Book review.


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


WARNING: This review contains allegations based on fabricated and misleading quotations (see below). It was added as an example of an irrational respons.


Neville Hodgkinson has argued that HIV is not related to AIDS. But could that be because he is part of a Hindu cult?

The journalist behind the Sunday Times's controversial campaign disputing the link between HIV and AIDA is a member of a bizarre religious cult that is hostile to scientific rationality.

As science correspondent of the Sunday Times, Neville Hodgkinson waged a campaign between 1992 and 1994 challenging the expert consensus that AIDS is caused by a virus (HIV), that it threatens heterosexuals as well as homosexuals and that there is a serious epidemic in Africa. Headlines such as 'Research disputes epidemic of AIDS' and 'I am convinced HIV is harmless' appeared regularly in the paper during his time there. He left to write a book on the subject which has just been published.

The book's title, 'AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science; How a Virus that Never Was Deceived the World', declares Hodgkinson's sense of mission: he wants to expose what he calls the 'dangers of narrow-focus science’.

His readers, including the many journalists and scientists who have vigorously attacked hIs reporting for endangering lives, be surprised to learn that Hodgkinson has been for the past 14 years a student and teacher with a new religious movement of Hindu origin called the Brahma Kumaris, which enjoins its members 'not to fall into the sterile world of scientific rationality'.

The London-based Cult Information Centre, which monitors the activities of new religions and movements, describes the group as a religious cult. A spokeswoman said they had received several inquiries from relatives worried about loved ones who had joined the group. The Brahma Kumaris believe that the world is about to end in apocalyptic destruction, ushering in a Golden Age in which group members will be divine beings living in palaces 'decorated with multicoloured lights'.

In Adi Dev - The First Man, a book by group member Jagdish Chander, the nature of the paradise that awaits is revealed: 'The axis of the planet shall straighten from its angle of 23.5 degrees to the truly vertical. The continents shall come together once more ... There will be springtime all year long. The replenished earth shall give birth to a new society, technologically advanced, yet also completely, divinely virtuous: A paradise of endless happiness.' For 'narrow-minded rationalists' who might doubt the likelihood of a flat earth emerging in the near future, the text proclaims: 'This is not a dream, but revealed reality.'

The way to paradise for a Brahma Kumari is through 'Third Eye Meditation' or 'Raja Yoga Meditation'. The aim, as Hodgkinson wrote in an article called 'Putting the Soul Back into Science' in the Brahma Kumari magazine, Retreat, is to create an inner spiritual silence. This article was written just after he left the Sunday Times and provides an insight into his motivation in taking on the scientific establishment. He writes: 'Some scientists like to consider themselves pure observers of objectively acquired fact, but they neglect the fact that what and how they observe are likely to be influenced by their state of mind. Inner peace improves the ability to see and think clearly.'

He warns that scientists who neglect their spiritual development could find themselves working in a moral vacuum. He describes God as 'the ultimate benefactor' and asks why some scientists are so scathing about religion.

Then, crucially, in a passage that pre-figures the crusading zeal of his book, he writes that the 'arrogance that characterises ... the scientific establishment may have to take a considerable knock before we open the door to a different way of thinking and feeling'.

It is clear from the caption on the sleeve of his book that he believes he has just delivered such a knock: 'In this paradigm-shattering investigation into the origins of the HIV theory, Neville Hodgkinson offers a serious scientific challenge. The resulting picture is a sometimes frightening indictment of medical stubbornness and a fascinating argument for a radical rethink of science's observations, methods, checks and assumptions. The changes arising from such a new stance could bring enormous benefits not only to AIDS patients but to the whole of medicine and indeed to the role of science in society.'

