What’s wrong with the ‘big research’ establishment?

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.