02 November 2009

HIV and AIDS: A Question of Causation

A recent controversy has sprung up around the decision of the journal Medical Hypothesis to publish a paper by Peter Duesberg, a famous critic of the dominant medical belief that HIV causes AIDS. Several websites are dedicated to refuting the "HIV causes AIDS" hypothesis, including Heal Toronto. Millions of reasonably intelligent people have become highly skeptical of HIV as the cause of AIDS.

The problem goes back to the basic issue of causation -- specifically disease causation. Koch's postulates for establishing microbial disease causation include:
1. Isolate the organism from every case
2. Propagate in pure culture in vitro
3. Reproduce disease by injecting the organism into a suitable recipient
4. Re-isolate the organism
These postulates have served quite well over the years, but for some microbial diseases they have proved insufficiently powerful to establish causation. Variations in microbe virulence and in host susceptibility can complicate the establishment of causation.

A more subtle set of postulates for establishing genetic virulence in  more ambiguous situations, have been dubbed the "Molecular Koch's Hypotheses"
1. Identify gene (or gene product) responsible for virulence determinant
2. Show gene present in strains of bacteria that cause the disease
3. Not present in avirulent strains
4. Disrupting the gene reduces virulence
5. Introduction of cloned gene into avirulent strain confers virulence.
6. The gene is expressed in vivo
7. Specific immune response to gene protects

In the case of HIV / AIDS, the classical Koch's Postulates cannot be tested ethically, since intentionally injecting a human with HIV might easily lead to charges of attempted murder against the researcher.  Of course, not even Duesberg himself is likely to be so reckless as to inject himself or others with HIV intentionally.   Which may be one way of measuring the limits of skepticism for this particular hypothesis.  Is the skeptic willing to inject himself with HIV?

At one time, Peter Duesberg was better known as a leading cell biologist and discoverer of the first true human oncogene, src, in 1970.  A long-time tenured professor at UCB and a member of the NAS, Duesberg's vocal skepticism of the HIV to AIDS hypothesis has, since his 1996 book "Inventing the AIDS Virus", placed him well out of the mainstream of biomedical thought.

It is not the intent of Al Fin Epidemiiologists to refute Duesberg's various lines of arguments in a blog post.  Rather, it is the intent of this posting to take a short peek into the phenomenon of human belief itself.   Duesberg's various lines of attack against the HIV to AIDS theory have been sufficient to establish strong doubts in the minds of large numbers of intelligent thinkers. 

Al Fin Epidemiologists do not accept Duesberg's arguments as convincing, but then Al Fin Epidemiologists are trained to go to root issues when determining the likelihood of an argument -- particularly an argument dealing with disease causation.   For Al Fin Epidemiologists -- unlike most people -- the question is not one of belief.  It is a question of likelihood, and the most likely routes to efficacious disease therapies and cures.  These are things that can be tested -- or falisified -- as Karl Popper would put it.

Humans are prone to "beliefs", which may or may not be well supported by testable facts or observations.  Humans are easily seduced by "reason and rationality" into forsaking empirical testing of apparent "facts".   How much time is wasted in the media, in congress and parliament, in the social sciences, and in dorm rooms and homes -- on arguments that are not formulated to produce testable hypotheses? 

Instead of bullishly "believing" or "disbelieving", humans should always be asking, "How can I test that assertion?"  If assertions, assumptions, and lines of argument do not lend themselves to testing, they are essentially a waste of a practical person's time.

That is how Al Fin Epidemiologists view Duesberg's arguments over the "HIV to AIDS" hypothesis.  Worse than Duesberg's arguments, are the "meta-arguments" that spring up over Duesberg's original arguments.  These meta-arguments then spawn their own "meta-meta-arguments" in a recursive explosion of wasted hours, days, weeks, months, and years.

What can be tested?

If HIV infection leads to low CD4 cell count, and if low CD4 cell count is associated with much higher incidences of PCP pneumonia, Kaposi's sarcoma, CMV, and a host of other low-immunity associated and opportunistic infections and malignancies, these associations lead directly to testable hypotheses.

If a rebound to higher CD4 cell counts after retroviral treatments is associated with remission from opportunistic diseases, further falsifiable hypotheses can be generated.

In fact, the pertinent level of testable argument, scientifically, lies far away from most of Duesberg's arguments.  That is the main problem that Al Fin Epidemiologists have with Duesberg's arguments -- not his skepticism.  Al Fin applauds skepticism wherever it is productive of meaningful falsifiable hypotheses.

Humans in advanced, High IQ societies are not being taught to use their rationality, their judgment, their discriminatory powers of mind.  This leads to lifelong adult-children, incompetent on many fronts, and ineffectual in determining basic probabilities, likelihoods, and wise choices of everyday life.

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Blogger kurt9 said...

The success of the anti-retroviral drugs in treating AIDS since 1995 strongly suggests that the commonly accepted theory (which these drugs are based on) of HIV/AIDS is correct.

However, Duesberg has described in good detail a set of experiments that he would perform, if provided with funding, that would confirm or disprove his hypothesis. My understanding is that these experiments would not be very expensive. So, I think he should be funded. Afterall, the Moray-Mitchell experiment, which demonstrated the speed of light in vacuum, has been repeated several times.

Monday, 02 November, 2009  
Blogger joe said...

To all the readers: I'm not trying to convince you or anyone one way or the other (do your own due diligence and think for yourself),but this is what the Perth group proposes, it can be found with links at http://www.theperthgroup.com
You can find our website at www.myspace.com/rethinkaids,
thanks, Joe
ps check out www.houseofnumbers.com for the award winning House of Numbers documentary.

