Science Guardian, Anthony Liversidge

House of Numbers is quietly explosive

Remarkable movie shows how AIDS story falls apart under questioning

Leading luminaries confess flaws, confirming critics’ concerns

Clarity and entertainment value may gain wide audience for documentary

But John Moore and his goons are on the job to sink it if possible

shipoffoolsHouse of Numbers premiered last night at the Quad in New York City, and contrary to the uninformed review by Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times (see previous post), the documentary is a winner on every level – clarity of exposition, entertainment value, and unexpected revelation. Small wonder it has started garnering prizes at festivals (six so far).

Brent Leung adopts the Boy Scout approach of innocent inquiry, and travels the world in search of answers to the huge questions that HIV/AIDS ideology raises in every inquiring mind. He ends up gaining remarkable admissions from some leading lights in the field.

Web of inconsistency

The impression left as the credits roll is that every time he pokes at the supposedly solid science of HIV/AIDS he finds he meets no resistance, and his finger tears another hole is what seems like a cobweb of false claims, one that needs sweeping away before it catches another million hapless “HIV positives” to feed killer drugs to and, the film implies, shorten their lives for no good purpose except to preserve the careers and salaries of all in the vast economy of this statistically exaggerated and medically misread disease.

The film makes all the major points that the much vilified (by HIV defenders) “denialists” have made over the years, starting with Peter Duesberg’s brilliant and unrefuted reviews of the late 1980s, which have been censored from public attention ever since by Anthony Fauci of NIAID and the editors of the New York Times. But none of these McCarthy-ite internal politics are touched on in the film, which keeps it all very simple.

Conjuring the statistics

Can electron microscope images of the AIDS virus be produced? A leading expert in the technique shows Leung all the pictures produced by Gallo and by others since, but confirms they are only “probably” HIV. Do any tests provably confirm the presence of HIV or even HIV antibodies in the blood of “HIV positives”? No they don’t, other experts admit.

As the scientists quarrel on camera about which combination of tests might be definitive, it emerges that all tests, even PCR tests, have package disclaimers saying that in themselves they confirm nothing about the HIV status of the individual. Meanwhile, test interpretation varies by country, and by the information you have given the tester (are you gay? are you poor?). Rapid tests, used widely now in South Africa, are unreliable and prove nothing, it turns out, though Brent takes one on camera. Many Africans are still judged to be AIDS victims without any testing at all (the Bangui definition is still widely used, he discovers, for symptoms as simple as diarrhea and fever, no testing required).

James Chin, who was chief epidemiologist for WHO for five years, says he warned headquarters how flimsy the statistics were but no one paid any attention. Now he predicts that their “house of numbers” will collapse as the true situation emerges, and indeed huge downward adjustments have been made by the UN for the total of HIV “positives” in the world. (Kevin De Cock, the WHO official who stated a couple of years ago, that heterosexuals have never in reality been threatened by AIDS is not mentioned.)

With Brent and his audience thus instructed how a positive status doesn’t necessarily mean they are infected or have ever been infected by HIV, he is then shown how damaging and even lethal the drugs administered are. Reducing the dosage of the dreaded AZT in the nineties by substituting David Ho’s cocktail of protease inhibitors slowed patients’ decline, reprieving them from the early death guaranteed by full dose AZT before the mid nineties. Everyone lasted longer, so the triumph of protease inhibitors was applauded and the cause of AIDS spuriously confirmed. But deaths have continued at the same rate in the US since (about 17,000 a year). Meanwhile the definition of AIDS was expanded so that a decline was turned into a doubling of cases.

Applause during the film

By the time the film contemplates the experience of Steve and Sherrill Nagel the audience is ready to be horrified. The Nagels adopted a baby from Romania who tested positive in the US, and dutifully fed her AZT while doctors predicted she would barely last till age two. Her leg pains, loss of coordination, and mental disruption are disturbing to watch, and the parents finally decide that even by the measure of standard AIDS ideology it is not worth harming the child any further with AZT. There was a burst of applause at the premiere when it is announced that the child is now 19 and perfectly healthy.

The film doesn’t leave room for any official rebuttal of this or other anecdotes, but on the core points of the science and its politics well known figures such as Anthony Fauci of NIAID are given time to rebut the cynics. When they contradict themselves this is shown clearly. But what is most surprising is that Martin Delaney, who turned from being a skeptic to a staunch advocate of AIDS drugs when his San Francisco group Project Inform gained drug company funding, expresses a lot of world weary doubts about their usefulness and even notes that the companies have no financial motivation to think up a better way to go.

Montagnier’s stunning statement

In its final phase Brent Leung maps AIDS worldwide and shows how it matches poverty and how lack of good food and hygiene gives rise to exactly the same symptoms that are laid at the door of HIV. Is it possible, he asks, that much of global AIDS is sickness from poverty, and would be cured by pouring money into clean water and decent food rather than damaging drugs? That the drugs are damaging is earlier highlighted by photos of buffalo humps and by the death of Joyce Hafford after only 39 days in a test of nevirapine, with grotesque skin symptoms.

Ship of Fools by Joel Peter Witkin, or possibly the current situation in HIV/AIDS
The establishment in HIV/AIDS has practiced answers to all this, to be sure, though none of them bear examination, as we have found in writing this blog. So perhaps Brent Leung can be forgiven for not including them, although they are undoubtedly among the 300 hours of film he has recorded. What he has produced is a vivid documentation of unanswered – in fact, confirmed – doubts about the scientific rationale peddled in HIV/AIDS, conflicting claims by experts, and real people examples of ignorance and suffering. He has shown how AIDS drugs could equally be causing the same and worse symptoms and deaths as HIV is supposedly causing.

The climax of the film comes with Luc Montagnier assuring him that “a good immune system” can rid the body of HIV in a few weeks. Leung gets him to repeat this unexpected statement and then asks if it applies to poor Africans. If their immune systems are restored with adequate nutrition, would their bodies conquer HIV too? The soon to be Nobelist Montagnier says “I would think so.”

Montagnier also emphasizes as he has done over the years (he was barred from the San Francisco AIDS Conference for it) that a co-factor is always necessary for HIV to do its deadly work, which opens the possibility that HIV itself is not actually involved. Presumably now that he alone won the Nobel last year for discovering HIV “the cause of AIDS” he will now be less frank in public. But here he is on film. The cat is out of the bag.

Will the doc be stopped?

This is the kind of paradigm threatening conclusion that a huge array of vested interests cannot abide, ranging from the emotions of patients who have committed themselves to taking the drugs to the vast array of career and financial interests that need to keep the 25 year old HIV/AIDS ideology in play, including now George Bush and Bill Clinton, who have both sought redemption through AIDS.

John Moore of Cornell, the HIV scientist most hostile in public and behind the scenes to outside review, has vowed in email to them that the filmmakers will, as the Hollywood phrase has it, ‘never eat lunch in this town again.’ Yet his efforts haven’t been able to stop their momentum so far, despite his supporters at the Times, which itself now has a huge, 25 year investment in the status quo.

With the politics so intense the censors of AIDS review may still succeed, but on behalf of the public Leung has fired the loudest shot yet across the bows of the great ship of fools, SS HIV Science. It is hard to imagine that, as has already happened, thoughtful people completely unaware of the real situation before they take their seats won’t leave the cinema skeptical of and even hostile to those that want to shut off public debate.

And the irony is that Leung has done nothing but document the tale that HIV scientists tell against themselves. The confusion he records looks amusingly like the Mad Hatters tea party from Alice in Wonderland. Could it be that they have led the world through a looking glass for 25 years?

Entertainment plus important revelation. All in all, a stunning achievement.