BBC Radio 4: The Life Scientific with Simon Wessely, 14th Feb 2017

trishrhymes

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Here's the summary of the program on the BBC Life Scientific website:

'Professor Sir Simon Wessely has spent his whole career arguing that mental and physical health are inseparable and that the Cinderella status of mental health funding is a national disgrace.

His current role, as President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has given him a platform to bang the drum for parity of funding, better training for doctors and the need to reduce stigma around mental health (and armchair psychiatrists who think it's OK to diagnose the new American President with a mental illness get short shrift as well).

Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, part of King's College in London, Simon Wessely has always been fascinated by those puzzling symptoms and syndromes which can't easily be explained. So it was perhaps inevitable that he would find himself at the centre of research trying to explain the distressing and debilitating illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Threats and abuse finally led to him leave this particular research field, and he moved instead to military health and another complex illness which appeared after the first Gulf War in the early 90s, Gulf War Syndrome.

Years of detailed epidemiological studies about the health of British troops followed through the King's Centre for Military Health Research and many of the findings had a direct impact on policy within the armed forces.

Yet for somebody who has spent years as a psychiatrist treating patients with serious mental illness, Simon tells Jim Al-Khalili that people are tougher than many in authority give credit for and his research has had a major impact on the way we treat people after traumatic events. We used to think "better out than in" but studies showed after the London 7/7 Bombings for example, that jumping in and getting people to talk through the trauma straight away can actually do more harm than good.'

................................

There's no info I can find on how people are chosen. I'm not surprised he was asked, after all, he's the head of the Royal College of Psychiatry. They are not likely to have heard anything beyond what the Science Media Centre feeds them about ME/CFS or SW.
 
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i still don't get what his achievement actually was? Normally on the program they do some preamble about research that led to this breakthrough in thinking or a series of papers that led to the development of crystalography techniques for blah blah technique. He just seems to have started some research and not come to any conclusion ....a number of times.

The whole paragraph reads like a kind of goad? I wish we had some strong speaking advocates that could change the subject of this particular campaign and take the wind out of their sails by talking up the real science?

This requires no direct response since it is clearly a clumsy attempt to prompt a direct reply that makes us look bad vigilantes that hate people who are mentally ill.

Who is in our corner apart from the countess of mar?
 
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Snowdrop

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It was very clear that the Maudsley hospital was a clique
I'm thinking the people who created the tv mini-series called 'The Bletchley Circle' of women who helped with intelligence in WWII could give us a tv anti-heroes mini-series; 'The Maudsley Clique' a group of psychiatrists who prosecuted a war on science.

Thanks for taking one for the team @trishrhymes . Very frustrating having to listen to such non-science. All of it vague statement. Non of it contested. Because SW is president of RCP I expect he can get any media time he likes. He is on a mission to make psychiatry relevant by using the mind-body paradigm. A paradigm that has no scientific basis but no proof it's not true either.
 

Barry53

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There's no info I can find on how people are chosen. I'm not surprised he was asked, after all, he's the head of the Royal College of Psychiatry. They are not likely to have heard anything beyond what the Science Media Centre feeds them about ME/CFS or SW.
I'd be very surprised if there is not some kind of lobbying mechanism, whether owned up to or not, aboveboard or clandestine. And lobbying will be the sort of skills these folks really do excel at.
 

Cheshire

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Why did I think of our dearest friend when I read this?

Bruno Lemaitre on Science and Narcissism


The book starts with a short introduction on narcissism, as it is currently described by social-personality experts recapitulating its main facets: obsession for status, need for admiration, self-serving bias, inflated-self….
Narcissists are only concerned about their own self-advancement and self-promotion and have little regard for the rules of social interaction. At the same time, their inflated confidence allows narcissistic researchers to radiate professional competence, knowledge and leadership, while their “meticulous” colleagues struggle with the imposter syndrome. Finally, while narcissists strive for personal power and dominance, they are actually very good in manipulative networking and even sycophantic Macchiavelism towards senior influential figures, all with the goal to advance their careers.

