Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Papers of Record Unsatisfied

Washington Post and New York Times editorials today find the FBI's revelations unconvincing, and call for an independent, scientific review of the evidence.


Anonymous said...

You WaPo link doesn't work for me.

Ellen Byrne said...

Dr. Nass, I belive your link to the Washington Post is not working.

If the FBI wants us to wait up to 2 years to see this new science published, I'm wondering if they had been planning to wait 2 years those same two years to indict Dr. Ivins, especially if they were threatening him with the death penalty?

Anonymous said...

How stupid does Majidi think we are?

"It's like cooking a stew in your kitchen. It's
impossible to get the exact same taste twice in a row simply because of
the variations of the material you add," he said.

I mean - does he believe the element silicon sometimes spontaneously
appears out of nowhere in the spore broth - perhaps from some nuclear
reaction (I should point out the obvious - elements can only be created
in nuclear reactions)?? Every component in the standard Detrick spore
growth can be assayed for silicon content - is there any silicon there,
yes or no? If so, how much? Could any quantities detected explain the
amounts in the attack powders? It's all just book-keeping - how many
moles of silicon are there in the preparation materials - how many in
the spore powder - analytical chemistry 101.

This gets worse - this needs to be written about. Any analytical
chemist would immediately recognize Majidi is casting a fairytale of
breathtaking audacity.

FBI Details Science Tying Ivins To Anthrax Mailings
by David Kestenbaum

Listen Now [3 min 56 sec] add to playlist

In DepthAug. 8, 2008Ivins' Lawyer Rebuts DOJ Anthrax Allegations

Morning Edition, August 19, 2008 ·
Ever since its suspect in the anthrax attacks committed suicide, the
FBI has been under pressure to convince the public and the scientific
community that Army scientist Bruce Ivins really was behind the 2001
The case against Ivins rests in part on a complex
genetic technique. Scientists have been asking for more particulars so
they can judge for themselves, and Monday, the FBI offered more details
on the science it used.
FBI scientists spent more than two hours
with reporters, doing their best to explain how DNA had led them to a
vial of anthrax spores in Ivins' lab. The story that emerged is this:
Early on, investigators noticed something unusual about the spores sent
through the mail — they were not all identical.
"The spore
preparations in the envelope had a specific phenotypic variation. That
means spores that looked physically different than neighbors," said
Vahid Majidi, assistant director of the FBI's weapons of mass
destruction directorate.
Tracing The Source
said it was like a bowl of blue M&Ms that had mixed in it a few
that were brown or green or red. The fact that those were in there was
like a fingerprint — potentially a way to trace the anthrax in the
letters back to its source.
Investigators had collected more than
1,000 samples from labs in the United States and abroad. When they
tested them, eight had the genetic fingerprint. The other samples
didn't match at all.
"What genetics allowed us to do was to
determine that there are eight samples out there that exactly match the
letters," Majidi said. The investigations led them to RMR-1029, the
name of a flask in Ivins' custody, Majidi said.
The sample had
been shared with other researchers, though, and investigators say at
least one of the matching samples was at a different institution
entirely. About 100 people had access to those spores, Majidi said.
lawyer said this shows the FBI's case is weak, that scores of people
had access to the same mixture of spores. Majidi responded that the FBI
looked at those 100 people and ruled out everybody but Ivins.
'Like Cooking A Stew'
have also been raised about whether Ivins had the necessary tools in
his lab to make the finely powdered spores found in some of the
letters. Majidi says the answer is yes. Investigators were able to do
it. The FBI says it would take one person working for three to seven
The only thing they were not able to reproduce was a
silicon compound that showed up inside the spores used in the attacks.
But Majidi said that isn't surprising; it can be hard to duplicate
someone's recipe.
"It's like cooking a stew in your kitchen. It's
impossible to get the exact same taste twice in a row simply because of
the variations of the material you add," he said.
Addressing Scientists' Questions
said the FBI's case is "very strong." But when the FBI first began
talking about the case, scientists had a lot of questions. One group
even put out a list of points it wanted clarified.
Thomas Inglesby is deputy director of that group — the Center for
Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
have a lot of confidence in the abilities of the FBI, and they are
proceeding earnestly in disclosing information and should be commended
for that," Inglesby said. "But given a case of this importance to the
country, and given that this kind of science has never been used in a
court of law before, it's going to be important to present this
scientific evidence to an independent expert review."
was not at the briefing Monday. But he says it sounds like some of his
questions have been answered. He says the FBI should publish its work
in a scientific journal. The FBI says it has done some of that already
and more papers are in the works.

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

To respond to these editorials: and

Under 200 words, no duplicate submissions, include contact information, refer to editorial title in your subj line.

Anonymous said...

And why does it take ten peer reviewed papers? Can't they prove their theory with one paper that spells out how the new technology nails Ivins?

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Maybe someone suggested the FBI look for these mutations? Not saying someone put them there and then said look for them, just asking.

Anonymous said...

Re: "stew"

I take back, partly, my comment on yesterday's. I wrote the authorities spectrographically tested the attack anthrax but probably not the anthrax from the specific flask, though that would be expected to be done by most people.

Looking at these new stories, and comments above, and the weasel words of the authorities, I now believe they probably did so test the flask anthrax and did NOT find silicon.

Also, on the confusion about the no. of flasks. The reporter's question was likely in the form of "How many flasks was THE anthrax in?"

The better question is "how many discrete samples did Ivins submit the first time? The second? If one of the second samples didn't match the first, did you check to see if the "correct" stuff was also in an mismarked, but submitted sample? And so on

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

Cooking stew: I'm pretty much science impaired but will try to respond to Majidi's "blue M&Ms" theory in the next couple of days. It is insulting in the way people deliver insults when they believe there will be no consequences.

George Washington said...

Why don't we demand that independent scientists (like Sperzel) be allowed to examine the anthrax actually sent in the Leahy and Daschle letters?

Ellen Byrne said...

I agree with George Washington but Spertzel wouldn't be considered unbiased since he's on the record as saying he doubts the anthrax was refined at Detrick.

It's up to congress and the senate to make the demands of the FBI. And a full hearing should include the testimonies of Dr. Ivins's fellow scientists (who are currently under gag order for fear of criminal prosecution) testify.

Anonymous said...


The M & Ms analogy is silly because any child could find those differently colored ones in a matter of seconds.

People today are familiar with DNA. The analogy, inadvertently, tended to make the Feds' work sound not that difficult at all.

The add the candy to the "grassy knoll" snort, there is some heavy fear transpiring.

Anonymous said...

Like M&Ms, their lies are melting in their mouths.