So, much attention has been drawn to my comment pointing out that Rebecca Culshaw is a mathematician (well, isn’t she?), while my elaboration in my very next comment was ignored. So I thought I’d take some time to highlight this, and discuss the problems in general with arguments from authority.

Let me review a bit:

When I made the “mathematician” statement, I was responding to Hank’s promotion of Culshaw’s post: “Here is a great piece by Dr. Culshaw, a Professor of Mathematics at University of Texas which elucidates the issue.” Hank suggested this reference instead of the 3 sources I’d suggested in this comment. Darin Brown, in response to my mathematician quote, quipped, “Well, she must be wrong, then.” I responded:

That’s not what I said, nor what I suggested. I simply don’t take someone at their word about infectious disease when I don’t know if they have any background in it, and I’ve yet to see any evidence that she does. I’m not also saying I’m correct because I have extensive background in this area. If you look at these threads, the only ones arguing from authority are Bialy, Hank et al. I prefer to stick to the evidence. Highly degreed people can be wrong, and laymen can be right, so I don’t argue by letters.

Janet recently wrote a very nice post discussing scientific expertise. To quote from her now:

This list of my qualifications is an expression of my comfort level more than anything else. It’s not elitist — good training and hard work can make a scientist out of almost anyone. But, it recognizes that with as much as there is to know, you can’t be an expert on everything. Knowing how far the tether of your expertise extends is part of being a responsible scientist.

And this is the heart of it. You’ve probably noticed that I discuss a pretty limited range of topics here. I’d consider myself to have expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, epidemiology, infectious disease, microbial pathogenesis, and many (but not all) aspects of general evolutionary biology, and maybe a few other areas I’m forgetting. In other areas, I’ll happily discuss what others say, but I may not have a lot of insight of my own to add–the research may be too far from my areas of expertise for me to feel I can competently comment on it, besides a, “whoa, that’s really cool.” Scientists–even highly degreed ones–can be very wrong, especially when they stray outside their area of expertise. A famous example is that of Linus Pauling, a genius in his field but, well, a bit of a quack when it came to recommending megadoses of Vitamin C, or Fred Hoyle discussing evolutionary biology. So it means very little to me to simply say, “well, so-and-so is a Professor of Economics with two PhDs, so therefore we should accept his opinion on infectious disease.” But, that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed simply because they lack degrees, either, as Janet mentioned. Indeed, several contributors to The Panda’s Thumb (such as Ed) have no formal training in evolutionary biology–they’ve taken the time to learn about the arguments on their own, and know as much as (or more than!) many biologists about creationism and intelligent design.

And that’s why I questioned–and still question–Dr. Culshaw’s background and understanding. She’s now said that she has “… studied both the microbiological and epidemiological aspects of AIDS”–but that wasn’t what I was questioning. I assume she’s studied HIV/AIDS (or I’d hope she had, modeling it at all)–what I want to know is what background she has in general biology, microbiology, and infectious disease epidemiology. It’s easy to find so-called “limitations” in the HIV field and say, “aha! This data is lacking–thus the entire model must be wrong!” and not know that similar gaps exist in all areas of infectious disease epidemiology. As I mentioned here:

…one can have expertise in one field–mathematical modeling of disease–and be clueless in another–such as general infectious disease epi. You are correct that my PhD was not on HIV–it was on Strep pyogenes. I’ve also worked carrying out research on about 20 different viruses, and currently work with Strep suis, group B strep, E. coli, and influenza. I think my breadth of understanding allows me to view HIV in the wider context of infectious disease epi than someone who’s only studied one small aspect of a single pathogen their entire career.

Finally, as I mentioned, arguing from authority presents other problems: namely, lots of other authorities who disagree with you:

…if you want to merely argue from authority, then what about all those other HIV researchers–who have more publications than Dr. Culshaw under their belt–and who agree that HIV causes AIDS? Ah, right, they can just be dismissed as “the orthodoxy” with their “bias.” Isn’t it fun when everything can be brushed away like that?

When you start to claim that every expert in a whole field is either too dumb (or “greedy”, biased, etc.) to realize not only their own work is faulty, but that everyone else’s is as well, you enter the realm of conspiracy theory. Of course, just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you, but it would seem to be the more straightforward explanation that the minority is incorrect–especially when they have no compelling evidence that overturns the “orthodox” view.

This isn’t to say the minority isn’t sometimes right–again, I’ll cite Marshall and Warren’s work on Helicobacter and ulcers. But they didn’t prove their point by getting high-profile scientists to tout their claims (or by having a “public, adjudicated debate” to decide the outcome, as Culshaw suggests would settle the HIV question “once and for all”) –they did it by testing their hypothesis, gathering data, and publishing it in the peer-reviewed literature–and soon the Davids became Goliaths. There’s no reason this couldn’t happen with other “unpopular” ideas as well–but do it via good hypothesis testing and confirmation, not because such and such an expert says that’s the way things are.

image from http://www.spejdernet.dk/upload/professor_nysgerrig_farve.jpg

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    March 24, 2006

    In addition to Pauling and Hoyle, one might add the following individuals.

    1. Nobel Prize winning Physicist William Shockleys’ incompetent “research” into genetic bases for apparent racial differences in intelligence;
    2. Nobel Prize winning Physicist Brian Josephsons’ support for such dubious topics as cold fusion, ESP, and PK;
    3. Astronomer (and former president of the American Astronomical Association) J. Allen Hyneks’ support for such dubious topics as UFOs and alien abductions.

