Wednesday, January 20, 2010

See Brent Leung's HOUSE OF NUMBERS; ignore the fundamentalist backlash


When HOUSE OF NUMBERS -- Brent Leung's excellent documentary about AIDS and HIV -- opened for a week's run last year, it was savaged in a particu-
larly nasty review in The New York Times.  When, last September, Trust
Movies read that review, he immedi-
ately concluded that the film was not worth his time.  Big mistake.  He should have read between the lines.  Because Mr. Leung (shown below) questions the "received wisdom" and the medical/political establishment party-line on AIDS and HIV, the Times reviewer (as well as another in the British medical journal Lancet only this month), suggests that Mr. Leung will next turn his attention to questioning the existence of gravity.

To begin with, any scientist (or even a well-informed layman) who imagines that the law of gravity and what is known about AIDS are remotely comparable in quality or quantity should turn in his degree or give up his day job (and perhaps become a Times reviewer!).  Both reviews also claim that House of Numbers is a forum for AIDS "denialists."  I do not think so.  The documentary never denies the existence of AIDS or HIV. But it questions -- and question hard -- various held-as-gospel concepts about HIV and AIDS.

What is the diagnosis for having AIDS, and what symptoms does this diagnosis include?  Don't ask.  Or if you do, be sure to note what country you're visiting at the time. (Funny that neither of the above nasty reviews tackle this question -- or cogently address any of Leung's primary points.) Diagnoses have changed so over time and over country that this becomes one of Leung's major problems with how AIDS and HIV are perceived.  AIDS testing is another.  The filmmaker goes to South Africa, takes an AIDS test from a sweet young woman who should probably not be giving the test, or at least should be offering better information, and while in that ex-Apartheid place, looks into the major poverty there and wonders, as do many South Africans, some of whom we hear from (see below), that perhaps there is some mixing-up going on between AIDS diagnoses and immune systems racked by malnutrition and disease.

Leung does not insist that one condition equals the other -- something that both the Lancet and Times reviews above say he does; the Lancet review also says that House of Numbers claims that there is no connection between HIV and AIDS. It does not.  Instead it offers up the possibility of co-factors -- a damaged immune system due to poverty or drug use (doctor-prescribed or recreational). Yet neither review mentions the co-factor theory (which has been around for some time now.)

Approaching 70, TrustMovies predates the AIDS epidemic.  He saw it happen here in New York City and has seen numerous friends, acquain-
tances, sexual encounters and one full-time lover fall to the disease.  He's followed the ins-and-out of the official story and has from time to time questioned it -- as have many others who some-
times have had problems accepting what the medical establishment and drug companies are telling us.  This does not make us AIDS denialists, but we do believe that there is much more to the story that is being told. And we wonder, as does Mr. Leung and some of his interviewees (one of  which is shown above), why so little funding is given over to any theories other than those of the toe-the-line establishment?  Instead, money and research goes to prop up what seems like a faulty-from-the-start theory, full of holes, and to the drug companies, which keep pumping out a lifetime of drug therapies to those infected.

However, TrustMovies is no scientist.  So he asked an acquaintance and occasional web reviewer who is a science writer for some corroboration. Anthony Liversidge, above, founder and managing editor of Science Guardian, was happy to give it  Liversidge has also been following the AIDS/HIV story for decades and says that House of Numbers get its facts right and is, in his opinion, a trustworthy documentary.  (In fact, Liversidge covered the film
long before I did.)

I have now seen the documentary twice -- and could easily sit through it another time or two, so dense is it with information and statistics, not to mention interviews with a number of establishment and anti-establishment figures, all of whom answer Leung's questions and often dig themselves deeper and deeper into the muck. (Little wonder a number of these people are up in arms about the film; it does not make them look good.)  Leung paces his film well, and threads along his main story the smaller stories of several individuals worth hearing.  There are man-in-the-street interviews, as well those with the big boys (and girls).  It all adds up to 90 thought-provoking minutes.

My biggest question after viewing House of Numbers is why there is such an enormous backlash against it.  Were it as "wrong" as its opponents claim, they could easily contest it on a point by point basis; instead they simply keep trying to stop it wholesale -- as though it has no right to be seen and heard.  I have spoken with director Leung several times now and learned that, at screenings, groups and individuals are often lined up shouting against the movie.  Journalists originally disposed favorably toward the film post-viewing, suddenly come out against it after "a good talking to." This strikes me as censorship, which has no place in real science -- although throughout history, it is always present.

