treated as gospel truth, and therefore as an irrevocable disproof of my claim that CHAT vaccine was being prepared locally, and in chimpanzee cells. Let me now address some of the specific scientific claims made in the Vaccine editorial. Unlike several of Dr Plotkin’s previous contributions on this subject, this article is written in seemingly restrained and reasonable language. However, that title, "Chimpanzees and journalists" gives some sense of the aggression that is bubbling beneath the surface.
[In each case below, I indicate the paragraph of the editorial in which the initial claim appears. I list some appropriate supporting references at the end of this letter.]
a) [Paragraph 2] Plotkin’s assertion that the "physical evidence" presented at two conferences on the origins of HIV-1, held at London and Rome, "was all against the OPV hypothesis" is a falsehood. To explain why, I need first to provide some brief background about those meetings, both of which (though the Plotkin camp might deny it) were convened in direct response to a reawakening of public and scientific interest in the OPV hypothesis, after The River was published in 1999.
The Society meeting held in London in 2000 was carefully choreographed by the above-mentioned doctors, Weiss and Wain-Hobson, in order to present an apparent victory for the medical powers-that-be, and a come-uppance for myself - and was so reported in most press outlets. (Bill Hamilton, who had initially proposed this conference to the Royal Society, was also scheduled to be a co-organiser, but sadly he died before the meeting took place.) Before the conference, the list of speakers was adapted in order to overcome the objections of doctors Plotkin, Koprowski, Hahn and Korber, who had otherwise threatened to boycott the meeting. Dr Weiss insisted that only one epidemiologist (Dr Kevin De Cock, a collaborator of Dr Hahn’s) should be allowed as a full speaker, and at the end of the meeting, Weiss delivered a profoundly biased closing speech.
At the Rome meeting a year later (also initially proposed by Bill Hamilton) I was asked to speak in his place, which was a great honour. Here, the balance of speakers was much fairer. Yet Dr Weiss had again been invited in order to give the closing comments, and again his analysis was one-sided, simply ignoring most of the new information I had presented. I was so disgusted that I found myself rising from my chair and walking out.
In reality, not one single piece of "physical evidence" against the OPV theory was presented at either of these conferences.
None the less, let me examine the evidence that was presented. At the Royal Society meeting, various scientists reported the testing of five or six different American-made pools of the suspect polio vaccine, CHAT, which had belatedly been released by Koprowski’s former institute, the Wistar. They found these CHAT samples to be free of HIV-1, chimpanzee SIV, and chimp DNA – and their negative results were undoubtedly accurately reported. However, doctors Plotkin and Koprowski then falsely claimed that these were the same vaccines that had been used in Africa. In fact, none of these vaccine samples had ever been near Africa, and neither were they from the same vaccine batches that were used in Africa. (A batch represents vaccine made in a single production run. Therefore every vaccine batch is considered homogenous, which cannot be said of every vaccine pool.)
My suspicions about this crucial detail were confirmed in early 2001, when I returned to Africa for eight weeks, and discovered that batches of CHAT vaccine had been locally prepared in Stanleyville/Kisangani. Put simply, the original vaccine had been regrown locally in the cells and sera of common chimpanzees, hundreds of which were available (supposedly merely for testing polio vaccine safety) at Lindi camp. I have since learnt that in the late 1950s it was standard practice for recipient laboratories in places like Europe, Africa and Asia to regrow American-produced polio vaccines in locally available tissue culture cells. This had the effect of boosting both quantity and also titer, or concentration. (However, in the case of the Stanleyville research, there may also have been an experimental aspect to the work.)
Plotkin, Koprowski and Osterrieth have stated that my claims that CHAT was prepared locally in Stanleyville are based on the memories of unreliable African technicians, who didn’t know what was going on. I find this (to say the least) quite condescending. However, since my 2001 trip, further (senior, non-African) sources have confirmed this crucial detail about local preparation in Stanleyville, and it is now apparent that the majority of the CHAT vaccine used in Africa (with the exception of a final campaign in Burundi, which occurred at the start of 1960) was locally prepared.
