yesterday, entitled "Exit dr. Mikovits?"
I can add that dr. Mikovits was fired from the WPI.
Here's the ostensible reason, as given by the WPI:
Peterson Institute is announcing the departure of Dr. Judy Mikovits
from WPI. We wish to thank her for her previous work and commitment.
The WPI remains committed to a comprehensive research program. Our
research team and program remains active, and our lab open to
authorized employees. We will continue the critical work of finding
answers to M.E. and related diseases. We will use the opportunity
created by the departure of Dr. Mikovits to do a full evaluation of our
research lab and current research projects. WPI is dedicated to the
highest standards in research and patient care, and to advocating for
the patients, families and caregivers we exist to serve.'
This doesn't clarify
anything much, but at least it is a public statement by the WPI that
dr. Mikovits doesn't work anymore for them, nor indeed speak for them.
Otherwise, there are
- so far, today - two pieces of news, both messy, or messing up the
Lombardi, Mikovits et. al. article in Science of two years ago.
Neither source is much liked by ME patients, who don't like the
aspersions on their character and illness from these sources, I think
with some justice, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are mistaken,
nor does it mean that they are right, indeed.
The first source is Trine
Tsouderos, who is a journalist writing for the Chicago Tribune,
with little sympathy for Judy Mikovits, and with this title, the
original given by the link in the title
alleged in paper linking virus, chronic fatigue syndrome
Here are the first
four paragraphs, under a photography of dr. Mikovits, smiling at the
camera in 2009, dressed in a white lab coat:
The journal that
published a high-profile paper linking
chronic fatigue syndrome to a
retrovirus is now investigating alle- gations that a figure in that
report was manipulated.
The appearance in Science of the 2009 paper caused an immediate
sensation among patients who have yearned for an explanation for their
condition. Its authors said they had found evidence of a retrovirus
called XMRV in the blood of people with chronic fatigue syndrome more
frequently than in the blood of their healthy peers.
The report included a figure purporting to depict
lab test results from seven blood samples, including two from
chronic fatigue syndrome patients whose blood appears to show evidence
of XMRV and five from healthy people whose blood does not.
But the leader of the team that authored the 2009 paper, researcher
Judy Mikovits, apparently presented the same figure -- carrying
different labels and supporting a different point -- in a talk given at
a conference on Sept. 23 in Ot-tawa.
And here we have arrived at the second source, in that the
last paragraph was found by a virology-student (for the Ph.D.) who
calls herself 'Erv', who has a blog, from which she has been
attacking dr. Mikovits and the WPI ever since the publication of the
2009 Science paper, and possibly before.
The last I don't
know about, and it seems that 'Erv' (or maybe someone who backs her)
has some long-standing feud with dr. Mikovits, in view of the language
'Erv' has recourse to, such as "a gigantic fucking cunt", for dr.
Mikovits. (Is this a frustrated lesbian ex-lover, perhaps? I mean: it's
pretty emotional language, from a Ph.D. student, also, about a
considerably senior colleague.)
Then again, facts
are facts and what 'Erv' seems to have uncovered is that a talk of dr.
Mikovits last September, and possibly also the Science article,
present the same picture in two - possibly even three - totally
different roles, with totally different consequences.
There are pictures
of these pictures at various places on the internet, and indeed to me
they seem to be copies - but then again I do not know who produced the
pictures of these pictures, nor do I know the science to understand
what they are supposed to prove or support.
pictures of these pictures are the pictures of the original pictures (I
said it was MEssy in the title!), then indeed dr. Mikovits produced the
same slide in evidence of two (maybe three) completely different points
that - it seems - that same slide can't support all.
This then either
happened by accident or by design. As far as I can see - not very far,
but I know about lecturing and slides, if indeed I also do not know
much about retrovirology and the precise import of related pictures -
it may have been an accident.
