The Failure of Contemporary Science'
Fourth Estate, London UK 1996, 420 pages,
AIDS: The Failure
of Contemporary Science - How a Virus that Never Was Deceived the
World by Neville Hodgkinson 420pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 17.99 John
Maddox NEVILLE Hodgkinson is known for his advocacy on the Sunday
Times of the view that there is more to the causation of AIDS than
the virus known as HIV. He has now written a distasteful justification
of his eccentric reading of events and of the readiness of the Sunday
Times under Andrew Neil to give his opinions an airing. The specious
argument that AIDS is 'caused' by drug-taking and anal intercourse
per se gave those with HIV a sense of their fate being in their
own hands. In pursuing it, Hodgkinson and Neil (in a recent column)
have brought a dangerous comfort to heterosexuals and made homosexuals
feel all the more embattled.
I declare an
interest: much of this book is critical of Nature (of which I was
editor until last December) and of me personally. In the circumstances,
I thought it only fair to judge the book on its own terms, as a
free-standing text. But that is hardly possible.
denies that his reporting echoed the view of Peter Duesberg, the
California virologist, that HIV is irrelevant to AIDS, but his readers
will be forgiven for having formed a different impression.
There is also
the case of his visit to Kenya in 1993 and his interview with Father
Angelo D'Angostino, a physician who had set up a hospice to care
for children testing positive for HIV. The result was a sensational
page in the Sunday Times (October 3) saying, in as many words, that
D'Angostino was disenchanted with the 'HIV hypothesis'.
was appalled when he saw the article, and protested in a fax (which
the Sunday Times says it never received). Later, I asked D'Angostino
on the telephone how it could have happened that an interview could
be so misconstrued. What he said was that Hodgkinson had never directly
raised the question of the relevance of HIV to AIDS.
Times has never acknowledged in print Dr D'Angostino's apparent
change of heart, although Hodgkinson wrote to him saying he was
'greatly distressed' by a denial put out on October 22, after which
the two men talked on the telephone. It seems to have been a blistering
That is not
the most distasteful bit. One of the complaints against Hodgkinson
and the Sunday Times is that their campaign would induce people,
especially the young, not to practise safe sex. He quotes from his
reply to a reader's accusation that '... you will have murdered...'
people infected with HIV. The book says, 'Yes, I answered, there
was that risk' and then, 'I have to ask myself the consequences
of failing to report the challenge to the HIV hypothesis. Millions
of HIV-infected people would continue to be inappropriately treated
...' Although, there and elsewhere, the book is sprinkled with paragraphs
that speak of Hodgkinson's anxiety provoked by complaints of his
treatment of AIDS (and of how he nevertheless summoned up the courage
to battle on), no trace of self-doubt escapes him. The 'failure
of contemporary science' is, after all, one of his subtitles.
Hodgkinson will probably acknowledge that his book is badly timed.
He could not have known that the 'virus that never was' has been
made more tangible since he left his newspaper in the summer of
1994, on the heels of Andrew Neil and after being told that he would
no longer be able to 'spend as much time' on AIDS.
Early in 1995,
it became plain that even in the earliest stages of infection by
HIV, the virus is far from dormant (as previously believed) but
is hyperactive. Hodgkinson oddly refers to this as a 'mathematical'
Nor could he
have known of the discovery, earlier this year, of the proteins
in the cell membranes of the white blood cells long-known to be
particularly sensitive to HIV that seem to be a necessary adjunct
of infection. That explains the observation that Peter Duesberg
has long elevated into a paradox: that only some cells appear to
be infected by virus particles.
would not have been able to include in his book information about
the success of the drugs called protease inhibitors, designed on
the basis that the 'HIV hypothesis' is correct, which appear to
have physicians in the United States talking for the first time
of a possible cure for AIDS. Hodgkinson's AIDS is an heroic account
of a prejudice that went sour - mercifully quickly in this case.
Maddox, Sir John Maddox was editor of Nature from 1966-73 and 1980-95.
The Guardian 5 July 1996