In 2006, scientists announced a provocative finding: a retrovirus called XMRV, closely related to a known virus from mice, was associated with cases of prostate cancer. But other labs, using different sets of patients, found no evidence of a viral infection. Before the controversy could be sorted out, another research group published a 2009 paper containing an even more intriguing claim. XMRV, it said, was associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a disorder that some had claimed was purely psychosomatic.
Reaction came quickly. The CFS community, viewing a viral cause as a validation of their malady, embraced the finding. One author of the XMRV/CFS paper, Judy Mikovits, landed a position as research director of a private foundation dedicated to CFS. A company associated with the foundation started offering tests for infections.
Then the story took a strange turn. A long chain of events led not only to the collapse of the XMRV hypothesis, but it landed Mikovits in jail—and brought death threats upon some of the researchers who debunked her ideas.