Tuesday, January 31, 2012

House of Cards

The question was:
Is it possible that the whole thing was purposely fabricated fro the start rather than a result of contamination? Wouldn't that be hard to do, since multiple labs were involved? How many people would have to be participating in such a fraud for it to work?

Or is it that you're suggesting that the original paper was contamination, but Mikovits was so vested that she then started making things up? Or something else that I'm not understanding? What's the worst case scenario here?
To which this was the answer:
I'd put my money on your second option. I guess most fraudulent scientists don't make up everything. They usually find something that is wrong, become convinced it is right but then cannot produce the additional data in support of their finding.

That is when they start to make things up - because they "know" they're right and they believe the doctored results are actually true and further research will confirm this, they are confident the fraud will not see the light of day.

I know that as an European leftie I shouldn't get all political, but I guess it's a bit like making up evidence in support of Iraq owning WMD's in order to justify an invasion. They thought they would find them anyway, in which case nobody would have questioned the incorrect evidence.
Now, it seems as though some of the other data in the Science paper is fraudulent. The immunoblot that was shown in Fig. 2C is actually an image of a completely different experiment, one that artificially manipulated the samples in a way that would induce expression of endogenous retroviral proteins.

Taken together, it is now very difficult to trust any data in the original Science paper. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to manipulate data, in a way that takes a laboratory artifact and makes it into a bona fide result. My guess is that the Mikovits group found some provocative preliminary data, as they ran some PCRs on their original samples and found (the contaminating) XMRV. They were so excited about the possible implications of this that they ignored/underestimated the possibility of contamination, and in the rush to publication they manipulated their data so as to look more robust and impressive and get the paper into Science. Everything since then has been a house of cards, built upon a very shaky foundation.

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