House of Numbers hints at a conspiracy between medical establishment and drug companies.  God knows there has been enough conflict-of-interest scandals in that department over the years -- from doctors hawking cigarettes in ads and TV commercials way-back-when to the more recent examples.  Celia Farber did some fine investigative reporting for Harpers some time back on the subject of AIDS drugs, and more recently in New York magazine, David France reports on what the AIDS cocktail concoction is doing to AIDS sufferers now.  AIDS drugs have always been dangerous:  AZT was toxic-unto-death; the latest batch remains toxic enough to noticeably shorten the life span and productivity of its users.

Regarding the possibility of mistaking (deliberately or otherwise) African (South and otherwise) poverty symptoms for AIDS -- as Leung and others continue to suggest --  this seems quite a legiti-
mate question.  So far as the gay community and a suppressed immune system are concerned, this connection has been on our minds since AIDS made its nasty debut in the early 1980s. Its appearance came at a time when many gay men were doing drugs that we now know suppress the immune system.  But rather than owning up and then investigating this at the time, the connection was played down so that gays' "lifestyle" could not be blamed for acquiring AIDS.  Yes, of course, there was and is enough homopho-
bia out there already, so one can understand gay leaders' reluct-
ance to admit to possible lifestyle consequences.   But, hello -- what if?  Suppressing the truth eventually comes back to bite you in the ass; by now it's little wonder so many gay posteriors are a bit raw.

From the very start AIDS research smacked of trouble.  American claims to have discovered the HIV virus were almost immediately countered by those in France (that's Luc Montagnier, above).  While the prize eventually went to both scientists/countries, suspicions were never really put to rest.  Since then so many questions have arisen regarding the virus and the disease -- its source, diagnosis, even the very existence of the virus, that -- instead of truly answering questions and looking further for missing information, the establishment instead decided to stonewall, and has continued this stance ever since -- calling the questioners everything from crazy to murderous because "denialism kills" (that's the Lancet).  I think it's time to call out the real denialists: doctors, researchers, drug companies and politicians who are unable and/or unwilling to allow dissent and questioning -- and the shrieking banshees at screenings who want to keep this film from being seen and discussed.  These are the kind of tactics indulged in by our former political administration, are they not?  Power closing rank and discrediting all disagreement.  I'm not even saying that House of Numbers is right about everything.  But it absolutely needs to be seen and argued about.  It's not the best documentary of the year by a long shot -- but it may be the most important.  



Your next chance to see the film begins this Friday, January 22, when it be screened in Portland, Oregon, at the Regal Fox Tower Stadium Ten.  Take that chance, if you're in the area. Check the film's web site for further screenings, and look for a DVD to be released later in the year.

15 comments:

Karri said...

Dear James,

Thank you for your very fair coverage of the film "House Of Numbers". Between all of the censorship and extremely biased "reviews", mostly from people who have never even seen the movie, your review is a breath of fresh air.
If you have 3 minutes, I would love for you to read about my journey "through the AIDS machine."
www.myspace.com/rethinkaids

Sincerely,
Karri Stokley

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Karri--
And I will take those few minutes to read about your "journey." Sounds interesting, so thanks for the heads-up!
--Jim

Frank said...

Good review James, sadly it shouldn't be long now before the attack drones muster to call you a "Denialist", purveyor of mass murder and any other insult they can muster. It seems to me they do not defend a scinetific theory, but defend their income streams, viscously.

Anthony Liversidge said...

Well done, very good James I am impressed. I believe your excellent review will have a good influence on truth seeking in this tortured arena. It is remarkable that a seasoned film reviewer is able to do this film justice and give it the respect it deserves.

Personally I think it is a very good documentary, taking into account the enormous problem it solved so brilliantly - how to expose the disarray of HIV/AIDS scientists and how they agree with their critics as much as each other.

Brent Leung's Socratic questioning was hugely effective in cutting through the complications caused by the attempts of these charlatans - I use the word advisedly - to defend the indefensible, which is their purported belief that AIDS is infectious and caused by HIV.

I say purportedly advisedly because as the film shows they dont entirely believe their own propaganda, which as my own site shows (http://www.scienceguardian.com)in the latest post on this tortured topic is a mess of contradictions and absurdities, capped by Luc Montagnier's admission in House of Numbers, where this man who won the Nobel last year for discovering HIV said authoritatively that anyone with a healthy immune system should throw off HIV is two or three weeks.