  2. #2 Dave S.
    March 24, 2006

    Dr. Culshaw writes:

    If the AIDS establishment is so convinced of the validity of what they say, they should have no fear of a public, adjudicated debate between the major orthodox and dissenting scientists to settle the matter once and for all.

    This makes little sense to me. Scientific issues are never settled in such a manner. They are settled by scientists making hypotheses and testing them, putting their data and conclusions out for other scientists to critique both in published journals and at symposia and convincing them with the evidence. How can a scientific matter be decided “once and for all” by a public debate? That’s the kind of crap the creationists do. What if new data comes along…must we ignore any implications since the issue is “settled”? Who gets to be the ajudicator? Is it winner take all or best of 3? Science ain’t American Idol, so phone-in votes don’t count. Or do they?

    She also mentions several anecdotes, but as they say, anecdotes aren’t data.

    I got my degree at the same university as she did. It’s a good school.

    It should be noted that an ad hominem is a valid logical inference if the only thing in support of the arguer is their degree(s). If they have an actual case, then an ad hominem is fallacious, but not if there is no case presented.

    Argument:
    1. Miss. X says A is true.
    2. Miss X. has a degree.

    Rebuttle:
    1. Miss X. does not have a degree.
    …or…
    1. Miss X.’s degree is irrelevant to being an authority on A.
    2. Therefore there is no reason a priori to trust that A is true.

    This is not an ad hominem attack.

    Argument:
    1. Miss. X says A is true.
    2. Miss X. has a degree.
    3. Her evidence supporting the truth of A is a,b,c, etc.

    Rebuttle:
    1. Miss X. does not have a degree.
    …or…
    1. Miss X.’s degree is irrelevant to being an authority on A.
    2. Therefore there is no reason a priori to trust that A is true.

    Now this is an ad hominem, a logical fallacy. The rebuttle should include direct counters to the evidence presented on point 3, unless that evidence simply refers back to Miss X as a special authority. For instance, if her evidence consists of personal impressions or unpublished data only she is privy to.

  3. #3 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Neutral question, Tara:

    Is this a fair assessment of Dr. Culshaw’s recent paper? You don’t seem to tackle any of her subtantive claims.

    I fully agree that arguments from authority don’t fly:

    On 2/24, you asked me this:

    .. what would it take to get you to accept that HIV is the cause of AIDS?

    This is a perfect question. I did not answer from authority, I devised a rudimentary experiment off the top of my head:

    1. Pick 10 people, HIV+ and clinically diagnosed with AIDS. (The Rock Hudson group)

    2. Pick 10 people, HIV+ but asymptomatic (The Magic Johnson Group)

    3. Pick 10 people, HIV- and clinically diagnosed with AIDS (the Idiopathic-Lymphocytopenia group)

    4. Pick 10 people, HIV- and healthy (The control group).

    5. Blood samples of each, randomized and blinded to various pathologists.

    6. Mission of pathologists:

    * Locate HIV.
    * Culture it.
    * Purify it.
    * Photograph it by electronmicroscope.

    Those doctors who obtained HIV — from the patient, mind you — are to inject said virus into rats. Measure T-cells of rats before and after injection. Follow their health, as compared to uninfected rats. See what happens.

    The conventional theory would predict that for Groups 1 & 2, HIV would be obtained, cultured, purified, photographed by electronmiscropy, given to rats, whose T-Cells would drop.

    The conventional theory would predict that none of that would occur for Groups 3 & 4.

    If those predictions came to pass, that would — in my view — be solid evidence of the causal connection between HIV and the destruction of T-cells, the critical component of current AIDS theory.

    If those predictions failed to appear, eg, the blinded pathologist could not even obtain purified HIV from AIDS patients, (or, somehow, were able to obtain HIV from groups 3& 4)then — in my view — that would strongly undermine the conventional hypothesis, and we should all go back to the drawing board.”

    So, when you state:

    If you look at these threads, the only ones arguing from authority are Bialy, Hank et al. I prefer to stick to the evidence. Highly degreed people can be wrong, and laymen can be right, so I don’t argue by letters.

    The subtle knock on me is simply wrong. (not a big deal, though.) You’re larger point, is absolutely right, though –scientific evidence, not the scientific authority, is what matters.

    So, why not tackle Dr. Culshaw’s thoughtful and perceptive 2 papers — on the evidence, only?

    Hank

  4. #4 Guitar Eddie
    March 24, 2006

    “When you start to claim that every expert in a whole field is either too dumb (or “greedy”, biased, etc.) to realize not only their own work is faulty, but that everyone else’s is as well, you enter the realm of conspiracy theory. Of course, just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you, but it would seem to be the more straightforward explanation that the minority is incorrect–especially when they have no compelling evidence that overturns the “orthodox” view.”

    You’re correct, Tara. Being paranoid doesn’t mean you don’t have enemies, it means you’re deluded about who they are.

    This also seems to be the mindset of many creationists and denialists. They see themselves as latter day Saint Johns crying in the wilderness when they’re actually latter day Peter Pans refusing to grow up.

    GE

  5. #5 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    A couple of comments.

