Opposition to the OPV theory (1)

The odd case of Professor John P. Moore


by Edward Hooper


One of the first reviews to appear about The River was published in the journal Nature in September 1999, and written by the British-born US-based scientist, John P. Moore.

Professor Moore specialises in AIDS vaccine development, a subject about which he is very knowledgeable. On the other hand, he has never published any scientific paper about the origins of the AIDS pandemic. During the last decade or so, Moore has developed a reputation for writing witty and acerbic commentaries on all sorts of AIDS-related subjects, and in the process has become something of a media darling, quoted on a regular basis by several science journalists, most notably by his friend, Laurie Garrett. However, many who work in the field of AIDS are sceptical about Moore, feeling that he has become carried away with his own reputation as an "AIDS expert".

Before writing the Nature review Moore, to his credit, had contacted several other scientists for their thoughts about The River and the OPV theory. One whom he contacted later told me later that he hoped he had managed to persuade Moore to "tone down" what he wrote. But I was not at all surprised when the review appeared. It had the veneer of balance, but beneath that veneer, betrayed an inherent bias against the theory. Knowing that Nature itself had demonstrated a very similar bias over the course of many years, I concluded that it could have been worse, and moved on.

At this point, however, Dr Moore began what appeared to be a one-man campaign to denigrate The River. He wrote a review on the Amazon web site which began "Don't believe the central idea in this book", and which further revealed his true position. And then he began writing letters to newspapers. These proceeded along similar lines: I am a professional scientist, Hooper is a journalist, I and my fellow scientists don't believe in his theory; who are you going to believe? He would then liken the OPV theory to the theory of the Loch Ness Monster, or that the moon was made of green cheese. And that was it: no scientific facts or logical arguments, just point-scoring and mockery, and the insistence that he must be right.

In fact, he was not even right about my being a journalist, though I had been one for three years in the mid-eighties. What this suggested was his desire to pigeon-hole me as a non-scientist, a "non-expert".

He apparently wrote angry letters to the organisers of the Royal Society discussion meeting about the origins of AIDS, arguing that by staging the meeting, they were doing damage to Science, and to the public's trust in scientists. He also began contacting other scientists, trying to persuade them to boycott the meeting. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, he stated that he was one of many scientists who would not be attending, in his case because he had more important things to do. What he failed to mention was that he had not been invited as a full speaker, but merely as a discussant - a five-minute contributor. (In any case, when his propaganda campaign failed, he turned up at the London meeting anyway.)

Dr Moore was active in other ways, too. Certain scientists who had written positively about the book received furious e-mails from him, full of sweeping accusations. Another received a charming letter, explaining that he (Moore) happened to be passing his place of work in a few days' time, and would like to invite him for a chat about the OPV theory and the coverage it was getting. It was not clear which were less welcome: the diatribes or the attempted charm offensives. Whatever, several people now began to warn me that Moore seemed to be engaged in a public relations campaign to try to discredit the book. More than one person wondered if he was acting on behalf of doctors Plotkin and Koprowski.

This suspicion gained more credibility when his friend, the writer and journalist Laurie Garrett, began her own one-woman campaign of denigration. She had written a comically egocentric article about The River in Newsday, which concentrated on my alleged oversight in failing to contact her in person for information. Later, she attended a press conference on The River which my publishers, Little, Brown, were hosting in New York, and seemingly did her level best to disrupt it: she muttered and snorted loudly from the back, and then asked a strange multi-parted question that was more statement than enquiry, and which revealed that she was rather ill-informed about some of the issues. A journalist with whom I spoke later said that it was some of the worst professional behaviour he had seen in ten years of attending press conferences in New York.

As for Dr Moore, his agenda was further revealed in July 2000, when an e-mail that he had sent to Beatrice Hahn ended up being published on the Web, after he mailed it to the wrong person. Hahn had been quoted in an article about the origins debate in The Scotsman as saying that The River was "shit", and now she was worried that she might have gone over the top. John Moore reassured her. "Bea", he wrote. "This was not so bad. You came across better than you think."