This admission is the high point of House of Numbers but as you link to my post reviewing House of Numbers you know that there are dozens more points made in this film which say we should no longer believe in this theory but turn to the critics (rudely referred to as "denialists" by those who strenuously propagandize for the paradigm, the ruling wisdom) for a sensible alternative which will save lives, lives which otherwise will be reliably lost to standard medication, which is producing 17000 deaths a year according to the CDC as regularly as ever.

What is so astonishing is how hard it is for laymen like us to wrap their head around the idea that the entire global medical and scientific establishment can possibly be so wrong following along with the idea that HIV causes immune collapse and that AIDS is infectious, when it is so completely contradicted by the research in the field year after year, even thought all that research assumes that it is true.

To expose this clearly and so tellingly is a feat which makes House of Numbers a truly great documentary film achievement, and I would honestly say that it really is a great film, a classic of investigative and narrative skill. In the art it professes, it is triumphant, because it shows what it exposes so well.

Any difficulty in following it is only because it is so hard for us to conceive that so many people of goodwill can be so misled that they can't replace the ideas in their head with the different corrective view.

The sad truth is people at the top of scientific fields can be quite wrong -as the Nobel prizes keep on proving year after year. Ask any of the Nobel winners what it was like when they first thought of their winning idea, and they will groan at the memory of how hard the elders of the field, invested in the old ruling idea, tried to put them down and get their revolutionary idea out of the way.

People just dont like being replaced, and they view they ideas as territory, and resist invaders!
House of Numbers captures this moment brilliantly in HIV/AIDS. It is a great scientific drama as well as informative doc.

AL said...

James, it may be of interest for your readers to see the following long comment I put up just now at a discussion comment thread at the London Times Educational Supplement site, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=409997, which summarizes the things that should tell outsiders what is wrong with the field of HIV/AIDS science, even if they hate science.

"Though this thread has attracted the usual squad of crackpots with unusual theories, vituperation on both sides, and other interferences with those who honestly seek the truth in the tortured field, it has yielded some useful evidence for onlookers as to who is right and who is wrong about the core issue, which is whether AIDS is caused by HIV and whether it is infectious.

It is neither, as the literature clearly shows and shows more clearly with every passing year, as has been exhaustively analyzed on http://www.scienceguardian.com and other sites and books for the layman on AIDS science, which are listed down the right hand margin of that site. But who to believe? Onlookers who do not have the scientific literacy to read the papers in peer reviewed journals (most people do, in fact, if they will only grasp the nettle) have to count the indirect indications they can read there, here and elsewhere. What are they?

They are 1. Defenders of the status quo such as John Moore prefer to deal with questioners by insulting them, rather than answering with reason and evidence in a reasonable tone and acting as if they were confident of their science and its truth. This aggressive defensiveness suggest powerfully that they are well aware of the weakness of their beliefs, if not fully conscious they are not scientifically validated.

2. The acceptance of the paradigm infectious-AIDS-is-caused-by-HIV and its maintenance as a public policy assumption has resulted in vast amounts of money and attention flowing to the proponents of this belief for the last 25 years.

3. Those who reject this belief are shut out of AIDS scientific funding because their mainstream colleagues will never support their grant applications, and will ostracise them, even when they are at the top of the field, Peter Duesberg being the prime example.

4. Year after year research finds more and more problems with the hypothesis and its projects fail to deliver any advance in defeating the supposed cause or curing the symptoms of AIDS on the basis of the prevailing rationale.

5. The only progress that has been made in alleviating the sufferings of AIDS patients has come from reducing the dose of the most damaging drug (AZT) given them and substituting other less harmful medications.

6. The reduction of AZT dose (now officially completely removed from authorized regimens for a couple of years or more) correlated with an extension of the lives of medicated patients but their overall death rate continues at the same level (17-24,000 annually in the US).

7. The original critiques of the HIV=AIDS paradigm by Duesberg in Cancer Research and Proceedings of the National Academy in 1987 and 1989 stand unrefuted in those journals where refutation was promised but never took place.

AL said...

8. Attempts at refutation moved to mostly non peer-reviewed locales in journals and on the Web and in books, but have never succeeded in dispensing with the many major objections first raised by Duesberg then and since.

