Make Sure We Speak

After a difficult few weeks in the world of ME advocacy, it’s been really heartening to see the new critique of the PACE trial and accompanying editorial on the Sense About Science USA/ American Statistical Association website. After 7000 words of searing analysis, Rebecca Goldin concludes that the flaws in the study design “were enough to doom its results from the start”, while Trevor Butterworth’s editorial pronounces “a terminal prognosis” on the study. As far as patients are concerned, this demise cannot come too soon – and it remains to be seen if the British media, who have uncritically lauded the study on so many occasions, will consider this latest development to be worth reporting.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging for patients to receive such clear validation of what we have been saying for so long from such a reliable source. It has to be another important step in the right direction.

Trevor Butterworth writes: “David Tuller may not get a Pulitzer Prize for investigating PACE trial on a blog; but his service to—and we do not exaggerate—millions of sufferers around the world make it hard for us to think of another work of journalism so deserving of commendation.” Patients – including those who produced the initial critiques which first attracted Tuller to the issue – will heartily agree with that analysis, likewise with Butterworth’s acknowledgement of the important contribution of Julie Rehmeyer in drawing attention to the flaws of the trial. Let us hope their work pays off very soon and the study is deservedly retracted. Lead PACE investigator Peter White still has his finger in the dam but sweat is breaking out on his forehead. He must be wondering how much longer he can hold back the torrent of truth. Continue reading “Make Sure We Speak”

Heat of Battle

In my previous post relating to the controversy surrounding the NIH study, I wrote that disagreements were only to be expected. I still stick by those words, yet I – like many – have looked on in some distress since then as angry reactions have escalated to a potentially catastrophic extent, threatening a very serious setback in our battle to expose the PACE trial and win recognition for the true nature of ME.

I myself do not believe that anything any patient has said about the NIH study has been more outrageous than the NIH’s own decision to appoint Dr Walitt as study director. When you put this in the context of the promises made about the study after all the years of neglect and betrayal it is scarcely surprising that some patients have got very angry or that bitter disputes have arisen about how best to respond.

But we must not lose sight of what we hope to achieve. David Tuller and Professor James Coyne have built on years of painstaking work by patients to put us in reach of finally exposing the slick tricks of the PACE trial. It will be tragic if we lose that chance because of a few angry exchanges in the heat of battle.

I think we need to accept that Professor Coyne is the way he is. He fights hard and says what he thinks in no uncertain terms. That’s what makes him such a fearsome opponent for those who are ranged against us. But if we ask a lion to fight for us, we can’t be surprised if he roars in our direction from time to time. If that weren’t his essential nature, he wouldn’t have taken on this battle of ours which nobody else would touch. He has been willing to stand up for truth on our behalf. We need his support and he deserves ours in turn.

No one deserves to have been upset over this. All that anyone was trying to do was to speak up in whatever way seemed appropriate to them to achieve our common goal of true recognition, research and treatments for this devastating, misunderstood, neglected condition. Continue reading “Heat of Battle”

Keep Watching

‘Somatoform disorders’ have reared their heads in the ME-related news recently. First there was the announcement that one of the control groups for the upcoming and eagerly anticipated US National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of post-infectious CFS would be people with ‘functional movement disorder’, a strange choice which has made a lot of ME patients feel uneasy. The NIH explained: “Functional Movement Disorder was chosen to contrast post-infectious ME/CFS patients with a very well-studied group of patients with clear psychological illness with neurological presentation.”

But why not compare us with, say, AIDS or MS patients, people have asked? Why choose these ‘functional’ patients? It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the NIH may be secretly looking for similarities rather than contrasts between people with ME/CFS  and those with this so-called ‘functional’ disorder. And if such similarities are found, what then?

There is, after all, no proof that any condition is ‘functional’ or ‘somatoform’ or ‘psychogenic’ or whatever you want to call it – as Doctor Speedy explains here. These diagnoses are based entirely on the opinion – and in many cases, as we shall see, the presumption – of the doctor. When it comes to such so-called ‘psychogenic’ conditions, otherwise known as ‘medically unexplained symptoms’, evidence-based medicine seems to go out of the window.

So these poor people with movement disorders may have conditions which are no more ‘psychogenic’ than ME is, yet according to the NIH they have ‘clear psychological illness’. So if we have similarities with such patients, what does that mean for us in the eyes of the NIH?

