Thursday, 8 December 2011

Myth, Money and Self Delusion

As both science and accountancy begins to inform those who invested heavily in the XMRV hypothesis of disease causation, a presentation of what cash actually bought the WPI lab coat drama alive, seems in order.

No free lunches at the privately funded research table.

Surprisingly there are still articles being written that continue to sow confusion over the foundational finances of the Whittemore Peterson Institute.  An important part of the mythology that describes the Whittemore family as saviours of M.E/CFS research  and which has been much repeated by enthusiasts of the HGRV (formerly XMRV) hypothesis of M.E/CFS causation, is the proposition that the Whittemore family gave $5 million to the WPI. No such donation was ever made. What is the case, as written on this Blog in February 2011, is that via the Whittemore Family Foundation, something over $1 million was contributed by Annette and Harvey Whittemore  University of Nevada as contribution to the building of the University’s Center for Molecular Medicine .

The WPI has accommodation within the CMM building, the basis for this occupancy arrangement is not on public record, although it may be relevant that the WPI donated $100,000 to UofN in 2009.  The total cost of the CMM building project was $77million, $16 million of which was met by Nevada tax payers, the balance being met by University of Nevada financial bonds, together with sums donated by the Whittemore family. Total transfers from the Whittemore Family Foundation to the University of Nevada in the years 2007-2009 amounted to  $1,571,168, matched to a number of stated budgetary purposes.

Mo’ Money 

Funding of the WPI, and the meeting of costs of  administration and research can be broken down into three main categories, income gained from fundraising activities, funds donated by the Whittemore family, and Federal Research Grants.  In 2010/11 a number of Social Network supported grants were also received by the WPI. 

Although WPI was created in 2006, its first year of  operating was in 2007, when its stated income and was: 
  • Income: 2007 
Public support                              $37,083

Government Grant                       $400,00

Bank Interest                                 $1,106

In 2008 WPI’s declared income significantly increased due to additional grant income and a transfer of $540,172 from an entity called the Nevada CFS Foundation (subsequently Neuro-Immune Research Institute), of which Annette Whittemore was listed as President. The source of  the NCFSF’s income 2006-2008 was fundraising together with donations from the Whittemore Family Foundation totalling $214,000. The NCFSF contribution was accounted as part of WPI’s 2008 publicly supported funds
  • Income: 2008

Fundraising Events                      $514,685

Public support                              $739,345

Government Grant                       $600,000

Bank Interest                                   $8,314


In 2009 WPI declared reduced income from both fundraising events and public support. The Whittemore Family Trust gifted $100,000 to the WPI in 2009, coincidentally the same amount gifted by the WPI to the University of Nevada.
  •  Income: 2009
Fundraising Events                      $324,720

Public support                              $287,204

Government Grant                       $600,000

Bank Interest                                   $7,635

Where’s My Grant ?

The WPI has chosen not to account separately for the various Federal sources of its grant funding, it is not required to do so, however it is good practice for Institutions to be explicit about what funds they have received for what purpose. There is often difficulty in relating grant income to annual accounts because grant periods frequently cut across accounting years. The US Government does helpfully list grants given, by Recipient, in the case of the WPI six grants are currently listed .

In 2008 WPI received $189,667 from the HRSA   under award number C76HF09846.  transaction date 07-11-2008 . 

In 2009 a further $565,290 was paid under the award number with an award date of  09-09-2009.

Also in 2009 the WPI received the first annual payment of a multi year award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases(NIAID) under award number R01AI078234 , the payment amount being $335,000 with a transaction date of 24-SEP-2009.

The total amount of Federal Grant awarded to the WPI  in 2008/2009  was £1,089,957 which accords reasonably well with the $1,200,000 declared by the WPI , however the declared sum of $400,000 for 2007 does not appear to relate to any Federal award. There is however the matter of $2,000,000 appropriated by the Nevada State legislature for:

“the use of the Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease[sic] “the construction  of, and furnishings, and equipment for, a facility relating to  the research and treatment of neuro-immune disorders.”

It seems likely that of the $1.6 million declared by the WPI as being ‘received’ Government Grants in the years 2007 - 2009, something in the region of $500,000 came from the Nevada State legislature.

The NIAID R01AI078234 award was matched with $311,316 from the same source in 2010, and a further $302,866 was due in September 2011. In total,  US Federal sources list in excess of $1.7 million having been paid or due to the WPI between 2008 and 2011. The WPI 2010 accounts are not currently available but it is clear that WPI, far from being supported independently of Government as claimed by some commentators, has been heavily dependent on Government funding.

Good People Cost

One aspect of WPI finances that stands out rather strongly is it’s burgeoning wage bill. From just $146,373 in 2007, salaries rose to $354,803 in 2008 and $545,748 in 2009.  Dr Mikovits was paid  $146,154 in 2008 and $185,000 in 2009, an amount which substantially above comparable norms and a surprisingly large amount given the size of the institution. 

* Account information of all US non profit organisations, including for the WPI and WFF, is available from Guidestar in the form of .pdf versions of Form 990 tax returns. The most recent three year’s return are available without cost although registration may be required.

1 comment:

  1. Where is the supporting evidence that $185K is too much? The Director of the CAA receives in this neighborhood (I think $175K) and doesn't have a PhD in the field.

    What about similar breakdown for the waste of the CDC in overseeing phone book studies of tired and overweight people?

    I think the real question goes beyond WPI and that is what is the ROI for all the public money being spent at CDC, NIH, NIAD, etc. Is the public getting a good return or is the $$ going into a black hole that benefits the research organizations, scientists' careers and other hangers on? Are advances in science relatively minimal for the expense?

    There is plenty of questionable money being spent out there and to entirely focus on the relatively small expense of the WPI, Mikovits, etc smacks of smear campaign.

    ReplyDelete