2 April 2009
Dear Professor Collins
Cardiff graduate student Martin Weinel states in his ‘Research Profile’ that you and Dr Rob Evans are supervising his PhD dissertation, ‘The South African AZT Controversy: Expertise and technical decision-making’. As a work in progress I obviously haven’t seen it, but his basic thesis appears to be anticipated in the abstract of his ‘Paper presented at SEESHOP 1, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, 16-19 August, 2007’, ‘Not even a maverick: Mbeki, Expertise and AZT’ (www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/contactsandpeople/harrycollins/expertise-project/expertisedevelopments.html), and in two of his papers published online:
(a) ‘Counterfeit Scientific Controversies in Science Policy Contexts’, published as Social Sciences Working Paper No. 120 on 21 November 2008, dealing with ‘The South African AZT controversy’ as one of three illustrative cases (www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/contactsandpeople/harrycollins/expertise-project/Weinel%202008%20Counterfeit%20final%20draft.pdf); and
(b) ‘Thabo Mbeki, HIV/AIDS and bogus scientific controversies’, published on the South African website Politicsweb on 19 March 2009 (http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=121968&sn=Detail).
The nut of Mr Weinel’s case is that former President Thabo Mbeki irresponsibly launched a ‘counterfeit … inauthentic scientific controversy’ in South Africa by stating without good cause in Parliament’s second chamber, the National Council of Provinces, on 28 October 1999, at a time when the South African government was under heavy pressure from the British pharmaceutical corporation GlaxoWellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) to spend billions of rands on purchasing its drug AZT for administration to HIV-positive pregnant women, practically all African, ‘There … exists a large volume of scientific literature alleging that, among other things, the toxicity of this drug is such that it is in fact a danger to health. These are matters of great concern to the Government as it would be irresponsible for us not to heed the dire warnings which medical researchers have been making. I have therefore asked the Minister of Health, as a matter of urgency, to go into all these matters so that, to the extent that is possible, we ourselves, including our country’s medical authorities, are certain of where the truth lies.’
For making this statement, Mr Weinel accuses former President Mbeki of being responsible for the unnecessary infection of thousands of African babies with a deadly disease, and by implication for causing their early deaths. A graver charge is hard to imagine.
My detailed critique of Mr Weinel’s recent piece, ‘Martin Weinel, Thabo Mbeki and AZT: Bogus Scholarship in the Age of AIDS: A Case Study’, was published on Politicsweb last Friday (http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=123061&sn=Detail).
The purpose of this communication is to draw your attention to the shocking facts canvassed in my critique, of which you as Mr Weinel’s supervisor will certainly have been unaware, and to enquire whether in the light of them you consider the quality of scholarship on exhibit in Mr Weinel’s above-mentioned published papers, and doubtlessly in his dissertation underway, to be par with the academic standards you maintain in your faculty.
I have copied this letter to your faculty colleagues and research students so that Mr Weinel might be pertinently questioned when he appears to defend his thesis that Mbeki ‘misread the technical literature on AZT’s toxicity and apparently based his decision against AZT on this misreading’ (he didn’t), and his claims that he ‘banned AZT’ (he didn’t) until ‘the government was forced by courts to introduce AZT for PMTCT’ (it wasn’t).
Upon a full ventilation and conspectus of the relevant facts at the hearing – and the papers and documents hyperlinked to my critique are crucial reading – the expert panel examining Mr Weinel’s thesis will be properly placed to judge his basic contention that Mbeki’s statement about the dangerous toxicity of AZT was so ignorant, so incompetent and so mistaken that ‘Mbeki, therefore, could be said to be “not even wrong”’, and whether or not it merits a Cardiff PhD.
The matter obviously bears on the reputation of your university for academic integrity and serious knowledge production, and on the political legacy of a statesman considered by many to be one of the most brilliant post-colonial intellectuals of our time.
Advocate of the High Court of South Africa
Chairman: Treatment Information Group
Dr David Grant, Vice Chancellor: Cardiff University;
Dr Rob Evans and other Social Sciences faculty staff and research students;
The Honourable Mr Thabo Mbeki;
other interested parties.
Professor Collins responded: ‘Thank you for your correspondence.’
Law lecturer Dr Nicky Priaulx complained that the whole Social Sciences faculty had been told.
10 April 2009
My late father, an Oxford man (Wadham, jurisprudence, mid-fifties), was a keen amateur English historian (massive book collection) and lifelong observer of the English scene (BBC every day, Private Eye every issue). Something he brought home to me as a boy was that loyalty to his class was the supreme moral value of the Englishman, and that all others, such as service to truth, justice, the general interest etc, will invariably be subordinated or if necessary sacrificed to it. Allied to this, the English establishment will always close ranks to protect itself from criticism, loss of reputation and so on, rather than ever concede any wrongdoing. And a penchant for hypocrisy is the supreme English trait.
Your email reminded me.
Nowhere in your 1637-word gripe do you address the substance of my complaint. The reason, of course, is that Weinel thanks you for helping him with his thesis, so you’ve a direct personal stake in defending the lies he tells; and you’re not going to be put off by someone coming along and showing his claims to be false, in that they’re contradicted and disconfirmed by a massive stack of hard scientific evidence. So you react by trying to turn the tables and make me the rogue in this scandal.
