Quo vadis, Science Media Centre?

Yesterday saw some positive media headlines for the ME community. The research from Columbia University by Hornig et al, concerning the level of cytokine activation as a potential biomarker for ME, looks promising[1]. ME research indicating a biological pathology is often dismissed due to the small number of participants but this was a study comprising 298 ME patients and 348 controls, which will hopefully give it more weight in scientific circles[1]. Unfortunately, as is usual with UK media coverage, reporting was not unequivocally positive; the difference in tone between the UK and US media coverage was marked. In the former, most of the usual suspects promoting the psychogenic paradigm were quoted, aided by the Science Media Centre (SMC). There is little hope of this group of psychiatrists going quietly into the night and we will probably experience a backlash from that quarter; they have much to lose if and when the psychogenic model of ME is discredited and the disease is proven to have a biological foundation.

Regarding specific coverage: ‘First Biological Proof that ME is Real Found by Scientists’ states the Telegraph’s headline[2]. Hardly the first given the thousands of papers published showing biological abnormalities in ME patients, and proof is a charged term in science but quite a good headline for a British newspaper (to be fair the ME Association’s reporting was hardly exemplary[3])*. The Independent lives up to its usual poor standards when reporting anything ME related; its headline, ‘Scientists Claim to have ‘Robust’ Evidence that ME has a Biological Cause'[4], being especially bad. Note the use of the word claim and the inverted commas around robust and contrast this with their reporting of the PACE trial based research a few weeks ago, ‘Sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can Benefit from Exercise'[5]. No doubt is expressed there in the veracity of the researchers’ claims, the suggestion that ME sufferers can benefit from exercise is stated as fact.

The Science Media Centre surpassed itself in its coverage of the Columbia University study[6]. Of seven experts chosen to respond to the study, not one gives a positive analysis, no medical adviser from an ME charity or, non-psychosomatic promoting, ME researcher is quoted. The featured experts are:

Professors Michael Sharpe and Peter White, and Dr Esther Crawley, all notorious proponents of the psychogenic ME model

Professor Stephen Lawrie, head of The Division of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh: ‘This is a small study’ he states[6]; a study encompassing 20 participants is small professor Lawrie, one involving over 600 participants is not[1]. One has to ask why is a psychiatrist being consulted?

Professor Derek Hill, a professor of Medical Imaging Science with no known expertise in the field of ME[7]

Professor Naveed Sattar: Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow. He does have expertise in the field of biomarkers but has shown zero interest in the field of ME research heretofore[8]

Dr Diana Prata: Group Leader, Institute of Molecular Medicine. Again, no evidence of any interest in the field of ME research[9] ‘This specific illness is not in my area of expertise’ really? Yet the SMC calls you an expert[6].

If the SMC wanted to skew their response towards dismissing the Columbia study and avoid undermining their preferred psychogenic model of ME it would be hard to choose better sources of expertise. The study is by no means flawless or conclusive (what study is?) but it’s a better piece of work than the SMC would lead you to believe. Connie St Louis, former president of the Association of British Science Writers and a senior lecturer at City University, has detailed the SMC’s malign influence on media reporting of scientific stories in the UK[10], revealing that over half of the SMC’s expert reactions were covered in the press and in nearly a quarter of stories, the only quotes were from the SMC[10]. Louis states ‘The SMC never claims to deliver a balanced [argument], so it’s really interesting that many of them weren’t using somebody independent of what the SMC offered’[10]. The SMC’s media briefings are reported uncritically, with 60 per cent of articles based on their information containing no non-SMC mediated sources[10]. This is especially relevant concerning ME coverage in the British media and explains its bias towards reporting research from the psychogenic realm[11].

We recently published a blog post concerning a vitriolic article about ME sufferers from the University of Toronto’s Professor Edward Shorter[12]. One of the particularly insightful claims made in his piece was,

‘There have been no convincing new studies, no breakthrough findings of organicity, nothing.

And there never will be.'[13]

I’m not quite sure why he split the sentence up, no doubt to enhance the effect of such a momentous, nay paradigm-shifting statement, but it looks more foolish now than it did a week ago, which is quite an achievement. Needless to say Professor Shorter’s scientific knowledge is zero, I’m only surprised the SMC didn’t choose him as one of their expert commentators on the Columbia study.

A serious point to finish: let us not forget Karina Hansen, currently being ‘treated’ by Per Fink and his followers in Denmark. I believe forcibly removing a young woman from her home to an institution that restricts her liberty, access to her family and subjects her to who knows what form of ‘therapy’, is nothing less than torture. I also find it disturbing that it is another case of a young woman being abused by middle-aged male members of the medical profession. The current climate surrounding ME, ‘all in the mind’, ‘lazy malingerers’ etc. encouraged by the likes of Wessely, White and Sharpe (and formerly by Beard at al), has allowed such cruelties to be inflicted on ME patients. Hopefully we are coming to the end of this era of abuse and can look forward to more biomedical research and effective medical therapy, consigning the over-used biosocial model and psychogenic explanations for physical illness[14] to the dustbin of history.

*Since this article was written the ME Association have composed a very good reply to the SMC’s biased coverage of the Hornig paper [15]. Our only criticism would be that the MEA need to react more quickly, the response would have been more effective if it had been available several days ago.

