“…the situation we have in America right now, where any neurotic woman can make any stupid charge and destroy a man's reputation. If there is evidence of false accusation, the accuser should be expelled.”
Camille Paglia, Playboy interview, May 1995.
Who is Dr. Sally Blower? Why is Head of the Disease Modeling Group at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA making claims in writing that are confusing, contradictory and so easily refutable? Why is she, along with her researchers, churning out alarming press releases that inspire confusion and panic among populations already stigmatized? Why are her findings based on these studies being published in supposedly respectable journals and magazines? Why would the director of the Center for Biomedical Modeling at UCLA, claiming to design effective, ethical and optimal implementation strategies for the rollout of HIV treatment in Africa, demonstrate such astonishing cultural, social and political tone deafness in San Francisco and Los Angeles? And why are so few media organizations challenging the extrapolations and misinformation they yield, which have the very real potential to interfere with AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment strategies on a global scale?
In July 1992 Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie, a version that spoke little phrases. Among the 270 phrases was "Math class is tough!" By October, in response to criticism from the American Association of University Women, Mattel apologized, hastily removed the offensive phrase from the chip containing the phrases, reducing the number of phrases to 269, (even though only 1.5% of the dolls were said to utter the phrase), and agreed to exchange any Barbie doll commenting on math.
Admitting they had made a mistake, Mattel's president, Jill E. Barad, wrote to the American Association of University Women, stating: “In hindsight, the phrase 'math class is tough,' while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included." She added: "We didn't fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase, nor were we aware of the findings of your organization's report."
A number of issues from this incident are instructive. Did Barbie’s subjective opinion on math perpetuate stereotypes regarding girls and math? Did the American Association of University Women have a legitimate point, and was their demand for action effective? Did Mattel act appropriately once attention was drawn to potential damage based on perpetuating stereotypes? Fast forward to January, 2010.
An alarmist press release from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on January 14th headlined "Study predicts HIV drug resistance will surge," touted the publication of a study in the journal Science. It was remarkably similar to an August 2001 headline on a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) release about another drug resistance study based on a math model by Dr. Blower, which read "Researchers predict future of drug-resistant HIV epidemic."
Dr. Blower, the 52 year old Head of the Disease Modeling Group at UCLA, stated that by “2013, the proportion of new infections resistant to NNRTIs may have increased by 30 per cent in the city compared with now.”
Like the fallout over the MRSA (multi-resistant staph infections) over two years ago, in which an ill-conceived press release and erroneous extrapolations from a UCSF study resulted in widespread condemnation from the gay community, as well as a collaborative series of steps to ensure it didn’t happen again, the findings from UCLA's study offered nothing new. A deliberately sensationalized press release from UCLA overstated both the relevance and importance of the results.
Worse, one of the researchers, Justin Okano, quoted in the release implied that, if not evoked, irresponsible, drug-imbibing, HIV-infected gay men were responsible for a “surge” of epidemic proportions of multi-resistant HIV strains over the next five years.
"Our model showed that what is going on in San Francisco is very complicated — but in a nutshell, it is due to the bug, the drugs and sex," he said.
The refutations were fast and furious.
Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's HIV prevention chief, told us at a recent community event (sponsored in part by UCSF, and as a result of the MRSA mess from two years ago), that HIV drug resistance is not a public health crisis, and that Blower’s supposedly new model revealed nothing new, adding that the study “should not change clinical practice or public health policy.”
In a meeting of the HIV Prevention Planning Council on January 14th, 2010, Dr. Colfax advised that the San Francisco Public Health Department was responding in real time to concerns raised by the article in Science, stressing however, that he did not want to over respond to the article giving it more credence than necessary. He stated that they “used data to make assumptions and came up with a scenario based on modeling which is not incorrect.”
Dr. Colfax had little choice other than to deal with questions raised by the alarming press release. In an interview with Bay Area Reporter’s Seth Hemmelgarn, he stated that “in San Francisco, as more people have gone on treatment, we've seen dramatic drops in morbidity and mortality, and we're starting to see a decline in newly reported HIV infections." Dr. Colfax added, unambiguously, that San Francisco’s “treatment options are better than ever before, and while resistance is an ongoing concern, and always will be, we also need to be clear that the benefits of treatment are high and that the new guidelines regarding treatment have swung toward recommending treatment earlier.”
