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. (1) IPCC, 2011: Summary for Policymakers. In: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [Field, C. B., Barros, V., Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Dokken, D., Ebi, K.L., Mastrandrea, M. D., Mach, K. J., Plattner, G.-K., Allen, S. K., Tignor, M. and P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, US

  2. Lets start with this:

    Next, let’s note that the IPCC report mentioned is many pages long. Citing a small portion of it without reading the rest, well,…
    What’s the Latin for cherry picking?
    Paraphrasing potholer54 , actually reading the source …

    Models project substantial warming in temperature extremes by the end of the 21st century.

    It is virtually
    certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold
    extremes will occur in the 21st century at the global scale.

    It is very likelythat the length, frequency, and/or intensity
    of warm spells or heat waves will increase over most land areas. Based on the A1B and A2 emissions scenarios, a

    1-in-20 year hottest day is likelyto become a 1-in-2 year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions, except
    in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where it islikelyto become a 1-in-5 year event….

    Sounds different, doesn’t it?

  3. Amazing how many times you can write “by the end of the 21st century” without reading it.

    Anyway if that’s the temporal window you like, we’ll use that. I was more referring to extremes going outside natural variability in the 2040s but understand it if you want to kick the problem in the long grass 😉

  4. “The link CO2 emissions-CAGW is very very weak.”

    1-in-20 year hottest day is likelyto become a 1-in-2 year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions,

    “I was more referring to extremes going outside natural variability in the 2040s”

    The following statements are past tense.

    The following paragraphs provide further details for specific climate extremes
    from observations since 1950. [3.1.5, 3.1.6, 3.2.1]

    many (but not all) regions over the globe with sufficient data, there is medium confidence that the length or number
    of warm spells or heat waves has increased. [3.3.1, Table 3-2]

    There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. It is likely
    that more of these regions have experienced increases than decreases, although there are strong regional and
    subregional variations in these trends. [3.3.2]

    There is medium confidence that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in
    particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense,
    or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia. [3.5.1]

    By nature, extremes are hard to predict. On the other hand, we can measure them and see that they are happening more frequently with reasonable confidence.

    It just happens that predictions have uncertainty (scientific meaning) relative to variability early in the 21st century. To imply that we are uncertain, and from that to conclude that CAGW is unreal is to confuse scientific terms with lay terms and to conflate the meaning of statistics into something unrecognizable. That increases in average temperatures lead to increases in the likelihood of higher extreme temperatures should be obvious to anyone familiar with the mean, standard deviation, probability distributions, and ordinary statistics and is proven by evidence already at hand.

  5. Chistopher. We’re finally getting somewhere. Do we all agree now that CAGW belongs to the future whilst AIDS belongs to the present?

    And therefore the comparison between those doubting HIV-AIDS and those doubting CO2-CAGW (ie the magnitude of future changes) is inappropriate to say the least. Because ‘predictions have uncertainty’ or to say it in a more scientific way, projections are projections, not divinations.

  6. Maurizio. I think you’re the one who’s confused.

    So, you acknowledge the link between CO2 and warming but not between CO2 and CAGW?
    Step by step:
    W is for Warming. No argument.
    G is for Global. I think you’re still with me here.
    A is for Anthropogenic. Do you agree that the observed CO2-increase over the past century comes from man’s burning of fossil fuels, cement production and deforestation? Probably. I guess your issue is with the attribution. No observed increased solar forcing, cooling stratosphere, increased aerosols, bla bla. Since you are the only one in the room who actually reads the IPCC reports, you know where to find the science, complete with references and error bars.
    C is for Catastrophic. I guess that depends on your definition. If a multi-meter sea level rise and massive species extinction doesn’t qualify as catastrophic to you, fine.
    But then, it’s really a strawman, since you are attributing a desire to Peter, below an article that has no specific comments on the topic.
    “I’m sure you’re salivating already at the idea of finding a causal link between CO2 emissions and catastrophic AGW”
    What if he’s not?
    And since there really IS a causal link, backed by the most solid science ever obtained in human history, well, nobody has to salivate at the idea of finding this link.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for the quote. That’s kind of you.
    English is not my first language, so maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think the one misinterpreting this is you. And I’ll tell you why I’m confident: if this quote really said what you claim it says, it would have been world news the moment it came out. Headlines, not limited to tabloid press, would have said: “UN Climate Panel calls off the alarm: no change in extreme weather projected for decades.”
    Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention when that happened.
    I’ll let the native English speakers who passed their elementary school exam argue about what that quote really means.

