Nature on AIDS Contrarians: Any of this ring a bell?

March 20, 2012

Does this, like, remind you of anything?


The University of Florence has launched an inquiry into the teaching activities of an academic who assisted on a course that denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and supervised students with dissertations on the same topic.

The Italian university’s internal ‘special commission’ will examine the “teaching behaviour and responsibility” of molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero, a university spokesman told Nature.

The move follows a letter to the institution’s rector, Alberto Tesi, by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease. It calls on him to disassociate the university from the “science and activities” of Ruggiero, who, the group says, is “internationally known” for denying the widely accepted link between HIV and AIDS, and promotes a potential cure for HIV involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt for which there is no proven evidence.

Tesi replied on 29 February to announce the special commission. This “will examine whether professor Ruggiero’s conduct complies with the institutional guidelines on teaching contents and adherence to the objectives of the official curriculum of biological sciences”, says university spokesman Duccio Di Bari, who adds that any misconduct would be dealt with internally. The commission comprises Elisabetta Cerbai, the university’s vice-chancellor for research; Paola Bruni, the dean of the School of Science; Sergio Romagnani, an emeritus professor and expert in immunology; and Massimo Benedetti, who is responsible for university legal affairs. They will hold hearings behind closed doors.

 The investigation is the latest twist in the fallout from a paper1 published in December in the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology (IJAE) by researchers including Peter Duesberg, an academic at the University of California, Berkeley, well know for denying the link between HIV and AIDS. The paper, which challenges estimates of HIV–AIDS death tolls in South Africa, has received heavy criticism from scientists, who have questioned how it could have passed peer review, and has led two members of the IJAE editorial board to resign in protest (see ‘Paper denying HIV–AIDS link sparks resignation‘). That Ruggiero was one of the paper’s nine co-authors prompted the HIV Forum to write to the rector.

The forum cites two student dissertations mentored or co-mentored by Ruggiero that argue against the consensus that HIV causes AIDS23. “Most available evidence does not support a causative role for HIV in AIDS,” they both conclude.

The HIV Forum also refers to a short elective course, consisting of two half days, which Nature understands ran twice in the 2010/11 academic year, and which Ruggiero collaborated on, entitled: ‘The revolution of immunotherapy: prospects for the treatment of cancer and AIDS’. According to the description, the course teaches “the role of HIV in the pathogenesis of AIDS; association but not causation”.

“What devastating effects can such false teaching have on future physicians and their patients?,” asks the HIV Forum, stressing that although academic freedom is fundamental in teaching and research, it should not be misused to spread theories that they say are “lacking any scientific evidence”.

“We hope the Commission will be scientifically rigorous and we hope that it will state that the best way to protect academic freedom is to teach according to the worldwide recognized scientific method,” says a forum spokesperson.

Ruggiero, whose supporters have also written to the rector, says he has always operated with scientific integrity and is confident he will be able to give any explanations that the committee asks for. He draws parallels with an inquiry the University of California held two years ago into the conduct of Duesberg, which resulted in no charges.

“Florence is famous for having been the city of Galileo Galilei, the worldwide recognized symbol of the predominance of scientific freedom over dogmas. I am convinced that freedom of teaching and research is a stronghold of our university system,” he says. He adds that the student dissertations and the course were approved by the university.

The commission was welcomed by Fabio Marra, a professor of medicine at the university, who says the institution must shed “full light on the events”.

“I believe that every researcher has the right to submit his or her work through peer-reviewed journals, no matter how little credibility that data may have,” Marra says. “What is not acceptable is that personal theories, that are not supported by the weight of evidence, are taught to students that do not yet have the skills to form an independent opinion and to discriminate what they are being taught from what the bulk of the literature has shown.”

36 Responses to “Nature on AIDS Contrarians: Any of this ring a bell?”

  1. Arne – why on earth should I tell you why AGW is wrong, when my point has always been about CAGW??

    As for clarification of quotes from knowledgeable people, if that were the line of conduct this blog would shut down immediately and especially all comments made by pretty much all its current commenters.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      Maurizio, as you just ignore any comment for which you cannot come up with some facile unfalsifiable retort, your last comment possible ranks amongst the most hypocritical and patently false I have yet seen.

      When faced with people like William Nordhaus having the intellectual honesty to admit they were wrong — i.e. anthropogenic climate disruption is a real problem that will only get more expensive the longer that ideological obscurantists continue to deny it — I really do have to wonder how much longer someone who claims to aspire to both being an intellectual and assimilating as much knowledge as possible… is going to hold out against the tide of history, science and now economics as well…?

  2. No, Martin, I was just wondering how long before you’d self-combust…

    (metaphorically speaking)

  3. Thanks for asking but this is not my blog, Nordhaus is OT, and besides his contribution this time around has been of a particularly low quality. Not worth our time.

  4. Maurizio:

    “…as if I were an archetype rather than a person….”

    But you are an archetype, MM!

    You are a perfect little foot soldier for climate denial, marching in synchronized lockstep with daveburton and Anthony Watts, all three of you with such a curious coincidental coordination of the term “CAGW, as if no one would notice!

    [Here is a hint, MM – when you and your kith use the term “CAGW”, you sound just like creationists who use the term”Darwinism”]

    And a lovely little piece of rhetorical chicanery it is: “Catastrophic”.
    As in “MM employed a catastrophically obvious moving of the goalposts, when he claimed that CO2 and temperatures WERE related, but that temperature and C-AGW were NOT related.”

    Because, as I pointed out before, and as you refused to address – your whole point seems to be that we have not yet seen a catastrophic change in global temperatures, so AGW and the IPCC is a big pile of unscientific crap, because we have now redefined as AGW as “Catastrophic-AGW” which certainly has not happened.

    Such brilliance!

    So, I will ask you one more time, in the Quixotic hope that you might answer even one question honestly:

    Since you claim that CO2 and temperatures are related, but you also claim that”CAGW” is a unscientifically-unfounded scenario, tell us, MM – Where does all the extra heat from CO2 greenhouse radiation go? How does a planet with an incoming energy imbalance equal to two Hiroshima bomb blasts of heat every single second avoid catastrophic global warming??

  5. Roger – tsk tsk – when you mentally masturbate with your preferred inflatable archetype, it’s bad manners to try to involve others.

  6. MM:

    “Simply, Peter’s analogy is based on a substantial equivalence between the HIV-AIDS evidence (overwhelming to say the least) and the CO2-CAGW evidence (underwhelming to say the least). If you had any hint of what logic is, you’d have pointed that out to him.”

    On the other hand, logically speaking of course, to believe that there is no link between CO2 and AGW or CAGW, (or whatever new goal-post shifting term you care to insert into an otherwise productive conversation), one has to believe that the laws of physics will somehow magically be suspended.

    You don’t have to deny the physical characteristics of the Universe in order to suspend belief in the causation of AIDS by the HIV virus, rather, just like denial of global warming, you simply have to distrust the overwhelming scientific consensus on the topic because of your ideological biases.

  7. Ducked the question you can’t answer one more time, eh, MM?

  8. I just won’t join in your feticism Roger. I recommend also you get a life.

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