(One further related point. Plotkin claims that since The River was published, "the author seems to have abandoned the idea that contamination occurred in Philadelphia and now postulates wildcat production of CHAT in chimpanzee cells in Stanleyville". What he fails to say is that my initial belief that the vaccine could only have been made in America or Europe was based almost exclusively on assurances provided by himself and Dr Koprowski, and by doctors Osterrieth and Ninane from the LMS. I can now prove that significant parts of the information provided by these doctors in their early interviews was deliberately misleading. I detected much of this false testimony before The River was published in 1999, but as I say, only obtained confirmation that vaccine had been locally prepared in chimp cells in 2001.)
b) [Paragraph 2] Plotkin, Hahn and Korber claim that the ancestor of HIV-1 existed in or around 1931, long before the polio vaccine trials. However, this is pseudo-science, using a false model to "calculate" the age of the virus. (More than any other organism known to medical science, HIV-1 evolves through recombination, a process whereby two different strains of the virus meet inside a cell – either in a living host, or else in a tissue culture in a laboratory - and exchange genetic material to produce an entirely new progeny. Some have described this process as "viral sex". 90% of HIV-1’s evolution occurs through recombination, and only 10% through mutation, an entirely different process. Yet the dating techniques of the geneticists like Korber are able to measure only mutation. The geneticists’ claims that they can date the age of the HIVs by theoretical calculations are, quite simply, spurious.)
[Paragraph 2] Plotkin claims that "the chimpanzees available to the [Stanleyville] research team in the late 1950s, had they been infected with SIV, would have been infected by strains distant from HIV-1", but this is pure speculation.
Plotkin and Hahn both assert that the true ancestor of pandemic HIV-1 is found only in one sub-species of the common chimp, Pan troglodytes troglodytes [ptt], the range of which begins 800 miles west of Kisangani/Stanleyville. It is true that the genetic analysis of chimp SIVs that has been published to date suggests that SIV-infected Ptt chimps seem to have a virus that is normally about 10% closer genetically to pandemic HIV-1 than the SIV of the Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii [Pts] chimps that are found near Stanleyville/Kisangani. However, fewer than 1 in 200 chimp troops from central Africa have been sampled, and all the sampling carried out to date has been done either by Beatrice Hahn or her collaborators. There is evidence to suggest that certain interesting results that do not fit with her overall thesis may not have been published.
Furthermore, this entire line of enquiry may well be irrelevant. Firstly, because I have recently located a document that proves what I had long suspected from anecdotal accounts: that the Ptt sub-species of chimps was also present among the research animals used at Stanleyville. The second reason is that if pandemic HIV-1 arose through recombination between different chimp SIV strains, as appears increasingly likely, then the SIVs from either sub-species (Ptt or Pts), or indeed both sub-species, could have provided the necessary ingredients.
Lastly, Dr Plotkin raises doubts about whether the Stanleyville chimps would have been SIV-infected. However, roughly 13% of wild chimpanzees (both Ptt and Pts) seem to be naturally infected with SIV, meaning that approximately 50 of the chimps that were specifically used for the polio research are likely to have been SIV-infected upon arrival at Lindi camp. Co-caging and group caging of chimps were practised at both Lindi and the LMS research hangar, which would have readily allowed onward transmission of SIVs, whether from Pts or Ptt, to further chimpanzees of either sub-species.
d) [Paragraph 1] Plotkin writes that: "A correlation between locations where CHAT was administered and early possible cases of AIDS was also proposed [by Hooper], though the supposed correlation was later heavily criticised." The claims by Dr De Cock that there was no epidemiological linkage between the vaccinations and the first appearances of HIV-1 and AIDS were inherently slanted, and all the more so because he inexplicably excluded the vaccinations in Ruanda-Urundi, which made up two-thirds of the total, from his analysis. Plotkin’s own analysis of the data was indeed heavily critical of me, but it was also highly revealing, being littered with mistakes, which served to show both his bias and his ignorance of African geography.
