Trial By Error: The Crawley Chronicles, Continued

By David Tuller, DrPH

Update: About 20 minutes after posting this blog, I received the following communication from Ms. Paterson:

Dear Dr Tuller

Thank you for your email of 22 November.

If by a ‘cease and desist’ letter you mean a letter threatening legal action if the recipient does not stop a specified activity or behaviour, then I can confirm that the University of Bristol has not sent you or your institution such a letter.

However you will be aware that the University of Bristol has for many years enjoyed a close and valued collaborative relationship with the University of California, Berkeley, and it is my understanding that private and confidential communication has taken place at a senior level about your actions and behaviour towards staff involved with research into chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis at the University of Bristol.

Yours sincerely
Sue Paterson

I note that this message from Ms. Paterson confirms that Professor Crawley’s statement about Bristol sending me a cease and desist letter is not true. I also note that it contains no evidence or documentation that anything I have written is inaccurate or in error, and that Professor Crawley has still not taken me up on my offers to correct any mistakes and post her full comment on Virology Blog.

I have not responded to Ms. Paterson at this point. I await further developments with interest.


Bristol University has an Esther Crawley problem. A week ago, I e-mailed Sue Paterson, Bristol’s director of legal services, asking her to clarify as soon as possible whether the university had sent me a cease and desist letter. Professor Crawley made such a claim in a November 17th talk at the University of Exeter, in response to my question about why she had accused me of libel and then refused to provide evidence that anything I wrote was in error. Her statement about this issue was clear and unambiguous: “You have been so unbelievably defamatory and unprofessional that I had to get my university to send you a cease and desist letter,” she said.

As I pointed out to Ms. Paterson, I have received no such letter. Since I cannot cease and desist anything if I don’t know what I am being asked to cease and desist from, I requested that she provide me with a copy of this letter immediately. I also asked her to explain, if no such letter actually existed, why Professor Crawley would make such an untrue statement.

Ms. Paterson has not yet responded, nor has anyone else from Bristol. Whether or not the university sent me a cease and desist letter is an empirical question with only two possible answers. Determining the facts does not require an extensive investigation. Ms. Paterson presumably knows whether a letter was sent, since it seems likely that it would have come from her department. While my understanding is that Bristol has 20 working days to respond to such a letter, I fail to see why it should take this long, especially given the urgency and seriousness of the matter.

So what to make of Bristol’s extended silence? I could be mistaken, but until informed otherwise I am taking Ms. Paterson’s non-response as confirmation that no letter was sent. My presumption—and again, I could be wrong—is that Bristol’s legal department needs more time to strategize about how to “disappear” this public relations disaster created by Professor Crawley, or at least how to mitigate the inevitable fall-out.

In fact, it seems to me that Professor Crawley doesn’t really need my “libellous” help in causing damage to her reputation. She appears to be doing a pretty decent job of that on her own. She has now accused me three times in academic settings of being libelous or defamatory. She has declined to take advantage of my repeated offers, conveyed via e-mail, to post her full response to my concerns on Virology Blog, as well as to correct any mistakes she can document. Her apparent conviction that a libel accusation is a valid substitute for a coherent defense of her questionable methodological and ethical choices is perplexing and obviously misguided.

Professor Crawley also raised the specter of consulting with “the police,” implying that I am engaged in dangerous and threatening activities. As Ms. Paterson undoubtedly knows, strongly worded opinions and interpretations, based on facts and related to a matter of significant public interest, are not currently illegal in the U.K. Nor is asking a question at a public event. My work does not pose a danger or threat to Professor Crawley’s person or physical safety. For her to suggest otherwise is ridiculous and offensive.

Her actions also seem to demonstrate once again that she is either unwilling or unable to provide adequate and credible responses to the serious criticisms I and others have raised. Instead, she slams patients as “vexatious” for filing freedom of information requests and attacks me as “libellous” and “defamatory” for posing tough questions.

Someone really needs to stage an intervention.


And on a related front…On November 3rd, the magazine New Scientist published an article about an important new study from Newcastle University. The study, called “Cellular bioenergetics is impaired in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome,” reported that patients suffer from mitochondrial dysfunctions that limit their ability to generate energy.

The story included the following enthusiastic quote from Professor Stephen Holgate, a well-known expert in immunopharmacology from the University of Southampton: “These exciting results confirm what others have postulated but not been able to prove, namely that cells of patients with CFS are easily metabolically exhausted when put under any form of stress…In many ways, this is how patients describe their whole-body experience with CFS.”

In addition to his position at Southampton, Professor Holgate is the chair of the CFS/ME Research Collaborative. In that capacity, he works closely with Professor Crawley, who serves as the organization’s deputy chair. He has proven himself to be a staunch supporter of her research. At the Science Media Centre’s press conference last year promoting the launch of FITNET-NHS, Professor Crawley’s trial of online cognitive behavior therapy for kids, Professor Holgate declared it to be “high-quality research.” In my post about FITNET-NHS, I criticized Professor Holgate’s willingness to offer unalloyed praise for this very problematic study.

Professor Crawley’s research on ME/CFS has largely focused on treating kids with cognitive behavior therapy and graded exercise therapy. (That is, until she decided to investigate the cult-like Lightning Process—more next week on that misbegotten mess of a study.) As described in the discredited PACE trial, both of these rehabilitative treatments are grounded in the hypothesis that patients are suffering from severe deconditioning but not from any underlying organic disease. The illness is presumed to be “reversible” with these therapies.

Professor Crawley has famously declared that PACE is a “great, great” trial—despite the abundant evidence to the contrary. She has misrepresented the reanalyses of the PACE trial data, which authoritatively proved that the investigators reported wildly inflated results by significantly weakening their outcome measures. With regards to FITNET-NHS, Professor Crawley has stated that two-thirds of the children in the online CBT arm of a similar Dutch study recovered after six months—even though that earlier study was also riddled with methodological flaws that completely undermine that finding.

Such claims pose an interesting dilemma for Professor Holgate. If New Scientist quoted him correctly and he genuinely believes the Newcastle study convincingly showed that “cells of patients with CFS are easily metabolically exhausted when put under any form of stress,” is he still convinced that online CBT is an appropriate intervention and that FITNET-NHS represents “high-quality research”? What does Professor Holgate now think about graded exercise therapy, which Professor Crawley is investigating in her MAGENTA trial? Does he share Professor Crawley’s belief that PACE is a “great, great” trial?

To simultaneously support both the Newcastle study and the treatments promoted by Professor Crawley and other members of the CBT/GET ideological brigades seems–at least to me–somewhat inconsistent and intellectually unsound. In Professor Holgate’s considered view, what is the plausible biological mechanism through which a course of CBT or GET could fix or “reverse” the dysfunctional energy production cycle identified by the “exciting results” of the Newcastle study? If the mitochondria are not generating sufficient energy for normal cellular function, how can changing patients’ thoughts about their illness and encouraging a steady increase in exercise resolve those physiological defects?

Professor Holgate is a smart guy, so perhaps he can provide reasonable and cogent answers to these questions. If so, it would be helpful if he could enlighten those of us who find it difficult to reconcile these divergent perspectives.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sean 29 November 2017, 11:07 am

    The fragrant Ms Crawley & her followers on the CMRC have delusions of adequacy…

  • Brenda Vreeswijk 29 November 2017, 11:11 am

    This is such an exiting saga…always think it couldn’t get worse…and still every time she amazes everybody.
    She’s standing on a pile of rubble…the latest result of her trials… and still she claiming that she build a beautiful castle. And then Holgate…well maybe if he just very gentle and quietly sneaks to the other side…maybe no one will notice.
    David…you are the tiny pebble in the shoe…not noticed in the beginning…but the longer you’re there…the more bruises you cause and the more annoying you get. So thank you again for this very entertaining piece…it would really be hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious matter.

