Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier hits a new low: Age of Autism rallies to defend him

Remember Luc Montagnier? Sure, you do. He's the Nobel Laureate whose identification of the virus that causes AIDS garnered him plaudits, laurels, and, of course, the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Unfortunately, since winning the Nobel Prize, from a scientific standpoint, Montagnier's been on a downward spiral. Sadly, it didn't take long after his Nobel acceptance speech for disturbing signs of crankery and quackery to appear. For instance, Montagnier published a paper that implied that DNA could teleport, using this study, whose results were almost certainly the result of contaminants in Montagnier's PCR reactions, as support for the principles of homeopathy. On another occasion, Montagnier appeared in an HIV/AIDS denialist film and appeared to be saying that HIV can be cleared "naturally" with diet and supplements. Worse, of late Montagnier has been turning his talents to the treatment of autistic children. Indeed, he's run highly unethical study of long term antibiotics as a treatment for autism. His low point came a month ago, when he actually presented his work at that yearly autism "biomed" quackfest, Autism One. Let's face it. As a scientist, it's really hard to go from winning the Nobel Prize to the ignominy of presenting to a quack conference in such a short period of time, but somehow Montagnier managed it. I thought that was as low as Montagnier could fall.

I was wrong. What to my wondering eyes should appear yesterday on that wretched hive of scum, antivaccinationism, and autism "biomed" quackery, Age of Autism? I saw a post urging AoA readers to write to the President of Cameroon defending Luc Montagnier:

A recent article in Nature shows that the vaccine industry has been closing ranks against Dr. Luc Montagnier ever since his brilliant lecture at AutismOne last month. In particular, 35 Nobel Laureates, led by one who sells commercial products to the vaccine industry, sent a letter to the President of Cameroon protesting Dr. Montagnier's leadership position on a national research organization dedicated to HIV research. Robert Gallo, the man who tried to steal credit for Dr. Montagnier's discovery of HIV and is now being funded by the Gates Foundation to develop an HIV vaccine, wrote a similar letter attacking him to the Cameroonian President. Please send the below letter to the Office of the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, to defend Dr. Montagnier!

Now that's as low as you can fall, scientifically speaking, as a Nobel Laureate. Montagnier has now gone from the highest heights of science to the very deepest depths, and it doesn't get much deeper than having an antivaccine crank website urge its antivaccine crank readers to write antivaccine crank letters defending you against valid scientific criticism from 35 other Nobel Laureates. Seriously, if I were Montagnier, I'd just put a paper bag over my head now and slink out of the limelight in shame.

But what, pray tell, is this all about? Conveniently, AoA doesn't link to the Nature article, but I had heard about it before. I had almost even blogged about it before after having seen Abbie Smith blog about the situation last week. If you read Abbie's post and the article by Declan Butler in Nature about the situation, you'll find out that—surprise! surprise!—AoA is telling a highly filtered version of the story.

Basically, what happened is that a fledgling AIDS research center in Cameroon, the Chantal Biya International Reference Centre (CIRCB) in Yaoundé, chose Montagnier as its interim scientific director. The center, according to the article, has a comprehensive AIDS research program that includes a health care program that tests newborn babies for HIV and treats them to prevent maternal transmission of the virus. It sounds like a really impressive institute:

It is the only research institution in central Africa with the technology and expertise to monitor people with HIV thoroughly, and one of the few African sources of hard data about the spread of the disease. It has an annual budget of about US$1 million, an array of international collaborations and around 20 local staff members, most of whom trained abroad.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of research institute Africa needs, bringing high-powered, state-of-the art science to the regions where a large number of people suffering from HIV and AIDS live. It's the sort of endeavor that needs to succeed, and it's well-positioned to help the population suffering the most from AIDS. Indeed, that's why the Nobel laureates acted. They are concerned that having Montagnier as interim director endangers the good that the institute can do. So are several board members of CIRCB:

The letter was coordinated by Richard Roberts, a Nobel-prizewinning molecular biologist and chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs in Ipswich, Massachusetts, who also wrote personally to Biya on 4 June, to resign from the CIRCB’s scientific board. Roberts says he is concerned that Montagnier plans to pursue his unorthodox research at the centre. Several other board members have also resigned.

Robert Gallo, head of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who had battled with Montagnier over which of them had discovered HIV, has also entered the fray. On 4 June, Gallo wrote to Biya expressing concerns similar to those of the Nobel laureates and informing Biya that his institute, a founding sponsor of the CIRCB, was immediately severing its links with the centre.

I will concede that it probably would have been better if Robert Gallo had kept his nose out of this and his big mouth shut. He's probably not helping the situation because in light of his feud with Montagnier over who discovered HIV first his involvement will be certainly be perceived by many as sour grapes, regardless of his true motivation. On the other hand, I do have to admit that it's rather amusing how AoA has to characterize Richard Roberts as someone who "who sells commercial products to the vaccine industry." It tells me that AoA really had to stretch to find a creative way to smear Roberts with the "pharma shill" gambit. After all, anyone who's worked in a biomedical research lab has probably used products from New England Biolabs (NEB). It's not just the vaccine industry. NEB made its name manufacturing restriction endonucleases. I've been using NEB restriction enzymes ever since my graduate school days. So have a lot of scientists, the vast majority of whom are in academia. NEB manufactures great enzymes, among other products. That's why I chuckled heartily at how much AoA had to stretch to tar NEB as part of the evil "vaccine-industrial complex."

Yes, it was that lame, but, then, it is AoA we're talking about.

