Book review.


Neville Hodgkinson, 'AIDS; The Failure of Contemporary Science' Fourth Estate, London UK 1996, 420 pages, ISBN 1-85702-337-4.


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.

Hodgkinson 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'.

D'Angostino 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.

The Sunday 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 conversation.

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.

In retrospect, 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' device.

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.

Certainly he 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. *

Review by: John Maddox,
Sir John Maddox was editor of Nature from 1966-73 and 1980-95.
Source: The Guardian 5 July 1996