9. No proof of HIV causing any symptoms by itself has ever been documented in any peer reviewed study among the tens of thousands of AIDS papers that now infest the literature, all of them assuming that premise.

10. Completed studies of the effects of drugs in AIDS have never contained control groups.

11. No studies designed to check whether or not HIV actually causes any symptoms have been funded, despite the editor of Science supporting a Duesberg application for experiments in that regard.

12. Absurdities in the HIV=AIDS belief system are so blatant that there have been over thirty books exposing them, many of them by lay authors who speak from experience rejecting standard medical treatment.

13. The absurdities include some which even a schoolchild should question, including the remarkable assertion, unique to HIV=AIDS, that the presence of antibodies to the cause HIV and the effective absence of HIV in the body mean that you will eventually die of the disease.

14. Though the evidence is anecdotal, those who reject standard medical treatment tend to do much better than those who accept it, even at the low doses of newer drugs now administered. Over time the former tend to stay healthy, the later tend to die. 15. Careful reading of the professional papers of AIDS researchers reveals that they question the details of their paradigm as often as their critics, John Moore being an excellent example.

16. The soon to be released film House of Numbers shows this in house uncertainty quite clearly revealed by the Director Brent Leung's Socratic questioning.

17. Research by Moore and others into AIDS palliatives and cures such as microbicides and vaccines have always failed, the latest example being Merck's abandoning their decade long vaccine effort today. Since HIV makes its own very effective vaccine (as Montagnier has said in House of Numbers, anyone with a healthy immune system will defeat HIV is two or three weeks) the effort is by definition absurd.

AL -3 said...

So what then maintains this scientific nonsense in the face of continual questioning and criticism for a quarter century?

As shown by the above article and this thread, if a small coterie of leading scientists in a field discover that a belief can be converted into a funding bonanza, they will stick to that belief through thick and thin, whether it costs other people's lives or not.

However stupid, irrational, and short of evidence it may be, and however obvious the alternative, they will fight tooth and nail to preserve it, as John Moore famously promised in his "This IS a war, there ARE no rules" remark recorded above. This attitude is standard politics inside science, one should note, and has been ever since big money has been involved, and even before.

All men of ideas treat them as territory, in whatever field, and resist incursions.

Ask any Nobel prize winner how his prize winning idea was received when he was young and new to the game, and he or she will groan at the memory of how those on top of the hill tried to kick him/her back down.

The only surprise is how the rest of humanity tends to cling just as hard to accepted mainstream beliefs, and join in the kicking of outsiders as cranks, crackpots and charlatans, as if they were social threats - which of course they are.

Be that as it may, there has never been such a blatant and enormous error in science and medicine as HIV-is-the-cause-of-AIDS, a monster marvelous to behold. It has gobbled up the lives of tens of thousands, while nearly bringing down the career of the best man in the field, Peter Duesberg, despite the quality of his papers which are easily appreciated by anybody who troubles to go and read them at duesberg.com.

Now Duesberg has regained his reputation with his bold leadership of a new field of cancer, and now that House of Numbers is being shown more and more widely and will soon be on DVD, and now that John Moore has made the very unwise decision to exhibit his empty bag of tricks in public at every opportunity in threads such as this one, perhaps this will now change.

But given that this is a scientific Worldcom of tens of billions globally, don't hold your breath.

And yes, Virginia, Gallo's original papers were based on lab work subsequently revealed to be highly questionable if not fraudulent.

But that is not the issue, the issue is that they never demonstrated that HIV was a probable cause of AIDS. If anything, HIV supposedly being found in too few samples, they demonstrated it was not a viable candidate.

The entire scientific belief system arose out of evidence for the opposite.

The fact that it continues to kill people whose health could well be saved by rational treatment doesn't seem to bother John Moore, who will allow outside public review only over his own dead body. It is hard to see this as a scientific approach.

Miss Eco Glam said...

Absolutely fantastic review of this film I am yet to see but already know that the AIDS myth is a huge pack of lies.......More people need to read reviews like yours and just really give it a chance to think 'what if'..............well done James

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Miss Eco Glam. All myths, I guess, are lies, of course. But they tend to serve a purpose, don't they? Your comment makes me further wonder what purpose(s) are served here? While I am not ready to go so far as to call AIDS a myth, there do seem to be some questionable things about the way it is being served up to us. I hope, as you say, that more people will now get the chance to see the film and just keep questioning -- until we get some better answers.

James van Maanen, said...

