Trial By Error: Hey Bristol, Where Is My Cease and Desist Letter?

By David Tuller, DrPH

Earlier today, I e-mailed the following letter to Sue Paterson, University of Bristol’s Director of Legal Services, to clarify whether or not I had been sent a cease and desist letter (to cease and desist what, exactly?). Professor Esther Crawley made this claim at her public talk last Friday. I have never received any such letter. I cc’d the office of the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady.

**********

Dear Ms. Paterson—

I attended Professor Esther Crawley’s interesting talk at the University of Exeter on Friday, November 17th. During the question period, I introduced myself and politely asked her why she had accused me of libel and then failed to respond to my e-mail requests that she document this serious allegation. I was immediately asked to leave the room, which I did promptly and without fuss.

Before I left, however, Professor Crawley told me this: “You have been so unbelievably defamatory and unprofessional that I had to get my university to send you a cease and desist letter.“ As with her false charge of libel, she provided no documentation or evidence that anything I wrote was inaccurate or in error—which is of course necessary to sustain an accusation of defamation. (In contrast, calling me “unprofessional” is obviously well within Professor Crawley’s rights, even if I disagree.)

More significantly, her statement that Bristol had sent me a cease and desist letter was certainly news to me. I have received no such letter from Bristol, either by e-mail or by post. In our previous e-mail exchange involving my complaint to Bristol about Professor Crawley’s public accusation of “libellous” blogging, you made no reference to a cease and desist letter. Nor did you mention having sent such a letter in our more recent e-mail exchange involving my freedom of information request related to Professor Crawley’s ethically challenged school absence study.

I am writing now because it is obviously important to clarify this matter and set the public record straight as soon as possible. Did Bristol send me a cease and desist letter, or not? If Bristol sent me a letter that I did not receive, please let me know exactly when it was sent, where it was sent, and the name of the person who signed for it upon receipt, if anyone did. And please e-mail a copy to me immediately, so I understand what it is that Bristol expects me to cease and desist from. If Bristol did not send me a cease and desist letter, I suggest you inform Professor Crawley of that fact.

In our brief exchange, Professor Crawley also mentioned the notion of consulting with “the police” in relation to my activities. The clear implication to those attending the event was that I have engaged in behavior that poses some sort of danger or threat to Professor Crawley. Any objective observer of the situation would recognize that this implication is not only utterly preposterous but, like her unwarranted libel and defamation accusations, potentially harmful to my professional reputation. Last time I checked, writing vigorous commentary, seeking explanations for unsupported libel charges, and appearing at a public lecture to ask a polite but tough question are not criminal activities in the U.K.—even if Professor Crawley might wish that they were.

As I suggested in a previous e-mail to you, someone from Bristol’s legal department should sit down with Professor Crawley and explain very, very clearly that accusing people–and in this case me–of being “libellous” and “defamatory” without providing an iota of evidence of error or inaccuracy is not acceptable. She has now done this in public on at least three separate occasions. She is certainly skating on thin legal ice.

I have repeatedly invited Professor Crawley to send me her full response to my criticisms, promising to post it on Virology Blog at whatever length she chooses. I have also repeatedly offered to correct any mistakes or errors that she can document. It is obviously her decision whether or not to take me up on this, but her refusal to do so suggests that she prefers to insult critics rather than engage in robust debate about the self-evident and glaring flaws in her work.

I have stated before that I have no plans to sue Professor Crawley. But I also have no plans to cease and desist from analyzing and commenting on her research and her public presentations as I see fit. I have every right, as a journalist and public health academic, to make my case as forcefully as I choose. Professor Crawley obviously has every right to find my approach unpleasant, distasteful and offensive. But she apparently has serious difficulty distinguishing between opinions she dislikes and statements that are libelous and defamatory. I trust Bristol’s legal department is not operating under similar misconceptions or delusions.

In summary, if Bristol has previously sent me a cease and desist letter, please forward me a copy immediately. If not, I would certainly like an explanation as to why Professor Crawley would make such a false statement at a public event.

Best–David

David Tuller, DrPH
Senior Fellow in Public Health and Journalism
Center for Global Public Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Peter Trewhitt

    James David Chapman, I understand I know nothing of your personal experience, though I recognise you feel angry about how you were treated when acting as an advocate for people with ME. There is never any justification for personal abuse. However it can be difficult to know how to police open discussion forums, and it is times difficult to distinguish between robust wording of rational and justifiable statement from personal attacks. This is complicated by international participation in forums were there may be cultural difference on what is acceptable.

