Letter to Science (1)

W D Hamilton’s cover letter of 17 January 1994 to the magazine Science concerning his submission on the origin of AIDS and polio vaccines



Telephone: Oxford (0865) 271234
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To: Ms. Christine Gilbert
Letters Editor
Science Magazine
1333 H Street, NW
Washington DC 20005

17 January 1994

Dear Madam,

I am submitting the enclosed letter for publication as a letter in Science. It is rather long but I hope you will agree that its content, if sound, justifies this length. It concerns (a) a threat to the scientific approach to knowledge, and (b) a hypothesis of potentially enormous importance.

The piece has been made longer than need be by rather full documentation. I would be quite happy to reduce or even eliminate documentation but I feel it needs to be there initially because I anticipate a rough ride with almost any referee you may send it to. Similarly the Appendix is there simply to persuade you and any referees that I am not making unfounded statements. It is definitely not for publication, but it could be sent to a referee if you think fit. A similar appendix to back up my critical statements about the Ohta et al. paper could be supplied if you desire it. As a more drastic and I think regrettable step to shorten the article I would also consider reducing the five issues concerning the Curtis theory that I exemplify in the third and fourth paragraphs.

Knowing something of the history of this topic I have no doubt but that it will be given a rough ride by most referees. In particular I will be extremely surprised if you can find any referee from the medical/scientific sphere who does not try to get it rejected by almost all means in his power. This seems to have been the universal pattern so far with the hypothesis the letter partially defends. Please, however, consider the issues concerned, and why such rejection might be strongly expected from such sources. In particular please examine the details by which a referee claims the letter should be rejected: does he or she, for example, provide as careful documentation and rebuttal on specific issues as the letter does? I hope that whatever quality of comments you get they will be more cogent and better supported than were those of Koprowski you published in 1992 if you are going to heed them.

I am aware that the very topic the letter treats has now quite a long history of rejection and even near ridicule in Science (as also in Nature), an attitude which has long seemed to me to be not at all justified by any evidence. Science’s uncritical (and even unedited, as shown by the mess with references) publication of Koprowski’s rebuttal, and some of your other pieces on the AlDS-polio issue with much the same flavour, are somehow characteristic of how your magazine that has risen to be, for doubtless excellent reasons during the rise, an establishment organ of Science. Thus your line on this controversy seems well in keeping with Koprowski’s own magisterial beginning (“As a scientist, I did not intend to debate with Curtis ..”) and with his ending, concerning the same (mere!) reporter: “.. the wildest of lay speculation.” Is this line, however, justified by the general slant of the evidence in this case? And is it in keeping with the spirit of the word that was chosen to be title of your magazine?

I do not usually try to explain to editors why they should take any particular notice of what I submit but perhaps in this case, because Koprowski may be considered on a level with a Nobel prize winner (probably having had a near miss to join Salk and Sabin after his own magnificently successful polio vaccination campaigns), I should try. I will therefore mention that in 1992 and 1993 within twelve calendar months I won three large international prizes for my work in evolution theory. They were the Wander Prize of the University of Bern, the Crafoord Prize of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Kyoto Prize of the Inamori Foundation of Japan. The Crafoord Prizes are intended to fill subject gaps between the Nobel prizes and to be equivalent to them; the Kyoto Prize series has a similar aim. The total sum I received in the year was $385,000. I also mention being the winner of the Newcomb-Cleveland award from the AAAS for my paper in Science with R. Axelrod in 1982. My first Science article, which was on sex ratios in 1967, was prominent in my citation for the Kyoto prize, and I am still thankful to the journal for the publicity it gave that paper. If you look only at the papers I have published with you, on the whole you I think you will agree that I have a good record of being ahead of my time with evolutionary truths. I suspect my record will continue with an intuition I have about the evolution and species jump made by what is now HIV-1.

In short I hope you will give the enclosed letter careful consideration.

Yours sincerely,
W. D. Hamilton