And to Frank, above -- I will not be surprised if the insults start appearing. We shall see.... I expect, in most cases, that the view and income stream stem from the same source.

James van Maanen, said...

And, thanks to Anthony Liversidge, whose several long comments provide a point-by-point, CAN-YOU-REBUT-THIS? agenda that strike me as complete enough -- along with Leung's documentary -- to provoke the beginning of an overhaul in how AIDS is defined and treated. Of course, it has only been a quarter-century now that many of theses same questions have been asked. Well, science does move rather glacially. On the other hand, the glaciers are currently melting. We'll see...

Anthony L said...

Thanks James, though let's note that no one has claimed AIDS is a myth. What critics say is that it is not caused by HIV (and so HIV tests are not a guide to what will happen to your immune system) and it is not infectious, according to the mainstream research of 25 years so far.

What they say is that it is drugs in big city gay night life in the US which cause AIDS to appear 30 years ago, and that is why it has never spread into a heterosexual epidemic.

In Africa, it is other serious problems such as malnutrition and starvation, lack of hygiene, and myriad African diseases such as TB. The tragic irony, critics say, is that relabelling any of these problems "AIDS" and administering ARVs to cure them misses out on giving the treatment they really merit, which does include better food and clean water in Africa.

Thus, the female doctor who became the Health Minister of South Africa and said that beetroot and other foods which boost the immune system, was called a crackpot in the press inlcuding the new York Times.

Yet she was right, if the critics are right, and those who take the AIDS drugs would be far better off with her prescription. That is what is so interesting about House of Numbers, since it powerfully suggests that much of African AIDS is a matter of lack of good food and clean water, and the Nobel prize winner Luc Montagier says exactly that - on camera!

No wonder the defenders of the status quo in AIDS are violently hostile to this film, which most of them show no sign of actually having seen.

Prepare to repel boarders!

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Anthony. My "myth" comment was in reference to Miss Eco Glam's comment regarding the AIDS myth -- by which she means, I hope, "myths about AIDS," rather than that AIDS itself is a myth -- which none of us believe, I hope.

Repel "boarders"? You mean like those zombies who attack in Night of the Living Dead. Gosh, I hope not...

Tomás said...

James, I have been apart of the "HIV disagreement movement" for over 6 years now. Technically, "HIV"+ for 13 years, I tested positive in 1997 and was on the AZT/&(Combivir) & Viramune regimen until I moved to a different county in Florida 2003, then I was called in, in reference to an indeterminate lab result.

I was asked to re-test for "HIV" or be let go from it all..

it has been six years since I stopped the horrid drugs and have been given a clean bill of health.
I have taken more stigma as an AIDS denialist than an HIV+ person along the way.

In October of 2009, just a month before The Rethinking AIDS conference in Oakland California, I was treated for an Ear Infection(from the beach waters) and Bronchitis which had developed later. What was nice about the hospital staff that treated me as a person HIV+ with bronchitis was the fact that they didn't call it "AIDS", and if more and more hospitals would simply unlink the old diseases that are called "AIDS" the current defintion fails. This is the myth.

Am I an AIDS Denyalist? yes. Those doctors could have suggested AZT or some other chemotherapy drug for the Bronchitis diagnosis.

The C.D.C. construct of AIDS is deceptive, because it induces toxic feelings that force people to give up, once a person realizes that AIDS does exist as a category construct and not a disease then the whole idea of AIDS, everything we are told about AIDS is shattered.

Thanks James for your review of Brent's film, you can also read my story at LivingWithoutHIVdrugs.com or the HON Feedback page Tomas B.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Tomás. I have to admit that I did not pay all that much attention to this whole controversy until I saw House of Numbers. Since then, the more I learn, the foggier seems the connection between HIV and AIDS. Not that it isn't THERE, but that perhaps it is not so clear and obvious as we have been told.

Sometimes it seems like, to use probably a poor analogy, you want to get from one city to another. The cities are right next to each other but a huge, un-swimmable river lies between them. It should be possible to get from one city to the next but the powers-that-be have not thought to build a bridge (which you could think of as more and better research: the co-factor thing). Instead they tell people to just swim across (take the drugs!). And the populace does just that. Some people get further across than others. But nobody makes it to the opposite shore.

Anyway, I will indeed go read your story at LivingWithoutHIVdrugs.com (or the House of Numbers feedback page). Thanks for your own feedback here!