Three Big Books

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The role Don Francis played in the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome cover-up.

The Role Donald Francis Played in Creating the Sociopathic Science that Politically Separated Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and AIDS.
 Donald Francis, the epidemiological superstar of Shilts's book, And the Band Played On,  is also the star of the titanic HIV mistake that led to the HHV-6 spectrum catastrophe. Shilts’s unfortunate hero worship begins with this description of the man: "Although he was only thirty-eight, Dr. Don Francis was one of the most eminent experts on epidemics at the CDC, having been among the handful of epidemiologists who literally wiped smallpox off the face of the earth in the 1970s." (ATBPO p.73) Harvard retrovirologist Myron Essex thought Francis "had gained an international reputation for singular brilliance.” (ATBPO p.73) The early days among the crew that crafted the official AIDS paradigm in the early 80s was off to a great start as a rather grandiose mutual admiration society. That might have been an early telltale sign of a groupthink catastrophe in the making.

     Donald Francis had worked with Essex at Harvard on feline leukemia. No more precise nucleus of the tragic HIV mistake can be found than the moment when Francis (according to Shilts) decided that Gay Related Immunodeficiency (GRID, as it was known early on) was feline leukemia in people because both diseases were marked by weakened immune systems and opportunistic infections. Feline leukemia is not the only animal disease to behave that way, but Francis's myopic familiarity with feline leukemia would tragically keep all other more likely possibilities at bay while he pursued his pet theory under the guidance of his Harvard mentor and future Harvard AIDS millionaire.

     A sure recipe for hubristic mischief could be found in the fact that Francis seemed so very sure of himself and his intuitions. He was also very sure that other people with their competing ideas for the aetiology of the mysterious epidemic were dead wrong. According to Shilts, "Francis didn't think the gay health problems were being caused by cytomegalovirus or the other familiar viruses under discussion. They had been around for years and hadn't killed anybody. It was something new; it could even be a retrovirus, Francis said." (ATBPO p.73) Saying it “could be a retrovirus” was disingenuous because other possible causes that were not retroviral were not welcome at the table. Ironically and tragically, Shilts foolishly celebrates this determined rush to judgment: "Francis was already convinced. He quickly became the leading CDC proponent of the notion that a new virus that could be spread sexually was causing immune deficiencies in gay men." (ATBPO p.74) Both epidemiology and virology were rather quickly being carved into stone with horrific consequences.

     Donald Francis was the human embodiment of a stern, uncompromising public health message that can be heard constantly playing over the P.A. system in And the Band Played On. The questionable behavior of all other scientists at the time and what Shilts perceives as the self-destructive dithering of gay leaders is judged harshly against what Shilts considers the courageous, take-no-prisoners approach that Francis had supposedly taken during epidemics he had worked on. "Years of stamping out epidemics in the Third World had also instructed Francis on how to stop a new disease. You find the source of contagion, surround it, and make sure it doesn't spread." (ATBPO p.107) Couldn't be any simpler than that. But nobody, Shilts included, was stopping to ask if Francis was fighting the last epidemiological war rather than the new one.

     Francis had a no-nonsense approach, a manly approach, one Shilts clearly admires. While Francis will be the voice of moral testosterone throughout Band, according to Shilts’s black and white schema, it falls to the gay community to play the role of denial ridden, weak-kneed, self-destructive imbeciles. In the dark days of the early epidemic only the wise-beyond-his-years Francis sees the light and knows what to do. The Francis buzz word is "control." Dr. Donald Francis knew how to "control" epidemics. If only the dopes at the top of the nation’s AIDS effort, and the epidemics uncooperative gay victims had let him take control.

