Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

At the urging of others in the science blogging community (and rightly so!), we’ve been asked to highlight the situation of the tragic Tripoli 6 (or Benghazi 6) and the new developments going on. A bit of a recap though, for those not familiar with who they are.

The Benghazi Six consists of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian physician, who are involved in an ongoing trial in Libya regarding whether or not they deliberately infected hundreds of children with the HIV virus. Based on the confessions of the six, extracted under horrendous torture, they were all convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. An subsequent appeal brought by the six December 2005 resulted in the death sentences being revoked and a re-trial ordered to take place.

The new trial began in May of this year, and has been little more than a farce. In June, the court denied permission for foreign experts to testify. When the prosecution rested in August, they suggested that the six be found guilty again, and the death penalties be re-instated. The verdict will be announced on December 19th, and unfortunately it is expected that they will again be found guilty despite the outrage of the international science community. However, it is also likely that they may be provided amnesty so the Libyan government can save face and bow out, but that outcome is not assured in the slightest. Much more info can be found at wikipedia’s entry on the ‘HIV Trial in Libya.

The six accused were charged with:

– committing actions on the territory of Libya which led to uncontrolled killing of people in an attempt on the state’s security (punishable with death)
– participating in a conspiracy and team negotiation for commission of a murder;
– causing an epidemic by injecting 393 children with HIV in the children’s hospital Al-Fatih in Benghazi (punishable with death);
– acting contrary to Libyan standards and traditions (including usage of alcohol)

Recent developments in the case are even more tragic, as evidence has arisen that the six did not deliberately infect the children with HIV.

In an analysis of HIV and hepatitis virus samples from some of the children, researchers conclude that infections had begun at the hospital and the surrounding area well before the five nurses and the doctor arrived in March 1998.

The available evidence suggests the children’s HIV infections resulted from a long-standing problem of poor infection control at the hospital, perhaps involving improper sterilization before injections, said Oliver Pybus of Oxford University

Idriss Lagha, the head of the Libyan Union for Children infected with HIV, a non-governmental organization, called the study “baseless and nonsense.”

Unfortunately this information will never make it into the court, which has refused to hear outside scientific opinions. The evidence and appeal has reached lofty ears besides, as evidenced by this brief communication in Nature where the results were published.

We found that, irrespective of which model was used, the estimated date of the most common recent ancestor for each cluster pre-dated March 1998, sometimes by many years. In most analyses, the probability that the clusters from the Al-Fateh Hospital originated after that time was almost zero.

Effect Measure has nobly documented this entire case and has issued the rallying call to scientists to stand up against this persecution. If all you can do is blog about it, or perhaps write your local or school paper, please do. At this point the only thing that will change the course of things in Libya may be a critical mass of international outrage.


  1. #1 revere
    December 6, 2006

    Thanks, Shelley. Great post.

  2. #2 Shelley
    December 6, 2006

    No problem. Wish I could do more.

  3. #3 Diana
    December 7, 2006

    Shall we invade Libya and free them?

    You know what, why don’t you bellyache about something that is going to kill us all!!

    And that is the scientists who continue to provide nuclear weapons to every goverment with the wherewithall to get them.

    Oh wait, most of that stuff is government funded…and and wanna be acadmeics like you and Josh Rosenau want your share of that government largess.

    So I guess critisizing the govenment funded stuff would be a bad career move.


  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    December 7, 2006

    Hmm, what an incoherent comment. Not even really sure what you’re getting at here Diana. Last time I checked AIDS did have the potential to kill us all, or did you not get the memo?

    Isn’t it crazy that *scientists* might bellyache about the mistreatment of *scientists*? Hrm. Funny how that works out! I’ll try to hone my blogging focus to nuclear weapons and other “stuff that might kill us all,” since torture and humans rights violations doesn’t do it for ya. Oh wait, I forgot that this was MY blog and at the top banner up there (in case you missed it) one of the crucial words involved is NeuroSCIENCE.

    By wanna-be academic, were you referring to the fact that I’m a PhD candidate who’s published peer-reviewed papers, is currently supported by an NIH grant (and trying for another), blogs about science, is writing a thesis, and just presented research in France? That not academic enough for ya?

    And if you think I don’t criticize “the government funded stuff” then obviously you haven’t read this blog at all and I’ll happily thank you to take your blathering elsewhere. I’m sure Josh would agree.


