Trial By Error: My Letter to Kate Kelland

By David Tuller, DrPH

This morning I sent the following e-mail to Kate Kelland, the Reuters reporter who wrote last week’s story about horrible patients and horrible me, and about how all this horribleness is affecting Professor Michael Sharpe. I cc’d Professor Racaniello and the two Reuters editors listed on the story.

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Hi, Kate–

Congratulations on last week’s piece. It was late August when we met in New York, so I was wondering when it would appear. While I will be responding at greater length in the near future, I wanted to raise two issues of immediate concern.

First, you wrote this: “Tuller has also posted a 15,000 word review of it [PACE] via the website of a Berkeley colleague.” That statement is false.

In the course of your reporting last fall, you exchanged e-mails with Professor Vincent Racaniello. You contacted him because he is the host of the science site Virology Blog, which published my 15,000-word “review” of PACE. Virology Blog also published the 140+ posts mentioned in your story as well as various open letters to The Lancet and elsewhere about the egregious flaws of PACE and related research. Professor Racaniello is a prominent microbiologist at Columbia University. He is not affiliated with Berkeley. I have cc’d him here in case you need him to confirm that he cannot accurately be described as “a Berkeley colleague” of mine.

When you contacted Professor Racaniello last October, you asked him what he thought about my work and why it was appearing on Virology Blog. Here’s part of what he wrote:

“David Tuller is doing important investigative journalism–he is exposing the flaws in the PACE trial for ME/CFS and along the way is encountering incorrect and unethical practices in other studies on the disease…I fully support his work as do the many other scientists, epidemiologists, and physicians who have signed his open letters. PACE was a poorly designed and executed clinical trial. Open label studies with subjective outcomes are inadequate for making policy decisions because it is impossible to know how much the responses are infused with bias. And if trial participants can meet outcome thresholds at baseline, as happened in PACE, that automatically invalidates the work as legitimate science.”

Your story did not include any mention of Virology Blog, Professor Racaniello, or the 100+ scientists, physicians and other experts who signed last year’s open letter to The Lancet about the PACE trial’s “unacceptable methodological lapses.” Nonetheless, given your exchange with Professor Racaniello and your apparent familiarity with Virology Blog, I was surprised when I read that my initial 15,000-word investigation appeared on “the website of a Berkeley colleague.”

I would of course have been happy to have been published on the website of one of my longtime Berkeley colleagues had such an opportunity presented itself, but Reuters readers have a right to the actual facts. And they have a right to all the facts–including my current professional standing. The article cites my doctorate from Berkeley but omits that I have an academic appointment as a senior fellow in public health and journalism at the Center for Global Public Health, which is part of Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Yes, I crowdfund to support my investigation, as the article noted–but I do that on Berkeley’s own crowdfunding platform, which is reserved for bonafide university projects. The money goes directly to the School of Public Health, not to me, and is used to cover my University of California salary, my health insurance and other employment benefits, and some travel expenses–just as if I’d received one big grant instead of 1000 small donations.

In other words, I am an official Berkeley academic employee–not a rogue actor without any apparent current professional affiliation, as your story implies. I have the strong support of the university and my faculty colleagues at the School of Public Health, who now use PACE as a case study of terrible research in epidemiology courses. In your story, you do not bother telling readers where PACE defenders like Professor Sharpe, Professor Wessely, etc., attained their degrees; rather, you provide their current professional status, as is appropriate. Given that, it is unacceptable, and antithetical to journalistic principles of fairness and balance, for you to treat my academic standing differently.

As I mentioned, I am preparing a more in-depth response to your article. In the meantime, I am requesting that the false statement about where my work appeared be corrected and that a mention of my current academic status at Berkeley be included. Thanks.

(In addition to Professor Racaniello, I have cc’d the two editors identified at the end of the story; I have used what seems to be the standard Reuters formula for deriving e-mail addresses.)

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.

  • Wendy Boutilier 18 March 2019, 1:18 pm

    Seems obvious to me that Mike Sharpe chose his reporter specifically. It’s good that you pointed out her misinformation regarding you and your position. The Authors of PACE lost their credibility in 2015. The good thing about the Rueters article is that it’s not limited to only those within the ME or CFS community so it may open some eyes to the cruelty patients have been subjected to.

  • Dr E Goudsmit 18 March 2019, 1:19 pm

    Nice letter.

  • Sheila Campbell 18 March 2019, 1:48 pm

    Excellent, you are absolutely right to ask for these corrections.

  • Scott Simpson 18 March 2019, 1:54 pm

    “…the School of Public Health, who now use PACE as a case study of terrible research in epidemiology courses”

    And now the School of Journalism can use Reuter’s Kate Kelland as a case study of terrible media outlets and journalists.

  • Jo Bruce 18 March 2019, 2:31 pm

    As ever, swift and sharp (excuse the pun). I’m fast becoming your no1 fan. I’m really looking forward to the more in depth response, the response to the Rod Liddel piece and the response to Sharpe et al’s defence of the criticisms.