     Francis's African experiences were epidemiologically formative. He had worked on Ebola Fever in Africa in 1976 and he will now look at this new disease through Ebola-colored glasses: " . . . the disease [Ebola] was a bloodborne virus, wickedly spreading both through sexual intercourse, because infected lymphocytes were in victims' semen, and through the sharing of needles in local bush hospitals.” (ATBPO p.118) Shilts also looks at "AIDS" and public health itself through Francis’s Ebola glasses: "When it became obvious that the disease was spreading through autopsies and ritual contact with corpses during the funerary process, Dr. Don Francis, on loan to the World Health Organization from the CDC, had simply banned local rituals and unceremoniously buried the corpses. Infected survivors were removed from the community and quarantined until it was clear that they could no longer spread the fever. Within weeks, the disease disappeared as mysteriously as it had come. The tribespeople were furious that their millennia-old rituals had been forbidden by these arrogant young doctors from other continents. The wounded anger twisted their faces." (ATBPO p.118) This passage is a key to understanding the moral of And the Band Played On, and the theme Shilts also promulgated in his publicity campaign for his bestselling book. It becomes the schtick he will hector his own community with. For “tribespeople” fill in the word “gays.“ If only the government had acted, had done something, anything, sooner. But what? Clearly Shilts wanted the country, under Dr. Francis—as a kind of extra-political AIDS Czar—to go into the same emergency mode reflected in the kind of ritual-banning measures he took toward the benighted tribespeople in Africa. In a manner of speaking, in a perfect Donald Francis public health universe gay rituals (i.e. sex) would be banned, infected people would be removed from the community and quarantined. Whenever anyone will talk about the government not doing enough after Band, what will always be disingenously unsaid is what a heavy-handed government could have done if it had wanted to. In the name of doing something—anything—involving a not much loved minority, things could have gotten extremely dicey in the inconvenient Bill of Rights sense, and there is nothing about what one detects in the character of either Francis or Shilts in the book to suggest that they would have done anything other than cheer such a development on. Gay men performed many foolish, politically self-defeating acts throughout the epidemic, but applauding Shilt's silly message about the heterosexist government of a heterosexist country not doing enough, with all its dark unconsidered implications of what draconian things might have been done in the name of dealing with a public health emergency, is surely one of the most foolish. Anything done under the biased auspices of Don Francis during the early days of the epidemic, can now be appreciated as an example of an incompetent government with questionable motives doing too much too fast and using poor judgment.

     The impatient Dr. Francis considered the ideas of those at the National Institutes of Health who were looking at alternative theories like amyl nitrite or sperm as the cause of AIDS to be "ludicrous." (ATBPO p.119) Instead of suffering these fools, Francis set up his own laboratories and went to work to lay down the foundation for what would turn out to be the CDC’s greatest mistake in its history. As for gay people, like the indigenous people of Francis’s African epidemics, "Customs and rituals would have to be dramatically changed, and he knew from his hepatitis work in the gay community that customs involving sex were the most implacable behaviors to try to alter." (ATBPO p.119) Yeah, changing gay customs is like herding cats.

     Shilts portrays Francis as a man of destiny: "Don Francis viewed his life as an accumulation of chance decision that had put him in the right place at the right time.” (ATBPO p. 128) In retrospect, perhaps destiny had brought together exactly the wrong man, the wrong institution, the wrong epidemic at the wrong time to create the most perfect coalescence of misbegotten epidemiology and virology in history. Shilts swoons over the synchronicities of the Donald Francis life journey thus far: "By chance after chance, Don Francis felt he had been delivered to this moment in early March 1982, when it all fit together. The retrovirology, the cat leukemia, the experience with African epidemics, and the long work with the gay community—it all let him see something very clearly." (ATBPO p.128) Oy vey.

