[*Crewdson, John: Science Fictions: A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Cover-up, and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo. Little, Brown. 672 pp; $27.95; Feb. 19, 2002; ISBN: 0-316-13476-7.]
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Crewdson relates a cautionary tale of the American doctor who lied repeatedly to take credit for discovering the AIDS virus.
His story begins in the early 1980s when American men, Haitians, and Africans were dying of a mysterious disease. Luc Montagnier and his staff at the Pasteur Institute isolated LAV (Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus) from a pre-AIDS patient. Bob Gallo at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, believed the Human T-Cell Virus (HTLV) was the culprit. Both sides exchanged samples and claimed victory at medical conferences and in science magazines. In October 1983, the NCI’s Mika Popovic performed an experiment that revealed the French were correct. The cause of AIDS was LAV, later shown to be a chimpanzee virus that spread to humans probably in the 1940s. Gallo buried Popovic’s work; his French-provided sample of LAV “accidentally” became HTLV-3B, which he subsequently claimed to have had first. Gallo’s reputation and forcefulness convinced many in the scientific community, and so, despite Pasteur’s earlier application, the National Patent Office granted him the first patent for an AIDS test kit. The kits, which failed to sense a crucial AIDS protein, were a disaster. False positive readings led women to abort healthy pregnancies: a false negative permitted an AIDS patient’s organs to be transplanted to seven healthy recipients. The second half covers the legal disputes and bureaucratic reviews of Gallo’s procedures. A partial list of the extensive dramatis personae includes members of the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Red Cross and its French equivalent, editors of a half dozen science magazines, Abbot Labs and competing test kit makers, Congressman John Dingall (D/Michigan) and organizers of medical conferences around the world. Throughout, Crewdson’s prose, with a minimum of esoteric passages, successfully clarifies the scientific material.
A meticulous account of slippery science that develops slowly into a panoramic view of the biomedical world.