    For example the naming of our condition provokes strong reactions, I have received very robust responses when I said that in our current level of understand ME/CFS is an acceptable practical usage rather than insisting that ME is the only acceptable form. However, though the responses were indicative of angry feelings and robustly worded and I may have found them uncomfortable, they did not constitute a personal attack and ultimately forced me to clarify my own thoughts.

    There are times when we as individuals are able to challenge intemperate comments, but there are also times when we as people with ME feel that we do not have the energy to engage in potential conflict.

    I do recognise that in some discussion forums some individuals make intemperate remarks about Prof Crawley, but I am not sure that any of the comments here fall into that category. It seems to me that ‘the tightening the screws’ remark here related Prof Crawley’s scientific /academic arguements and her use of misinformation and downright lies in public presentations.

    If you are attacking people with ME and there advocates for making personal criticism of Prof Crawley you presumablely want to condemn those making unjustified personal criticism of people with ME and their advocates. The PACE researchers and now Prof Crawley have made repeated accusations of harrasment and threats but in the only forums where these have been independently evaluated they have been proved to be false. Prof Crawley has taken this further in her recent presentations, she accused the ME Association of being ‘anti-science’ on Radio 4, she falsely claimed that an anonymous letter mocked up by a journalist some years ago was sent to her, she has accused David Tuller and the Virology Blog of being libellous without any presenting evidence, she has apparently lied about this ‘cease and desist’ letter and certainly there is a very big question mark over her implication the David Tuller is acting illegally. Given your position the David Tuller should be condemning with ME people making intemperate remarks about Prof Crawley presumably you to be consistent should be condemning Prof Crawley for her harassment of David, of the ME Assocuation and of people with ME and their advocates.

    Also in an associated comment thread here on the Virology Blog a pro Prof Crawley commentor accused David Tuller of being nasty, of harassing Prof Crawley rather than engaging in legitimate achademic dispute, of not being a real scientist and falsely of being sacked by the University that hosts his current work. If there is an obligation for David Tuller to challenge all intemperate remarks about Prof Crawley, then likewise there is presumably a similar obligation on you to so why have you not challenged these intemperate attacks on David.

    It may be that some people with ME and/our their advocates have subjected Prof Crawley with abuse or harrasment, but we can not evaluate the veracity of her claims where they relate to unspecified claims. So far the only concrete examples given by Prof Crawley either relate to legally and acceptable actions such as the freedom of information requests, questions in Parliament, complaints to the GMC, genuine scientific debate, etc or to inaccuate or demonstrably false accusations such as her claiming an annonymous letter mocked up by a journalist was sent to her personally or her false accusations of libel against the virology Blog.

    Until Prof Crawley actual presents genuine evidence of harrasment and abuse it is hardly fair to expect David Tuller or anyone else to make blanket condemnations of people with ME or their advocates, especially given we can not on the available evidence be certain that what she is any more accurate that her slandering of the ME Association as being anti scientific or of the Virology Blog as libellous.

    I am not doubting your experience but that does not justify giving Prof Crawley cart blanche to abuse other people, and though it is possible that people with ME and/or their advocates have unfairly attacked her until she present verifiable evidence of this it is unacceptable for any of us to issue condemnations.

  • EzzieD

    Mr Chapman, with all respect, it’s not seemly of you to keep using Dr Tuller’s blog as ‘soapbox’ for your own personal issues re things that happened to you in the past which are nothing to do with Mr Tuller, nor is it a place to address comments to Prof Crawley, she isn’t here. Probably best to contact her directly.

  • Margaret Laverick

    Thank you David, hopefully the university will distance itself from EC and the sooner the better.

  • EzzieD

    Thank you for all your ongoing hard work, David. Here’s hoping that Bristol U will wake up and give serious consideration as to whether it’s worth continuing to protect such a liability at the expense of their own reputation.

  • Jan Wade

    It ain’t too late to put the screws to the devil himself – Wessely NEEDS to be exposed and dethroned, and the sooner the better.

  • Jan Wade

    Yes, stripping an entire class of people of their voice is not only dangerous and cruel, but unconstitutional

  • Jan Wade

    Of course she is coming unraveled – she’s nothing but a frog in a pot on a stove set at low boil

  • Jan Wade

    A horror show within a horror show

  • James David Chapman

    Important to remember that Prof Crawley is a human being. This vital bit of information can be lost under the label “malign influence”.

  • James David Chapman

    My response to this blog from David Tuller’s was to send a message to Prof Crawley, and I am very glad that I did. I do not expect any further interaction with Dr Tuller himself, he has made it very clear that he does not want to address the issue of advocates’ behaviour any further with me. I did not understand from his communication that my comments were now unwelcome on Virology Blog.

