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To the editor: The review of "Science Fictions...

April 07, 2002

To the editor:

The review of "Science Fictions" (Book Review, Feb. 17) uncritically repeats the book's accusations against the world-renowned virologist Robert Gallo. These accusations initially appeared in newspaper articles written more than a decade ago by the author of "Science Fictions" and led to an exhaustive review by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH's 1993 report concluded that "

Epstein repeats two specific misrepresentations that are particularly worth correcting. The first is that Gallo's group inappropriately claimed credit for HIV discoveries involving the laboratory of Luc Montagnier in Paris. Science magazine (Feb. 22, 2002) quotes Montagnier himself saying he does not believe any such theft occurred. The second concerns the suggestion that Gallo retarded development or implementation of an effective blood test for HIV. Quite the contrary. The record is clear that Gallo's test was the first to be patented and that it rapidly transformed the design of public health strategies to slow HIV transmission. Without Gallo's test, the world's most dreadful epidemic would have been far worse.

The L.A. Times' one-sided review of a deeply flawed book both impugns the reputations of many distinguished scientists and distracts them from a highly important unfinished agenda.

Dean T. Jamison

Professor and director

Program on Global Health, UCLA


Helen Epstein replies:

Indeed, the NIH wanted to put this matter to rest 10 years ago, and "Science Fictions" describes in great detail how it did so. That the scientists involved do not want to revive this fracas is unsurprising. However, as "Science Fictions" also shows, the real history of the race to discover HIV is not so simple and readers have a right to know about it.

As my review stated, Gallo's HIV test was indeed the first to be patented. However, the patent for the more accurate French test was submitted several months earlier. Gallo's application was expedited; the French one wasn't, and the French test was kept out of the market for years.

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