In any case, it sounds as though the CIRCB is in a bit of chaos, having suffered from a lack of a stable full-time leadership. The consequence of that left an opening for Montagnier to be appointed interim director, apparently because the search committee couldn't agree on a permanent leader. Now here's the thing. Montagnier has clearly gone crank on us. He has argued for homeopathy, suggested that DNA teleportation is possible, and carried out a highly unethical clinical trial on a vulnerable population, autistic children, in which he treated them with antibiotics with no biologically plausible mechanism by which antibiotics could help autistic symptoms. That quackery appears to be in the cards for the CIRCB if Montagnier stays on. Roberts and the other Nobel laureates are right to be concerned:

On the day that Roberts resigned, for example, the scientific board was officially dissolved, and no clear timetable has been set to reestablish it. Colizzi is concerned that this deprives the centre of its main mechanism for enforcing rigorous peer-review and ethical oversight of research proposals. Montagnier says that he intends to continue all research previously approved by the board, and that he will ask the next board to review the programme. He also plans to embark on new research, including a “key project” using his electromagnetic-wave theory to detect reservoirs of HIV in the body that persist after antiretroviral treatment. Any new projects, including his own, will need to be approved by the centre’s science board and ethics committee, he says.

Montagnier's "electromagnetic wave" theory? First off, it's not a "theory." It's a hypothesis, and a half-baked one at that. I've written about this before. Basically, Montagnier has claimed that DNA emits radio waves that can produce electronic imprints of itself so convincing that enzymes can mistake the imprints for real DNA and copy them to make the real thing. I'm still pretty sure that what Montagnier has "discovered" is contamination in his PCR mixtures. It's also pretty obvious that Montagnier has not discovered what he thinks he's discovered. Finally, it's even more obvious that it would be a horrific waste of resources, effort, and scientists to pursue something this dubious in AIDS research. New board or not, does anyone think it's likely that the board of directors would block a study proposed by the Nobel laureate whose team first identified the virus that causes AIDS who is also the director of the center? Such a happenstance is unlikely, at best.

Yes, as I said before, the Nobel laureates are right to be concerned, and they have acted. The hilarious thing is that AoA thinks that its cranks can compete with that scientific firepower, particularly using the text suggested by AoA, which I will quote here in its entirety because it is such a magnificent work of antivaccine paranoia:

Dear President Biya,

I write to you as a US citizen who is concerned about the vitriol and fallacious attacks directed against the Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist who discovered HIV – Dr. Luc Montagnier – by the American vaccine industry, which accuses him of holding “anti-vaccination views” for raising the possibility of a link between vaccines and autism at a recent conference held in the United States.

The latest attack on Dr. Montagnier, according to a recent article in Nature, comes in the form of a letter signed by 35 Nobel laureates attacking his role as interim director of the Chantal Biya International Reference Centre. I do not know who all the signatories are, but the coordinator of this letter – Dr. Richard Roberts – runs a biotechnology firm that sells commercial products to vaccine manufacturers. I understand you have also received a similar letter from Dr. Robert Gallo – who tried to take credit for Dr. Montagnier's discovery of HIV. Gallo is currently receiving a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an HIV vaccine. Bill Gates has appeared on American television dismissing the vaccine-autism link as an “absolute lie.” The MMR vaccination – one of the vaccines most suspected of causing autism – was first introduced when a now-senior adviser to the Gates Foundation, Dr. Bill Foege, was director of the US Center for Disease Control.

Despite the best efforts of the vaccine industry, they have completely failed at covering up a vaccine-autism connection. Their own studies have implicated vaccines in autism – one study from Denmark cited as evidence against a link showed a 45% increased risk among those vaccinated with MMR as opposed to those not given the vaccine. When a McGill University scientist, Dr. Samy Suissa, wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine pointing this out, his letter was censored from publication. Moreover, the author of this study who funded this work, Dr. Poul Thorsen, has now been indicted on fraud charges by a US court. Another commonly-cited study to “prove” no link found a peak in parental concern for their child's development within the months following MMR vaccination. One of the authors, Dr. Elizabeth Miller, sat on a panel that approved a brand of MMR vaccine known for causing meningitis in the United Kingdom while concealing that risk from the public. It also showed an increase in autism began in the first children to receive this vaccination after it was approved. Yet both Miller's and Thorsen's studies form the bulk of the latest report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) claiming no association between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Similarly, the original 2004 IOM Immunization Safety Review Report claiming no association to autism from either the MMR vaccine or the mercury-based thimerosal preservative had a preconceived position from the beginning. The chairwoman of this report, Dr. Marie McCormick, said behind closed doors while referring to autism that “...we will never come down that it [autism] is a true side-effect...” This report cited reports from Denmark – also involving Poul Thorsen – claiming that autism prevalence rose after thimerosal was removed from Danish vaccines. In reality, these reports concluded this on the basis of fudged statistics, while the coauthors privately conceded about the rates of autism that “the incidence and prevalence is still decreasing in 2001” following thimerosal removal. Elizabeth Miller also did a study claiming no association between autism and thimerosal, but in private email correspondence, the Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, Dr. Thomas Verstraeten for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that the study “might not be worth doing” due to its inability to find a true autism link even if one exists. Yet this study was done anyway, published, and is continuously cited as negative evidence for an association. Dr. Verstraeten's own original analysis showed an 11.35 increased risk associated with early thimerosal exposure and autism, and in private emails to his colleagues, Dr. Verstraeten concluded that thimerosal was causing real harm – namely autism. The latest CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network report from one US state found a 20% decrease in autism spectrum disorder prevalence in children born in 2000, the first year after a joint statement was made in the United States by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Public Health Service calling for thimerosal to be removed as soon as possible. This is the first statistically significant decrease in autism reported in this surveillance system's decade long-history. Yet this preservative, as you may not be well aware, is still used in vaccines exported to your country. Through exposure to this vaccine preservative, children in your country are being exposed to mercury at levels that are many times the safe limit set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, there have been numerous cases of compensation paid out to families of children who had sustained vaccine injuries resulting in an autism diagnosis here in the United States. Just recently, an Italian Court acknowledged a child's autism was caused by his MMR vaccination. The UK's Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, has asked the Secretary of State for Health – Andrew Lansley – to consider this legal decision.