    First, WRT Prof Culshaw: she is basically claiming that she got mathematical models of HIV epi published – but that they had no relation to reality. This is more than a little bit fishy; as someone who’s done peer review on mathematical papers, the idea that a paper would be accepted to a major forum if its model didn’t match up with measured data is bizzare, to say the least. I’m going to grab some of her papers, and look into it when I have time.

    Second, Hank: why do you keep harping on the “inject it into rats, and see if it affects their T-cells” thing? Viruses are generally very species specific: why would you expect to see a human virus have the same effect in rats?

  6. #6 windy
    March 24, 2006

    Those doctors who obtained HIV — from the patient, mind you — are to inject said virus into rats. Measure T-cells of rats before and after injection. Follow their health, as compared to uninfected rats. See what happens.

    HIV doesn’t infect rats. But something else has been tried: transgenic rats with the HIV genome added. I don’t know what progress they have made recently, but looks interesting.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-08/uomb-fhr080201.php

    “By five to nine months of age, the HIV-1 transgenic rats develop clinical signs similar to those of AIDS in humans, including cataracts, weight loss, skeletal muscle atrophy or “wasting,” neurological abnormalities, and respiratory difficulty.
    Many of the rats also suffered from mild-to-severe skin lesions, kidney disease, and cardiac disorders, all of which have been reported in chronically HIV-infected humans.”

    Here’s the original:
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=55410

    Actually, in these rats HIV _is_ an endogenous retrovirus. But not harmless.

  7. #7 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Markcc,

    You could substitute human volunteers for rats. Or chimpanzees. Sure, rats are scientifically less optimal. But, they have a complicated immune system composed partly of T4-cells, don’t they?

    What do you think of the overall proposal?

    Windy,

    Your statement: “HIV doesn’t infect rats,” means 1 of 2 things:

    (1)HIV is pathogenic in humans, but not rats; or
    (2)HIV is neither pathogenic in humans or rats

    When and where was this determined?

    Hank

  8. #8 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    So – as promised, I did a bit of searching. I can’t get the full papers without paying for them :-(. But I can get enough information to learn a thing or two.

    The big thing is that Dr. Culshaw claims that real-life HIV doesn’t match the mathematical models of how HIV spreads. But looking at her papers, she didn’t study or model how HIV spreads between human beings. She very specifically studies cell-to-cell transmission of HIV in culture, and her mathematical models are based on that.

    As far as I can find in her publications, all of her HIV work is done based on behavior in cultures. The epidemiology of how a disease spreads between individuals is not the same as how it spreads between cells in culture.

    The kind of problem that she’s talking about can be found in epidemiological studies of many diseases; the behavior in a cell culture and in a living host is different; and the contagiousness and spread patterns are very different between living hosts and cultured cells. It’s comparing apples to oranges.

    As a mathematician, she should know better: any mathematical study is based on its fundamental parameters; the math is valid within the constraint of those parameters. Change the environment so that the parameters are different, and of course, you get a different result.

  9. #9 Guitar Eddie
    March 24, 2006

    Hank,

    Windy is saying that HIV is pathogenic in humans but not rats.

    GE

  10. #10 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Guitar Eddie,

    Windy can and should speak for himself, but the question remains:

    1. Do you even acknowledge the 2 potentialities?
    2. When and where were the 2 potentialities distinguished?

    Hank

    p.s. When you write:

    This also seems to be the mindset of many creationists and denialists. They see themselves as latter day Saint Johns crying in the wilderness when they’re actually latter day Peter Pans refusing to grow up.

    Are you referring to me? If so, we should probably part ways for a bit.

  11. #11 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    Hank:

    I don’t actually *know* if HIV can infect rats; what I do know is that the vast majority of viruses are species specific. My dog can’t catch the coxsackie that hit my family last summer; my cat can’t catch the parvo that we immunize my dog against; my dog can’t catch the feline leukemia virus that we immunize my cat against.

    I would never condone a test on humans which had the potential to kill some its subjects – the idea of suggesting it is deeply offensive to me.

    Besides which, I find the work done on HIV to be quite convincing; whereas I find the anti-HIV line to be a bunch of anecdotal crap that spends more time trying to wiggle around the evidence than trying to actually explain anything. I know people who died of AIDS before any of the new anti-retrovirals came out; they weren’t promiscuous, they weren’t drug users, they didn’t have any of the behaviors that anti-HIV proponents claim are the real causes of HIV. What they *did* have was contact with a monogamous partner who was HIV positive; or received a single transfusion of blood that was HIV positive.

  12. #12 anonymouse
    March 24, 2006

    Hank, you’re one slippery bunny, aren’t you? Saying you’ll only believe HIV causes AIDS if somebody shows you the results of an experiment that you know full well can’t be performed as you have described it, is very much the same as saying that nothing will make you believe. If you and Harvey aren’t the same person, you should be.

  13. #13 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    you know full well can’t be performed

    Anonymouse, I don’t know this at all. Are you and Mark, telling me with a straight face that:

    1. HIV has never been injected in rats to determine if it causes a depletion in T4-cells

    2. HIV has never been injected in chimps to determine if it causes a depletion in T4-cells?

    Also, numerous scientists have injected themselves with microbes to see what they do. Goldberger did it. I believe Marshall did it recently with H. Pylori.

    MarkCC,

    You are shifting the goal-posts. You deliberately omitted “chimpanzees.” The question is, whether the experiment I outlined would confirm HIV pathogenesis or refute it.

