Trial By Error: Professor Esther Crawley, Bristol University’s Methodologically and Ethically Challenged Pediatrician, Has Retired From Medicine

By David Tuller, DrPH

Professor Esther Crawley, Bristol University’s methodologically and ethically challenged pediatrician and long-time grant magnet, gave up her right to practice medicine last September, according to her current entry at the UK’s General Medical Council, which oversees the registration of physicians. The entry does not offer an explanation for why Professor Crawley decided to relinquish her registration and stop treating patients at a much younger age than is standard for retirement.

Professor Crawley qualified as a physician at Oxford University in 1991. She is apparently in her 50s, likely her mid-50s. (Update: I have been advised that she is likely in her late 50s at least, and perhaps in her 60s.)

Her departure from clinical practice is great news for families with kids suffering from ME/CFS–and now Long Covid. Professor Crawley has been the most influential pediatrician in the field of what she long called “chronic fatigue syndrome,” or more recently “CFS/ME.” She was a gusher of misinformation, publishing seriously flawed and sometimes fraudulent research at a prolific rate. She called PACE a “great, great” trial.

Both publicly and behind the scenes, she wielded her significant power to aggressively push the notion that children with ME/CFS needed graded exercise therapy (GET) and/or cognitive behavior therapy. She failed to change her views even in the face of widespread protests from parents that forcing their kids to do more made them worse. As news of her retirement sinks in, I hope that those who once whispered her name with fear will feel able to openly discuss the clinical reign of terror she appeared to impose on vulnerable families and children.

Is she still at the University of Bristol? That’s not clear. It appears that she might have retired from there as well. She does not appear in the current staff directory at the university’s Centre for Academic Child Health, with which she had a longtime affiliation. On the centre’s site for the MAGENTA study, a major trial of GET compared to activity management in kids with “CFS/ME,” Professor Crawley is still listed as the “chief investigator.” But clicking the link on her name yields a screen with this advisory: “Page not found.”

The MAGENTA results were published in March and were a disaster for Professor Crawley’s longtime assertion that GET was an effective treatment. She was listed as the second-to-last author, not the senior and corresponding author—an apparent indication of the change in her status. Here is the blunt conclusion from the abstract: “There was no evidence that GET was more effective or cost-effective than AM [activity management] in this setting, with very limited improvement in either study group evident by the 6-month or 12-month assessment points.” Oops!!!

The MAGENTA paper was submitted to the European Journal of Pediatrics on October 5, 2023, which was shortly after Professor Crawley relinquished her right to practice medicine. She presumably had known for a while of these humiliating findings. Whether or not these events are conneted, the MAGENTA conclusions pretty much upend much of what Professor Crawley has claimed for years.

Another recently published paper from investigators at Bristol’s Centre for Academic Child Health, a protocol for a study of children with rare genetic disorders, included the following statement in its acknowledgments section: “The…study was originally conceptualised with significant mentorship and guidance from Professor Esther Crawley who has now retired. We thank her for her significant contribution to the concept of the GenROC study.”

That certainly sounds like it is referring to retirement from the university, not retirement from medical practice. It has been noted in the last year or so that Professor Crawley has been unusually quiet and absent from the public debate. Now it seems that she’s…gone. Really. Just gone. Perhaps at some point we will find out why.

Professor Crawley’s scholarly record carries some big black marks. I pride myself on those, since they were the result of my investigations into her work. (These were themselves prompted by insights from an observant source.)

Professor Crawley’s clinical trial of the woo-woo mind-body intervention known as the Lightning Process was clearly fraudulent. Archives of Disease in Childhood, a BMJ journal, should never have published it. And once I presented the journal with the facts, the study should have been retracted. Professor Crawley’s paper described the research as fully prospective when, as it turned out, 56% of the participants were recruited before trial registration, and primary and secondary outcome measures were swapped mid-way through. The article now carries a 3,000-word correction, along with a 1,000-word editor’s note defending the journal’s indefensible decision to republish the original findings.