In conclusion, the evidence to date shows that Dr. Luc Montagnier's serious consideration to the vaccine-autism connection is as correct as his original discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Please do not cave to the coercive and corrupt powers of the vaccine industry, which includes an old rival who previously tried to take credit for Dr. Montagnier's Nobel Prize-Winning discovery of HIV. We believe that through his work on autism, Dr. Montagnier has further demonstrated a level of scientific rigor and innovation of unparalleled accomplishment that could hold significant promise for patients suffering from AIDS, as it does for patients with autism.



As I said, this letter has to be seen to be believed, and I want you to take a minute to take in the utter depth of antivaccine crankery contained therein. Yes, AoA really seems to believe that Montagnier is being attacked by shills and minions of the antivaccine industry, led by Roberts, who to AoA is a shill and minion of the vaccine industry because his company sells restriction enzymes and other reagents to vaccine manufacturers, just as it does to thousands of labs in universities all over the world, and Robert Gallo, who is a shill and minion of the vaccine industry because he's working on an HIV vaccine—just as, I note, Montagnier is as well. So what makes Gallo "bad" and Montagnier "good"? They're both working on vaccines! Well, obviously, it must be the connection between Gallo and the other dark lord of vaccination besides Paul Offit, Bill Gates.

The rest of the letter is a cavalcade of the antivaccine movement's greatest hits. Fallacious attacks on the Danish studies? Check. The claim that because Poul Thorsen might have embezzled funds must mean that the Danish studies are not valid? Check. Hoary old misinterpretations of the Verstraeten study? Check. The list goes on and on. In fact, if I had any advice for Montagnier, it would be to point out that with friends like AoA he doesn't need enemies. A smart guy would tell AoA, "Thanks but no thanks." But these days Montagnier doesn't seem to be too smart anymore, at least not about these things. Don't believe me? Then check out this response by Montagnier on his website.

Basically, it's a stream-of-consciousness rant, all in a single very, very long paragraph, that's borders on incoherence. I'm not sure if it's because English is not Montagnier's first language or because he's just ranting, but it's pretty sad to see. It begins with the Galileo gambit, in which Montagnier laments how some scientific discoveries are not always received well by the scientific community at first and how he believes that this is now happening to him. Montagnier then tries to explain his views on autism:

My studies on the role of microbial infections in chronic diseases led me, in 2010, to search for a coherent organic origin of autism. The hypothesis is not new that abnormal passage of bacterial products from the gut to the blood circulation and from the blood to the brain could affect the maturation of neurones in children. But I was able to confirm, by a new technology (see below) and also by the clinical experience of my physician colleagues, the validity of this hypothesis.

Right here, Montagnier is basically parroting Andrew Wakefield's hypothesis, except he's substituting "bacterial products" for the measles virus. Based on his pseudoscientific hypothesis, with no good evidence to support it, next Montagnier did this:

This led me to propose highly regulated courses of appropriate antibiotics, administered with antifungal and antioxidant treatments for improving the condition of young autistic children. Several clinical trials were proposed and submitted to ad hoc ethical committees. Finally, under the aegis of the French Ministry of Health, a double blind trial with placebo will be set up in several centers in France to verify our anecdotal results already obtained in more than 200 children.

I really have to wonder right here whether the only reason this horrifically bad, pseudoscientific piece of nonsense of a study managed to get approval from research ethics boards is because it's fronted by Luc Montagnier, Nobel laureate. Whatever the reason, if this is true, France has a serious problem with its research ethics committees. In fact, Now I wonder. Note how Montagnier says "ad hock ethical committees." One wonders whether these are like Mark and David Geiers' IRB, which was stacked with antivaccine believers and chaired by Mark Geier himself!

But, wait. There's more:

It is within this spirit that I responded positively to the invitation of a U.S. association of parents of autistic children, AutismOne, in Chicago, in May 2012. In my talk, I described the results obtained in Europe by the above mentioned antibiotic treatment, and the new technology for detection of bacterial DNA in the blood, and our physio-pathogenic explanation. Among the possible multifactorial origins of autism, I never cite vaccinations. Yet, a Forbes journalist entitled his article: “French Nobelist joins the anti-vaccination crowd”.

That would be this excellent post by Steve Salzberg, to which I add in this post: By agreeing to be a keynote speaker at the quackfest known as Autism One, Montagnier basically threw away whatever scientific credibility he might have had left. And if that didn't do it, this next passage will. After assuring us that, oh, no, he is not "antivaccine" at all, that he credits vaccination with the eradication of smallpox, Montagnier also says that there was a "horrific price," encephalitis. Then, if he really isn't antivaccine, he sure does do a fantastic impression of an antivaccinationist:

Many parents have observed a temporal association - which does not mean causation - between a vaccination by puncture and the appearance of autism symptoms. This should not be neglected by the medical community and public health decision makers. It is therefore of prime importance to study the risk factors, both environmental and genetic, which could be involved in order to prevent them. Presumably, vaccination, especially vaccination against multiple antigens, could be a trigger of a pre-existing pathological situation in some children. The vaccine denialists are not the courageous individuals who raise the problems of vaccination accidents, but are those people who deny the existence of these tragic accidents. The latter believe in the dogma “vaccines are good”, period. They are forgetting the Hippocratic oath: primum, non nocere. First, do no harm.

His denials notwithstanding, it is clear that Luc Montagnier has drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid. He has become antivaccine. It's all there. While admitting that correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation, Montagnier makes it clear that he thinks it does in this case. He cribs the idea, long beloved of antivaccinationists, that somehow there is a "predisposing" condition or genetic background in which vaccines "trigger" autism. He even steals Ginger Taylor's favorite ploy of labeling those who tell antivaccinationists that they are peddling pseudoscience as "denialists," thus co-opting the very language used to describe vaccine denialists/antivaccinationists, going so far as to call antivaccinationists "courageous"!

