Dr. Myra McClure recently did an interview with ABC Australia on XMRV an what its doing in humans. You probably dont know who she is– shes just a normal scientist, like the thousands of others going in to work every day that youve never heard of. *shrug* Apparently we are supposed to believe that this woman is a liar, a fraud, a cheat, and accepting bribes, and while that is difficult to believe with any normal, average scientist, its even more difficult to believe after reading the transcript of her interview.
I would quote some ‘interesting’ or ‘controversial’ parts, but its not really either. Its just a nice, level-headed, informative interview. I could see Bossman or any of my professors or any of the HIV-1 researchers I know saying the same things.
The one thing I think is funny/noteworthy is how McClure got involved with XMRV–>CFS. Her lab studies retroviruses, and they were already looking for XMRV in preserved prostate cancer biopsies. She gets a call from another lab saying ‘Hey, would you look for XMRV in our stuff?’ and shes like ‘Sure, whatevs.’
We do that stuff like that all the time. We are the only lab on campus studying retroviruses, so other PIs are like ‘Hey, we see Phenomena X with breast cancer, would you look for Phenomena X in HIV-1 infected cells?’ ‘Hey, we see ____ with influenza vaccines with our adjuvant. Could you try this with your HIV-1 pseudoviruses?’
Everyone does this in science. Its actually a running joke among grad students– these little side projects you do for other PIs inevitably work faster/cooler than your goddamn thesis project.
So McClure thought her ‘big controversy’ was going to be that she could find XMRV in British prostate cancers (no one else can find it in them, in Europe), then she does this silly little two week experiment for another lab, and suddenly shes a liar, a fraud, a cheat, and accepting bribes. hehe.
Then we have the lead investigator for the Whittemore Peterson Institute, Judy Mikovits.
- She freely says irresponsible, outlandish things to the media, like ‘VACCINES + XMRV = AUTISM!!! XMRV–> AUTISM!!!’
- She accuses labs that dont agree with her of fraud/bribery/conspiracy.
- She happily associates with snake-oil salesmen.
- She supports the efforts of anti-vax crusaders.
Now, I was perfectly fine with the fact that Mikovits does not speak for WPI, any more than Peter Deusberg speaks for the University of California.
But apparently, the batshit doesnt fall far from the cave.
Last week, the president of WPI, Annette Whittemore (mummy of the oh-so-fatigued Andrea ‘Fuck all of you and if you don’t stop talking about me Im going to sue all of you for defamation of character. I know who you are . I know where you work . Im really Tired of the crap your writing .’ Whittemore) did, quite possibly the most bizarre thing I have ever seen in science.
The president/CEO of a private corporation wrote a ‘challenge’ to McClure, and did the most politically savvy thing I can think of– posted it on the snake-oil website ProHealth, and on the WPIs facebook page.
Imagine, for a moment, the CEO of Pfizer wrote a ‘letter’ like this to a laboratory that couldnt replicate the results they just published for a new ‘wonder drug’.
Imagine, for a moment, that say, Beatrice Hahn wrote a ‘letter’ like this to a laboratory that couldnt replicate her ‘wonder results’.
I have a great imagination, but I cant imagine it. Because it would never happen. To quote a brilliant HIV-1 researcher I frequently correspond with, the CEO of an organization “should not be even sending such a letter, let alone posting it publicly anywhere”.
Another called this train-wreck “highly inappropriate”.
I call it flat out stupid.
Public tantrums like this please the scientifically illiterate crowd, but so do Creationists presentations. Who gives a shit about the scientific illiterate if you are the CEO of a ‘scientific’ organization? All this scene has done for the WPI in scientific circles is put everyone on high-alert for the ‘credibility’ of results coming out of their lab.
And you probably shouldnt have a non-scientist CEO making ‘scientific’ challenges to normal, everyday scientists like McClure:
One might begin to suspect that the discrepancy between our findings of XMRV in our patient population and patients outside of the United States, from several separate laboratories, are in part due to technical aspects of the testing procedures.
…We believe that there exists compelling evidence to spur additional scientific review, especially in light of the fact that our team of researchers also discovered XMRV in the blood of 3.7% of our non contact controls.
*sigh* I know WPI and/or their associates read my blog, and yet they continue to make errors like this. Let me correct this issue for the millionth time.
PCR is one of the most basic procedures one can do in a laboratory. There is a high school kid who just started volunteering in our lab. Im going to show him how to do PCR today. This is basic, basic shit.
Lets say we are going to look for the EGFP gene in the DNA cells infected with my neat HIV-1. I used a stupid little computer program to design the primers we will use to look for/amplify the EGFP gene. This stupid little computer program does not give you ONE set of primers. It gives you dozens of options. You pick one, optimize it, and YAY, you have some PCR reagents optimized.
Now, lets say instead of looking for the EGFP gene, we are going to look for… gag! The exact same thing happens– stupid little computer program, lots of options, pick one, optimize, YAY!
There is nothing mystical or magical about having one particular set of primers to look for a sequence. Hell, the sequences you are looking for dont even need to match up all that well to the sequence you are looking for– there is always some room for variability. I can use the same gag PCR primers for numerous variants of HIV-1, even though ‘WARBLEGARBLERETROVIRUSMUTATES!’
So here is what we are dealing with– McClures lab has a set of primers they are using to detect XMRV sequences in old, paraffin-embedded prostate cancer biopsies… and they can find XMRV. When they look in PBMC from CFS patients… they cant find XMRV. There is no scientific explanation for this other than there is no XMRV in the CFS patients PBMC DNA.
Then we have a problem with the statement from WPI: “…our team of researchers also discovered XMRV in the blood of 3.7% of our non contact controls…”
No, ‘your team’ didnt. No one has found XMRV in the blood of anything, actually.
‘Your team’ used your PCR reagents and found ‘XMRV proviruses’ in the DNA of PBMCs from 3.7% of the healthy controls. ‘Your team’ then subsequently could not find any XMRV proteins or any anti-XMRV antibodies in those healthy controls, implying your healthy controls were not infected with XMRV currently or in the past, implying that your PCR primers have a high false-positive rate.
A XMRV ‘test’ that would be acceptable in HIV-1 circles finds XMRV in 3 of 2,851 (0.1%) healthy controls, which should make WPI happy because that only increases the significance of their association (9 of 18 (50%) CFS patients had anti-XMRV antibodies) (though it complicates the epidemiology), but theyre too fucking stupid and too fixated on ‘getting even’ with all these ‘mean labs out to get them’ to understand the science theyre pushing and its implications.