    If not, what would?

    The rest of your comments are anecdotal.

    Hank

  14. #14 windy
    March 24, 2006

    Hank,

    “Small animals are not susceptible to human immunodeficiency virus infection” (1987)
    http://jgv.sgmjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/68/8/2253

    but see also:
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/95/24/14355

    What do you think about the transgenic rat study?

  15. #15 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Windy,

    Thank you for the 2 cites. I’m trying to get the entire first paper, but I do have the second.

    From the PNAS paper:

    Cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus and S. fulviventer) are susceptible to many viruses that infect humans (e.g., poliovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus)

    The rabbit is susceptible to HIV-1 infection, but requires large doses of virus to induce infection; pathogenic changes do not develop, and reproducibility is a problem.

    Ginsberg et al., PNAS at 14355, citing Tseng et al, Am. J. Pathol. (1991) 138:1149-1164 and Hague et al., PNAS (1992) 89: 7963-7967.

    Compare to Mark’s comment above:

    what I do know is that the vast majority of viruses are species specific. My dog can’t catch the coxsackie that hit my family last summer; my cat can’t catch the parvo that we immunize my dog against; my dog can’t catch the feline leukemia virus that we immunize my cat against.

    I will answer your question about the transgenic rat study, but you still haven’t answered my simple question:

    “HIV doesn’t infect rats,” means 1 of 2 things:

    (1)HIV is pathogenic in humans, but not rats; or
    (2)HIV is neither pathogenic in humans or rats

    Do you agree that these are two potentialities that must be distinguished?

    Again, since decorum prevails, you certainly don’t have to answer it, but then, let’s not waste time jabbing back and forth.

    Your cites, though, are very informative and I appreciate it.

    Hank B.

  16. #16 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    Hank:

    I had no intention of moving the goalposts. The point remains, however, that HIV is a human virus, and viruses are very often species specific. The point holds whether we’re talking about monkeys or mice: HIV is a human virus; it’s not reasonable to demand that it be possible to infect other creatures with a human virus to prove that the virus infects humans. You can claim that feline leukemia virus doesn’t cause feline leukemia, because you can’t make a rat, or a dog, or a monkey develop leukemia by exposing them to FLV; but FLV *does* cause feline leukemia.

    And to add another bit: here is a study about infecting chimpanzees with HIV; apparently it does infect chimps, but not nearly as effectively as it infects humans. But they were able to CD4 depletion and high HIV loads in the chimps that became ill after receiving HIV.

  17. #17 windy
    March 24, 2006

    Do you agree that these are two potentialities that must be distinguished?

    Sure, saying that “HIV doesn’t infect rats” doesn’t say anything about whether it infects humans.

    I think the cotton rat is somewhat of an exception in being susceptible to so many human viruses. Wouldn’t know why. Like Mark said, most of our viruses don’t normally infect our pets. But sometimes there are exceptions: human flu can infect ferrets, but not dogs and cats. And rabies infects lots of species.

    Actually, I couldn’t say outright if a vast majority of viruses is species-specific or not… What do our epidemiologists say? But at least we would expect most viruses to infect only a very limited range or group of species.

    Perhaps if we always tried injecting viruses in as many species as possible, we would find more susceptible ones. But even if a virus sometimes infects members of “wrong” species, it may not be able to pass itself on from them. Like the cow-pox that gave immunity against smallpox – it didn’t spread and make everyone immune, just the dairy maids.

  18. #18 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    MarkCC,

    With all due respect, you are backtracking.

    Obviously, since 1984, numerous scientists have spent much time and energy injecting numerous types of animals (rabbits, rats, mice, chimps) with infectious HIV — to determine whether or not HIV causes T4-cell depletion in animals.

    The results that I can see are that in NONE of the cases do we find a decrease in T4-cells. (I couldn’t open your link) This, roughly, means 1 of 2 things:

    1. HIV is not pathogenic in animals, but is pathogenic in humans; or
    2. HIV is not pathogenic in either.

    The clearly, unscientific method would be this binary construct:

    1. HIV does infect animals and does cause T4-cell depletion and AIDS-like symptoms, thus supporting our hypothesis that HIV is a pathogenic virus in humans; or

    2. HIV does not infect animals or, if it does, it does not cause T4-cell depletion or any AIDS-like symptoms — but this still doesn’t undermine our hypothesis, because there is no animal model.

    That’s called, “Heads I win, Tails you lose.”

    You can’t have it both ways.

    If you are unwilling to test the current hypothesis, that’s fine, just say so, and we can stop the back & forth, since there would be no point.

    Finally, we have strayed far afield from my original simple experiment, upon which you have yet to state whether it would properly test the current hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS.

    Hank

  19. #19 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Windy,

    I agree almost completely with everything you’ve said above.

    The reason we infect various types of animals with Human viruses (and other microbes, and other chemicals) is to determine what effect said viruses might have on humans. If it makes animals sick, then we have learned that it might be pathogenic in humans. If not, then it might be a passenger virus.

    The point, though, isn’t to test animals for the mere sake of testing animals. Nobody cares whether X virus infects dogs and cats, but not geese. We only care if it infects us and makes us sick.

    HB

    I’m not a fan of PETA, trust me:)

    Hank

  20. #20 windy
    March 24, 2006

    The reason we infect various types of animals with Human viruses (and other microbes, and other chemicals) is to determine what effect said viruses might have on humans.

