Is Maddox Mad or is he Just Pretending?

By Volker Gildemeister
Continuum Vol.4 No.2

The bitter end seemed finally to have arrived when, to everybody's great relief, Sir John out of the blue announced: "Professor Peter Duesberg from the University of California at Berkeley is probably sleeping more easily at night now than for five years, since he first took up the cudgels against the doctrine that AIDS is caused by the retrovirus HIV. Duesberg has been pilloried for his heterodox views, and faced the threat that his research funds would be snatched away."(AIDS Research Turned Upside Down, 26 Sep 1991).

The reformed Sir John went on to observe self-pityingly: "Now there is some evidence to support his long fight against the establishment among which, sadly, he counts this journal." Duesberg will be saying "I told you so". How's that for an apology?

Could anyone reading this be under any illusion that Maddox in his wisdom had decided that enough was enough, Duesberg's period in the scientific wilderness should come to an end? Maddox had expressed regret at the enormous blunder committed in 1984, when that scientific joker, Robert C Gallo, announced he had discovered HIV to be the cause of AIDS. It was always surprising that a polymath like Maddox, with a truly wide overview of contemporary science, should have fallen for the American fanfare lauding the wonders of their medico-scientific establishment, given the absence of any evidence worthy of the word to support it in the first place: and by Gallo of all people, mention of whose name should have provoked only smirks of derision, given his impressive record of self-glorifying mistakes.

With hindsight, Maddox must just have been cleverly biding his time, and used the figleaf of the rubbishy results of Stott et al and Hoffman & Kion to highlight just how dumb things had become. Stott's group of researchers used two groups of four monkeys, and inoculated one lot with SIV [supposedly the monkey equivalent of HIV] -infected white blood cells and the other with the same cells but without SIV, as controls. Guess what happened: three out of the four SIV-infected monkeys developed antibodies to SIV, but so did two out of the four that were never infected with the stuff! How could that be? Answer: they had no idea what they were doing; what antibodies they were measuring or even whether they were antibodies at all - probably they were just stress proteins.

Hoffman and his henchwoman found something equally zany. They treated one type of mouse with T-cells from another type, and found parts of HIV (sic) proteins in the treated mice. How can mice that have never been near HIV show antibodies to it, as if they had successfully overcome attack by it!

These findings were good enough for Maddox to launch his long overdue strike against the HIV/AIDS orthodoxy. So by September 1991, 41/2 years after Duesberg first blew the whistle, and hundreds of thousands of needless deaths later, old Maddox finally had enough of all these harmless viruses which had earned nothing but derision for much of medical research, with its retroviruses that did not cause cancer, Epstein-Barr virus that caused neither Burkett's lymphoma, nor herpes, nor warts nor cervical cancer etc. It was high time to add harmless HIV to this roll of dishonour.

As far back as 1988 Maddox had voiced his misgivings about the way molecular biology was just measuring things which amounted to nothing at all. "Finding wood among the trees: is the reductionist ambition for molecular biology in danger of being thwarted by the volume of the data it produces?" he asked, and concluded this perceptive piece by observing: "...the data will get so far ahead of its assimilation into a conceptual framework that [they] will eventually prove an encumbrance. Part of the trouble is that excitement of the chase leaves little time for reflection. And there are grants for producing data, but hardly any for standing back in contemplation." (5 May 1988)

Sir John had clearly decided it was time to do some serious reflection of his own. Soon after launching his attack on the AIDS orthodoxy he cast his net even wider by asking "Is molecular biology yet a science?", in which he correctly noted that: "there is now an army of people called molecular biologists whose published papers are innocent of references to whole plants and animals and which may have little to say about their physiology either." (16 Jan 1992)

But the dawn of a new realism in the value of molecular biology was short lived. As if he had taken leave of his senses, he published two long papers early last year (12 Jan 1995) which claimed that HIV caused "virological mayhem", by replicating several billion times per day. Didn't he stop to think how this could be, since it contradicted everything previously known about HIV? The manifest nonsense Wei & Ho had churned out must be obvious to anyone.

To explain, just in case anyone has failed to see "the wood for the trees": how can HIV have been latent for the first 15 years of its existence, yet all along have been replicating furiously without ever having been noticed? Is this not the clearest example of what Maddox had complained about back in May 1988?

In his short period of enlightenment Maddox also asked: "Should molecular biologists mend their ways by resurrecting the Law of Mass Action (now conspicuous by its absence)? ... It would be a worthwhile precaution against the quantitative days that lie ahead that people should make sure that published data are capable of quantitative interpretation by those who have the zeal for that. As things are, that is far from true." (16 Jan 1992)

Tut, tut! What delicate, polite terminology to tell these overbearing Yankees from the NIH, NCI, NIAID etc. to stop churning out meaningless data. But who else than Maddox himself is responsible for this deplorable state of affairs! Or will he shuffle the blame off on Rupert Murdoch, the Yankee convert and owner of Maddox's rag, pleading force majeure. That would be a bit rich, since Nature's out and out American stablemate Bio/Technology is under no such constraint. Its scientific editor, Harvey Bialy, rightly prides himself on having kept his journal completely free of all the current AIDS alchemy.