  • Wendy Boutilier 29 November 2017, 11:16 am

    Many of the best scientists can be fooled by pseudoscience. But pseudoscience is afraid of one particular type of people who are very hard to fool – those who can prove them wrong.

  • Anil van der Zee 29 November 2017, 11:26 am

    The answer to your question is that the body and mind are connected David. Fixing the mind can potentially fix the body. That’s what CBT and GET do. Disregarding how this physiological defect came about. Thank god we don’t treat an STD like chlamydia and syphilis with CBT but with actual antibiotics.

  • Laura Vitale 29 November 2017, 11:26 am

    Could someone please make a documentary about this. The world needs to know exactly how much crazy-ass bullshit has obstructed the real science needed to help the 17million people suffering and dying from M.E.

  • smashman42 29 November 2017, 11:31 am

    I reckon, with no basis for this opinion whatsoever, that Holgate and most others like him will take the “CBT & GET are supportive management therapies” angle, ignoring that they weren’t used that way in PACE etc & were claimed to be curative. That way he (and others) don’t have to say anything negative about their biopsychosocial mates but can still jump on the biomedical bandwagon now they’ve realised which way the wind is blowing.

  • Anton Mayer 29 November 2017, 11:57 am

    Another lie exposed. Good job.

    I’ve heard that Crawley wants to do another LP study. Can you believe it! The way things are going, this is not going to end well for her.

  • johnnydme 29 November 2017, 12:07 pm

    Based on Sue Paterson’s response to you (beyond the falsehood of Ester Crawley’s “cease and desist” claim ) it seems if anything, you have been the victim of intimidatory and “silencing” behavior–not her.

    Of course it’s a bitter irony similar behavior has been used against ME sufferers old, middle aged…children–easy to relate!

  • Leela D 29 November 2017, 12:28 pm

    “private and confidential communication has taken place at a senior level about your actions and behaviour towards staff”

    Interesting to note that none of this was communicated to Mr. Tuller, so it clearly was not something UCBerkeley deemed worthy of any further attention. Is it safe to assume the “senior level” people there told the “senior level” people at Bristol *so long and thanks for the fish*?

  • Amy McLaughlin 29 November 2017, 12:31 pm

    I have never known of a single occasion where Prof Crawley or any of the other BPS school have addressed the science that bears out exactly what ME patients have been describing for decades. There are now numerous studies that show the energy production systems in our bodies are broken, that there is wildly abnormal gene expression following activity, etc. We cannot manage two day CPET tests. It really is as if they were trying to treat diabetics by insisting they need to adjust to sugar. Obstinately promoting dangerous pseudo-science, they are responsible for incalculable harm done to people who have an organic disease. This is completely unethical, an utter disgrace.

  • Peter Trewhitt 29 November 2017, 12:31 pm

    When is the University Bristol going to reign in Prof Crawley, rather than just fudging the issue?

    With her harrasment claims, Bristol University first say in response to the Tymes Trust freedom of information request there was no reported harrasment of their staff by third parties, but then after the fact rush to defend Crawley by claiming they have worked with her in relating to dealing with harrasment, but specify no details.

    Now their legal Department when acknowledging there was no ‘cease and desist’ letter as claimed by Crawley, say “However you will be aware that the University of Bristol has for many years enjoyed a close and valued collaborative relationship with the University of California, Berkeley, and it is my understanding that private and confidential communication has taken place at a senior level about your actions and behaviour towards staff involved with research into chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis at the University of Bristol.”

    So an unnamed person at the University of Bristol communicated in an unspecified fashion with an unnamed person at the University of California raising unspecified issues in relation to David Tuller and by implication Esther Crawley, but this is private and confidential. Let’s hope the unnamed person at the University of California returns a very unambiguous response to Bristol.

