Friday, June 3, 2011


It's not going to stop
'Til you wise up

Yesterday, I responded to Dr. Steven Salzberg's diatribe in Forbes against XMRV and Dr. Judy Mikovits.  Today Salzberg responded to me, and then I to him.

"Ah, the Galileo gambit! Thanks Mindy, for illustrating a classic logical fallacy. You compare Mikovits to Galileo – the implication being that if the “establishment” disagrees with a scientist, then that scientist much be a brilliant revolutionary thinker. At the same time you would imply that those of us who disagree with Mikovits are just too dumb or too stubborn to understand her new ideas. Sorry, not falling for it. (See Orac’s discussion,, or the RationalWiki, for more on this gambit.)

"And about replications: yes, there are multiple studies that attempted to replicate Mikovits’ result, and they all failed. Neither Mikovits nor you gets to dictate what a “replication” is. The whole point is that these are independent studies, which means the scientists conducting them get to decide how best to test the original claims. The peer-review process then evaluates whether or not the follow-up studies are worth publishing."

CFS Central reply:
No, Steven, that’s not what I was implying. I’m not saying that Judy Mikovits is right and the other researchers are wrong. What I am saying is that no one will know the truth until her study is replicated precisely.

What I’m also saying is that the history of science–and everything else for that matter–is filled with outside-the-box thinkers who were right but who were excoriated by a myopic status quo. Could this be the case with the Mikovits finding? Only time will tell.

That is one reason why, in my view, people shouldn’t be so quick to judge. The late physicist and science historian Thomas Kuhn, who authored the groundbreaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, believed the lag between the emergence and acceptance of new ideas is natural and inevitable. Change, he postulated, can come about only after long periods of stasis because “frameworks must be lived with and explored before they can be broken.”

Compounding the inertia, and contrary to popular belief, Kuhn held that most scientists are not objective and independent thinkers. Rather they are rigid conservatives who do their best to implement exactly what they’ve been taught.

As far as these XMRV “replications,” clearly you haven’t read these studies carefully. Not one has been a bona fide replication. I’ve interviewed many of the authors of these studies for my blog, CFS Central, and they agreed that their studies weren’t replications.

For instance, Dr. Kate Bishop, the principal investigator of one of the British studies, said that a key reason her cohort didn’t adhere to the Mikovits protocol is that she believes it’s tougher to get a paper published when the experiment is conducted in exactly the same way as the original study.

Dr. Myra McClure, the principal investigator of the first British study, said that her study “was never designed to replicate [the Mikovits] study or to say, ‘Look how clever we are, and they’re wrong,’ she says. “It was simply an investigation to see if we in this country could detect this virus in our CFS patients that were homegrown here.”

To your point that “neither Mikovits nor you gets to dictate what a ‘replication’ is,” consider cracking open a 9th grade science book. In Biology, by Stephen Nowicki, published by McDougal Littell in 2008, the author explains what a replication is:

“Scientists repeating another person’s experiment must be able to follow the procedures exactly and obtain the same results in order for the experiment to be valid. Valid experiments must have

• a testable hypothesis
• a control group and an experimental group
• defined independent and dependent variables
• all other conditions held constant
• repeated trials”

Got it? All conditions must be held constant for the experiment to be valid. That’s the definition of a replication, not what you decide, or what I decide or what any researcher on the planet decides.

And a replication is certainly not, as you claim, a free-for-all in which “scientists conducting them get to decide how best to test the original claims.” When you change things up, you introduce variables that may account for a different result.

Once again, I urge you to sit down and read the XMRV studies carefully before making judgments.

Scene from the movie Magnolia. Aimee Mann wrote the accompanying song, "Wise Up."


  1. Addressing Mr. Salzberg, I don't care how many flippin degrees you have or how many medical papers you wrote, there are still studies in the works on XMRV so it isn't a done deal yet! Your article sounds more simply that you just don't like Mikovits because she has aligned herself with "anti-vaccinationists" and according to your profile, "This Is Making Me Worry...The spread of anti-vaccination nonsense and the consequent re-emergence of preventable diseases."

    Well, Mr. Salzberg, I am one of those CRAZY "A-Vs" as want to know why? I became sick with CFS in 1992 at age 18 from an MMR vaccine. Not every case of CFS starts that way but I've talked to a TON that have. But I'm sure you'd say that getting sick immediately after the vaccine was merely "coincidence". Yeah, my health being destroyed, dreams shattered, and life ruined...all had nothing to do with how sick I got after MMR, yea OK.

    Bottom line, your article has an agenda and it has nothing to do with XMRV or what is best for CFS sufferers. Frankly, I don't care if XMRV is the cause or not, but I want no stone unturned either. Until you or one of your family members is stricken with this ####, maybe you should keep your mouth shut and let the science play out.

    Note: I only speak for myself, not other CFS patients, as I know not every CFS patient is anti-vax.

  2. Well done Mindy! This was brilliant!

    BTW the video is not working for me.

