Sunday, February 6, 2011

David Tuller with Vincent Racaniello

This internet radio interview is worth listening to in its entirety.

Dr. Vincent Racaniello has a weekly interview blogcast where he communicates information to the public about viruses. Dr. Racaniello does us a great favor to bring us this information, and he has struck a chord with an engaged public that wants to know more about virology. The listener gets to hear inside and rangy discussions of scientists on the front lines. Who would have imagined this could be such a pleasurable and popular subject? More power to Dr. Racaniello.

Dr. Racaniello has followed the issue of XMRV for some time and his ideas are evolving on this issue. He hopes to have Dr. Judy Mikovits on his show in the future. Recently, Dr. Racaniello displayed great agility (and honesty) in shifting his views quite dramatically on the somewhat precarious subject of "contamination" in XMRV studies.

In this week's interview, Dr. Racaniello talks with journalist David Tuller about "Journalism and Science". Mr. Tuller is a lecturer in journalism at Berkeley, and has been instrumental in developing a small but important program combining journalism and public health. Mr. Tuller writes informed and articulate science articles, mostly for the NY Times Science Times.

This conversation between Dr. Racaniello and Mr. Tuller ranges from the general to the specific. It is a very engaging and surprising conversation. If more intelligent people begin to talk in this fashion, we might actually learn something about the association of XMRV (and/or other viruses) with this debilitating and nasty illness.

While the conversation comes to no firm conclusions relative to the XMRV association with ME/CFS, the character of the conversation is informed and exciting from a science angle. There is much to latch on to here in terms of trying to see the big picture relative to this unfolding disease drama. Mr. Tuller is smart, receptive and with wide-ranging interests. Any further reporting that Mr. Tuller does on ME/CFS will be well-received by this reader, and I look forward to his very perceptive journalism.

There is a previous blogpost on David Tuller and his very important, balanced and articulate NY Times article on ME/CFS.


  1. It was a heartening interview. David Tuller brings interest and sensitivity to the topic of "chronic fatigue syndrome" and our difficult history, and he brings integrity to science reporting. Worth listening to.

  2. I applaud Dr. Racaniello for being open to new information and adjusting his ideas. However, the most worrying thing he discussed was his belief that we are waiting for a consensus as to the association of XMRV with M.E. An interesting discussion of this idea is occurring here:,5350.15.html in which one forum member, Forbin, quoted the late author Michael Crichton: "Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

    There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    I am puzzled by this need for consensus with XMRV science. If we waited for consensus, I believe we would still think we were living on a flat earth.

    Patricia Carter
    XMRV+, 24 years M.E.

  3. I used to work in newspaper and magazine journalism, and the loss of true science reporters due to downsizing has been catastrophic. Most of their replacements simply follow the press release--they're used to p.r. about, say, stage productions. A press release about some production of The Glass Menagerie will accurately tell you when, where, who and how much a ticket costs. It will not overstate how many plays Tennessee Williams wrote or bore you with trying to prove that he is, say, a better playwright than David Mamet. But these new science reporters are naive about the fissures of politics and agenda that run through the scientific community, and don't know that p.r. can reflect it. And of course, they don't have the knowledge to read the studies themselves. Even if they could, they are under pressure to break news. Going with the p.r's sexy headline wins the day... otherwise, God forbid, another paper might run the story before you do.

    Though newspapers often simply throw a "baby" reporter into a new gig and let him learn by doing, misreporting on medical illness is genuinely harmful. A reporter new to the theater beat might write "Tennessee Williams" instead of "Thornton Wilder." That's embarrassing. But mistakes about illness cause real suffering. They're malignant.

    And yes, the bizarre obsession with "consensus" .... Science progresses through intellectual competition and challenge, not "can't we all just get along?" To me, it sounded like V.R. was referring to the U.S. government's need for consensus, i.e. getting a third party to make the NIH and CDC kiss and make up. But that's just how it sounds to my ear. On the other hand, any way you think about it, the U.S. government's view that science moves forward through mediation is bizarre.

    Chris, as always, I am grateful for your columns. And I hope the NYTimes continues to give Tuller space to follow our illness. Perhaps they feel a bit stung by the Wall Street Journal's performance on this issue. If so .... good! Intellectual competition wins the game.

    Slow Descent
    (patient since 1984)