Then again, some
might say dr. Mikovits has been hit by quite a few of accidents that
should not have happened - and "some" includes Cort Johnson,
who owns Phoenix Rising and has followed the XMRV-story in
considerable detail ever since it broke, and who also personally met
many of the participants. Here he is on Phoenix Rising, with the link
to the original in the name:
Cort Johnson (Oct 3, 2011): I can't imagine this is all about the cell lines. I believe
this was the tip of the iceberg - the straw that broke the camels back
- Dr. Mikovits has made a long series of mistakes....I have heard that
she refused to share data in the team, she was apparently the one that
refused to have Dr. Peterson's name on the original paper, her many
statements that had no backing behind them, her aspersions against
other researchers - all of this must have added up. In my opinion Dr.
Mikovits torpedoed the WPI and damaged its credibility probably
In one of the science articles she talked about what sounded like 100's
of healthy controls that had tested negative for XMRV - which was
obviously in retrospect not true. You can go on and on - the statements
that the problems were caused by storage issues, then it was freezing
the samples, before that it was culturing, then it was the antibody
tests.....when last I talked to her - the BWG samples had been
compromised by people taking antiviral and immunomodulators......
I think the WPI had to do this to survive honestly
This seems like a
fair and informed sum up, though indeed it is also fair to add that
most would not be considered against dr. Mikovits if several
reputable researchers had confirmed her statements in the Science
article, for then it all would have been passed over as 'personal
style', is my guess.
So...was the 2009
(1) an honest mistake,
(2) was it a fraud, or
(3) is there really something to XMRV, in medicine, if not in ME/CFS?
I think it is too
early to say, but here are a few relevant quotations from the many
comments on 'Erv's blog - 351, when I last looked - that incidentally
differ a lot in quality, in style and in scientific education of the
writers, but also are nearly all anonymous, which I find a bit odd, if
also human-all-too-human, at least in supposedly reputable scientists,
or - to be fair - in anonymous commenters many of whom do insist they
are in fact real retrovirologists or medical scientists.
But the following is
mostly quite sensible and polite, and in fact - it would seem - by an
anonymous virologist or two, and an also anonymous patient.
I start with the
virologist, whose alias is ghholm (*),
who seems to know a fair amount about ME/CFS and dr. Mikovits - and the
numbers with which my quotations start are links to 'Erv's blog, where
they appear with that number - and part of the following comment refers
back to the issue about the pictures:
(ghholm, Oct 3, 11):
But even still, I
never imagined it would be that outrageous. What a total debacle! No
way whatsoever for Mikovits to dig herself out of this hole.
Thanks so much,
ERV, for your coverage on this! I had my students read the Science
paper and follow the ensuing controversy in my Virology class last
year, and have a bunch of students eagerly following the story, but I
never thought it would end up here! You (and the anonymous tipster)
have done a great service to the virology community for latching on to
this issue and helping to bring it to light. Well done!
Then by the same
writer, fair and decent enough:
(ghholm, Oct 3, 11):
No matter how many
times we say it, (and I think that it gets lost in all the vitriol and
anger), the real tragedy is still for the ME/CFS patients that got so
excited about a possible cause/cure for their illness, and who got
essentially suckered in by Mikovits and VIP Dx. There should be
restitution for those people, who have already suffered enough. As a
scientist and educator, it saddens me to see the scientific process so
sullied by greed and ego, but in this day where "translational science"
is all the rage, and the time from bench to clinic is so short, I
forsee this happening more and more in the future
I don't know about
the restitution, since it can be said the patients took a risk as
adults, and could have known it might not hold up as they hoped it
would. Besides, it seems probable the responsibility is spread over
quite a few, most of whom acted in good faith.
Next, a sensible
post by a patient, seeking scientific information:
(Faye, Oct 4, 11):
A patient here. I
read over the blog and all the comments, but still am not sure what
(beyond the idea that Mikovits clearly seems to have used the same
slide in presentations purporting to be about two different studies)
you're suggesting here.
Is it possible
that the whole thing was purposely fabricated fro the start rather than
a result of contamination? Wouldn't that be hard to do, since multiple
labs were involved? How many people would have to be participating in
such a fraud for it to work?
Or is it that
you're suggesting that the original paper was contamination, but
Mikovits was so vested that she then started making things up? Or
something else that I'm not understanding? What's the worst case
And in simple
language please -- it might go a long way to making patients get
through this if they knew clearly what the possibilities are.