An experienced statistician has since looked at the raw data, and concluded that the correlations between CHAT vaccinations and early HIV-1 are "highly significant" (meaning there is a chance of less than 1 in 1,000 that the findings result from coincidence), and those between the vaccinations and early AIDS are "significant" (a less than 1 in 100 chance of coincidence). These two quite separate epidemiological confirmations are immensely important, and the work will be published soon.
e) [Paragraph 3] Plotkin claims that virologists who visited the LMS in the 1950s state that "Osterrieth’s attempts at simian cell culture [ie making tissue culture] post-date the vaccination campaign in which HIV-transfer supposedly occurred." Yet information obtained from Pierre Doupagne in Belgium, and his assistant in Africa indicates the opposite. They claim that they were preparing chimp cultures from 1956 (the year Lindi camp opened) at latest, and supplying them to Osterrieth. Furthermore, one of Osterrieth’s assistants states that Osterrieth was making polio vaccine in the weeks immediately preceding the key vaccination campaign in Ruzizi (which occurred in February to April 1958).
f) [Paragraph 4] Plotkin suggests that technicians and other persons working at the LMS may have confused "diluting a [vaccine] stock made in Philadelphia" with "making new vaccine". Again, this is disingenuous and misleading. Both contemporary articles and the personal diary of one of the vaccinators reveal that dilution of the CHAT vaccine in Africa took place not in the lab, but in the field, on the morning that the vaccine was to be used. Later, Plotkin writes that: "Those scientists with a technical background sufficient to make the distinction [between diluting vaccine and making vaccine] are unanimous in doubting that a vaccine could have been produced [in Stanleyville]." This claim is absurd. Growing polio vaccine virus in local tissue culture is not a difficult process, provided that all lab tools and glassware are kept sterile. Killed polio vaccines were being produced locally in Africa in the cells of local primates from 1953 onwards, and live vaccines were being similarly produced from 1955 onwards. One of the places where both types of vaccine were being produced was the small veterinary lab of Gabu, in the same Congolese province as Stanleyville. The vaccine-maker was an inconoclastic Polish vet called Alexandre Jezierski, with whose work both Koprowski and his Belgian collaborators were familiar, from (respectively) 1955 and 1954 onwards.
g) [Paragraph 5] Plotkin states that "Although the journalist in question will never abandon his ideas, they have not been confirmed, and it is unfortunate that they have hindered eradication of polio by OPV in Africa." The latter claim, just like similar claims by Dr Koprowski, is false, and is part of a smear campaign designed to present me as the villain of the piece. Different peoples in Africa have been refusing to accept vaccines since the beginning of the last century, and refusing polio vaccines since at least the 1970s. The reasons given are various, and include fears that the vaccines are contaminated with substances such as "family planning drugs", "cancer" and "AIDS". Plotkin and Koprowski’s claims are pure fabrication, for not one of the articles they cite actually blames vaccine refusal on my work. Indeed, one of the articles cited by Koprowski does not even exist! In reality, the recent rejection of polio vaccines in northern Nigeria seems to have been largely based on religio-cultural-political concerns following 9/11.
Furthermore, virologists with whom I have spoken believe that for a variety of technical reasons, complete eradication of poliovirus from the planet may prove to be extremely difficult. It may therefore suit the interests of certain scientists to try to blame the failure to eradicate polio (which was originally scheduled for year 2000) on myself. I should perhaps add that in all my public statements on this issue, I have always stressed that: "as far as is known, modern polio vaccines are safe."
Dr Plotkin asserts that "[t]he journalist in question will never abandon his ideas", but again he is wrong. I am perfectly prepared to abandon my "ideas" if Dr Plotkin or others ever produce a single piece of compelling proof to refute the OPV theory. Up to now, all Dr Plotkin has managed to produce is a mixture of indignation, sloppy science, and false testimonies. There is now so much evidence of false reporting by Plotkin and his collaborators, and by some of the sources he quotes, that no impartial observer could reasonably explain away all the instances as "honest mistakes" or the product of "faulty memories". It is now quite clear that a deliberate cover-up is underway.
In the last seven years this cover-up has been greatly assisted by scientific friends and colleagues of Plotkin and Koprowski, some of whom are quite innocently inclined to "take their word for it". The cover-up has also been assisted by certain defensive virologists and public health officials who believe that an attack on the safety of any vaccine, even an experimental vaccine used only in the late 1950s, constitutes an attack on the safety of vaccination per se.