  5. #5 Steve
    December 7, 2006

    She has a point. She was referring to the fact that you are supported by a GOVERNMENT grant. You know, tax money.

    And since academia depends on the largesse of the military industrial complex, I suspect that your bellyacing about torture, etc, will never extend to the institutionally encrusted dependence that it has on the same military industial complex.

    Scientists are tools of the establishment. They have filled the world with the weapons to kill us all. AIDS could never do that.

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    December 7, 2006

    scientists are tools of the establishment. They have filled the world with the weapons to kill us all. AIDS could never do that.

    Josh and PZ warned me about you folks. If you honestly think that scientists have filled the world with weapons, wtf are you doing here? Or else, perhaps you are being satirical? If so, very funny! Thanks for the laugh. Now bugger off to snipe at someone else’s blog.

  7. #7 chet snicker
    December 7, 2006

    let’s destroy these computers and the internet which was funded by the military-industrial complex that you are a bitching about. oh, oops! you can’t waste your time complaining on the internet without the internet and the military-industrial complex. now, diana and steve, care to leave a URL where we can see the blog where your oh so sweet and incisive prose and wow us? oh, oops, you just like to leave pieces of shit on people’s front doors and then run off in anonymity. figures.

  8. #8 Kagehi
    December 7, 2006

    Yeah, I got to love the, “Blame scientists for inventing weapons, because everyone knows *all* scientists build them, not just the morally defective ones that *like* to build weapons for the morally defective religious and political fanatics that actually *cause* and *declare* wars….”, argument. Sure, if *every* scientist was pure and pristine, then… Oh wait, that doesn’t work either. The guy that invented dynomite did it for benificial reasons, like clearing paths through mountains for roads, some other ass decided to use it to kill people with it. Fireworks.. Where, at worst, used to “scare” enemy troops in china, it took fanatical lunatics in the west to say, “I wonder if this could launch something worse than rice paper at the enemy?” Half the weapons that have been made through history have been made on the premise, “This is so horrible no one in their right mind would use it, so it will end all war forever!” Stupid, but only when you ignore how many people out that are **not** in their right minds and **will** use them.

    Put simply, if we invented teleportation, replication technology and a powersource to provide 100% endless energy, the scientist would chear the end of poverty, polution and the destruction of the environment. Some stupid ass would, the next day, decide that God or his own ego demanded that you figure out a way to teleport a replacation machine into the living room of some president he didn’t like, and have it make a faulty “power plant”, which would vaporize everything for fifty miles in every direction when it overloaded. Its the kinds of morons that can’t tell the difference between “progress” and “human stupidity” that invariably show up on some blog some place and talk about how its scientists fault for not being independently rich and *having* to rely on money for the same idiots that will turn around and use their progressive discoveries to promote acts of shear human stupidity. But.. If they think its so easy to get enough money to do “anything”, without some jerk with some personal, ideological and, perhaps completely insane, goals, then they really are clueless.

    The government is the biggest cash cow of them all, and it funds stuff ranging from “applied” technology to build weapons, which everyone else’s government isn’t going to stop doing just because ours does, to crackpot gibberish that some senator with more influence than brains thinks will prove that angels as pissing in his coffee in the morning. The alternative is “businesses” and **they** have a track record one all issues, including employee and human rights, without a government to make them toe the line, that can make governments look like fracking Ghandi.

    If you do research, *some” of your money is going to come from the government, who *will* support pure research, *or* you do *applied* research for some company, which usually only finds “new” ideas by accident. But, more to the point, the government doesn’t “make” bombers, it doesn’t “build” bombs, etc. You are more likely to be making something “for” wars by working at some place like “Proctor and Gamble” than you are working in a lab at a college, which just happens to get government funding.

    Get a clue people.

  9. #9 Shelley Batts
    December 7, 2006

    Amen, Kagehi! Once again you state the point much more eloquently than I can.

  10. #10 Greg
    December 8, 2006

    Hey, wait a minute!

    These people may be trolls, or genuine fanatics (is there a difference?) but scientists HAVE filled the world with nukes. And they are working on more and more all the time.

    We need to quit passing the buck.

    Even Oppenhiemer sais something to the effect that the scientists have blood on their hands.

