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Peter J Flegg,
Blackpool, UK, FY3 8NR

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I am getting rather fed up with the Perth Group’s constant diversionary tactics in this debate which seem to consist of arbitrary demands that someone answer every question they feel like asking, and then attempting to claim some form of moral victory if their calls go unanswered.

I try and answer specific questions put to me when they refer to claims I myself have made and if they are in my own area of expertise. I do not try and answer a series of meaningless questions designed to distract me into hours of reference hunting and compiling long responses which likely as not will be ignored, only for the question to pop up under another guise later on whenever the questioner feels the coast is clear. Believe me, this is something I know from personal experience.

Examples of the type of questions put to me by the Perth Group can be seen in their list. These can be defined variously as genuine, rhetorical, diversionary, frivolous or attempting to create a “straw man”. Some of the questions have already been answered. Some have even been deemed unanswerable by the Perth group, so I see no point of tackling broad queries such as “What is the evidence that “HIV” exists?”, which has been debated to exhaustion with the Perth Group over the years- if they do not believe any of the evidence put to them from hundreds of experts in the field, thousands of publications, and several papers specifically addressing this issue from centres like the NIAID, I doubt anything I could say here will change their mind. Also, unlike some others, I read references before I cite them in the context of a debate to ensure their accuracy – and this takes time. I do not decide what I am going to say and then do a quick google search to see if I can come up with the titles of a few references that might support my position, hoping no-one will take the time to check for themselves.

This is why I objected to the Perth Group’s citation of ten references to support their claim (14th September) that “A person can get CD4 counts of less than 50 per microliter and immune suppression by repeated exposure to: drugs (1 2) semen (3-6) Factor 8 (7-9) and malnutrition (10)”. Despite the Perth Group’s attempts to justify this claim, which they detail in their response, my main objection was the fact that not one of the references cited actually supported their very specific statement that “A person can get CD4 counts of less than 50 per microliter”. To misquote references is sloppy science and reflects poorly on the writer. We all may make the occasional error of interpretation, but to deliberately say something occurs because several sources provide evidence that it has done so when none of them seems to say any such thing hardly inspires the reader's trust in the message.

Rather than argue about how low CD4 counts can drop (and I am perfectly prepared to debate this issue), I had hoped for an explanation as to why references were cited incorrectly. No response was forthcoming, merely more dissembling on the Perth Group’s part, trying to move the goal posts to “less than 300 cells”, coupled with a disinegnous claim that if a count can drop below 300 it could drop below 50”.

I am acutely aware of the old adage “a fool can ask more questions than seven wise men can answer.” I too could easily generate a vast list of questions I would like answered, but instead I try and confine my queries to isolated salient points. Naively, I still hope that they may be answered, like the question of why opportunistic diseases like PCP, cerebral toxoplasmosis, CMV retinopathy, PML etc. are not more widespread among HIV negative people if the hypothesis that the Perth Group propose holds true.

Competing interests: None declared