Criticism of ‘bad science’: again despair

Sometimes it is very difficult not to feel despairing about the lengths to which the beneficiaries of Big Science  – I can’t bring myself to call them scientists – not to mention those business people and politicians whose interests they serve, will go to. A current example of their duplicity is addressed by Prof. Steven Lubet in a recent blog post:  Trail by Error: Questions About Professor Sharpe’s ‘Special Ethics Seminar’. Prof Lubet is rightly highly critical of Sharpe’s seminar, an event closed to the public, and of his likening ME/CFS patients to climate change deniers. A charge, as he suggests, intended to distract attention from the fact that the actions taken by such patients are not, as Sharpe claims, ‘against science’, but against the abuse of science by a powerful group of individuals trying to cover their tracks following the exposure of their poor science (the PACE trail). ‘Science’ then translated into political policies designed to save the Government money at the expense of the chronically sick.

As Lubet points out, Sharpe himself was a principal investigator of PACE, so is hardly an objective observer, and his comments are, perhaps inevitably: “inaccurate, unfair, and insulting”. As Lubet adds, what is worse is that this attack hides the fact that climate change denial – like those who conducted the PACE trial -is backed by powerful political and economic vested interests. In the case of climate change, oil and other fossil fuel companies with “ulterior financial interests in preventing environmental regulation. Criticism of the PACE trial, by contrast, has largely come from patients whose life experience led to them questioning Sharpe’s methodology, but who have no other interest than that those who claim to be investigating their illness find an effective treatment, rather than aiding a group of psychiatrists determined to promote a treatment that can be profoundly damaging.  

As Lubet goes on to write, there are more accurate analogies for a psychiatrist concerned about the implications of patient protests and “the future of science”. One would have been patients’ improvement of psychiatry when, in 1973, they finally obtained the removal of homosexuality as an officially designated “mental disorder” – one, needless to say, to be treated for a fee by psychotherapy. But then today’s pseudo-scientists, and all too often the institutions and universities that employ them, are far more concerned about maintaining power, reputation and earnings than either serious science or the well-being of unfortunate patients. Fortunately, there remain those who, like Lubet, think clearly and honestly and are willing to speak truth to power. This is, after all, one of the few safeguards we have against despair.

To follow the debates about ‘bad science’ and those fighting it in the context of ME/CFS, see the Voices from the Shadows Facebook page.