I was informed from other quarters that Moore was in regular e-mail contact with other active opponents of The River, including persons such as Bette Korber, Steve Wolinsky and Stanley Plotkin. Plotkin in particular seemed to approve of Moore's approach, because at the end of an invited article that disputed the CHAT hypothesis, and which was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases on April 1st, 2000, he thanked Moore "for lending me some of his courage to face defamatory accusations".

By this stage Dr Plotkin was waging his own campaign to discredit The River. He had engaged a support team of several lawyers, and a number of mainly Belgian and Congolese scientists, at least one of whom was put on the payroll for six months. Members of the scientific support team approached several of those who had given me interviews, and tried to persuade them to change their testimony on key issues. Fortunately, a couple of the witnesses so approached were unimpressed, and briefed me on what had happened. One, for instance, had twice received letters from a Belgian doctor, Abel Prinzie, which contained a prepared statement with his name pencilled in at the bottom, which he was invited to sign. At the Royal Society conference, Plotkin defended this method of obtaining statements - but in these two instances at least, the proffered statement was comprehensively untrue. (The witness later described the approach made to him as a "dishonourable proposition".) At the end of his Clinical Infectious Diseases article, Plotkin expressed his "profuse thanks and heartfelt gratitude" to a number of scientists, the first of whom was Abel Prinzie.

Despite Moore's frequent claims that the arguments in The River are insubstantial, or mistaken, or easily disproved, he has never managed to identify a single compelling argument to weaken the OPV theory. In fact, on one of the rare occasions that he tried to do so, his approach ended up by backfiring. When commenting in an editorial on the hitherto unsuspected discovery that HIV-1 replicated in kidney cells, Moore commented that this new information was only supportive of the OPV argument "to a certain extent". And why was this? Because "OPV was prepared using monkey kidneys, not chimpanzee kidneys, and it is chimpanzees, not monkeys, that harboured the HIV-1 precursor virus." Speaking as if with a tone of authority, Moore went on to assure his readers that "these events…didn't [happen]". Now that it has become clear that they did happen, that CHAT vaccine was passaged in chimpanzee kidneys, and that this happened only in Stanleyville, Moore's disclaimer now reads like rather a powerful argument for the OPV theory.


In May 2000, a paperback version of The River was released in the UK by Penguin Press, and it included a new 16,000 word postscript. In this postscript, I criticised Dr Moore's Nature review, calling it "scurrilous". I went on: "Entitled 'Up The River Without a Paddle', this review flattered to deceive, for after praising the book in general terms, it attempted to undermine the hypothesis by likening it to a well-known conspiracy theory, and by misrepresenting some of the book's key arguments." I went on: "Nature knew at the outset what they would be getting. Just one month earlier, Dr Moore had been opining on the Internet that 'The polio vaccine theory of the origin of AIDS is something that is only believed in by the lunatic fringe…It is sheer unadulterated nonsense, and not worth a moment of a serious scientist's time…All those who believe in it are madmen/madwomen.'"

Although ever eager to attack others, it seems that Dr Moore is less ready to accept criticism in return. Whatever, on June 5th, 2000, I received two unsolicited e-mails from him, the texts of which are copied below (save for a few sections which are libellous to third parties):

June 5th, 2000. 1609hrs


You write that my review of your book was "scurrilous".
Indeed it was. It was "scurrilous" of me to use the word "superb" in
the context of your book, and to take what you wrote far more
seriously than I should have done. What makes my review particularly
"scurrilous" is that I was guilty of not performing due diligence on
you as the writer. Had I done so, I would have realised that you
twist and manipulate the facts; that you use quotes and comments out
of context; that you were paid by your crony Bill Hamilton to write
about his pet theory, an obvious breach of journalistic ethics; that
you are an obsessionalist to whom the truth matters much less than
boosting the sales of your book; that you are prepared to use the
reputation of the Royal Society shamelessly to further your own ends
(book sales); that you take yourself seriously, while not realising
that most scientists who have read your book regard you as a fool who
is dabbling in a scientific arena you do not understand. So, yes,
indeed, it was "scurrilous" of me to write a review of your book that
was fair and balanced, when really, with a bit of research, I could
have exposed you for what you really are.
By the way, I recommend you read "Voodoo Science - The Road
from Foolishness to Fraud", a new book by RL Park. I would think
there is every chance you will be starring in the next edition.

