Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Science does the right thing, releasing XMRV-chronic fatigue material early, no sanctions for WSJ

with 6 comments

Over at our sister blog, Retraction Watch, we report today on an Expression of Concern by Science about a 2009 paper purporting to link XMRV, or xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus, to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). You can find details of that notice there. But Embargo Watch wanted to take the opportunity to commend Science for doing the right thing by releasing this material — originally scheduled for June 2’s issue — early.

As we note on Retraction Watch, Science told us it was a Wall Street Journal story that ran today that made them release the material early. The story reported that the authors of the 2009 study had refused to retract their work despite a request from Science:

Once that news story was published we felt it would be most useful to journalists, scientists  and the public, including doctors and patients whose lives have been affected by chronic fatigue syndrome, to make the information being published in the journal available right away.

This was not an embargo break, explained Science, and the WSJ will not face any sanctions:

No, we had not yet even routed the Science Press Package notice on this story, and further we have no evidence that the Wall Street Journal reporter obtained any information from us whatsoever. They seem to have acted upon an independent tip.

Science did the right thing here, just as they did with the replication of Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser’s questioned paper in April. There’s a huge amount of interest in this subject, and this paper in particular, so releasing it as quickly as possible is a good move.

Even better, they acknowledge that the WSJ did good old-fashioned reporting, and didn’t just reverse-engineer a scoop once they’d seen this week’s embargoed press materials. I’ve criticized Science before for how they’ve handled these sorts of situations, but I applaud their recent decisions and transparency.

Written by Ivan Oransky

May 31, 2011 at 11:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. Does the fact that Judy Mikovitz has decided to accuse “one of the authors or their collaborators” of the early leak about the Science papers change anything?

    Click to access FinalreplytoScienceWPI.pdf

    It seems to me to raise questions about how this was made “apparent” to Mikovitz. Does the WSJ have any obligation to clear their names if the accusation is untrue? Although there are plenty of people unsympathetic to the WPI, it strikes me as extremely implausible that they would choose Amy Dockser Marcus as the person to leak to–surely they would have chosen a journalist who has covered the story more skeptically, like Trine Tsouderos or Jon Cohen.

    Richard Jefferys

    June 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    • Thanks for the question, Richard. I’m not quite sure what the WSJ has done that would require clearing its name. Mikovits’ accusation seems to be vague handwaving, for one thing. She doesn’t name a particular leaker. For another, we should be encouraging independent reporting based on tips. As Science pointed out: “…we had not yet even routed the Science Press Package notice on this story, and further we have no evidence that the Wall Street Journal reporter obtained any information from us whatsoever. They seem to have acted upon an independent tip.”


      June 1, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      • Thanks for the reply, I didn’t articulate what I meant very well though, I was referring to clearing the names of the “authors or their collaborators” as opposed to WSJ. Agree though that Mikovitz’s accusation may actually be just handwaving and not based on anything.

        I do still harbor the suspicion that WPI/Mikovitz may have been responsible for supplying the tip to WSJ in an attempt to get ahead of the story and essentially get their word in first. If that were the case, it would make the accusations in the WPI letter even more egregious.

        Richard Jefferys

        June 2, 2011 at 1:01 am

  2. Publishing an “expression of concern” by “Science” has simply thrown egg all over its own face. The original paper by Lombardi et al was very carefully vetted by Science, who insisted on extra work to prove lack of contamination. No fraud was involved. So WHY the request for retraction? We have all known that ME(CFS) is caused by a retrovirus since about 1985 when Dr Paul Cheney showed MRI scans to a specialist who return showed him scans from AIDS patients – they showed the same lesions. Then Elaine DeFreitas found a retrovirus in her ME patients in about 1991; her work was suppressed when the CDC couldn’t duplicate it (using different methods). The WPI team may well have the right answer. So exactly WHY does this huge anti-XMRV movement exist? Surely true scientists would be looking to find the real facts, and not trying to stymie the work in progress? The non-replication negative papers, and the suggestion that XMRV could be either a contaminant OR a new virus generated in the lab, are simply speculation, no more. Mr Alberts does himself no favours in presenting his “expression of concern”, which is so premature as to question his integrity as a scientist, and implies that he has been “leant on” from above.

  3. Ms. Marcus at the WSJ has taken the time to get to know many of the experts in the field of CFS as well as other scientists. Her tip could have come from multiple sources.


    June 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

  4. Judy Mikovitz helped me when she had no time to do it. At that time WPI was not seeing patients and now they’ve decided Judy is the problem instead of looking at what they’ve contributed to it.
    She referred me to a doctor in California who helped me get supplements. And to add some harsh reality to what I’m saying, no doctor in this area of No. Nevada has been willing to try to diagnose my condition so I’m doing it all on my own. It seems that is the assignment that has been given to me since no outside professional help is available. I look forward to the day when huge medical organizations and corporations stop fighting for the big break and focus on helping sick people.

    Barbara Louise Jean

    November 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

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