  3. Mindy:
    I think the journalist does have a point with the "replication issue". Just being objective here, I've heard several scientists state they tried to replicate the WPI study exactly, yet are being blamed fro not doing so. It seems to me that the CFS community is coming off as sore loosers (unintentionally of course) and perhaps we might want to change strategy and tactics. It takes what....9-12 months to conduct a study? We knew this was controversial.....why not launch another round of studies to prove WPI accuracy? This makes ,more sense to me than spinning wheels on the defense. Defense is a dangerous place to be for a win...Offense looks better to me strategically. Years could be spent battling the amount of articles coming out in the next week surrounding this issue. In the mean time, new studies could be launched.

  4. I don't understand what is meant by "tried to replicate the WPI study exactly"? Either they did or they didn't. If they "tried" but found it impossible to follow specific methods, then that's part of the write-up of the study: we found that it was impossible to do XYZ and doubt it can be done, or some such stab at a reason.

    This is science. If there were methods used by the WPI that are not reproducible, then say so; or are they saying that their was fraud involved? then say so.


  5. I haven't seen a single study that correctly replicates the Lombardi, et. al. Science paper. There are other very significant studies, which I believe are as important as the Science study: eg.
    Brenu, et. al. "Immunological abnormalities as potential biomarkers in Chronic Fatigue
    Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis" , Journal of Translational Medicine.

    view here:

    And we will see a lot more quality immunological studies from Brenu, Staines and Marshall-Gradisnik
    in the near future.

    I do agree we must not get obsessed with XMRV to the exclusion of other work but writers like Salzberg must be ridiculed by excellent reporting of science as was done by Mindy. Now will he read the study?

  6. Brilliant response, Mindy!

  7. Very good answer! Responding to such misinformation and sarcasm with simple verifiable facts only shows who is the more professional. I simly love the way you rip apart the claims of Mr. Salzberg.

  8. None of the other studies came close to being a replication in any of the methods used by Lombardi et al. I know many patients and advocates without a science background are confused on this issue because a number of researchers and 'science commentators' are now claiming that true replication isn't necessary in science. Let me assure anyone who is confused on this issue that it IS, except in the so-called "soft sciences" (like sociology, etc), which is why those fields are given that derogatory label in the first place, by physicists and chemists. Ask any chemist if it is acceptable to change any reaction conditions in an attempted replication and see what s/he says!

    [In fact, Mindy, I recommend that you and other journalists ask this question of an impartial physical chemist; the answer will be illuminating and will definitely put the likes of Salzberg and some XMRV 'researchers' on the spot.]

    I think some of the most compelling evidence that studies purported to be replications of Lombardi et al have NOT been, that laypersons and self-proclaimed science journalists alike can easily appreciate, has been provided by the WPI in the side-by-side comparison included in Annette Whittemore's reply to Science's editors, conveniently presented in Dr. Deckoff-Jones' latest blog post:

    If Salzberg can look at something as clear as that, and still say there have been replication studies, it's safe to say his motives are purely politically-driven. [Or he's pretending to have a science background.. or both.]

  9. Bravo, Mindy!

    "All conditions must held constant for the experiment to be valid. That’s the definition of a replication, not what you decide, or what I decide or what any researcher on the planet decides."

    There has been no replication of the Lombardi et al study to date.

    Patricia Carter

  10. Julia, to go into offense it takes money, and this is what some of these people are trying to keep us from getting.

    If anybody thinks this is just about XMRV, it's not. It will happen to every biological or viral connection to CFS, as it has happened in the past. Have you ever asked yourself why they do have funds when they are trying to disprove something, but never enough to get to the bottom of it?

  11. Salzberg’s response highlights why the scientific process is no longer fit for purpose: the scientists who follow it have lost sight of its overarching intention, i.e. to promote the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, not the ego and status of a handful of eggheads.

    For “…scientists conducting them get to decide how best to test the original claims...” read ‘scientists get to play God’.

    For “The peer-review process then evaluates whether or not the follow-up studies are worth publishing” read ‘journal editors get to play God’.

    HGRV research does not belong in the arrogant, contentious, procrastinating scientific process. It is too important and too urgent for that.

    Swine flu affects thousands and is treated as an international public health emergency. HGRVs could be infecting millions and should be afforded at least the same attention and respect.

    The UK Health Protection Agency has confirmed that the method for assessing “papers for publication and to confirm scientific findings are peer-review and replication of those findings in an independent laboratory respectively. This is an imprecise process, but is accepted as the best that we have.”

    It is “the best that we have”. Oh really ? Is human health worth so little that it does not justify the pursuit of a scientific process that actually works ?

    Judging by the tone and content of Salzberg’s reply, that is probably a rhetorical question.

  12. I tend to think XMRV is a done deal at this point until there is evidence to the contrary, but your reply was quite articulate and very well done.

    I also think that Julia has a point. Sore losers is the politest way I've heard it phrased. It's hard to convince people that you aren't crazy when from their perspectives your actions are exactly that. Instead of reinforcing the negative, choose to reinforce the positive.