John Moore

A second e-mail followed a few hours later.

June 5th, 2000. 19.17


You really are a tenth-rate journalist. In the few hundred
words you devote to my Nature review in your paper-back edition, you
very clearly reveal your attitude to accuracy of information and your
utter lack of concern with the truth of what you write. This attitude
to the facts is emblamatic of why decent scientists don't believe
what you write, especially when they bother to actually check up on
So here are the inaccuracies in what you write, or imply, on
pages 852-853 of the paperback edition.

1) You imply that I did not "take the trouble to read the book".
Nonsense. I read it from cover to cover, for such was my professional
responsibility as a reviewer. Likewise "examine the arguments
carefully". I did.

2) "Misrepresenting key arguments". Only in your opinion, and you
should realise that, unlike you, I was writing within a strict word
limit that prevented me from expanding upon certain points in the way
I might have liked to.

3) "Four scientists" wrote to Nature. I am unsure who you mean…. [Only one of the three persons that Moore mentions at this point is among the four to whom I referred. Since this passage also includes material that may be libellous to a third party, I have omitted it.]

4) "History of broadcasting ............... on a range of scientific
subjects". Give me a single example of my making a public comment on
any scientific subject other than selected areas of AIDS research. I
reserve my opinions to areas of science that I know something about,
because I have too much respect for the public to do otherwise.
Perhaps if Bill Hamilton had adopted a similar procedure, a lot of
confusion could have been avoided. But no, he had to act like an
untrained grad student and mouth off on something he knew
next-to-nothing about, then pay you to write his book for him while
abusing his privileges as a member of the Royal Society to get
further publicity for you. A shocking and sad epitaph for a once
respected figure.

5) "Nature knew at the outset what they would be getting". Bollocks.
And you know it, or should. Nature asked me to review your book
because I had previously reviewed Duesberg's book for them, and they
presumably knew that I could do a capable job on a long, complex
topic to a short deadline. They knew nothing of the "internet" issue
(see below).

6) "Opining on the internet". I am damn sure you already know the
truth about this, but you have been using this quote to British
journalists pretty liberally, so I am going to spell it out in words
that even you should be able to understand.
The quotes you ascribe to me were not, in fact, made about
your book. They were made before I was even aware of your book, or
even of your very existence. Here's the real story. [There followed a quite lengthy explanation about the context in which he had made these comments. I have omitted this, partly because it contains offensive comments about third parties, and partly because it is essentially irrelevant, in that I never claimed, or thought, that Moore made these comments about my book. The point was merely that he did make the comments, albeit, it would appear, within the context of an e-mail that then got broadcast quite widely on the Net. Moore continued…] I never posted
my letter on the internet, so in no way could I be said to have been
"opining on the internet". As I say, I am quite sure you already know
this, but you simply don't care because your standard modus operandi
is to portray facts in a way that is favorable to yourself,
irrespective of the truth. Ultimately, this will be your downfall as
a journalist, because the mistakes you make (if they are mistakes and
not deliberate acts) are so many and so obvious, that you have no

Go back and learn the fundamentals of your trade -
fact-checking and accurate writing are sine qua non's for all the
journalists I respect.

John Moore

John P. Moore, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College
of Cornell University
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
1300 York Avenue, W-805
New York, NY 10021

phone: 212-746-4462
fax 212-746-8340
email: jpm2003@med.cornell.edu

I did start to draft a reply to Moore, but when I reached the seventh page, I realised that I was getting caught up in his own game, and stopped. In the end, I simply ignored the two letters

In this present commentary on Moore's role in this debate, I do not propose to defend myself point by point against his sorry allegations, most of which do not even merit a response. However, I will state the following. There are three fairly trivial points in his two letters which seem to me to be potentially legitimate. In itself, the Nature review was not scurrilous (which is defined by one dictionary as "grossly or obscenely abusive; given to, expressed with, low buffoonery"). What was scurrilous was Moore's long-term public relations campaign against the book and the theory. And I am willing to accept Moore's word that he did read the book from cover to cover, and that he has not publicly broadcast his views on a range of scientific subjects (although he clearly has done on a wide range of AIDS-related subjects, including some in which he seems to lack expertise). However, with these exceptions, I dispute and reject every one of his rather childish assertions.