  • Matthew 18 March 2019, 2:59 pm

    Brill dont let them of the hook.i look forward to your intended further more detailed response.

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 18 March 2019, 3:11 pm

    How did a reporter get such a biased beginning that all the data in the world didn’t make a dent? A deliberate ignorance of facts is not journalism of any kind.

  • Couch Turnip 18 March 2019, 3:14 pm

    An apology from Reuters, as well as a correction, would be nice.

  • Bazia 18 March 2019, 3:55 pm

    Thanks! I really wish I had the energy to sew a super ME hero cape for you!

  • Lou Corsius 18 March 2019, 5:24 pm

    Some time ago on Twitter Cfs_research described our analysis of five Dutch fatigue studies as ‘a hatchet job’. https://corsius.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/conversation-on-twitter-with-cfs-research-and-prof-michael-sharpe/
    I had to look that up. After reading Kate Kelland’s article I understand what a hatchet job is.

  • jace 19 March 2019, 5:27 am

    A friend of mine was treated by Sharpe in the early days of her ME – 1991. Let’s call her ‘Ali’ (no, not that one). Ali is a lovely calm university educated lady. The process Sharpe imposed on her put her in hospital. Sharpe’s last words to her on signing her off as a fail was “We will be proved right, our careers depend on it”.
    Ali says now “It is beyond depressing that he is still being given air time and column inches to continue to spread his lies, deny the science, and paint himself as the victim.”

  • jimells 19 March 2019, 9:05 am

    I can’t remember where I first learned the phrase, “The job of the journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. It might have been a Robert Fisk lecture. Dr Tuller practices this sort of journalism every day.

    It’s not too late for Kate Kelland to learn this idea as well, although her Very Important friends might get upset if she decided to stop afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable.

  • Luke 19 March 2019, 11:19 am

    It’s unfortunate Kate left out the fact that more than 100 credible scientists and experts signed an open letter to the Lancet calling for an independent re-analysis of Prof Sharpe’s study (and why).

    It’s kind of important to mention in general.. and especially if you are mentioning other things like the fact that Dr Tuller tore up the study on a stage.

  • Jo 19 March 2019, 11:37 am

    Not all superhero’s wear capes.
    Thank you for continuing to give pwme a voice. Your involvement ensures that my anxiety about my illness is kept to a minimum.
    We live in a crazy world.

  • David Saunders 19 March 2019, 6:44 pm

    You may be interested in this article (https://mrtopple.com/2019/03/18/the-media-is-waging-a-coordinated-war-against-chronically-ill-and-disabled-people/) which shows a lot of links between Kirkland and the PACE trials.

  • boolybooly 20 March 2019, 4:47 am

    Flak from such quarters can only be considered a good sign.

    That Sharpe is trying to blame ME patients for his resignation from ME research I find incredible.

  • Mady Hornig 23 March 2019, 7:06 pm

    Remarkable strategy for getting all that’s wrong stuck in people’s heads. Disparagement can be particularly persistent. So sorry to see this happening to you, David, but admire the way you tuck just the right amount of sarcasm under the surface of your measured responses. As I went looking for the following quote that is often, and aptly in this context, misattributed to Twain – “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on” (CH Spurgeon, Gems from Spurgeon, 1859) – I found a priceless modern-day twist on it:
    “Trump: The truth can’t get its pants on if you keep pulling the rug out from under it” (attrib to smitisan; Disqus).

  • konijn 25 March 2019, 4:24 am

    thank you so much for the work you do and your incredible commitment! I have severe me/cfs. Get excausted allready to only trying to read it. Do not know where you get your courage year in year out, it is so exchausting – over and over the attacks.
    But really, a big thank you!!!!

  • Rebecca G 27 March 2019, 2:30 pm

    Today I read a shorter version of Kate Kelland’s article, on the UK’s i newspaper website. I was shocked at how one sided and inaccurate the story was. There was no attempt to show any other side of the story. The “science” of Sharpe and Wessley was not put in a global context, where genuine scientific research into ME continues. No real attempt was made to explain why patients are so upset with the PACE authors. I also noticed that the article made it sound like David Tuller’s work on PACE only happened in April 2018 after crowd funding, but surely his first work on exposing the PACE flaws pre-dates 2018? I do not feel this coverage is at all fair. It lumps ME patients in with climate deniers, when we all know that we desire and deserve genuine scientific research into the biology of ME. We, quite reasonably, do not desire any more money wasted on researching psychological treatments for a physical illness.

  • Keir Farnum 12 April 2019, 9:05 pm

    It amazes me that it’s soooo obvious that the biopsychosocial theorists went from formulating a plausible and logical sounding hypothesis to testing treatments on patients with no healthy controls and no objective measurements whatsoever. No attempt to even try to objectively prove their hypotheses. In essence they formulated an ad how hypothesis about the causation of ME and decided it was correct; not science in any fashion whatsoever. They never caught on to the fact there’s this thing called the “Scientific Method.” I guess they skipped high school.