MEGA Petition

Here is a copy of an email from Leeds ME Network sent to Sonya Chowdhury, CEO of Action for ME concerning the petition which she has been circulating regarding the proposed ‘big data’ study by the UK CFS/M.E. Research Collaborative. It is another situation, similar to the NIH study in the US – where the research sounds very promising but some of the personnel involved sound alarm bells. Leeds ME Network are therefore requesting more details and – hopefully – reassurances.

Dear Sonya – I am writing because I find it difficult to know how to respond to the MEGA petition which you have been promoting. Of course I am in favour of more biomedical research into ME. Normally I would sign this petition, circulate it to our members, and publicise it more widely on social media. Yet I am concerned about the presence of  Profs White and Crawley in the MEGA team. I am sure you are aware that many other patients share my reservations.

Following the recent release of data, it is now clear that Prof White and his PACE team deliberately manipulated the data to get the result they wanted, thereby deceiving patients, doctors, and decision makers both in this country and worldwide, Action for ME included. I know that your predecessor, Sir Peter Spencer, expressed surprise at the results of the PACE Trial. Well he might have done, because it is now clear that the published results were a travesty of the truth.

As for Prof Crawley, as you will be aware she is now about to test GET on children in the MAGENTA trial (in spite of widespread concerns about the PACE trial plus substantial reporting by patients of harms from this therapy), has recently been testing the quack therapy the Lightning Process on children, and has added to the substantial body of misinformation about ME by conducting a study of the prevalence of CFS at age 16 by using subjects who were ‘diagnosed’ by questionnaire and without the involvement of doctors.

In view of these issues. I’m afraid I have no confidence in any research involving either Profs White or Crawley and am therefore loath to sign or distribute the petition. But on the other hand, I would very much like to support biomedical research. I therefore feel I am caught between a rock and a hard place and it seems that many other patients feel the same.

I notice that ME Research UK have put a slightly different list on their web site: a ‘main MEGA team’ which does not include Profs White and Crawley. This makes perfect sense, as it is hard to see why either of them, given their skill sets and the nature of their previous work, should be involved in biomedical research anyway. So I wonder if their presence on the petition page is a token one only, acknowledging their membership of the Research Collaborative perhaps? If this were the case, if Profs White and Crawley were not actually to be involved in the big data project (and therefore not at liberty to subvert it), I might well feel able to support and publicise the petition. I wonder if you are able to advise me on this or else pass this email on to someone else who can?

I have just being listening to your presentation at the Research Collaborative conference in which you spoke very tellingly of the need for an appropriate level of funding for ME research. I am grateful to you for making this case and am sorry if you feel that I – and perhaps others – are ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ by expressing such reservations about who is in charge of research. But experience has taught us that bad research is even worse than no research. The efforts of Prof White and the biopsychosocial school have been one of the main factors in reducing investment in biomedical research in recent years. It has taken patients many years – and a lot of energy we could ill afford to spend – to get to the stage where we are finally starting to expose the PACE Trial for the sham that it is. We cannot afford for the same thing to happen again.

 Note: I’ve been asked to include details of ‘unsigning’ in case you previously signed the MEGA petition and wish to un-sign pending further information about the study. I covered it here

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”

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”

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”

Time to be Heard

Six weeks on from the infamously unhelpful article by Sarah Knapton in the Daily Telegraph, the online version of the newspaper has published an article on ME by Dr Charles Shepherd of the ME Association with a view to correcting some of the misinformation. This was part of a deal which was struck by way of redress for the Telegraph falling so short of the truth on this occasion, as part of which they also published a ‘clarification’ of their assertion that ME isn’t really a chronic illness. As the clarification stated that the study they had reported actually said no such thing, it might have been more appropriate to call it  a ‘correction’ but I suppose you can’t expect a leading national newspaper to have such a precise grasp of the English language.

As for Dr Shepherd’s article, it doesn’t appear in the print edition, this in marked contrast to Knapton’s article which was linked from the front page. We have elderly relatives who read the original article but will only receive Shepherd’s piece because we’ll print it out and send them it. Many other Telegraph readers will sadly remain in ignorance.

This sort of imbalance is pretty much standard, of course, in situations like this, and Dr Shepherd and the ME Association are to be congratulated for at least getting the deal they did. It is worth, too, saying a word or two extra in praise of Charles Shepherd, who has been performing duties like this on our behalf for the best part of three decades now, plodding time and again to the barricades to call out the truth into the no man’s land of ignorance, doubt and incomprehension, then plodding patiently back again in the knowledge that he will probably have to do the same thing all over again in an another week’s time. And another. And another. The man is a hero. We are very fortunate to have him.

We are also lucky to have ME patients such as Tom Kindlon who have been plugging away with well reasoned comments for years, slowly exposing the fracture lines in the PACE Trial and counteracting other misconceptions. Not all of us are capable of such exhaustive feats of analysis, and yet there is a growing understanding that we all have a part to play in getting the truth out there. Continue reading “Time to be Heard”

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”