What Luc Montagnier is learning now about science is one of its greatest strengths. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what your past accomplishments have been. No one is sacred, and if you descend into pseudoscience even your Nobel Prize will not protect you for long from the consequences you so richly deserve. Those consequences include criticism, loss of funding, and loss of leadership positions. True, the Nobel Prize might protect you for a while, but eventually science wins out.

I'm just glad that it was Montagnier's appearance at Autism One that was obviously the last straw that spurred the scientific community to action against Montagnier. I'm also very sad that a once-great scientist has fallen so far. Now that it has fallen that far, however, it is a good thing that the antivaccine movement is rallying to defend Montagnier. They'll dig his scientific grave faster than anyone else ever could. Let's just put it this way. Even a Nobel Prize can't save you if you willingly lecture at the same event as a woman who advocates bleach enemas to treat autism.


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Other than that, Luc has become an utter idiot. My guess is, after a large part of US scientists working in the field tried to deny Luc's discovery of HIV (or LAV, as he it was called first) for decades*, being send down down HTLV blind alleys by Gallo, Luc must have come to the conclusion that all "mainstream" US scientists lie about everything – and the quacks might be onto something.

* And where were the Nobel Laureates, were was the outcry by US scientists when Gallo hindered research into HIV for over an year? We would not have stopped HIV/AIDS, but just think about whose lives might have been prolonged or saved had we caught this a year earlier.

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 26 Jun 2012 #permalink

The man is off his rocker. Just read the stream-of-consciousness rant and choked on my granola when I read that they imparted some chemical change over the internet using DNA-generated EM waves. And this was a nice touch: "I realize how audacious, and even shocking, these successful experiments may appear to unprepared minds."

I just don't get it - what happened that led him to this?

I suspect a lot of people have been hesitant to say anything against him because of the Nobel Prize. But Orac's right - it doesn't mean he's not wrong.

I love this bit:

Many parents have observed a temporal association – which does not mean causation – between a vaccination by puncture and the appearance of autism symptoms. This should not be neglected by the medical community and public health decision makers.

Right. The medical community has just ignored this apparent correlation. Someone should really get off their ass and do a study to see if vaccines cause autism.

Oh, wait. They have. A bunch of them. And the answer is clearly "No."

Perhaps the results of those studies are just too shocking for Montagnier's mind. (Or what's apparently left of it.)

Kerry B Mullis?

Radio waves? From viruses?

Antenna design is a highly mature application of Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism, which have been solidly established for over a century.

In order for an antenna to have any effectiveness, its size needs to the same order of magnitude as the wavelength it's broadcasting. For example, the "quarter-wave dipole" , a classic design, is 1/4 the wavelength.

Given this, there's no way something as small as a virus could emit radio waves.

This is closely related to the reason why they're nearly impossible to see with visible light microscopes -- they're smaller than the wavelength of visible light, which in turn is already much, much shorter than radio waves.

And this is but one tiny, tiny corner of this guys looniness.

By palindrom (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Given the tragic history of AIDS denialism and quackery in Africa (notably South Africa), it is especially reprehensible for someone like Montagnier to be named to head an AIDS research center.

The only news that could top this would be the center handing a lucrative research post to Matthias Rath so he could expand on his "vitamin" therapy for AIDS.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

@ Palindrom

Radio waves? From viruses?

Yeah, and you see, when shielding the assay tube from the other tubes, and also from outside radio waves, Montagnier doesn't detect these viruses' waves anymore.
The viruses must have been frightened when seeing his hand moving the shield

@ Dangerous Bacon

The only news that could top this would be the center handing a lucrative research post to Matthias Rath so he could expand on his “vitamin” therapy for AIDS.

Don't give them ideas... Montagnier, despite being a virologist, has already said that you can clear viruses by diet. A collaboration between like-minded spirits is not impossible.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

As a scientist, it’s really hard to go from winning the Nobel Prize to the ignominy of presenting to a quack conference in such a short period of time

I suppose this is technically true, but only because of the "such a short period of time" qualification.

In fact, the phenomenon of extremely prestigious scientists associated with major early discoveries in important fields, later becoming cranks, is common enough to warrant some concern.

Perhaps a proportion of all independent researchers who achieve adequate professional status to say more or less whatever they want do this, and we only hear about the famous ones. Indeed, perhaps thousands of people are "just as brilliant" as each who achieves a Nobel level result, and luck plays a role.

Alternately, perhaps it is a risk factor of special genius. Perhaps the type of mind that achieves brilliantly original research results is at a high risk for this type of thing. Possibly lack of self doubt is an underlying factor, or perhaps some Pavlovian reinforcement due to the praise they received for some ideas leads them to overvalue their subsequent ideas.

At any rate, it's clear that all ideas must be viewed skeptically, despite the credentials of those who present them.

Oh boy!
For the last year or so, I've noticed an interesting confluence amongst the HIV/AIDS denialists and anti-vaxxers ( " La la la la la- caught in a bad romance")**; here are a few instances:

Prof Montagnier appeared at AutismOne to raving approval; AoA seems to have a new maverick-y star. TMR mavens speak of him with awe and wonder.

Dr Nancy Banks- denialist author and ob/gyn, now in Mexico, appears at antivaxx sites like vaccinationcouncil, speaking of the dangers of vaccination. And I suppose, the *lack* of danger of HIV.

Celia Farber has her own show on PRN called "Radio Free Science" ( funny, I keep reversing the word order- truth will out) with co-host David Rasnick: amongst luminaries like Liam Scheff, anti-vaxxers also appear, most notably Mary Holland, esq and AJW-enabler, David Lewis.

** my apologies to Lady G

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Radio waves? From viruses?

Heh. The best part is that his claims are about very low frequency radio waves. Actually the frequencies he cite have literally planet-sized wavelengths. How he managed to do it with desktop-sized apparatus is achievement that could easily make him double-nobel.

The guy is 80 years old, and while we're supposed to respect our elders, sometimes that includes leading them gently to a chair in the corner and set the TV channel for them to Oprah...

