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Science Fictions

by Paul King Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 3:34 PM

‘ Science Fictions is about scientists behaving very, very badly. Crewdson’s research is thorough, his writing brisk.’ — Edmonton Journa

by John Crewdson


‘ The tale of Dr. Robert Gallo’s role in the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS is one of those stories that wouldn’t be believable as fiction...Science Fictions is bursting with allegations leveled at Dr. Gallo, his associates, rivals and enemies, that include deception, misconduct, incompetence, fraud, sabotage, back-stabbing, double-dealing, overstatements, half-truths, outright lies, a clandestine affair with a co-worker, a bribery attempt, denials, evasions, coverups and serial rewritings of history.’
— New York Times

‘ Scrupulously researched and sweeping... Science Fictions documents enough treachery, negligence and megalomania to make even the most trusting of readers skeptical of the scientific establishment.’
— Washington Post

‘ A gripping work with important implications...With incredible tenacity, Crewdson reveals a biological research scandal that was significant, frightening and, most of all, a testament to one reporter’s quest to separate science fact from fiction.’
— Chicago Tribune

‘ Crewdson’s work is the most powerful and revealing since James Watson’s The Double Helix...This is an awesomely documented prosecutorial brief that concedes no credit to its target and yields him no doubts. If the Gallo camp has a rebuttal, let’s hear it.’
— New Scientist

‘ No one knows whether someone in Gallo’s lab stole the French virus or if it contaminated their samples through sloppy practice, and it really doesn’t matter… And as Crewdson shows, the biggest discoveries in Gallo’s career — his claim to have identified the virus that causes AIDS and the patent on the AIDS blood test — both belong to someone else.’
— Baltimore Sun

‘ Robert Gallo’s hour was not the brightest for American science. In fact, it may be one of the darkest. The two-decade-long sequence of events described in John Crewdson’s new book resembles more the actions of a megalomaniac intent more on self-promotion and profit than on a way to stop the AIDS epidemic.’
— San Diego Union-Tribune

‘ I could hardly put the book down out of a mounting realization that this was more than a story about human vanity and political corruption. Science Fictions is ultimately a scientific detective story, with dramatic plot twists, inspired sleuthing, and unlikely heroes. It’s a crime with many victims, and one that is well worth the effort to understand.’
— Washington Monthly

‘ John Crewdson, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, has written a detailed history of the events that led scientists to the cause of AIDS - and it makes unpleasant reading for anyone who thought science was simply about the pursuit of truth. Instead, a picture emerges of deliberate falsehoods, exaggerated claims and denigrating criticism.’
— The Independent (London)

‘ Crewdson’s squalid tale of grasping self-interest in the face of a devastating epidemic is told through court documents, reports from internal NIH and congressional investigative committees and interviews. The enormous amount of evidence which the author has gathered in favor of the French seems convincing.’
— Los Angeles Times

‘ Science Fictions is about scientists behaving very, very badly. Crewdson’s research is thorough, his writing brisk.’
— Edmonton Journal

‘ A compelling case that Gallo claimed and obtained recognition for research that had, in fact, been accomplished by the French...this book is a successful indictment of Gallo, whom history will probably judge to have been guilty of excessive zeal in the pursuit of scientific glory.’
— Montreal Gazette

‘ Was Gallo’s behavior so extreme as to be anomalous, or was it to some extent encouraged by what Crewdson calls a “hypercompetitive” scientific culture? If Science Fictions forces scientists to address these difficult questions — and it should — it will have served its purpose.’
— New York Times Book Review

‘ Science Fictions is a profoundly disturbing account, demonstrating that even brilliant minds may trade truth for fame or fortune...John Crewdson has written a masterpiece.’
— Providence Journal-Bulletin

‘ Comprehensive and compelling...The level of drama here is unprecedented…Crewdson is able to weave a story that is impossible to put down.’
— Publishers Weekly

‘ A meticulous account of slippery science that develops slowly into a panoramic view of the biomedical world.’
— Kirkus Reviews
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Washington Post Review

by Paul King Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 5:03 PM

Scandalous behavior in the assault on AIDS


Special to The Journal

SCIENCE FICTIONS: A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Coverup, and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo, by John Crewdson. Little, Brown. 672 pages. $27.95.

Fasten your seat belts. John Crewdson is at the wheel of a fast-paced nonfiction thriller about a scientific scandal of major proportions, with superstar scientist Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute at center stage.