  • Paul_Watton

    Mr. Chapman,
    It seems very odd to me that you should choose to post your support for Prof. Crawley here, whilst completely ignoring all of the points at issue in the blog.
    If you have something to say, which addresses the flaws that have been highlighted in Prof. Crawley’s work in a sensible, well-reasoned manner, then please go ahead and put forward your point of view.
    Otherwise, you’re just acting like an attention seeker.

  • Jan Wade

    Esther Crawley is an evil human being perpetrating intentional harm and injury to an entire class of very ill human beings

  • James David Chapman

    Hello Paul. I posted my response to comments I read on this blog. Or course I would like people to read and consider them.

  • James David Chapman

    Again the label gets in the way of the more important *human* bit.

  • SummerSky

    Please examine your loyalties. If they are not with the children being abused by Crawley then you are also a problem.

  • James David Chapman

    I think demonizing unhelpful. The key issue here is bias.

  • It’s like a situation that Sense about Science should be interested in, especially after their “Keep Libel Laws out of Science’ campaign.

    They even have a shiny new website to “Ask for Evidence’. http://askforevidence.org

    I have no doubt they will leap to your (and our) cause.

    They are very independent after all.

  • James David Chapman

    You are mistaking me for someone else.

    I am just some random guy who says that people with m.e shouldn’t be branded “sick & crazy”. When you think about it, we probably agree on this.

    I also say that personal attacks on researchers are wrong, I’d hope we’d agree on that too.

    Best.

  • Steve Hawkins

    If you have read even one percent of the debate around the work of Crawley and her colleagues, you will know that the only person proven to have made any attack on a researcher is Crawley herself, in her libel of David Tuller. Her colleagues have done plenty of their own spirited ‘attacking’ of researchers who question their work, or even who help patients in ways they do not approve of. If you really care about this at all, you have picked the wrong side.

    If you are not the person with the same name that I am thinking about, then you are probably just trolling for the SMC, or SPIKED, or some allied group of professional stirrers, who has copied his identity. Please find another place to play. There are people here who are seriously ill, and need David Tuller’s help.

  • SummerSky

    They are demons to the children. Can you not see that? Regardless, getting uppity isn’t helpful either. Focus on getting the change they so desperately need rather than your personal wants/ideals. There is a bigger picture. If you can’t help (because this isnt) then I suggest you stay out of the situation. Yes I am biased towards defenceless children – so what.

  • davetuller

    I am trying to figure out how to remove the following post, which starts “Now you are going too far.” It currently shows up on screen as ‘in moderation” and I have tried to delete it but it still seems to be still visible. For reasons I don’t understand, the system seems to have having difficulty allowing me to delete it. The comment is based on a clearly mistaken notion of who Mr. Chapman is and therefore is an inaccurate description of the actions/beliefs/etc of the misidentified person. I do not moderate comments before they go up–the system marks some as spam and sometimes puts others in moderation–and this is the first time in two years that I can remember having been asked to remove one. I have no problem doing that in this case because the comment, as it stands, is self-evidently wrong on the facts. I sincerely apologize to the misidentified person for a comment that could easily be construed as offensive to him and for not being able to figure out immediately how to remove it. If I can’t figure out how to delete it myself, I will appeal to my colleague, Dr. Racaniello, who hosts Virology Blog and is far more technologically adept than me.

  • Olivia Rowe

    Hello again James,
    So from your posts here and on the previous blog post I understand that your advocacy efforts were scuppered by angry pwme name calling during that unpleasant furore in 2015. Nobody here has condoned that behaviour. David Tuller certainly hasn’t condoned that behaviour.
    I’m very sorry the furore happened, but do you not see that your posts here are undermining Tuller’s advocacy attempts? You can cut off your own nose to spite your face, but please don’t cut mine off too. And certainly don’t cut off the children’s.

    Please read Tina Rodwell’s posts and understand the urgency with which we need to see Dr Crawley’s power and influence over vulnerable children and their families ended. You and I may be secure in our situations, sick and tired of ME, but we have agency over our lives, we’re not being coerced into GET or attending school under threat of care proceedings.
    If Dr Crawley refuses to listen to her patients, their families, their advocates and all biomedical researchers all the while smearing and lying about patients to health care professionals and the media how are we supposed to reach an accord with her? We can’t allow this to continue.

    Demonising is unhelpful, as is bias – please examine your own because you clearly have some very significant bias of yourself. Please direct your anger at the right people, not those that are conducting themselves reasonably,

    Best wishes, Olivia

  • James David Chapman

    Hello. I think you are still confusing me with someone else. I am this guy:
    MEpedia ~ James David Chapman

    My work for people with m.e was described as ‘indefatigable’ ‘relentless & supportive enthusiasm’. I have a lovely Xmas card thanking me for my contribution to the cause.

