The Witch, The Python, The Siren and The Bunny

WARNING: Philosophy Alert!

The New Inquisition? Meet Monty Python.

Are you a witch? We will tie your hands and feet then throw you in the water to see if you sink! If you do you were innocent, too bad. If you don't you are a witch, and we have ways to deal with witches. This was a very funny Monty Python skit. Its funny in part because it uses common reasoning - and common fallacies.

"If you have a disability you are faking it" is the implied claim by the current UK government and ATOS. We will cut you off from assistance, and not care if you die. If you don't die you were faking. If you do die, too bad - we need to cut costs and death is a great way to cut costs. Sure the system can be improved. We will get around to it ... eventually. In the meantime lets tweak a few features ... there, we made it better, how can you still be complaining?

Spending a Gold Doubloon to Save a Penny

This is effectively how those with ME and CFS are being treated in the UK, but not just those with neuroimmune diseases or MUSes - most disabled have to face this now. Its a new Inquisition in the worst Monty Python style. If you are disabled then you can work, you just have to be forced to do it. It doesn't matter that you may be dying - dying people have also been assessed as work capable. It doesn't matter if you can't even properly look after yourself or your domicile. It doesn't matter if travel is hugely problematic. It doesn't matter that there are not enough jobs for healthy people. It doesn't matter that most employers are reluctant to hire the disabled and that reluctance will grow to outright hostility if highly disabled people are being forced on them. It doesn't matter that large numbers of people win their appeals to restore benefits - you can cut them off again after only a month, and it can take many months for an appeal. It doesn't matter that all this may cost many times what it saves - they can spin it to sound good. It also doesn't matter that the suicide rate is heading into the stratosphere - thats not genocide, its business as usual.

This is about spending a gold doubloon to save a penny. Its irrational. Its immoral. Its an economic disaster unfolding. Careful rational spending would achieve better outcomes, and it might actually be cheaper to spend more rather than less to get more people off disability incomes.

It can be stopped.

I wonder if I should write a blog comparing the current British Government to the current Syrian Government? How many have died as a result of this? How many are homeless? How many live in torment, fear and profound mistrust of the establishment? This is not business as usual. This is not good government. This is the insane version of economic rationalism - its economic dogma.

The Siren Call.

Something similar is happening with the Dysfunctional Belief Model for CFS.

Sykes has pointed out that the diagnosis of CFS as a mental disorder makes use of what he calls the psychogenic inference. The psychogenic inference uses the following "logic":

"Premise 1. If there is no known physical cause for a
condition, there is no actual physical cause for the

Premise 2. If there is no actual physical cause for the
condition, the cause must be psychological.

Conclusion (The psychogenic inference). If there is no
known physical cause for the condition, the cause must
be psychological."
(p. 312 Functional,Reasons, Neuroscience and the Psychogenic Inference )

Sykes' paper Medically Unexplained Symptoms and the Siren Psychogenic Inference targets the first of these premises. Its not a defensible position. Its also possible, from a strictly logical standpoint, that there is a physical cause that has not been discovered yet. Or that there is a physical cause that has been wrongly dismissed. Or that there are both physical causes and mental causes - so why do they then proceed to ignore the physical?

The psychogenic inference relies either on unexplained symptoms or the lack of a known disorder causing the symptoms. The problem is that most CFS symptoms have physical explanations - you just have to do testing that goes beyond what the hospital system typically provides. So a very real alternative to mental causation is a simple lack of diagnostic and investigatory tests. This is defended on two grounds:

1. It costs too much and often comes up empty, so it is a waste of money.
2. Even if physical problems are found they do not know how to treat it anyway - again a waste of money.

The third through fifth unspoken points are:

3. Its not their problem that the lack of such testing means that patients cannot receive appropriate social support including financial support.
4. Its not their mandate to fund tests to support social claims - OK, maybe it is, but there isn't any funding, what can they do?
5. Its not their fault that they can't treat many of these problems - that requires cutting edge medicine, is often not well validated, requires a better understanding of systems biology which is not taught at medical school, and is often seriously expensive ... where is the money coming from? Who is going to fund this expensive research?

What Sykes does not discuss is the possibility the majority of current psychosomatic medical thinking is wrong. This is a whole other debate, one I will return to later. Sure there are mental issues that cause physical symptoms ... oh, wait, depression is closely associated with physical problems, as is anxiety. It couldn't be that those physical issues are driving the symptoms? No, surely not! :eek: Thats buying into the biomedical model, heresy! Sorry to point it out, but the biopsychosocial model does have a bio- part ... oh, and a social part too.

This is not to refute the importance of cognition, mood and behaviour on modifying brain induced symptoms. The brain is plastic, it can change. The physical issues in the brain might therefore be modifiable by various techniques including CBT - but that doesn't necessarily mean the problem is mental. It might be - or not.

So the basis of a psychiatric diagnosis is this: A patient has a psychiatric reason for their CFS unless a known physical cause is found - in which case even a diagnosis of CFS cannot be made as its diagnosed by exclusion. Therefore by definition, not evidence and reason, if they have CFS then they have a psychiatric illness. Case closed.

Or put another way: If you can't prove your not crazy then you must be crazy. They do not have to prove they are right, only that you can't disprove them - but no you can't do any tests. Its a presumption of craziness without evidence. Oh wait, yes, they use a symptom checklist. Presumed psychosomatic patients have these symptoms. If you have these symptoms you must :oops: therefore have a psychosomatic illness. Its only invalid if a known alternative illness explains the symptoms, like MS. If you have a physical illness with these symptoms that is not understood ... gosh, no, that could never happen! Sorry to point this out, but how many former psychosomatic illnesses are now known to be physical?

The Happy Happy Easter Bunny.

