Friday, April 27, 2007

Perth Group lose court decision

At last - I can feel free to comment on the case of Andre Parenzee. Having watched from the sidelines and been privy to some of the behind-the-scenes chatter, from both sides, I can at last let loose.

The bottom line - for the first time the dissidents have tried to take their views into the public realm of the legal system, and argue their case to non-scientists in an attempt to bamboozle and confuse just enough to set some kind of legal precedent in their favor. There have been urban myths about a German high court saying that HIV doesn't exist (when in fact the court papers, when translated from German, actually talk about prosecuting a doctor for malpractice and clearly side with the orthodoxy). There has even been a sad, blatantly self-absorbed, fantasy novel about taking the HIV science to court and proving the denialist cause.

But you see, here is where the fantasy world of AIDS denial is forced to catch up with real life.

Take for example one of the pivotal movements of the trial - when Robert Gallo, testifying by video phone, says something about everyone knowing that HIV causes AIDS. According to the dissidents, the judge "rebukes" Gallo's arrogant testimony by saying, "Not everyone thinks that way." No wonder then that they are surprised and invoke conspiracy theory and corruption to explain the outcome of the trial.

The truth however is rather different - when the judge made those remarks he was in fact grinning, sharing a joke with Gallo that the Perth Group were outliers to the normal paradigm.

So now the judge's decision makes more sense. It is however a telling example of how the denialists misinterpret what is in front of their faces - they were reading the same court transcripts that I was after all, but I didn't get the same impression about how it went that they did. It's no wonder that as a collective they can't interpret the science correctly either.

There were other reassuring aspects to the judge's findings. As I showed repeatedly on the BMJ forums, the Perth Group lie and twist the evidence to suit them. One particular argument goes along the lines of:

PG: Montagnier didn't prove the RT came from retroviruses, it could be confused with a cellular enzyme.

Bennett: But the references YOU supply tell me the biochemical differences between this cellular enzyme and the one Montagnier found. Montagnier's original paper also states that he performed CONTROL experiments to show that it wasn't the cellular enzyme based on these biochemical differences.

PG: No he didn't.

Bennett: Yes he did, read the bloody papers.

PG: It was oxidative stress.

Bennett: No it wasn't.

PG: Yes it was. Oxidative. Woosh. [waves hands]

Bennett: Is this getting a little like Monty Python...?

The judge agreed with my own opinion of the PG.
"Justice Sulan said Ms Papadopoulos-Eleopulos, a physicist who works at the Royal Perth Hospital, relied upon opinions of others, which she often took out of context and misinterpreted"
Overall in fact, every point they made, even down to the argument that the PG are qualified to comment on HIV/AIDS science, was rebuked.
Justice John Sulan today dismissed the witnesses' testimony, saying the pair lacked credibility and were advocates for a cause rather than independent experts.
In my own mind, the only thing left to answer is why. And I still don't know that. Having interacted with them for months on a daily basis I am convinced they are either delusional or stubborn or both. I am seriously concerned that they are knowingly lying, but that's harder to prove. They display many characteristics of sheer stupidity and yet spend hours of their time overanalyzing and misinterpreting the literature, so clearly have some form of grey matter between their ears - they can at least put together some form of argument even if its entirely illogical. What's most frustrating to me is that they are completely un-educatable and refuse to listen to the facts.

I wonder if and when they ever will. I seriously doubt this will slow them down one bit in their anti-AIDS campaign.

The bottom line is that one more sad chapter in the ongoing AIDS denialist movment is closed, at least from a practical perspective. I am sure however that the dissidents will continue to tout their views and if anything use this loss as yet more evidence for an establishment conspiracy against them. Crazy.