Professor Marco Ruggiero’s Existential Virology

By Claus Jensen

In a press release on December 20, 2010, Rethinking AIDS president David Crowe announced the latest and perhaps most prominent recent addition to his Board of Directors:

In other news Rethinking AIDS has added a new member to their board of directors, Dr. Marco Ruggiero, a board-certified medical doctor and clinical radiologist. He is a full professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Firenze, Italy where he teaches in the Faculties of Medicine, Sciences (chemistry, biology and biotechnology) and Engineering. He spent two years as post-doctoral fellow at Burroughs Wellcome Co. (Research Triangle Park, NC, USA) in 1984-86, where he had the opportunity to collaborate and publish with Nobel Laureate Sir John Vane.

Dr. Ruggiero subsequently spent three years as post-doctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, USA, sharing the office with Professor Duesberg as he was visiting the Laboratory. Afterwards, he spent two years as Lab Chief at the Sigma-Tau pharmaceutical company in Milan, Italy.

Dr. Ruggiero became associate professor of molecular biology at the University of Firenze in 1992, and full professor in 2002. The research of Professor Ruggiero deals with the study of the molecular mechanisms responsible for cell transformation, signaling and death in different human pathologies from cancer to AIDS. The results of his research have been published in peer-reviewed, PubMed-indexed, scientific journals and in book chapters.

Although it was not evident then, RA was at the same time announcing its new official view of HIV and AIDS, based on Prof. Ruggiero’s authority and strategies for introducing dissent into mainstream HIV/AIDS debate: “HIV is not the sole cause of AIDS”. This statement implies that HIV exists more or less as claimed by the mainstream, and has a causal relationship with AIDS.

RA court  stenographer Celia Farber recently conducted an interview with RA’s new scientific luminary and published it on her website, which RA president David Crowe immediately linked prominently on his RA site. In the interview Ms Farber set out to get Prof. Ruggiero’s opinion on the existence and nature of HIV:

Q: Do you think HIV exists as a unique and exogenous retrovirus?

A: Yes I do. However, as a scientist I rely upon data. If there are data demonstrating that the nucleotide sequence attributed to HIV is homologous to sequences present in the diploid human genome, then I shall have no difficulty in defining HIV as a human endogenous retrovirus. The entire human diploid sequence (at least the sequence of one individual) is freely accessible here: NEW INDIVIDUAL HUMAN DIPLOID GENOME. It will not be difficult for anyone who doubts of the existence of HIV to compare HIV and human sequences in order to find homologies. Such homologies have not been found so far, to my knowledge.

This prompted the Perth Group to ask Prof. Ruggiero a few simple questions:

Dear Professor Ruggiero,

We greatly enjoyed reading your interview with Celia Farber and, having slept on it for a few days, we would like ask you for some assistance.
Could you please provide us with one or more citations, which contain evidence to prove each of the following:
1.      The existence of the HIV genome in retroviral particles.
2.      The existence of the HIV genome in AIDS patients.
3.      The existence of endogenous retroviruses. 
We look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Kind regards,

Eleni and Val and John.

In a follow-up mail the Perth Group elaborated:

1.  The absolutely necessary but not sufficient conditions to prove the
existence of HIV is to obtain the HIV genome from retrovirus-like particles and then find the same genome in vivo.

Like Robin Weiss before him, Prof Ruggiero replied by appealing to the general rulelessness of virology:

your statement that “The absolutely necessary but not sufficient conditions to prove the existence of HIV is to obtain the HIV genome from retrovirus-like particles and then find the same genome in vivo.” in my humble opinion contains an error. Id est, to make a statement without providing a rationale for this absolutistic statement. In other words, where and by whom is written such a statement, or, as you like to ask, could you please provide a quotation backing this affirmation of yours? Or, even more precisely, where is the evidence for claiming that “The absolutely necessary but not sufficient conditions to prove the existence of HIV is to obtain the HIV genome from retrovirus-like particles and then find the same genome in vivo”? ... Here I pose my question for you: what are the absolutely necessary but not sufficient conditions to prove the existence of Marco Ruggiero at the light of the recent discovery of the human microbiome? Please consider that in my (?) body there are 25.000 billion clonal (hopefully al clonal!) eukaryotic cells and ten times more bacterial cells, each with a different DNA, all contributing to my individual (?) existence. If you can provide me with your definition for existence of such a composite being, then I shall try to answer your question about HIV.