In order for an antenna to have any effectiveness, its size needs to the same order of magnitude as the wavelength it’s broadcasting. For example, the “quarter-wave dipole” , a classic design, is 1/4 the wavelength.

That's if you want your radio waves to actually carry a signal. But you can get EM waves from antennas much smaller than a wavelength if you aren't worried about trivial details like transmitting information. As I mentioned yesterday, pickup of AC electrical transmission frequencies is often a problem in laboratory experiments, and that involves wavelengths of thousands of kilometers versus room dimensions of typically tens of meters (and the ground loops that cause these problems are usually even smaller). In the present case, I would guess that there might be rotational or vibrational modes somewhere in the radio spectrum. But on average, there should be as many photons absorbed as emitted, and the frequencies will depend on the exact makeup of the molecule, so this is not a practical way of assembling copies of a molecule.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Obviously, these people disavow consensus research about HIV and autism. AND both are treated as brave rebels at alt med gatherings/ informational sites ( cough)- going against the grain can sometimes endear you to those whose stock in trade is contrarianism.

A few HIV/AIDS denialists , who, while never admitting the reality ( or danger) of the virus, have creatively stormed the barricades of convention by postulating many wild theories of what we call AIDS actually is:
both anti-vaxxers and HIV denialists utilise supplements ( the latter to terrible effect in South Africa) to treat these conditions
and - you probably saw this coming- one HIV/AIDS woo- theory involves 'intestinal dysbiosis'- the pathway to illness is the GI tract ( and NOT in the way SBM speaks about viral *transmission* via injury to tissues ).

Then, of course, we have AJW and his acolytes with the vaccine/ GI/ ASD hypothesis. Recently, anti-vaxxers have been talking about 'bugs' and parasites as well as viruses from vaccines : thus, MMS and other arcane and creative substances to shove into lower GI tracts. Interestingly, an alt med AIDS treatment ( possibly from Italy, IIRC) has involved yoghurt similarly administered.

What is that fixation about health being dependent on supplements and enemas?
Oh, SBM thinks them fairly useless so they must be effective.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

I just read Montagnier's entry and don't think that English ( as a foreign language) is his main problem.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

@Denice Walter

Perhaps logic and reality are now foreign languages to Montagnier?

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Having read most of Dr. Luc Montagnier’s blog entry I am reminded that a good indicater of nuttyness is an inability hit the return key when typing.

I also was impressed with the reinvention of homeopathy. Is it deliberate, I mean does he realse dilutions and shaking is homopathic?

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

led by one who sells commercial products to the vaccine industry

ZOMFSM! You know what this means, right? Tea and coffee purveyors, waste management companies, Staples...they're all a part of the conspiracy! I mean, they all sell commercial products to the vaccine industry, too. Is there no one that is free of the dark web?

AoA's suggested letter basically boils down to:

1) Dr. Montagnier is being attacked by people we don't like.
2) We hate vaccines.
3) Support Dr. Montagnier.

I know that I shouldn't be surprised or anything, but it appears their logic train may have jumped the tracks a bit.

@Todd W.

I know that I shouldn’t be surprised or anything, but it appears their logic train may have jumped the tracks a bit.

It's more like a circular track -- they go 'round and 'round and can't seem to get anywhere.

And waht do you do when you can't seem to get anywhere?
Open the throttle. "More steam! More steam!"

Montagnier has hit a new low indeed.
If he has a hypothesis as to why prolonged doses of antibiotic will have some positive effect on Autism, let's hear it, and test it out under rigorous conditions. If he has none, then he's going by guess and by golly, and can be dismissed. Dr M, should you read this: This is how science works. you propose a hypothesis, you construct an experiment to test your hypothesis, you experiment to collect data to confirm or deny your idea, then you try it again. Then you publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal so that other scientists elsewhere can critique you and or try to reproduce your results. Why is this rather simple process so difficult to understand ?

Human ignorance and its blind spots continue to rule its own fears. The unasked questions remain unasked. In the case of 911, for example, it was "What did we do to deserve it?" In this case: it's not just WHAT does Luc Montagnier know that I don't know, but HOW does he know it? The assumption that knowledge and the ways of knowing should always somehow be transmissible between human beings is a primary fallacy that needs to be seriously addressed. Something called "science" and its prescribed "rational" ways of thinking, even if insisted upon in every single instance, will still fail -- simply because the comprehension of beings differ from person to person, and we don't really understand how we understand. There are levels of contingency which make up our entire experience, even from moment to moment, which are just not accessible to us, so what is taken for the average, conventional "understanding" is a joke. Luc Montagier's intelligence operates differently than the average person's because he has allowed it to develop beyond the usual restricted means…

Montagnier's experiment comes across like a high school science project. Why use a sound card to record the signals? Surely he could access some sort of spectrum analyzer with a more broad band. These are very low frequencies.

As noted above, it is possible to pick up such signals, as anyone who has watched 60hz or 50hz background would know.

Why doesn't he use a second coil, balanced to the first, to buck out the background? Who says his background remains constant over time?

He places samples within a mu-metal box but doesn't mention grounding the box.

He puts a mu-metal shield between two samples...but doesn't seem to care that transmission of these signals doesn't have to be line-of-sight. Especially within a conductive box, as he is using.

He asserts that there are "Coherence Domains" ("CD's") which are neither well defined nor demonstrated to exist. He also asserts that there are "quasi free elections", again without proof. No really good reason is given why the 7Hz Schuman frequency is relevant to these biological systems. He just asserts that these biologicals would need something in the environment and, so, why not pick these frequencies?

IGNORING the fact that in real life the signals in the Schuman frequencies are EXTREMELY low in magnitude. It took a great deal of effort to prove they existed after they were predicted.

Why would bacteria pick a frequency that already has some signal (however weak)? What is reason for it? This is not given. How does a bacterium pick up these weak signals and somehow turn them into a MUCH stronger signal at 1kHz?

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

@ Paul

Get to the point, will you? If you want to say that Montagnier is so brilliant that us feeble-minded cannot understand him, just say it.