McLaren had this to say about psychoanalysis in his discussion of Popper:

"In 1922, at the remarkable age of twenty, Popper realized that, intellectually speaking, psychoanalysis was on a par with the Easter Bunny: there was nothing anybody could say or do that would force a committed analyst to admit his theories were wrong." (p. 9)

The DBM is a cognitive and behavioural version of the emotive ideas of Freud. It is an unproven model, and the model is not reality. If you always have an explanation, then nobody can prove to you that the diagnosis is wrong.

McLaren has an alternative model of mental disease based on what he calls a biocognitive model. Its just one of the alternatives out there. Functional medicine is also another model ... and by functional they do not mean psychological, but pertaining to the functional relationships between biochemical pathways and physiology, and based on systems biology. Rituximab, a chemotherapy agent, might be shown to be a cure in phase 3 clinical trials. Antiviral and immunological treatments get results up to an order of magntitude better than DBM treatments - so large that I will argue that an RCT is not required to demonstrate effectiveness. Yet somehow the DBM is considered THE alternative. I will get around to addressing the so called "evidence base" for the DBM in a later blog, including methodological flaws. I also intend to discuss the BPS model, and hope to show that it is likely the DBM has been eclectically crammed into the BPS model - but I am still investigating this and will it be well into next year at least before I have much to say on this.

So the DBM is an unproven, counter-factual and irrational position. Yet it is presented as the only evidence based model, with an implication that therefore it must be correct. I would prefer to believe in the Easter Bunny, I see evidence of the bunny every April.

It would be far more rational for the proponents of the DBM to claim that they have an hypothetical and controversial model with little clinical value, that its still experimental, the outcomes are poor, and that alternative models may have validity. No, what? How could they do that? Hmmm, ethics ...


My dear wonderful sir, bang on :)
But getting the corrupt medical profession to listen, or more likely, government to enforce radical shake ups of the medical profession, is low until the overwhelming mess washes over them and leaves very angry voters in its wake.
Hey I am missing something here - I've not been able to be Socio for most of ten years. The phython, the siren and the bunny - I think we know who they are !.

Forgot the Witch - the most telling of all - still at it how many centuries later.
alex, you always have a way with words, very intelligent and full of knowledge not sure if you are a writer or not but if not you should be : )

btw my son loves monty python and is a philosophy major your post reminded me of him and that made me happy, thanks for that : )
Thanks for the kind words. Hurtingallthetime, I wanted to be a writer as a teenager. As a ten year old I wanted to be a paleontologist (what boy does't like dinosaurs?) or a philosopher. Everybody laughed when I said I wanted to be a philosopher too. Now I get to write, even if its just blogs for now, and to indulge in a little rational thinking as best I can. Some childhood dreams never totally die. Bye, Alex
well alex you obvisouly have the talent and intelligence to be a writer so you should do it....funny you mention paleontologist my son i spoke of in earlier message also wanted to be a paleontologist
Hi Alex,

First, I really enjoy reading what you write. It's witty, amusing and thought provoking. You discuss many issues that I have been thinking of and writing on over the last few years, but you see it from a somewhat different perspective which for me is very enriching.

It's also a true victory (in my opinion) over your illness. And maybe you will also succeed in fighting those windmills.
There is a saying that even ten very smart men will find it hard to get out a stone thrown into the well by one stupid person. But, at least you are trying and maybe it will eventually work...

Our different perspective come from a different background, but also from a somewhat different illness. If the sound of hoof-beats means horses, then yours is that of a zebra in a large herd of zebras (which is disputed because who would believe such a large herd of zebras could be roaming the streets of Paris?), mine is a green zebra in a herd of horses. (and every child knows that green zebras don't exist).

The Witch-

Witches, in general, are those that we don't understand and threaten our system of beliefs or power in some way. It is wrong to assume that witch hunting is done only by ignorant people living in the middle-ages. What has changed is the system of beliefs and power, which appears secular and rationale.(and obviously secular/rational people can't engage in witch hunting).

Patients with "unexplained medical symptoms" threaten the medical system's beliefs and power. They do so even more if they have clear and objective evidence for being physically ill, which don't fit the paradigm of what their illness should be. We assign witches super-human abilities (such as not drowning if we throw them in the water or being able to control physiological function, such as stopping their breathing for an hour and "hyperventilating" at them same time, in a way that normal human beings obviously can't).

The way they are threatening us with those "super powers" gives us the right to be hostile toward them. They are not suffering patients that need our help, but "witches" that have come to threaten us. And like you say-"we have ways to deal with witches". Witches are such a horrible threat that we are even ready to sacrifice a few innocent people so that we don't miss one.

If you want proofs for what I say- this citation is taken from a paper in a respectful main-stream neurology journal, which any one can read-

"By presenting personal predicaments as physical illness, the hysterical patient is the doctor's worst nightmare, liable to expose conceptual and diagnostic weaknesses"
And therefore - "the diagnosis of hysteria is a challenge to the personal qualities of every doctor".

Spending ... to save a penny.

There is a saying that the way to hell is full of good intentions.
I think what you describe is the best example for that.
Taking care of the ill and the less privileged members of the society is clearly a noble and humanistic approach.
Preventing fraudulent Beauvoir and exploitation of the limited resources of the society is also an important goal.

So, it makes sense that we (as a society) will agree to provide help only to those that truly require it and tailor this help to their true needs.

But, now comes the problem- Many times we don't have ways to know who needs what help, unless we trust what they say. If someone has no legs and says he can't walk this is obvious. If someone has perfect legs but says he can't walk and is wheelchair bound and we also have objective evidence that he is paralyzed we can also accept that. But, if someone says that sometimes he can walk and other times he can't and there is no objective evidence for paralysis what do we do then?
If we trust everyone blindly then we have no way to prevent fraudulence. so, how can we know if someone is telling the truth or not?

And what if they are a witch and their "super powers" enables them to appear disabled, when in fact they are not?

But, wait, we have a solution for that. We can throw them into the water, see if they sink....etc....

