Book Review

Fear of the Invisible: An Investigation of Viruses and Vaccines, HIV and AIDS by Janine Roberts. Impact Investigative Media Productions, Bristol, UK, 2008-9; 301 pages, ISBN 978-0-9559177-2-1, paper, $19.95.

Some areas just seem to polarize people's thinking.  Religion and political/economic ideologies spring to mind, but public health and medical treatment policies often induce equally strong reactions.  That will be the case with this book.  In 1994 the author, an Australian investigative reporter and documentary maker, received a request to look into the safety of vaccines from a parent whose child had become chronically ill after participating in the UK's 1994 universal measles-rubella vaccination mandate for those 5 to 15 years old. She had not looked into this field before, having concentrated on racism toward Australian aboriginals, blood diamonds, and various BBC documentaries, and she had no expectation of finding anything noteworthy. But the more she scrutinized vaccines, virology, and eventually HIV/AIDS, the more dismayed she became by what she discovered.  This book brings together her research told as an unfolding investigation, and while the information is available in scientific and public health circles it is rarely shared with the public. She documents her findings extensively, even quoting controversial documents by inserting photocopies of the material so as not to be accused of fudging the data. Perhaps the most disturbing finding is how in this area public health and government officials have lied and continue to lie to the public in order to preserve programs or save face.  For example, she attended health conferences where, once most of the press had left after the opening remarks, scientists and officials talked frankly about the dangers of various vaccines and the problems of various programs.  (The transcripts of these meetings are available.) But at the press conferences afterwards, all was smoothed over with reassuring talk, and on more than one occasion she was asked not to publish what she had heard because it might "panic" the public or make them "not take their meds." 

Her examination of the safety of measles vaccine, and findings of possible contamination by avian viruses, led her to the polio vaccine.  One point is whether the Simian viruses it contains are dangerous (it is grown in a medium made from the kidneys of wild Indian and African monkeys) and whether it in fact has been effective.  Her research then turned to AIDS, an area of science where there are great differences of opinion among equally prestigious scientists, but where one side is unable to publish its research or receive any funding.  In fact, those dissenting from the current paradigm are vilified in the press and publishers who might wish to air both sides of the debate are intimidated with threatening letters (Roberts publishes the letter from a prominent scientists that a magazine received when it was planning to publish one of her articles that raised questions about the current paradigm). Her evidence is compelling: the well-known (but little mentioned today) falsifying of the basic scientific paper connecting AIDS with HIV virus, the ever shifting definitions of AIDS in the West (the epidemic has grown largely by expanding the definition of AIDS, so that now a person with no symptoms who tests HIV negative can be diagnosed with AIDS and put on retroviral drugs), and the completely different standard of AIDS diagnosis used in Africa.  These diagnostic criteria are available on the World Health Organization and US and UK national health organization websites.

Whatever one's views on public health policy, vaccines, or HIV/AIDS, this is a thought-provoking, and indeed a disturbing, read.  – Sally Dougherty (April 2010)   

Book Reviews