I must also briefly respond to the attack on Bill Hamilton, who is not here to defend himself. Bill did not pay me to write his book (as Moore asserts), although, as recounted in The River, he did once give me a grant (of £2,000 in total) to carry on researching when I had run out of money. I asked him for a loan, and instead he gave me a grant, because he believed in the work I was doing. Four years later, I offered to repay that money, and Bill declined, re-emphasising that the money had been a gift. It says much about Dr Moore that he should try to present such a noble and generous act in such an ignoble light.

What also speak volumes are the bald assertions in his different papers and letters, that the OPV scenario "didn't [happen]", and that viral transfer through bushmeat represents the "true origin" of HIV. These totally unsupported claims suggest that Moore's thinking on such issues is based on personal prejudice, rather than a truly scientific approach to problem-solving.

There was an interesting postscript to this episode. Moore had copied the second of his letters to three others, including the surviving Royal Society organisers, professors Weiss and Wain-Hobson, so I contacted the latter two to find out their thoughts. Both expressed embarrassment. As it happened, I met Robin Weiss in his office a few days later, and he offered to contact Moore on my behalf, effectively to shut him up. I thanked him but declined, saying I could fight my own battles, but since that time, Moore has ceased his tirades on the origins of AIDS debate (although he did apparently ask a question from the floor, anonymously, at the Royal Society conference).

This is worth recounting, because Weiss clearly does have some influence with Moore, who was once one of his post-docs at University College London. As I have detailed in my Lincei paper, Professor Weiss has, over the last two decades, exerted enormous influence over AIDS coverage in Nature, which has demonstrated consistent bias in its coverage of the OPV theory. Whenever possible, Nature has ignored the theory, except for those occasions when it has given quite extensive coverage to alleged "disproofs". In July 1999, two months before publication of The River, Professor Weiss wrote to me twice out of the blue saying, inter alia, that he might be able to review my book in Nature if I could send an advance copy. I explained that it was embargoed, and declined. Weiss eventually reviewed the book for the other premier scientific journal, Science, but it is hard to imagine that he did not have a say in the selection of John Moore as the Nature reviewer.

What all this reveals is that there is a network of connections between those scientists who have been most vociferous in condemning the OPV theory. Hilary Koprowski, the developer of CHAT, is well-known as a friend and mentor of the controversial American virologist, Robert Gallo. Robin Weiss worked in Gallo's lab for a while in the mid-seventies, and later also got to know Beatrice Hahn, who was one of Gallo's post-docs. Through his intimate relationship with the journal Nature, it seems that Robin Weiss may have contributed to the suppression of discussion about the OPV theory over a period of a decade or more. Later, in his role as co-organiser of the Royal Society meeting on the origins of AIDS (and final speaker at both that meeting and the similar meeting held a year later at Lincei), he appeared determined to devalue and discredit the theory. John Moore studied under Weiss at UCL, and was appointed to write the Nature review of The River, after which he began acting as a kind of anti-OPV vigilante. Moore has also been in close contact with the group led by Beatrice Hahn, whose published papers over the last five years, especially those dealing with phylogenetic dating and the chimpanzee precursor to HIV-1 Group M, are diametrically opposed to (and undermined by) the OPV theory. In addition, Moore appears to have acted as a (presumably unpaid) consultant to Koprowski's former right-hand-man, Stanley Plotkin, whose own responses to the OPV theory have been characterised by error and inaccuracy, and who made a point, at the end of one of his articles, of praising Moore for his "courage". Thus the connections go full circle.

A final point. Dr Moore will doubtless be furious that his e-mails are being published on the Internet. But perhaps it will encourage him to learn some moderation. For why should I respect the sensitivities of someone who writes me abusive and inaccurate letters of this type? In any case, the second of these letters, which was copied to others (and was therefore libellous), clearly cannot be construed as a personal letter.

I now feel that the best way to combat Professor John P. Moore is to reveal him for what he really is - and in his own unvarnished words.

This is part of a collection of material on

Polio vaccines and the origin of AIDS

which in turn is part of Brian Martin's website on suppression of dissent.