Also briefly --
even if this was a total fraud, I hope that scientists don't give up on
this disease. People are really suffering, not everyone who has it is
wacko, and it's unfair to punish the patients further for having been
taken advantage of.
Thanks very much
for any help with explanations that folks can provide.
This was answered by
one person with at least some knowledge of virology:
RMM Oct 3, 2011):
I'd put my money
on your second option. I guess most fraudulent scientists don't make up
everything. They usually find something that is wrong, become convinced
it is right but then cannot produce the additional data in support of
That is when they
start to make things up - because they "know" they're right and they
believe the doctored results are actually true and further research
will confirm this, they are confident the fraud will not see the light
I know that as an
European leftie I shouldn't get all political, but I guess it's a bit
like making up evidence in support of Iraq owning WMD's in order to
justify an invasion. They thought they would find them anyway, in which
case nobody would have questioned the incorrect evidence.
This may well be
true, although it is, as yet, only a plausible guess. Finally, here is
the virologist again, with what seems a good explanation in principle:
(ghholm, Oct 4, 2011)
Here is a
(hopefully clear) summary of the recent events in XMRV:
1) XMRV itself was
found to be a laboratory artifact; a virus made when human prostate
cancer cells were repeatedly inoculated into different mice. It does
not exist in nature, and did not exist at all prior to the early 1990s.
2) Some of the
analysis (the PCR experiments) in the original Science paper were found
to be the result of contamination of some of the samples with an
artificial plasmid DNA encoding XMRV. The source of the contamination
is not clear, but given the circumstances and the extreme care that the
Silverman group went through to reduce contamination, it is likely that
the contamination originated at WPI. Why this contamination was only
found in "patient" samples and not in normal controls is unknown, but
3) Multiple other
groups, including the Blood Working Group, have found no evidence of
XMRV in any of the samples. Even the groups trying to link XMRV to CFS
can't get a positive signal if they are blinded to the origin of the
samples (that is, they don't know which sample is which).
4) Now, it seems
as though some of the other data in the Science paper is fraudulent.
The immunoblot that was shown in Fig. 2C is actually an image of a
completely different experiment, one that artificially manipulated the
samples in a way that would induce expression of endogenous retroviral
Taken together, it
is now very difficult to trust any data in the original Science paper.
It appears to be a deliberate attempt to manipulate data, in a way that
takes a laboratory artifact and makes it into a bona fide result. My
guess is that the Mikovits group found some provocative preliminary
data, as they ran some PCRs on their original samples and found (the
contaminating) XMRV. They were so excited about the possible
implications of this that they ignored/underestimated the possibility
of contamination, and in the rush to publication they manipulated their
data so as to look more robust and impressive and get the paper into
Science. Everything since then has been a house of cards, built upon a
very shaky foundation.
So, XMRV has
nothing to do with CFS. While it is not out of the realm of possibility
that some other viral illness, possibly even an endogenous human
retrovirus, may have a role, any XMRV findings are likely artifactual.
(And, while I am not an expert on this, the epidemiology of the disease
makes a transmittable viral illness unlikely as the cause of CFS).
I know that the
majority of the scientific community is sympathetic to your cause, and
would like to determine the cause/origin of CFS. We are frustrated by
this apparent case of scientific misconduct, and regret all of the
time/energy/money wasted on this. Hopefully, one benefit of all of this
will be to bring increased attention to CFS, and direct more scientific
interest into actually finding the cause(s) of this disease.
This seems fair and
balanced, but the writer has more relevant knowledge than I have, and
it may also be that dr. Mikovits has plausible rebuttals. Then again,
Mrs. Annette Whittemore seems to have given up on that possibility,
which is one reason for me to reproduce the above.
As my title says, on
the moment it is quite a MEss - but then again most of this will pass,
without anyone being much the worse for it, except perhaps Mikovits,
the WPI and some of the more fanatic patients mostly at MECFS-F. For
the rest of the world it is an obscure squabble about something hardly
relevant to them.
Correction on Oct 5, 2011: It seems that gmholm is not an alias but is
the real name of a(n assisant) professor of biology, which I only found
out at Oct 5. (But I like it real scientists use their real names.)