I am considering the following preliminary test to distinguish between a true searcher with ideas worth considering versus some nutty pretending to be a discoverer:

A scientist talking to a layman will try to keep the scientific jargon to a minimum and use everyday words.
A quack talking to a layman will use as many science-sounding words as possible. Quantum is a favorite, these days. Energy or waves are good second ones. Oh, and he/she will wear a labcoat on a TV set.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

The good professor follows in the footsteps of other prestigious scientists who turned into whackjobs. Linus Pauling, Lynn Margulis, William Shockley, Brian Jacobson, J. Allen Hynek to name a few.

SLC @605 - Minor correction to your entirely valid point: I think you mean Brian Josephson (not Jacobson), who invented the Josephson junction.

Paul @321 - You wrote: "The assumption that knowledge and the ways of knowing should always somehow be transmissible between human beings is a primary fallacy that needs to be seriously addressed."

The whole point of science is for people to discover reliable knowledge of the world, precisely by transmitting their knowledge back and forth and testing their common understanding against experiment. This has been spectacularly successful. In my opinion, and probably the opinion of most commenters here, this pretty much disproves the notion that the transmissibility of knowledge is a "primary fallacy".

On the other hand, you added the qualifier "always". I've certainly run up against limits to the transmissibility of knowledge trying to teach freshman physics.

By palindrom (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Dear President Biya...................

Jake Cosby

Montagnier published a paper that implied that DNA could teleport

I imagine that, if he isn't already,he's set to become an idol to the IDiot creationists as well.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Matt @ 5:32

He places samples within a mu-metal box but doesn’t mention grounding the box.

If the mu-metal box is meant to be a "Faraday Cage", it doesn't need to be grounded. The principle is that there is never an electrical field inside a conductor. Your metal car protects you from lightning (not the tires it's sitting on) by being a Faraday Cage, whether it is grounded or not.

Something called “science” and its prescribed “rational” ways of thinking, even if insisted upon in every single instance, will still fail — simply because the comprehension of beings differ from person to person, and we don’t really understand how we understand. There are levels of contingency which make up our entire experience, even from moment to moment, which are just not accessible to us, so what is taken for the average, conventional “understanding” is a joke.

[citation needed]

It's funny, Paul; to paraphrase an old quip, you stumbled upon the truth but picked yourself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened. It is indeed NOT just what Luc Montagnier claims to know that we don't know, but HOW does he claim to know it?

If his answer is "because my intelligence operates differently from the regular person's" then why, exactly, would we believe him? Anyone can make that claim. The whole reason that "science" and "rationality" are the gold standard, having left all those other "ways of knowing" in the dust, is because they can't be as successful in the hands of the deluded and incompetent as they are for those who actually have the right of things.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

steve m,

The main idea he has for the mu metal is to shield against low frequency magnetic fields.

A Faraday cage does need to be grounded to shield the inside from electromagnetic waves

The ground forces the entire conductive surface to be the same potential.

The operation of a Faraday cage was my biggest failure in my senior oral exam. Totally embarrassing since we had just discussed it about 2 weeks prior in senior E&M.

The classic problem is to have a dipole (either static or oscillating) inside a conducting sphere. If the sphere is grounded, you can't tell from the outside if there is a dipole inside. Charges arrange themselves in the conductor such that the potential on the surface of the sphere is zero everywhere. (it doesn't matter if it is not a sphere, but spheres are easier to use mathematically). If the potential is zero there, it will be zero every outside the sphere's surface as well.

If the sphere is ungrounded, from a distance it is like the sphere is not there. Gauss' law.

In a car, I think you are facing two benefits (assume there is some path to ground) First is that current tends to run along the outside of a conductor. Second, you are sitting on an insulator and are likely not going to be in the current path.

I wouldn't want to test that.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

The whole point of science is for people to discover reliable knowledge of the world, precisely by transmitting their knowledge back and forth and testing their common understanding against experiment.

Moreover, Paul makes the contradictory philosophical assertions that one cannot know the contents of another's mind and that he's perfectly able to start making claims about the nature of Montagnier's.

" Luc Montagier's ( sic) intelligence operates differently..."

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

Paul has got to be a Poe. But I might point out that whatever the inabilities of one mind to know that of another might be, the Scientific Method works to minimize the sources of such misunderstandings by focusing on foundations of observable facts. Once you cross from that into "different ways of knowing" you've abandoned the best tool we know of to establish and share knowledge. To specifically reject scientific understanding is to walk straight into the jaws of solipsism.

My favorite example of the Nobel Disease is PMS Blackett, who argued that atomic bombs could never be decisive in warfare, since it would take thousands of them to defeat an enemy. Of course, we all know how the American and Soviet militaries solved that problem.

@ idlemind:

While you can't ever really know the exact contents and/ or methods of another person's mind, people sure try!
To be truthful, it's an important topic in developmental psych and social cognition ( recursive thought). Actually, we all make guesses all the time: e.g. @ RI, commenters ask whether someone is loony, "on to something", talking out the wrong end et al.

Most reasonable adults though, assume that the contents of others' minds do not use 'other ways of knowing'.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2012 #permalink

To specifically reject scientific understanding is to walk straight into the jaws of solipsism.

Philosophical solipsism and science are perfectly compatible, dammit.

Here from the "Autism Treatment Trust" website are testimonials about *recovering* autistic children with long term antibiotics. See the short video featuring Luc Montagnier and the child who is on long-term antibiotics for autism (autism was caused by *undiagnosed and untreated Lyme Disease).

Supposedly, according to the text, Autism Treatment Trust is funding a study in France which will be doubled-blinded to test *recovery* using antibiotics.

Look at the (rogues gallery) list of *advisers* for the United States:

@lilady - I think that, by itself, would show how full of crap the anti-vaccine movement is. They can't decide - are antibiotics bad (take MMS instead)? Or are they the cure? Many, if not most of their so-called "causes" of autism actually are diametrically opposed to one another (both can't be right, one has to the wrong, etc, etc), yet they glam on to as many "causes" as they can, probably in the hopes that one of them turns out to be right.....