    Yep. But to add a small point, it is possible that some viruses are so specialized that they only survive in one species. And the effects of a virus can be very different in another species. I assume people searching for animal models of a virus deal with these problems daily.

    IIRC rabies is
    -lethal in humans without treatment
    -not normally lethal in bats.

    This makes possible a reservoir of rabies in bats, and to get a rabies from a bat bite, even if the bat isn’t acting like Cujo.

  21. #21 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    Hank:

    You’re the one playing games here. The fact that a virus is species specific – as HIV appears to mostly be – does not mean that you can’t test the hypothesis that the virus causes a disease. It just means that you can’t use animal studies to test it.

    Your “binary construct” is _not_ binary; it’s just phrased to make you look good.

    *IF* HIV can infect animals, and it produces similar symptoms to AIDS THEN we can study how it infects animals to see if it can help us to understand how/if it infects humans.

    *IF* HIV can infect animals, but it produces entirely different symptoms from human AIDS, THEN we can look at how it infects animals, and see if there’s a reason for why it would infect animals differently than humans.

    *IF* HIV can’t infect animals at all THEN we can’t learn anything about how/if HIV infects humans using animal models.

    This isn’t a catch-22. There is no necessity that there be an animal model for every disease. *You* are the one who is insisting on animal models; I’m not saying that the existence or non-existence of animal models for HIV infection is meaningful at all. If you can’t prove that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS using an animal model, I don’t think that that alters your case for whether or not HIV causes AIDS in human beings.

    Take a look at feline leukemia virus (FLV). FLV causes leukemia in cats. You can inject FLV into humans, dogs, mice, bats, deer, bears, birds, or monkeys, and none of them will get sick. Does this alter the fact that FLV causes leukemia in cats? No. By your standards, the fact that we can’t create an animal model of FLV outside of its target species would put FLV in doubt as the cause of feline leukemia. That’s just silly.

    Does the hepatitis-A virus cause hepatitis in humans? Well, it doesn’t cause hepatitis in dogs. And it doesn’t do well in human cells in culture. Should we conclude that the disease hepatitis is not caused by the virus? No – because we have tons of evidence accumulated over years of study showing that that virus causes that disease.

    AIDS is the same thing. If you want to claim that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, you have to address the evidence that’s been accumulated. There’s a lot of it out there – people have posted links in the various threads you’ve been posting to. There are books, papers, epidemiological studies, double-blind studies of HIV-specific treatments, viral load, and AIDS symptoms. You need to address those things *specifically* for why they’re wrong.

    Again, look at the case Tara suggested for heliobacter. There was a lot of suggestive evidence that ulcers were caused by an emotional/stress condition. The guys who showed that heliobacter was the real cause addressed that evidence, showed why it was wrong, and showed solid, reproducible evidence that the common consensus was wrong, and that heliobacter was behind it. And they were right, and it took them time and a lot of work, but they proved it.

    You just keep waving your hands around, shouting “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS”, and demanding things like animal models to prove you wrong. But you don’t show any real *evidence* that it’s wrong. What’s wrong with the epidimiological work that’s been done on HIV – specifically? Show what’s wrong with the evidence about HIV.

  22. #22 slpage
    March 24, 2006

    Hank,
    I have a strong feeling that epidemiologists and infectious disease-types would not spend a lot of time injecting all manner of lab animals with HIV to see if their T4 cells are affected. I suspect that they know, as MarkCC has pointed out, that most pathogens are species specific (especially viruses).
    Chimpanzees are susceptible to SIV, which is similar to HIV. I have not kept up on HIV related material for some time, but at one point one of the hypotheses for HIV’s origin was the human consumption of bush mean infected with SIV which later mutated to form HIV, a fairly plausible scenario.
    Your seeming obsession with animal models indicates that you do not understand or are ignoring the fact that, as has been mentioned several times, not all pathogens will infect everything or not necessarily in the same way.

    You mentioned earlier human tests and mentioned the fellow who ingested H.pylori – ulcers are not lethal (in most cases) and in any event, H. pylori infection could be treated. We cannot yet effectively ‘heal’ HIV infections. So, do self-innoculate to ‘prove a point’ at this time would be pure suicide.

    However, since you seem to believe that HIV does not cause AIDS, why don’t you find someone to provide you with a dose so you can test YOUR belief on yourself?

  23. #23 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    MarkCC

    You just keep waving your hands around, shouting “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS”, and demanding things like animal models to prove you wrong

    That’s false, Mark. Decorum prevents me from calling it a lie. There’s been no “waving” or “shouting,” literally or figuratively on this thread, whatsoever.

    The modest pleasant exchange with Windy above demonstrates it.

    You seem eager to avoid a simple test as to whether HIV depletes T4-cells in humans.

    Hank B

  24. #24 Hank Barnes
    March 24, 2006

    Splage,

    Fairly predictable:

    However, since you seem to believe that HIV does not cause AIDS, why don’t you find someone to provide you with a dose so you can test YOUR belief on yourself?

    I hate citing my poorly maintained blog, but Triple Play!

    Hank

  25. #25 Cayte
    March 24, 2006

    Without being a conspiracy theorist you can be aware of potential conflict of interest. If my financial adviser is getting a commission from each stock he sells I’m going to take what he says with a grain of salt even if he is a renowned expert. Likewise for a scientist who recommends drug A if I find he owns stock in the company that produces A.

