The story keeps getting stranger. In two sworn affidavits dated 16 and 21 November, researcher Max Pfost admitted to stealing laboratory notebooks from his employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) in Reno, Nevada, and giving them to Judy Mikovits, the institute’s former research director.
He states that he retrieved “between 12-20 notebooks” from a locked desk in Mikovits’s former office on the morning of 30 September. This was one day after Mikovits was fired from her post for insubordination. He stored them in his mother’s garage in a “multicoloured Happy Birthday” bag, and reports that he gave them to Mikovits in Reno on 16 October, when she came to retrieve some personal items. Mikovits has maintained that she had not returned to Nevada since being fired.
Mikovits was arrested in Ventura, California, on felony charges this past Friday, as a fugitive from the law. She awaits a hearing for extradition to Nevada, where she faces a civil suit filed by WPI over the alleged stolen notebooks and data.
ScienceInsider has a scene from inside the Ventura courtroom, where Mikovits reportedly posted bail, today.
The affidavits add a new wrinkle, alleging that Mikovits, a chronic-fatigue-syndrome researcher, was scheming with Pfost to “move the grants from WPI”. This includes about half of a US$1.5-million research grant (an R01) from the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In a meeting at a bar the night Mikovits was fired, Pfost claims, “She stated she was going to try to move the R01 grant and the Department of Defense grants and stop the Lipkin study.”
The Lipkin study is a multi-centre trial, headed by Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University in New York, trying to prove or disprove once and for all Mikovits’s largely discredited hypothesis that chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalopathy) is caused by a mysterious family of retroviruses, among them XMRV. We covered the controversy surrounding the research in March and Mikovits’s dismissal in September.
Mikovits’s lawyers have filed statements from Mikovits and several friends and colleagues including her husband saying that Mikovits did not have the notebooks and could not have stolen them.
And Research1st, a blog run by a chronic-fatigue-syndrome advocacy group, has links to a collection of news reports and blog posts.
Image: D. Calvert / AP / Nature