New England Biolabs has been the gold standard for restriction enzymes for at least 3 decades, if I recall correctly. The nice thing about their system is that they provide tables to determine which buffering systems to use if you want to do a double digest. Then they provide the different buffers. Most biochem lab freezers have a box with NEB buffers 1 through 4. The use of NEB buffers and enzymes would be an argument in favor of the vaccine manufacturers' work practices, assuming they needed one. This is not to discount Promega or Fisher or other modern suppliers, but to accuse someone of being associated with NEB is pretty much of a stretch.

I do have a tiny problem with automatically discounting someone's thought based on which forum it was delivered in. As Orac himself points out, the nice part about science is that it doesn't matter who is delivering the message -- if it's wrong, it will be criticized. If we were to apply that reasoning broadly, we might point out that some wrong findings are presented at the Endocrine Society, and there is a possibility, however fleeting, that something correct could be mentioned at the woo-meisters meeting. In other words, if the wm's should ever allow Orac to offer the counter position at one of their meetings, I don't believe that he would be obliged to refuse in order to protect his professional reputation. I believe that the direct criticizm of Montagnier's message has done a good job of exposing the level of nonsense in his recent work. I wonder if we are seeing a little senility in a once-competent mind.

matt @ 8:45

Sorry, I was only thinking of electric fields response to a Faraday Cage. At the Boston Museum of Science they have the demonstrator in a Faraday Cage with a Van de Graaf generating 2 million Volts. He lets the "lightning" strike the cage while he touches the inside surface of the cage, demonstrating the current flows over the outside surface. Richard Hammond on BBC's "Top Gear" demonstrated being in a car being hit by "lightning" (artificial but still millions of volts) nothing inside was damaged (not even the radio), just the exterior paintjob. It is also standard practice to protect static sensitive electronics by wrapping them in a conductive foil (or conductive plastic) so the static discharge can't reach the components enclosed. I'm sorry to go off tangent about Faraday Cage, just want to emphasize that a lightning bolt that can go through thousands of feet of air (10,000 V/cm) won't be stopped by millimeters of rubber (the thickness of car tires), it is purely the Faraday Cage effect that protects you inside a car. Interesting example about the dipole in a sphere. Never considered that before, I'll have to think about it. It has always bothered me; movies showing people using a cell phone in an elevator ( a closed metal box), I don't see how that can work. Also, my "electronic toll device" (CA "FasTrak") instructs one to put it in its mylar (conductive) bag to prevent being "tolled" when not appropriate. I'm sorry to go on and on about this; electrical science is more my area than medical, so I'm tempted to contribute more about that. I just didn't want your entire argument shot down due to a single mistake, just trying to help, not debate.

Movies? I used my cell phone in my elevator close to daily (usually to tell my wife I'm off to the train and will be on time to cook dinner.) My guess is that elevators are far from perfect faraday cages.

steve m,

I hope you don't mind me going on either.

When it comes to a car, keep in mind that rubber tires are not complete insulators. They contain a fair amount of carbon black (graphite)

Current flows on the outside of a conductor. That's what protects the inhabitants of a car (be they human or electronic). Current won't pass through you or your radio because it isn't in the path to ground.

ESD bags are generally designed to reduce tribo charging, say from when you pull the tape off a box.

There is a difference between where current flows and whether you can transmit a signal through a conductive, but ungrounded, box.

Note that in the example you give of artificial lighting striking a Faraday cage, the current is flowing through the cage. That tells us that the cage is grounded. Otherwise the cage would just charge up.

In the end, it doesn't matter. If you charge up a cage the person still will not be harmed. You can touch a van de Graf generator and charge yourself up to a high voltage safely. It's the current that is a problem.

So, on that point, assume for the moment that your car is insulated from the ground (and stays so) and it is struck by lightning. What would happen is that your car would quickly charge up from a lightning strike, raising the potential of the car so that the lightning would then move to a lower potential like a tree or the ground.

The basic issue with why a ground is necessary has to do with electrostatics. The only solution for the potential outside a surface with a zero potential is for zero potential everywhere outside the surface.

There is a second effect, the skin depth, which will affect whether a signal can be transmitted outside of an ungrounded conductive box. Place a transmitter inside an ungrounded box and there will be attenuation of the signal. This depends on frequency.

One place where Luc Montagnier misunderstood shielding is that a single sheet of mu-metal would not make a good shield. Magnetic shielding works by redirecting flux around a volume. A single sheet would not accomplish this. He is invited to pursue the concept of "image charges".

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 28 Jun 2012 #permalink

matt @ 5:44

Thanks, I understand and agree. Apologies once again for the tangent.

No apologies--I'm the one who took the tangent. I work on magnetic materials and devices, so I tend to hyperfocus on this strange corner of the discussion.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 29 Jun 2012 #permalink

Up on today's AoA website is an article by Bill Walsh who is the president of the Autism Treatment Trust...the very same group that is setting up a study in France for Luc Montagnier to *treat* autistic kids with antibiotics. The antibiotic treatment study, "Research Project About a Potential Infectious Origin of Autism" is also funded by the Autism Research Institute, another quack *science* group:

Here Walsh comments about the *landmark* legal decision in Italy that awarded damages to a child *injured by a measles vaccine*....based on Wakefield's fraudulent research. (The mother of the child couldn't decide whether the child received the measles vaccine at nine months of age...or fifteen months of age...according to her sworn testimony).…

Me thinks AoA is attempting damage control on behalf of Luc Montagnier and on behalf of the Autism One Quackfest.