  26. #26 MarkCC
    March 24, 2006

    Hank:

    You seem awfully eager to avoid admitting that you’ve proposed a meaningless test. That’s the point that I’ve been trying to make. Whether or not HIV does *anything* to animals other than human beings *can’t* prove anything about whether or not HIV does anything to humans. Animal studies can help us understand infection agents *when* those agents infect animals. But animal studies *cannot* tell us whether or not a given agent can cause infection in a human.

    As for the question of whether or not HIV depletes immune cells in people, I’ll defer on that to the people who actually study it. There’s lot of research out there on HIV. There’s tons of stuff about its affect on human immune cells. I even gave you a link to a study of HIV infections in chimpanzees and its effect on *their* immune cells. You just keep avoiding the topic.

    And finally: the fact that there isn’t a *simple* test that satisfies you about the HIV/AIDS connection is irrelevant. There are plenty of things for which there is no simple test. The simple test *you* proposed is, as I’ve explained over and over, worthless.

  27. #27 windy
    March 24, 2006

    Ok, myself I don’t understand the specifics on HIV infection, immune cell depletion, and so on. And it would be hard to explain them concisely even if I did. But how about this (my “argument from genetics”):

    -We know that the HIV genome can be transmitted between humans, because sequencing can show HIV in person B is derived from HIV in person A. A and B don’t have to be mother and child, so it’s not transmitted exclusively that way.

    -We know that when the HIV genome is inserted into rats, they develop AIDS-like symptoms and express HIV RNA and proteins (transgenic rat study above).

    -We know that the presence of the HIV genome in humans is correlated with AIDS-like symptoms and presence of HIV antibodies.

    Now, what does the virus particle look like? Is it transmitted sexually or in some other way? Does it cause CD4 depletion? Is something else needed to trigger AIDS?

    IMO we don’t necessarily need answers to those questions (although we might have them) to conclude from the 3 points, that the presence of HIV is at least _a_ cause of AIDS. What do you guys think?

  28. #28 Guitar Eddie
    March 24, 2006

    “Are you referring to me? If so, we should probably part ways for a bit.”

    I don’t know, Hank. Are you paranoid? And do you see yourself as a latter day ST. John crying in the wilderness?

    I was not aware we were on the same path, man.

    GE

  29. #29 Chris Noble
    March 25, 2006

    Getting back to the original topic.

    The only reason that anyone was talking about Dr Culshaw’s expertise was that Hank Barnes made a big deal about her having a PhD.

    When Creationists make a big deal about having a list of 60 scientists that doubt evolution it is entirely valid to point out that many of these are in fact mathematicians for instance and that the vast majority have no expertise in any evolutionary biology.

    You can’t argue from authority and then complain when it is pointed out that the authority does not have sufficient expertise.

    Secondly, specific problems with Dr Culshaw’s arguments were pointed out.

    The striking thing for me is that Dr Culshaw simply repeats Duesberg’s arguments many of which I know from my own checks to be false. Reading Duesberg’s articles about epidemiology are not a good way to learn about epidemiology. Everything that Duesberg writes about epidemiology is focussed on arguing against the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS. Duesberg completely ignores wider aspects of epidemiology and other diseases where these facts are inconvenient to his claims.

    At the risk of offending some people I will compare this another group of people. Many creationists do read articles and books about biology but the books and articles they read are often solely concerned with providing arguments against evolution. The books they read are often written by fellow creationists and the articles they read are the ones that are cherry picked from the literature to highlight “paradoxes” in evolution. The knowledge of biology that these people develop can be quite detailed but the breadth is extremely small.

    I see this when people say things like “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS because it doesn’t fulfil Koch’s Postulates”. They obviously haven’t looked at other diseases like typhus, polio, hepatitis B, leprosy … I therefore suspect that the first time they learnt about Koch’s Postulates was through “rethinker” websites and articles and not from a broader study of disease causation.

    When people claim that all infectious diseases are always spread equally between sexes and ethnic groups I know that they got this idea from “rethinkers” and not from looking at current statistics from the CDC on gonorrhea and syphilis infections.

    When people claim that HIV cannot be cultured from people with AIDS or HIV can only detected by PCR I know straight away that they got this “fact” from reading “rethinker” literature and not from an extensive knowledge of HIV literature.

    Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Detected in All Seropositive Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Individuals

    Reading “dissident” literature without skepticism is not a good way to obtain a balanced knowledge of virology, epidemiology or science in general.

  30. #30 John
    March 25, 2006

    “You’ve probably noticed that I discuss a pretty limited range of topics here. I’d consider myself to have expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, epidemiology, infectious disease, microbial pathogenesis, and many (but not all) aspects of general evolutionary biology, and maybe a few other areas I’m forgetting”.

    Far too modest. Really.

    And then there’s Culshaw. She knows some arithmetic.

    Or you could just leave the whole “expert” thing alone and deal with the content of her message. But let’s destroy Culshaw instead. Witch-burning is good sport. What did you say? “She kind of strikes me like she just wants to be a martyr”. (Sorry if I didn’t get that quote perfectly, but it’s DAMNED close, isn’t it)?

  31. #31 Chris Noble
    March 25, 2006

    Hank,
    Viruses show specificity not just for different species but also for specific cell types.

