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