     Francis looked through the world through the retroviral lenses of Myron Essex. Francis had completed his doctorate on retroviruses and he was like the hammer that sees the world in terms of nails. It is a curious factoid of history that originally Francis thought that AIDS was co-factorial: Shilts reports he said, "Combine these two diseases—feline leukemia and hepatitis—and you have the immune deficiency." (ATBPO p.129) If Francis had only kept his co-factorial notion alive, there would have at least been a small chance that the HIV mistake might have corrected itself quickly rather than rolling out thirty years of hell on earth. Co-factors might have kept minds from closing

     To Francis, the conclusions were painfully obvious, and it was also clear what needed to be done. The Center for Disease Control needed "to launch some educational campaigns among gays to prevent the disease.” (ATBPO p.129) The Great White Doctor had arrived among the ignorant, indigenous gays of America. The gay "implacable" behaviors had to change. Cut to the gay versions of "twisted faces" and "wounded anger" Shilts described in Africa.

     Often when a detective makes a major wrong turn, the suspect is right there in front of him. In Francis's attempts to fulfill the destiny of his retroviral dissertation, he overlooked the most obvious viral suspect of all, the one the size of a barn that was just staring at the CDC researchers, begging to be discovered. Francis memorialized this Missed Opportunity when he himself wrote in one of the very first books on the epidemic (a collection of essays on AIDS edited by Kevin Cahill) "Blood sampling of the intravenous drug users also revealed that although many were infected with cytomegalovirus, the viral strains were different. This was strong evidence that this herpes virus, which many scientists considered a strong candidate for a causative agent, had not developed some new virulent strain.” (Cahill Book p.??) No single strain emerged, lending further weight to Don Francis's hypothesis that a new virus, not CMV was at work. If only he had wondered if there was some new DNA virus that resembled CMV in some way that was hidden in the mix, the retroviral obsession might not have ultimately ruled the day. And then of course the HHV-6 spectrum pandemic and Holocaust II might never have happened.

     Anyone who disagreed with Francis during this early period of the epidemic was considered stupid or stubborn. (This is how eras of abnormal and totalitarian science get their start in putative democracies.) We're constantly told throughout Shilts's book that Francis hoped "somebody would see how catastrophic the epidemic would become.” (ATBPO p.147) Ironic, when you consider that indeed an apocalyptic catastrophe was coming and Francis himself was actually inadvertently taking a leadership role in making the key mistakes that would help to make it happen.

     An amusing note is struck when Shilts points out that Francis wanted more labs to work on "AIDS" research because "they might get off on a bum lead and retard research at a time when people were dying." (ATBPO p.151) Francis, as it turns out, might live to see his name become synonymous with bum leads, and as far as dying is concerned, the show had only just begun.

     There is no place that Shiltsian worship of Francis wouldn't go. He even followed Francis to bed: "The dream came to Don Francis often during those long, frustrating nights in the gathering darkness of 1982. Just beyond his reach, a faint orange light was suspended, shimmering with promise. It was The Answer, the solution to the puzzle. He reached for it, stretching so he could draw the light toward him. But it drifted farther and farther out. The answer was always there before him, tantalizingly close, and still beyond his grasp. Don's wife usually awoke him at that point. His mournful groaning would disturb the kids." (ATBPO p.159) Or, perhaps, in retrospect, it was just indigestion.

     Our dreamer-scientist is portrayed as the solitary man of reason in an obstinate, irrational world: "The logical science of GRID demanded that logical steps be taken . . . or people would die needlessly. However, as would be the case with just about every policy aspect of the epidemic, logic would not be the prevailing modus operandi." (ATBPO p.170) “The logical science of GRID” is perhaps the most oxymoronic phrase in the history of phrases. In what sounds now like ironic chutzpah, Shilts had the nerve to write "Science was not working at its best, accepting new information with an unbiased eye and beginning appropriate investigations." (ATBPO p.171) From a Kuhnian promontory, one must ask whose unbiased eye it is, who decides what is appropriate? But why even bother accepting new or contradictory information if you're being beamed up to “the Answer” by an orange light?