A major role in the process has been played by the two main pillars of scientific enquiry, Nature and Science, which over the last seven years have regularly published (to great fanfare) new "disproofs" and "refutations" of the OPV theory, not one of which has stood up scientifically. Yet these journals steadfastly refuse to publish the responses of those (including myself) who think differently, or even to allow the theory they are so determined to refute to be laid out, just once, in their pages.
It is surely no coincidence that all major coverage of AIDS in Nature is channelled through Robin Weiss, while major AIDS coverage in Science is apparently routed through another committed defender of Koprowski, Jon Cohen.
- o -
I have already written far more than I intended to write. Apart from supplying some supporting references (mainly essays from my web-site, which themselves cite a wide range of references), I will now bring this response to a close.
One thing I should make clear, however, is that I am fully familiar with the libel laws, and that I can support the claims made in this letter.
Dr Plotkin has tried threatening me legally on two occasions, and his old boss, Dr Koprowski, has done so on three occasions. On each occasion, I responded robustly, and never heard from them again.
In reality, these two men will never carry through a legal suit against me, because they are fully aware (a) that even if I had to finance it myself, I would go to court to fight them; (b) that they would not win such a court case; and (c) that so much information directly confounding their claims would come to light that the event would almost certainly arouse considerable media interest.
Their technique, instead, is quietly to pressure people such as television executives, film festival organisers, book publishers and journal publishers with letters of the type you have received, letters which falsely seek to present the debate as one that they have already won, and letters which (in the past at least) have often hinted at the possibility of legal action. Using such clandestine approaches, they have achieved a surprising degree of success in promoting their own fabricated versions of history, and suppressing the OPV theory.
I believe that such smoke and mirrors techniques have traditionally been used in the past by certain corporations, such as those that have been determined to promote the safety of cigarette-smoking, or to present the concept of global warming as a myth.
I estimate that I get to hear about only some 20% to 30% of such approaches - but whenever I have the time, I try - as here - to provide appropriate counter-evidence.
If you do wish to have further details, I would be willing to cooperate, and could, if required, supply supporting material for the claims made in this letter. However, I’m afraid I could only do this if I were paid professional rates for my time. I am 100% independent in my research, and I have placed a lot of my written material in the public domain so that it is feely available, for instance on my web-site, www.aidsorigins.com. However, I am currently busy with my own work, and so would need to charge for any further hours or days spent following up this issue on your behalf.
I hope that this discussion of the Plotkin documents has been of assistance to you.
With best wishes,
(all of which can be found on www.aidsorigins.com):
1) A response to the alleged scientific "disproofs" of the OPV theory that are claimed by Dr Plotkin and his collaborators:
2) An analysis of the slanted nature of the debate at the Royal Society:
The Politics of a Scientific Meeting: The Origin-of-AIDS Debate at the Royal Society , B. Martin, Politics and the Life Sciences 20 (2) 119-130 (September 2005).
3) A response to Dr Plotkin’s claims that The River has endangered the global polio eradication campaign:
"As far as is known, modern polio vaccines are safe", E. Hooper; February 2004.
4) My latest article responding to Dr Beatrice Hahn’s claims that she has discovered the "source" of HIV-1:
"The Hollywooding of Science", E. Hooper; August 2006.
5) If proved, the OPV theory might spark a billion-dollar class-action law suit. For this and other reasons, there are genuine concerns that one of Dr Plotkin’s supporters might be tempted to fabricate "evidence" in a bid to support his position. In the following article, I highlight the genuine concerns that one of these scientists might be tempted to cheat in a big way.
"Three warnings about potential future malpractice by members of 'the bushmeat group’", E. Hooper; August 2006.
6) In this article, I describe how, in 2001, doctors collaborating with Stanley Plotkin smuggled highly relevant 1950s biopsy and autopsy samples out of Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville); nothing has been heard of them since.
"The annexing of the Stanleyville samples", E. Hooper; November 2004.