My complaints to the UK’s Health Research Authority, a branch of the National Health Service, about a set of Professor Crawley’s studies led to an investigation of her work conducted jointly by the agency and Bristol University. Professor Crawley had unilaterally exempted all these studies from ethical review based on a letter from a research ethics committee that had nothing to do with any of them. Every experienced researcher knows–or should know–that this is not allowed. As a result of the investigation, Professor Crawley was ordered to make corrections in the ethics statements of 11 papers. Although the report–absurdly in my view–held her blameless for these errors, it was nonetheless an embarassing public rebuke of her approach to research.

Then there was Professor Crawley’s public claim that I had written “libellous blogs” and Bristol University’s multiple complaints to UC Berkeley’s chancellor about my “behaviour.” My “behaviour” basically consisted of writing harsh (and sometimes flamboyantly harsh) comments about Professor Crawley’s sub-standard and ultimately harmful work. The UC Berkeley chancellor’s office could not really understand the complaints or figure out what Bristol expected them to do.

But more on that later. It’s enough for now to appreciate the moment. I hope and assume many people will have a lot to say about Professor Crawley and her impact on their lives now that she seems to be out of the picture.

18 thoughts on “Trial By Error: Professor Esther Crawley, Bristol University’s Methodologically and Ethically Challenged Pediatrician, Has Retired From Medicine”

  1. I hope she is the first of a large group of people who will now leave the scene. Wessely next?

  2. Paul Garner — Professor “I recovered so everyone who didn’t must be malingerers” — next?

  3. Lady Shambles

    This is excellent news and surely must reduce the burden on many parents who have been at the mercy of her cobbled-together dogma? Obviously her methods might well be in use in some of the clinics she previously inhabited, although I’d like to think decent doctors can realise the error of their ways in having allowed her the latitude and power she seemingly (bewilderingly) wielded. Like you, I also hope those parents and their children so harmed by her methods and her inclination to involve the Family Courts when families did not agree with her (ironically) fictitious charges of ‘FII’ will now start to feel ‘safe’ enough to publicise what has really happened to so very many of them.
    The UK has been righting-wrongs of past scandals in recent times and this one is well overdue imo.

  4. Who’s for cake? (-

  5. Wayne Brissett

    Great article David.
    Perhaps she got Long Covid and retired humiliated? 🙏Interestingly, I noted the anacronym “CFS/ME” in her work. The same wrong way around term as used by the Australian GPs HANDI guide. Coincidence, or not?

  6. Hope you never shutter this blog, David. Appreciate all you do for our patient community.

  7. Cathrine Schultz Engsig

    Congratulation – your work has payed off and to the benefit of all ME/CFS patients. Be proud and keep up your important work. Stil some more to go… but a nice beginning. :)TIme and research is on our side and hopefully it will get easier.

  8. Mary Whittaker

    What a relief for parents of children suffering from this awful illness and particularly for children themselves.

  9. I will look forward to finding out the ‘why’ – and try very hard to be civil about it – but the damage she has done, deliberately and continuously and fraudulently will live on long after her as part of her footprint.

    I wish no one ill, but I am very curious.

  10. That Wainwright Woman

    The “why” question is really important to eventually answer considering her relatively young age and professional career.

    Thanks, David, for all your efforts on behalf of scientific integrity.

  11. Trevor Hedley

    I would love to think it was guilty conscious but strongly suspect it isn’t.
    Hope with all my heart that this is the start of the collapse and we can soon start to see the start of a repair process to reverse the decades long disinformation and psychologisation process. Vast amount of time wasted on this wrong track, people suffered, people died, people lives potentially ruined, why? Budget? Career progression? Awards? Certainly appears to be more geared towards self interest rather than patient interest.
    Lets hope for a complete collapse and the scandal, which I believe is greater or a least as big as the Post Office scandal, is now fully exposed to the public.
    Resigned myself, due to age and health, to not witnessing the full exposure of thus wrong but at least I would love to witness at least the start of it.
    Thanks for this article and also all the fighters, never stop exposing the truth.

  12. Janet Comerford

    Thank you David. I suspect that if it were not for your tireless efforts to challenge her fraudulent “research” that she would still be subjecting many more children to the pseudo science that she practiced.

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