Character Assassination by Supposition
Review of The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS
Reviewer: Claude Koprowski, M.D. from Oxford, Maryland
amazon.com October 12, 1999
There is little new of consequence here other than the author’s character assassination by supposition. Although superficially The River looks like a well researched and documented work, in reality the conclusions Edward Hooper reaches are based on his own prejudices and pseudo logic but not fact.As one other reviewer noted, it is “up the river without a paddle.”
What Hooper purports to prove is a highly disputed concept first proposed by Tom Curtis in Rolling Stone Magazine. It is the hypthesis that HIV was introduced to humans through the use of simian kidney tissue cultures in which the oral polio vaccine developed by my father Hilary Koprowski was grown. Rolling Stone later disavowed Curtis’ conclusion
Nonethless Hooper in a 1097 page voyage up the river decided to resurrect the fantasy buttressed by the argument of a “philosopher-logician” named Louis Pascal, and the recollections of octogenarians and nonagenarians. He especially lambasts Koprowski, age 82, for no longer remembering in which monkey tissues the vaccine was cultured almost half a century ago.
Central to Hooper’s argument is the premise (unproven) that HIV appeared first in the Belgian Congo in the area where the first large scale trials of the oral polio vaccine took place. He down plays the fact that the same strain of vaccine was given to 9 million Poles without one case of HIV being linked to it. HIV did not come to Poland until years after it was discovered in the former Belgian Congo.
What is most disturbing is the the sort of religious logic–based only on belief–with which Hooper reaches his conclusions. An example: “I wondered if it was possible that CHAT (or SM )” both polio vaccine strains” could have been fed informally by private Swedish doctors to Swedish adults in the months preceding November 1957. If so, was it conceivable that a young vaccinee could have become infected with an SIV contaminant in that vaccine and then onwardly transmitted this virus perhaps sexually to a visiting British sailor such as David” This presumes that the vaccine lot administered in Sweden was contaminated. Yet on page 599 Hooper cites Sven Gard, president of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, who says the vaccine was tested for contaminants and there were none.
This “what if” and “if so” approach permeates the book to such a degree that he even puts words in the mouths of his sources. In one such “what if” he quotes Gail Norton, daughter of Koprowski’s late associate and collaborator in the polio trials, about a rabies vaccine trial in Argentina. Norton had no first hand experience or knowledge of this trial, yet Hooper quotes her authoritatively.
Hooper also makes great to do about testing the vaccine in mentally retarded children. These trials were done with the permission of the parents who recognized that polio could sweep through homes for these children like wild fire and do far more damage than the vaccine. Hooper does not mention that Koprowski also immunized his family was the same vaccine.
Why Hooper decided to make Hilary Koprowski the villain of his book escapes me and most scientists familiar with his work such as HIV discoverer Robert Gallo. Hooper has found some to criticize Koprowski, as a person, but no man of his stature in the scientific world is without his detractors. In addition Hooper does not corroborate what such sources tell him. For example, he quotes Victor Cabasso, another octogeniarian, that Koprowski was fired from Lederle Laboratories. I was 17 at the time and remember nothing could be further from the truth. Koprowski had been looking for a new position for years because of his dislike or Harold Cox, the head of the division in which he worked. Koprowski left Lederle to head up the Wistar Insitute which became one of the most respected scientific think tanks in the world. Koprowski himself has published more than 800 scientific articles as well as several books–including some works of fiction. He has been honored by the governments of Belgium and Poland and received the French Legion d’Honneur two years ago.
What is Koprowski really like? He could charm the devil himself. He can also be imperious and competitive; the loyalest of friends and the most vindictive of enemies as Hooper noted. However among scientists it is recognized he has few peers but a universe of proteges. There are very few places in the world where he cannot make a phone call and be picked up at the airport by one of them.
If one is looking for well written fiction or pseudo science, this is the book for you. Oscar Wilde would have loved it. The origin of AIDs is a hot topic in the Gay and scientific communities. This kind of of work does not provide the answers. If I may borrow a stylistic note from Hooper, it is thought that it will soon be proven that the origin of AIDs well preceded the orgin of the polio vaccine. Won’t that be a hoot.