ORIGIN OF THE SPECIOUS
By Neville Hodgkinson
Continuum Sept./Oct. 1996
Neville Hodgkinson summarises the historic scientific paper which
disposes of the illusion of HIV.
Publication in this issue of Continuum of the article by Eleni Eleopulos
and colleagues is an historic event. Their tremendous work refutes the
idea that a new virus, "HIV," which came to be known as the cause
of AIDS by the scientific community and the world, has ever been shown
This is not idle word play. It is devastatingly important to people
who have been told they are likely to die because of their infection with
"HIV;" to people taking demonstrably dangerous and potentially
lethal drugs in the hope of slowing the progress of this non-existent virus;
to the doctors prescribing those drugs, and the medico-legal organisations
who represent them; to politicians everywhere, but especially in poorer
countries, who have switched scarce resources into fighting a mythical
epidemic of "HIV disease;" to communities genuinely stricken
by AIDS, who need to look again at the real causes of the syndrome; and
to the world of science, which will need to address the question of how
it can re-establish credibility with the public after not just allowing
such a terrible mistake to occur, but actively obstructing efforts to question
the "HIV" hypothesis.
Eleopulos's disposal of the HIV illusion takes us into the deep waters
of modern molecular biological techniques, where even the pioneers are
in uncertain territory, though they all too rarely admit as much. But the
paper, with its 251 references, is a definitive demonstration that not
a single scientist has proven the existence of "HIV" as a unique
and distinguishable molecular entity. It is the fruit of years of work.
The authors are a group of scientists well-respected by their immediate
colleagues, and with a history of publication in leading peer-reviewed
journals, though on the "HIV" issue they have faced much obstruction,
over many years, in seeking to make their views known to the scientific
community. That community now has a clear obligation to respond to this
paper, to grapple with its implications and answer its challenge.
The paper is structured partly as a response to points raised by Peter
Duesberg, the Californian scientist who has fought courageously to point
up inconsistencies and fallacies in the conventional view of AIDS. In previous
issues of Continuum Duesberg has defended the idea that the virus is a
genuine entity, albeit in his view harmless. In doing so, since he has
not been involved directly in "HIV" work, he has had to rely
on the assertions and assumptions of other workers in the field. Eleopulos
strips these assumptions bare and demonstrates a circular reasoning at
the heart of the defense of the "HIV" concept.
The essence of the critique lies in its insistence that before you can
make sense in talking about a new virus such as "HIV" was supposed
to be, you have to first isolate it, which means obtaining it separated
from everything else. Only then can you determine whether it does indeed
have the features characteristic of a particular infectious agent, including
shape, physical constituents, and ability to reproduce. Although viruses
are only capable of multiplying within the cells of their host, they do
also have an independent existence as particles, which can be seen with
an electron microscope. Each particle comprises a unique stretch of genetic
material-the virus genome or genes-coated with protein molecules. Procedures
for isolating and analysing these particles have been used for decades.
The main isolation technique has been to spin the biological material
to be examined through a density-graded centrifuge (the further the materials
travel down the test-tube, the greater the density). This is a key stop
in separating and isolating any particles present, including viruses, since
it causes them to band at characteristic densities. The particles can then
be examined microscopically and biochemically, and used in biological tests
to see whether or not they are infectious.
In the early 1980s, when AIDS was first recognised, scientists theorised
that a new infectious agent might be responsible, and began a race to identify
it. A front-runner theory was that it could be a retrovirus-a theoretical
member of a family of microbes in which a special enzyme, called reverse
transcriptase, allowed the genetic material of the virus to become integrated
with the DNA of its host cell. Peter Duesberg, a world leader in the field,
had won renown for linking an animal retrovirus with cancer. He later insisted
however that the risk was brought about by a mutant human gene picked up
by the retrovirus, and that essentially human retroviruses were benign,
naturally present packages of genetic material-a claim that calls into
question the appropriateness of the term "virus," since by definition
viruses are disease-producing particles.
In the early 1980s Robert Gallo, a US government researcher who was
also a pioneer in the field, claimed to have discovered the first human
retrovirus by linking "retroviral" phenomena to certain forms
of leukaemia in humans, although whether the presence of those phenomena
is a cause or an effect of the leukaemia condition remains unproven.
What is known today, however, is that the human genome itself contains
many stretches of genetic material with characteristics of so-called retroviruses.
These sub-genomes are in the DNA of all our cells, and under certain circumstances
they replicate, sometimes becoming incorporated into particles. The existence
of these harmless endogenous (arising from within) gene packages makes
it all the more important to isolate a putative exogenous (originating
from without) disease-causing retrovirus, in order to distinguish it from
the naturally-occurring phenomena.
Eleopulos demonstrates that such isolation has never been performed
with "HIV." When cells taken from AIDS patients and AIDS risk
groups are put through a variety of laboratory processes and then the fluid
in which they have been grown is centrifuged, a lot of material, including
gene segments of varying lengths, falls with the density band characteristic
of retroviruses. Crucially, however, "HIV" researchers have never
been able to find pure particles at that density with an electron microscope.
