` -

Previous IndexNL Next

Nov 17, 2011      `

me+ME: Hillary Johnson on Whittemore vs Mikovits


Here is a follow-up on

    - me+ME: WPI vs Mikovits in court

from two days ago by Hillary Johnson, on her site, with her title:

    - A Bitter Divorce

It reads like good investigative reporting, and contains parts of the WPI's lawsuit and all of dr. Mikovits's lawyer in reply.

Incidentally, there also appeared a piece in ScienceInsider, which is part of Science, by Jon Cohen, who earlier wrote for Science of XMRV and dr. Mikovits's (*) dismissal. Here is a link with its original title.

  - Lawsuit Filed Against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Researcher
        by Former Employer

The last is from 14 november, and I linked it in here only for documentary purposes and will not quote from it.

I also won't quote much from Hillary Johnson, but I lift out a number of mostly paraphrased points:

1.  The WPI lawsuit is fourteen pages apart from exhibits.
2.  The WPI claims dr. Mikovits took a laptop, lab notebooks
     and a flash drive that belongs to the WPI and its research project.
3.  The WPI aims at restitution of their claimed properties and at
     exemplary aka punitive damages from dr. Mikovits.
4.  "a patient" has opened "a Paypal account for the "Mikovits Defense 
5.  "Mikovits is currently constrained from commenting on the lawsuit
     and its allegations."
6.   Mikovits came to the WPI in the summer of 2006.
7.   She signed an agreement with the WPI in 2008 "in which she
      relinquished all proprietary interests in any discoveries she or her
      collaborators might make at the institute".
8.   From the grievances submitted to the court, it seem the WPI claims
      that the disappeared Lab Notebooks and other disappeared materials
      are needed by them "to effectively continue its ongoing experiments
      and important research".
9.   The WPI "parted ways with many of its scientific and medical advisors
      in the past", such a dr. Klimas, Konstance Knox, and dr. Peterson,
      while dr. Deckoff-Jones, like dr. Mikovits, has been "dismissed".
10.  Harvey Whittemore is "a real estate manager, casino owner, former
      state gaming industry lobbyist and attorney, and a power player in
      state politics." He is a Democrat, and also a business partner of
      Harvey Reid, the Democratic U.S. Senator.

This is excerpted and mostly paraphrased from rather a lot more, that you can find under the link to Hillary Johnson's article, that ends with the quotation of all of dr. Mikovits's lawyer. 

I could remark several things about the above ten points, but I will not, except for one remark, and consider them as statements of provisional fact, that I cannot prove nor disprove, and presumably will be relevant and if necessary tested or contested in a US court.

The one remark I do have is on point 4: Persons are free to support persons, but it would seem to me that, speaking for myself, dr. Mikovits has had a very much better paid life and career and life than I have had, and than many patients with ME/CFS have had, and I do not see it as a moral duty of poor patients with ME/CFS to contribute to the funds necessary for dr. Mikovits's defense.

Then as to dr. Mikovits's lawyer's letter. It clearly speaks in favour of dr. Mikovits, but - somewhat oddly, in my opinion - does so in terms which seem calculated to be consumed and believed by patients and supporters rather than by a judge. I will quote some parts that strike me as odd.

A. The first part of the letter is used to contradict the WPI's claims and to draw up a prima facie case that dr. Mikovits cannot have stolen the notebooks, computer, or flash drive, rather like patient Lily Meehan, to whose house dr. Mikovits moved after being dismissed, also tried to do on the website of dr. Deckoff-Jones, that seems to me to be based on a quite questionable and unstated premiss, namely that the things the WPI says are stolen were stolen on the day dr. Mikovits was dismissed.

B. The letter also sketched the disagreement between Mrs. Whittemore and dr. Mikovits about what the lawyer claims but does offer no proof of:

Mrs. Whittemore made an unreasonable and unethical demand that Dr. Mikovits give Dr. Lombardi a cell line paid for by her 01 NIH grant funding. Dr. Mikovits explained to Mrs. Whittemore  that she could not allow that to happen, as she was constrained  by her obligations, ethics, integrity and lawful obligations as a Principal Investigator.  

I see no proof why Mrs. Whittemore's demand was "unreasonable and unethical", especially not as Dr. Lombardi was dr. Mikovits's own colleague in WPI and her own co-author, and as Mrs. Whittemore was dr. Mikovits's employer. And I do see a possible reason why dr. Mikovits may not have wanted dr. Lombardi to see the cell lines: Maybe something was wrong with them that dr. Mikovits did not want to be known was wrong with them. But then I do not know whether this is true, and must guess.

C. The above quoted part then ends with this sentence:

Mrs. Whittemore then screamed at Dr. Mikovits that (expletive deleted) she was fired.