     By January 1983, Don Francis is pounding his fists on tables. He is enraged at the blood banks. No one was doing enough to "control" the disease. There were fools full of denial everywhere and people shortsighted enough to express concerns about trifles like civil liberties in the face of the mounting death toll. Shilts, as usual, opined that the “problem, of course, was that such considerations constantly overshadowed concerns of medicine and public health." (ATBPO p.224) Public health logic is inexorable and very useful for those in the emotional blackmail game. Only Francis knew exactly what needed to be done. "In his windowless office in Phoenix, he began laying out his own long-range plans for getting ahead of the epidemic." (ATBPO p.232) He wanted an outside advisory group of immunologists and retrovirologists to guide the CDC. New-fangled retrovirologists—not old fashioned virologists.

     With his retroviral thinking cap on, Francis wanted to hone in on implacable retrovirus-spreading sexual behaviors of the gays: One of his almost salivating tough love memo's said, "I feel that to control AIDS we are obligated to try and do something to modify sexual activity. No doubt neither the fear of gonorrhea nor syphilis nor hepatitis B has decreased the number of sexual partners among homosexual men. But fear of AIDS might. [Emphasis mine] It seems mandatory for CDC to spread word of AIDS to all areas of the country. We have the network of VD clinics by which this word can be spread. Why not try?"(ATBPO p.233) Word certainly had no trouble spreading—and turning everything in its path into Holocaust II. Thus a biased, gay-obsessed presumption about the nature of AIDS was seamlessly stitched into the thinking and public health message right from the get-go. Every time the nature of the epidemic would be discussed, it would send a clear anti-gay message. Every time a public health warning about the epidemic would be given, it would repeat the biased conventional homodemiological wisdom. If it was not consciously a big lie, it was a Big Mistake being promoted with the same effective propagandistic techniques. And over time the Big Mistake would evolve smoothly and inexorably into the Big Self-deception and the Big Lie.

     Francis was so committed to his retroviral explanation of AIDS that he could not let any anomalous or contradictory data get in the way of his retroviral, venereal and gay paradigm. He had created what Hannah Arendt might have called an “epidemiological image.” He began to build an empire around his AIDS paradigm, firing off memos insisting that "as part of CDC's continuing pursuit of the cause of AIDS, a laboratory with retrovirus capabilities is necessary at CDC." (ATBPO p.266) He moved to Atlanta and assumed the title of "Lab Director for the AIDS Activities Office." A great time was about to be had by all.

     The CDC bureaucracy that Francis had to deal with is portrayed in the Shilts book as unenlightened and slow to respond to the AIDS mensch. Historians will have to do some homework here and figure out if maybe there were some unsung heroes of insurgency at the CDC who actually took the correct measure of Francis and acted appropriately. Sabotage of the Francis agenda might in retrospect have been the work of unrecognized saints. Shilts portrays Francis as someone who was heroically willing to go outside legal channels to achieve his worthy (in his own visionary mind) goals. Francis was willing to spend money without congressional authorization. (Yes, AIDS now had its own Oliver North.) Francis was often so busy with his "AIDS activities" that he didn't have time to write up findings for publications. Why write up findings for publications when people were dying? This was an implacable gay behavior emergency. Not bothering to write things up is a chronically disturbing meme in the abnormal science of AIDS as we shall see in the forthcoming chapter on the HIV/AIDS shenanigans up at the National Cancer Institute.

     Francis is characterized as the voice of sanity compared to Shilts's portrayal of Robert Gallo, the scientist who will claim—with guns blazing—to have discovered the true AIDS retrovirus. There was a curious meeting in July, 1983 (two years after the first formal newspaper reporting of the sighting of the epidemic) at the CDC which "had been called to try to coordinate the search for the retrovirus responsible for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome." (ATBPO p.349) Historians who like to know what people knew and when they knew it will chomp at the bit to figure out the prescience of knowing it was a retrovirus before they had found it. There will always be the whiff of phoniness about the search for a predetermined cause and that phoniness will certainly give birth to all kinds of conspiracy theories as historians excavate this somewhat hazy period at the CDC.

