Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero under Investigation

In a previous entry about Ruggiero called HIVforum.info takes on Italian HIV/AIDS denialist Marco Ruggiero, I explained how an Internet forum populated by HIV+ Italians and other individuals alerted me to the fact that Ruggiero, a professor at the University of Florence, not only where propagating an alternative medicine treatment for HIV/AIDS in the form a yogurt, but was also teaching elective courses containing parts that explicitly tried to teach that HIV was not the cause of AIDS.

Now, according to a Nature News article by Zoë Corbyn called Inquiry launched over AIDS contrarian’s teaching the University of Florence has launched an investigation into “the teaching activities of an academic who assisted on a course that denies the causal link between HIV and AIDS, and supervised students with dissertations on the same topic”.

I first found out about the dissertations by the students from reading the Reckless Endangerment blog written by Snout. I particularly found two articles, HIV/AIDS denialism at the University of Florence and More pseudoscholarship from the Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology especially helpful and informative.

The Nature News article continues:

The Italian university’s internal ‘special commission’ will examine the “teaching behaviour and responsibility” of molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero, a university spokesman told Nature.

The move follows a letter to the institution’s rector, Alberto Tesi, by an Italian campaign group called the HIV Forum, which represents people infected with HIV and others concerned about the disease. It calls on him to disassociate the university from the “science and activities” of Ruggiero, who, the group says, is “internationally known” for denying the widely accepted link between HIV and AIDS, and promotes a potential cure for HIV involving an enriched probiotic yoghurt for which there is no proven evidence.

Tesi replied on 29 February to announce the special commission. This “will examine whether professor Ruggiero’s conduct complies with the institutional guidelines on teaching contents and adherence to the objectives of the official curriculum of biological sciences”, says university spokesman Duccio Di Bari, who adds that any misconduct would be dealt with internally.

This is also a great example of what Internet activism potentially can result in. Besides supervising dissertations promoting HIV/AIDS denialism and promoting a treatment lacking scientific evidence, the inquiry will focus on the elective courses he handled:

The HIV Forum also refers to a short elective course, consisting of two half days, which Nature understands ran twice in the 2010/11 academic year, and which Ruggiero collaborated on, entitled: ‘The revolution of immunotherapy: prospects for the treatment of cancer and AIDS’. According to the description, the course teaches “the role of HIV in the pathogenesis of AIDS; association but not causation”.

“What devastating effects can such false teaching have on future physicians and their patients?,” asks the HIV Forum, stressing that although academic freedom is fundamental in teaching and research, it should not be misused to spread theories that they say are “lacking any scientific evidence”.

“We hope the Commission will be scientifically rigorous and we hope that it will state that the best way to protect academic freedom is to teach according to the worldwide recognized scientific method,” says a forum spokesperson.

However, Ruggiero seems confident:

Ruggiero, whose supporters have also written to the rector, says he has always operated with scientific integrity and is confident he will be able to give any explanations that the committee asks for. He draws parallels with an inquiry the University of California held two years ago into the conduct of Duesberg, which resulted in no charges.

However, as far as I can tell, Duesberg never tried to actively teach that HIV did not cause AIDS. Then comes the classic pseudoscience technique of comparing yourself with Galileo (or some other oppressed scientist):

“Florence is famous for having been the city of Galileo Galilei, the worldwide recognized symbol of the predominance of scientific freedom over dogmas. I am convinced that freedom of teaching and research is a stronghold of our university system,” he says. He adds that the student dissertations and the course were approved by the university.

However, academic freedom does not guarantee that you can teach whatever you like, even if it is not based on evidence. Would Ruggiero support the teaching that the Holocaust never happened? Or that eating gravel is required for human life to exist? Surely not. Fabio Marra couters with:

I believe that every researcher has the right to submit his or her work through peer-reviewed journals, no matter how little credibility that data may have,” Marra says. “What is not acceptable is that personal theories, that are not supported by the weight of evidence, are taught to students that do not yet have the skills to form an independent opinion and to discriminate what they are being taught from what the bulk of the literature has shown.”