What is needed to prove or disprove the HIV theory of AIDS?

There are four ways to resolve this debate:

The first is to perform isolation experiments to prove whether or not a retrovirus HIV truly exists in AIDS patients or in anyone. These experiments are documented in the Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel report. The report can be read or downloaded HERE. The cost of such experiments would be modest by AIDS research standards. Approximately $US50-100K and take 6-12 months to perform.

The second is to garner enough public opinion to mandate a public debate between a small number of protagonists and dissidents. This debate should be international, public and adjudicated by a number of disinterested scientists of Nobel Laureate class who must present the international community with a resolution as to the way forward.

The third is for HIV seropositive individuals to have the evidence for their diagnoses of "HIV" infection examined in courts of law.

The fourth is to perform EXPERIMENTS--Click HERE for details and an invitation to donate funds for experiments.

Monday, 02 November, 2009  
Blogger neil craig said...

Duesberg has repeatedly outlined a statistical study as mentio9ned by Kurt9 which he says he would accept as able to falsify his hypothesis. Though, or conceivably because, 10s of billions have been poured into fighting HIV the millions required to do this definitive study have never been available.

Tuesday, 03 November, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

First of all, does it matter whether Duesberg accepts the falsification of his hypothesis or not?

Secondly, can either Kurt or Neil plainly and clearly lay out this "inexpensive" "statistical" study that Duesberg is proposing? Can you attest from your own experience as researchers or statisticians that that study can indeed falsify Duesberg's hypothesis?

Duesberg is a tenured professor at UCB, a successful speaker and author. He is far from penniless, and not without resources or supporters. If an inexpensive study would likely support his hypothesis, why should he hesitate to secure funding himself.

The access that Duesberg had to South African government officials would have provided him with the large number of HIV infected persons he needed for any type of "study."

Duesberg seems to enjoy his current role in this debate. It is not so clear that he truly wishes to take it to the next level.

Tuesday, 03 November, 2009  
Blogger Ivan said...

Duesberg may or may not be right, but I cannot recall reading till the 90's, ie about 8 years after HIV was indentified as the killer in San Francisco bath houses of an alternative explanation for the deaths caused by AIDS. At that time I was a voracious reader of Sci Am, the science pages of the NYT (as carried in the IHT) and many other middlebrow publications, none of which carried a single article contradicting the accepted wisdom. Instead the impression was created almost immediately that 'the science is settled', anyone who questioned the accepted wisdom 'is working for a gay Holocaust' ,while that ignorant woman Ophrah assured us in the background us that millions will die in the US unless billions were spent immediately on David Ho's and Jonathan Mann's pet projects. You have done good work documenting the scams perpetrated by the AGW partisans. You should examine the politics of AIDS in the same way. I do not care one way or another if AIDS is caused exclusively by HIV but the fraud, coercion, unimaginative science and not least the slander by which the consensus on AIDS/HIV was arrived should give anyone pause.

Friday, 06 November, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Ivan, it all comes down to the concept of "causation." Before HIV, disease causation was somewhat easier, because most pathological organisms have a direct connection to the diseases they cause.

HIV helps to bring about an incredibly wide array of opportunistic infections and malignancies in an indirect manner.

HIV may not be a sufficient cause for AIDS, since some people seem to be resistant to infection by HIV, and others are resistant to progression to AIDS once infected by HIV.

HIV is not a necessary cause for any of the wide array of infections and malignancies associated with low immunity / low CD4 cell counts that tend to accompany HIV infection.

But if HIV infection is one cause of depressed CD4 cell counts, and thus one cause of the conditions of AIDS, it can be said to cause AIDS.

Anyone who can produce other organisms, viruses, or physical factors, besides HIV, that cause the same low CD4 cell count and the same constellation of AIDS associated conditions, would become instantly famous and in much demand.

One of our Al Fin epidemiologists was an early explorer of this exact field, in the early 1990s. He tells me not to hold my breath.

Monday, 09 November, 2009  
Blogger neil craig said...

If you are right & Aquired Immune Defieciency Syndrome is a symptom with a number of causes in the same way that a rash is not one disease then putting virtually all the effort into findind something that suppresses the HIV virus is clearly a misuse of resources & in many cases, since AZT is a very toxic substance, extremely harmful.

This is Duesberg on the subject & it seems I was wrong to say that he had made a specific guarantee to accept a particular experiment as falsifying his theory. Nonetheless he is accepting the process of falsifiability. When I said such an experiment would be cheap I meant in comparison to the billions being spent on fighting HIV niot in comparison to a professor's slary:
It will take hypothesis-independent funding of research. If funding were available for non-HIV-AIDS hypotheses, AIDS would probably be solved very shortly on the basis of the drug or chemical AIDS hypothesis—as shown in our paper, “The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, chemotherapy, and malnutrition,” published in the Journal Biosciences of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 2003, with support from private sources. According to this hypothesis, AIDS is caused by recreational and antiviral drugs.

This hypothesis is already confirmed by exact correlations, and could be easily tested experimentally in animals and epidemiologically in the millions of human volunteers, who are HIV-free recreational drug addicts and develop AIDS-defining diseases under their old names. If confirmed, this hypothesis could readily solve AIDS by banning the inevitably toxic anti-HIV drugs and by warning the recreational drug users against the AIDS consequences of their drugs or lifestyle."


Tuesday, 10 November, 2009  

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