This way we can continue to be humanistic and provide help to those who truly require it, and at the same time not be exploited by those who don't truly need it.

And what if a few innocent people are harmed? Well, no system is perfect, but at least we can know for sure that no witch was able to fool us.

By the way, it is perfectly OK to deceive those patients, in order to achieve the goal without them suspecting it.

Kanaan R, Armstrong D, Wessely S. Limits to truth-telling: neurologists' communication in conversion disorder. Patient Educ Couns 2009;77:296-301.

The siren call...

If we believe there are witches, the fact that some of those we thought were witches are not witches, does not make us question the existence of witches.

MUS is most threatening to the entire concept of psychiatry.
This is because the historical foundation of psychiatry and its division from neurology was based on the fact that some patients whose perplexing neurological symptoms couldn't be explained by the current understanding and knowledge (at the time of Charcot and Freud) had some relief (many times temporary) in their symptoms by techniques that were thought to effect the mind. (such as hypnosis, which we still don't know its exact mechanism). They did not think those patients didn't have a real physical illness, they just thought they can help them by those techniques until the physiological base will be found. (very similar to what current psychiatrists are saying about those diseases).

There are no objective tests for any psychiatric illness, because the whole concept of psychiatry is that it takes care of patients whose disease can't be understood by the current knowledge, so obviously they do not have any diagnostic tests, or else they would be understood.

If a patients has psychosis caused by an autoimmune disease such as SLE it is not a psychiatric disease.
If a patient has intermittent paralysis caused by an autoimmune disease such as myasthenia, it is also not a psychiatric disease.

So, how did psychiatry become a field of medicine ? Why was it separated from neurology?

Those are questions I don't have any good answers to.

I think they too realize how problematic it is, and therefore try to make their field of practice more science-based. So, they use the tools of science based-medicine. They create well-conducted clinical trials (even RCTs) that have stastically significant, but practically useless results. Very similar to showing that knowledge in math is related to a child's shoe size.

It may be even worse than that, as possibly what they achieve is not a desirable outcome (and may even be an undesirable outcome).

For instance, assuming that pacing of activities is beneficial in CFS, the outcome of a longer distance walked in 6 minutes is an undesirable outcome, because it means that the person did not learn how to preserve his/her energy.

Trained marathon runners know that they should never run at the top of their speed at the beginning of the race. In fact they should try and keep their pace at 70% of their max. ability. So, if you measure the speed at the beginning of the race, you may have faster runners who will never be able to reach the end.

There is also another interesting twist in the plot, those so called mind-manipulation techniques , which are the major tools of psychiatry (as opposed to other fields of medicine) are in themselves seen as some form of "magic" or "witchcraft" which should only be practiced by those who are qualifies and highly trained . When in reality there is nothing mysterious or magical about them and in fact form the base of social human interactions...
Hi Don Quichotte, as usual I have trouble disagreeing with you, though I would like to on principle. I am always looking for other options, but your perspective is similar to mine. That makes me a little wary, as I don't want to get bogged in group-think, but as I said I tend to agree with you.

I do enjoy your commentaries too. They give me things to think about, new angles and perspectives. Yes, its based on our backgrounds - we have different backgrounds but not, I think, greatly different stances on the search for understanding. I tend to trust analyses more if they derive similar conclusions using alternative methods. Its a little more robust, though no guarantee.

My philsophical stance arose from trying to reconcile systems theory with critical rationalism. Along the way someone pointed out Pancritical Rationalism to me. Its a different stance on the search for truth. The emphasis is not on knowing The Truth, but on asking questions, winnowing away at falsehoods.

For me being engaged in advocacy has restored my sense of empowerment. I lose as many battles as I fight (I have maybe a dozen unfinished blogs for example) but there are battles I win too - every blog is a minor victory over this disease. Completing both my degrees was another victory though at some cost.

Super powers: witches meet comic books meet superstition. We kid ourselves if we think superstitious thinking isn't alive and prospering in the current age. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Its also the price of rationality.

Disability Issues

Identifying who needs help is one problem. Identifying how to help them is another. There is an issue here though. There is a division of responsibility.

Those who fund patient help, including governments, do not see the irony in spending billions on patient care and support and spending only thousands on research (in proportion) to find better answers. The Someone Elses Problem idea has divorced people from connecting the different parts of the problem.

I can't speak for everyone, but I would be happy for fewer pension increases and more medical research going into my problem. The government might then say, oh, but you could donate some of your pension. Well, I have, but you have to know what to donate to, and you have to hear about it. Governments of course have a different problem - how many government projects turn out to be White Elephants? They want immediate benefits, so look for projects that promise results, but don't necessarily deliver.

Not doing the research to tackle the problem, to really understand it rather than apply quick bandaid solutions, is accumulating potential debt without having a corresponding asset. Its economic madness. Disability is growing. The aged sector of the community is growing. The capacity to deal with these things is, proportionally speaking, shrinking. We need planning, we need research, and unless society wants to embrace Eugenics concepts this has to start soon. What is happening in the UK to the disabled at the moment is, consciously or unconsciously, a functional equivalent to embracing Eugenics principles. I can see a collapse in Western democracies in the medium term to long term future if we simply treat this as business as usual.

Benefit fraud is quite rare, and a good chunk of it is patients who do not understand the system and are often too sick to engage with the complex and arcane requirements imposed on them. It does happen though, and as a disabled person I find fraudsters distasteful, but I am mindful that in any specific case I cannot jump to conclusions quickly as I do not have all the facts.

There is HUGE tax evasion fraud though, at all levels of income. Stamping out tax evasion would save us very very much more than stamping out benefit fraud - by orders of magnitude. Tax evasion on cigarettes in the UK is a much bigger problem than disability fraud if I recall correctly.