Perhaps I am being unduly suspicious here. There is plenty that seems to be good about the NIH study. It is large scale, it is studying post-infectious CFS (i.e. patients whose CFS started with an infection) and there is going to be a particular focus on the cardinal symptom of post exertional malaise. Continue reading “Keep Watching”

Action for ME and the PACE Trial

Action for ME has now joined the ME Association in asking for the release of data from the PACE Trial. This is a very encouraging development. Well done to all who wrote in – and to Clark Ellis whose blog encouraged us to do so.

Action for ME have supported PACE in the past and let down their members and ME patients in general very badly in the process, but they are now under largely new leadership, with a new CEO and new Medical Advisors. The contributions of CEO Sonya Chowdhury in the media have been noticably more robust in recent months and her profile page on their web site speaks of ‘a bold and ambitious agenda for change’.

There are those who will not forgive Action for ME for their past mistakes but, like it or not,  they are frequently called upon for comment by the media and it seems to me that it is in the interests of people with ME to have an Action for ME that is on our side, which is stridently putting our case with our support, rather than one we perceive to be our enemy.

According to the Feb 12th statement by the AfME Board of Trustees, “The Board is continuing to consider Action for M.E.’s position on the PACE trial and related issues more widely, and will make a further statement in due course”. So it seems to me that this is a good time for ME patients to let them know what we would like this position to be. I have just sent them a message to this effect which I have pasted in below.

Please consider contacting Action for ME yourself, especially if you are a member. Feel free to reproduce my message, in part or in full, though if you have the spoons available to write in your own words, then so much the better. I don’t think the message has to be long or complicated: perhaps the shorter and more to the point it is the better. Not everyone is as long-winded as I am! I strongly suggest that you keep it polite and supportive though, however annoyed you maybe with AfME’s previous actions. Anger can get in the way of the message. The truth is powerful enough by itself.

My message follows:

Dear Ms Chowdhury – I am writing to thank you and Action for ME for joining your voice to those who are asking for the release of the PACE Trial data. Continue reading “Action for ME and the PACE Trial”

Letter to Sunday Times

This material will not be new to most regular readers but I wanted to share with you a letter I have just written to Brian Appleyard of the Sunday Times. It’s no good giving a link because it will be stuck behind their annoying paywall but what he said (in passing, as part of a book review) was:

“Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), for example, can be relieved by cognitive behavioural therapy. Oddly, some CFS sufferers don’t want to hear this because it implies their affliction is ‘all in the mind’. Perhaps they should realise that ‘all in the mind’ is rapidly becoming an obsolete or even meaningless diagnosis.”

All in all, it was quite a good piece about the power of placebos but what concerns me is that this misinterpretation of our objection to CBT is becoming widespread, to the extent that it just keeps on getting trotted out as a given without any question as to where it came from or whether it’s true. This is my own little modest attempt to hold back this tide of repeated misapprehensions:

Dear Bryan Appleyard,

I usually enjoy your contributions to the Sunday Times so I was disappointed this weekend when you repeated the assertion (which seems to be widespread in the media these days) that people with CFS object to CBT ‘because it implies that their affliction is all in the mind’. As you say, ‘all in the mind’ is pretty much meaningless given what we now know about mind and body. It makes no sense to separate the two – indeed it never has done. Yet to be honest this misguided concept is perpetuated as much by the medical profession itself as by anyone else these days.

But the reason those of us with CFS (or ME, to use the less misleading name) object to the use of CBT is nothing to do with this. It is because the primary use of CBT in ME/CFS treatment is to try to convince patients to push on and increase their level of activity in spite of worsening symptoms. If only it were possible to do so! Unfortunately the primary symptom of ME/CFS is post exertional malaise, a worsening of symptoms in general following even modest levels of activity. This has been demonstrated by the work of Prof Mark Van Ness et al, who measured a deterioration in the exercise capability of patients with ME/CFS on the second day of testing. Continue reading “Letter to Sunday Times”

Message to Planet PACE

Prof James Coyne’s Freedom of Information request for data from the PACE Trial has been refused and he has shared the letter he received in explanation. It makes astonishing reading.

There have of course been numerous previous refusals concerning this data but the excuses given are increasingly desperate and unconvincing.

Prof Coyne was told: ‘The university considers that there is a lack of value or serious purpose to your request. The university also considers that there is improper motive behind the request. The university considers that this request has caused and could further cause harassment and distress to staff.’

