Mike the Mad Biologist

I realize science is hard and stuff, but there are serious problems with the evidence in the anthrax investigation. I’m not the only who thinks so: ScienceBloglings Tara and Revere think so too, along with most of the commentors. Thankfully, these problems are finally starting to enter the discussion. First, from Glenn Greenwald:

The NYT today has an excellent Op-Ed from a microbiologist (the former Chief of Fort Detrick’s bacteriology division) pointing out the numerous deficiencies in the FBI’s scientific assertions. Critically, that Op-Ed describes the properties of the high-grade anthrax sent to Sen. Daschle and then notes: “It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced at Fort Detrick, certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope.”

The transcript of my interview with Dr. Gigi Gronvall of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center — in which she points out the complete lack of scientific data presented in the FBI’s public case and explores the numerous other private and public institutions around the world engaged in high-level anthrax research — is now available here. A senior epidemiologist who posts at ScienceBlogs has raised several other significant deficiencies in the FBI’s scientific case — here and here — while a microbiologist and evolutionary biologist at the same site has expressed extreme doubt about one of the FBI’s key molecular claims, here [that would be the Mad Biologist]. Are there any scientists anywhere who find the FBI’s claims impressive or convincing?

Then there’s this op-ed in the NY Times by the chief of the bacteriology division at Fort Dietrick (italics mine):

In the summary of its findings, the F.B.I. states that investigators used four different genetic techniques to match the anthrax-laced attack letters to a unique DNA footprint of a single anthrax spore preparation in one flask that had been in Dr. Ivins’s custody.

Sounds reasonable. Yet the investigators present no details on the scientific methods they used to make this match or how they employed them. That’s a problem, because without such detail it is hard to tell if they specifically ruled out a similar match between the anthrax in the letters and anthrax preparations with the same DNA footprint kept at a number of other labs around the country. The basic methods of genetic analysis are well known. Why not provide enough detail about their procedure to enable other scientists to tell whether they could actually single out Dr. Ivins’s spore preparation as the culprit?

Finally, in the released affidavits for the search warrants, there is repeated reference to a single strain, although, according to the NY Times, there is a strain mixture. I don’t think this is a misunderstanding on the part of the affidavit author, since there is a detailed discussion of Bacillus subtilis contamination. Either, once again, anonymous sources are talking out of their asses, and the media isn’t challenging them on this, or there is something screwy with the affidavit.


  1. #1 yogi-one
    August 11, 2008

    There have been some MSM Op-Eds calling for a more thorough ionvestigation in the WSJ and NYT apparently, but there needs to be more outcry.

    The whole thing stinks to high heaven, and the DBI is really coming off appearing as if it has alot to hide. Who are they protecting, and why?

    Is this going to be one of those cases where all the evidence leads back to high government officials, then the trail inexplicably dies?

  2. #2 iRobot
    August 11, 2008

    Yes yogi-one, that is exactly one of those cases.

  3. #3 Boinkie
    August 11, 2008

    thanks for keeping us up to date with the technical details.

    I am still waiting for the credit card receipts to prove he drove to Trenton…if the letters were mailed from there, one wonders why…it’s off the main hiways and not exactly a safe place to mail a letter…

  4. #4 TomJoe
    August 12, 2008

    To some extent, I think we’re looking in the wrong place. I think the B. subtilis was a larger piece of the puzzle than we realize.

    It’s all about the contaminant …

  5. #5 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 12, 2008

    It’s a 400 mile round-trip from the Fort – just about the cruising range for the many cars. If he filled up once along the way and paid in cash, there’d be no record of it in the credit card receipts. Not even a deviation from his standard fill-up cycle. And an extra $25-$30 in cash expenditures can be easily obscured.

  6. #6 mirc
    March 17, 2009