All of us have in our mind the image of an ideal scientist…
For me, I like to picture Albert Einstein, sometime in the 1950s. I imagine a kind, older man who has seen horrible things, and yet retains a hopeful outlook on humanity. The ideal scientist I imagine is gentle, always curious, and yet humble about our place in the universe and among our fellow creatures on this Earth.
I imagine this ideal scientist would live and breathe integrity, and yet be open to challenging questions.
I’d been on the autism beat for several years when in February of 2010 I read an interview with Dr. Mikovits in which she suggested that our children might have an HIV-like retrovirus. The virus was called XMRV, had been discovered in 2006 by a team from UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) and the Cleveland Clinic, and had originally come from mice.
And their condition of autism might be the result of a vaccination overstimulating their immune system and causing that virus to replicate beyond the ability of their immune system to suppress the virus.
I thought it was a provocative idea (and since I always like to talk to people with challenging ideas), I found where she worked and gave a call. (Hint – Just about anybody will talk to you if you say you want to write a story about them.) Instead of getting routed through several people, I reached her direct the first time. I explained who I was and asked if I could interview her. I expected that she might give me another time, but we started right then and there, and I was struggling to keep up. (Yes, this would be our relationship for years to come!)
From the very start I was amazed by her willingness to speak openly…
…about her work and what seemed to be a fierce dedication to patients. I was surprised by her willingness to embark on an intellectual journey based on parental reports of how our children changed after a vaccination. After more than a decade of hearing from scientists who DID NOT believe us, it was shocking to talk to one who was trying to find an explanation that fit our accounts.
Probably somewhere in the first hour of speaking to her I found myself feeling protective towards her. “Are you sure you want me to publish this interview?” I asked at one point.
“Yeah, go ahead. It’s what I think. And it’s backed up by solid science,” she said.
I did publish those interviews with her, but I shaded some of her comments. I did not want to call the wolves of pharma down on her, because I was certain they were already stalking her, looking for an opportunity to pounce.
In May of 2010 we were both at Autism One in Chicago, and had dinner, along with Hilary Johnson, the former Rolling Stone reporter who’d written Osler’s Web, the definitive account of the chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) epidemic. Mikovits told me her bosses didn’t want her to come to the conference, but she’d made a commitment, and that was the kind of person she was.
“They’re going to come for you,” I said during the dinner. “They’ll call you anti-vaccine and lump you with people like me.”
“But I’m not anti-vaccine,” she said. “I just think we need to use them safely. And besides, we’ve got great political support. Senator Harry Reid (then majority leader of the United States Senate) is a good family friend of my bosses, we’ve got support in the Obama administration, and the scientific community is behind us.”
I did not know it at the time, but before their groundbreaking research was published in the journal Science of October 8, 2009, there had been a full day meeting of top public health people on July 22, 2009 where her work, and those of others with similar findings had been extensively vetted. Even if I had known that, I would have still held firm in my belief she wasn’t safe.
Maybe it’s something about me, but I consider myself to be an unofficial researcher, and if there’s somebody smart who’s willing to talk to me, I often become something of an unpaid assistant to them. I like to discover new things.
Within a few months of our dinner at Autism One…
…I called her with some old medical research I’d uncovered. The first outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) was among 198 doctors and nurses at the Los Angeles County Hospital from 1934-1935 during a polio epidemic. Other articles claimed the doctors and nurses had received an early polio vaccine developed by a Dr. Maurice Brodie, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Institute, that had been grown in mouse brain tissue, a new process at the time. In addition, they’d been given an immune system booster preserved with thimerosal, a mercury derivative. What did she think?
“That’s pretty solid,” she said. “I think you might be onto something.”
A year later, researchers would publish much the same suspicion in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Later I would ask what I believe to be the most important public health question of our time. “Do you think there will always be a risk if we use animal tissue that a virus present in the animal could be transmitted to humans and cause harm?”
I would have expected the question to throw her back on her heels, but it didn’t. She talked to her main collaborator, Dr. Frank Ruscetti, and neither of them could find anything wrong with the question. Yes, I had asked a question which did not have a good answer from modern medicine. This applies not only to vaccines, but to that entire class of drugs called “biologics” which use animal tissue.
The persecution of Dr. Mikovits came as I had foreseen…
…her arrest as if she was a fugitive drug lord instead of a middle-aged scientist, the publication of her mug shot in the journal Science, which had celebrated her just two years earlier, and a campaign of lies and forced retraction of her work because it threatened pharmaceutical interests. Even though her scientific reputation was in tatters, no charges were ever brought against her, and even though she’s spent more than half a million dollars in legal fees, no judge has EVER allowed her to have a single day in court.
How is this possible in the United States of America where people are supposed to have rights?
They say that adversity does not create character but reveals it. From our very first encounter it was clear to me that Dr. Mikovits has a fierce passion for people who suffer with chronic diseases. Her Christian faith means she has a strength which does not come from this world and it terrifies her enemies, as well it should.
It has been an honor to assist in the writing of her second book, PLAGUE OF CORRUPTION, and I know when I meet my maker, and He asks what good I did in this world, I will proudly say, “I did my very best to help your servant, Dr. Judy Mikovits.”
And because you DEMANDED it, here’s Episode #5 of DANGEROUS SCIENCE with Kent Heckenlively! (Okay, why does Youtube always have the Worst starting picture of me???)
Opinion by Kent Heckenlively, JD