I’ve put up two posts recently that indicate something of what I think is fundamentally wrong about the way in which certain Russell Group universities are colluding with bad science that, in turn, is riddled with poorly hidden conflicts of interest whereby scientists are effectively acting to shore up Government policy. Anyone interested in following the latest instalment of David Tuller’s on-going ‘deconstruction’ of the line taken by Ester Crawley and others can now read Trial By Error, Continued: A Follow-Up Post on FITNESS-NHS
PLaCE International 5th Annual Postgraduate Conference in Art & Humanities, University of Dundee
I’d like to thank all those who helped organise and all those who attended this event and the accompanying exhibition. The following people gave presentations.
Gini Lee On Gardening and Travelling: revealing untold ecologies for a practiced place. // Andrew Roberts The Uncaninness of Place and Space in John Burnside’s Poetry. Essays and Memoirs. // Jerry Walton Antonin Artaud -the intimate relationships between site, historical context and institutionalisation. // Jan Johnson How Low Can You Go? Surface and the Underside. // Pauline O’Connell Drawing the Water-a contested public art project. // Arthur Watson From the Highland Peaks to the Slough of Despond in 2 Songs and 2 Fragments // Hayden Lorimer Writing the Future of Place // Susan Trangmar The ‘highs and lows’ of responding as an artist to the theme of landscape and memory connected to the film work ‘UNFOUND.’ // Laura Donkers Slow residency in a taskscape: the haunting process of critical reflection and creative experimentation whilst living in the same place as the people and things I study. // Jelena Stankovic The lost and recovered Identity of Banja Luka. // Joanna Foster A troubadour’s journey- place sited through creative action. // John Dummett Between where we weren’t and where we won’t be.’ A parti of the city // Simone Kenyon Walking out of the body and into the Mountain’: dancing, mountaineering and embodied ways of knowing. // Nuala Ni Fhlathin Ideas of accumulation and loss in language and landscape in the minority language province of Friesland // Ciara Healy and Adam Stead Already the World: A Post Humanist Dialogue // Cathy Fitzgerald Entering the Symbiocene: A transversal Ecosophy-Action Research Framework to Reverse ‘Silent Spring.’
I give the following brief Introductory talk on the first day of this two day event.
“I was asked to speak about the ‘highs’ of sited practice in relation to Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. That’s tricky for me because I distrust the Apollonian association of mountains with solitary ‘highs’, elevated states, spiritual insights, or what Geraldine Finn calls “high altitude thinking’. So, I’m going to cheat just a little, while still drawing on Nan Shepherd’s book.
Early in the season the water may be so cold that one has no sensation except of cold; the whole being retracts itself, uses all its resources to endure this icy delight. But in heat the freshness of the water slides over the skin like shadow. The whole skin has this delightful sensitivity; it feels the sun, it feels the wind running inside one’s garment, it feels water closing on it as one slips under – the catch in the breath, like a wave held back, the glow that releases one’s entire cosmos, running to the ends of the body as the spent wave runs out upon the sand. This plunge into the cold water of a mountain pool seems for a brief moment to disintegrate the very self; it is not to be borne: one is lost: stricken: annihilated. Then life pours back.
This passage might remind us that sited practice is grounded in bodily being and doing; is animated as much by an ‘expanded’ or ‘elemental’ erotics of materiality and sensation as by any high concept or ideal. Instead of focusing on a ‘high’, with its association with climbing up, I want to follow Shepherd’s images of plunging in, and of disintegration and return.
Starting sited work can produce a “sense of retraction”. I need to “endure” the “icy delight” of being assaulted by a flood of new and unfamiliar impressions, sensations, thoughts and practical demands. As the project ‘heats up’, that unfamiliarity becomes a source of heightened sensitivity. And that, in turn, can “release one’s entire cosmos” – that is, momentarily shake me free of tired associations, meanings and understandings. Immersion in a new place can be wave-like, carry me away, knock me sideways. Then plunging in temporarily disintegrates my familiar working persona, temporarily “others” me. I may welcome this or, alternatively, feel threatened: “lost: stricken: annihilated”. Either way, practical demands quickly return, requiring my attention. But once I’ve experienced that sensation of dis-integration that comes with plunging into a new place, a particular ‘space-between’ appears.
Sited practice necessarily demands time and energy. Like walking in the mountains, it needs planning, attention and care. So my focus on plunging in here is simply a reminder that, in addition to all our various intellectual and practical skills, we need the space-between of the listener. Perhaps because, as Shepherd reminds us, “water” – and by implication all that flows – is always “speaking”. I’ve read Shepherd here from a Dionysian viewpoint to counter conventional Apollonian associations with the ‘highs’ of climbing mountains. And, following Ginette Paris, because Dionysus: “shatters the positivistic perspective, for which there is only one interpretation, one truth, one definite place for everything and everyone”. So this is simply a way of reminding myself not to let the desire for heroic, single-minded Apollonian ‘highs’ distract me from the otherness in place; it’s being strange, uncanny. That reminder is necessary because, to meet the many different demands that sited practice makes on me, I need an awareness of otherness, and of my own between-ness that allows me to meet that otherness.