"By the way, it is perfectly OK to deceive those patients, in order to achieve the goal without them suspecting it." When you start deceiving, where do you stop? How can there be informed consent if there is no information? I am not OK with this stance at all.

The lack of objective testing in psychiatry is what puts it in the realm of pseudoscience. Not all psychiatric research suffers from this, and by inference that implies that not all psychiatrists are fooled by the claims, but its a major issue as I understand it.

Pseudoscience is the practice of taking superstition and dressing it up as science - with science as the new religion. I will have a lot to say on this in future blogs.

I agree with you about the 6 minute walking test. I can always do more if I push harder, but it is almost always a bad idea. On those rare occasions where there is no payback it is so very tempting to push even harder - there is so much I want to do. So very soon I do find a limit, go way over, and crash badly.

I once tried to become a salesman, partly to find work, partly to get out and meet people as I am an extreme introvert. I sucked as a salesman because my philosophical stance is honesty, and most products are not really that good. In fact I found a relationship between how bad a product is and how much we are rewarded for selling it. Go figure. So I learnt a few sales techniques. I see these being used by proponents of the Dysfunctional Belief Model. There is a claim that the use of spin and propaganda is another hallmark of pseudoscience. I have yet to look at this closely though.

Personally I think most psychiatry will disappear in time. It will be taken over by neurology or social support systems, such as regular counsellors. I see psychiatry as an interim stand-in for real science. We need something but the brain is so complex that we are very slow at making the research breakthroughs we need.

On these points I note there is a claim that more and more new psychiatrists are going into biomedical approaches, and psychosomatic medicine in particular is becoming dominated by older and older psychiatrists. That puts a time limit on the psychosomatic discipline.

On mind manipulation and pseudoscience, you might like to read an old irreverent blog of mine:

BPS and EBM again

The biopsychosocial movement is trying to jazz up psychiatry. They have failed. They have failed because, I currently think, they have used it as a gloss for business as usual, and failed to embrace (at a research level) what BPS is really about. The systems movement is alive and prospering in both biosciences and social sciences.

Another problem I see, and will be looking at, is that when a new paradigm is touted its too quickly embraced at both the research level and in clinical practice. This is a mistake. A lot of the bells and whistles involved in EBM and BPS belong in research. Only when it is well developed can it transition to clinical practice. Researchers can go way beyong the scope of a practicing physician in finding solutions, and they should do this, but that can then be structured and tested in clinical settings. Too much "evidence" based stuff is still experimental. The entire DBM is still experimental.

Bye, Alex
I am always looking for other options, but your perspective is similar to mine.
Yes and no. It is similar enough for us to have common grounds to have a constructive discussion, but dissimilar enough for us to learn from each other.

we have different backgrounds but not, I think, greatly different stances on the search for understanding.
Again, yes and no. We both experience what it means to be zebras in a world of horses.
My position is that of someone who takes care of horses (and zebras, including green zebras) while at the same time being a green zebra.
As a green zebra in a herd of horses (and as one who has seen much more horses than zebras, let alone green zebras), I was seen as a horse and expected to be one. But, this failed every time.
It made me ask myself at some point, if possibly in the herd of horses there are many more zebras than we think. And if treating them as horses doesn't (as opposed to what we want to think) lead to more harm than good.
I believe it made my treating physicians ask the same questions, but this (very disturbing question) made them want me (the cause of that question) to disappear, or become a horse. To their dismay, I did neither. Only a few of my colleagues were ready to face those questions with me to some extent.
To the rest, as I gradually realized, I was mostly a threat. I not only had a rare and unusual illness that didn't fit their box, I also knew "too much".

I realized that my personal experience is so unusual that it can easily be "blown off" as unimportant. I basically agree that something that happens to one or two people in the word can't lead to changing paradigms. So, my first question was-how really unusual is it, and if something can be learned from it in general?

I reached the conclusion that when you hear hoof-beats, you should think of horses, but you should also search for the small and hidden stripes that are unique to that horse. Some may even have green stripes which can easily be ignored.

I deliberately do not use the word "personalized medicine" because this is at this point a hype word, which means very expensive medicine and a good source for funding of expensive research, which may or may not get us closer to this goal. High tech sophisticated medicine is not necessarily better medicine.

every blog is a minor victory over this disease.
I have learned that minor daily victories are the biggest victory.
Although, it is very tempting to have more significant ones every once in a while, even if you know the price...

Identifying who needs help is one problem. Identifying how to help them is another.
I agree, but identifying who needs help is an essential first step.
It is true though, that if you don't know how to help you can cause more harm than good.

Like I have said, good intentions are not (always) enough...

Those who fund patient help, including governments, do not see the irony in spending billions on patient care and support and spending only thousands on research (in proportion) to find better answers.
This is an extremely complex issue. What you say is based on two assumptions-
1. the more research you have the better patient care you are going to get.
2. good and effective research should cost a lot of money.

1. The sad truth is that more research doesn't always translate into better patient care.
There are many reasons for that- first, many times wrong surrogate markers are chosen, because they are easy to measure or because they are (wrongly) thought to be important in the parthenogenesis of the disease.
Second, many times the answers will be found in seemingly unrelated research. So, funding is allocated to those who will be looking for the coin under the lamp, when the coin is very far from there. Third, because of the complexity of biological system, many important findings were found by serendipity (and even by mistakes). So, should you fund sloppy labs where they are more likely to do unpredictable mistakes?
Also, even seemingly important and validated findings may have relatively little clinical significance.
2. Good and effective research doesn't have to cost a lot of money (and vice versa expensive research is not always good).
This is because a significant amount of the money is not used for the research but for many other expenses. That is why I think that a better collaboration between patients and those who research and treat their disease can be very beneficial and may possibly lead to more efficient and less expensive research. (of course there may be pitfalls I am not aware of in this approach).