So, what was the bottom line of Sir John's short-lived uprising against HIV on 26 September 1991? Well, er, nothing much. On the grapevine it was said he planned to give Duesberg the opportunity to state his case properly. Instead Sir John commissioned a paper entitled Does drug use cause AIDS? (11 March 1993)

No half-way decent journal would ever have dreamt of publishing such a bad paper - it was embarrassing. How could any serious scientist even attempt to quantify drug use based exclusively on self-confession (as opposed to independent verification - who would believe a drunk to tell the truth about how much he drinks, all the more so if what he did were illegal, as drugs are)? The paper lumps together drugs as disparate as marijuana, nitrites (poppers), cocaine and amphetamines (ecstasy). Marijuana is so obviously different from the others, to anyone with an ounce of common sense, because only the gaseous components (as opposed to the impurities and adulterants) are inhaled, whereas with the other three, not only the drug but also the contaminants (which will be many and varied and toxic) are ingested. Therefore, such quantitative assessment of consumption must be one of the most foolish gestures ever made. But not too foolish for Maddox to publish.

To cap it all, no mention whatever is made of AZT, although it is crucial to the Duesberg case. Without people having been inadvertently killed in their hundreds of thousands by AZT, AIDS would by now have largely disappeared, the whole theory dismissed for its failure to produce anything useful. Without lashings of Wellcome money driving the blunder along, the AIDS bandwagon would have ground to a halt long ago.

As if the Maddox cup of self-betrayal were not full enough already, he then tries to discredit the Duesberg explanation of HIV infection in haemophiliacs, with equally ludicrous results. Someone like Maddox would know in his sleep that DNA, being a very large molecule, is sensitive to shearing (even by stirring in solution), and would certainly not survive the shear stresses occurring during freeze-drying to make Factor VIII. This would inevitably cause the DNA to be broken into smaller pieces, thereby destroying any biologically active structures which might have been present. He clearly never even considered the implications of the risible Oxford Haemophilia Study. It is so riddled with internal inconsistencies that I have known a semi-literate/numerate shop assistant fall about with laughter.

Its main finding is that HIV-positive haemophiliacs have a 10-fold greater death rate than HIV-negatives. The authors calculate a death rate of 0.8% for uninfected haemophiliacs; but they are so silly not to realise that this implies an average life-span of 1000.8 = 125 years - not bad going for people, who even a generation ago, generally did not reach 20! Maddox pretended not to notice and called it "A thorough study ... which for most people will be sufficient proof that the infection leads to AIDS". (7 Sep 1995)

To complete this grisly charge sheet, Maddox has recently disgraced his organ even further by publishing that most dismal scientific enterprise - the Delta Trial.

Untroubled by the insolence of Wellcome's denial of Concorde (implying that the MRC and the French had cheated) Maddox did not bat an eye-lid at one of Delta's most ridiculous conclusions. Although everybody (except Wellcome) now agrees that AZT itself kills people (or more diplomatically does 'no good'), Delta claims that adding 1/1000 of the amount of ddC to it changes everything. But only if you have not previously attempted to administer AZT alone: as they impishly call that, patients are AZT-naive. The naivety of claiming that 1000 molecules of toxic AZT are changed from harmful to beneficial by just one molecule of ddC, might strike a chemist more forcefully than a physicist like Maddox, except that Maddox has at least 1000 times more savvy of contemporary medical research than an ordinary chemist has. It was the same Maddox who lectured molecular biologists that it was time for them "to mend their ways by resurrecting the Law of Mass Action conspicuous by its absence from what they publish". Whose fault is it that they do not?

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Law of Mass Action (and others who have forgotten) it means that one molecule of ddC can never in a million years nullify the effect of 1000 molecules of AZT. It would be like saying a tiny amount of cyanide is lethal to man, but a single molecule cannot be - everything has to be in proportion. Stupendous stuff this ddC, you might wonder: in point of fact it is like AZT, just a dummy nucleotide, synthesised in the lab to stop DNA chains from being formed.

Since Maddox is known to prefer whiskey to pills, what quirk of human nature might be at work here-

  1. personal antipathy to Duesberg?
  2. blind loyalty to Wellcome and all its works?
  3. a case of cherchez la femme - Brenda, Lady M?
  4. a delayed Strohman effect? [Richard Strohman was until recently for more than 30 years Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at Berkeley, funded throughout by the NIH, a measure of his scientific rectitude. For the last 20 years he tried to unravel the intricacies of muscular dystrophy, caused by a single defective gene. Not until he retired did he have the time to stand back and think, and realise that as a classical molecular biologist he had been labouring under completely false preconceptions of how genes work.]

Come on Maddox: collect your thoughts for a few hours and rattle off that article which will re-establish your integrity and credibility, and blow HIV right out of the water. Lots of people, especially in America, will say "the old sot has lost his marbles", but the elegant way in which you will say it will make them squirm. All the current pointless research on "how, why, perhaps, latently/billion-fold, directly/indirectly, overtly/covertly, this strain/that mutant, with/without this/that co-factor", this futile activity called 'AIDS research' will cease. Countless people will be saved, by not having to bother with a virus that cannot do anything anyway, and which does not even exist.

In classical mathematics one form of proof is reductio ad absurdum, ie. if a theory leads to an absurd conclusion, it must be wrong. How more absurd can you get, Sir John, than an average lifespan of 125 years, or that one molecule can cancel out 1000?