1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400121 (accessed 28/02/2015)

2) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11440372/First-biological-proof-that-ME-is-real-found-by-scientists.html (accessed 28/02/2015)

3) http://www.meassociation.org.uk/2015/02/us-scientists-claim-robust-evidence-that-mecfs-is-a-biological-illness-columbia-university-press-release-27-february-2015/ (accessed 28/02/2015)

4) http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/scientists-claim-to-have-robust-evidence-that-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-has-biological-cause-10075856.html (accessed 28/02/2015)

5) http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/sufferers-of-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-can-benefit-from-exercise-9976254.html (accessed 28/02/2015)

6) http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-biomarkers-for-cfsme/ (accessed 28/02/2015)

7) http://cmic.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/derek_hill/publications/ (accessed 28/02/2015)

8) http://www.gla.ac.uk/researchinstitutes/icams/staff/naveedsattar/ (accessed 28/02/2015)

9) https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/diana-prata%28006c6374-87dd-477e-81e6-aeb9d710b956%29/publications.html (accessed 28/02/2015)

10) http://m.scidev.net/global/journalism/feature/uk-s-science-media-centre-lambasted-for-pushing-corporate-science.html (accessed 28/02/2015)

11) http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/unthinkable-how-good-are-we-at-spotting-propaganda-1.2109790#.VO2KDcgV–F.facebook (accessed 28/02/2015)

12) https://uttingwolffspouts.com/2015/02/26/hate-speech-is-not-knowledge/ (accessed 28/02/2015)

13) http://www.freezepage.com/1424484834CZFJDNHSFV (accessed 28/02/2015)

14) Kennedy, A (2012). Authors of our own misfortune?: The problems with psychogenic explanations for physical illnesses. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

15) http://www.meassociation.org.uk/2015/03/the-me-association-and-the-science-media-centre-3-march-2015/ (accessed 04/03/2015)

16 thoughts on “Quo vadis, Science Media Centre?

  1. ME: Lulu's Legacy

    Reblogged this on M.E. – Lulu's Legacy and commented:
    Living with M.E. is an extraordinarily difficult existence. Blessings are hard to list at times but I am ever thankful I am not living with M.E. in the UK. In that country, M.E. is not considered a physical disease and those who perpetrate that myth reap huge financial rewards from keeping patients sick. Utting Wolff gives an outstanding critique of the UK media release of yesterday’s good news from the Hornig/Lipkin study. Also, if you have not already read it, Mr. Wolff’s recent post on hate speech and Prof. Shorter is excellent as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Thanks very much for your comment and for reblogging us. Mr Utting (a pseudonym for Geoff Jones) wrote this post, the one on hate speech and Prof Shorter was written by ‘Wolff’ (Dr Claudia Gillberg). Thanks again, much appreciated. Claudia and Geoff.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sunshinebright

    The UK citizens who suffer with ME must be ready to “pull their hair out,” if they haven’t already. I feel so badly that you all are touted as “lazy” and malingerers.” It’s disgusting. I wonder what it will take to get some of the positivity we in the US are feeling now, with the coming out of the recent information and reports. Surely these “doctors” will be getting the message before too long? I wonder. They are too egotistical to admit they were wrong. They have dug themselves too deeply into their own created holes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      There’s certainly greater positivity in the ME community thanks to all the recent research and it has filtered through to some medics but it’s hard to reach more when the media coverage is so poor.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Hi Paul, you’re welcome and thanks for reading our blog post and for your comment. I think they probably will die out clinging to their beliefs, they’ve too much invested in the psychogenic paradigm to change their minds now. Cheers, Claudia and Geoff.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. alternatives2014

    Professor Malcolm Hooper has written extensively about the Wessely School activities, including their influence on the Science Media Centre, which, according to Hooper, was set up to provide reporting on science which would support government politicies.
    In my research into academic work on ME/CFS, I had assumed, on the basis of the length and cost of his book on psychosomatic disorders (making it inaccessible to me) and his position at the University of Toronto – Professor of Psychiatry, Professort in the History of Medicine – that he must be a really high-powered guy. However the transcript of a phone interview makes him sound like Philomena Cunk on Brookers TV Wipe. Checking further…Toronto website..no mention of academic credentials. Wikipedia – no reference at all. What? Who doesn’t have a reference in Wikipedia? Then I found something that said he had a Ph.D. but didn’t say where he got it, and added that he had got interested in science, so had studied two years in medical school. I’m beginning to wonder who he bought his Ph.D. from….and how on earth Toronto manages not to expose this guy, don’t they check what’s on staff application forms? Mysteriouser and mysteriouser….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Professor Hooper has done some very good work around the influence of Wessely on the SMC. Professor Shorter’s an ‘interesting’ chap, I really don’t know how he attained such a position, though he’s churned out a lot of books, no comment on their quality…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Deborah Waroff

    Is “Prof.” Shorter in fact listed among the faculty at the University of Toronto, teaching students in a class or a tutorial, and in possession of a small carrel if not an actual office there?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Potential biomarker for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis | Tanya Marlow - Thorns and Gold

    1. Utting Wolff Post author

      Thank you for the mention, Tanya, it was Geoff who wrote Quo Vadis, Science Media Centre, the other half of Utting Wolff Spouts. We analyse and edit together, but the hard work is all his.

      Liked by 1 person


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