Trial By Error: News About My Plans

By David Tuller, DrPH

So I’ve been asked about my plans after June 30th, which is the end of the period covered by last year’s crowdfunding campaign. There’s been significant progress since I launched that effort. Among other developments, the CDC dropped its recommendations for CBT and GET, NICE decided to withdraw its preliminary reaffirmation of its disastrous 2007 guidance and pursue a full overhaul, and Scottish National Party MP Carol Monaghan recently held a groundbreaking parliamentary hearing about PACE.

In regards to the latter, it is awesome that a smart politician in a position to make noise [*This sentence has been changed for clarification; details at end of post] has noted publicly that PACE will become known as one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century. (Personally, I’d say PACE is on track to become one of the biggest scandals of the current millennium, even though the current millennium is less than 20 years old.) In reporting on MP Monaghan’s efforts, The National, a Scottish daily newspaper, noted the following: After campaigners went to court to force researchers to release the raw data, that study, known as the PACE trial, has been discredited.

What a delight to read such a statement in a mainstream U.K. news article. The sentence makes the point that the debunking of PACE is a fact, not just a hopeful assertion made by advocates.

All these changes unequivocally demonstrate that there has been significant erosion in support for the fake claims promoted by the CBT/GET ideological brigades. Besides the flaws in PACE, it has become apparent that many of the other studies from the biopsychosocial crowd are rife with ethical and methodological missteps. That’s on top of the fact that they are all open-label trials with subjective outcomes, which would present an insurmountable obstacle to obtaining reliable and valid results even without all the other violations of scientific principles.

I have recently documented such problems with two studies from the BMJ group of journals, last fall’s Lightning Process study, and the 2011 school absence study, both conducted by investigators from the University of Bristol. In both cases, the evidence shows that the investigators abused the ethical review process. Perhaps they presumed no one would read supporting documents, such as trial protocols or ethics committee opinions that have been wrongly cited to support problematic methodological choices.

So far, the journals have not taken the necessary steps to address these egregious problems. This sort of stonewalling will ultimately harm the reputations of all involved, and it indicates that this is not the time for me to stop examining the issues or to call it quits on this project. When I published my big PACE investigation in October, 2015, I assumed no study could survive the exposure of the nonsense perpetrated by the investigators. I didn’t recognize the degree to which the highest levels of the U.K. academic and medical establishment were ensnared in the delusion that PACE represented quality science and that the researchers involved were actually honorable and honest researchers.

I also had no idea how recalcitrant journals would be to acknowledge their self-evident mistakes, once these were authoritatively documented. And while I thought I might end up being sued, it didn’t occur to me that any self-respecting academic institution would try to squelch my accurate and necessary efforts to expose wrongdoing, the way Bristol University has in formally complaining about my work to Berkeley. I’m glad my own university retains some understanding, unlike Bristol, of the value of academic freedom and the importance of doing the right thing.

So I plan to conduct another crowdfunding campaign to support the project for another year, from July 1st, 2018, to June 30th, 2019. This time, I am working with Berkeley’s own crowdfunding platform, which is made available two or three times a year for university projects. Last year, that wasn’t an option; I was lucky that the foundation running Retraction Watch agreed to act as my fiscal sponsor and donate the money to Berkeley without taking any fees. This time, the funds will go directly to my home base at the university, the Center for Global Public Health, to support my half-time position.

Berkeley’s crowdfunding platform is open for the month of April. I’ll be providing more details about the campaign before or on the April 1st launch. My hope is that, with so much happening on multiple fronts, progress will actually accelerate in the next year and the CBT/GET paradigm will continue its downward spiral to oblivion–the fate it deserves.

*Clarification: The sentence originally referred to “a government official in a position of authority.” In the U.S., members of Congress are considered part of the government and they are considered to have authority, even if they are not in the executive branch. However, it was pointed out to me that the words mean something different in the U.K. The original sentence appeared to indicate that MP Monaghan is part of the government in power, which she clearly is not.

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