If you have been following the detritus of the internet regarding COVID-19, you have probably seen a video called “Plandemic” from Judy Mikovits, another pseudoscientist screaming about conspiracies and nonsense during this pandemic. She has a long history of scams and false information over a few decades, not unlike all of the other false authorities we’ve seen over the years.
I thought that “Dr.” Mikovits disappeared from view after a few months, but I keep seeing stuff about her – she’s written a book, she’s attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, and she’s still making false claims about COVID-19 vaccines.
In case you don’t know about a “false authority,” formally the “argument from false authority” logical fallacy, it means the argument favors claims from individuals based solely on their credentials rather than the scientific consensus. Credentials don’t matter – I may be someone who has a Ph.D. in cell biology and biochemistry from a top university, but if I claim that you must believe that Sasquatch exists because of my expert background, you should ignore me. On the other hand, Sasquatch does not exist.
The anti-vaccine zealots have a long history of relying upon false authorities – Tetyana Obukhanych, Christopher Exley, and Christopher Shaw. None of the individuals have any reputation in vaccines, yet they are deified by the anti-vaxxers. I’m guessing that Judy Mikovits will be joining that crowd soon.
All about Judy Mikovits
Mikovits earned a BA degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1980. She worked for a defunct pharmaceutical company for a few years as a laboratory technician before leaving the company because of some dispute. She continued her illustrious career as a lab tech at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) while earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from George Washington University.
Her Ph.D. thesis was titled “Negative Regulation of HIV Expression in Monocytes,” according to a report in Science. Mikovits has claimed that she worked as a postdoctoral researcher from 1993 to 1994, and was eventually employed as a scientist at the Laboratory of Leukocyte Biology at the NCI.
In May 2001, Mikovits left the NIC to work at a failed start-up drug-discovery company in Santa Barbara, CA, EpiGenX Biosciences. Nothing is known about her employment there.
By 2005, Judy Mikovits was working as a bartender at the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club in Ventura, CA.
As false authorities go, this is not exactly someone with sterling credentials in any field that would be relevant to anything to do with vaccines or COVID-19.
At this point in the story, Mikovits made her move to some sort of notoriety in science, and none of it was good.
XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome
By 2009 (the exact date isn’t clear), through a contact she made as a bartender, she was appointed the research director at the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), a privately-funded research center located in Reno, NV that focuses on neuroimmune diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS is a highly controversial diagnosis with no consensus on its causes, pathophysiology, or treatments. However, it has large and loud advocates, not unlike chronic Lyme disease filled with fake treatments and claims.
It’s unclear why her credentials would mean anything to WPI, given the fact that she had no background in these diseases.
According to a 2009 New York Times article, we get more details at how she went from a bartender to WPI.:
Rather than just doling out money to far-flung researchers, the Whittemores wanted to employ their own scientists who would be devoted full time to the cause. In the spring of 2006, they met Dr. Judy A. Mikovits, a virus expert who had spent 22 years (editor’s note: that’s inflating her background a lot, she was not a published virus expert and she spent less than 7 years as an act) working at the National Cancer Institute.
She had left the institute in 2001 to get married and move to California, where she went to work for a drug development company that failed. She was tending bar at a yacht club when a patron said her constant talk about viruses reminded him of someone he knew in Nevada. That person was a friend of Annette Whittemore’s. Dr. Mikovits soon found herself at a conference on chronic fatigue syndrome.
In 2009 she co-authored a paper in Science that claimed that an obscure virus called xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) was linked to CFS. The study caused optimism in the CFS advocacy community that anti-retroviral drugs could be used to treat the disease. And the paper caused concerns that XMRV could be spread through the blood supply.
Ironically, Judy Mikovits participated in another study that she claimed would be the “definitive answer” regarding XMRV and CFS. The well-designed and robust study looked for XMRV in blinded blood samples from around 300 people, half of whom had CFS. The researchers found that none had XMRV.
Soon thereafter, Mikovits’ relationship with WPI deteriorated to the point where her relationship with the institute ended. WPI filed a lawsuit against Mikovits in November 2011 for allegedly removing laboratory notebooks and keeping other protected information on her laptop, flash drives, and a personal email account.
The Science news department reported that she was “arrested in California on felony charges that she was a fugitive from justice and jailed for several days.” However, Nevada prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against her in June 2012.
Since then, this false authority has not published anything in the scientific literature since that 2012 paper that thoroughly debunked her claims about XMRV and CFS.
As an expert in making false links between something and something, she, of course, had to provide her opinions on vaccines and autism, which have been shown over and over and over to not be related. She claimed that:
Dr. Judy Mikovits will explain complicated details of how retroviruses in today’s biological therapeutics, including vaccines, are contributing to autoimmune disease, neuroimmune disease, and cancer, chronic inflammatory diseases that have been skyrocketing in incidence in the past quarter century. Dr. Mikovits has spent her adult life studying how retroviruses contribute to these diseases. Many factors are important in the development of diseases associated with retroviruses, such as the expression and mode of transmission being key to disease development. Dr. Mikovits has learned a great deal about the types of diseases from approximately 40 years of study.
I think “40 years of study” is a bit of overkill since 15 of it was spent as a lab tech. And it wasn’t until 2009 that she pushed that retracted study linking XMRV to CFS.