     Shilts’s depiction of Gallo's vainglory and hair-trigger temper serve only to increase the number of halos floating above Don Francis's head. When Francis tries to recruit one of Gallo's assistants (also known as flunkies), Gallo goes ballistic, which is not surprising as the story about what really goes on in Gallo's lab will reveal later in the decade. The skeletons in that scientific closet are a Halloween unto themselves. The Gallo assistant who jumps ship receives the usual Gallo going-away gift for such an occasion: "I will destroy you," Gallo says to the man, according to Shilts. (ATBPO p.368)

     Without understanding the disturbing implications, Shilts haplessly does a decent job of providing a snapshot of the political pressure that the CDC was under to name something (perhaps anything—and this retrovirus fit that bill) as the cause of AIDS: "James Mason, the CDC director, had a blunt directive for Don Francis on March 21 [1984] 'Get it done,' he instructed. In his scientific notebook, Don Francis wrote PRESSURE and underlined the word twice. The heat was on to resolve the ‘AIDS’ mystery, and Francis didn't have any doubts that the proximity of the presidential election motivated the unusual administrative concern." (ATBPO p.434)

     Historians will have to ask themselves if the roots of the titanic mistake made on HIV, AIDS and HHV-6 was actually just driven by the politics of a presidential election year. Was it just that tragically simple? Did the dynamics of one presidential race give birth to the era of mistaken, abnormal science that will refuse to correct itself for three decades? Did “Get it done!” lead, as night follows day, to Holocaust II?

     Francis played pivotal role in the CDC's ultimately disastrous judgment that LAV, the retrovirus discovered by the French in AIDS patients, was the cause of AIDS. The bums-rush speed with which Francis moved from deciding it was the cause to creating inexorable public health policies based on it was stunning. Within a very short time frame there was an action agenda from Francis, and according to Shilts, "With the cause of AIDS found, scientists could now get on with the business of controlling the spread of the epidemic and finding a vaccine." (ATBPO p.409) Indeed. Given that the CDC could control the information about the spread of the epidemic (the Arendtian image, so to speak), they could certainly give the appearance of controlling the actual epidemic. That’s how abnormal, totalitarian and ultimately psychotic science, works.

     Ironically, maybe one of the most important inadvertent contributions that Don Francis made to ultimately undermining the HIV/AIDS paradigm was his inability to create a model for "AIDS" by infecting monkeys with the retrovirus supposedly discovered by the French and Robert Gallo. This helped give birth to the first whistleblower of AIDS, retrovirologist Peter Duesberg, who used the failure to create an animal model as one of the arguments bolstering his growing doubts that the retrovirus was the real cause of AIDS. The health of those monkeys may have serendipitously saved all the people who heeded Duesberg’s warnings about HIV.

     Shilts portrays Francis as an earnest man committed only to furthering the interests of public health, the perfect foil to Robert Gallo. As Gallo appeared at a press conference with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Margaret Heckler, to claim that the cause of AIDS had been found, Saint Francis watched in horror: "After years of frustration, the announcement of the HTLV-III discovery deserved elation, Don Francis thought as he watched the live Cable News Network coverage of the Heckler press conference in the CDC's television studio with other members of the AIDS Activities Office. Instead, he felt burdened by the conflicts he saw ahead. The French were being cheated of their recognition and the U.S. government had taken a sleazy path, claiming credit for something that had been done by others a year before. Francis was embarrassed by a government more concerned with election-year politics than with honesty. Moreover, he could see that suspicion would play greater, not a lesser role in the coming ‘AIDS’ research. Competition often made for good science, Francis knew, lending an edge of excitement to research. Dishonesty, however, muddied the field, taking the fun out of science and retarding future cooperation." (ATBPO p.451) Sleazy paths? Dishonesty? Suspicion? The world hadn’t seen anything yet.