Dr. Blower dismissed Hemmelgarn’s suggestion that the study might be considered alarmist or unbelievable by touting that the paper was being published in "one of the best" scientific journals in the world.
"What I'm concerned about is that people will use this paper either to not treat or to delay treatment," Dr. Colfax told the San Francisco Chronicle. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the division of AIDS at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland confirmed Mr. Colfax’s assertion that development of resistance is not an insoluble problem. “The emergence of HIV drug resistance is not a dead end,” he said. “We can identify patients who are failing treatment and switch them to other, effective regimens.”
However, despite dire predictions from a 2001 study using her math models, in which Dr. Blower predicted that by 2005, 42 percent of all HIV cases will be drug-resistant, the transmission of drug-resistant virus seemed to increase from 2003 to 2007, to the point where, in San Francisco in the year 2007, 28 percent of all new cases of HIV were resistant to at least one drug. Not the alarmingly high percentage she predicted by looking into her increasingly murky crystal ball then, or now.
On February 18th, 2010, I sent Dr. Blower and her team a letter (see full text here) demanding an explanation. Seasoned AIDS/HIV and gay activist, Michael Petrelis, had already sent her and her team a letter demanding an explanation, which had been ignored, as had San Francisco Supervisor, Bevan Dufty, requesting a dialog to quell growing community anger. In my letter, I raised objections to the extrapolations pulled from the study, criticized the UCLA communications structure that could enable a press release with dubious findings and flippant, vague and divisive quotes to pass muster for distribution, and expressed doubt that this study had implications for treatment anywhere in the United States, let alone third world or developing countries.
I noted that the study and expression of its refuted findings had the potential to inject uncertainty into critical prevention methodologies and inspire hate legislation aimed at gays and people with HIV/AIDS like we are seeing in Uganda. I added that it was dangerous, callous and inexcusable, and demanded an apology, retraction or both.
On February 25th, 2010, Dr. Blower finally responded to Supervisor Dufty’s letter. My initial reaction, upon reading it, was disbelief, which soon turned to anger. Dr. Blower’s letter was defensive, dismissive of the concerns raised, and bereft of any accountability. Although she ignored my letter, she did unsuccessfully attempt to address some of the issues I had raised, but also falsely accused me of insulting her personally, which I had not done, (it was her work, extrapolations, and manner of expression I took issue with) without even bothering to copy me on it.
Something about Dr. Sally Blower’s passive aggressive response and fabricated accusation didn’t smell right to me. Something about the pitch of her self-righteous indignation struck me as less than sincere. So I decided to do a little research. What I learned about this woman blew my mind. The more I found out about her past, her reputation, her standing and her behavior, the more incredulous I became by her response.
In her letter to Supervisor Dufty, sent on behalf of all of the co-authors of the study, Dr. Blower began by expressing how “extremely sorry” they were that the “UCLA press release has caused such concern,” before instantly shifting the blame. “We wish to stress that the press release was written by the UCLA media person for HIV and was approved by the media team at UCSF.”
In my email to her, I relayed an email message sent to Michael Petrelis from Dale Triber Tate, Executive Director, UCLA Health Sciences Communications and Government Relations, in which she had deflected blame from Enrique Rivero (whose name appeared on the official UCLA press release), and placed the accountability firmly in the hands of the researchers. Ms. Tate outlined UCLA’s procedures through which researchers review and edit the release, and upon consensus, a final version is published. Ms. Tate did acknowledge that if a public information officer discovered a factual error, or if they had problems with the language or tone provided by a scientist, they would convey as much, but that “the researcher is the ultimate arbiter of what is contained in the press release that is distributed.”
