By: Myles Power Edited by: Hannah & Peter
One thing I have noticed about all conspiracy theorists where evidence is concerned, is that they all have an infantile view on what actually counts as evidence. They seem to believe that getting something on film is the only way to truly prove that something exists, or that something happened. I have previously talked about this phenomenon in my 9/11 mini series, where I discussed the lack of footage of the collapse of WTC7 from the south, the Pentagon attack, and Flight 93's crash. What’s interesting about these examples, and others regarding lack of footage, is that they tend to be the cornerstones of conspiracy theories. How many times have you seen someone in the YouTube comment section saying that an airplane did not fly into the Pentagon because there is no footage of it (even though there actually is)? To them, it does not matter if you have DNA evidence, metallurgical examinations, computer simulations etc, that contradict their theories and back up the “official story”. If you don’t have it on film then it does not count to these people. It’s almost as if they have a rule to dismiss all evidence that is beyond their grasp of understanding.
Brent Leung, the director, producer and star of the AIDS denialist propaganda piece known as ‘House of Numbers’, also believes that the only form of evidence that we have for the existence of something is to get it on film. In this article I am going to discuss how Brent misleads the viewer into thinking there is doubt in the scientific community as to whether or not HIV exists.
The movie stars the fabulously named Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, who works at the Biophysicist Department of Medical Physics at the Royal Perth Hospital. It was very strange that the documentary would give us the name of Eleni’s employer. I understand why it would give similar information for other scientists in the documentary who have an academic appointment and who are representing their institution on a global stage, but Eleni is only a lab tech (not that there is anything wrong with that). She has an undergraduate degree in nuclear physics, and her duties at the hospital are to test people for sensitivity to UV radiation. She has never been involved with research into HIV/AIDS at the hospital, nor does the hospital support her views on HIV/AIDS. In fact the Royal Perth Hospital executive director (Philip Montgomery) has told her that she is not allowed to use any hospital resources for her “research” or allowed to link her private “research” in any way to the hospital. Yet here she is linking herself to the hospital to try and claw at some credibility.
Eleni is a member of The Perth Group (an AIDS denialist group based in Perth) who testified at the appeal of a HIV-positive man in 2006-2007. This man had been convicted with three counts of endangering life through having unprotected sex without informing his partners of his infection. Eleni was one of the people who told the court that the man should be acquitted because she believed the existence of HIV had not been proven. Her evidence was thrown out of court, with the judge adding that Eleni is not qualified to give expert opinions about the existence or nature of HIV. Yet here she is two years later telling us that at the moment we cannot prove the existence of HIV. “We do not say that HIV does not exist. What we say is that at present, available data does not prove the existence of HIV.” ……….O RLY?!?!
Eleni and Brent do a good job of giving the impression that only a few people are working on HIV/AIDS research, that their work is never questioned and there is not enough data on HIV. In reality nothing could be further from the truth. HIV/AIDS research is not the work of just one or two scientists, but thousands upon thousands. Science is also a cutthroat industry, and if you find an error in someone else’s research, you mercilessly go after them. Just ask any scientist how hard it is to get their research through the peer review process. Regarding Eleni’s comment, it is really hard to know where to start when someone says something so unbelievably stupid. Practically every analytical technique you can think of has been used to prove the existence of HIV and to help understand its life cycle and to look for potential new drugs. I encourage anyone who is skeptical about the amount of research on HIV to run your own SciFinder search, or at the very least run a Google Scholar search. You will be overwhelmed by the gargantuan amount of evidence for the existence of HIV. How anyone can say that the “present available data does not prove the existence of HIV” is beyond me.
Brent ignores this mountain of evidence and pretends that he is unsure about HIV’s very existence. He childishly goes on to say that the only way to prove its existence beyond all doubt is to see a picture of it. “Still unclear about the evidence of HIV’s existence I decided the best way to verify it would be to actually see it.” Now, I am an organic chemist. I have spent a large portion of my life synthesising a wide range of organic compounds. I have also performed a substantial amount of research on riboswitches and template directed synthesis and I have never ever seen one picture of anything I have made, EVER! I rely on other methods to prove I have successfully produced my product (NMR, PAGE, MALDI, etc). Seeing a picture of HIV is not the be all and end all of proof of HIV’s existence.
We are then introduced to Dr Hans Gelderblom, head of the electron microscope and image group at the Robert Koch-Institut. He is a virologist with over 30 years’ experience in electron microscopic viral diagnostics and has an interest in structure-function studies of complex viruses. He also wears a bow tie and, as we all know, bow ties are cool. Brent asked if he “thought there was any reason to question Dr Montagnier’s published images” to which Hans replies, “I have seen these publications, stamp size images. It’s a nuisance. It’s a nuisance. You do not really see much.” As Hans is saying this, we are shown transmission electron microscopy images of HIV published in the 1980s. Here, Brent has successfully made it look as if Hans has serious reservations about the published images and the technique in general. However, unknown to Brent at the time, the documentary’s YouTube channel would later publish the extended interview with Hans in 2011, which shows how deceitful and manipulative Brent is in the editing room.
In the extended interview (which is over 45 minutes long), it is very clear that Hans believes in the existence of HIV and that he is really passionate about transmission electron microscopy. He also seems like a really nice guy who goes out of his way to explain in layman’s terms what the images show and basically how to interpret them. Hans is never asked if he had any reason to question Dr Montagnier’s published images. Instead, Brent says, “Now, Prof Cursten, we interviewed said that Montagnier really didn’t, at least for him, Montagnier didn’t convince people that he had found truly a new virus because he said when he looked at the EMs that Montagnier made, it shows just one and it was not very clear. What are your thoughts on Montagnier’s publication?” Hans begins to explain why the images in the paper are so small, and also briefly refers to the limitations of the technology in the 1980s. When he says the images are a nuisance he is clearly talking about how he would like to have seen larger ones published and not that they are a problem for scientists who believe in the existence of HIV. He later goes on to say that people who are not in the field prefer to see a nice clean picture rather than one that shows information about the virus like the ones published.
Another example of Brent’s deceitfulness in the editing room is seen later on in the documentary, when Brent says he went back to Hans to “seek proof of HIVs existence in the most recent images”. We then cut to Hans reading a journal which presumably contains the most up to date images of HIV. Hans says, “Here you do not see anything about the details. But I would say it is probably a virus.” However, in the extended interview you can clearly see that Hans is reading an article called ‘The Molecular Biology of the AIDS Virus’ which a quick SciFinder search reveals was published in 1988.
The extended interview also shows that Brent had an agenda before sitting down with Hans. He is constantly trying to poke holes in his images but it is painfully obvious that Brent is out of his intellectual league. Hans has to constantly remind Brent what the transmission electron microscopy images actually show, and that HIV replication is not perfect. At one point, he also embarrassingly implies that the images of the virus can’t be correct because similar looking glycoproteins that are found on the outside of the virus are also on the outside of the infected cell.
Even if Brent was shown images that helped prove the existence of HIV (which he was) would it help him believe in the existence of HIV? No it would not. In the extended interview he talks about how he would not be able to distinguish between different viruses and therefore the images are useless to him. He also edited in a clip of Eleni in his documentary directly after Hans talks about the images of HIV, where she says, “It is one thing to look like and one thing to actually be a virus.” So what is the point Brent? What is the point of trying to find an image of an HIV particle if you are just going to dismiss it?