    Taking a non-HIV example hemagglutinin is the protein on the surface of the influenza virus that is responsible for binding to the receptor sites on host cells and fusion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemagglutinin

    Each hemagglutinin shows specificity for particular cells.

    Many influenza strains that infect birds do not infect humans.

    Like hemagglutinin in influenza HIV-gp120 is responsible for recognition and binding to receptor cites on human CD4 cells.

    http://www.callutheran.edu/Academic_Programs/Departments/BioDev/omm/viral_antigens/frames/text.htm

    Because of the specificity of gp120 proteins to human CD4 cells HIV-1 does not normally infect mice.

    One animal model that has been developed involves SCID-mice that are implanted with human fetal liver, thymus, and lymph node tissue. They are effectively given a human immune system. They are human/mice chimerae. They produce human CD4 cells.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/278/5346/2141

    When infected with HIV they suffer CD4 cell depletion.

    Your experiment has been performed.

  32. #32 Theodore Price
    March 25, 2006

    If Dr. Culshaw really believes this, and truly considers herself a scientist, shouldn’t she retract her papers?? They are, after all, concerned with the dogma she now would like to refute.

    I am utterly confused by her quantitative PCR has not been validated statement. Quantitative PCR is easily performed. The proper controls (which are cheap and easy to do) can give you copy number certainty that is extremely accurate. Perhaps I am missing something.

  33. #33 Shygetz
    March 25, 2006

    However, since you seem to believe that HIV does not cause AIDS, why don’t you find someone to provide you with a dose so you can test YOUR belief on yourself?

    I hate citing my poorly maintained blog, but Triple Play!

    Hank

    Your website shows that you know as little about logic as you do about HIV/AIDS.

    1.) Calling you an AIDS denialist is not ad hominem, except in your mind. You deny a conclusion based on the weight of the evidence and the vast majority of expert opinion. This makes you a denialist–not necessarily wrong, but a denialist.

    2.) Pointing you to expert summaries of evidence is not an argument from authority. The authority offers evidence–address the evidence. Unless you think that everytime you mention that Duesberg is a NAS member, you are committing the same fallacy (which, as long as you bring up some other argument, you are not).

    3.) Tu quoque? Are you kidding me? Tu quoque would be responding to a charge of falsifying evidence with “Well, you falsify evidence, too!” What has been suggested is merely that you put your proverbial money where your mouth is. There is not a very good animal model for HIV/AIDS (not at all uncommon for many human diseases). So, since you are so certain that HIV is endogenous, inject yourself with some and do the damn experiment. No muss, no fuss, and no animal models.

  34. #34 Shygetz
    March 25, 2006

    And then there’s Culshaw. She knows some arithmetic.

    Or you could just leave the whole “expert” thing alone and deal with the content of her message. But let’s destroy Culshaw instead. Witch-burning is good sport.

    Her message has little content. She shows terrible understanding of the analytical precision and accuracy of quantPCR, or indeed, PCR in general. She shown remarkably poor understanding of microbiology as well; it is known that many microbes cannot be cultured with current technology, so why is it necessary for us to be able to culture HIV from every infected person (not to mention that HIV has been successfully cultured from HIV+ people, as pointed out by Chris Nobel, I think). She makes incomplete mathematical models of disease, and betrays a poor knowledge of biology in her post. Except for her cite of Gallo’s paper, she cites only pop lit essays. She has published nothing on her thoughts in peer-reviewed literature, and based on her claims that I am in a position to critique, there is a very good reason why.

  35. #35 Dale
    March 25, 2006

    One way to show that quantitative PCR is quantitative. Take a sample containing some amount of DNA (doesn’t matter how much really). Dilute it 10 fold. Dilute the ten fold dilution 10 fold to give a 100 fold dilution of the original sample. Dilute the 100 fold dilution ten fold. Dilute the 1000 fold dilution 10 fold. Now take all those dilutions and assay them using quantitative PCR. Repeat using a different starting sample. If the results of the assay say the starting material is 10 fold, 100 fold, 1000 fold and 10000 fold greater than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th dilutions, the technique is obviously quantitative no matter what kind of theoretical arguments someone might make to the contrary.

  36. #36 Chris Noble
    March 25, 2006

    John,
    You have not gotten beyond your appeal to authority argument.
    I see absolutely no indication that you have even looked at the underlying science.

    Many people have pointed out serious problems with her arguments. I’ll humour you by pointing out some more.

    Worse than that, there are no data to support the hypothesis that HIV kills T-cells at all. It doesn’t in the test tube. It mostly just sits there, as it does in people – if it can be found at all. In Robert Gallo’s seminal 1984 paper in which he claims “proof” that HIV causes AIDS, actual HIV could be found in only 26 out of 72 AIDS patients. To date, actual HIV remains an elusive target in those with AIDS or simply HIV-positive.

    Duesberg himself cites this paper A molecular clone of HTLV-III with biological activity.. It demonstrates HIV doing a bit more than just sitting there. It also kills cells.

    Dr Culshaw also claims that to date actual HIV remains an elusive target. She has not formed this opinion by reading the literature. She got it from other “rethinkers”. Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Detected in All Seropositive Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Individuals

    Dr Culswhaw then continues “There is good reason to believe the antibody tests are flawed as well.” The link leads to an interview in Zengers Newsmagazine. (Contrary to popular belief, as Dr. Richards explains below, ELISA and the other “HIV tests” are neither licensed nor marketed as diagnostic tests.)