Finally, Mikovits has actually been called as an “expert witness” in a vaccine court case, in which the claimant was trying to show that alleged harmful contamination by animal retroviruses, EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus), and SV40 caused a form of cancer.
The NVICP Special Master found that they provided no plausible theory of causation.
So let’s review.
- She spent 12 years as a lab tech, losing several jobs along the way.
- She did get a Ph.D. in which she studied HIV, but apparently she used none of that knowledge in her later years (a typical issue with false authorities). And, as far as I can tell, her Ph.D. work did not lead to a single published paper as first or last author (the only ones that matter).
- In fact, up until her retracted work with XMRV and CFS, she published 10 papers, none of which included her as the primary author.
- She worked as a bartender at a yacht club in Ventura, CA before getting her the position at WPI. (Note: I worked for a company in Ventura, and our boss was a member of that yacht club. She used to serve me good margaritas. This interaction had no impact on this article.)
- She published a much-criticized and eventually retracted paper.
- She was arrested for stealing from WPI.
In other words, she has no experience in vaccine development, no experience in coronaviruses, no experience in epidemiology and public health, and no experience publishing respected primary research.
The Plandemic video
Out of nowhere, Judy Mikovits publishes a video on YouTube that pushes many of the conspiracies that have circulated around the COVID-19 pandemic. I generally try not to link to this type of pseudoscience, but I don’t have to waste my time – YouTube and Facebook are pulling down the video as quickly as they can.
Anyway, many others have debunked almost everything in the video. Liz Ditz, whom I “met” while refuting some stupidity about autism disability in an LA Times comment section years ago, is keeping track of all of the anti-Plandemic articles that she can find.
Although all of the articles are good, the snarkalicious Orac’s takedown has some choice words for Mikovits:
Judy Mikovits is a disgraced scientist who claimed a retrovirus caused chronic fatigue syndrome, results later soundly refuted. She went antivaccine for a while but has now been reborn as a COVID-19 grifter.
Actually, that was just after his headline, so you could almost stop there. But, there so much more for Orac to say:
I do love that last paragraph, though. It is exactly why people are prone to conspiracy theories. A good conspiracy theory turns the believer into a hero, a warrior with secret knowledge that none of the other ignorant “sheeple” know, against powerful forces arrayed against him. A good conspiracy theory almost always has a part at the end in which the “people” (in this case, the people believing the conspiracy theory) “wake up” and see what is being “suppressed” by the powerful forces seeking to keep them ignorant. Conspiracy theories like this both make the believer feel special and brave for having secret knowledge and fighting to make it public, but also provide an explanation for bad things happening in the world. Yes, the conspiracy theory in Plandemic is utterly ridiculous to those of us who know science, medicine, and history, but most people don’t know the relevant science, medicine, and history. To them, it sounds plausible.
The other reason I don’t really want to spend much time on this ridiculous fraudumentary is that once I read all of the critiques, I had no further need to watch it. It’s just more of that right-wing, science-denying nonsense that we keep seeing over and over with regards to vaccines and COVID-19.
She even claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had been the breath of sanity in the Trump administration and remains that sane voice today, with regards to this pandemic, somehow sabotaged her XMRV research. Like he would even be thinking about a former lab tech.
Judy Mikovits is just another false authority, charlatan, and grifter who is trying to make a name for themselves during this pandemic. Mostly we should ignore them, but unfortunately, their false claims can cause harm, so we need to show the world who they are.
And Judy Mikovits has nothing useful to say about COVID-19.
- Alberts B. Retraction. Science. 2011 Dec 23;334(6063):1636. doi: 10.1126/science.334.6063.1636-a. PubMed PMID: 22194552.
- Alter HJ, Mikovits JA, Switzer WM, Ruscetti FW, Lo SC, Klimas N, Komaroff AL, Montoya JG, Bateman L, Levine S, Peterson D, Levin B, Hanson MR, Genfi A, Bhat M, Zheng H, Wang R, Li B, Hung GC, Lee LL, Sameroff S, Heneine W, Coffin J, Hornig M, Lipkin WI. A multicenter blinded analysis indicates no association between chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis and either xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus or polytropic murine leukemia virus. mBio. 2012;3(5). doi: 10.1128/mBio.00266-12. Print 2012. PubMed PMID: 22991430; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3448165.
- Cool M, Bouchard N, Massé G, Laganière B, Dumont A, Hanna Z, Phaneuf D, Morisset R, Jolicoeur P. No detectable XMRV in subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome from Quebec. Virology. 2011 Nov 10;420(1):66-72. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2011.08.018. Epub 2011 Sep 16. PubMed PMID: 21925693.
- Knox K, Carrigan D, Simmons G, Teque F, Zhou Y, Hackett J Jr, Qiu X, Luk KC, Schochetman G, Knox A, Kogelnik AM, Levy JA. No evidence of murine-like gammaretroviruses in CFS patients previously identified as XMRV-infected. Science. 2011 Jul 1;333(6038):94-7. doi: 10.1126/science.1204963. Epub 2011 May 31. PubMed PMID: 21628393.
- Mikovits JA, Lombardi VC, Pfost MA, Hagen KS, Ruscetti FW. Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Virulence. 2010 Sep-Oct;1(5):386-90. doi: 10.4161/viru.1.5.12486. PubMed PMID: 21178474; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3073172.
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