The Brahma Kumaris emerged in India in 1937, when a wealthy Hindu diamond merchant, Dada Lekhraj, began to claim that Shiva, God the Supreme Soul, had entered him to begin the task of creating a new world order. Dada adopted the spiritual name of Prajapita Brahma and began to gather devotees, mostly women, around him. He taught that all people are souls (rather than bodies) and claimed that souls are covered by a temporary bodily costume so that they can play their parts in the world drama. It is by identifying too closely with our bodily costumes that we lose our purity. The aim of Brahma Kumaris is to overcome 'body-consciousness' and to achieve 'soul-consciousness'. Believers must strive to detach themselves from the world, forsaking sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, as well as meat, eggs, onions and garlic, and even emotional dependencies on such figures as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives.

But, most importantly, 'yogis ' (as Brahma Kumaris refer to themselves) must meditate frequently. A committed yogi will usually spend several hours each day meditating, both alone and with other group members, usually rising at 4am in the pursuit of inner peace. According to the Brahma Kumaris' so-called 'natural laws', throughout one's 'births' (each soul goes through up to 84 births in its lifecycle) one has been committing both negative and positive actions. In this way each soul has a 'karmic account'. The Brahma Kumaris believe that meditation is 'the method to settle the debts of your past actions quickly and to create your future prosperity'. Actions in past lives determine the nature of the life one has in future 'births'. When I recently attended an 'Introduction to Meditation' course at the Brahma Kumari British headquarters in Neasden, London, I asked whether six million Jews had died at the hands of the Nazis because of their 'bad karma'. I was told that yes, indeed they had.

But is Hodgkinson a true believer? I spoke to him at eight o'clock one morning last week. He had been up since 4am, and by the time he came to the phone he had meditated for several hours, taken a class in spirituality, and had even had his breakfast. He said: 'I do believe what the Brahma Kumaris are teaching but I used that as a kind of ‘lateral thinking that gives me a different model and a different way of experiencing the world alongside the scientific world view, which I don't regard it as being in contradiction to.'

A recent visitor to the Brahma Kumari Global Retreat Centre at Nuneham Park, outside Oxford, who met Hodgkinson there found him less cagey. He told her how he had written his book there and had been greatly helped by the 'karmic energy' of the place. While he was writing the book, he went on a lecture tour with the Additional Administrative Head of the University, Dadi Janki, revered within the movement for allegedly having 'The Most Stable Mind in the World’. And in another article for Retreat in June 1993, Hodgkinson explained how he became converted to the Brahma Kumaris understanding of the world as long ago as 1982 because ‘I knew there was much I needed to learn about myself’.

In the same article, Hodgkinson writes that too often doctors deal only with the symptoms of disease, rather than addressing the 'real causes'. 'While medicines can be valuable in offering a short-term helping hand, long-term administration of drugs can be both mentally and physical-ly debilitating.' He says that wellness can only ever be fully restored by meditative pursuits that lead to a rediscovery of the wellspring of one's being and, more importantly, 'by God's grace'. He ends the article with a pious quotation: 'Let Thy will be my will, dear Lord. Then all will be well.'

When I spoke to him, however, he denied that his religious views coloured his coverage of the AIDS story, because for several years he had written on the su-ject from what he called a conventional perspective. His campaign was based purely on a dispassionate observation of the facts and aimed to improve the methods of science. 'If it was built into the scientific method that there was more introspection alongside the outward focus of science, then scientists would be better scientists because they would be better able to know when their own subjectivity was colouring their vision of the facts.'

He denied that his subjectivity had coloured his vision of the facts, although he stood by what he had written in 'putting the soul back into science'. His inspiration for the article had been Einstein's quotation: 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.'

Andrew Neil, who was editor of the Sunday Times when Hodgkinson wrote the articles, has supported him through. out the controversy. In a recent column, he even praised Hodgkinson as a hero in the flight for 'the truth about AIDS'. This does not appear to be a view supported by others on the paper, which recently carried a review of Hodgkinson's book by the former New Scientist editor, Bernard Dixon. He reminded readers that Hodgkinson's critics had feared that his reporting could have endangered lives by undermining health advice designed to reduce the transmission of HIV. Private Eye described Dixon's review as a 'fair but effective demolition job', claiming that by this act the paper had 'disowned completely Andrew Neil's obsessive crusade to prove that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus'.

