Some Comments on Dr. Gallo's Response to the Celia Farber article in Harper's.
The Gallo, et al response [abbreviated to just "Gallo" below for brevity] to the Farber article, while detailed and slick, is less impressive when looked at closely.
When I posed a question to Gallo at an Albany appearance several years ago, my strong impression was that he did not have much experience or ability in dealing with those who disagree with him.
Responding to my question, his first impulse was to launch into an attack on Professor Peter Duesberg, who had not even been mentioned in the question.
The same tendency appears in the Farber response document, which is replete with denunciations of dissenters as "AIDS denialists". For most people, resort to personal attacks suggests a weak case, as law schools have taught for decades.
Gallo impugns Farber's fitness to write an article due to her connections to the AIDS dissenters. [Page 8, 51;3] Applying similar criteria to Gallo would disqualify him from producing a response, since he is far more tied into the AIDS enterprise than Farber is to its opposition.
Gallo also provides a negative categorization by association or just assertions of each person mentioned in the Farber article. Truly, if ever someone should have taken the lesson about "people who live in glass houses" to heart, it is Robert Gallo. Aside from profiting from the HIV test, Gallo tried to take credit for discovery of a retrovirus that had previously been sent to him, landing him in trouble with scientific authorities, and triggering a transatlantic scientific and intergovernmental dispute. His published work on controlling Kaposi's sarcoma could not be duplicated by Arizona scientists, leading to another dispute played out in the journals Science and JAMA.
Some of the weak areas in Gallo's response: [The references are to identifiers in the Gallo, et al work, which can be found on the web by searching on Farber and Harper's]
The problems identified with drug trials and the public's great mistrust of big pharma will ultimately undermine Gallo's virtually unqualified support of the AIDS drug enterprise.
- Extending the time for mother's antibodies out to 18 months, despite established results that limit the duration to 9 months, perhaps to dodge the argument that many infants seroconvert (test negative after a prior positive test) between 9 and 18 months. [p5, 39;1]
- Claiming that the PCR test can accurately determine a child's HIV status, opening up the question of why the PCR can be used in infants when it cannot be used in adults. [p5, 39;1]
- Denying the well documented differences in HIV test criteria across countries. [p6, 39;1]
- Answering Farber's challenge about the vague Bangui definition of African AIDS by alluding to changes in the definition of AIDS, apparently the several CDC definition changes, which had nothing to do with Farber's challenge.
- Ignoring the obvious problems with using the UN WHO Bangui definition of African AIDS, based solely on symptoms common to many indigenous diseases and without any HIV test, to diagnose a disease syndrome whose definition, as Gallo states, requires the presence of HIV in the affected patient. See this link for more on problems with African AIDS statistics. [7, 40;3]
- Gallo states that "HIV, not poverty, predicts progression to AIDS in Africa". But AIDS by definition requires HIV, so there is a bit of circularity in his argument here, and elsewhere.
- Defending the expense of HIV tests in Africa as "not prohibitively expensive for large numbers of people". Probably true, in the sense that 1 million (a large number) might be able to afford them, but 100 million cannot. For a document that claims to catch "misleading" claims, this one is a whopper.
- Gallo touts a "rapid" HIV test as reliable for Africa, and suggests it be combined with ELISA for confirmation. Why not with the more accurate Western Blot, used for confirmation in the U. S.?
- Gallo makes the claim about HIV transmission through breast milk, but no reference is given for this controversial idea, though he often complains about lack of references in the Farber article. [p12, 43]
- Gallo tries to refute Farber's point about AIDS demographics being largely male by stating that AIDS does affect the heterosexual population, attempting to refute a statistical argument with an existence argument, which is inappropriate. [P23, 50;2]
- By relying on the HIV tests to support a huge number of his claims, he opens up the question of validation of the HIV tests. See this link for more on the test validation problems
- Correlation of the tests with illness also makes one wonder whether the tests may simply be measuring general ill health, with the large number of antibodies detected compared to healthy people simply reflecting the immune system's struggle to deal with the sick (or soon-to-be-sick) person's general health problems. Certainly it is curious why the blood sample is diluted - if one is trying to detect something difficult to find, why dilute it?
- Gallo disputes the Duesberg contention that numerous AIDS cases without HIV exist. [P 19, 49;2] However, HIV-negative cases exist for Kaposi's Sarcoma, the original defining disease for AIDS, and Gallo had acknowledged that the role of HIV in Kaposi's Sarcoma must be indirect, with some other likely primary cause.
- Gallo stands completely behind AZT, though the problems with the original high dosages are widely acknowledged.