A Warning to the ME/CFS Community

Margaret Williams

27th June 2004

It is a matter of record that there is mounting awareness and concern over
the increasing manipulation of science and medicine by global corporations
with vested interests which now amounts to a stranglehold.

It seems that this corporate control extends not only to a corrupted peer
review process that results in a biased view being presented to the medical
community by compliant or ineffectual editors of medical journals, but the
US government now insists that scientists must be politically approved
before the scientists can participate in meetings of the World Health
Organisation.

See for example the following:
· Scientists are "asked to fix results for backer" is the subject of
an article on 14th February 2000 by Liz Lightfoot in the Daily
Telegraph. 30% of 500 respondents said they had been asked to tailor their
research conclusions or resulting advice to suit the sponsor's desired outcome

· There is now acknowledgement by medical science that not only does
corruption exist but that it is a considerable problem, especially in
psychiatry. In an Editorial in Psychological Medicine ("Publication bias
and the integrity of psychiatric research"; 2000:30:253-258), Gilbody and
Song state "This issue has been all but ignored in the sphere of mental
health. Publication bias needs to be dealt with if psychiatry is going to
become more "evidence-based". The recognition of the potential
consequences of publication bias has led to important advances in its
detection. However, these methods are rarely employed when they should be
in psychiatry. This is unfortunate when, compared to other specialities,
psychiatry is likely to be especially prone to publication bias. A
consequence is that readers of journals are more likely to see studies
showing results in a certain direction". In the same Editorial, Gilbody
and Song point out the dangers of multiple reporting of studies as though
they were different trials (sometimes by "shifting first authorship"):
examples of this practice in psychiatry include one trial that was
published in one form or another in 83 separate publications

· An article in JAMA by Joan Stephenson ("Biomedical Journals Ponder
the Failures and Remedies of Peer Review": JAMA 2001:286:23), revealed how
a 1997 study of 26 reports of randomised trials that appeared in the five
top medical journals during a one month period (May 1997) and repeated four
years later in May 2001 found that there was no evidence that authors even
attempted to discuss how their findings have added to the total evidence
accumulated from previous research on a subject. Journals can take steps
to help improve the scientific soundness of published research, which would
help reduce the risk of selective reporting of findings

· In a disturbing report on 13th July 2003 in The Observer ("Anger at
advisers' biotech links"), Anthony Barnett and Mark Townsend stated "Dozens
of the Government's most influential advisers on health and environmental
issues have close links to biotech and drug corporations, according to a
dossier of Whitehall documents obtained by The Observer. Internal papers
from the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra,
formerly MAFF --- Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries) reveal for
the first time the extent of the close connections between big business and
scientists hired to give "independent" advice to Ministers. Many work as
consultants for the firms, own shares in the companies or enjoy lucrative
research grants from them. A key member of the committee advising Ministers
on the safety of genetically modified (GM) products has received research
funding from biotech giants Monsanto and Syngentia and he also works for
the GM research centre funded by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury. More
than three quarters of the members of the committee which advises Ministers
on food safety have direct links to major food companies and drug giants.
Almost three out of four members of the committee advising Ministers on the
cancer risks of chemicals in food and other consumer products either own
shares in or work for major biotech and drug corporations. Former
Environment Minister Michael Meacher told The Observer "These committees
are absolutely critical. They give definitive advice which Ministers at
their peril seek to overturn.
I consistently argued that nobody with significant commercial links should
be allowed to sit on these bodies. It is vital they are truly
independent". Tony Juniper, Director of Friends of the Earth, said "It is
now crystal clear how big business is setting the agenda right at the heart
of government. How can the public trust what Ministers say if their advice
is coming from those with vested interests?" ". Some of these "experts",
according to The Observer, actually suggest that there is nothing wrong
with this behaviour

· In an article in The Observer on 7th December 2003, Anthony Barnett
revealed that pharmaceutical giants hire ghost-writers to produce articles,
then put doctors' names on them. Hundreds of articles in medical journals
claiming to be written by academics or doctors have been written by
ghost-writers in the pay of drug companies. Doctors who have put their
name to the papers can be paid handsomely. The journals have huge influence
on doctors. An editorial assistant with a medical writing company was so
concerned about what she witnessed that she became a whistleblower. There
are grounds to think that a significant proportion of the articles in
journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical
Journal and the Lancet may be written with help from medical writing
agencies. One field where ghost-writing is becoming an increasing problem
is psychiatry. Dr Richard Smith, Editor of the British Medical Journal,
admitted ghost-writing was a 'very big problem' "

