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National Institutes of Health responds on M.E. lecture

November 16, 2016

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has said that it “remains firmly committed to using scientific methods to uncover the biological mechanisms that cause M.E./CFS.” This is in response to an NIH decision to host a lecture by Dr Edward Shorter on the history of M.E.

The letter from the M.E./CFS International Alliance was one of many highlighting Dr Shorter’s use of terminology such as “physic illness” and referring to people with M.E. as being “delusional.” The Alliance asked that either Dr Shorter’s lecture was cancelled or that an evidence-based scientific perspective was also presented at the event.

The Trans-NIH M.E./CFS Working Group has now responded, stating that the lecture did not reflect the views of the NIH and that welcoming disagreement is productive in securing scientific progress:

Please know that the lecture you asked about was not sponsored by either the M.E./CFS Special Interest Group or the Trans-NIH M.E./CFS Working Group, which means that it does not reflect the ideas, opinions, or policy of the NIH or the scientists now working on this disease. Given the professional and learning environment that NIH promotes, dozens of people come each week to the NIH to exchange ideas with NIH scientists; the scientists who attend these lectures frequently challenge or disagree with the speakers’ ideas. In scientific circles, disagreement with what is said is often more scientifically productive than agreement. The exchange of information and divergent opinions, followed by critical analysis, is essential to moving any field forward.

The most important thing that we wish to share is that NIH remains firmly committed to using scientific methods to uncover the biological mechanisms that cause M.E./CFS and to improve the lives of people who have been suffering for years, and even decades. Comments made in a seminar will not undermine the progress of science at NIH.

The M.E./CFS Working Group also stated that a patient and a community physician shared their perspective at the seminar, and that the event was attended by approximately 15 scientists. They further reiterated that the lecture “will have no impact on NIH’s interest in doing everything we can to advance the science of M.E./CFS.”