By David Tuller, DrPH
For the last couple of weeks, I have been hammering the CFS/ME Research Collaborative to take a position on the actions of its deputy chair, Libelous Esther, better known as Dr. Esther Crawley. As I reported in several previous posts, Dr. Crawley falsely accused me of writing libelous blogs and Dr. Racaniello of posting them. To keep members of the CMRC board in the loop, I have sent them e-mails with links to these posts. In these e-mails, I have tried to be direct and pointed, but reasonably polite. I have mostly succeeded, although the recipients might have their own perspective.
At first, the CMRC refused to respond at all. Then the chair of the board, Stephen Holgate, sent me what could only be interpreted as a f**k off message. He told me that Dr. Crawley’s actions had nothing to do with the CMRC because it was just a voluntary group of colleagues with no official standing. Therefore, he wrote, I had to pursue my concerns through other avenues.
To me, other avenues meant more blogging about the false accusations of libel and the CMRC’s inadequate response, among other things. So I wrote yet another post about L’Affaire Crawley, noting the CMRC’s explanation that it could not possibly take a position because it was only a voluntary group with no official standing. I duly sent this post to the CMRC board.
And on Friday, I finally received from Dr. Holgate an enthusiastic endorsement of Dr. Crawley and her work. The statement made no mention of her recent multi-media spectacle, including her false libel accusation and her portrayal of legitimate requests for information as vexatious. In other words, the CMRC has sent me its second f**k off message. Happy International ME Awareness Day!
Here’s Dr. Holgate’s e-mail:
Prof Esther Crawley has the full support of the CMRC Executive Board in her role as Vice-Chair. The CMRC exists to promote the highest quality of basic and applied evidenced-based and peer-reviewed research into CFS/ME and Prof Crawley helps us to do this. Prof Crawley’s science is tested through the demanding procedures that all scientists must face when seeking grant-funding and publication in leading journals. The high quality of her research is recognised by her peers and she is a Professor of Child Health at the University of Bristol and an NIHR Senior Research Fellow. She is the clinical lead for the specialist child CFS/ME service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath and, sadly, is one of very few scientists in the UK actively trying to find a way to help children affected by CFS/ME. Contrary to some claims this collaborative is not fixated on any one cause, therapy or branch of science – our only goals are to improve our understanding of this serious illness and help alleviate suffering. In the meantime, our work remains focused on increasing collaboration and funding for more research and we will continue to work with all key stakeholders to achieve this.
I wrote back to Stephen and other board members that I took his answer to be an endorsement of Dr. Crawley’s actions and her false libel accusation. I noted that PACE, like Dr. Crawley’s research, had also been tested through the demanding procedures required of scientists. Given that PACE was a disaster, I pointed out, I didn’t hold those demanding procedures in as high regard as he did. I again noted the serious flaws in Dr. Crawley’s research.
Finally, I let Stephen and the CMRC board members know that I would be discussing the PACE mess and the Crawley situation, including their own role, during my talk on June 1 at the Invest in ME conference dinner. I included a link to the dinner information, in case any of the CMRC board members wanted to attend.
On a related issue, a number of people have urged me to sue Dr. Crawley. I have made it clear I’m not going to do that. Not because she doesn’t deserve it, but because I don’t deserve it. Lawsuits are hell for everyone. The opportunity costs in time, money, and energy are incalculable. Except for Donald Trump and attorneys, no one who has ever been involved in a lawsuit would ever want to be involved in another one. (Of course, not filing a lawsuit does not mean I can’t file complaints with her university and medical regulators.)
There are other excellent reasons not to pursue that route. For one, by taking legal action off the table, I occupy the moral high ground. That allows me to slam Dr. Crawley and the CMRC for their awful behavior as much as I want.
For another, and here’s the real challenge, I would have to prove that Dr. Crawley’s false accusation has actually caused me harm. Dr. Crawley has had tremendous influence over the health and lives of people with ME/CFS, especially in the U.K., but she has no power over me. I cannot honestly argue that her behavior, however distasteful, has damaged my reputation, caused me anxiety or led to economic loss. On the contrary, she’s given me great material to blog and talk about, complete with an excellent slide-show that documents her unprofessional behavior. Going forward, this stunt of Dr. Crawley’s and the resulting visuals are likely to haunt her career and inflict permanent damage on her reputation.
Now If I were to suffer a renal emergency in the UK and no nephrologists would see me because they had heard Dr. Crawley’s false accusation of libel, then I might be able to argue that I had suffered actual damage. Until then, no. (I do have a history of kidney stones and I am coming to the U.K. soon, but I don’t think she’s gotten to the urologists yet.)