Dr. Blower essentially contradicts what Ms. Tate had said. That Ms. Tate, Rivero nor any other public information officer challenged the extrapolations, nor had issue with Mr. Okano’s flippant quote is embarrassing enough for UCLA. But, Dr. Blower is punting blame to Enrique Rivero, in turn suggesting Ms. Tate is actually accountable, not Dr. Blower or her team of researchers. Yet nowhere does she cop to disagreeing with the characterizations, headline, language or tone of the press release.
This is precisely why I had recommended UCLA and anyone associated with the Semel Institute or David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA ensure that researchers stick to statistics, and leave media communications related to these kinds of studies to professionals who are trained to understand the implications of communications released by a renowned educational institution. And why I had wondered, in writing, how Mr. Okano’s quote could pass muster in an official UCLA press release, suggesting UCLA has some urgent, time-sensitive work to do.
Clearly I was correct, since the first step would be to figure out who is actually accountable for communications issued by UCLA. Based on a preponderance of evidence in other areas, I am inclined to believe Ms. Tate first. Dr. Blower goes on to say how the “clinical aspects of my work, over the past decade, have been informed by” her friend and colleague at UCSF, Dr. Jim Kahn, a co-author of the study who she touts as having worked with HIV infected individuals for twenty five years and that “the majority of the patients that he cares for are members of the LGBT (sic).” Perhaps so, but on February 19th, 2010, when reporter Joe Vazquez of KPIX attempted to discuss the mounting criticism over this study and its findings with Dr. Kahn, he refused to appear on camera.
"Consequently, currently circulating NNRTI-resistant strains in San Francisco pose a great and immediate threat to global public health," warned the ominous final sentence of their study. Surely if the alarming extrapolations from this study were even close to true, that there was this great and immediate threat to global health, the authors would do everything in their power to use the media as an opportunity to further awareness, not shy away from a camera like a cockroach being exposed by a flashlight. It certainly didn’t help Dr. Blower, now using Dr. Kahn’s twenty five years of experience to establish her professional bona fides with the LGBT.
With a nauseatingly patronizing tone and disingenuous flair, Dr. Blower continued in her letter to Supervisor Dufty, perhaps confusing him with his young daughter. “We understand that our research has generated strong feelings and emotions however science by its very nature can be controversial, and the press release did reflect the scientific findings in our article. Our major finding is that resistance to antiretrovirals is likely to rise in the next few years in San Francisco. Our findings are based on solid evidence and complex analyses of data collected in San Francisco. Before publication of our article it was thoroughly reviewed by the world’s top thought leaders and editors on the subject.”
Perhaps the economy or a strong commitment toward environmental awareness prevented her from citing the name of just one of the world’s top thought leaders and editors. Like the names of the vocal critics just below. The point we made – experts and non-experts alike – was that the likely rise of resistance to antiretrovirals is already well known. Not news.
Despite the “thorough review” by all these nameless thought leaders and editors, this study and its findings were a non-story. As an editorial in Bay Area Reporter, following our community meeting, stated: “based on modeling and calculations looking at the transmission of drug resistant strains of HIV involving just one class or type of antiretroviral drug – non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs). It was not a study examining the actual levels of drug resistant HIV and rates of its transmission in San Francisco. Other studies that have been done looked at actual levels of transmission of drug resistant strains of HIV and found rates declining, not rising.”
Another recent study touted in an UCLA press release by Dr. Blower touted how her math model, applied to the H1N1 flu virus had determined that “many infections could occur if the infected individual was traveling in economy class but relatively few if the individual was traveling in first class." I suppose there were rocket scientists at NASA figuring out that fifty kids peeing an a baby pool were more likely to warm the water than a single adult in a big pool, so Dr. Blower didn’t use her model for that.
In a letter to The Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2005, Sir Roy Anderson, of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College at the University of London wrote to counter claims by Dr. Blower after she attempted to discredit a 2005 publication by Anderson and Hanson, writing that "the model of an imperfect vaccine with therapeutic effects presented recently by Anderson and Hanson was one that had been designed and analyzed previously by Blower et al." Sir Anderson responded that Dr. Blower "falsely claims that her 1993 and 1994 articles included, to quote, 'the first transmission model of HIV vaccines to assess the potential epidemic-level impact of imperfect vaccines.' This is incorrect — the 1991 Nature article by Anderson et al. was the first."