Just to clarify for the record, a feud between Dr. Gallo and Dr. Montagnier was never the case - read the government transcripts from Heckler's April 1984 press conference. The feud was between the US and France on patent royalties for the blood test! It was by then far above the pay grade of NIH scientists and in the hands of President Reagan. Further, Gallo didn't open his "big mouth" and as stated in this blog it is offensive. Gallo did exactly what he should have done as soon as he heard what Montagnier was doing in Cameroon. Gallo has an ethical and moral obligation to distance himself from pseudoscience and financial interests....

By Clarification (not verified) on 02 Jul 2012 #permalink

@"Clarification": Don't you think you should reveal your stake in this particular issue? I'm rather surprised you didn't post under your real name. The vast majority of my readers know who I am, and they should be aware that that you are hardly an objective observer. (No, it's not Gallo.)

Criticizing such a scientific reference needs a lot of guts. With the great experience he has, he does not make any speculations and he practices evidence based medicine, he backs up his arguments with results of his studies. If you do not play in the same category with him and have no idea about research really is, then you have no grounds to criticize him.

By Fonkam Donatien (not verified) on 05 Jul 2012 #permalink

@ Fonkam Danatien

Criticizing such a scientific reference needs a lot of guts.

Read on two other big shots, Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, and how the first asked the second to come and check Bohr's ideas because Bohr knew he could not trust his other colleagues to have the guts to tell him when he is wrong.
It's a recurring problem whenever someone reach a position of authority: objective criticism is difficult to get.

With the great experience he has, he does not make any speculations

He could do, like the rest of us, and he does. This is appeal to authority.
Some people hypothesize that the smarter you are, the stupider your ideas could be, because you have so many more ideas to play with and occasions to get something wrong...

he backs up his arguments with results of his studies.

Flawed studies. Last time I checked, he is missing a few controls. Like properly shielding his assays against local electromagnetism.

If you do not play in the same category with him

More appeal to authority.

and have no idea about research really is, then you have no grounds to criticize him.

Actually, we do, and we do. A number of us here are scientists in fields relevant to Montagnier's latest project - cancer, microbiology, physics...

By Heliantus (not verified) on 05 Jul 2012 #permalink

You wrote:

In fact, the terminal tailspin began years before he was awarded the Knowbull Prayz, which makes the deicision of the Stockhom committee all the more questionable. The normal procedure is for laureates to go bonkers AFTER having been greeted by the king of Sweden.

In April 2006 he offered testimony to the European Patent Office in favour of one of the patent applications of his friend, the late Jacques Benveniste, who tried to obtain protection for an invention based in the purported memory of water:…

(in French; click on "load all pages")

The Benveniste file wrapper can be seen here:…

Montagnier has since filed his own nonsense patent applications.

In 2004 the Hamburg weekly "Die Zeit" reported Montagnier's interest in the alleged properties of Papaya juice:

Linus Pauling reloaded? The journalist's tone is quite skeptical.

I stumbled over your blog and I am appaled about your derisory style and comments. Try to research about autism and the multiple factors, which might be contributing to it. try to get a half scientific approach to the question, if you claim to write a science blog. your article is soaked in arrogance, and that, you should know, is the death of science...

I am not sure that Luc is completely wrong with respect to the impact of childhood vaccination on the development of autism, attention deficit disorders, childhood diabets etc. I have a number of secretaries who come from the British West Indies, Dominican Republic, etc. Their children rarely get vaccinated, maybe for polio or with BCG. They claim they have never heard of autism etc.
In the States, the number of injections the newborn gets to age 1 year approximates 30 with Pneumococcal pneumonia, encephtalitis, Hep B and C , meningococcemia etc. thrown in.. I am involved with tumor immunolgy and I find it hard to explain how a newly developing immune system can handle 30 vaccines, and be able to turn on efficient B and T cell acctivity against so many different bacteria and viruses.
In the States, the incidence of autism, attention deficit disorders and diabetes continues to rise. I doubt its the atmospheric contamination leading to glo bal warming. I suspect the immune system may get confused and instead of turning on Th subset 1 to produce the IL-2.s in moves in the opposite direction to turn on Th Subset 2 inducing the IL-10 molecules and other cytokines that induce these troublesome problems.

By Myron Arlen MD (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

I am not sure that Luc is completely wrong with respect to the impact of childhood vaccination on the development of autism, attention deficit disorders, childhood diabets etc.

How do you feel about the quantum radio stations?

Dr. Arlen:

Pneumococcal pneumonia, encephtalitis, Hep B and C , meningococcemia etc. thrown in.. I am involved with tumor immunolgy

You might want to do a bit more research because there are no vaccines for some on that list.

I would suggest that you investigate how autism is diagnosed in those countries. There are variations in services, and access to diagnosis. Even in Europe, where France denies the existence of autism.

You should read R.R. Grinker's book Unstrange Minds.

I find it hard to explain how a newly developing immune system can handle 30 vaccines

You think that being exposed to 30 different micro-organisms over the course of one year is too much?

How is the baby ever managing to handle the hundreds of different bacteria, yeasts and viruses he/she is encountering in the first week of his/her life?
Not to mention all of these molecules breathed with the air or swallowed with the food.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

I have a number of secretaries who come from the British West Indies, Dominican Republic, etc. Their children rarely get vaccinated, maybe for polio or with BCG. They claim they have never heard of autism etc.

Meanwhile in the real world, children who have immigrated to the UK from the Caribbean show an increased rate of autism, up to five times higher.

the number of injections the newborn gets to age 1 year approximates 30
Um, how close is this approximation supposed to be? What's a factor of two or three between friends?

I am involved with tumor immunolgy
Are the test-tubes clean yet?

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ Chris

Even in Europe, where France denies the existence of autism.

erghwat? *pick-up jaw from floor, goes read link*

Urgh, my country is still at the "fridge mother" state? So 60's.
I would hope there was some mistake or exaggeration in the documentary, but now that you mention it, we are not exactly up-to-date on development disorders, so that's unfortunately probably true.
Yep, in my country, when one has children like this, one hides them.
OK, time to put paper bag back on head. That's a situation (to define it mildly) I was totally unaware of.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink