The Group banner image
 
Home | About RA | The Board | Contact Us
First Previous

Nicoli Nattrass Challenges Celia Farber, and Christine Maggiore, Robin Scovill and John Moore get Involved

Next

Introduction by Charles Geshekter

Disappearing AIDS Experts “Deadly Quackery” Authors Duck Questions and Vanish

Faced with tough questions about statements made in their June 4, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed piece “Deadly Quackery,” two very outspoken AIDS experts suddenly become silent and eventually disappear.

The correspondence between Dr Nicoli Nattrass, an economist turned AIDS activist from Cape Town, South Africa, Dr John Moore, an AIDS researcher at Cornell University Hospital in New York, and Christine Maggiore began when journalist Celia Farber forwarded Maggiore, the subject of her June 8, 2006 LA City Beat cover story, an angry email sent by Nattrass accusing Farber of variety of transgressions.

When Maggiore responds to Nattrass’ letter to Farber, a series of email exchanges begin between Nattrass and Maggiore that culminate in a bizarre appeal to Maggiore to repent her “denialist” ways and join the AIDS orthodoxy.

Moore appears toward the end only to disappear without explaining what evidence he has for his bold statement to the New York Times that Maggiore “gave birth to an HIV infected daughter” when Maggiore and her attorneys have uncovered no such evidence after many months of inquiry.

“John Moore, a physician in New York, and Nicoli Nattrass, an economist in South Africa, neither of whom ever had access to the medical records of Christine’s daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, in Los Angeles, exhibit recklessly unprofessional dishonesty and unbridled pomposity in making public comments on the cause of Eliza Jane’s death. Their actions constituted the absolute deadliest of quackery.”

– Dr. Charles Geshekter, professor of African History, California State University, Chico

June 4, 2006 – John Moore and Nicoli Nattrass

A copy of a New York Times Op-Ed can be found at aidstruth.org/deadly-quackery.php

June 6 – Robin Scovill

Letter to the Editor, New York Times
Re: Deadly Quakery by John Moore and Nicoli Nattrass (Op-Ed, June 4, 2005)
By using the death of my three year-old daughter to encourage adherence to the HIV paradigm, Moore and Nattrass violate their own standard of sticking to established facts. There is no laboratory evidence that my daughter tested HIV positive, manifested a ‘viral load’ or had a reduced CD4 count, despite numerous requests for such information from attorneys.
To use our tragedy as a promotion for AIDS awareness requires denial of other inconvenient truths: after a decade of latex-free relations with my HIV positive wife, I register HIV negative; although exposed to the same ‘risk factors’ as his deceased sister – no in utero AIDS drugs, a vaginal birth and breastfeeding – our son tests HIV negative; and after living 14 years without any medication and through the most devastating experience a mother can endure, Christine remains inexplicably healthy.
As with all things AIDS, full disclosure of the facts raises far more questions than answers.
Robin Scovill

June 10 – Nicoli Nattrass

Dear Celia,

As a journalist, you should know that it is important to cite sources and arguments correctly. Yet in your recent article in LA City Beat you:

  1. Ignore the fact that I co-authored the New York Op Ed with John Moore; and
  2. Claim that the Op Ed argues that Eliza Jane died of a treatable AIDS infection (we say nothing about whether it was treatable - the point was simply that Eliza Jane died of AIDS).

You have a reputation as a feminist, yet you appear to assume that my role in the Op Ed was irrelevant. Was this sexism on your part, or were you so blinded by hatred for John that you couldn't see past his name?

I am also surprised that you show little concern for Eliza Jane. Does her plight (being killed by her mother's refusal to protect her from a deadly virus) not deserve your attention too - or are you so bound up with promoting your AIDS denialist agenda that her tragedy is forgotten in your dogged defence [of] the mother?

I live and work at the epicentre of the global AIDS epidemic. I have seen too many funerals of children killed by AIDS. The introduction of mother to child transmission prevention in the local African township was probably the single most important intervention in the lives of women: they no longer have to face the horror of watching their children die. Surely this is something to be celebrated, not undermined?

Don't you think that in the interests of common decency and humanity you should stop promoting dangerous and incorrect views about AIDS and AIDS treatment? I know it is hard to say 'I was wrong, antiretrovirals can save lives' - but protecting your ego is not worth the death of a single child.

 

Dr. Nicoli Nattrass

[Dr. Nicoli Nattrass is Professor in the School of Economics and Director of the AIDS and Society Research Unit at the University of Cape Town]

June 16 – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr Nattrass,
Celia Farber forwarded me your recent message regarding her report in LA City Beat on the death of my daughter Eliza Jane (A Daughter’s Death, A Mother’s Survival).
I wonder why you assume the article's omission of your name is Celia's fault and is based on either sexism or hatred. Editorial errors can and do occur in even the most prestigious publications and often have nothing to do with authors.
Your admonishment to Celia on the "importance of citing sources and arguments correctly," rings somewhat hollow when, at least in the case of my daughter, you and Dr Moore appear to have done neither. The proclamation that Eliza Jane was "killed by her mother's refusal to protect her from a deadly virus" is incorrect and without source; there is no evidence to date showing my daughter tested HIV positive, manifested a "viral load" or had a diminished T cell count.
Since the absence of this important data was highlighted in Celia's report, does your letter suggest HIV-related labs markers are no longer necessary for making a diagnosis of AIDS? Has the United States adopted the Bangui definition of AIDS since my daughter's passing?
When you write with answers to the above, perhaps you can also explain another vexing situation: how does Eliza Jane's eight year-old brother, raised in the same manner as his sister, test HIV negative, along with my husband and partner of 10 years with whom I've had normal, latex-free relations?
In the meantime, please note that no one in my family or in Celia's article celebrates death, wishes to undermine health, or is spreading "dangerous views." Instead, we raise unanswered questions, examine incongruous claims and unfounded assumptions in search of greater understanding about AIDS–and always with the hope that someone from among the burgeoning ranks of HIV proponents will calmly and politely provide answers and references.
Do you think "in the interests of common decency and humanity" that you and/or Dr Moore would engage in respectful exchange with scientists, doctors, journalists and HIV positives seeking to unravel persistent mysteries surrounding HIV and AIDS? If so, let's arrange a meeting here or in South Africa with the goal of putting aside prejudices and establishing productive dialogue. I think we could all learn a lot from each other.
Looking forward to an affirmative and illuminating reply,

Christine Maggiore

June 17 – Nicoli Nattrass

Dear Christine,

As you know from our Op Ed in the New York Times, John Moore and I are critical of AIDS denialists. We are particularly concerned about those who, by virtue of being in positions of authority (be they politicians like Thabo Mbeki, or parents, like yourself) are able to harm others as a result of their rejection of the vast body of AIDS science. HIV-positive individuals are of course entitled to choose not to take antiretroviral medication - even if sick enough to need it - and are entitled to practice consensual unsafe sex as long as their sexual partner is aware of the risks involved. Being adults, they are entitled to gamble with their own lives. But gambling with the lives of children? That is another matter entirely.

Gambling is the right word here because mother-to-child-transmission prevention (MTCTP) is all about reducing the risk of a mother infecting her child. Not all children of HIV-infected mothers become HIV-positive. Depending on the context, the available studies suggest that about a quarter to a third of HIV-positive pregnant women are likely to transmit the virus to their infants. Your first child, Charlie (who I am glad to hear is HIV negative), was one of the lucky ones. Eliza-Jane, unfortunately, was not. I know that this is a very hard and painful lesson for you to accept, but if you had participated in a MTCTP program, the risk of Eliza Jane becoming infected would probably have fallen to less than 2% and the chances are very good that she would be alive today.

Which brings me to the heart of the problem: your rejection of orthodox AIDS science. I am not a scientist, so it is inappropriate for me to debate you, or anyone else, about AIDS science. I have, however, attempted to educate myself as much as possible on AIDS science, and in the process have developed an enormous respect for the scientific advances that have taken place in this field - especially in the past few years. We now know a lot more about how HIV undermines the immune system and why, for genetic reasons, some people are more susceptible to the virus than others. For useful summaries of AIDS science and recent articles, see: aidstruth.org/hiv-aids-science.php.

We have also learned that antiretrovirals (for all their limitations and side effects) extend life significantly. For two recent papers, see Walensky et al (2006) and Smit et al (2006) - references and weblinks provided below. When you reach the stage when HIV has undermined your immune system sufficiently to start causing you serious health problems, I sincerely hope that you start taking antiretroviral therapy. By all accounts, you are a good mother to Charlie, and it would be sad for him to lose you unnecessarily early. Three of the survey fieldworkers who work in my research centre started antiretroviral treatment in the past two years and they are all doing very well - and one of them even gave birth to a (HIV-negative) child. This is all great cause for celebration and hope in this horrible epidemic (as is evident in the book I sent you on Friday).

But while there are treatment options for people living with AIDS, preventing HIV infection in the first place ought to be our primary goal. In Africa, where I live and work, MTCTP is very important. A recent study from Uganda showed that most infants infected by their mothers died before the age of two (Heena et al, 2006). As you know, burying a child has to be the most painful thing in the world. Several of the women who work for me have had to go through this frightful experience. I would like to see this happen less often - and it would be great if you could help us do this by supporting MTCTP. You would be a powerful voice if you joined us, and it would help, I think, you come to terms with Eliza Jane's death.

But for you to start down this road, you need to take the hard, but necessary, step of accepting that HIV was the underlying cause of Eliza Jane's death. I know that Al-Bayati has questioned the Coroner's report on this, but his arguments have been thoroughly rebutted. I understand that Al-Bayati has provided you with a story which enables you to cling on to the hope/belief that HIV was not implicated in Eliza Jane's death. But, as Bennett points out, this story is a 'house of cards that requires multiple, dubious, unsupported claims to be in effect in order to make logical sense'. What he is saying, in other words, is that an honest, reasonable and scientific assessment of the evidence points compellingly to HIV as the underlying cause of her death. I wish the courage to face up to this truth, and to do the right thing from now onwards.

Yours sincerely,

 

Nicoli Nattrass

REFERENCES

  • Heena, B., Godfrey, M., Wabwire-Mangen, F., Serwadda, D., Lutalo, T., Nalugoda, F., Sewankambo, N., Kiduggavu, M., Wawer, M. and R. Gray. 2006. "Mortality in HIV-Infected and Uninfected Children of HIV-Infected and Uninfected Mothers in Rural Uganda", in Journal of AIDS, vol.41, no.4: 504-508.
  • Smit, G., Geskus, R., Walker, S., Sabin, C., Couthino, R., Porter, K., Prins, M., and the CASCADE Collaboration. 2006. "Effective Therapy has Altered the Spectrum of Cause-Specific Mortality following HIV Serocoversion", in AIDS, 20(50):741-9, March 21.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=16514305&dopt=Abstract
  • Walensky, R., Paltiel, D, Losina, E., Mercincavage, L, Achackman, B., Sax, P., Weinstein, M., and Freedberg, K. 2006. "The Survival Benefits of AIDS Treatment in the United States", in Journal of Infectious Diseases, 2006: 194:11-19.
    journals.uchicago.edu/JID/journal/issues/v194n1/35845/35845.html?erFrom=1051591522556139046Guest

June 18 – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr Nattrass,
At long last, here is my reply to your below referenced email, point by point in the order in which your statements appear: You wrote: “Your first child, Charlie (who I am glad to hear is HIV negative), was one of the lucky ones. Eliza-Jane, unfortunately, was not. I know that this is a very hard and painful lesson for you to accept...”
What’s hard for me to accept is that we have only “luck” to explain why my constant partner of 10 years tests HIV negative or why my son who was not exposed to AIDS drugs in utero, born vaginally and breastfed also tests negative. Is there not a more cogent explanation than good fortune?
More importantly, since we have no laboratory evidence from the coroner or the coroner’s lab that our daughter tested HIV positive or had a viral load, upon what basis do you and Dr Moore claim she was “infected?” Do you and Dr Moore have information that my husband and I and our attorneys do not?
You wrote: “[I] have developed an enormous respect for the scientific advances that have taken place in this field - especially in the past few years.”
As far as I know, there have been no advances that 1) demonstrate how HIV actually causes AIDS; 2) have produced an HIV test that does not rely on surrogate markers, that has been validated by the direct isolation of HIV from persons who test antibody or RNA/ DNA positive, and is approved by the US FDA for the specific intended purpose of diagnosing infection with HIV; 3) include drug studies that compare HIV positive taking anti-HIV meds with those who do not and show clinical health benefits and increased survival among those taking anti- HIV medications.
If you know of any material that evidences the above mentioned, I would be very glad to update myself and to rethink my conclusions accordingly.
You wrote: “John Moore and I are critical of AIDS denialists.”
Upon what basis do you and John Moore decide who is an “AIDS denialist?” What qualifies me to receive this title? Is anyone who raises questions about AIDS science or medicine an “AIDS denialist?” What is the difference between a critical thinker and a “denialist?” A probing scientist and a “denialist?”
You wrote: “When you reach the stage when HIV has undermined your immune system sufficiently to start causing you serious health problems, I sincerely hope that you start taking antiretroviral therapy.”
In 1992, I was told I would become ill within five years of testing positive and that I should take medication to prevent this. I am now in my 14th year with no medications and no health problems. How long do you suppose I might expect to continue on this way?
You wrote: “Three of the survey fieldworkers who work in my research centre started antiretroviral treatment in the past two years and they are all doing very well - and one of them even gave birth to a (HIV-negative) child. This is all great cause for celebration and hope in this horrible epidemic...”
How do you measure “doing well”–clinical health, lab markers?
I know a great number of HIV positive women who have given birth to HIV negative children without taking anti-HIV meds. The common factors among them are natural good health prior to testing positive, excellent nutrition, regular use of vitamin supplements, regular exercise, no use of AIDS meds, prescription drugs or street drugs, no smoking or drinking. Why are their experiences not “cause for celebration and hope” for a healthy, low cost alternative to toxic drugs whose long- term effects on mother or child remain unknown?
The latest studies I’ve seen indicate only a slight difference (less than 2%) in outcomes (as measured by HIV status of the child) in mothers who take Nevirapine and those using nothing, and no information on clinical health outcomes of their children, especially long-term. If you have studies from the medical literature that can provide further clarification on this topic, I would be very interested in having a look.
You wrote: “A recent study from Uganda showed that most infants infected by their mothers died before the age of two.”
Did this study use matched cohorts of HIV negative mothers and children with similar health risks and control for variables? If so, how did the children of these mothers fare in comparison?
You wrote: “…it would be great if you could help us…by supporting MTCTP. You would be a powerful voice if you joined us, and it would help, I think, you come to terms with Eliza Jane’s death.”
Since I have no indication that my daughter tested HIV positive and there are a number of unanswered questions with regard to her autopsy report, I first need to “come to terms” with the missing data and explanations before I consider a change in my activities.
For example, Eliza Jane’s autopsy found “no inflammation of the lungs” and the universal definition of pneumonia is “inflammation of the lung caused by disease;” she had no symptoms of pneumonia or immune suppression according to her medical records; her medical and school records show nothing but good health; the EMTs who came to our house treated her for cardiac arrest, not respiratory failure; the autopsy shows no physical signs she lacked oxygen and does not explain the manner of death (a coroner is required to explain cause and manner of death–we have only an alleged cause that does not match symptoms observed by three medical doctors, that conflicts with hospital and RMT records and the autopsy itself).
Since you and Dr Moore state with such certainty that my daughter was “infected at birth” in your Op-Ed piece and that her death was preventable, I assume you must have some evidence for those claims. If so, please help me “come to terms” by forwarding this evidence as soon as possible.
You wrote: “Al-Bayati has provided you with a story which enables you to cling on to the hope/belief that HIV was not implicated in Eliza Jane’s death.”
Again, you speak as if you or someone you know has lab evidence that I do not. Do you? Do they? Please reply.
Al-Bayati does not provide “a story,” he points out that the autopsy states “no inflammation of the lungs” which is the opposite of pneumonia and that it shows every organ in my daughter’s body–including her lungs–was engorged with fluid and that these facts were not addressed by the coroner in his conclusions. He also points out, among other facts, that my daughter’s total lymphocyte count was 10,800 which indicates the opposite of immune compromise. How do you explain these discrepancies?
If you knew me, you would not dare to suggest that I “cling on to hope” or improbable beliefs. You, Moore and Bennett know nothing about me except what you have read from detractors or have invented yourself.
If you want to win me to your side, show me the data, stop calling me names and quit with the uninformed assumptions and attempts to psychoanalyze me. I need facts and direct answers and eagerly await these.
Thank you,

Christine

June 19 – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr Moore,
My husband Robin Scovill sent [a] letter [See above under Robin Scovill’s June 6th posting] to the New York Times in response to your June 4 Op-Ed piece "Deadly Quackery" co-authored by Dr Nicoli Nattrass.
I have since been in engaged in a polite exchange with Dr Nattrass with regard to her comments about Celia Farber's June 8 article in LA City Beat, "A Daughter's Death, A Mother's Survival." The most recent correspondence with Dr Nattrass appears below my husband's letter to the Times.
Your comments on these letters would be greatly appreciated.
With thanks,

Christine Maggiore

June 19 – New York Times

Dear Robin Scovill:
Thank you for letting the public editor know about your concerns.
I have reviewed the June 4 Op-Ed article entitled, "Deadly Quackery," and I don't find any statements that warrant correction.
My mandate as public editor extends only to facts on the editorial and Op-Ed pages, so I don't get involved in issues of opinion. That includes decisions as to what letters to the editors to publish.
Sincerely,

Byron Calame, Public Editor
The New York Times

June 19 – Robin Scovill

Dear Mr Calame,

There are two incorrect statements presented as fact, not opinion, in the June 4 Op-Ed article "Deadly Quakery" by John Moore and Nicoli Nattrass:

  1. That my wife, Christine Maggiore, "campaigns against using antiretrovirals to prevent transmission of H.I.V. from mothers to children." This is presented as fact and is not true. My wife does not offer medical advice to anyone.
  2. That my daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, "was infected at birth" with HIV. This is presented as fact and is not true. We have no laboratory evidence that our daughter tested HIV positive at birth or at any time.

If Moore and Nattrass have evidence to support these alleged statements of fact, we invite them to present these to the New York Times, to us and to our attorneys. Absent evidence or references for their statements of alleged fact and in the interest of maintaining its reputation as a reliable source of news and information, I believe the New York Times should print a correction or my letter.

Thank you,

 

Robin Scovill

June 20 – Nicoli Nattrass

Dear Christine,
In the correspondence between your husband and the New York Times that you forwarded to me, there is a reference to John Moore and me perhaps having to respond to your attorneys. That makes it inappropriate for me to continue our correspondence.
I would, however, urge you to re-read my substantial earlier reply. The answers to your questions can be found in the scientific references and reports detailed there.
Regards,

Nicoli Nattrass

June 20 – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr Nattrass,
There is no need for concern or a cessation in correspondence. Our attorneys is copied on the correspondence to the New York Times as a matter of record and the request for documentation was to the New York Times, not to you or Dr Moore. You were copied as a matter of courtesy. It is the responsibility of the Times to make certain their content is accurate and correct, not yours, and as you might imagine, our attorney needs to be aware of what claims are made about me and my daughter in major media outlets.
With this explanation to reassure you, I look forward to your replies to the three questions* originally posed in my first letter to you, and to your comments and data with regard to the point by point response I sent June 19 to your most recent email. I especially want to know what information you and Dr Moore have about my daughter’s labs.
I shall await a reply from you on this important subject, prepared to rethink my conclusions should what you send convince me that is the right thing to do.
Thank you,
Christine
* 1) Since the absence of [an HIV positive test result for my daughter] was highlighted in Celia’s report, does your letter suggest HIV-related labs markers are no longer necessary for making a diagnosis of AIDS? Has the United States adopted the Bangui definition of AIDS since my daughter’s passing?
2) How does Eliza Jane’s eight year-old brother, raised in the same manner as his sister, test HIV negative, along with my husband and partner of 10 years with whom I’ve had normal, latex-free relations?
(I’m hoping for a more scientific answer than that they are “lucky.”)
3) Do you think “in the interests of common decency and humanity” that you and/or Dr Moore would engage in respectful exchange with scientists, doctors, journalists and HIV positives seeking to unravel persistent mysteries surrounding HIV and AIDS?

June 21 B – John Moore

Dear Ms Maggiore,
Like Dr Nattrass, I have no comment to make on any medical/scientific issue that involves your attorneys. In addition, Roberto Giraldo was foolish enough to accidentally cc Dr Nattrass on an email to you recently, instructing you on what questions you should ask Dr. Nattrass. Giraldo’s folly confirmed what we already suspected: That we would not be communicating with you as an individual, but instead with the RA group hierarchy, and of course also, indirectly, with your attorneys in relation to the pending criminal case against you in Los Angeles. I am simply not prepared to do either of those things, so this correspondence is at an end.
John Moore.

June 22 A – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr. Moore,
You became involved in this matter, legally and publicly, via the statement made in your Op-Ed piece. Your claim about my daughter is the primary issue; your comments on my exchanges with Dr Nattrass are secondary to that, but would be appreciated as she did not answer many of my questions and concerns.
The RA group’s interest in the aborted exchange with Dr Nattrass is a distraction, and the notion that you do not want to become involved in our legal case reads like an excuse to avoid the unanswered question: Do you or Dr Nattrass have evidence that provides substantiation for the claim you made to millions of New York Time readers that my daughter was “infected at birth?”
Communication with me early on might have prevented you and Dr Nattrass from making a statement to millions of New York Time readers that, to date, has no basis in fact. As far as our family and our attorneys know, my daughter did not test HIV positive, manifest a viral load or show a diminished T cell count. Communication with me now may prevent your further involvement our legal issues.
Dr Moore, if you cannot or will not answer the questions I posed to Dr Nattrass, at least answer to me, my family, and our attorneys: What evidence do you have for your public declaration that my daughter was “infected at birth?”
Thank you,
Christine Maggiore

June 22 B – John Moore

Ms Maggiore,
You need to read two things: First, my email below that says I am not prepared to communicate with you on any legally sensitive matter, pending the resolution of the criminal case against you in Los Angeles. Second: Our Op-Ed, from you which you persistently misquote. Any further emails from you will not be responded to in any form.
John Moore

June 22 C – Christine Maggiore

Dear Dr Moore,
You are correct. I apologize. The exact statement you and Dr Nattrass made to the New York Times is, “…Maggiore gave birth to an HIV infected daughter, Eliza Jane.”
With the precise wording of your claim established, will you please provide substantiation for it? As noted in the LA City Beat article and in previous communications with you and Dr Nattrass, at this time, we have no laboratory evidence showing that Eliza Jane was “HIV infected.”
If you are in possession of a positive HIV antibody test and/or a DNA/RNA assay that bears my daughter‚s name, you are involved in the investigation of her death and the legal matters connected to it. If instead, your statement is based on an uninformed assumption, your name should not be brought to the attention of investigators and no further communication is necessary.
Please let us know if you and Dr Nattrass made your statement to the New York Times based on access to or possession of medical records that my family and our attorneys have been denied.
In the meantime, I will seek answers for the other outstanding questions brought up in exchanges with Dr Nattrass from those within the AIDS community prepared to dialogue on the issues you raise. Please note that I will continue to share the content of such exchanges with Dr Roberto Giraldo, other members of the RA group and the general public at my discretion.
With further apologies for the misquote of your statement,
Christine Maggiore

June 22 D – Robin Scovill

[To John Moore, cc Nicoli Nattrass]
Yawn.
Another typical “expert” response…Anything to avoid facing the facts.
Shame on you, John Moore, and your writing partner whose name I can’t remember.
Sincerely,
Robin Scovill

Waiting…

To date there has been no further communications from the New York Times, Nicoli Nattrass or John Moore.

© Copyright May 18, 2009 by Rethinking AIDS.