Shepherd’s writing on water touches me in relation to practice, in relation to its flow, power and mystery. Water goes through highs and lows without end, neither being more important to its cycle than the other. It’s the whole cycle that reduces high mountains to pebbles and sand. Shepherd ends her book with a short chapter on Being – the “I am” that is her ultimate high – and finds this to be: “the final grace accorded from the mountain”. Well and good. But personally, it’s her plunging in, and with it the oscillation between “disintegrate of self” and “life pouring back” that for me speaks most directly of the heart of sited practice.
I also think that oscillation between “disintegrate of self” and “life pouring back” is central to something Donna Haraway proposes in Staying with the Trouble. That we need to make “kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places”. Maybe that’s one part of why we’re here together in Dundee?
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.
There’s no simple answer to this question. However, arguably it’s possible to get a taste of what is profoundly wrong with the current world of ‘big’ academic research – and not just medical research – by extrapolating from particular instances.
Recently, my daughter alerted me to what I think is a perfect example of such an instance.
Wikipedia describes Sir Simon Charles Wessely, FMedSci, as a British psychiatrist, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and head of its department of psychological medicine, vice dean for academic psychiatry, teaching and training at the Institute of Psychiatry, as well as Director of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research. He is also honorary consultant psychiatrist at King’s College Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital, as well as civilian consultant advisor in psychiatry to the British Army. He was knighted in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to military healthcare and to psychological medicine. In 2014 he was elected president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Doctor Wessely is clearly a man right at the top of his profession, a very senior academic, a man deeply embedded in the Establishment, and demonstrably a person of very considerable influence. Yet he has been more than happy to defend research by his associates that has been shown not only to be profoundly flawed but heavily compromised by the fact that some of the individuals involved can be shown to be implicated in major conflicts of interest based on their support for ideologically and economically driven Government policy. In this he has, of course, the support by such luminaries as the editor of The Lancet, which published and enthusiastically supported what has now been shown to be a deeply flawed study. In short, Wessely is aligned with and deeply implicated in an intellectual establishment that will apparently do and say anything to protect its own status and influence, regardless of the cost to those who are directly affected by the impact of discredited research such as the PACE Study or to the credibility of scientific research.
The introductory paragraph that follows is taken directly from an open letter to Doctor Wessely, posted by Steven Lubet on the web site The Faculty Lounge: Conversations about law, culture, and academia entitled: An Open Letter to Dr. Simon Wessely, Defender of the PACE Study
Dear Dr. Wessely:
I was surprised to see the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists post a comment on a U.S. law blog. I suppose this means that I have gotten your attention in the discussion of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), and that you feel compelled to respond to criticism of the PACE Study. That is a good thing. Regrettably, your comment was petty and defensive, without engaging the actual issues relevant to PACE’s misleading conclusions. I will not revisit the study’s many scientific and methodological flaws, which have been well addressed by Dr. Keith Geraghty and by Dr. David Tuller in his Virology Blog investigation. As you know, dozens of top scientists and clinicians have condemned the study in an open letter to The Lancet, stating that its flaws “have no place in published research.”
“Instead, I want to address your rhetoric, which is unworthy of a serious scholar….”.
If you have any interest in what is happening as a result of the money-fication of the academy and its ever-closer links with the mindset of big business and the government co-option of supposedly ‘objective’ research, I would urge you to read Steven Lubet’s Open Letter in full.
This publication, to coincide with the exhibition in Leeds, contains an essay I wrote about the work of Joyce Lyon and Andrea Thoma a while back, called The Conversational Weave (another place). (This can also be found on this web site in the section Texts, Talks, etc.).
Something Joyce wrote when she contacted me to tell me about the exhibition seems particularly pertinent at present, in that it demonstrates the value of a mutual, open engagement that’s not predicated on known positions. She writes:
“I need to tell you that in preparing and proofreading the book, I experienced a deeper intimacy with your essay that allowed me to see and appreciate it for and as itself, which I did not fully have before. I recognized that what I was then hoping for was a more fixed disciplinary appraisal! I see now that what you offered us, in all its “gappy”, thoughtful fluidity and movement towards home was so much richer and more significant. I am grateful to have been, with Andrea, catalysts in the development of your ideas”.
I would encourage anyone who is able to visit this exhibition.