Of course rivalries exist among scientists, and Sir Anderson has his own fair share of controversies, (such as being on the board of GlaxoSmithKline and his resignation from Oxford University after breaching rules by failing to disclose his business interests), but Sir. Anderson flat out accused Dr. Blower of deliberately falsifying facts. "I hope your readers will draw their own conclusions as to the origins of both the first mathematical model (and associated analyses)," Sir Anderson wrote tersely, allowing the model to speak for itself.
An eye-opening article in The Scientist in April 2009, written by Virginia Hughes, reveals that not everyone is enamored by Dr. Blower’s predictive models, which appear to have been drawn from the same template and applied to a variety of different diseases. Critics responded specifically to a controversial paper that suggested a vaginal microbicide against HIV could benefit men more than women by pointing to her models as overly simplistic and not grounded in reality. The very criticism Dr. Blower uses to debunk World Health Organization HIV prevention and treatment strategies, and tout herself as an "infamous WHO critic," as evidenced in her recent study, “Voluntary universal testing and treatment is unlikely to lead to HIV elimination: a modeling analysis.” And the same excuse she and her team use to avoid discussing how they arrived at their conclusions. Hence, Okano’s quote, “Our model showed that what is going on in San Francisco is very complicated — but in a nutshell…”
According to Ms. Hughes, microbicide experts took issue with the model's real-world relevance, some willing to go on record, such as Lori Heise, director of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, in Washington, D.C. who published them in a letter to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in November, 2008. "In some way, we felt like they slightly missed the point… It's not clear whether the microbicides are absorbed in the bloodstream, where drug resistance would occur. Plus, in order for men to benefit from the microbicide, it would have to protect them from an HIV-positive woman… There's not much biological plausibility at this point to know that that would be the case," Ms. Heise wrote.
Ms. Hughes also quoted Ron Gray, a reproductive epidemiologist and HIV specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who stated: “I have not felt that there was a high degree of credibility [in some of Blower's work] mainly because some of the clinical and biological underpinnings or assumptions in her work just were not particularly realistic in my view.”
Ms. Hughes admitted there were some scientists who had nice things to say about her, but an astonishing seventeen international experts in infectious disease modeling declined to talk to Ms. Hughes about Dr. Blower's research. And three cited “specific unpleasant personal or professional interactions with her.”
Dr. Blower flaunts her expertise as a Hollywood consultant on her resume and other self-promotional collateral, supported by Ms. Hughes article in which she relays a story told by television art director Karen Steward, who was seeking to develop a mathematical model as a plot device for an episode of the CBS drama NUMB3RS, and who despite knowing little about the subject, found Dr. Blower’s equations too simplistic. Recalling the occasion, Dr. Blower said to Ms Hughes what must be the most revealing of anything she’s said to date: “She wanted pretty math. So we ended up writing down equations for them that really didn't have anything to do with what they were saying." The question today, is whether Dr. Blower’s extrapolations amount to anything more than a bunch of simplistic, made up, self-validating shit, made to look pretty – for some communities.
“Both Jim and I have discussed our findings with Dr. Grant Colfax at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and we are all in agreement that there is no need for alarm,” Dr. Blower wrote. A position Dr. Colfax has held from the outset, and that flies in the face of the alarmist nature of the study findings and press release. If there really was likely to be a “surge” of epidemic proportions in the next five years, why wouldn’t that be cause for alarm unless it was all a crock of shit?
Attempting to save face from having just agreed that there was nothing in her findings or study that was cause for alarm, she continues: “However my coauthors and I believe that our results indicate that more widespread and more frequent testing for HIV is essential. We hope that our results will both inform Public Health officials in San Francisco of the potential for an increase in drug resistance and build awareness in the community.”
