Second Joan Shenton Documentary, Testing Times, Should Be Called Testing Truth

In my previous post I was highly critical of a documentary by Joan Shenton,  a writer and filmmaker focusing on AIDS Denial propaganda. As I said in the previous post, I am utterly shocked at the level of deception and lack of truth in her films. And this latest film is more duplicitous than the last.

The film is called Testing Times and the focus is stated by narrator Joan Shenton:

“Is the HIV test reliable? Or, is the science behind it desperately flawed?” ( mmmm, smell the bias)

Ms. Shenton breaks the film down into three parts:

  1. The Thinkers
  2. The Scientists
  3. The Lawyers

1. According to the film, The Thinkers are Robert Crumb, “internationally renowned cartoonist” and Martin Barnes, “a thinker, writer and member of ReThinking AIDS.” These are not exactly the credentials one expects in a film dealing with such a complicated issue. However, it doesn’t really matter here because neither man offers anything to substantiate their baseless opinion:

“There’s no such thing as a positive test, really. Because they don’t know what the protein components on the virus are because they have never isolated the virus.”

2. The section of the film entitled The Scientists is a master class in contradictions as well as duplicity. Ms. Shenton states:

“Our two thinkers were first influenced by the scientists who originally challenged HIV as the cause of AIDS.”

The scientists who Ms. Shenton highlight in the film, Peter Duesberg and The Perth Group (Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and Valender Turner) contradict each other in the way they “challenged HIV as the cause of AIDS.” Duesberg believes HIV exists but it is not pathogenic whereas Perth Group do not believe HIV has been proven to exist at all. However, the film never broaches this profound difference and leads the viewer to believe the scientists are on the same page.

Furthermore, Peter Duesberg contradicts the entire premise of the film because Dr. Duesberg does claim that HIV has been properly isolated as well as  genetically sequenced “by the most rigorous method science has to offer”. Ironically, this opinion was in response to Perth Group claiming HIV had not been properly isolated. Therefore, Dr. Duesberg’s belief would validate orthodox science that the protein components of HIV are known and that HIV tests are not deficient for this reason as the “thinkers” stated.

The fact that Ms. Sheton never addresses this glaring dichotomy between her “scientists” is proof that this film is straight up propaganda.

3. The last section, titled The Lawyers, is so egregiously deceptive and untruthful that it is further proof that this film is nothing but propaganda and Ms. Shenton has zero credibility.

Ms. Shenton presents three people who supposedly all received False Positive HIV tests:

  • Terry Hedgepeth
  • Audrey Serrano
  • Jenn Morson

Out of these three people, Hedgepeth and Serrano sued and won multi-million dollar settlements. Ms. Shenton emphasizes these two stories hoping to drive home the severity of receiving a false positive test. However, none of these stories live up to scrutiny.

Terry Hedgepeth was not the victim of a false positive HIV test:

According to court records and interviews with attorney Jonathan C. Dailey,  Hedgepeth went to Whitman-Walker after his then-girlfriend, with whom he had been sexually active, told him that she had AIDS and feared that she had infected him.

The test at the clinic, he would later discover, was negative. But a clinic employee mistakenly wrote in Hedgepeth’s files that he had taken two tests at the clinic and that one of them was positive. Then, a doctor at the clinic failed to carefully review Hedgepeth’s chart and instead began counseling him about the virus.

Here is another source:

In the underlying case, Terry Hedgepeth went for an HIV test in late 2000 at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, now called Whitman-Walker Health, because he had just learned his girlfriend was HIV-positive. A blood test showed Hedgepeth was not HIV-positive but, due to a “human error,” the lab results form was filled out to mistakenly list him as positive.

Clearly the example of Mr. Hedgepeth should not have been in this film as his predicament had nothing to do with the quality of the HIV test nor the science behind it. Remember, in the beginning of the film, Ms. Shenton stated the purpose of her propaganda film:

“Is the HIV test reliable? Or, is the science behind it desperately flawed?”

To further emphasize the false narrative horrible predicament of this man, the film shows a clip of Hedgepeth’s attorney, Jonathan C. Dailey, railing angrily against HIV tests, package inserts and laying the ultimate blame on Big, Bad, Stingy Pharma. Dailey ends his harangue by claiming that a huge class action lawsuit is the only remedy to stop these false positive HIV tests. Again, Mr. Dailey’s client was not the victim of a faulty HIV test.