It seems to me that Hannah Arendt’s wonderful book Men in Dark Times needs a sequel for our times. I think she would have wanted to recognise the practical thoughtfulness of Michelle Obama, for example. Be that as it may, on the recommendation of a friend I have started reading Donna Haraway’s extraordinary Staying with the Trouble (from which I quote below). It is wonderful to find a book that, for example, understands the value of the work of an artist like Ursula Le Guin at a time when so much of what passes for art is simply an exercise in either exemplifying possessive individualism or the corrosive cynicism that shadows it. This is a book that speaks to many pressing concerns – its ‘string figure’ motif also strikes me as a powerful analogue for what I would characterise as ‘deep’ or ‘narrative’ mapping – and is enormously encouraging to read at a moment when bigotry and demagogy, personified by men like Trump and Farage, appear to be the dominant forces in both the UK and the USA.
But, as we all know, appearances are deceptive.
Gina Miller now needs police protection for herself and her family from the death threats that have flooded in as a result of her having spoken up for the rule of law. But, on the strength of her interview in the Guardian today, she remains exactly the type of exemplary citizen and businesswoman we need to make kin with in what Haraway wants us to see as the Chthulucene age. I am enormously fortunate to know some women in the USA who, as Elizabeth Warren has urged, will I know do everything they can in their own places to recuperate and amplify what is response-able and generous in American culture. They may, to quote my Dakota friend Mona Smith, still be trembling from the result of the election. However they know, as she writes, that now: “we have to hold tight to our visions for the earth and it’s critters. One step in front of the other. One hand held out at a time. Our need to be kind to each other is so clear. I am seeking things that bring me hope”. She sites the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union is “declaring war” on Trump and points to the fact that Standing Rock water protectors are standing firm and gathering support. And, like Haraway, she recognises that one of our biggest challenges is not to succumb to the worst case pictures that keep creeping into our heads.
Like many people I am troubled, indeed tired to the bone, from struggling against the specific injustices and misery created by a system dominated by the commonplace thoughtlessness which, as Haraway reminds us by drawing on Hannah Arendt, engenders the banality of evil. The same evil Arendt saw personified in Adolf Eichmann. In a man who: “could not be a wayfarer, could not entangle, could not track the lines of living and dying, could not cultivate response-ability.” All because he already knew who he was and what he needed to do, and so didn’t need to think in Arendt’s sense of that word. As Haraway reminds us, thinking, thought, is not “disciplinary knowledge or science rooted in evidence, or the sorting of truth and belief or fact and opinion or good and bad”. It’s important to remember this, less we imagine that the thoughtless are somehow unintelligent. No, they are simply people who are too busy with: “assessing information, determining friends and enemies, and doing busy jobs” to attend carefully to the ebb and flow of the world as it is. They are too busy ‘being’ a particular role: a scientist, activist, artist, academic, business person, or whatever, to have time to become, to be ‘entangled’ into newness, as Haraway might put it.
Anyway I can’t help thinking that, if Hannah Arendt were alive today, she might well write a sequel to her earlier book, one entitled Woman in Dark Times.
Britain, the USA, and perhaps Europe as a whole, seem increasingly to be falling under the sway of cynical demagogues who practice a polarising and self-serving politics based on fear and loathing, ably assisted by the majority in the media. (Typically, in the UK the Daily Mail has just branded three high court judges ‘enemies of the people’ for upholding the rule of law). In this context, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to Gina Miller. The long-established world view predicated on the elite narratives of high capitalism and the culture of possessive individualism is turning increasingly toxic in both its psycho-social and environmental dimensions. As a result, those happy to cynically exploit fear come to the fore, intimidating or denigrating anyone who disagrees with them. (This has long been a popular managerial tactic in big institutions, as it is in totalitarian states). It takes very real courage to stand against this in a country where demagogues and their media allies appear hell-bent on re-creating the kind of atmosphere that allowed fascism to come into power in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.
Unlike those whose Brexit politics are based on mixing gross lies and vague half-truths, she has had the courage to do what they claimed to be doing. She has insisted on publically arguing for the sovereignty of the British Parliament as the cornerstone of our particular brand of democracy. That private individuals have had to do what Parliament should itself have done speaks volumes about the shameful situation in which we now find ourselves.
I took part in a meeting yesterday that ended in a discussion in which a number of us openly challenged some of the presuppositions that underwrite the work of the academic status quo. I was particularly interested in one line of argument that appeared during that discussion. Namely, that the difficulties we were bringing to light were simply – or primarily – the result of clashes of personality. This seemed to me to parallel the argument that any questioning of, or opposition to, the desires of the Brexit camp is just people being ‘bad losers’, ‘whingers’ – is, in short, the product of personal defects at an individual level. What this allows those who argue in this way to side-step is the fact that, while of course our differences are always expressed at a personal level, they can never be reduced, monolithically, to manifestations of individual personality. We are social beings. To argue that how we manifest ourselves is simply an individual mater, and so by implication is not interwoven with and influenced by the cultural, structural and institutional norms that are written into our collective lives, is simply a way of avoiding the uncomfortable realities of our current situation.
It is time that, like Gina Miller, we find the courage to publically name and address those uncomfortable realities; to acknowledge them for what they are and look collectively for ways to address them.