Vox Political: Oxford University Now Has ‘Voodoo Science’ Explanation for ME

Mike over at Vox Political has this article reporting an article in the Torygraph, claiming that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis isn’t actually a real, organic disorder, but entirely psychological, according to academics at Oxford University. They believe it can be treated through positive thinking and exercise, recommending our old favourite, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Mike’s article begins

This is appalling. Oxford University academics are trying to tell us that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome (otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME) can make themselves better by positive thinking.

Oh – and exercise. Have you ever tried to get an ME sufferer to do more exercise?

It seems we are heading back to the days when the condition was dismissed as “yuppie flu”.

The research so easily fits in with what the DWP and its cronies at Unum, Atos et all have been saying that This Writer half expected to see one or all of them credited as funders for the project – and was more astonished to find that it was actually funded by the Medical Research Council which, on the face of it, actually seems to be respectable.

The full article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/28/voodoo-therapy-is-not-the-cure-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-oxford-university/.

This seems to be just one part of the more widespread issue of the corporate funding and corruption of science. The pseudoscientific studies advocating CBT as the miracle cure for acute illnesses leading to unemployment have come from a department at Cardiff University set up by the very businesses, like Unum, pushing them. It’s a good question, not mentioned in Mike’s article, whether the academics at Oxford university have similar connections to those business groups.

The title of Mike’s article also recalls Ben Goodacre’s book, Voodoo Science, which is all about dodgy scientific claims based on spurious or flawed research. Since Maggie Thatcher, university science departments have been forced to work with private industry in order to receive funding. At one level, you can understand the reasoning – to get value for money in terms of innovations that can be developed into marketable products. On the negative side is the discouragement of blue-sky thinking, and the promotion of inventions and products that will benefit industry, but not the public.

And this is definitely one of the latter. You should also ask whether the scientists making the statement that ME is purely psychological have produced research that has passed peer review. In order for scientific research to be considered respectable and reliable, it has to be published in a peer-reviewed publication. That means that other scientists working in the field, or related fields, have read the article and concluded that it is good science, rather than gibberish. One of the problems of contemporary science is that it much of it seems to be driven through press release and publicity, rather than more conventional avenues of publication. For example, a few years ago, you will remember, there was massive publicity surrounding the discovery of a fossil lemur, which was held to be one of humanity’s oldest primate ancestors. The two palaeontologists making the discovery released the news in a press conference in New York. The Beeb devoted a documentary to it, and even David Attenborough was drawn, though he later excused himself by saying that if you listened to his commentary careful, it was properly non-committal and littered with ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’s. Then came the news a few days or weeks later that the discovery was scientific nonsense. The creature wasn’t an ancestral lemur, but a type of tarsier, and so not a direct part of the line of evolutionary descent leading to humanity.

And that’s only one example. There are have been many others, mostly in the field of genetics. I’m sceptical when scientists claim that they have found the ‘gene’ for such and such a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia, or aspects of human sexuality, like the much touted ‘gay gene’. I don’t doubt that in many cases there is a genetic component, but genetic inheritance alone does not necessarily result in a particular syndrome or psychological condition or sexuality. For example, a little while ago scientists announced that excessively violent criminals had a particular mutant gene. There was therefore a genetic reason why some crims were so violent. Another genetics scientist wrote into one of the newspapers reporting the finding to pour a bit of cold water on the ‘discovery’. Pschopathically violent criminals might have the gene, but so do half the population generally, so do probably many of the people you’re working with at the office. So, not quite the explanation for criminal violence that it claims to be, then.

Now it may be that the research on ME in the Torygraph is fine and respectable, but more than a little scepticism is warranted, especially as this is in an area, in which government and big business are pouring vast sums in order to cut the welfare budget and boost corporate profits. Just because something’s published in the broadsheets and claims to be science doesn’t mean that it’s as well established as Newton’s Laws or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And this in particular looks like prize rubbish.

The approach the authors of this research recommend is actually quite dangerous. Go down through the comments to the article to find first-hand accounts from people with the disease or similar illnesses on the dangers they have suffered from treatments like that recommended by the scientists of the Oxford study. From their experiences, I’d say that this looks like well-argued, but dangerous pseudoscience.

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3 Responses to “Vox Political: Oxford University Now Has ‘Voodoo Science’ Explanation for ME”

  1. Florence Says:

    Reports in the literature from the USA on ME / CFS, The NIH for example, cite fMRI, PET scan (imaging of brain) evidence for CFS/ MEe, along with immunologic and inflammatory pathologies, ie it is a physical disease, with measurable physical changes in the patient. There are ample published critiques of the Oxford authors’ results, analysis and conclusions, poor experimental design and methods, and fatal flaws in the execution of the studies. Not least some medical researchers have raised ethical concerns regarding the Oxford Authors earlier PACE study, which is the basis for CBT/GET therapy in the UK. Indeed the IOM proposed a new name for the disease – Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, embedding the key concept of post-exercise malaise (mental or physical). So much for GET IN fact many of the committees and editorial boards of post-conference publications have expressly bewilderment and concern with the “UK model” of psychological illness.The prominence of this report in the national press demonstrates that these are the preferred Establishment scientists, and they are being rewarded for their work in providing (quasi) scientific support for a political view of this illness. Worrying.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Florence. This dose indeed show that this is politically influenced science – the new, Tory equivalent of Lysenkoism in the USSR under Stalin.

  2. Florence Says:

    It dovetails nicely with the fake, and ethically-damned nudge unit foray into forced psychological “testing” of JSA claimants which was revealed a couple of years ago, plus the new forced CBT for JSA and ESA claimants in the Job Centres, illustrating the govt ideology that worklessness, like disability, is a psychological deficit in every individual. Many years ago I was asked to read & deliver my opinions on a number of publications by those working under Stalin (it was hard going). I took away a couple of things that remain relevant today. The Corporatist control of research, especially since Thatcher, has been quasi-Stalinist, and has been damaging to scientific research generally, but medical research in particular. Second, the current govt is following a descent into Stalinist state use of psychiatry and psychology against those it wants to control.

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