    Why is it so impossible to face this? The politicians have surely failed. The scientists need to act.

  11. #11 Alon Levy
    December 8, 2006

    Even Oppenhiemer sais something to the effect that the scientists have blood on their hands.

    Why is it so impossible to face this? The politicians have surely failed. The scientists need to act.

    In the 20th century, between 300 and 500 million people died of smallpox. Not accounting for population increase, then, the eradication of the disease has saved 150-250 million lives and counting.

    The invention of nuclear weapons saved a few million additional lives in the Cold War, by ensuring the US and USSR never went to war with each other.

    And since academia depends on the largesse of the military industrial complex

    Yeah, I’m sure that the only reason anyone is interested in funding research into curing deafness is that it’ll help the US military.

  12. #12 steve (not the troll)
    December 8, 2006

    Send the trolls my way! hahaha…
    They would only add to my theme of bullshit.

  13. #13 Roy
    December 8, 2006

    You know, maybe he’s right. I’ve been thinking we maybe should just bannish all the scientists. In fact, I don’t think he’s going far enough. I mean, nukes? That’s his complaint? Because, really, when was the last time someone died as a direct result of a nuke?

    No, think about this– tens of thousands of people die every year from car accidents in the United States. And who comes up with technology like the internal combustion engine?
    There are myriad diseases and illnesses that destroy lives every day. Who are so busy building and selling nukes on the black market to evil despots that they don’t have the time to come up with a cure right this second?

    It’s all becoming clear to me: scientists are tools of Satan. Clearly science is to blame for all of the evil, stupid, hateful things that anyone does, because science was clearly given to human beings by the devil. If only we’d stayed in caves worshipping the sun and hunting with sticks and rocks, we’d be so much better off.

    Mark my words: No good can ever possibly come of the science!

  14. #14 Shelley Batts
    December 8, 2006

    Oh don’t worry Steve, if you post it, they will come!

    Saying scientists are responsible for chaos resulting from nuclear weapons is like saying Ted Bundy’s great great great grandfather is culpable of murder. It also negates all the good things nuclear technology has wrought like nuclear power, nuclear medicine, nuclear engines, etc. If any of these trolls had cancer, I bet they’d be complaining a lot less about radiation therapy being invented by evil evil scientists.

    Ok, now I’ve gotta go light some taxpayer money on fire, torture woodland creatures, and write a manifesto on why we should include nuclear weapons in cereal boxes.

    Oh, I meant run a Western blot.

  15. #15 Shelley Batts
    December 8, 2006

    It’s all becoming clear to me: scientists are tools of Satan.

    Brilliant! I bet a scientist was behind that devilish “peace wreath” fiasco too. Oh, and as scientists invented the internet, why they’re pratically responsible for all the spam I get too. I’m holding Eric Kandel personally responsible for my spam.

  16. #16 Greg
    December 8, 2006

    Well, I have no patience for trolls, but the fact that no one around here can even address the issue of scientists reponsibility indicates they have touched a nerve.

    And Levy, science has certainly saved a lot of lives, although I question your figures, but it has also cost a lot of lives. The brutality of war in the 20th century was made many times worse by massive techologcial advances.

    And if there ever is full scale use of these weapons, whetther intiated by accident of design, then all your advances in science will have been rendered moot and the earth itself poisoned for thousands of years.

    It is clear that politicians have set this up, and it is clear that scientists don’t have the moral gumption to do anything but pass the buck.


  17. #17 Shelley Batts
    December 8, 2006

    Greg, no one is dodging the question about whether scientists are responsible. If you couldn’t tell from our answers (yes there was a lot of sarcasm so I’ll be clear): *they aren’t*. Scientists pursue knowledge and put it in the hands of humanity. Humanity consists of politicians, charities, smart people, dumb people, philosophers, and trolls. Not all will use that knowledge wisely. But it is a ridiculous line of thought that that makes scientists in any way shape or form responsible. It touches a nerve with me, absolutely! But only because it deeply saddens me to see such a strange and undeserved backlash against the very people who are slaving away in labs for a pittance of a salary and whatever the government chooses to give them in support, only to extend the lifespans (and subsequent length of complaining) of that humanity.

  18. #18 Greg
    December 8, 2006

    So, if you put [twinkies] that can destroy humanity in the hands of humanity as flawed as you describe, you have no responsibility?