The Someone Elses Problem idea has divorced people from connecting the different parts of the problem.
I see this as an enormous problem in modern medicine.
In fact I am in the process of writing a paper called- "The Babylon tower of modern medicine"- people involved in patient care do not speak the same language and many times have conflicts of interests. Patient care is extremely fragmented, leading to expensive, dangerous and ineffective treatments many times.
A patient may receive three different medications that lower his/her blood pressure-one from the endocrinologist (to protect his kidneys), one from the urologist (to protect his prostate), and one from his cardiologist (to control his rythym). Each of them is treating him according to the most updated research and guidelines and providing him the best possible care. And when he falls down (because of the dramatic drop in his blood pressure) and breaks his hip, he is again treated with the most "state of the art" and updated medications. When he develops unexpected complications from this novel treatment, he is again treated with...
This is an everyday example of very expensive, state of the art medicine that many times leads to worse outcome than no treatment.

Disability is growing. The aged sector of the community is growing. The capacity to deal with these things is, proportionally speaking, shrinking.
This is indeed a significant problem world-wide. Paradoxically, the overall significant advances in medicine are responsible for it to some extent: Many incurable diseases, which were fatal in the past, have now, become chronic diseases. People live much longer, so they have a much longer period of being out of the work-cycle.
I personally think that the way to solve it is by finding the way in which they can contribute to the society and regain their dignity. I don't think it is realistic to think that we will be able to make everyone healthy and young, but I think we do not have to marginalize those who are old, ill and disabled.

This does not mean that I think that someone who can't walk should be forced to walk. It means that we should provide him the conditions in which he could work while using a wheelchair or other equipment. This does not mean that someone who can't go out of his home should be forced to do so; it means that we should find the way to use his talents, while he is in his own comfortable environment.
But, this requires innovative thinking and true respect to people, even if they are physically disabled. Unfortunately, the current system lacks both.

I think we should not only look for recovery stories, but also for how people have found ways to lead a productive life with their illness. Steven Hawking is one example, but I am sure there are many others. We all have our small victories.
Society has to realize that we are not a burden they have to carry on their back but people like them. People who need help to find what they can do despite their disabilities not be told that they can do nothing or have to do what they did before.

"By the way, it is perfectly OK to deceive those patients, in order to achieve the goal without them suspecting it." When you start deceiving, where do you stop? How can there be informed consent if there is no information? I am not OK with this stance at all.
Neither am I .
This is what they think and write in their papers, not what I think.
I think it is a horrible abuse of the trust of patients, and leads to a destruction of the physician-patient relationship in general. It is very hard to put your trust in another physician after your trust has been abused in that way.

Benefit fraud is quite rare
I honestly do not know the true extent of this problem. I also don't really care. I am neither a judge nor a policeman. The fact that there are bank robberies don't mean that every one that walks into a bank is a suspect and should be checked to see if he is armed.

I also believe that at least some of those cases are the result of people being pushed to exaggerate their symptoms in order to receive the benefits they deserve. This is because the system is not flexible enough to assess or respond to the true needs of every person.

I can tell you from my own experience that one of the physicians who evaluated me for mobility, said out of desperation- -I really want to help you and give you what I think you deserve, but why did you have to tell us that you can walk and are not fully dependent on a wheelchair? They ended up giving me some benefits, but less than what they thought I deserve, because they couldn't tick the right boxes. They encouraged me to appeal, and say the "right" things, but I never did that nor plan to do so in the future. So, a system that is not flexible enough to give people what they clearly deserve unless they exaggerate their disability can't blame people for doing so.

I also think that it is very humiliating to stress and exaggerate your disabilities. So, people who do so really have no choice. I am fortunate that I have other sources of income so didn't have to deal with this dilemma.

On these points I note there is a claim that more and more new psychiatrists are going into biomedical approaches
This is very concerning to me. You see more and more of those psychiatrists making a diagnosis of "mood disorders", "behavioral problems" etc. based on a short interview in their office. Those are then treated with various pharmacological agents that no one really knows what they do to the brain.

I am very concerned with the exponentially growing use of antidepressants, anxiolytics and Ritalin. I think we are gradually creating a society of Zombies, who become addicted and dependent on various pharmacological agents from a very early age.

Another problem I see, and will be looking at, is that when a new paradigm is touted its too quickly embraced at both the research level and in clinical practice. This is a mistake. A lot of the bells and whistles involved in EBM and BPS belong in research. Only when it is well developed can it transition to clinical practice.
Some paradigms are incorporated too quickly and others are taking too long.
I think this is because there is a lot of salesmanship and not pure research involved.
Evidence based stuff can only be tested in the real world.
In fact we probably don't do that enough, because real world evaluation of EBM based guidelines is much harder to do, harder to fund and harder to publish.
It's sort of like swimming against the waves, going against what is seen as progress, and who wants to do that?

I think that one of the reasons that BPS based treatments, specifically, are so easily accepted is that very few are aware that those can also cause significant harm.
I believe that 99% of physicians think that "talking therapy" may not do much good but also can't cause any harm. Also, 99% think that physical exercise is always beneficial.

I have found only one review and very few papers that discuss potential harm of physical exercise in certain conditions. (Maybe there are a few more that I have missed, but doubt that it reaches a significant number).
On the other hand, I have found numerous papers, review and web-sites that discuss the benefits of physical exercise in health and disease. (As long as you do it in a responsible way, and don't push people to do too much too fast etc).
So, it is not surprising that the medial community is ready to easily accept CBT and GET, without thinking too much about it.
It is very hard to change such paradigms that prevail in the medical community and society at large.

It is true that for most healthy people and for many medical conditions exercise is indeed very beneficial. But, not for all. This goes back to the horses and zebras paradigm. Horses and some zebras do very well with exercise, but some zebras do not...

I personally think that any diagnostic or therapeutic intervention that can lead to benefit also has the potential to cause harm. Only totally inert substances have no risk, but they are also incapable of causing benefit.

