[Correction: I have consistently referred to the leader of the anti-Ruggiero campaign as Nora, but the correct name/pseudonym is Dora. Thanks to J Todd DeShong (aka Truthy McTruthenstein, and other pseudonyms) for pointing out this error. Both posts about this issue have now been updated.]
I previously reported that the recent attacks on Marco Ruggiero’s academic freedom have been instigated, at least in part, by an Internet troll who goes by various names, including “Snout”. Most of us involved in AIDS questioning are familiar with this nom de plume. Snout is a frequent contributor to comment threads all over the Internet, as a simple Google search will yield well over 2 million hits for “snout + aids + denialists”. Snout also blogs at a site called Reckless Endangerment, which has an Alexa website ranking of about 25M; in other words, he has very few followers, especially considering his tenacity.
My suspicion that “Dora” could be an unwitting tool at best may have been too generous. Though there is reason to believe that Snout is the real instigator of the campaign to discredit Ruggiero, Dora is certainly capable of some pretty hyped up bombast herself. Hopefully, the Italian legal system and law enforcement will manage to expose the true identities of all the poseurs involved.
Just before the HIVForum website was removed from public view for several days, under the pretense of “maintenance”, I managed to mirror (download) a goodly portion of it. When the site came back on-line this morning, there were some notable changes…. and even deletion of content.
At first glance, it appeared that the site administrator had just spent the better part of four days performing some basic housekeeping and organization of the various forums. As a forum administrator myself, I understand the need to do this kind of periodic updating, and have done so at the QuestioningAIDS forums, though those tasks never required the site be in maintenance mode to do so.
Here is a screenshot of the original index page of HIVForums.info as it appeared on March 20, before the site went offline for maintenance:
There were eleven forums in 4 categories.
Upon its restoration for public view today the home page looks like this:
Nine forums in three categories. The two deleted forums include four years of archived posts from a former forum, as well as a forum called “Versa una cura” (Toward a cure), which was composed of reports on published AIDS research studies. All but one of the threads in that forum were created by “Dora”.
As I said, there’s nothing particularly ominous about consolidating and reorganizing a forum index page, though there is certainly something curious about deleting an entire forum about treatment on a site dedicated to serving “HIV-positives”.
The most damning and egregious manipulation of the HIVForum this past week is the deletion of a thread in the forum “Il ‘Gruppo HIVforum'” that directly connects Snout to Dora and the anti-Ruggiero campaign. The thread titles in question are clearly present in this screenshot of that forum, taken before the site was put in “maintenance” mode (inaccessible to public view).
Can you spot what’s missing from today’s version of the HIVForum, following maintenance?
That’s right. Two threads have been excised from the HIVForum. The first one had a single post that was basically a reprint of the article in Nature. That deleted thread can be viewed here.
The second thread, entitled “RETHINKING AIDS: i ‘compagni di merende’ di Marco Ruggiero”, had eight posts, and may prove to be a key to understanding some of the manipulations that have taken place. A portable document format (.pdf) version of this thread in the original Italian can be viewed here. An English version (courtesy of Google Translate) is here. In the opening paragraph of the first post, Dora writes:
And all my thanks to Snout, both for the in depth analyses he has been doing for a long time on denialists’ intellectual crazyness and crakpot actions and for sharing his knowledge with me; both for his ability to maintain a mental stability and a great sense of humor in front of these insanities.
The rest of the thread is mostly channeling Snout’s version of AIDS dissidence, creating along the way caricatures of several prominent and visible members of Rethinking AIDS (RA), arguably the largest and most prominent organization representing AIDS dissidence.
The schism between RA and The Perth Group over the “existential question”, as promulgated by the boisterous South African prosecutor and magistrate Anthony Brink is presented as a “civil war” among dissidents. The peccadilloes of other well-known AIDS rethinkers are aired, and the usual associations with Loch Ness monsters, flying saucers and the like are made. In other words, “Dora” follows to a “tee” the well worn strategy of AIDS apologists to dismiss AIDS questioners by exaggerating and mocking individuals, rather than addressing the scientific questions they raise.
As an Affected observer who is paying attention to some of the details, I have to ask myself: why did the owner of the HIVForum website choose to delete this particular thread, shortly after becoming aware that Marco Ruggiero was going to fight back with legal representation to protect himself against defamation and libel? Two possibilities come to mind almost immediately. Perhaps the extreme vitriol and bombast of “Dora’s” posts are so embarrassing that the site owner decided to remove them. The other plausible explanation might be that HIVForum’s own legal counsel is concerned about Ruggiero’s team’s ability to expose the anonymous individuals through examination for discovery in the Italian courts.
In any event, the deleted content is preserved and is now available here. Once the masks of anonymity are removed, we may know better who to attribute as the source.