     Luckily for the health and civil liberties of the American people, Donald Francis, sooner rather than later "was beginning to feel beaten down." (ATBPO p.462 ) While others focused on a search for a treatment for "AIDS," Francis was itching to take it to the gay tribespeople and to “implement widespread voluntary testing for gay men."(ATBPO p.469 ) And gay men just couldn’t wait until he got his hands on them. The “voluntary testing,” of course, was based on his heterosexist notions of the epidemiology and virology of the disease. Francis penned a visionary nine-page program called "Operation AIDS Control" and his plan "employed the only two weapons with which health authorities could find the epidemic—blood testing and education." (ATBPO p.524) Luckily for the gay community, he never completely succeeded in getting the CDC into the full monty "control modality." But the early work of Francis succeeded in creating a paradigm that would help steer the AIDS agenda for three psychotic decades, one that implied that the only way to control the epidemic was to find ways to intervene medically and social-engineeringly in the lives of gay people. If liberation and privacy had been spoils of gay liberation, they were now under direct threat from the public health vision presented by Francis and his colleagues. According to Shilts, "Francis drew his two circles. One circle represented men infected with the AIDS virus; the other men who weren't. The point of AIDS control efforts, he said should be to make sure that everybody knows into which circle they fit." (ATBPO p.549) Dante couldn’t have drawn better circles for the gay community.

     To their credit, not all gay men were eager to split their community up into Don Francis’s two circles. Some wondered whether these circles were a way of dividing and conquering the gay community. But for the majority of the gay community, who began to live their lives in the shadow of the two fraudulent circles, trusting in Francis’s vision proved a huge mistake. By 2010, one study of gay men showed that the big circle had not been protected from the real epidemic by avoiding contact with the smaller circle. One study showed that 60% of all gay men were testing positive for HHV-8 the so-called Kaposi‘s sarcoma virus, originally a marker for AIDS. Believing in HIV had not saved them from the real epidemic. (Note to come.)

     Even his boss, James Curran, was not quite willing to turn over the epidemic to the gung-ho Donald Francis. A disgruntled Francis eventually left the CDC to go work in the San Francisco Health Department. Shilts leaves us with the impression that the proactive Don Francis could have saved the world if only the system hadn't gotten in his way. Francis had warned the world but he "had only been beaten by the system, and because of that the disease had won." (ATBPO p.600)

     A disease had definitely won, but not the one Francis thought he had been fighting while wearing his venereal and retroviral glasses—the ones with the heterosexist frames.

If you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited you can immediately begin reading this book.

If you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited, you can immediately begin reading The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic Cover-up and you will soon understand why the facts about the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic have been hidden from the public for almost four decades.

This is a must-read book for anyone who wants to know the disturbing history of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic. Why have the CDC and NIH pretended that that the communicable disease fraudulently called "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" is a mystery for over three decades? By the end of this book of inconvenient truths the answer is crystal clear. The shocking news and bold analysis in this page-turner could lead to a revolution in the science and politics of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, AIDS, autism, and many other illnesses.

As the publisher and editor-in-chief of a small newspaper in New York, Charles Ortleb was the first journalist to devote a publication to uncovering the truth about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He assigned Neenyah Ostrom the duty of following every twist and turn of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome story. No newspaper in the world did more to warn the world about the virus called HHV-6 which seems to be triggering Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and many other immunological disorders.

This provocative book will end the injustice of the silent treatment Neenyah Ostrom's reporting has been getting from the media and The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome community. Ostrom blew the lid off one of the biggest medical secrets of our time: the link between the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic and AIDS.

Ostrom interviewed most of the major researchers in the field, as well as countless patients and government scientists. She uncovered so many similarities between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and AIDS that she came to the conclusion that they are part of the same epidemic, and she argued that until their connection is admitted by top government researchers, there is little hope of making real progress in the fight against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Charles Ortleb's book captures all the challenges and excitement of running a small newspaper that was publishing a brilliant journalist who essentially was the Woodward and Bernstein of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic. In Rolling Stone, David Black said Ortleb's newspaper deserved a Pulitzer Prize.

 Hillary Johnson, the author of Osler's Web, called it "A rollicking, fascinating and important memoir."

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