  • Trish Davis 29 November 2017, 12:44 pm

    This is surely unacceptable behaviour of Bristol University. I hope U C Berkeley told them to address their complaint officially and in writing spelling out exactly what they are accusing you of doing.

    Better still I hope they told Bristol University that they are making fools of themselves supporting Professor Crawley without looking into the detail of your very careful and valid critiques of her work.

    Going secretly behind your back to try to discredit you is perpetuating EC’s attempts to smear your good name.

  • Joh 29 November 2017, 12:51 pm

    I like alliterations and the “Crawley Chronicles” sound very promising! 🙂 A little creepy perhaps.

    The English language needs the German word “Fremdschämen” (to be embarrassed for someone else) just to talk about EC’s actions.

  • Christina Omorochoe 29 November 2017, 12:56 pm

    If by a ‘cease and desist’ letter you mean a cease and desist letter, then no. But if you mean intimidation and coercion, then yes.

  • Olivia Rowe 29 November 2017, 1:07 pm

    “and it is my understanding” is a fudge phrase that means “I have no proof of this fact, I’m taking someone at their word”.
    This is Bristol giving themselves a get out clause because they’re not certain someone is giving them honest and accurate information.
    Keep it up David, they’re on the ropes.

  • mesupport 29 November 2017, 1:11 pm

    How one may come to such an understanding is a question worthy of an answer.

  • davetuller 29 November 2017, 1:29 pm

    Professor Crawley also has an understanding that I have libeled her and that Bristol has sent me a cease and desist letter–both untrue. So yes, the letter is weirdly worded and certainly not at this point something to spend a lot of time fretting about.

  • pinklil 29 November 2017, 1:51 pm

    As a Brit I sincerely hope that the “private and confidential communication (which) has taken place at a senior level ” between Bristol and Berkeley leans more to the stance Geraghty’s Uni made when the Wessely School tried to blackmail him into silence… ie that Berkeley, having properly assessed the truth of the situation, will be convinced that Tuller has nothing to apologise for and only the gratitude of desperate patients worldwide for exposing the duplicity of the BPS model / Wessely School, whilst Crawley should be getting her P45 (or worse) for sub standard work, not to mention *lying* on a public stage, in an academic setting, with the obvious intention of smearing the name of another, visiting, academic. She really is a piece of work.

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 29 November 2017, 1:52 pm

    “it is my understanding that private and confidential communication has
    taken place at a senior level about your actions and behaviour towards
    staff involved with research into chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic
    encephalomyelitis at the University of Bristol” sounds like a threat. Behave, or we’ll tell the people you work for.

    How are investigative journalists to find and publish the TRUTH if their very livelihood is threatened?

    I find this response right on the edge of actionable – which is what they wanted when responding in this way.

    Please store up all these things, and continue to be civil and to investigate.

    Is someone accusing YOU of libel in public not actionable itself?

  • Valentijn 29 November 2017, 1:54 pm

    Can you make an FOIA request to Bristol to get their correspondence or records regarding you?

  • pinklil 29 November 2017, 1:59 pm

    Sounds like a plan… that or simply ask Berkeley maybe..who I’d wager might be less inclined toward the Le Carre style skulduggery than Bristol….

  • Samuel Eglington 29 November 2017, 1:59 pm

    Personally I would just ask my employers to issue a statement of support and release to me any correspondence relating to me, this is a very obvious threat. I think it is very unlikely they have actually sent anything. One thing I would like to see covered is harassment by the BPS school in the UK, it would seem to be quite extensive.

  • pinklil 29 November 2017, 2:05 pm

    Lying seems to be part of their MO. It’s hardly professional is it? And I think we now have enough evidence that Esther Crawley is a habitual liar. So I can now type such a sentence here without any fear of libeling her! She does lie. Rather a lot.

  • Findlow 29 November 2017, 2:18 pm

    Thankyou so very much for your persistence on behalf of pwME, David. I suspect your shoulders are broad enough to carry the attempted UK establishment intimidation, but should you feel like opening the field to other dogged investigators, have you considered contacting Channel 4 news – Jon Snow and team aren’t ones to pussy-foot around when injustice and cover-ups abound. Only a thought.

  • pinklil 29 November 2017, 2:26 pm

    “” In these crazy situations I am reminded of the quote: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad”. This appears particularly appropriate when you consider Prof Crawley’s recent outrageous behaviour ….”

    (from )

  • Samuel Eglington 29 November 2017, 2:31 pm

    If they aren’t ones to pussy-foot around why haven’t they covered the the PACE trial already?

  • Margaret Smith 29 November 2017, 2:33 pm

    Exactly Trish. It paints them in exactly the same light as her – underhand!

  • Findlow 29 November 2017, 2:39 pm

    Fair comment!

  • jimells 29 November 2017, 3:01 pm

    Professor Crawley isn’t digging fast enough so they brought in a backhoe.

    Keep digging, Professor Crawley – the faster you dig the sooner the Wessely School will collapse and allow real researchers to get on with it.

  • Lou Corsius 29 November 2017, 3:36 pm

    ‘However you will be aware that the University of Bristol has for many years enjoyed a close and valued collaborative relationship with the University of California, Berkeley, and it is my understanding that private and confidential communication has taken place at a senior level about your actions and behaviour towards staff involved with research into chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis at the University of Bristol. ‘
    What is it called what Sue Paterson is writing? Is that a threat? Is it harassment? It sounds like she is accusing you of something. And is it allright to write about private and confidential communication that has taken place. The fact that she is mentioning this (and that she is suggesting a lot which in turn she also does not substantiate) makes it not private and confidential anymore. Isn’t that libellous or defamatory?

  • Seven 29 November 2017, 3:51 pm

    As I had expressed before, I am concerned about David T, since this whole CFS history and situation started, when people get too close, they get discredited and intimidated and professionally in trouble. Please cover all your basis and try to involve other high regarded professionals, if a lot of people keep digging, they cannot keep shooting down honest people. I appreciate all you do for us, but please be careful. You are asking all the right questions (unfortunately for you). This CFS from the beginning has been one charade after the next, and the attitude of the agencies and professionals involved goes beyond what people have described as arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. They all are covering for each other, they all know what they are doing. The question is who is paying whom and why. I cannot wait until we have the full CFS story from the beginning. This will be an Oscar winning documentary. Maybe we are nothing but a product of UK’s version of the Tuskegee Study

  • anniekim 29 November 2017, 4:03 pm

    As always, thank you David. Shocking Bristol Uni are still implicitly defending her.

    Re Holgate, I speculate he has possibly bought into the idea promoted now by his BPS friends that CFS is many different fatiguing illnesses. So the Newcastle research in his mind applies to one group under the CFS umbrella. I’d argue this group are the patients who fit the tighter ME case definitions.

    The BPS proponents are in my opinion hoping for a whitewash and will never take responsibility for conflating a neuro immune illness with the single symptom fatigue ( present in many conditions) causing so much harm to patients. When the mounting biomedical research becomes too strong to ignore they will keep their non-ME fatigue patients and continue giving them CBT and GET with no accountability for the misery they have caused. Of course even these patients may not respond to CBT and GET and have missed diagnoses.

  • anniekim 29 November 2017, 4:16 pm

    Also of course not only is it shocking that they continue to implicitly defend her, but they have in an underhand way contacted Berkeley and shared this with you in my opinion in an intimidating manner.

  • Sheila Campbell 29 November 2017, 4:30 pm

    Yes indeed underhand and intimidating. She also failed to make any comment or apology for Professor Crawley repeatedly lying about the cease and desist letter.

