Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wellcome Trust XMRV press release is most likely a lab contaminant

Paul Raeburn, the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The press coverage of the Wellcome Trust release seems straightforward; many stories repeated the conclusion that XMRV does not cause chronic fatigue syndrome. But is the release an accurate portrayal of the study?

Compare the release’s blanket denial of an XMRV connection, above, with this from the paper. (This is one of four studies published together, but the Wellcome release referred to only one of them.) Here’s the study’s conclusion, from the abstract:

We propose that XMRV might not be a genuine human pathogen.

That’s not quite the same thing as saying XMRV “is not the cause.” I emailed the Wellcome press people about the criticism of the release, and this is what I got back, in part, from Craig Brierly, senior media officer at the Wellcome Trust:

Whilst it may be written in layman’s terms, we still believe it [the press release] accurately reflects the findings of the paper, which go beyond showing that XMRV is most likely a lab contaminant to actually showing that is highly unlikely that it is even a human pathogen and therefore not the cause of CFS in the original samples.

I disagree. At the risk of being excessively pedantic, let me point out that “might not be” and “is not” do not mean the same thing. Read more>>

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