    I stand against the abuse of patients and researchers. I can see a way to resolve the issue as a whole.

    James/.
    @batteredoldbook

  • Olivia Rowe

    ‘ I can see a way to resolve the issue as a whole.’
    Well that’s very positive, can you tell us what you envisage please?

  • EzzieD

    Re: ‘The key issue here is bias’: Yes, we are biased. Our bias is towards good science. And towards the doctor’s oath that says ‘first do no harm’.

  • davetuller

    I am trying to figure out how to remove the post that starts “Now you are going too far.” It currently shows up on screen as ‘in moderation” and I have tried to delete it but it still seems to be still visible. For reasons I don’t understand, the system seems to have having difficulty allowing me to delete it. The comment is based on a clearly mistaken notion of who Mr. Chapman is and therefore is an inaccurate description of the actions/beliefs/etc of the misidentified person. I do not moderate comments before they go up–the system marks some as spam and sometimes puts others in moderation–and this is the first time in two years that I can remember having been asked to remove one. I have no problem doing that in this case because the comment, as it stands, is self-evidently wrong on the facts. I sincerely apologize to the misidentified person for a comment that could easily be construed as offensive to him and for not being able to figure out immediately how to remove it. If I can’t figure out how to delete it myself, I will appeal to my colleague, Dr. Racaniello, who hosts Virology Blog and is far more technologically adept than me

  • Sten Helmfrid

    There is no question that some advocates on some occasions have behaved badly. But that does not make it right to evade legitimate concerns about research, for example wide inclusion criteria and bias in unblinded trials. It is a fallacy to claim that you are factually right because you feel that you have been mistreated—I believe the rhetorical term is argumentum ad misericordiam. It is wrong to use guilt by association and to implicitly hold all patients responsible for the actions of a few. It should also be pointed out that there are legitimate concerns that some researchers exaggerate the threats that have been made and intentionally conflate harassment with legitimate criticism.

  • Olivia Rowe

    Have you tried replying to the comment that needs to be removed and asking the commenter to remove their own post?
    The individual will receive an email telling them you have replied and alert them to the misunderstanding.

  • EzzieD

    Dr Tuller’s remit, as I understand it, is to address the issue of the bad science and quackery that has been inflicted on pwME for years despite their pointing out the harm this causes them. I can’t see why he should ‘want to address the issue of advocates’ behaviour with you’, that’s nothing to do with him. I myself don’t know who you are or what unpleasant advocate-related incident occurred, but if you want to discuss it, maybe you can do so on your blog or similar venue. It’s off-topic to what’s being discussed here.

  • davetuller

    Actually, it now seems to have disappeared. I guess the system takes a little while to respond.

  • James David Chapman

    Hey, thanks for asking. When all involved want resolution and reject abuse, I would seek to explain how it is that BPS researchers and patient advocates are, though very different methodologies, correctly describing different aspects of the same condition, M.E. I would then propose a way for the two groups to co-exist.

    James/.
    @batteredoldbook

  • Olivia Rowe

    I like that James, it’s a very good way of looking at the issue. Have you expanded on the idea anywhere? In a blog maybe? I’d love to hear more.

    My initial thought is that the resolution and abuse rejection would be more achievable after the explanation of your theory – but I haven’t heard enough to make an informed judgement.

    Please tell me more,
    Many thanks,
    Olivia

  • James David Chapman

    Thanks Olivia. Wise thought. Trouble is, I really have had enough abuse from the M.E community. Am deleting work rather than writing it, you know?

  • davetuller

    Hm, now it’s reappeared! Argh!

  • pinklil

    I think the foolproof way to remove it to ask the author of the comment to delete…..

  • davetuller

    Thanks! I just sent him a note, so hopefully he will.

  • Sten Helmfrid

    This is an odd remark. The same underlying principles for testing hypotheses apply to all branches of science. You mean that we should have one biopsychosocial branch in medicine, where issues of systematic bias are neglected, and one biomedical branch, where they are taken into account. One of the main problems with the biopsychosocial approach is that psychological and social causal factors have been accepted on much weaker grounds than biological factors; and that in most diseases with unknown or contested etiology, this has resulted in a strong bias towards an unsupported psychosocial understanding.

    I don’t know what abuse you suffered, and I am sorry to hear about it. However, I must remind you that people with the same pathology as the perpetrators are not responsible for what happened. I think that you are trying to appeal to pity in your comments.