A certain rare polymorphism can turn an effective treatment into a harmful one for a specific patient. Even if we don't (yet) have the way to detect this polymorphism we can clearly see the harm, unless we are totally blinded by our misconceptions.

When I was studying polymorphisms and detox at uni, they gave an example of a factory. I forget the toxin used there. Some people got sick but not others. What they found is that most people have a normal sensitivity and the most common polymorphisms. Some have predisposing polymorphisms. Some have increased resistance.

The catch was this. Those who were more vulnerable to this particular toxin had increased resistance to others. Thats normal in a population - not everyone has the same resistance to any one toxin, but it often confers increased resistance to something else.

This was all back in 2002 so I do not recall the details.

Bye, Alex
It's not a catch, mutations that have no benefit would disappear, as those people would die at an early age and have no off springs.
Polymphorphisms and epigenetic modifications, are nature's way to adapt to changing environments.

some mutations which are seemingly disadvantegous (such as sickle cell) confer protection from a potentially lethal infection (malaria).

That is why we never know what we are really doing when we interfere with nature. What we think is good, can eventually lead to harm, and vice versa.

in the early 2000 I heard a very exiting presentation of gene therapy for a rare and potentially lethal congenital immune dysfunction. They were starting a phase I trial and everything seemed to be perfect. except one minor point-they were creating immortal stem cells in the bone marrow. I asked them if they are not concerned those children will develop leukemia. I wasn't smarter than them, just less involved in that project, so could see it from a different perspective. They gave me some unconvincing explanations why there is no such risk. A year later they had a few cases of leukemia in their patient's group and they stopped the study.

Also, modern medicine keeps less desirable polymorphisms in the population.
People with previously lethal congenital diseases can live for many years and even have their own children.

At the same time, modern medicine makes those polymorphisms less undesirable because the outcome is not lethal any more and those people can lead a very good life, as long as they are given proper treatment and support.

And this brings us back to square one...Disability issues, resources etc.

Hi DQ, I get that, the "catch" was just a turn of speech. It was discussed in the same series of lectures as sickle cell anaemia, and I do understand the evolutionary significance. Not all deleterous polymorphisms provide advantages though, yet they still can survive and propagate. One of the reasons is they may be localized very close to other advantagious polymorphisms and not have enough downside to be quickly eradicated by selection pressure. So they piggy back on the survival advantage of other genes based on physical proximity on the chromosome. Selection does not act on specific genes, but on the organism in an environment.

As to leukemia from immortalized cells, well duh. Very much like I was concerned about Vioxx. It was an obvious risk. There should have been attempts to investigate, not dismiss, those concerns. The precautionary principle often takes second place to the profit principle (its not a motive I think, it goes beyond that to a Law in some people's minds).

One of the problems with the reductionist approach in biomedicine is as you say: we don't know what we are doing. Take toxic chemicals and potentially poisonous drugs. We test them within controlled conditions in the lab, then limited conditions in clinical trials. But how will they interact with other disease conditions not controlled for, other pathogens, other drugs, other toxins? How about drugs and toxins that do not even exist yet? The potential combination is enormous, and grows exponentially larger if you allow for combination of three factors, four factors, etc. It can't be adequately tested for - its economically and practically impossible. Which of course is why there is so much denial.

There is a claim that 32 people are dying per week in the UK potentially due to actions by the government and ATOS. I do not have reliable data confirming this. I think about 13, in total, have been investigated in depth. Abuse of the disabled might be pandemic in the UK but its hard to get reliable data. Worse, while I am on the side of the patients, I cannot say I am sure the data is correct just because its repeated and repeated. Its a bad situation, and if the UK govt. gets away with doing this then any country wanting to implement austerity measures can target the disabled with a systematic de facto euthanasia program. Society is going to have to make hard choices sooner or later, and pretending its not an issue is itself a bad choice.

Bye, Alex
An update on the 32 per week dying, this is the estimated death rate for the disabled. Its says nothing about how big an increase there might be. I still do not have data on that. This site now lists 21 who appear to have died, with many more potential deaths:
Take toxic chemicals and potentially poisonous drugs. We test them within controlled conditions in the lab, then limited conditions in clinical trials. But how will they interact with other disease conditions not controlled for, other pathogens, other drugs, other toxins? How about drugs and toxins that do not even exist yet? The potential combination is enormous, and grows exponentially larger if you allow for combination of three factors, four factors, etc. It can't be adequately tested for - its economically and practically impossible.
I fully agree with that. I think we are not being cautious enough in allowing the use of various chemicals, based on such limited studies.
You can argue that if there is a significant benefit (such as remission from a serious life-endangering illness) in taking that potential risk it is justified.
But, why should we allow synthetic chemicals to be used in that way in detergents such as washing liquids shampoos etc. Or why should we give potentially toxic medications to perfectly healthy people to treat numbers, (which are no more than surrogate markers for a possible disease) on their blood tests?

As to the situation in the UK.

From what I could understand about it, this is another example of how good intentions combined with a proper amount of human ignorance and stupidity can lead to hell.

The idea behind this reform, as I understand it, is very similar to what I think-
Instead of putting a label of "disability" and marginalizing people, making them feel like a burden on their families and the society, we should try and find the way to help them lead a productive life and earn their living.

Instead of giving them a disability allowance, we should give them an ability allowance which will help them make the most of their abilities and talents despite their disability.

The problem is that this approach is not less expensive, and requires much more innovative thinking and efforts if you want it to work.
It's not enough to tell someone-you can work a limited number of hours, under certain conditions. you also have to provide that person with the place in which he/she can work and with the proper accommodations.

Neither work places nor occupational physicians are equipped to deal with this. Further more, the evaluation required to truly know what someone can or can't do is much more elaborate and complex.

Most people (including physicians) find it hard to comprehend the fact that someone can be very ill and work at the same time. They either doubt their illness or their ability to work.

