2nd May 2016
Dear Dr Spencer
In your acknowledgement of my letter of 15th April 2016 to Dr Richard Horton, you write: “We have received, considered and discussed your letter. We recognise that scientific findings can be a matter for debate, but disagreement, however intense, is not grounds for retraction of an article”.
In the light of the extensive international criticism of the PACE trial, I regard this as an unsatisfactory reply and ask you to reconsider.
My letter calling once again for a retraction of the PACE article is not about a “disagreement”: it is a critique alerting editors of The Lancet to basic errors of fact and to misuse of statistics by the PACE PIs.
The article you published in The Lancet in 2011 promotes the use of a non-effective intervention. You will recall that one of the PACE PIs, Professor Michael Sharpe, conceded this on 18th April 2011 when he said on air: “What this trial wasn't able to answer is how much better are these treatments than really not having very much treatment at all”.
There can be no doubt that the PACE trial did not fulfil its objective, which was to demonstrate the effectiveness of CBT/GET in “curing” ME, and that (as confirmed on 26th March 2016 by Rebecca Goldin, Director of STATS.org and Professor of Mathematical Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia): “flaws in this design were enough to doom its results from the start” (http://www.stats.org/pace-research-sparked-patient-rebellion-challenged-medicine/).
The many flaws were pointed out to you in my formal complaint of 28th March 2011: some of these were that the entry requirements and the primary outcome thresholds were changed after the trial had begun; it failed to report on its primary outcome measures as set out in the protocol; PIs relied upon the subjective reports of participants because the use of actometers was dropped and the few remaining objective measures of function failed to demonstrate any benefit from the PIs’ favoured interventions; there was an absence of blinding; it was not, as advertised, a randomised controlled trial -- there was no control group, and participants were not made aware of the conflicting interests of the investigators; astonishingly, it was possible for a participant to leave the trial with a lower physical function score and a higher fatigue score than their entry score, but still be classed as “recovered”.
That is a travesty of science, a tragedy for patients and is tantamount to fraud.
The accompanying Comment by Bleijenberg and Knoop (approved before publication by the Chief PI Professor Peter White) erroneously claimed a 30% recovery rate but, even though one of your senior editors promised it would be removed, the error remains uncorrected.
For the last five years the PACE study has been totally discredited by the international community of scientists: for the selective results you published to remain in the literature to be quoted uncritically by others continues to risk more iatrogenic harm.
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