    However if you look at the FDA webpages Donor Screening Assays for Infectious Agents and HIV Diagnostic Assays you find several ELISA, WB and rapid test assays licensed for diagnostic use. You should not believe everything you read on the virusmyth website.

    Dr Richards goes on Once again, I would say if PCR, or viral load, or ELISA, or Western Blot, had ever been validated against the presence of virus, then they could say that these tests can be used to fulfill at least a part of Koch’s postulates: namely, that you have to find the germ in all cases of the disease. However, that is simply not true. He said this in 2001 but the article I posted above that cultured HIV from 100% of AIDS patients but not from HIV negative persons was published in 1990.

    Getting back to Dr Culshaw, she writes bDNA, while not magnifying anything directly, nevertheless looks only for fragments of DNA believed, but not proven, to be components of the genome of HIV – but there is no evidence to say that these fragments don’t exist in other genetic sequences unrelated to HIV or to any virus.

    The accompanying letter on the FDA shows that the bDNA assays for HIV are indeed checked for possible interfering effects of other pathogens. The oligonucleotide probes are 26 nt fragments based on the pol gene of HIV isolates. The specificity of an oligonucleotide of this length is extremely high 4^26 = 4.5e+15.

    Dr Culshaw goes on The current testing protocol is to “verify” a positive ELISA with the “more specific” WB (which has actually been banned from diagnostic use in the UK because it is so unreliable).

    Where did she get the idea that Western Blot assays for HIV have been banned in the UK? From the virusmyth website of course. The WB has not been banned in the UK. It is used in the UK. See for example Towards error-free HIV diagnosis: guidelines on laboratory practice. Once again don’t believe everything you read on the virusmyth website. Whenever I see this “factoid” pop up I know for sure that these people learnt about HIV testing from the online virusmyth university.

    Dr Culshaw in the second article They know that the quantitative use of PCR has never been validated, yet they continue to use “viral load” to make clinical decisions.

    Never been validated? Duesberg frequently cites this article High levels of HIV-1 in plasma during all stages of infection determined by competitive PCR. with found that viral load determined by PCR correlates with viral load determined by endpoint dilution culture. This paper Serum HIV-1 RNA levels and time to development of AIDS in the Multicenter Hemophilia Cohort Study. and many others that HIV viral load predicts time to development of AIDS. Never been validated? Again Dr Culshaw does not appear to read the literature.

  37. #37 Theodore Price
    March 25, 2006

    Dale, that’s semi-quantitative PCR. Quantitative PCR involves using primers with an internal probe matched for the sequence (although matching is not an absolute requirement anymore) that can be measured. It becomes quantitative when you construct a standard curve from a known amount of starting material that matches the sequence of interest (say 100 to 10 million copies at 1 fold steps) and calculate from that the amount of product you have in your samples. It gives you a real number of copies (not completely accurate but darn close) rather than a fold change with no real idea how many copies are there. Its similar to Western vs ELISA for proteins.

  38. #38 Kristjan Wager
    March 26, 2006

    Or you could just leave the whole “expert” thing alone and deal with the content of her message. But let’s destroy Culshaw instead.

    Obvioiusly you didn’t read the debate in question, where Tara dealt with her arguments at length. It was only when someone tried to use the authority argument that Tara pointed out that there was no authority there.

  39. #39 Peter Barber
    March 26, 2006

    Hello again, John.

    In biology a lot of the fields of expertise mentioned by Tara overlap, sometimes quite significantly. For instance, as a molecular biologist I need to know about bacterial and/or viral protein expression systems (microbiology) and genetics (which underpins evolutionary biology). (Personally, I also know some biochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology.) Similarly you could hardly be a microbiologist without knowing about microbial pathogenesis or infectious disease. And what sort of epidemiologist doesn’t have at least a moderate knowledge of infectious disease, microbial pathogenesis, and evolutionary biology (oh, along with solid statistical ability of course!).

    It’s possible that we’re all just little flagella propelling the Thiomargarita namibiensis that is the Tara C. Smith publicity vehicle, but unlikely. Most biologists would describe their range of expertise in similar ways.

  40. #40 Tara
    March 26, 2006

    As Kristan mentioned, John, I’ve already addressed several of Dr. Culshaw’s arguments. This post wasn’t meant to do so, nor was it meant to submit her to any kind of “witch burning.” She’s the one who included my comment without acknowledging the fuller picture of my statements (thus creating a strawman), and it was her degree that was referenced by Hank in order to boost his own arguments. This was supposed to be a discussion on the more general “argument from authority” topic, with Culshaw as just one example of the broader picture.

  41. #41 Kristjan Wager
    March 27, 2006

    I didn’t notice the picture title before. For the curious, I can tell you that professor_nysgerrig_farve translates into professor_curious_color.

    Going back to the debate about arguing from authority – it’s not invalid to argue from authority, even though many people seem to think so. It’s acceptable because it tells something about the general knowledge person in question.

    However, if you argue from false authority, either by inflating someone’s authority (claiming a false degree as some (ID) Creationists do), or by claiming an authority through an unrelated field, then it is not useful, and makes people more sceptical about your other claims, and rightfully so.

    Arguing from authority can’t stand alone obviously – real arguments must be presented.