Most people don't think it is possible to work if your condition is not stable and there are times in which you can walk a short distance on your own, alternating with times in which you can't even move in bed.

If you want ill and disabled people to be contributing members of the society, you have to change those paradigms, you have to create the proper infrastructure that will give them the place to work, you have to provide them with the proper equipment, tools and aids. If they were physical laborers you may have to provide them with training so they could do something that doesn't require as much physical abilities.

There will always be some people who will not be able to do anything which requires physical or mental efforts. But, I believe those will be in the minority, if this is done properly.

What they did in the UK is put the burden of finding the work-place, creating the proper infrastructure etc. on the patients.
They also simplified the evaluation process so it can be done in masses, by people who were rapidly trained.

so, the end result is that instead of taking people, empowering them, giving them the ability and tools to do what they can, they created a very humiliating experience in which people have to defend themselves so that they will not be left in poverty.

Instead of blaming the multiple faults of the system, the patients are the ones who are blamed for this outrageous failure. But, what do you expect from politicians?

I also think it is wrong to assess everything by mortality. It's enough if people are driven to consider suicide (even if they don't actually do it), it's enough if people are severely disabled or have life-threatening symptoms even if they don't die. Given the choice I would personally prefer to live a shorter and healthier life than a very long life of severe suffering and disability. And I believe most people would. So, why do we see mortality as the worst possible outcome?

As to mortality: =the site above gives a mix of suicide due to unemployment (not related to illness) depression (which possibly may have been pushed over the edge by this humiliating process), and death from their illness (which again hard to prove was caused by this). I believe that if you look at the total number of deaths in the UK during this time period you will find that this was a very minor contribution to it. I believe more died from medical errors during their hospitalization or from unexpected side-effects or interactions of commonly used medications, not to speak of car accidents etc.

The situation in the USA, for instance, is much worse and has been so for years. People who are ill and can't work also lose their health insurance and many times can't afford even basic medical care.

I think those are truly complex issues and there are no obvious or easy solutions.
Hi DQ, let me start by commenting on your last point. These are indeed very complex issues. Almost any simple solution is likely to be too simple. Politicians like simple though, and cheap and simple is even better for them.

The issue I am trying to get to on death rates though, and lack data for, is how many disabled were dying before, compared to how many disabled are dying now. That data is lacking. We know how many are dying, but not why. The implication, and anecdotal reports, are the death rate has risen. I want to know by how much. Some of those committing suicide are doing it because the quality of life, the capacity to cope, is diminished - in those cases diminished beyond the capacity of the individual to cope. If this is a few here and a few there (which I strongly suspect is not the case) then its maybe not a huge issue. If on the other hand this involves large numbers of people then its a big problem.

The number affected severely is in the tens of thousands. More will be targeted over time. Many more are now afraid of their own government and institutions. Fear is the operative word.

I agree that the problem is in various ways worse in most parts of the world. I also consider that an issue requiring attention. The issue in the UK is that what they are claiming they are trying to do sounds reasonable, but what they are actually doing isn't. I have called it euthanasia by stealth on occasion. If society wants to go down that road it should at least be honest about it and open it up for debate. Doing it on the sly is not acceptable. The first step is to legalize euthanasia - anything less is hypocrisy.

One of the issues in the UK is that many of the disabled were receiving benefits specifically targeted at their capacity to work - that enabled them to use taxi travel to work instead of buses for example, or assisting with wheelchairs or other aids. That is one of the programs being severely downgraded. The onus is indeed on the disabled. Even dying people are being asked to work. People who are bleeding profusely have, it is claimed, been threatened with denial of benefits if they leave the premises during disability reassessment.

Most disabled people want to work. If a way can be found to do this then it would benefit them as well as society. We lose so much that people take for granted. Being able to work is part of regaining that loss - this is quite separate from the financial benefits.

I think that, generally, the disabled can do so much more. I am not convinced this would cost more - yes there are costs. Those costs will result in higher productivity. That productivity will lead to benefits or savings elsewhere. Its the net cost or profit that determines its viability from a completely economic perspective. From a social capital perspective there might be very substantive intangible benefits from it that don't have a direct monetary value. Social cohesion, social optimism and other factors might well be improved enough that even if there is a small net loss it still might be very worth it.

Bye, Alex
We lose so much that people take for granted. Being able to work is part of regaining that loss - this is quite separate from the financial benefits.

I think that, generally, the disabled can do so much more. I am not convinced this would cost more - yes there are costs. Those costs will result in higher productivity. That productivity will lead to benefits or savings elsewhere. Its the net cost or profit that determines its viability from a completely economic perspective. From a social capital perspective there might be very substantive intangible benefits from it that don't have a direct monetary value. Social cohesion, social optimism and other factors might well be improved enough that even if there is a small net loss it still might be very worth it.
I think we fully agree on that. What I meant was that building the initial infrastructure required, is much more expensive than the current system.

I think the biggest problem, both in medical diagnosis/ treatment and in disability issues is the lack of individual approach and trying to fit people into prefixed "boxes" that don't really exist.
The fact that we do not know or understand all the variables and complexities, don't mean that we should completely ignore them and stick everyone into some Procrustean bed. "one size fits all" doesn't apply here.

I don't know enough about the situation in the UK, specifically, to seriously comment.

I know there are also people who are evaluated properly and are even given their benefits based on their medical letters without a medical evaluation.

The question is what is the balance and also how many patients that were wrongly denied do receive their benefits after they appeal.
In the UK between a third and a half who were denied benefits win their appeal (depending on sources), though only maybe 40% actually appeal. A month later (the minimum waiting time) a percentage of these have their benefits denied again, so the appeal process restarts. There is a huge cost associated with these appeals. Part of the cost is an additional 145 new Judges needed to handle it - and the system is still in crisis with appeals backing up and more people being denied benefits all the time. It is hard to sort out what is happening though - its not being reported that well and there are conflicting claims.