    And I suppose if you supply [little debbie cakes] to waring teen age gangs yoy have no responsibility?

    The [culinary] bankruptcy of that position is glaring.

    But it obvious that the politicians won’t stop it, so if the scientists won’t stop it…who will?

    Answer: No One. A humanity will march to ruin passing the [ding dongs] all the way.


  19. #19 Alon Levy
    December 8, 2006

    And Levy, science has certainly saved a lot of lives, although I question your figures, but it has also cost a lot of lives. The brutality of war in the 20th century was made many times worse by massive techologcial advances.

    If you have a problem with the figures, take it up with Wikipedia.

    Rummel’s Death by Government, a hatchet job that selectively culls facts that make communism look like the worst thing that’s ever hit humanity, says that in the 20th century, 170 million people died due to democide, more than due to all wars combined (I presume that this includes outright atrocities like the Holocaust in the democide category). That’s 170 due to too much government that used technological advances, versus 300-500 due to too little government and too little application of science.

    The moral bankruptcy of that position is glaring.

    So is the moral bankruptcy of attacking people who had grounds to think Nazi Germany was about to successfully develop nuclear weapons.

    Seriously. The greatest mass murderer in human history, Genghis Khan, didn’t need any modern technology to kill tens of millions of people. But maybe you could blame whoever invented the bow and arrow for what he did.

  20. #20 Alon Levy
    December 9, 2006

    The fact that NO ONE here can deal with this demonstrates why there most likely is NO solution.

    Why would we want to deal with this? Your position relies on confusing realism with moral bankruptcy. Scientists are as responsible to atrocities that used scientific advances to the same degree that a gun store owner is responsible when gangs chose his store out of 500 in the same city to buy their guns from.

  21. #21 Roy
    December 9, 2006

    “Well, I have no patience for trolls, but the fact that no one around here can even address the issue of scientists reponsibility indicates they have touched a nerve.”

    Actually, I count three posts where people address the, quite frankly, non-issue of “scientist’s responsibility.”

    The vast majority of scientists have absolutely nothing to do with nuclear research, so you’ll pardon me if I don’t think it makes a lick of sense to come out swinging at scientists in general because “(they) HAVE filled the world with nukes. And they are working on more and more all the time.” To be honest, I think that’s an absolutely idiotic position to take, given the absolutely tiny fraction of a fraction of the over-all population of scientists who actually work on nuclear weapons. The fact that you had the audacity to come onto the internet on a computer to complain about scientists… well… I can only assume that the irony is lost on you. Nuclear energy has led to all kinds of wonderful advancements, and continues to lead to even more. To point out “Hey, there are nukes, and they could destroy things, so scientists are to blame” as though no scientist has ever spoken out against nuclear weapons, and as though every single scientist is somehow contributing to the manufacture of nuclear weapons is just completely ridiculous, and, really, doesn’t deserve anywhere near the respect that other people have shown it, if you ask me.

  22. #22 Shelley Batts
    December 9, 2006

    Thanks Roy. 🙂 As you guys might have noticed, I’ve had to moderate comments as he was spamming posts. Hope it won’t take too long for him to get the picture, or our IT guy will ban him. I hate to resort to that though, as I know we can all play nice.

  23. #23 bernarda
    December 10, 2006

    Just for your information, this greg here sounds like the greg who posts at the otherwise excellent site “superfrenchie”. There he uses “authorities” such as “freerepublic” and “christiananswers” as his references.

    I don’t know that it is the same, but it sounds familiar.

    Superfrenchie has also started another blog, “religionsarestupid”.

  24. #24 Shelley
    December 10, 2006

    Yes, I believe it is the same guy. PZ told me he also spams blogs in relation to the evo-trials in Kansas along with the other anti-science trolls in this thread. Hard to say though, as in typical coward style he left a fake email address (yet somehow un-ironically blasted me in a comment for deleting his other comments). Why come to a science page to complain? I’m sure there are lots of kooky conspiracy theory sites that might actually think he was onto something *other* than crack.

    Anyway, thanks for introducing me to superfrenchie though–awesome!

  25. #25 Azkyroth
    December 12, 2006

    Plus, wasn’t the internet itself (well, DARPAnet) at least partly invented in response to fears about a single repository of scientific knowledge being easily destroyed by a nuclear attack?

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