Zombie Science in ME/CFS? Margaret Williams

Zombie Science in ME/CFS?

Article published by Margaret Williams and circulated by JvR.   The article below can also be found at:

http://www.meactionuk.org.uk/Zombie_Science_in_MECFS.htm and on Co-Cure at:


Zombie Science in ME/CFS?
by Margaret Williams

15th August 2008

Mental health researchers at The Institute of Psychiatry (London) are currently undertaking a study of “social cognition”. The project seeks to find out whether “the processing of social information” is  affected in people with anorexia nervosa and whether or not people with anorexia can recognise  complex emotions in other people.

The anorexia group will be compared with healthy controls and also with people who have “CFS”, the  latter being recruited through outpatient services of The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation  Trust.

The project was announced in 2007 just before the publication of the NICE Guideline on “CFS/ME”.

Recruitment for this “research” will run until the end of 2008 and the project will be completed in 2009

( http://www.b-eat.co.uk/Supportingbeat/MediaResearch/Socialcognitioninanorexianervosa  ).

The study literature states: “The comparison with CFS will allow (researchers) to gauge whether any social cognition deficits are unique to anorexia, or reflect more global symptoms of psychiatric illness with marked physical symptoms”.

So there we have it in black and white: according to researchers at the IoP (the home of stalwart  supporters of CBT and GET for “CFS/ME” Professors Simon Wessely and Trudie Chalder), “CFS” is “a psychiatric illness with marked physical symptoms”.

The background to the project states: “Anorexia nervosa and chronic fatigue syndrome are classical psychosomatic disorders where response to social threat is expressed somatically (e.g. Hatcher & House, 2003; Kato et al 2006; Schmidt et al 1997). Other similarities between these disorders include strong female preponderance and overlapping personality characteristics, such as being introverted and avoidant. Aberrant emotional processing is a strong candidate as a maintaining factor for these disorders (Schmidt & Treasure 2006)”.

Is it by chance alone that this “research” coincides with the publication of the NICE Guideline and that  the only “evidence” upon which the NICE Guideline Development Group relied is that of the Wessely  School, whose assumption about the nature of “CFS/ME” is that it is a psychosomatic disorder and  whose model and management recommendations are based on “fear avoidance” and “deconditioning”?

It is surely remarkable that the beliefs of the Wessely School about “CFS/ME” (in which they unequivocally include “ME/CFS”) remain uninfluenced by the ever-mounting biomedical evidence which proves their beliefs to be seriously misinformed.

A possible explanation has been put forward by Professor Bruce Charlton, Editor-in-Chief of Medical Hypotheses; Emeritus Professor of Public Policy at the University of California and Reader in Evolutionary Psychiatry at the University of Newcastle (UK).

Charlton is well-known for his campaign to breathe new life into academic medicine in order to capture issues that matter to patients and which would make a difference to their lives.

In a compelling Editorial (Zombie science: A sinister consequence of evaluating scientific theories purely on the basis of enlightened self-interest. Medical Hypotheses, 26th July 2008) Charlton debunks the ideal of impartial and objective science. The following quotations apply with particular resonance to the current ME/CFS situation in the UK:

“In the real world it looks like most scientists are quite willing to pursue wrong ideas – so long as they are rewarded for doing so with a better chance of achieving more grants, publications and status”.

“This is ‘enlightened self-interest’ a powerful factor in scientific evaluation because the primary criterion of the ‘validity’ of a theory is whether or not acting upon it will benefit the career of the scientist; ‘enlightened’ because the canny career scientist will be looking ahead a few years in order to prefer that theory which offers the best prospect of netting the next grant, tenure, promotion or prestigious job opportunity”.

“When a new theory is launched, it is unlikely to win converts unless (they) are rewarded with a greater chance of generous research funding, the opportunity to publish in prestigious journals and the hope of increased status exemplified by admiration and respect from other scientists”.

“Theories may become popular or even dominant purely because of their association with immediate  incentives and despite their scientific weaknesses”.

“Even the most conclusive ‘hatchet jobs’ done on phoney theories will fail to kill, or even weaken,  them when the phoney theories are backed up with sufficient economic muscle in the form of funding. Scientists will gravitate to where the money is so long as the funding stream is sufficiently deep and sustained”.

“Classical theory has it that a bogus hypothesis will be rejected when it fails to predict ‘reality’, but  (this) can be deferred almost indefinitely by the elaboration of secondary hypotheses which then require further testing (and generates more work for the bogus believers)”.

“That the first theory is phoney, and always was phoney, is regarded as simplistic, crass (and) a sign  of lack of sophistication”.

“And anyway, there are massive ‘sunk costs’ associated with the phoney theory, including the  reputations of numerous scientists who are now successful and powerful on the back of the phoney  theory, and who now control the peer-review process (including the allocation of grants, publications and  jobs)”.

“False theories can therefore prove very long-lived”.

“The zombification of science (occurs) when science based on phoney theories is serving a useful but  non-scientific purpose (so it is) kept going by continuous transfusions of cash from those whose  interests it serves”.

“For example, if a branch of pseudo-science based on a phoney theory is valuable for political reasons (e.g. to justify government policies) then real science expires and ‘zombie science’ evolves”.

“(This) can be explained away by yet further phoney theoretical elaborations, especially when there is monopolistic control of information”.

“In a nutshell, zombie science is supported because it is useful propaganda (and) is deployed in arenas such as political rhetoric, public administration, management, public relations, marketing and the mass media generally. Indeed, zombie science often comes across in the mass media as being more plausible than real science”.

“Personal careerist benefits seem easily able to overwhelm the benefits of trying to establish the  ‘real world’ of truth”.

