Hi all,

As an old research scientist (I'll be 68 in April), I would like to speculate on the basis of my experience in similar situations as to what might have motivated the follow-on researchers to do what they did in terms of not contacting WPI or asking for sharing of samples. (When I mention my experience, I'm referring to a few episodes of this sort that I experienced from the inside. One of them was the so-called "Cold Fusion" fiasco that took place a few years ago. Others were less well known outside the particular scientific specialties, but I lived through several of them.)

Here's what I think went on in the present case: People who work in a certain field of science for a few years begin to think that they are pretty good at it. When something new comes up, as in this case, they often believe that they have a very good idea about how it should be checked out, and they don't think they need to consult with any other research groups. It's really a matter of pride in one's own ability and in the ability of one's immediate colleagues.

The other factor that tends to prevent scientists from contacting other researchers is that they are in competition with them, often for funding, and always for credit for new discoveries. Even if an individual scientist might feel like it would be a good idea to contact another scientist in another institution to share some information, there is often pressure from their coworkers or their institution not to do so. So scientists often isolate themselves from other scientists, and they share their new thoughts only with colleagues in their own group or with a few others whom they know and trust, often because they were at universities together during their studies.

It is a strange combination of wanting to share information for mutual benefit, while at the same time wanting to make sure that one (and one's institution) benefits from any discoveries. What usually has to happen is that some larger body or the common funding agency has to institute a coordinated effort to exchange samples or to call a meeting of all the researchers involved, and hash it out together. Otherwise, the various groups tend to "stand pat" on their results.

In the case of the cold fusion fiasco, the U.S. Department of Energy was the funder for essentially all the labs involved. The DOE put out the word one afternoon that each of the labs was to have a representative in Washington for a meeting at 0800 the next day, and we all hopped onto red-eye flights. That was a very interesting meeting, and things were pretty well resolved shortly thereafter, though there were some hold-outs for a while after that.

I also remember attending semiconductor conferences at which a researcher from one particular company would give a talk in the presence of representatives of other competing companies, and they would assert that they had solved a certain problem, but they would not divulge how they had done it, because of company proprietary information or patent issues. I wondered why they bothered to get up and talk at all, if they were not going to explain what they had done. But money is a big driver in situations like that.

Closer to the interests of this group, a few years ago at the IACFS conference a researcher from Japan gave a talk on research to find biomarkers for CFS from spectroscopic analysis of blood. He claimed that they had identified a certain peak in the spectrum that was characteristic of CFS, but he didn't say what substance in the blood it represented. During the Q and A period, I stood up and asked him what it was. Guess what! He wasn't telling! I think they were working on getting a patent.

I think that whoever it was who said that the explanation for problems of this sort can usually be traced to human stupidity (or other unfortunate characteristics of human nature such as greed or pride) rather than conspiracy was right. Well, anyway, that's my two cents. By the way, I also know that human beings are capable of some very good things, so don't get me wrong!