· On 29th March 2004 Chris Hunter from the Alison Hunter Memorial
Foundation in Australia posted extracts from articles that examined
unpalatable truths about peer review that had great relevance to the
medical politics surrounding ME/CFS. In summary, it concludes that "The
commercialisation of medical research is a threat to the welfare of
patients and to the special relationship between doctors and
patients. That relationship is now being assaulted on all sides by
money" (Co-cure RES: Opinions on Peer Review: 29th March 2004; 16.28)

· On 30th March 2004, referring to an article in the New York Times
("When Peer Review Yields Unsound Science"), John Herd posted an item
pointing out that for some time, the British Medical Journal has presented
a very one-sided view of ME/CFS as a psychological condition in its
articles and editorials, as has the New England Journal of
Medicine. Whether it be within medical journals or government health
departments, peer review can have its Achilles heel (Co-cure RES: Peer
Review and ME/CFS: 30th March 2004; 23.18)

· On 29th April 2004 in an article in the New Zealand Herald
("Licensed to kill facts the drug firms conceal") Jeremy Laurance
stated "The stranglehold the industry has on research is causing
increasing alarm in medical circles as evidence emerges of biased results,
under-reporting and selective publication driven by a market worth more
than £10 billion in Britain alone". Laurance goes on to say "One of the
researchers, Tim Kendall from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said he
and his colleagues had been "unnerved" by the possibility that the National
Institute for Clinical Excellence could have given wrong or even harmful
advice because it did not have access to the full data. That is the
over-riding issue. How can we trust the published data"?

The above illustrations are but a drop in the ocean of published concern
about the control and corruption of medical science by global giants whose
life-blood is profit.

As if the control of medical science by industry were not bad enough, it
has long been suspected but now seems certain that governments themselves
exert an equally tight stranglehold on a nation's health.

By 2003, the UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, had donated over £11
million to the Labour Party. It is the Sainsbury supermarket family's
Linbury Trust that provided financial support for the Chief Medical
Officer's "independent" Working Group on "CFS/ME" and that since 1991 has
so generously funded the "Wessely School" psychiatrists' research into
"chronic fatigue". The Science Minister has responsibility for the Office
of Science and Technology and for the chemical and biotech industries, as
well as for all the Research Councils, including the Medical Research
Council. The Office of Science and Technology monitors all Government
funding of research grants and it controls official science
policy. Crucially, it is "policy" that determines the research that
Government permits to be funded. This was most tellingly confirmed by the
Secretary of State for Health (answered by Yvette Cooper) in a written
answer to a question asking about funding for research into the causes of,
and cure for, ME (Hansard: 11 May 2000: 461W 462W). In her reply, Ms
Cooper stated "The Department funds research to support policy and the
delivery of effective health practice in the National Health Service".

This seems to confirm the invincibly circuitous nature of Government strategy.
However, even more disturbing information has just been released and was
posted on Co-cure on 26th June 2004 at 19.06 (Co-cure NOT; ACT: [US]: WHO
scientists will require clearance).

The notice states that the Bush administration has ordered that Government
scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can
participate in meetings of the World Health Organisation. Officials at the
WHO in Geneva say this could compromise the independence of international
scientific deliberations. The request is the latest instance in which the
Bush administration has been accused of allowing politics to intrude into
the once-sacrosanct areas of scientific deliberation. This year, 60
prominent scientists accused the administration of "misrepresenting and
suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes". Republican Henry
Waxman said "This new policy politicises the process of providing the
expert advice of US scientists to the international community". The WHO is
the United Nations agency dedicated to health. It traditionally insists on
picking experts to sit on official scientific panels, but William Steiger,
godson of President Bush's father (former President George HW Bush), stated
in a letter declaring the new vetting policy that civil service and other
regulations "require experts to serve as representatives of the US
government at all times and advocate US Government policies".

Given that deliberations about the future classification of ME/CFS in the
next revision of the WHO International Classification of Diseases are
currently a hot topic amongst psychiatrists who have a particular interest
in "CFS/ME", the UK ME/CFS community needs to be alert because as noted
elsewhere, when the USA sneezes, the UK catches a cold.