  13. Thank you so much for that articulate response to Salzberg's asshat explanation of replication.

    Also, I guess I am another CFS patient who is anti-vaccination.

    I can only go on the anecdotal evidence of three people and so must wait for a study. However, I grew up along side two other girls who were cousins to each other. Our mothers were vaccinated with a slew of vaccines in London so that they could immigrate to the US the year before we were born. The year we were born London Hospital had that recognizable ME outbreak, which no doubt was the tip of an iceberg.

    It may be that the vaccines were contaminated, it could just be a coincidence, and it may also be that becoming pregnant when your body has yet to deal with the pathogens that have been injected into it sets your fetus up with a heavy pathogen load, making the successive infections that might be responsible for CFS a head start. Facts that supports an inhospitable womb is that my mother had to be bedridden for the entire pregnancy and I was born two months early.

    And the other two girls? We are the only ones in our family who ended up with CFS. One died at 50, one is still barely hanging on to a life in the world, and I am totally disabled. This seems beyond chance to me.

  14. Salzberg opens his response to you by accusing you of a logical fallacy, and then immediately makes a straw-man argument. Real nice.

  15. I don't get it. Why can't the naysaying researchers and scientists just put it to the true test: line up and agree to be transfused with CFS patients' infectious blood.
    Many diseases had to be proved that way. In fact the entire germ theory of illness originated that way. We are sick with an infectious retrovirus--bodies don't produce antibodies to lab contaminants, but if the scientists refuse to face scientific facts, then they need to line up and be infected. When they agree to do that, I'll agree to start listening to their politics-driven rhetoric.

  16. The problem with human antibodies to pathogens is they are based on targeting relatively short amino acid sequences. Many proteins in the body, either endogenous or introduced (such as from gut bacteria) might be targets of the same antibodies. So the presence of an antibody to XMRV might not be because of XMRV at all...

  17. In fact most scientific contributions in history were done by gentlemen and gentlewoman amateurs, whose love for the avocation in various fields of discovery have made significant breakthroughs and changes to conventional ideas - perhaps for that very fact.

    The professional is often bound by the ideology bordering on religious faith of their professors and the standard view handed down by curriculum. The self-taught free thinker often challenged established doctrine. My local hero is Linus Pauling who self-taught himself as a child through any books he could find and working every problem, he got his degree from the State University in Oregon by challenging each class and acing every test.

    We have become a society that concedes too much to authority and fails to engage young minds in critical thinking to challenge ideas and work through concepts, instead we drill 'doctrine' and 'teach to the test.'

    Our media is complicit in not thinking but merely doing owner based propaganda and corporate press release churnalism. Infotainment blurs the idea that facts are knowable, and that opinion is valid without any basis to build it upon. Citizens are mindless consumers of things and 'socio-memes' and mindlessly parrot the 'opinion' leaders diatribe.

    Most see others success as their loss, thus many engage with much more energy in tearing down others than producing anything of their own. The idea of a society that cooperates and builds together has been lost, it is every man (or woman) for themselves, I've got mine, boo hoo too bad for you, now get lost and die somewhere where I don't have to watch.

  18. Anonymous at 2:52PM: That's why the germ theory has huge holes in it. It doesn't take into account the terrain, and what other things can cause damage to that terrain.

    Remember, more healthy people (an estimated 10-12 million in the US alone, based on the Science paper and US population statistics) have XMRV than those of us with ME/CFS.

    What I'm curious about is why don't people with ME/CFS have a higher rate of aggressive prostate cancer?

  19. This guy is quoting ORAC? I don't trust "ORAC" whoever that is. Why can't "ORAC" give his real name? Who are these various institutions funding ORAC? Why does "ORAC" get funding from the Department of Defense? The

    here is from ORAC'S disclaimer on his website.

    "In addition, Orac has been funded over the last decade by institutional funds, the Department of Defense, the National Cancer Institute, and various cancer charities. He currently receives no funding from pharmaceutical companies. Indeed, so bereft of pharmaceutical funding is poor, poor Orac that before his talks, when he is required to make his disclosures of conflicts of interest, he often jokes that no pharmaceutical company is interested enough in his research to want to give him any money. Maybe one day that will change, but for now, like most biomedical scientists in academia, he must beg the NIH and other granting agencies for the money to keep his lab going. Being a "pharma shill" doesn't seem to pay as much as supporters of alt-med think it does"

    Regarding the DOD. If you read this document you will see the DOD has a PSY-ops technologies which could easily encompass creating an "ORAC" type website and much much more.


  20. I don't know about those who disagree with Dr. Mikovits, but when Salzberg said that we cannot decide what a replication is - forgetting that it has only one meaning and that is "reproducing" (you can replicate the results without replicating the methods - but a replication study is one where you replicate the methods, regardless of the results) - he definitely made himself worthy of the use of his own description, this time 100% about him:
    "Too dumb".

  21. Thanks for keeping on top of this hysterical pseudo-scientist! He needs to be called-out like this.


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