Let me try being nice here. Perhaps Dr. Blower can help explain why the comment above looks nothing like the press release. Perhaps she can help the idiots among us who wonder where the similarity lies between a finding that warns of an unequivocal epidemic “surge” of HIV resistance in the next five years, and this insipid, non-committal “potential” increase in drug resistance and that “more widespread and more frequent testing for HIV is essential.” Perhaps she can help the illiterate, lobotomized and stoned morons among us understand how “hoping to build awareness” in the community you’ve targeted with big bulls eye on its back is achieved by demonizing them, refusing to listen to their concerns and running away from the cameras when they ask questions.
Dr Blower’s letter continues: “We strongly believe that scientists, clinicians and members of the HIV/AIDS communities need to work together to advance research, policy and the clinical care of people with HIV/AIDS. However to achieve these aims we do not believe that we should hold back enhancing the awareness of critical science because some individuals don’t feel comfortable with the findings.”
Dr. Blower’s understanding of community would be funny if it was not so smug and arrogant. First, despite her unprofessional and hypocrisy-riddled letter, Dr. Blower makes assumptions. I wrote to her as an individual who was insulted and angered by the false, homophobic and sensational extrapolations in her press release, and how dangerous and irresponsible it was. As it happens, I am not a member of the HIV/AIDS community, and nor do I need to be in order to engage in this dialog.
Secondly, no one asked anyone to sugarcoat studies or hold back enhancing awareness of legitimate studies, and intelligently formulated interpretations. Dr. Blower’s disingenuous, defensive posturing is as relevant as if I was to conduct a study, using a rehashed template model to prove how a surge in misogyny in Westwood, California can be possibly be traced to self-identified feminist researchers who have also filed false sexual and gender harassment charges. And then feign indignation at the very suggestion I should hold back on the findings because they may make the community of faux feminists uncomfortable.
Yes, let me explain. Rather than address any of the real issues and concerns raised in my letter, or Michael Petrelis’ letter, Dr. Blower chose this route: “I have been extremely troubled by the emails that I have received from Mr. Petrelis and Mr. Clinton Fein as they have been extremely insulting to me both personally and professional (sic). I have previously received such emails from Mr. Petrelis over the past decade and I am no longer willing to discuss any topics with him or with other any individuals who use the same approach. It is unproductive and divisive.”
Never mind that my letter was very different from the letters sent by Michel Petrelis. Never mind that my goal was to engage her in a legitimate dialog. According to Dr, Blower, sending an email is unproductive and divisive. Really? Not according to what I discovered about her. If anything, email -- especially public -- is a weapon she uses with considerable aplomb.
First, there was her scandalous departure from UCSF. On April 6, 2000, in a jaw-dropping, unprofessional tirade in the form of an email to colleagues at UCSF, Dr. Blower wrote: “It was obvious that my career was not going to ‘flourish’ in [Dr. Lee Goldman (Chairman of Medicine)] Goldmans department & I wanted to leave UCSF - I started looking for jobs elsewhere - the Senior Boys wanted [husband, Nelson Freimer] Nelson to stay – so it was decided that I could move to Microbiology & Immunology - I did.”
She also admitted to sending an email containing all her grievances “to a handful of senior male colleagues at Yale, MIT, Harvard, NIH, Stanford, Berkeley & Cornell.” As well as to “the publisher of Nature Medicine (Dr. Adrian Ivinson).”
"If they think this is the correct way to treat women, I find it offensive. I don't want to be at this kind of institution," Dr. Blower told Science magazine who wrote that Dr. Blower “told Nature Medicine that her experiences during five years at USCF have adversely affected her career, health and home life and she now wants to go public with her allegations to ‘expose institutional sexism’ within UCSF School of Medicine in the hope of changing the system for others.”
Of course, the “whistle-blowing” email was sent only once Dr. Blower had been offered a position at UCLA’s School of Medicine.
In response to her allegations, UCSF Chancellor, J. Michael Bishop wrote, on the same day, April 6, 2000: “Many of you by now know that Dr. Sally Blower, Associate Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine, has made allegations of misconduct and discrimination against UCSF and several of our faculty. Dr. Blower chose not to file these allegations as a formal grievance with the campus, but instead has publicized them by means of several widely distributed emails to colleagues, scientific journals and the press.”