  7. Arne – I don’t get your comment. I already made the point that, however ‘solid’ the science, CAGW is a matter of the future not the present. You’ve seen many quotes from SREX by now, and they all repeat my point. What else would you need?

    And I’m not sure why would anybody ‘call off the alarm’ after reading nothing will really happen for decades. I thought the point about avoiding/preparing for future problems was the whole point of the climate discourse.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      “CAGW is a matter for the future not the present”…? Are you for real?

      “The update of a 160-year-old global temperature record by British scientists, plugging in additional data collected primarily across the Arctic, has resulted in 2010 now being ranked as the warmest year on record, followed by 2005, and bumping the previously top-ranked El Nino super-heated 1998 to third place.”

      Don’t tell me, this is just the result of yet more data-massaging to get a pre-determined outcome…? Let’s face it, Maurizio, 70 years ago, you could have got a job as Josef Goebels’ speechwriter…

  8. “The link CO2 emissions-CAGW is very very weak.”

    Once proven wrong, the walk back extends ever further. One would have to be dense and obstreperously contrarian not to notice that “past tense” describing

    “have experienced more intense and longer droughts,”

    might infer something opposite from:

    “CAGW is a matter for the future not the present”

    Further proof is unnecessary. What is necessary is rational thought. Having thoroughly demolished the unsupported claims, the conversation is dwindling into nonsensical, irrelevant gibberish.

    One can only conclude, that there is an air of desperate, emotional, irrationality in these responses, and that there is no credible effort to enter rational discussion in the hopes of enlightenment or education. It appears to be argument for argument’s sake, because there is no admission of glaring mistakes, misstatements, etc. and a conspicuous lack of humor.

  9. Oh bother…everybody here quoted from a recent IPCC document talking of two-three decades hence, of 2040-2059, of the end of the 21st century and all you can reply is what?

    Do you really think ‘more intense droughts’ qualifies as CAGW???

    I say, forget about things here, write to Pachauri at once because he must have been missing something big and all the scientists around him with him.

    • Martin Lack Says:

      “Do you really think ‘more intense droughts’ qualifies as CAGW?”

      If I was living in sub-Saharan Africa I suspect I would.

  10. @Maurizio “Arne – I don’t get your comment.”
    Fine, then shut up. You’re not allowed to first spew nonsense, get a reply, say you don’t get it and then start all over again, reiterating the same argument.
    At least, in the halls of science, that’s the way it works.
    So, if you want to talk science, play by the rules!

    I’ll summarize my comment for you:
    – The AGW in CAGW has been demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt, as can be found from decades of peer reviewed science and multiple independent lines of quadruple-checked observational evidence, the C is a matter of value judgement.
    – You misinterpreted the IPCC quote. However, I’m skeptical of my own assessment as English isn’t my first language and, as you said, I never passed my elementary school exam. Therefore, I recommend you to check with someone knowledgeable.

    Here are the following steps in the discussion:
    – tell me why AGW is wrong (please skip this step, I’m tired of wasting my time on bottomless arguments),
    – tell me whether you do or don’t consider drought, sea level rise, species extinction and the other observed and predicted hazards to be catastrophical and why,
    – tell me why you think you got the IPCC quote right.

    As long as you don’t ask for clarification about that quote to knowledgeable people, it would be dishonest of you to go around the internet spreading your erroneous belief that the IPCC stated there will be no detectable increase in extreme weather during the coming decades.

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