I made the mistake of writing a post yesterday on a controversial subject while watching a football game. So I may not have been as clear as I would have hoped. Mea culpa. I hope I am clearer today.
I have friends who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I know about the problems trying to get the medical community to even recognize it as a real disease and not a mental illness. That is why I was quite excited by the original report when it came out. It seemed like a very nice model to help explain the disease, as well as possibly implicate a retrovirus in other diseases.
However, subsequent work has muddied the waters and, in my opinion, weakened this model. The recent paper I talked about yesterday seems to provide strong, definitive evidence that contamination is a real problem. This along with the inability of other labs to replicate the work, appears to substantially weaken the model.
All this indicates is that the situation is quite complex – something we all knew anyway. Also, that much more and careful work will have to be done. It is as easy to get too positive about a model and fall in love with it. Researchers and others do this all the time.
And it is easy to be too negative about a model and hate it. Researchers and others do this all the time also. Perhaps I let my initial excitement turn too far to disappointment. I don’t think so but I am human. Perhaps that bled a little over yesterday. Damn football!
What I was trying to state yesterday was that the recent paper did its job – helping us understand why some of the results show XMRV and other results do not. They have now presented a model suggesting that cross-reacting PCR primers could give PCR artifacts from a contaminating virus.
If XMRV is actually involved, then researchers will to take the current results into consideration.
That is what I meant by science doing its job. The new report pretty definitively examined the problem of contamination and demonstrated that previous work may not have properly controlled the correct variables. Others will respond. This is the back and forth of cutting edge research where we have little understanding of all the things going on. I am sure this is not the end of the road.
We will get to the bottom of this. It may be XMRV. It might be another unknown gamma retrovirus. It might be something else entirely. When science does its job right, we eventually discover what it is. Feynman was right when he said that Nature always wins in the end, no matter what we want to believe.