I can't prove this happened in the way it was stated, but I do know that "(expletive deleted)" sounds like an intentional reference to Watergate and president Nixon's prose habits: Surely, this is for patients' consumption rather than a legal argument?

D. In effect, the lawyer turns the WPI's case or argument against Dr. Mikovits around:

Dr. Mikovits’ notebooks, as well as those of the employees whom she supervised, should be returned to Dr. Mikovits so she can fulfill her responsibilities as PI on these government grants and corporate contacts (..)

I read this as saying or suggesting that (1) it is not dr. Mikovits who stole the said stuff from the WPI - it is the WPI that stole the same stuff from dr. Mikovits, and (2) dr. Mikovits cannot do as she promised many patients to do if she does not get that same stuff back.

As to (1): To my knowledge, the only person with a firm personal interest in either having the disappeared stuff herself or in making the stuff disappear is dr. Mikovits: And that namely for either putting pressure on the WPI or for making evidence disappear that Science may require to establish what must happen with the 2009 paper, and what did happen that misled their referees to approve it. Also, I can see no reason why anyone at WPI would want to see the stuff disappear, and good reasons why everyone working there (now) would want to see it not disappear.

As to (2): Dr. Mikovits certainly has made a number of mistakes of various kinds with regards to science and to communicating about science - see e.g. me+ME: It's quite a MEss! - and she also has made many promises to patients. The above can be read as making part of the evidence for the reasons for some of her mistakes disappear, and also as exonerating her from having to fulfill her promises.

E. Then there is this:

Other than private medical information that is not to be disclosed to individuals who are not authorized by an approved IRB protocol, there is no “confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information” in the notebooks. Instead, there is important data that should be published to advance the field of neuroimmune disease. Failure of WPI to make these notebooks and raw data available to Dr. Mikovits so that she can fulfill her obligations and defend against false accusations of fraud will constitute serious harm to her reputation and scientific career.

That there is "private medical information" .. "in the notebooks" is, to my knowledge, a mere claim, and also I fail to see why, if it was there, it was not encrypted.

Then again, if "there is important data that should be published to advance the field", why has this not been published before, "to advance the field"? (And also: Why did nobody have the elementary wit of making a backup?)

In any case, dr. Mikovit's lawyer does not deny "there is important  data" on the stuff that disappeared, and agrees to that extent with the WPI - except that the lawyer, and presumably dr. Mikovits, again turn the case around: It is not dr. Mikovits that stole the stuff; it is the WPI that stole the stuff.

Again, I fail to see why anyone at the WPI would want to steal the stuff, but I can make a fair case, if not based on much evidence, why dr. Mikovits may be thought to have a reason to wish that the disappeared stuff is not inspected by other scientists. 

F. Then the lawyer makes several statements that seem to me again directed only at patients who support dr. Mikovits and may be willing to contribute to her legal costs, and that also are biased or not true:

Dr. Mikovits brought worldwide recognition and awareness of WPI and the victims of a devastating disease, ME/CFS, which continues to change the outlook and scientific research around the world.

That is slanted and vainly grandstanding, at the most sympathetic, and sounds like ad-prose: It is not dr. Mikovits who did this, but she and her team; her co-workers at the WPI; many patients; quite a few doctors, scientists and advocates; some forums; the decision of Science to publish the paper of dr. Mikovits et al in 2009; and the activities of some journalists. Also, it is not as if there was no "recognition and awareness" without either dr. Mikovits or her co-workers or the WPI: There was, without them. What is true is that there was considerably more media-interest in ME/CFS after the publication in Science, but the credit of that must be - also - shared with the referees of Science, I'd say, who by this time probably either are sorry they passed it or have a lot of questions for dr. Mikovits and her colleagues - which dr. Mikovits et al may try to evade by saying "Sorry, can't answer: The WPI stole the notebooks!"

The lawyer continues the above with:

In particular, it is inappropriate and unethical for the WPI to prevent Dr. Mikovits from transferring to another institution the grants she obtained as PI, making it impossible for her complete the projects.

Again, this seems to me not to be written for a judge, but for patients and supporters, for it surreptitiously smuggles in the suggestion that WPI is making the future research of dr. Mikovits impossible: As far as I know, the WPI is legally correct, and dr. Mikovits and her lawyer legally incorrect, about being given the grants.

Apart from that, it seems very unlikely, in view of what became known the last months about the shortcomings of the 2009 paper in Science of dr. Mikovits et al, that dr. Mikovits has much of a chance of being hired by any institution: Her reputation, at least among her own retrovirologist colleagues, has been much dented, and there have been quite clear repeated suggestions she may have falsified, faked or tweaked the data in Science, or may not have been honest about how these data were in fact obtained.