"This is not a book about AIDS," advises Crewdson, a brilliant, determined, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with a talent for relentless research. "Nor is it really about science. It is a book about how scientists behave when the stakes are high, and the stakes were never higher than in the search for the cause of AIDS."

Drawing upon thousands of pages of correspondence, memoranda, laboratory notes, transcripts and other documents compiled over 10 years of intense investigations, Crewdson meticulously traces how the AIDS virus and its blood test were actually discovered, and by whom; how the French AIDS virus ended up in Gallo's test tubes; and how the National Institutes of Health and other agencies of the Reagan administration struggled to cover up the truth.

He opens his tightly edited saga with President Richard Nixon's declaration of a War on Cancer in 1971, funded with a $1.6-billion appropriation for cancer research -- a huge sum in those days. The war would be waged by the National Cancer Institute, a virtually independent agency, Crewdson points out, headed by a presidential appointee and governed by a NCA Advisory Board "to cheer the virus hunters on."

James Watson, now running a lab at Harvard, worried that "the Gold Rush mentality was likely to 'scare off the sensible [scientists] and leave the field to a combination of charlatans and fools.' "

And so, the stage was set. Enter Robert Gallo, then 27 and a newly appointed lab chief at NIH, later to be described as an "arrogant megalomaniac," by fellow scientists.

For nearly a year, Gallo insisted that the wrong virus, one discovered previously in his own laboratory, was the most likely cause of AIDS, while he publicly denigrated the critical research of the Pasteur scientists in France and also systematically impeding the scientific community here and abroad.

When it became evident that the French had beaten Gallo in the race to find the cause of AIDS, Gallo then chose to engage in an unethical campaign to scramble and rewrite scientific history by writing articles claiming discoveries he had not made with data he did not have.

Crewdson reveals that Gallo wrote papers as a "political exercise, a pollution of the scientific literature, intended to help lay the groundwork for a defense against the French." The scientific press never challenged these articles and leading journalists got nowhere when pressing Gallo for the truth.

Unfortunately, his brilliant tactical strategies were never matched by scientific accomplishments. When French investigators finally challenged U.S. patents, U.S. attorneys simply echoed Gallo's many falsehoods about the primacy of his research, assuring the Patent Office and the federal courts that the AIDS virus and the HIV blood test had been discovered here first.

"What set Robert Gallo apart," Crewdson concludes, "was his profound disinclination to acknowledge his mistakes, preferring instead to ignore them, insist they hadn't occurred, blame someone else, or propagate outlandish explanations and outright fictions that only confused science further and slowed its forward march."

Science Fictions is a profoundly disturbing account, demonstrating that even brilliant minds may trade the truth for fame or fortune. As with the current Enron scandal, there are victims. In this case, add to the list not only the taxpayers footing the bills but also the 18 million people worldwide who had perished from AIDS by the turn of the century.

Crewdson has written a masterpiece on what seems to be a never-ending epidemic of non-accountability in this country.

Jeanne Nicholson is a syndicated columnist and freelance reviewer in Newport.
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NY Times Review

by Paul King Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 5:03 PM

Reviewed by Stephen Mihm
Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page BW04

A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Cover-Up and the Dark Legacy Of Robert Gallo
By John Crewdson
Little, Brown. 627 pp. $27.95

Looking for a heartwarming story of heroic scientific inquiry? Best steer clear of John Crewdson's exposé of the career of AIDS researcher Robert Gallo. Crewdson, a reporter whose earlier books tackled subjects as different as immigration and child abuse, devotes his investigative talents to dismembering Gallo and his putative accomplishments in this scrupulously researched and sweeping narrative. A sobering read, Science Fictions documents enough treachery, negligence and megalomania to make even the most trusting of readers skeptical of the scientific establishment.

Crewdson's story begins before the age of AIDS, with the creation of the National Cancer Institute in the early 1970s. Many of the scientists at the NCI -- Robert Gallo included -- sought to establish that cancer had a viral origin. Gallo quickly attracted notoriety for his studies of a retrovirus he christened Human T-Cell Leukemia Virus, or HTLV. Then, when gay men began showing up at hospitals in 1981 with symptoms of what later became known as AIDS, Gallo joined the search for the cause of the new disease. He soon came to believe that HTLV was the cause of AIDS.
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