books book reviews

antivaxxer books

reviewed by T. Nelson

Score+2

Plague of Corruption: Restoring faith in the promise of science

by Kent Heckenlively and Judy Mikovits
Skyhorse, 2020, 338 pages (free online version) 272 pages (hardcover)
reviewed by T. Nelson

T he 25-page preface by prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. sets the tone for this book. He calls Judy Mikovits one of the most skilled scientists of her generation and says “her reliable flashes of genius soon propelled her to the apex of the male-dominated world of scientific research.” “Jealous cancer power centers” suppressed evidence that threatened big pharmaceutical companies, and destroyed her career.

Mikovits's theory was that chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalo­myelitis or ME/CFS, is caused by a retrovirus, called XMRV, or xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus. She says it also causes autism, leukemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and maybe even Alzheimer's disease.

Hmm, as an Alzheimer researcher for many years, I must have missed her paper on that. Reverse transcriptase does not automatically mean a retrovirus. But no matter, no matter.

After obtaining a Ph.D., she published her XMRV findings in Science in 2009. It was soon discovered that XMRV was created accidentally by lab experiments. Other labs could not replicate her findings and Science magazine retracted her paper.

It happens, it's not a catastrophe. But then her employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), accused her of stealing her lab notebooks. She was jailed for 11 days and then released. I must admit this is strange: commer­cial organizations regard notebooks as their proprietary property, academic ones don't.

Mikovits says her troubles were caused because Big Pharma was afraid of lawsuits because of her claim that XMRV was in the vaccines they were making. She also accuses her colleague Robert Silverman of inaccu­rately recon­struc­ting the DNA sequence of the retrovirus that was in her 2009 paper.

Chronic fatigue syndrome was originally called post-viral fatigue syndrome and at one time it was thought to be caused by Epstein-Barr virus. Here's what an establishment neurology textbook, Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology, says about CFS:

At various times, even in our recent memory, colitis and other forms of bowel disease, spinal irritation, hypoglycemia, brucellosis, and chronic candidiasis, multiple chemical sensitivity, retroviral infection, environmental allergies and recently gluten sensitivity and minimally low testosterone among others, have been proposed without basis as causes of fatigue. At times, these spurious associations have only served to marginalize the disease and patients who suffer from it . . . no evidence of a virologic cause has so far held up. [p.529, emphasis added ]

The retrovirus theory wasn't crazy, just (it seems) apparently unsupported. Well, no matter.

But then she starts talking about how vaccines supposedly cause autism, which is probably the most debunked theory in history, how vaccines are killing people, how AIDS isn't caused by HIV, how ebola is caused by vaccination, how the deuterium in heavy water is a growth factor for retroviruses and causes cancer, and how cannabis removes lead from the water. She suggests that Anthony Fauci of NIAID put a hit on virologist Kuan Teh-Jeang:

I strongly believe an impasse was reached between Fauci and his second in command, Teh-Jeang. What happened after that point? I can't tell you. Was Teh-Jeang shamed by what he'd done? . . . . Or did Fauci, after it was clear to him that Teh-Jeang could not be turned, place a call and give an order?

Yikes. We need mavericks to challenge dogmas. It shouldn't be a death sentence to make a mistake. But this kind of talk is way beyond heretical. It makes people think you're a nut. Science has an article fact-checking this book, but wasn't clear to me why there's such animosity between her and the Science editors. Perhaps this is one reason.

My problem with antivaxxers is not that their opinions may be dangerous. The idea that opinions can be dangerous is itself the most dangerous idea that there is. My problem is that they make unsubstantiated assertions that make it harder for the rest of us to agree with them and dangerous to discuss the safety of vaccines. Any discussion of vaccine safety nowadays is career-threatening. It's like the news media's obsession with race, which makes it unsafe to discuss possible solutions to race-specific health issues. We'll be called nasty names just for mentioning the existence of different races. That's how bad the repression has become.

The book is highly readable, but if I'd been advising Mikovits, my advice would have been: publish one step at a time and let somebody else drop the bombshells. Don't accuse people of murder without proof. Never speak to the press. Don't let a scientifically illiterate person write the preface in your book. And for God's sake, lay off the cannabis.

Update, May 14: The UK Guardian has weighed in on Mikovits, repeating the claim about facemasks that Science magazine made and calling her a conspiracy theorist. If the Guardian hates her, I might just have to jump to her side.

may 12, 2020. updated may 21 2020