By David Tuller, DrPH
The Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet, taking a page from prestigious UK news organizations, has recently published a series of articles portraying ME patients as anti-scientific and belligerent. As I noted in a letter to Dagbladet two weeks ago, the journalist also misrepresented my academic and professional credentials. Since I didn’t hear back, I recently posted both my letter and one sent to Dagbladet by Professor Jonathan Edwards.
To my surprise, earlier today I received a letter from someone at Dagbladet–an editor named Hilde Schjerve. I have posted her letter below, followed by my response.
Dear David Tuller
I got this email forwarded today regarding an article on ME in Dagbladet. [She is referring to the e-mail I sent two weeks ago.] On the behalf of Dagbladet I will apologize the delayed response.
I understand the article omits that your are a senior fellow in public health and journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. Our journalist has only referred to the blog because NAFKAM €“ Norwegian health authorities´s official information web site about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) – used the blog in their critique of the Lightning Process. But of course, we fully understand that your academic background is relevant regarding this topic, so we have updated the key information about your academic credentials.
This afternoon our reporters also got an email from Eva Stabell, the international officer in the Norwegian Union of Journalists regarding both the missing academic credentials and a question if we could publish one or two (?) chronicles written by you and professor Jonathan Edwards, Stabell referenced this link: https://www.virology.ws/2020/05/30/trial-by-error-two-letters-to-dagbladet-about-its-me-coverage/.
Just to make sure that I understand this right: You want us to consider to publish 1. Your e-mail dated 22nd of May. 2. Professor Edwards letter 3. Your letter?
Please get back to me as soon as you´re able.
Thanks for getting in touch with me. Both Professor Edwards and I waited for an appropriate period of time, and then I published the two letters on Virology Blog because Dagladet did not–even though, as I understand it, you acknowledged the letter from Professor Edwards. (I have cc’d him here.)
So, yes, at this point, I believe Dagbladet has an obligation to publish: 1) the letter I sent to you on 21st May (I guess you received it on 22nd May), and 2) the letter Professor Edwards sent to you. Two letters. (Not three, as per your three points above–I’m not sure what the third point is referencing.)
I understand why the journalist might not have checked my credentials. If that were the only problem in the series of articles, then I would chalk it up to a momentary and inadvertent slip-up. As it is, that misrepresentation was just one small example of how the series misrepresented the entire situation–not just my academic and professional background.
So beyond the issue of the letters, I need to say this: Your reporter and your publication have done a disservice to a vulnerable group of people by publishing articles containing such misleading information about the Lightning Process, the patients who object to this research, and the solidity of the earlier study on the Lightning Process.
As just one example, the journalist mentioned the defense of the earlier Lightning Process study offered by one of its proponents–that there were some minor concerns that had now been somehow addressed. The journalist could easily have looked beyond that silly claim. She should have mentioned the disastrous mistakes made in that study and the 3,000-word correction appended to it last summer. She should also have mentioned the open letter sent last November to BMJ editorial director Dr Fiona Godlee and signed by 70+ scientists, clinicians and other experts from Columbia, Berkeley, Stanford, University College London, Queen Mary University of London, Harvard, and on and on.
That letter criticized the Lightning Process study harshly for its many methodological and ethical errors and expressed dismay at BMJ’s decision to republish the findings. To portray concern about this unacceptable trial and other sub-par research as limited to “activist” patients is absurd. The proposal for the new Lightning Process trial is fraught with basic design flaws. Patients have a right to make cogent and articulate arguments about problematic research without being accused of engaging in harassment. Lightning Process advocates who cite the previous research are the ones making irrational and anti-scientific pronouncements–as the open letter to Dr Godlee makes clear.
Your reporter and your news organization appear to have launched this project with a built-in bias. The decision to present such a one-sided portrait of the dispute represents an alarming abrogation of journalistic responsibility. Shame on you.
Please send me a link when Dagbladet has published the two letters. For full transparency, I expect to publish this correspondence on Virology Blog.–
David Tuller, DrPH
Senior Fellow in Public Health and Journalism
Center for Global Public Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley