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Dr. Reeves Out at the CDC

Posted by Cort Johnson

In a startling announcement on 3pm on Friday the CFIDS Association of America reported that the man who’d vowed to outlast everyone, Dr. Willam Reeves of the CDC, was out and that Dr. Elizabeth Unger was temporarily taking over controls of the CDC’s CFS Research program.

Certainly, no one expected this. At the end of the recent ten year evaluation period the CDC had appeared to turn blind eye to all the complaints; neither the CFIDS Association documentation of a huge amount of waste in the program, or later the IACFS/ME’s or the CFSAC’s calls for fundamental change or the scathing public review session seemed to make any difference at all.  In fact they didn’t even bother to respond; it all seemed like water off a ducks back at the CDC.  The ten year evaluation process was presumably over last October with the publication of the official Five-Year Strategic Research Plan;  except for a few changes around the edges it all looked very much like business as usual at the CDC is.

Now we have to ask ourselves what happened? Is Dr. Reeves departure the final result of the evaluation period, or did something else happen, and if so what was it? Dr. Reeves has been associated with CFS at the CDC for almost 20 years and he has been the face of the program for ten. He gained notoriety when he blew the whistle on the diversion of CFS funds within the CDC in the late 1990’s.  Because of that he’s been assumed, by some CFS patients at least, to be untouchable – but he wasn’t and now he’s gone. What happened?

Getting rid of a division head is an extreme act implies that probably implies one of two things; either the party in question personally did something very wrong or the CDC brass believed he was leaving the program over a cliff.

Let’s fervently hope that it was due to the second; if it was then their decision could have been caused by three things; –

(1)    the slow realization that he was not the man for the job;

(2)    a new administration that is shaking things up

(3)     the CDC’s  abrupt and recent realization that  his approach to the disease was no longer tenable.

This first and second are understandable and warranted; the third would be truly exciting.

The Accumulation of Things Scenario – It’s possible that the CFIDS Association’s findings of large amounts of wasted money and poor productivity in the program finally took root and that, in combination with the almost universal disregard for the program amongst CFS professionals, finally prompted CDC to say enough is enough. If this is so then Dr. Reeves promise to collaborate more and his quick refusal to do so certainly didn’t help him.  Nor did his sometimes inopportune public statements. The failure of the Empirical Definition and the possibility of seven years of tainted or even irrelevant work, must have weighed heavily against him.  In this scenario, however, Dr. Reeves inability to solve any of the basic questions regarding CFS (biomarkers, cause of the disease, treatment for it) is ultimately what ended his career in the disease.

New Administration – Dr. Reeves has survived several changes of administration over the years but it may be that he finally met his match with this new one. The fact that the CDC itself is being reorganized in a rather massive way suggests that Dr. Reeves may not be the only department head to be given a lateral move near the end of his career.  My thought was that the CFS program is so far down the totem pole that no one would care enough about it to change it but perhaps someone did.

The New Direction Needed Scenario: The most exciting explanation is that the CDC is, based on its XMRV results, making a dramatic change in the direction of its program. This would fly contrary to the scuttlebutt that the CDC is not replicating the WPI’s findings but those are only rumors.  What if the CDC is, (reportedly, working side by side with WPI), replicating their findings? (Dr. Mikovits one notes seemed nothing but enthusiastic about XMRV at the recent Prohealth presentation). Since Dr. Reeves talents don’t lie in retroviral investigation (not to mention the fact that the CDC would hardly want to retain a researcher who publicly trashed XMRV at the first opportunity) it would make sense to find someone else.  Indeed, if XMRV is replicated one would expect wholesale changes in a program that hasn’t looked hard at a virus in chronic fatigue syndrome in about 10 years.

Its hard to imagine that Dr. Reeves is happy with this move. He’s going from leading a program to being “Senior Advisor’ at a Mental Health surveillance program. From the sound of that his days as a lead researcher appear to be over.  It sounds like a terrible comedown for him.

Time will (hopefully) tell how this happened at the least expected of times.

(Jeanne Spotila of the CFIDS Association reported in the Phoenix Rising forums that Dr. Unger is a virologist and cancer researcher who is not enamored of the sexual abuse studies the CDC has been focusing on.)

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