By David Tuller, DrPH
In an interesting and unexpected development in the ongoing saga of my dispute with the University of Bristol, the chief executive of the National Health Service’s Health Research Authority sent a gracious note about my work to Carol Christ, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, on Wednesday, October 31. I did not ask the HRA to send such a letter, so I was surprised–and pleased–when my department head forwarded it to me.
Berkeley has strongly supported my right to make my case. No one from my department or the university has questioned my integrity or the accuracy of my investigative reporting on the methodological and ethical lapses in this domain of scientific inquiry. Half a dozen of my faculty colleagues have signed various open letters I have organized. Having said that, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the regulatory agency overseeing research ethics for the NHS express official appreciation for my role in this academic dispute.
I recognize that, in many ways, the HRA’s purview is limited, as the letter to Berkeley suggests. Perhaps those limitations need to be analyzed and addressed. I also have questions about the independence of the supposedly “independent” panel commissioned to review these Bristol studies. And I believe the mandated remedies–corrections in the ethics statements of all eleven studies–are inadequate.
My gut sense–which is not grounded in any specific information–is that this report represented some sort of perceived compromise solution. After all, no one could reasonably dispute the documented facts–just as no one can reasonably continue to dispute that President Trump was engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. But let’s put all that aside for the moment; I will elaborate on these concerns at a later point.
The HRA was aware of the Bristol vice-chancellor’s complaints to Berkeley about my “actions and behaviour.” So I very much appreciate that Teresa Allen, the chief executive, took the initiative to alert Berkeley to the outcome of the investigation. She did not have to do this. She presumably understood that Berkeley would interpret the letter as vindication of my position. I am therefore deeply grateful that she went out of her way to keep the chancellor of my academic institution in the loop. It means a great deal to me.
Here is the letter:
Dear Chancellor Christ,
You may be aware that we recently responded to concerns that David Tuller shared with us about several research studies involving patients with CFS/ME. This response, made in line with our processes for complaints and concerns, has taken a significant amount of time as we have had to work across a number of organisations and we are grateful to David for his patience. As the concerns raised with us were wide-reaching, unfortunately we were unable to answer questions which fell outside the remit of the Health Research Authority (HRA). You can read a full statement on our website https://www.hra.nhs.uk/…/outcome-expert-panel-review-eleve…/
We have identified and implemented a number of improvements to procedures as a direct consequence of David’s concerns together with similar questions raised by other individuals. We constantly review, with our Research Ethics Committees, the ways in which we work to ensure that they remain fit for purpose, and we are grateful when potential issues are brought to our attention.
We fully understand and support the need for more comprehensive research into this dreadful condition which affects so many people’s lives.