What’s wrong with the ‘big research’ establishment? (Part two)

Further to my last post, Dr David Tuller has put up a new post –Trial By Error, Continued: The New FITNET Trial for Kids – which demonstrates, in considerable detail, the extent to which ‘top’ (Russell Group) Universities, supposedly ‘respectable’ academic journals, and even the BBC, have become complicit in the abuse of the protocols of proper scientific research for economic and reputational gain.

 

David Tuller has been at the forefront of a group of concerned scientists who have demonstrated the PACE trial authors weakened their outcome criteria mid-stream so as to be able to report dramatically better results for “improvement” (in The Lancet in 2011) and “recovery” (in Psychological Medicine in 2013). In lay terms, this effectively amounts to fraud. They hid this fraud for five years, aided and abetted by their employers, ‘top’ universities, who supported them in spurious arguments for refusing to provide the findings in line with the original protocol methods, or statistical analyses assessing the impact of the many mid-trial changes, or their actual trial data. This would be bad enough but, as Tuller points out, “the PACE authors and their allies continue, astonishingly, to defend the indefensible study, cite its findings approvingly, and push forward with ever more research into behavioral and cognitive interventions”. Yet in February, an open letter to The Lancet about the PACE trial, signed by forty-two experts, condemned its flaws as having “no place in published research.” It has subsequently been presented as an indicative study of bad science to graduate epidemiology students and at major scientific gatherings.

In short, the parties responsible for attempting to hide this fraud not only continue to deny their falsification, but are seeking to gain further funding to the tune of a million pounds on the back of it.

 

A central figure in all this is Dr. Esther Crawley, a professor of child health at the University of Bristol, who has been heavily supported by the Science Media Centre (SMC) in London, despite her part in the PACE trial.  The SMC’s enthusiastic press briefing on her most recent enterprise generated widespread and enthusiastic news coverage from, among others, the BBC. Significantly, the SMC ensured that the BBC story, like other news reports, made no mention of the discrediting of the PACE trial findings. This came as no surprise to those of us who know the SCM’s history and bias. While touting itself as a neutral arbiter of science, the SCM is in reality deeply ideological, offered unqualified support for the type of flawed research presented by Dr. Esther Crawley. Prof. Simon Wessely, who I referred to in my last post, is a founder of the paradigm used by Dr. Crawley and a close colleague of the PACE authors. He is also on the SMC’s board of trustees. Furthermore, as David Tuller also points out, the journalist responsible for the BBC story, James Gallagher, is a member of the SMC’s advisory committee. In short the SMC, effectively a front organization, is once again guilty of hiding its substantive conflicts-of-interest. Yet this is only one aspect of the fraud that underpinned the continued ‘success’ of the people responsible for the PACE trial deception. One of many issues that have yet to be addressed is the fact that figures like Dr. Peter White, the lead PACE investigator, have major and undeclared conflicts of interest as scientists through their close links to Government and their support for its punitive policies towards the chronically sick.

This parlous situation has not gone entirely unchallenged. Quite apart from the efforts of individuals like David Tuller to defend the importance of good scientific practice against institutional greed and personal ambition, he notes that the Countess of Mar, a member of the House of Lords, filed a formal complaint with the BBC to protest its biased reporting. In this she indicates that the nature and tone of the coverage was such that it was clearly orchestrated to distract anti-PACE evidence which is now gaining world-wide attention, an action entirely in line with the usual approach of the SMC.

What’s the point of all this fraud?

Again, David Tuller puts his finger on this when he points out that Paul McCrone, a professor of health economics from King’s College London and a PACE co-author, attended the SMC’s briefing in support of Dr. Crawley. He writes:

“Dr. McCrone is serving as the chair of FITNET-NHS’ independent steering committee [the body overseeing the new research project being touted by Dr. Crawley] –another unsettling sign. As I have documented on Virology Blog, Dr. McCrone made false claims as lead author in a 2012 PLoS One paper—and those false claims allowed the PACE authors to declare that CBT and GET were cost-effective. They have routinely cited this fraudulent finding in promoting the therapies”.

In short, these people are not academics striving for an appropriate objectivity and rigour, but little better that State apparatchiks. They work for institutions who put income generation above all else and to support a Government incapable of addressing the needs of the sick and poor in our society because of an obsession with the economic bottom line that overrules all other considerations. In Brexit and the election of Donald Trump we see the triumph of a ‘post-truth’ politics. What the PACE trial fraud makes abundantly clear is that we now have a ‘post-truth’ academic/scientific institutional complex in abject complicity with that politics of untruth.