Bishop was forced to disclose the fact that he had tasked Professor and Associate Dean Zina Mirsky from the School of Nursing to investigate Dr. Blower’s allegations, despite usually keeping such investigations confidential, adding: “The allegations are not entirely explicit. But they have been interpreted to include institutional sexism, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and professional misconduct.” Concluding, Bishop revealed the conclusion of the investigation: “In examining each and every one of Dr. Blower's charges, Dr. Mirsky found no misconduct or inappropriate behavior on the part of any of the faculty named by Dr. Blower. I have accepted these findings and plan no further action on this matter.”
Apparently Dr. Blower, this barrier-breaking, self-described scientific feminist, didn’t plan on actually doing anything either. In a January 2001 article in Nature Medicine magazine, Dr. Blower demonstrated just how egregiously UCSF had treated her, telling the publication: “Class action suits are the way to go. Universities can easily discredit an individual." She also told the publication that the reason she didn’t seek legal remedy was because she had taken another job and that legal action "would have dragged on for years."
According to the San Francisco Examiner’s Ulysses Torassa, even “the head of the school's affirmative action office, [Diane Wara] who has been sympathetic to Blower, called her portrayal of events ‘overblown and out of perspective.’” Dr. Blower told Ms. Torassa there is nothing Ms. Wara can do so “she spends her time arranging lunches for women faculty to get together and making sure that there are tampon machines in every women's restroom." Can you get any more condescending?
So in 2000, following her husband to Los Angeles, the feminist Dr. Blower, joined the Department of Biomathematics at UCLA. "If people want to think I've made up a bunch of crazy stories about people at the university, they can think that. I know what's happened, and I have a great job" Dr, Blower told the Examiner in an abrasive, unresolved parting shot at UCSF. "I'm not trying to extract any money out of the university. I'm trying to point out the terrible way women are treated here."
Dr. Blower would later reveal that the “School of Medicine initially wanted to hire her as an associate professor, but her husband said he would join UCLA on the condition that Blower was also offered a full-time position.” That’s feminism for you.
On 12 November 2004, the dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, Gerald Levey, served Blower notice that Dr. Blower was barred from entering the biomathematics administrative offices pending resolution of charges filed in June. The November letter accused Blower of “causing hives and increased blood pressure in two department administrators because she allegedly refused to leave their offices until security was summoned.”
Of course, Dr. Blower denied intimidating the administrators, noting that the incidents left her “almost in tears.” Just as she wrote in her mass email to her colleagues, how she had been “reduced to tears” following her meeting with Dr. Lee Goldman Chairman of Medicine at UCSF.
A lot of “almost crying,” Dr. Blower.
Dr. Blower left the Department of Biomathematics to become a professor in residence at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the Department of Psychiatry.An April 2005 article in Science revealed that she was under attack from UCLA this time. She was accused of “threatening students and harassing faculty, according to documents supplied to Science by Dr. Blower and her husband, UCLA geneticist Nelson Freimer. According to the documents, UCLA Vice Chancellor Donna Vredevoe referred five charges against Blower to the school’s Committee on Privilege and Tenure. The charges included “failure … to hold examinations as scheduled,” “use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student,” and “verbal abuse, false statements, disparagement, and harassment of faculty.”
According to UCLA’s Daily Bruin, Dr. Blower and her husband, Nelson Freimer, now a UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the neuroscience department, “claimed the university was trying to push her out of the department,” calling the accusations “ridiculous.” But regarding the charge of verbal abuse, she admitted “to sending ‘rude e-mails’ to members of her department,” because they had not “responded to her inquiries,” according to Science Magazine.
UCLA’s Daily Bruin also reported that Dr. Blower had filed countercharges against David Meyer, an associate dean of the School of Medicine, William Friedman, an associate dean of the School of Medicine, and Elliot Landaw, the chairman of the biomathematics department. Dr. Blower “declined to discuss the specifics of the charges, but said they were filed because she felt she was not included in the department’s graduate program and was being ignored altogether.”