  • James David Chapman

    Hello Sten,
    I’m not, in this instance, advocating for dual methodology within science, instead I am attempting to peacefully deal with what already appears to be the case.
    One reason you may not have heard about abuse in m.e is because advocates are highly resistant to passing the message on. I do understand who has been abusive towards me and who has not, however, it is also clear to me, that any patient or advocate had the ability to help me out.
    My current situation is the logical result of my choice to stand up for people with m.e who were being mistreated. While I am in a deeply unpleasant and yes, in some senses pitiable, position, I would make the same choices again.

  • Sten Helmfrid

    Hello, James!

    Thanks for your reply. The problem with dual methodology is that it leads to psychosocial bias in explanatory illness models and to misleading results in treatment studies. I think that it is unacceptable to peacefully accept bad science in order to avoid conflicts in the scientific community. An improvement in subjective outcomes of the same magnitude as in the PACE trial has been demonstrated in a study of homeopathy for ME/CFS (Weatherley-Jones et al, J Psychosom Res, 2004). By what principle do you accept the former results, but not the latter? What if homeopaths demand that systematic bias is ignored in their trials and claim that they are harassed if anyone objects? Are you saying that it is better that patients accept ineffective or harmful treatments than to demand reforms and self-criticism in scientific fields with poor standards?

    I don’t know if ME advocates really are that reluctant to bring up abuse, but the reason that no one wants to discuss it here is that it is besides the point. Prof. Crawley should be able to answer critical questions about her research and about public accusations she makes whether or not she is being harassed by other people. If she claims that Dr Tuller is responsible for harassment, she needs to prove it. She cannot use unproven accusations as an excuse to avoid legitimate questions about her research and her conduct.

  • James David Chapman

    I’d not suggest that we accept bad science as good. The resultant mix of disinformation and information, evidence and anti-evidence w/o distinction could only confuse. The trick here is to separate the wheat from the chaff while recognising that the chaff has structure, and in the right place, value.

  • jimells

    If your compass points north and mine points south, only one of us will arrive at our destination (without circling the planet). Obviously one compass needs to be tossed in the trash.

  • Sten Helmfrid

    James, you are trying to hide a serious problem in metaphors. Chaff may have value, but bad treatments cause harm to real persons. We cannot pretend that misleading studies are valuable and promote them in order to protect the careers of scientists who carried them out. You seem to forget that science and scientists are there for the patients, not the other way around.

  • James David Chapman

    Put it this way. You might want to challenge my views, or you might expect me to justify provocative statements like “PACE isn’t nonsense”, but fundamentally, while abuse (from others) is hanging over my head, this can’t really be a free and frank scientific discussion. I will always take a deep breath before I press POST. A pwme told me that they felt pressured into deleting posts on Twitter, that’s a real concern to me, because yes, I really do want robust scientific discussions and a free exchange of ideas.

  • James David Chapman

    I am aware of these reports (Countrygirl has posted a concern on PR today) and I raised patient concerns about such issues during my meeting with Prof Wessely some time ago. Having become ill at age 12, I am aware that we all have a responsibility to get this issue right for the sake of children and ypwme.

  • James David Chapman

    M.E took away my career in medicine. I still keenly feel this loss (ironically my offer was from the Royal Free). For the relationship to be a healing one, I think the physician’s responsibility to “do no harm” must be matched by his patient.

  • James David Chapman

    As long as you are aware of the direction your compass points in, you can compensate for it and arrive safely.

  • Sten Helmfrid

    It certainly cannot be a frank and open discussion when you constantly appeal to pity. If you cannot justify your arguments for fear of reprisals, how could I possibly respond to them? Obviously, I am not going to accept arguments like “PACE is great, but I cannot justify it, so you just have to take my word for it.” If your situation really is that vulnerable, maybe you should post anonymous comments.

  • Steve Hawkins

    Sorry David, I will endeavour to change it. The post is not substantially erroneous: I was mislead by a post on the site of the people concerned that is headed with what I took for the name of the blogger, but is just of someone sharing the views of the blogger.

  • Steve Hawkins

    Apologies James, I see now that I mistook your name at the head of a blog page was the name of the blogger. However, the people you are supporting on that page are the people I was referring to, and my points bar that of your particular relationship to those who were offended remain true to the events that I observed.

  • Steve Hawkins

    My notifications inbox is a bit full at the moment and I’m a day behind, but I hope my edits are now satisfactory. I’m afraid there is a glitch in Disqus once a post has been marked as spam: sometimes it allows deleting or editing; sometimes it won’t even highlight. :/