Trial By Error: Prof Sharpe Fact-Checks Comment on Blog About How George Monbiot Is Causing Long COVID

By David Tuller, DrPH

*April is crowdfunding month at Berkeley. I conduct this project as a senior fellow in public health and journalism at the university’s Center for Global Public Health. If you would like to support the project with a donation to Berkeley (tax-deductible for US taxpayers), here’s the place:

In a surprising development, Professor Michael Sharpe has left a comment on a blog I posted yesterday. The blog was about Professor Sharpe’s apparent belief that Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Long COVID support groups, among others, are causing the wave of prolonged symptoms being reported by many thousands of people after confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19.

Most of all, I want to thank Professor Sharpe for reading Virology Blog! His comment wasn’t even directly about the blog itself. He was actually correcting a misstatement made by a previous commenter. I’m impressed! When it comes to Virology Blog, at least, Professor Sharpe really gets in deep and whacks through the weeds. Even I don’t always make it through the comments–some can be quite long!!–so I am gratified that someone of his stature is fact-checking them. An honor, Professor!

I hope Professor Sharpe chooses to comment again in future. His contributions and observations are always welcome, especially during Berkeley’s crowdfunding period. (Have I mentioned yet that April is a crowdfunding month for campus projects?)

Professor Sharpe has intervened previously in Berkeley’s crowdfunding campaigns. Three years ago, he tweeted about how my existence created a burden that he and other researchers had to bear. To demonstrate the weight of the burden I represented, he retweeted a link to that year’s campaign. Many people responded by thanking Professor Sharpe for reminding them to donate. Total funds rose dramatically over the next couple of days.

Two years ago, Professor Sharpe starred as a heroic scientist battling unhinged and possible dangerous harassers in a Reuters article that portrayed me as an ME/CFS Pied Piper of sorts, raking in untold sums from gullible patients around the world. The Reuters article ran that year in March, right before the April crowdfunding campaign. Multiple donors mentioned the Reuters article as a factor in their decision to donate to Berkeley in support of my work.

When I first saw Professor Sharpe’s name among the commenters earlier today, I thought it must be a joke. I mean, someone recently donated to Berkeley’s crowdfunding campaign with the name Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was not, in fact, that Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Have I mentioned yet that April is a crowdfunding month for campus projects?)

However, when I checked into it, this Michael Sharpe’s e-mail was from Oxford University, so I figured it was indeed that Michael Sharpe. Here’s what he wrote: “I do believe the word ‘hysterical’ is Dr Tuller.”

Weird. I didn’t understand. What was he trying to say? Was he accusing me of being the hysterical one? As I scanned the comments preceding his, it became clear what had happened. This paragraph in my post was the source of the problem:

“Here’s what seems to be Professor Sharpe’s basic point: We wouldn’t be hearing from all these anxiety-ridden, depressed, hysterical and deluded people (mostly women) if they weren’t being convinced that there’s a thing called Long COVID by patient disinformation and fearmongers like George Monbiot.” (Italics in the original.)

One commenter misread what I wrote and seemed to impute the word “hysterical” to Professor Sharpe. After that, Professor Sharpe himself weighed in. So it seems that, in response to what he read in the comments, he was correcting the record: ‘hysterical’ was a word I, David Tuller, used, not one he used in his presentation.

In other words, here’s what he meant to write: “I do believe the word ‘hysterical’ is Dr Tuller’s.” He left off the apostrophe and the ‘s.’  Got it! We’ve all done that. I’m sure I’ve done worse!

Ok, then. No disagreement from me. I used “hysterical” in a passage that I presented as how I interpreted Professor Sharpe’s point. I didn’t suggest or indicate “hysterical” was his word. Any misunderstanding on the commenter’s part was unintentional, and Professor Sharpe did not suggest otherwise. As I gather, he was just making sure everyone knew what was what.

I’m glad Professor Sharpe clarified that point. I am also perplexed, tickled and touched that he felt such a compelling need to correct an insignificant comment under a post of mine on Virology Blog. But hey, why not?

Maybe now Professor Sharpe can also finally clarify why 13% of the PACE sample was already “within normal range” or “recovered” on the key outcome measure of physical function at baseline, and why that statistical anomaly was not disclosed in the trial reports. Does Professor Sharpe understand that failure to disclose such a salient fact seems to meet standard definitions of research misconduct? .

Professor Sharpe, please feel free to comment!

Oh, and have I mentioned that April is a crowdfunding month for Berkeley campus projects?

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