The Nature News article says that the special commission will deliver its report on April 15th. I look forward to it and here are my predictions; the inquiry will conclude that it was misconduct to teach courses that stated that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and they will frown upon the dissertations. What the results will be is unclear to me, but I hope that he gets an appropriate academic punishment.

8 responses to “HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero under Investigation

  1. Dora March 22, 2012 at 17:37

    HI Emill!
    “Ruggiero seems confident”, you write.
    But not too confident if he declares: “(…) an alternative treatment with Gc-MAF is not even at the trial stage. Ruggiero himself admits it: “I am not aware of any clinical trial with Gc-MAF in Italy”. Indeed, the work of Yamamoto on which Ruggiero relies his beliefs, a 2009 study published in the Medical Journal of Virology, is merely observational and not based on any clinical trial. In addition, Ruggiero himself does not consider GcMAF currently as an alternative therapy: “I do not think right now we can speak of ‘therapy’ with Gc-MAF. However, I speculate that in the future immunotherapeutic approaches can complement traditional therapies”.(see http://www.galileonet.it/articles/4f68670072b7ab3e3000005a).

    Didn’t he say anywhere and at any occasion that HAART is poison? It seems a sort of “retractation” from our “Galileo”, doesn’t it?

    Ciao
    Dora

  2. Jake April 6, 2012 at 09:19

    This article and the critique of Professor Ruggiero’s work reminds me of a witch hunt. Many at HIV forum are obviously blind enough to see new evedence and aim to destroy anyone who scientifically challenges dogmas. So what that there is an established dogma about HIV and AIDS. There used to be a dogma about flat Earth! Only time will tell. Until HIV patients need an alternative to toxic life-threatening ART.

  3. Emil Karlsson April 6, 2012 at 13:28

    Are you really claiming that an informed and evidence-based discussion about the pseudoscientific opinions of one person reminds you of brutally executing women because of made-up accusations? Wow.

    Actually, there was never a dogma about a flat earth. The medieval Catholic Church never had the official position that the earth was flat and we have know the approximate shape of the earth since Aristotle and Eratosthenes. The latter even measures the circumference of the earth within a few % of the modern value.

    There is no “established dogma” about HIV/AIDS. Scientific conclusions about HIV/AIDS are based on solid scientific evidence.

    It is not enough to claim that (c)ART can cause harm. Water can cause harm (you can drown or become intoxicated if you drink too much, yet water is necessary for human life to exist). You have to balance that against the harm caused by HIV/AIDS and the clear benefits of (c)ART. You are performing a skewed analysis of risk, perpetuated by your denial of established science.

    Finally, if a scientist is guilty of scientific misconduct, then he should be disciplined for it, just like the violating of any other professional ethics code or law.

  4. NIK June 11, 2012 at 14:47

    … please read this and think about it:
    “I, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei of Florence, aged 70 years, tried personally by this court, and kneeling before You, most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors-General throughout the Christian Republic against heretical dep ravity, having before my eyes the Most Holy Gospels, and laying on them my own hands; I swear that I have always believed, I believe now, and with God’s help I will in future believe all that is held, preached and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But since – after having been admonished by this Holy Office entirely to abandon the false opinion that the Sun is the centre of the world and immoveable, and that the Earth is not the centre of the same and that it moves, and that I must not hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Writ – I wrote and caused to be printed a book in which I treat of the said al ready condemned doctrine, and bring forward arguments of much efficacy in its favour, without arriving at any solution: I have been prono u nced to be u nder vehement suspicion of heresy , that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the centre of the wo rld and immo veable, and that the Earth is not the centre and moves.”
    … believe by Authority … this is what the AIDS establishment want us to do!

  5. Emil Karlsson June 11, 2012 at 18:36

    Most scientific revolutionaries were eccentric mavericks, but not all eccentric mavericks are scientific revolutionaries. Some are just that, eccentric mavericks.

    The establishment wants you to accept that HIV causes AIDS based on the scientific evidence. Read up on the evidence by going here.

  6. Pingback: No Sanctions for HIV/AIDS Denialist Marco Ruggiero « Debunking Denialism

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