The story of Audrey Serrano is not as cut and dried as that of Mr. Hedgepeth, but it is equally dubious (as well as suspicious). Ms. Serrano did not sue the clinic where she got the initial HIV test, she only sued Dr. Lai, the doctor who treated her. Dr. Lai did not work at the clinic that administered the initial HIV test:

Serrano’s ordeal began in 1994 after an anonymous test at a clinic in Fitchburg showed that she was HIV positive. Serrano and her attorney, David Angueira, say they are unsure whether the initial test was a false positive, or if it was a record mix-up.

A doctor at the clinic in Fitchburg put Serrano on medication intended to contain the virus without conducting separate tests to confirm the diagnosis, said Angueira.

The entire story is worth reading because it is complicated and very suspicious. Adding to the intrigue is this:

Under cross examination, Lai said she never saw a document that proved conclusively that Serrano was HIV positive. Serrano refused to permit her to contact her former physician directly for more information and never signed a form that would allow other doctors to release medical records to her, Lai said.

Why would Serrano refuse to let Dr. Lai contact her former physician or get any past medical history? Despite the complicated nature of Ms. Serrano’s ordeal, it is certain that this should not have been included in a documentary questioning the validity of HIV tests. This was added simply because of the legal aspect and the amount of money awarded to Ms. Serrano. Adding this to the film is duplicitous at best.

Lastly we have Jenn Morson. A woman who tested false positive (9 times…I’ll get to this later) on her initial screening test. Ms. Morson was pregnant at the time. This is important because it is widely known that pregnancy is the #1 cause of false positive HIV tests. However, even this is not very common:

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, about 1 in every 20,000 HIV tests renders a false positive. 

There are three issues in Ms. Morson’s story that prove her OB/GYN was a bad doctor and is really the one to blame for her patients’ problems:

1. Pregnancy is known to cause false positives on the initial screening test. Her OB/GYN should have known this, but did not.

2. The test result was for HIV2 which is not even found in North America. The OB/GYN should have known this, but did not.

3. The OB/GYN never ordered a confirmatory test.

A follow-up visit with my OB only ratcheted up my anxiety. I told her my research had turned up cases of false-positives in pregnant women, but she was fixated on my failure to disclose my status. When I asked about HIV-2 — the type I supposedly had — she didn’t even know what it was. Instead she handed me a prescription for antianxiety pills and sent me away.

Ms. Morson had to contact another healthcare professional to get the proper confirmatory test which proved she was HIV negative. That is what all AIDS Denialists ignore when they talk about false positives; the confirmatory test. And Ms. Shenton ignored that bit of the story as well. Also, I believe Ms. Sheton chose this story because of the hyperbolic article written by Ms. Morson herself. The title alone is hyperbolic as well as misleading:
How I Tested Positive – Nine Times – While Pregnant
Of course Ms. Shenton’s narration in the film emphasized the “nine times” to make it even more ominous and scary. However, upon reading the article, it is obvious that Ms. Morson’s blood was not drawn nine, separate times as Ms. Shenton would have the viewer believe. Instead, Ms. Morson means that her original blood draw was tested nine times:

“It must be a mistake,” I told the doctor, confident there had been a mix-up at the lab.

“The test was run nine times,” she declared.

The lab had repeated my HIV test nine times, and my new obstetrician was lecturing me for endangering her by not disclosing my HIV status.

This must be a misunderstanding or an outright exaggeration by the OB/GYN because this is not proper protocol at all. I know. This is what I do for a living. After the first positive result, the original specimen would have been re-centrifuged and run again. If it was still positive, the original specimen would have been subjected to a different testing modality for confirmation. No lab in America would just keep running the same specimen over and over and over again.

It is clear that all three of these people were the victims of medical negligence from their doctors not from a faulty HIV test.

In conclusion, this film is either a bad documentary by an incompetent filmmaker or just straight up propaganda. From “thinkers” with laughable credentials, to “scientists” who contradict each other and one who contradicts the entire premise of the film, to “lawyers” who represent victims of desperately flawed doctors, not desperately flawed science.  

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