The letter goes on to say: ‘The active campaign to discredit the project has caused distress to the university’s researchers who hold legitimate concerns that they will be subject to public criticism and reputational damage.’

The letter concludes: ‘The university considers that when applying a holistic approach, this request can properly be considered to be vexatious.’

Bearing in mind that James Coyne requested the data so that he could ‘verify the substantive claims of the article through reanalysis’, it is difficult to see why his request should be thought to ‘lack value or serious purpose’ or why it should be considered that he has ‘an improper motive’.

It is also hard to see why the PACE researchers’ apparent ‘distress’ and their fears of ‘public criticism and reputational damage’ can possibly be considered adequate justification for refusing access to their data. Continue reading “Message to Planet PACE”

Telling It Like It Is

It’s been a gruelling and messy few weeks for those of us who try to keep up with developments in the world of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). On the plus side, there’s been a comprehensive and damning critique of the PACE Trial by investigative journalist David Tuller. As you may be aware, the 2011 UK PACE Trial purported to demonstrate the efficacy of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and GET (graded exercise therapy) as treatments for ME, findings which have been hotly contested – and for very good reasons – by patient advocates and informed health professionals alike. Now, Tuller’s series of articles has provided an invaluable and comprehensive summary of the numerous failings of the trial all in one place for the very first time.

Then, just as the PACE researchers were firing up their response – a very damaging response, of which more soon – influential Professor of Health Psychology James Coyne joined the fray to explain the shortcomings of the latest PACE follow-up study; while in what may be the most significant PACE development of all, the Information Commissioners Office ordered the release of raw data from the trial, a move which may provide its many critics with the ammunition to finally expose the truth behind the study’s spin and bluster.

Lastly, as far as the positive side of the equation is concerned, though you could be forgiven for overlooking it amid the drama of what is coming to be known as ‘PACE-gate’, the US National Institutes of Health has announced a major new CFS/ME research initiative, the main objective of which will be to investigate ‘at a biological and molecular level’ what happens when someone develops ME following an infection. Furthermore, US CFS/ME research will now be under the wing of the ‘National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’ as opposed to ‘Women’s Health’, which seems like a more sensible way to proceed, given that men get ME as well.

On the negative side, the PACE researchers published another follow-on study, the latest in a series of number-crunching re-imaginings based on data from the trial, studies which keep the fires of PACE burning over and over again, long after reasoned argument should have extinguished them. This time, unfortunately, the fires were stoked not only by the study itself, yet another triumph of spin over substance, but by a couple of press reports from the Daily Mail and – worst of all – a front page piece from the Daily Telegraph which took the nonsense from the study and transformed it into something so outrageous, unrecognisable and – unfortunately – damaging that even Prof Michael Sharpe, lead researcher on the dodgy study itself, described the article as ‘misleading and insulting’. Continue reading “Telling It Like It Is”

How to deal with layer upon layer of misinformation?

So you think social media are really empowering.

But then you have the PACE Trial, a £5million study of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) largely funded by the British Taxpayer which used diagnostic criteria that included people with other conditions; which changed entry and recovery criteria mid-study so that it was possible for participants to get worse and still be classed as ‘recovered’; which jettisoned most of its objective measures of assessment mid-study because they didn’t give the desired results; which despite therefore relying almost entirely on subjective ‘tick-box questionnaire’ measures of outcome nevertheless issued a newsletter for participants mid-study telling them how well the therapies were working; whose authors claimed that these therapies (GET and CBT) led to the ‘recovery’ of many patients with ME even though their physical functioning at the end of the trial was similar to those with congestive heart failure; which has now spawned a follow-on study showing that GET and CBT are actually no more effective long term than the other therapies studied but which nevertheless is spun to give the impression of providing further proof of how wonderful they are; which in turn leads on to a front page story in the Daily Telegraph which is so divorced from any kind of reality that even the lead researcher of this latest manifestation of the mind-numbingly flawed, woefully mismanaged trial itself describes the story as ‘misleading and insulting’.

Try addressing that little lot in a Tweet.

Meanwhile the Telegraph reader looks at the front page, reads the misleading headline and, now feeling reliably informed about ME, turns to the sport…

Further reading:

An overview of David Tuller’s comprehensive critique of the PACE Trial

Sign a petition calling for the retraction of unfounded PACE trial claims