New Scientist: Letters in response to Simon Wessely interview

In the 14 March issue, New Scientist published an “interview” with Prof Simon Wessely which has resulted in over 485 responses. The “interview” can be read here:

Simon Wessely | New Scientist |  14 March 2009

On 18 March, Prof Wessely published a response via the comment section.

This week’s print edition of New Scientist (4 April 2009, issue 2702) carries two letters (Page 22) from Dr Charles Shepherd (ME Association) and Dr John Greensmith (

Mind or body?

01 April 2009

It is unfortunate that Simon Wessely, interviewed in the article “Mind over body?” (14 March, p 26), attaches a psychosomatic label to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and, by implication, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). This inaccurate label not only creates practical problems for patients, such as inappropriate or harmful treatments and refusal of state benefits, it also discourages biomedical research into the underlying cause.

Fortunately, there are clinicians and researchers who believe that ME/CFS has a solid physical basis involving infection, immunology, endocrinology and neurology. As a result, the UK Medical Research Council has recently set up an expert group to look at these areas of causation.

In the UK, the ME Association has just collated results from the largest ever survey of patient opinion, with over 4000 respondents. Over 50 per cent reported that behavioural treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy and graded exercise therapy were either ineffective or made their condition worse.

New Scientist has previously reported on ME/CFS; one such example was your news report of abnormalities in gene expression in white blood cells (23 July 2005, p 9), which could not be caused by abnormal thought processes. I hope New Scientist will soon regain an objective position on the subject.

Charles Shepherd, Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, UK


From John H. Greensmith,  

I suspect that a large proportion of the “hate mail” you report Wessely as receiving is about the quality of his science, rather than being a personal attack. The science, he says, is what one stands by and it is what many think he falls by.

One result of ME being lumped together with CFS is that it has become more difficult to diagnose. It is also bundled in with several other illnesses, some of which may have a psychiatric origin.

I wonder what Wessely thinks of equally qualified doctors and professors who call for the re-adoption of the name myalgic encephalomyelitis. They recognise it as a discrete neurological illness with a physiological origin that needs further research, and see no particular need for his speciality.

Bristol, UK