A New and Important Paper by Brian Martin

A link to an online version of this article: How to attack a scientific theory and get away with it (usually): the attempt to destroy an origin-of-AIDS hypothesis

I have long admired Brian Martin, who is Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He is an advocate of free speech (especially in the scientific arena) and down the years has specialised in championing scientific whistle blowing, and fighting the suppression of dissent in science.

Perhaps the most celebrated case on which he has focussed concerns the heated debate about how AIDS started. He first became involved in 1991, when he was the one academic with the courage to publish Louis Pascal’s seminal work, “What Happens When Science Goes Bad: The Corruption of Science and the Origin of AIDS: A Study in Spontaneous Generation”, as a working paper of what was then the Science and Technology Analysis Research Programme at the University of Wollongong. Although only a few hundred of these extraordinary (and extraordinarily angry) essays were ever distributed, they were sent to influential people, and so logical and powerful were the arguments within that the paper (plus the almost contemporaneous “Origin of AIDS” article by Tom Curtis in Rolling Stone magazine), started a considerable stir in favour of the hitherto disregarded theory that the AIDS epidemic might have been iatrogenic, or caused by the medical profession.

Brian’s first-hand involvement in publishing this paper meant that from then on he was able to witness at first hand some of the attempts to suppress what is now generally known as the oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of origin. He made a memorable appearance at the Royal Society conference on “Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic” in 2000, where his simply argued analysis of the shortcomings (and sometimes lack of principle) of those who were most vigorously arguing against the OPV theory of origin (and for the bushmeat theory) led to squeals of angry protest from some of the latter scientists. Particularly memorable was the indignation of one of the organisers, Robin Weiss, who had written a letter to Brian before the conference which had frankly (and disgracefully) attempted to channel his input to the meeting along lines that Weiss himself approved.

Brian and I have kept in contact since 1999, and especially since the death of Bill Hamilton in March 2000, I find that he is a man on whose judgment and integrity I can rely, especially when confronted with a particularly knotty ethical problem.

In June 2010, after long delays, his latest paper on the origins debate was published in Science as Culture; 2010; 19 (2); 215-239. Entitled: “How to attack a scientific theory and get away with it (usually): the attempt to destroy an origin-of-AIDS hypothesis”, it is a classic Brian Martin piece, but unusually hard-hitting (perhaps not surprising, given the many false claims and disinformation to which many of the opponents of the OPV theory have resorted in recent years). I commend it to readers of this web-site.

Ed Hooper 17/06/10