It is not known whether Neil, whose autobiography, flail Disclosure, is published later this month, has taken up Raja Yoga, but perhaps the salutary influence of Neville Hodgkinson may provide a spiritual explanation for Neil's interest in women from the Indian subcontinent. In particular, his well-publicised contact with a former Miss India may have been motivated by a nascent curiosity about Hinduism (and its offshoots) rather than by the more worldly desires usually insinuated by the sort of godless materialists whom Hodgkinson deprecates. At the height of the controversy, the writer James Fenton referred sarcastically to Hodgkinson as the Sunday Times's 'anti-science correspondent'. The nature of Hodgkinson's religious beliefs might suggest that Fenton's gibe was not far off the mark.

But perhaps Fenton is merely one of those narrow-minded rationalists. After all, Brahma Kumaris devote their lives to a study of 'the science of the soul', a hitherto unreported science, admittedly, but one perhaps worthy of coverage by Neville Hodgkinson. *

Review by: Mick McGovern
Source: The Observer (London) 6 October 1996

The Observer published an apology and correction over the "flat earth" and "anti-science" allegations in this article, admitting that they were based on fabricated and misleading quotations. For example, where Hodgkinson had written in a magazine article of an arrogance within us, as individuals, that can cut us off from our spiritual roots and understanding, he is instead quoted as deploring "the arrogance that characterises... the scientific establishment", an invented phrase said to be "crucial" to understanding where he was coming from. This falsification was later described as a "production error" by the newspaper.

In the same issue as their apology, the Observer published the following letter from Hodgkinson:


For too long, science and spirituality have been regarded as incompatible. Mick McGovern (6 October) furthered this false conflict in his article about my recent book on AIDS, when he suggested that the book's conclusions should be distrusted because of my 15-year association with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.

The Brahma Kumaris is not a cult, but a well-respected charitable organisation dedicated to teaching spiritual knowledge - that is, a way of understanding who we are, and how we fit into a wider scheme of things, made real through inner, subjective experience. It is true that the introspective practices involved differ from the scientific method, with its systematic sharing and analysis of externally observed facts. But it is not true that the one must rule out the other. The two ways of knowing are complementary.

I do not await a flat earth, contrary to the article's assertion, but I do subscribe to unfamiliar ways of thinking, involving an ideal world, an ideal self, and a loving relationship with a Supreme Being (conceived as a non-physical, infinitesimal point of light - not a hairy man, as in your picture). I find such ideas nourish me, in ways that help me see the world more dispassionately and I hope objectively, as well as giving me a yardstick by which to set about improving my character.

Science has helped sweep aside religious dogmas that obstruct both reason and humanity. However, science falls into the same trap as religion when it denies validity to ideas and experiences outside its own scope. Since it commands such respect, these denials may contribute to a kind of spiritual deprivation.

The resulting sense of emptiness leads to a loss of higher values, essential for holding together society. It can make people vulnerable to false prophets. It can also damage the scientific method itself, when an unrelentingly outward and analytical focus prevents recognition of the scientist's own subjectivity.

My book, AIDS: The Failure of Contemporary Science, argues that this has happened in AIDS science. It presents evidence that the original work claiming isolation of HIV was inadequate; that procedures which should have identified those inadequacies did not operate; and that a kind of censorship operated subsequently which grew more intense as the case for a reappraisal of the HIV theory grew stronger.

Beverly Griffin, director and professor of virology at London's Royal Postgraduate Medical School, has said in a testimonial for my 'thoroughly researched, well-argued' book': 'The emotional response to the HIV story by the scientific/medical community never ceases to amaze.'

I believe this response owes more to hurt pride and misplaced compassion, as well as defence of a multi-billion dollar industry, than to genuine concern for truth, and that it is costing many lives.

Neville Hodgkinson,