“In current science, there seems to be a greater possibility that large scale change may be fashion  rather than progress, and such change may be serving propagandist goals rather than advancing  scientific understanding”.

“Modern science may have a lumbering pace, and its vast bulk means that once it has begun to move in a particular direction, trying to deflect its path is like stopping a charging rhinoceros”.

“Perhaps funders co-operate, co-ordinate and collude, and therefore should be regarded as a  cartel”.

To halt this raging rhinoceros, Charlton says: “Individual ambition should ensure a sufficient supply of debunkers to keep the gardens of science weeded of bogus theories, and to banish the  zombies of science to the graveyards where they  belong”.

The ME/CFS community can have no doubt that Charlton has hit the nail on the head.

For how much longer must these desperate people be sacrificed on the defiled altar of zombie science?

Margaret Williams


Ed: See also The Psychiatry Research Trust …at the Institiute of Psychiatry, UK

Exploring New Horizons in Mental Health and Brain Disease Research




APPG on ME: Minutes of 12 July 07 meeting

Minutes, APPG on ME, 12 July 2007

Minutes of the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on M.E. held at 1.30pm, Thursday 12th July 2007 Committee Room 17, House of Commons


Dr Des Turner MP (Chair)
Dr Ian Gibson MP (Secretary)
David Amess MP (Treasurer)
Celia Barlow MP
John Bercow MP

Koyes Ahmed (Office of Dr Des Turner MP)

Sir Peter Spencer, Action for M.E.
Heather Walker, Action for M.E.
Neil Riley, The ME Association
Dr Charles Shepherd, The ME Association
Tony Britton, The ME Association

Doris Jones, 25% Group
Tanya Harrison, BRAME
Christine Harrison, BRAME
Barbara Robinson, Suffolk Youth & Parent Support Group, member of EAME
Rosemary Page, Cambridge M.E. Support Group
Richard Crossich, North London ME Network
Hazel Griffiths, North London ME Network
Di Newman, Peterborough ME and CFS Support Group
Paul Davis, RIME
Joy Birdsey, RIME
Bill Kent, ReMEmber
Janice Kent, ReMEmber
Colin Barton, Sussex and Kent ME/CFS Society
Jill Piggott, Worcester ME Support Group
Dr Terry Mitchell, Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT
Barbara Boyden, Peterborough Team Nurse
Dr Anne Gerken, Norfolk & Suffolk M.E. service
Doug Fraser (?), Hammersmith Group
Brook Hoadley, parent of teenager with M.E.
Annette Barclay, person with M.E.
Christine Russo, person with M.E.
Augustine Ryan, person with M.E.
Criona Wilson, mother of the late Sophia Mirza

1. Welcome

Dr Des Turner thanked everyone for attending and welcomed them to the meeting, particularly the main speaker – Dr Terry Mitchell, the regional NHS clinical champion for M.E./CFS in East Anglia. Continue reading

Research Worker: Institute of Psychiatry Biomedical Research Centre

The Institute of Psychiatry is currently advertising a post for a Research Worker. The project is funded through the newly established Biomedical Research Centre. The new National Institute for Health Research South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Institute of Psychiatry Biomedical Research Centre receive funding from the Department of Health for research into “CFS/ME”.

Here are some extracts from the Job Description and Person Spec:

Job vacancy: Research Worker

Institute of Psychiatry Biomedical Research Centre

Closing date for applications: 13th July 2007
Please quote reference number 07/R68.

Candidates who would like to discuss the post further are invited to contact Prof Ulrike Schmidt on 020 7848 0181 or Prof Trudie Chalder on 0207 848 0406

Emotional Processing in Psychosomatic Disorders

Department of Psychological Medicine

We would like to invite applications from psychology graduates for the above post which will involve working across the Section of Eating Disorders and the Chronic Fatigue Research and Treatment Unit on a project entitled ‘Emotional Processing in Psychosomatic Disorders’.

This project is funded through the newly established Biomedical Research Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry.

The successful candidate will have relevant research experience and preferably experience of working with eating disorder and/or chronic fatigue patients.

Starting salary in the range £23,175 pa to £24,332 pa (inclusive of £2,323pa London Allowance), depending on qualifications and experience.

To obtain further particulars and further information about the Institute, please see our website or alternatively email

Applications, in the form of a CV (including details of two referees), covering letter and equal opportunities statement, should be emailed to this address or posted to the address given in the further particulars.

Please quote reference number 07/R68 in all correspondence.

Closing date for applications 13th July 2007.

Only candidates shortlisted for interview will be contacted.

Equality of opportunity is College policy.


Written answers: 3 July 2007

Hansard 3 July 2007

Written answers: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Research

Bill Etherington: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what bio-medical research (a) his Department and (b) the Medical Research Council has funded into the cause or causes of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [146602]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 29 June 2007]: Over the last 10 years, the main part of the Department’s total expenditure on health research has been devolved to and managed by national health service organisations. That devolved funding is supporting a body of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) research. Details are available on the national research register at: www.dh.gov.uk/research

The new National Institute for Health Research South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Institute of Psychiatry Biomedical Research Centre, funded by the Department, will undertake research on CFS/ME.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is one of the main agencies through which the Government support biomedical research. During the period in question, MRC has funded seven research studies on CFS/ME, five of which are of direct relevance to the condition, and two related to it but of lesser relevance.

Although not currently funding any research specifically related to the biological effects of CFS/ME, the MRC remains committed to funding scientific research into all aspects of CFS/ME including evaluations of other treatments and studies into the

3 July 2007 : Column 1010W

biological basis of the condition. The MRC always welcome high-quality applications for support into any aspect of human health and these are judged in open competition with other demands on funding. Awards are made according to their scientific quality.

2007 Parliamentary copyright