But the ridiculous, supposedly false accusations in April were remarkably different by October, 2005.
In a statement released by UCLA, Dr. Blower “acknowledges that over the course of several years her behavior was at times inappropriate.” Dr. Blower also admitted “her disparaging statements about the Department of Biomathematics ... and the university were unwarranted. ... Professor Blower further acknowledges that she has not been the subject of gender discrimination, retaliation, harassment or improper exclusion of departmental activities,” the statement read.
Once again, Dr. Blower was embroiled in a slew of false accusations and gender discrimination, which she was forced to retract, just as Chancellor Bishop had found her claims at UCSF meritless and unwarranted.
Despite her track record, and her willingness to sensationalize the results of her studies, Dr. Blower fancies herself as an activist, yet even this exercise in ego boosting is two-faced. In a brochure for a Neremberg lecture at The University of Ontario in March, 2008, she positions herself as “Scientific feminist,” “Infamous WHO Critic,” “AIDS Activist,” and “Movie consultant.”
Her official resume on the UCLA site, however, boasts of her membership of World Health Organization’s HIV Drug Resistance Surveillance & Monitoring Network Planning Group and World Health’s HIV Drug Resistance & Monitoring Network Mathematical Modeling Working Group. How infamously critical can you be of an organization if you're touting your membership or affiliation on your resume?
Having learnt these things about Dr. Blower makes me less hopeful that she has an interest in genuinely addressing legitimate anger over her extrapolations and the extent to which they, along with the press release and comments can be damaging. Dr. Blower’s refusal to apologize or recognize the social implications of her actions in her own back yard, let alone retract the statements and findings, are enough to make me shudder to think about the extent to which she has the cultural awareness to be contributing to the debate positively in developing countries.
The issue with Dr. Blower is that these incidents are not far away in the distant past, where they shouldn’t be considered. These incidents happened just a few years ago. To send public emails to magazines and professional colleagues referring to the “Senior Boys” whilst touting herself as a scientific feminist, appears as if she’s a college student who just discovered feminist studies in 1995.
This scientific feminist is from the old school. But not quite. Certainly not the pioneering kind like Susan B. Anthony, Ida Jackson or Betty Friedan. Not even like reviled feminists and anti-porn activists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who despite everything, still had an iota of interest that extended beyond the self. Dr. Blower is the self-proclaimed kind that corrosively damages real gains made by women to legitimately protect themselves and not because of an intelligent aversion to contemporary feminism’s much inherent hypocrisy, like Camille Paglia. Hers is a narrower, selfish, self-interested, privileged, white middle class appropriation of feminism that uses her gender to manipulate people, threaten lawsuits, allege gender discrimination, and when all that fails, relies on her husband to get her a position.
It is mind boggling. In terms of how she must perceive men. In terms of how she must perceive gay men. Her failure to even predict the fall out, based on the Bay Area Reporter Seth Hemmelgarn’s questions in January, and her assertion that the comments in the press release were not intended to be homophobic reveals everything. As does her defensive posturing and manipulation in this response to Supervisor Dufty. In a remarkable follow up editorial, the Bay Area Reporter pointed out that Dr. Blower’s paper “also infers, through that final sentence, that somehow this resistant virus will be widely transmitted to folks in the developing world. How, when, and where will that happen? NNRTI resistant virus is being transmitted at this moment through heterosexual sex in Johannesburg and other Sub-Saharan locations where NNRTIs are widely prescribed. What may or may not be happening in San Francisco has nothing to do with HIV transmission there.”
These aren’t petty grievances. Playing games with communities is dangerous, with the potential to inject uncertainty into critical prevention methodologies and inspire hate legislation aimed at gays and people with HIV/AIDS like we are seeing in Uganda. It is dangerous, callous, ignorant and inexcusable.
In her letter to Supervisor Dufty, Dr. Blower agrees to talk to him if he wants to talk... about the science. Of course she can only discuss the science. Beyond that, and even that is questionable, she hasn’t the slightest clue what she is talking about.
Or maybe, she does.
Causes Clinton Fein Supports
First Amendment Project
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network