LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) – A respected science journal is to withdraw a much-cited review of evidence on an illness known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) amid fierce criticism and pressure from activists and patients.
The decision, described by the scientists involved as “disproportionate and poorly justified”, is being seen as a victory for activists in a research field plagued by uncertainty and dispute over whether CFS, also known as myalgic encephalopathy (ME), has physical and psychological elements.
Emails seen by Reuters show editors at the influential Cochrane Review journal asking researchers who conducted the analysis, which was published in April 2017, to agree to it being temporarily withdrawn.
They also ask the review’s authors to agree to a statement saying their analysis requires “further work in response to feedback and complaints”.
Published on the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane’s evaluations are considered a gold standard in scientific literature and known internationally as dispassionate analyses of the best evidence on a given subject.
It is unusual for Cochrane to withdraw a review without the authors’ agreement and unless new scientific evidence emerges for inclusion in an update.
Research into CFS and ME, widely referred to by the joint acronym CFS/ME, is highly contentious — in part because the illness is poorly understood. It is a severe, chronic illness characterized by long-term physical and mental fatigue.
Patient groups in the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere often challenge each other about the nature of the disorder, how it should be diagnosed and whether it can be treated. Scientists conducting studies on potential therapies say they are often harassed and verbally abused by groups that disagree with their approach.
Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience and philosophy at London University’s School of Advanced Studies, said the withdrawal decision set a worrying precedent for scientific evidence being over-ridden by the opinions of activists.