SMC uncritically reinforces the orthodoxy

30 05 2022

To be honest, I felt quite mean leaving a negative review on Fiona Fox’s recent book “Beyond the Hype: The Inside Story of Science’s Biggest Media Controversies”, because it does provide an interesting insight into the workings of the Science Media Centre (SMC). However, it also provides an insight into the hypocrisy of science media communication with regard to some issues, and one issue in particular, ME/CFS.

Throughout the book, Fox clearly explains that the SMC’s role is to convey the scientific consensus to journalists in the mainstream media. However, what is not explained is how the SMC decides what that consensus is. This is problematic in areas of controversy, because although they may be uncritically reinforcing the orthodoxy, the orthodox view itself may not be correct, particularly if the proponents of that view are “a small and beleaguered group of scientists”.

The SMC seem to take it for granted that the consensus provided by a small group of eminent and influential scientists (in ME/CFS) is equivalent to that of a much wider, larger, diverse group of scientists (i.e. as in climate science). Just because a scientist is perceived as eminent and influential, does not mean they are always correct. A problem occurs when such a small group seeks to protect themselves from the more diverse group by actively seeking to limit criticism by denouncing any opposing view as “activism” or even “extremism”. The main failing here is that the SMC have defended a body of evidence without ensuring its veracity.

While those involved in the Climategate saga were told to ignore the personal attacks and to restate the science clearly, the approach to ME/CFS “activism” was to highlight the harassment and tell ‘good lies’ about the science. In fact, Fox’s chapter on ME/CFS is full of ‘good lies’, and the SMC have spent the past 20 years downplaying good biomedical evidence that shows that the current “consensus” view is flawed. It seems particularly odd that the same scientists who have been backed by the SMC all this time should then claim that they are being silenced.

The situation with ME/CFS is extraordinary. The SMC have taken it entirely on trust that the evidence stands up without allowing adequate debate. They have consistently ignored all criticism, and assumed that the researchers know what they are doing, and that what they are doing is right (the very embodiment of Argument from Authority). I doubt this is the only area of research where this is happening, but it is currently the area that is causing the most obvious harm, and over the longest period of time.


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6 responses

31 05 2022
Carla Jones

I’m not sure what the point is here? Are you arguing for or against better science for me/cfs? Or are you denouncing the illness altogether? I sure hope you are advocating for better science through appropriate funding that has been promised by NIH for decades. My 30 year career in psych came to a halt a decade ago because of this debilitating post viral disease.

31 05 2022
lucibee

Sorry it’s not clear. For better science, of course. The issue is, what type of research deserves appropriate funding, and who should decide that? In the UK, the only research that has been funded (and promoted by the SMC) is behavioural/psychological research, and many would argue that’s not appropriate.

31 05 2022
Margaret Laverick

Thankyou, when i wonder will they apologise to those they have supported in harming patients?

31 05 2022
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

The small, old, coterie of what they like to think of themselves as ’eminent scientists’ have been ignoring ACTUAL EVIDENCE from PATIENTS for so many years they believe their own lies in spite of a much more modern (and correct, evidence-based) understanding of a devastating PHYSICAL disease.

Allowing them one more time to be right is hugely detrimental to any progress, and cruel and vicious against the patients they haven’t been helping forever.

Yes, you need to call it, and thank you for doing so. Every chance they get to peacock is another day with pain and suffering beyond imagining for the vulnerable sick patients who were unlucky enough to get a mystery (ie, not yet known well) disease. I am not as severe as some, and these little prideful opportunities for the Old Guard make my blood boil (which I can’t afford).

31 05 2022
Piggeries

The Science Media Circus has become one more hydra-head of Spiked, which originated in the remains of an erstwhile left-wing group that is now a hard-right outfit. Fiona Fox is the younger sister of Claire ‘Lady Brexit’ Fox, singing from the same hymn-sheet. The SMC, like all the Spiked subsidiaries, exists to push a hard-right political agenda, it is not a neutral body. That it defends the quack ‘it’s all in your head’ analysis of ME/CFS says it all: even the NHS has dropped it for its treatment of the illness.

6 06 2022
Michael Dyson

Well said, thank you

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