Very occasionally, a stretch of genetic material with a length characteristic
of retroviruses is found amidst all the other material, and fished out
for analysis. These long stretches have formed the basis for claims about
HIV's genetic structure. However, in 10 years of research, only 19 "full-length
HIV" genomes of this kind have been sequenced, and no-one has ever
established whether or not these too are an endogenous product of normal
cells, or a genuine infectious entity. Their extreme rarity is strong evidence
against the latter. Furthermore, not one such genome has ever been sequenced
from cells taken freshly from patients; they have only been found in material
subjected to drastic manipulation in the laboratory, mostly involving being
cultured in cancerous cell lines. These are exactly the circumstances in
which naturally present, endogenous mechanisms of genetic activation are
most likely to take place.
Most analyses of so-called "HIV" genetic material are based
on small segments of the purported virus genome, typically covering between
2% and 30% of it, since the longer sequences are so rarely found. There
is not even any fixed pattern to the composition of these segments-they
vary by 40% or more. No two identical "HIV"s have been found,
even from the same individual. In other words, there is no evidence for
the presence of any unique molecular entity like a virus.
Peter Duesberg, in support of his retrovirology colleagues' claims that
"HIV" had been isolated, points to studies in which "full-length"
genetic sequences have been taken from the soup of materials obtained as
described above, then passed into bacteria, and reproduced as pure copies.
He claims that this means isolation "by the most rigorous method science
has to offer." Logic seems to have deserted him on this issue, however.
The point is not to isolate a genetic sequence, which can in any case be
done by picking it out of the banded materials, but to isolate virus, which
means to obtain virus particles separated from everything else and show
that they have the characteristics of an infectious, replicating, disease-inducing
microbe. Reproducing a stretch of genetic material through molecular cloning
techniques does not mean you have an infectious microbe.
Duesberg further argues that because this cloned material reacts with
antibodies used in the "HIV" test, that confirms the existence
of a unique retrovirus. Eleopulos, however, has long ago demonstrated that
the antibodies themselves are non-specific-that is, although they are certainly
found much more often in AIDS patients and people at risk of AIDS than
in healthy people, people can test positive as a result of activation of
the immune system by a variety of microbial and toxic influences, including
So often, the correlation between the presence of "HIV" antibodies
in a patient with AIDS itself has been taken as evidence for a viral cause
of the syndrome, but this idea is torpedoed by a 1996 study cited by Eleopulos.
Reihnard Kurth, a world leader in retrovirology at the Paul-Ehrlich Institute
in Germany, showed that 70% of "HIV-positive" patients, compared
with only 3% of blood donors, had antibodies which reacted with a molecular
entity called HTDV/HERV-K. This "retrovirus," however, is not
only present in AIDS patients, but "in all of us," as Kurth put
it-it is one of those endogenous retroviral-like gene segments referred
to above. The fact that such segments are activated in AIDS patients, perhaps
with concomitant appearance of antibodies, does not make them the cause
of AIDS, nor does it mean the presence of an infectious virus.
In the late 1980s, to try to rescue the concept of an "HIV genome,"
researchers began using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to look for
"HIV" sequences. This immensely sensitive technique can find
the genetic equivalent of a needle in a haystack, and multiply in into
a stack of needles. On the basis of such methods, scientists such as New
York's David "It's the virus, stupid" Ho (he once wore as badge
proclaiming his faith to this effect) have developed theories that there
is actually a mass of "virus" destroying AIDS patients' T-cells,
even though it cannot be detected by standard techniques. The mathematics
through which he reached this conclusion have been demonstrated to be faulty,
but even if that were not the case, PCR does not involve isolation or even
detection of "HIV." It simply measures the presence of certain
genetic segments, which have been postulated to belong to "HIV"
but never demonstrated as such, because "HIV" itself has never
Duesberg argues that "HIV" is confirmed as a unique entity
by the detection of HIV-specific genetic segments in most antibody-positive
people, but not in "uninfected" humans. Eleopulos demonstrates
that he has overstated the evidence from one study on this point, and failed
to quote others that show less of a correlation. But their specificity
tested against the only meaningful measure, isolation of the virus whose
segments they are supposed to be detecting. Failure to see this is one
more example of the circular reasoning that has bedeviled "HIV"
research from the start.
When in 1993 Luc Montaigner and his group first described the procedures
and observations that made them believe they might have cultured an AIDS
virus, Gallo did not believe them. Nor did Nature, which turned their paper
down. Nor did the British virus expert Robin Weiss, who in a 1986 patent
application referred to Montaigner's "HIV strain" as a "so-called
AIDS virus isolate." But Gallo's group did no better, other than to
use leukaemic cells to produce a range of proteins that came to be known
as characteristic of HIV, without proof that they were coded by "HIV"
genes, or that they belonged to a retrovirus-like particle. Nevertheless,
these proteins became the basis of a diagnostic test that purported to
demonstrate infection with a deadly virus, an unvalidated test that has
brought unnecessary misery to millions.
There was no intent to mislead, but judgment became warped in what Gallo
has called the "passionate" phase of the race to find "the
virus" assumed by these virus experts to be causing AIDS. Although
Gallo is now known to have twisted the facts in support of his claim to
have come first in that race, he and Montaigner and Weiss believed in what
they were doing. Fame and fortune were to follow, but they also hoped humanity
would benefit from their findings. Unfortunately that has not been the
case, and it is now time to end this tragic episode in the history of science.*