On infrastructure to handle disability and other issues, I agree with the startup issues. Many worthwhile projects never get started because, despite long term benefits, the initial startup costs make it unappealing in any short term planning. The other issues is that this needs to be investigated thoroughly to find (potentially) the most effective approach - and such planning would take years and cost a bundle. Even then there is a good chance it will have to be modified drastically to make it work in the real world, leading to even more delays and costs.

The cheapest way to do this, bypassing the planning/infrastructure hurdle, is possibly to start up small pilot projects on different models. The most successful would then be used as models for more, and the program extended out over time and additional locations. There is nothing better to stimulate such programs as successful models already working to improve communities and save money at the same time.

A model like that recently tried in Australia for homeless men is claimed to have great outcomes and save money - the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They calculated the savings by determining all costs associated with homelessness, including increased law enforcement, medical usage and so on.

Bye, Alex
still too whacked out by that damn norovirus to properly particpate in this great thread, sigh

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Its also the price of rationality
Science offers no certainty, only eternal doubt, eternal need to wake up each day and with each new item of data, to check, check and recheck

as I've said so so often elsewhere, we Humans know this much:
one tiny speck in a VAST universe, to think otherwise is monstrous and patently false hubris.

"ME = fakers!" so they could throw it in the rubbish bin and save their time on "More useful things"....
Typical, short sighted, stupid bullcrap :(
Hi SilverbladeTE, from my rules of thumb:

27. The single biggest danger to the human race is ignorance. The second greatest cause of ignorance is not lack of education, but the teaching of dogma. Lack of education in reason is the third biggest cause. Lack of education on facts is a mere fourth place.

28. The single greatest cause of ignorance is the size and complexity of the universe. No mortal can know more than a sliver of a slice of a fraction of the whole. The human race itself only knows a tiny piece of the total.
The single greatest cause of ignorance is the size and complexity of the universe
The size and complexity of another person's experience is hard enough to understand.

I think one of the problems is communication.

How can you communicate what you are experiencing, what you have to deal with, in the most clear and concise manner. How can you make someone who has never experienced something similar understand at least some of it.

Most people are not evil or hostile, but they are indifferent. They have their own experiences and problems. How do you make them listen, hear and comprehend what you have to say? How could you get them on your side and make them want to help?

You have to find the way to explain it in words they can understand and at the same time not trivialize it. This is also why it is so important not to use ambiguous words which can mean many things. You also have to realize the associations that certain words may create and the possible misconceptions around them.

For instance:
the words "chronic" and "acute" have various connotations.
Chronic-is in greek-time.
Acute-is in latin-sharp.
So, the assumption that goes with those terms is that an acute illness is more severe and intense and therefore relatively short in duration. Whereas a chronic illness is continuous and relatively mild.

This is a (wrong) mixture of two unrelated variables that define a disease process. One is the duration and the other is the severity.

In reality, a chronic illness can be a constant and ongoing "acute" illness, with the same degree of severity for years. And an "acute" illness can be both mild and short in duration.

Also, a disease may not be rapidly progressive, but can still become gradually worse with time, because even if you just add the normal ageing process to an already compromised system, you have much more severe consequences. Another 10% reduction in a person's ability can make a significance difference with regards to independence and mobility.

By, the same token, a relatively mild improvement can make a similar difference. For instance- A patients that has an average of 50% reserve of respiratory capacity, will be almost asymptomatic when he/she is at 60% and may require respiratory support at 40%.

This is why proper symptomatic and supportive care can be so important, as even if they lead to only mild improvement the can be cost-effective.

This is something many people find very hard to understand. They think that if you do so well with such a small "objective" improvement, than you probably could do just as well without it. Or, they think you could do even better with another similarly mild improvement. When, neither is correct.

The words "chronic disease" and "incurable disease" basically mean the same thing. but, "incurable" is seen very different from "chronic".

The complexities of a chronic debilitating illness are very hard to understand.
It takes us (who live with them 24/7) a lot of time to understand, so we should be understanding (at least to some extent) to the inability of others to understand and try to make it simpler for them.
Penny wise, pound foolish

When compared with the cost of housing benefit alone, the cost of reasonable tests for M.E. is trivial, the cost of most of the medications is even more trivial if administration does not exceed the cost of the medications.

Lets say the average rent is $400/month, that every single person with ME is single and gets £150/wk in benefits (ESA/DLA/Other). That is a major underestimate and amounts to £12.5K per year. That approach will likely never lead to improvement in health or return to work. The cost would thus be circa £quarter million /decade with the patient unable to work or socialise.

By contrast overly comprehensive testing initially would require circa £1000 plus perhaps £400 every 6 months, and drugs might cost somewhere between £150 and £300 per 6months. This treatment in all but the very most severely affected might be needed for six to eighteen months.

In essence, treating us correctly is far less expensive than paying us to stay at home. The potential saving would add up to more than £100,000 / decade and WE WOULD BE PAYING TAX.

The current situation is financial lunacy in addition to be inhuman.

It is not clear that there are good cheap treatments for ME, though I argue that good testing will take the guesswork out and massively reduce ongoing administrative costs. Why guess when you can measure?

The argument you make about financial lunacy is right though, especially when you factor in research on underlying causes of disability and chronic disease. To stop future costs we need better research on biochemical causation of all chronic disease. Social factors may have influence, but the underlying problems have only ever been shown to be physical. Even diagnoses like PTSD are ongoing because of biochemical changes in the brain. In counterpoint to psychobabble about ME, I believe that world events include social ones can trigger disease (not specifically talking about ME here), but its perpetuated by biochemical changes.
A recent find from Ayn Rand's "Anthem" (1937/8):
Equality 7-2521 (the novella's central character): "The council of scholars has said that we all know the things which exist, and therefore the things which are not known by all, do not exist."

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