Previous IndexNL Next

Sep 23, 2011           

Exit XMRV? Science article "False Posi±ive" + more

'A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.'
  -- David Hume.

To continue yesterday's Nederlog about XMRV, there is with today's date an article on the Science pages in pdf format, written by Jon Cohen and Martin Enserink, with the following title - and I put the ± in the title because it's in Science's title: I can't get it bold with the tools I have, and there is a link that may require you to register (which I don't like - I got it from other sources):

False Posi±ive (pdf, 1.2 Mb) (*)

It opens directly under title in bold lettering

A report in Science 2 years ago that linked a mouse retrovirus, XMRV, to chronic fatigue syndrome astonished scientists and patients alike. But the theory soon began to take hits, and now, to all but a few researchers, it has completely unraveled

As first three paragraphs it then has the following stylistic gem:

Done. Case closed. Finito, lights off, The End.

For the past 2 years, a controversy has roiled around the purported link between a mouse retrovirus, XMRV, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a baffling, debilitating disease with no known origin. Many researchers who have followed this saga closely thought that a definitive study, published online this week by Science (http://scim.ag/xmrv-cfs) and conducted by nine labs—including the main proponents of the thesis—would finally bring a halt to the impassioned debate.

Think again.

Well... OK: I think again. My conclusion is that this is emphatically not scientific writing. It's some sort of journalism, and it's writers want to make a point, it seems.

But I got the message - and I suppose it is presented as it is, by messrs. Cohen, Enserink, and the editor of Science, because it all started by a publication in Science.

As I said yesterday, this does seem to me to be the exit of XMRV as the hypothetical cause for ME. (**)

My reasons are also those I gave yesterday

While this still does not refute the hypothesis that XMRV is the cause or part of the cause or the aetiology of ME/CFS, it is strong evidence that (1) it is difficult to ascertain ME/CFS patients are infected with XMRV to a larger or a different extent than others (first abstract), and (2) at least some of the findings of the presence of XMRV are likely to be due to some form of contamination (second abstract).

The reasons this is strong evidence are that (a) it is published in reputable journals (b) on the basis of what seems to be good research, that (c) involves the cooperation of the main authors of the original study that put forward the hypothesis.

That is: There still is Dr. Lipkin's study, but that does involve a similar design as was used by the Blood Work Group (BWG), and there still is the possibility that XMRV or something like it is infectious, dangerous and involved in producing ME/CFS, but indeed I agree that such good evidence as there now is makes XMRV improbable as a cause for ME, and difficult to find in general.

Also, personally I have no problems with that conclusion, because (a) I never have believed XMRV was the cause of ME/CFS, as I never have read good evidence for that, and as indeed also was not claimed by docters Mikovits, Lombardi etc. and (b) I did not myself like the idea of people with ME/CFS harbouring a dangerous retrovirus, that may have infected millions, and constitutes a great danger to public health. (That's my personal ethical valuation, not evidence for or against what the facts about XMRV and ME/CFS are - of course. And indeed, I suppose I share that feeling with most or all of the biomedical researchers into XMRV.)

I outlined my own position probably most clearly in March of this year

Some speculations around ME and XMRV - part I

And I denied the existence of a proved causal relation between XMRV  and ME/CFS in July 2010: Bloody stupid hysteria.

Anyway... it's a pity many patients with ME/CFS have not proportioned their belief to their evidence (qualified by a weight for one's degree of relevant knowledge), but then the position of many patients is very difficult, and their disease has been the reason for much discrimination.

I could make various remarks about the prose and information supplied in Science by Cohen and Enserink, but skip that and only link in some more background information:

       Record of live-chat record with Martin Enserink and Jay Levy

The first of these is one of the authors of the Science article mentioned and linked above, and the second is an associate of Dr. Peterson, who also sought but did not find XMRV in blood of patients with ME/CFS.

It has some interesting questions  and answers, such as this from dr Levy:

Comment From Sandra
So you, Jay Levy, say there is no virus in CFS/ME patiËnts anymore, only a viral response? How can you be sure there is no virus anymore in any tissue?

Jay Levy:

It is very good that you understood my response. Yes I think the agent causing the symptoms of ME and CFS has gone but the immune system remains stimulated against it. What needs to be done is to find a way of quieting down the immune system as is done by most people who are infected by such an agent and do not have a chronic immune activated condition.

This is quite like one of the possibilities I listed in March under "on four causal hypotheses:

That my ex and I remained ill for such a long time - while we studied, and had absolutely no personal interest whatsoever to pretend we were ill - we also tried to explain for ourselves, after we had been ill for 4 months to half a year from EBV, by the hypothesis that something might be bugged in us (in programming terms, that combine well with being infected by EBV) in that our bodies seemed not to be able to fully recuperate from EBV.

That is, we both had a serious case of EBV for ten days to two weeks, and partially recuperated from that, but never fully, and specifically we kept sweating or having diarrhea, and kept feeling miserable and having PEM, which we both quickly decided on was the most characteristic thing that bothered us: That we had to somehow pay for every effort we made, in terms of exhaustion and a worse conditions, for possible a long time after having made a special physical effort, as we often had to, in order to do examinations or be present at some lecture or practicum on which presence was mandatory.

Hmm. (***)

And then there is Amy Dockser Marcus, in the Wall Street Journal: Brief, to the point, clear - and also in a considerably better style than the Science article linked above, or so I think:

Scientists retreat on Chronic-Fatigue Theory

I also like the title, taken as a play on words.

There is considerably more about the subject on the internet, but the above plus the links seems to cover most points I've seen raised.

(*) There are more copies on the net at various places, some in txt or html.

(**) I do not think that it is the end of XMRV, and it still will be quite interesting to see whether dr. Lipkin's research comes to a similar conclusion.

(***) Whether it is nice or not to see a hypothesis I formulated in 1980, what with The Tremendous Progress Of Medical Science, on some fronts, is somewhat ambiguous.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- 25 Sep 2011: Replaced a "XMRV" by "ME" and reworded the statement.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

        home - index - top - mail