You reproach me for the manner in which I brought Weinel’s false claims in his thesis to the whole of his university faculty’s notice as ‘inappropriate’, ‘disproportionate’, ‘deeply problematic’, and, being a barrister, ‘highly unprofessional’ and ‘surprising [from] a man of [my] station’.
You go on and on about why I should rather have taken my complaint up with him privately. Didn’t he tell you that we’ve had a voluminous correspondence? It was apparent from the outset that in characteristically German style he’d taken a fancy to a big idea he’d conceived, namely that Mbeki is a dithering incompetent whose foolishness had cost innumerable lives, and he’d decided to build his career on this charge; and that like an ambitious young prosecutor ignoring exculpatory evidence brought to his attention because he’s resolved on getting a conviction to make himself famous, Weinel was turning Nelson’s Eye to the data I was pointing up because they threw a wet blanket on his dreams.
Nor was there any real chance that a private note to his supervisors would have turned the boat around. Both of them are deeply complicit in the falsehoods he’s been writing, which they’ve been cheering on. And the thing is so far down the road now that had I approached them privately, they were hardly likely to have called him in and told him, ‘Sorry young man, even though we’ve been encouraging you with this thesis of yours for years, it’s just been brought to our attention that it’s a pile of rubbish. Our university can’t possibly accept such lies. We’ve got standards to keep here. You’ll have to throw it away, think of something else to write, and start again.’
My apprehensions were confirmed when Professor Collins’s entire response to my email to him was an unruffled, ‘Thank you for your correspondence.’
Consequently there was no chance of any quiet ‘suitable resolution’ of my ‘grievance’ behind the scenes, perhaps after a ‘rethinking of aspects of [his] argument’, maybe instructed by his supervisors, because Weinel’s ‘argument’ is fundamentally corrupt. It determinedly disregards the brute evidence in his way.
I didn’t copy my letter to him because it wasn’t addressed to him. It was addressed to his supervisors, the Vice-Chancellor, his faculty, and his friends like you who he names as having helped him concoct his academic fraud; and the serious purpose of my email was clearly stated in it.
You claim my letter was ‘underhand’ and ‘threatening’, when your objection is precisely that it was too public, and obviously the only threat it posed was to explode Weinel’s unmerited reputation as an honest and competent student. You’ve obviously never practised law in court. Were you to leave your lecture hall and try arguing like this in front of a judge, you’d be flayed alive. Even if you coated your dissimulations in an appealingly posh accent.
You say I exposed Mr Weinel’s dishonest sophistry in ‘such a cruel’ manner. Well as we lawyers say, he chose to enter the lists by moving out of his coddled school environment where no one outside it knows much less cares what he thinks or writes, and took to attacking Mbeki on a widely-read, right-wing political website. So he really shouldn’t cry when given a drubbing, nor should you be mopping his tears for him.
And what about Mbeki’s feelings in the matter – falsely accused of appalling ill judgement while President and deadly dereliction of his public responsibilities? Or is it just that as human beings the wogs in the colonies don’t count?
I really don’t care how ‘vulnerable’ Weinel feels, or how much the ‘research project on which [he’s] embarked becomes [his] love’ when he’s going on the attack and building his reputation with vicious lies. His poor little broken heart, his ‘hurt’, over being exposed is of no consequence next to the interests of hundreds of thousands of Africans in South Africa, mostly poor, in grave danger of being poisoned by ARVs like AZT thanks to the work of pharmaceutical industry propagandists like him.
His ‘research project’ isn’t for ‘beneficent ends – the betterment of mankind’ either; it’s so obviously about waving a PhD around to land a nice job with AZT-manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline’s marketing department, or maybe with one of those cash flush AIDS NGOs funded by Bush’s, now Obama’s, $48 billion PEPFAR money allocated ‘to fight AIDS’ in Africa with American test kits and American drugs sold by the American pharmaceutical industry.
You say ‘The academic environment, as I know that you will appreciate, is such a precious space for open and honest exchange.’ I’m afraid I don’t appreciate it at all. In my experience, universities, like corporations, don’t tolerate serious dissent threatening their funding support from public and private purses. And anyway, my letter was calculated to get everyone in Weinel’s Social Science faculty talking. Are you suggesting my email hampers the ‘open and honest exchange’ of ideas? If not, what’s the problem, actually?
Have you read Poisoning our Children: AZT in pregnancy hyperlinked to my reply to Weinel’s pro-AZT, anti-Mbeki article on Politicsweb? Or, if you’re short of time, my leaflet Why do Zackie Achmat, Nathan Geffen and Mark Heywood want pregnant African women and their babies to be given AZT? What AZT does to unborn and newly born children?
If you have read them – and I emphasized in my email that they’re ‘crucial’ reading – why haven’t you raised ‘appropriate’ hell at your university about how Weinel is working to obfuscate the horrors they detail, even if it’s only Africans who are affected? Why haven’t you written an ‘apology’ to Mbeki for having helped Weinel falsely impugn him? Because I must tell you, ‘you would go much higher up in my estimations through doing so’.