The lawyer - a Ms Lois W. Hart - also writes:

One of many examples of Dr. Mikovits’ work and integrity in giving ME/CFS and WPI credibility is that recently a Health Minister in Norway publicly apologized to victims of ME/CFS for not taking the disease seriously, and not treating them properly as they deserved. This resulted because of Dr. Mikovits’ presentations and one on one talks with many doctors and authorities there last December.

Really now?! This is presented as if dr. Mikovits caused all this, whereas to my knowledge the research of the Norwegian doctors Fluge and Mella has been going on for several years, and has little to do with dr. Mikovits's contention that XMRV or some HGRV probably causes ME/CFS, and much with the research of the Norwegians, who hit on a result they had not expected, during a cancer study, and also has much to do with the political and medical situation in Norway, much rather than with what dr. Mikovits did or did not do or say.

Anyway... to me it does not seem a credible performance by either dr. Mikovits or by her lawyer. And I can see several albeit speculative reasons why dr. Mikovits would want to make her own notebook, lab book and data disappear, but not why anyone else at the WPI would want to do that.

What is certain is that this is going to be a protracted legal mess, and what seems very likely is that there will be no further research of any kind anywhere into the relation between XMRV and ME/CFS, or into the supposed dangers of HGRV:

According to the WPI, dr. Mikovits made the data disappear; according to dr. Mikovits the WPI made the data disappear; according to Science major mistakes were made or improprieties done in the Mikovits et al paper that was published in Science in 2009; dr. Mikovits's group was unable to identify blood with XMRV, when working with the BWG, that they could "identify" when not blinded, but not when blinded; and most retrovirologists - who do not have any positive reason to wish not to find XMRV, also - now believe, on the basis of what has been found out by the BWG and others since 2009, that the paper of dr. Mikovits's group was seriously flawed and that there is no serious danger in XMRV, since it is most probably a lab-contaminant, and is incapable of infecting humans. (**)

Some of the above paragraph in which I sum some things up may be partially mistaken, but most, at least, seems correct, and it does not bode well for dr. Mikovits's case. Then again, there are very few who believe in that case, and unfortunately - I'd say, for them - the believers are mostly patients ill with ME/CFS, who thought they had found a redeemer, and who do not understand much about science or how real scientists operate, and who have learned to distrust medical authorities, because many of them have been consistently maltreated by these, some for decades on end.

I am in fact one of the patients who is and has been ill for over three decades, but then I do have a good understanding and good knowledge of science, and I do think XMRV is dead, at least as a serious candidate for explaining ME/CFS, and upon the whole I think it is dead for rationally convincing reasons, that also have mostly nothing to do with the fracas between the WPI and dr. Mikovits, and have much to do with the work the BWG did, that showed that dr. Mikovits's group was unable to identify blood with XMRV, as they claimed they could, that also was a finding dr. Mikovits agreed to. (See e.g. me+ME: Two years of XMRV + recent personal e-mails).

Finally, as I have said before, and as a sort of incidental side-benefit: While I would much like to learn the real biomedical cause of my - presently - 33 years of pain and misery with ME/CFS, and while I am willing to accept any explanation with good evidence and good logic and good methodology, I am myself glad that the probable cause of ME/CFS is not a retrovirus, except possibly in a relatively small sub-group, that then is likely to have been misdiagnosed with ME/CFS. And my reason to be glad is simply common humanity: Retroviral illnesses are dangerous and, at the present state of medical knowledge/ignorance, hard to control or treat.

(*) A small and incidental remark about my genitives: I suppose I have known at some point what were the rules for genetives in modern English, since I had to learn the grammar in the 1960ies. I forgot, but I tend to write "'s", as in "John's book about Jesus's sayings", because that seems the clearest to me, and was perfectly good English in the 18th C. And I do not like to confuse plurals and genitives, which seems currently the grammatical fashion both in Dutch and English, and write "s'" for the genitive of a plural, as in "The Greeks' gifts were fearsome".

(**) There are some patients, notably those who believe in Mr. and Mrs. Keech (aka Gerwyn and V99) who will be enraged and violently disagree. I observe such patients have little or no provable knowledge of science, and if they ever had, it is far from evident - and the basic problem for them is this dilemma: Either believe in science and the integrity of most real scientists, and agree with professors Coffin, Racaniello, Levy and others the Mikovits et al paper is mistaken, or don't believe in science, nor in the integrity of most real scientists, and not at all in professors Coffin, Racaniello, Levy and others, and believe in Mr. and Mrs. Keech. I'd suggest that if you don't believe in science, nor in the integrity of most real scientists, you should start organizing prayer meetings, which has the added advantage of not having to do, believe, read or practice any science, and to be really helpful with the ever rewarding wishful thinking, that always unfailingly delivers what one most desires, albeit imaginatively only.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.

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