[NB It is difficult to respond to an article which is so fundamentally flawed, both in its reportage, and in its quoted content. However, I have managed to do so at 449 words, this being within the wordage constraints suggested by Karen Birmingham. I feel confident that you will want to set the record straight. Since the corrections herein are so important, and since I have expended a great deal of time and effort in stating my position precisely and accurately, I would appreciate being informed, as soon as is possible, (a) whether the letter is to be published in the next issue (June 2000), and (b) whether it is to be published as written, in its entirety, without editorial "trimming" which might affect its meaning and impact. EH]
As author of "The River", I write to correct several inaccuracies in your May news article, "HIV researchers upset by Royal Society discussion of 'River theory'".
Steven Wolinsky claims that the theory that the AIDS pandemic was sparked by the administration of CHAT (an experimental oral polio vaccine, OPV) in central Africa in the late 1950s is "bolstered by negative or non-existent data". This is an interesting inversion, for whereas there is rather a lot of evidence and data in support of OPV/AIDS, there is a signal lack of definitive data to support Wolinsky's position that the pandemic was caused by a slightly earlier "natural transfer" of SIV to a chimp hunter living elsewhere in Africa. The latter position is based on the theoretical work of Beatrice Hahn and Wolinsky's colleague, Bette Korber, some of the flaws in which may be revealed at the Royal Society conference on the origins of HIV.
Wolinsky then "questions the ethics of a journalist who has his benefactor write the preface to his book". The "journalist" is presumably me, and the "benefactor" the late, lamented biologist Bill Hamilton. My book relates how, in 1993, I asked Hamilton for a research loan, and he wrote me a cheque (for £2,000), telling me I should consider it a grant. This was a gesture of simple generosity, to further the cause of independent enquiry. And Wolinsky questions my ethics?
(Incidentally, since I am frequently asked, I spent approximately £100,000 researching "The River", with the balance being raised from personal savings, a family loan, and, latterly, advances from publishers. I am still indebted.)
Meanwhile Stanley Plotkin, who worked with CHAT in the fifties, states his belief that the original Royal Society conference program scheduled for May "was unbalanced, but the new one is quite acceptable". The full story of the public and private pressures exerted by Plotkin, John Moore and others will perhaps one day be told. It is enough to state that several "natural transfer" proponents (including Hahn and Korber) initially agreed to speak at the May conference but later withdrew, and only relented after the organisers agreed to postpone to September, granted extra representation to their sympathisers, and broadened the scope of the meeting (initially envisioned as a straightforward debate between OPV/AIDS and natural transfer).
John Moore describes OPV/AIDS, as espoused in "The River", as "entirely implausible". Contrary to your story, a growing number of scientists disagree, especially those who have read the entire book. People like Moore, however, continue to misrepresent the book's contents, or to launch ad hominem attacks. This, I am fast learning, is science in the raw. Perhaps Moore, Wolinsky and friends fear the revelation that the emperor wears no clothes.
Edward Hooper, Somerset, England.
[As an aside, and to give a further indication of what I have been up against here....I finally managed to get hold of Simon Wain-Hobson, who was attending a vaccine meeting in Paris with his fellow "Origins of HIV" organiser, Robin Weiss. They had been discussing this article, and, among other things, were interested by the claim of Steven Wolinsky (the man who questions my ethics) that he had been "invited to participate as a discussant" at the RS conference. According to them, this claim is incorrect (and since Bill Hamilton never had a chance to invite anybody to the conference, this would seem to be definitive). Partly because of space restrictions, and partly because I cannot be 100% sure that Wolinsky was not misquoted, I have decided to omit this from my rejoinder.
One other point. Please note the final (bracketed) phrase in the penultimate paragraph, which demonstrates that the line in the article about the RS deciding to "include" discussion of the theory gives a misleading emphasis.]
Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS
in the section on The River.
It is located on the website on suppression of dissent.