  • Matthew G Webb 29 November 2017, 4:35 pm

    Just by the way, did u all know that earlier this year the bbc had been intending on a newsnight item on pace trial flaws. David and dr wrc weir put the case against the pace trial while wessley et al intervened to dissuade michael buchanon fron the expose. It was ultimately shut down after an ” independent anaylsis ” of pace concluded it was not misleading. I never managed to find out who did the independant anaylsis and was very dissapointed but i Couldnt find out who did the said anaylsis . I think someone should approach chanel 4 . Im not well enough or the best personnto do it. I did my best with the bbc introduction which i did through a friend who works there. She took the case to michael buchanan.

  • Erik Johnson 29 November 2017, 4:45 pm

    I remember watching Dr. Crawley presenting at the 2009 IACFS/ME conference in Reno.
    It was astonishing to see how out of place she was amongst all the discussion of measurable immune abnormalities and observable anomalies on brain scans. Yet she proceeded on, seemingly oblivious, or perhaps, wanting to be oblivious to the way others there were treating this as a serious neuro-immune disease.
    It put me in mind of this famous quote.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”. -Upton Sinclair

  • Maree 29 November 2017, 4:54 pm

    The claims of libel, defamation and “cease and desist” letters have been made in public forums. A public response from Bristol University pointing out where David Tuller’s statements are wrong/libelous/defamatory is expected and deserved if that is their position, if it is of the view that its staff member Ester Crawley’s claims are justified.

  • clark ellis 29 November 2017, 5:00 pm

    “However you will be aware that the University of Bristol has for many years enjoyed a close and valued collaborative relationship with the University of California, Berkeley, and it is my understanding that private and confidential communication has taken place at a senior level about your actions and behavior towards staff involved with research into chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis at the University of Bristol.” Wow, that’s some admission. Why would there be private and confidential communication to your University unless they were trying to apply pressure to get you to stop pointing out the flaws in Crawley’s research? Sounds well dodgy. In case you are unaware David the UK Data Protection Act may provide you with some legal right to see the parts of those communications held by Bristol that you are the subject of. It can’t be private because it is about a matter relating to the work of the university which is considered a public body.

  • Alex Young 29 November 2017, 5:05 pm

    The Crawley Chronicles might make a good name for a book in time when yet more is revealed. I would buy it.

  • Maree 29 November 2017, 5:10 pm

    Maybe it is time to send letters of support for David Tuller to the University of California, Berkeley?

  • davetuller 29 November 2017, 5:10 pm

    Yes I’d like to file for the communications. So I could file under the Data Protection Act, not Freedom of Information?

  • anniekim 29 November 2017, 5:14 pm

    Yes, very true!

  • anniekim 29 November 2017, 5:17 pm

    Didn’t know that, but sadly not surprised was shut down 🙁

  • Barry 29 November 2017, 5:44 pm

    False competency beliefs.

  • Graham McPhee 29 November 2017, 5:49 pm

    I think that “private and confidential communication has taken place at a
    senior level” is a pretty good description of what has been happening
    to the world of ME in the UK for the last 40 years. How else can such
    poor-quality research and such abysmal understanding of logical,
    scientific and statistical thinking have been so influential, and so
    many attempts to shed light on the faults been so solidly blocked?

  • Alfie Banister 29 November 2017, 6:04 pm
  • Barry 29 November 2017, 6:33 pm

    How indeed.

  • Paul_Watton 29 November 2017, 6:44 pm

    FWIW, it certainly strikes me as being implicitly threatening,

  • uab9876 29 November 2017, 6:44 pm

    If you make a FoI request and it includes your personal data then they should sort out which parts are FoI and which are a subject access request

    “Section 40(1) – personal information of the requester

    This exemption confirms that you should treat any request made by an individual for their own personal data as a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998. You should apply this to any part of the request that is for the requester’s own personal data. They should not be required to make a second, separate subject access request for these parts of their request.”