The advantage of an appeal to rulelessness is readily understood. If no terra firma is found on which the discussion can take place, the positive statement, “HIV is an exogenous retrovirus”, cannot be challenged, even on its own terms. Regardless of which authority, quotation or evidence one delivers for a specific rule, it can be countered by the same appeal to rulelessness, invoking infinite regress (“on whose authority rests your authority’s authority?” etc) and relativism (“I have another equally good authority saying something different), a tactic familiar to most trial lawyers.

Or it can be countered by shifting the ground to a discussion of parts, wholes and composites in a philosophical nowhereland.

But we can get around all of this quite easily if Prof. Ruggiero could be persuaded to simply abide by the common rules of logic and scientific reasoning. In the interview with Celia Farber, he already implicitly established his criteria for proving the existence of an exogenous retrovirus. The argument can be summarised in this manner:

First part: X (a nucleotide sequence) exists

X is attributed to Y (HIV defined as a retrovirus)


Y exists.

Second part: X is non-homologous with Z (the Sanger human genome)


Y2 (HIV defined as an exogenous retrovirus) exists

The second part of Ruggiero’s argument rests on the first part. And what is the logic of the first part? A classic tautology. As all arguments for the existence of HIV, it assumes the existence of that whose existence we want to prove. It also assumes that there is a defined whole of which the nucleotide sequence is a part. Even if, for the sake of argument, we allow the tautology, this is fallacious as the following example makes clear:

Where there is a fire there is smoke


Where there is smoke there is a fire

It is easy to conceive of instances of smoke without a fire without rejecting the premise that where there is fire there is smoke. The whole, a fire, does not follow logically from the part, smoke, even allowing that fires do exist.

So how about this:

Where there is a retrovirus there is a nucleotide sequence


Where there is a nucleotide sequence there is a retrovirus

Even if we grant the existence of HIV, the argument is plainly fallacious. It is thus according to the simplest rules of logic when the Perth Group asks that X (the HIV genome) be obtained from Y (a retroviral particle) in order to prove that X is a part of which Y is the whole. Before this is achieved, it is quite irrelevant whether it follows from the second part of Ruggiero’s argument that HIV is exogenous.

To sum up, if one understands that the existence of Y does not follow from the existence of X, unless it is already established that Y is a part of X , one need look no further for the authority on which rests the claim that:

The absolutely necessary but not sufficient conditions to prove the existence of HIV is to obtain the HIV genome from retrovirus-like particles and then find the same genome in vivo.

At this point one might appeal to induction. We might say: “So far, for every instance of X there has turned out to be a Y” – for every instance of a nucleotide sequence possessing certain defining characteristics there has turned out to be a corresponding retrovirus.

This argument is empirical, as science should be. But would it be true?

RA has grown very fond of human endogenous retroviruses (HERV) lately and boasts at least a couple of board members who claim unique insight into their nature and whereabouts, so the Perth Group’s request should be easy to meet. If in every instance (other than HIV) there is a retrovirus corresponding to a certain kind of nucleotide sequence, it should be easy to provide evidence for the existence of at least one such HERV.

If Prof Ruggiero can provide evidence for the existence at any point in time and space for these several microorganisms he tells us now contribute their parts to his whole, perhaps the mystery of the existence of a being as composite as him would no longer be an obstacle to presenting the evidence for an entity as simple as HIV.

We are looking forward to seeing this evidence.