A recent study of faculty narcissism by Westermann et al demonstrated that in the business higher education, narcissistic professors promote narcissistic students, while the less narcissistic students suffer. This academic “natural selection” for narcissism implies a threat that our faculties will soon be overrun by narcissists (i.e, even more than they are now), whose interests lie in self-promotion rather than in doing actual honest research.
https://forbetterscience.com/2016/05/17/bruno-lemaitre-on-science-and-narcissism/
 

Esther12

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Bleurgh. Done a transcript of the CFS section. It was painful, and typing it out made it clear how Wessely really avoids making much in the way of specific claims about anything. Jim doesn't seem to mind.

Earlier on he talks about how he and his colleagues at the Maudsley stick together and that reminded me of Robin Murray, editor of the journal that published the PACE recovery paper and has refused to publish letters pointing out inaccuracies, Psychological Medicine: "Then he started training in psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London, and has remained there ever since apart from one year at the National Institute of Mental Health in the U"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Murray

Transcript:

15:26-


SW:...and that's where I got interested in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, because these patients were being seen there, I have to be honest and say nobody really liked them…


JA: Tell me about some of these patients you saw at Queen’s Square?


SW: Well, there were people being referred, Queen’s Square is the home of neurology, and at that time it was felt that this might be a mysterious muscle disease, was the headline in one newspaper, and of course Queen Square exists on Earth to deal with mysterious muscle disease. They rapidly concluded that it wasn’t a muscle disease and then didn’t really want to have anything to do with the patients, to be honest with you. So they started, and this happens a lot when people don’t know what to do, they started asking psychiatrists to get involved, so I started to get involved, and I was the only one, and I just got more and more fascinated.


JA: Because this was the 1980s and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS, wasn’t a new condition, but at the time I remember it being misleadingly dubbed ‘yuppie flu’, and yet it was a real debilitating disease.


SW: Yes, it reappeared in, it had disappeared for many years, and then come back as illnesses do, under a different guise, in the, really in the early eighties, and it had only just started to hit the press, but at this time it was really seen as something quite mysterious.


JA: You’ve said that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome lives in an ambigous territory, somewhere between medicine and psychiatry. What was known, at the time when you started serious research into the condition?


SW: Well, really very little. It had not been an area where much of medicine, or academic medicine, feared to tread. I think that’s a reasonably fair comment. And certainly there’d been not systematic epidemiological studies, very little looking at what had been the mechanisms of chronic fatigue, and absolutely nothing on treatment, nothing at all. So the literature was really small, and some of it referred to completely different conditions.


JA: So how far have we come? What was it that you and your colleagues did manage to do?


SW: On the positive side, we showed, and I think further research has subsequently confirmed, that this is a central disorder not a peripheral disorder; we showed that it wasn’t linked to common viral infections but other colleagues showed that it was linked to things like EBV, Epstein-barr virus/glandular fever, which we confirmed; we showed that it had a different neuro-endochrine signature to depressive disorders, I originally thought it was a variation of depression but we changed our minds as the data changed and felt that actually that was important but not the same. We showed the social class gradient was, it wasn’t ‘yuppie flu’, and then we started to think about how can we improve treatments, which wasn’t difficult because there wasn’t any.


JA: So why was the research you were doing, Simon, so unpopular with the vociferous minority who really turned you in to a hate figure?


SW: Well, not just me, there’s a few of us that come under that heading, but I think that it’s to do with, for some people, the very existence of psychiatry was almost an affront to them, that the fact we unashamedly did what we did and that we were also showing that some of the treatments that we used, were not entirely biologically based, were helping, I think some people just couldn’t bear because they felt that it was denigrating them, that it was in some ways saying that they weren’t genuinely ill, and they felt that any association with psychiatry was close to intolerable, too painful, and they would rather if we simply weren’t there.


JA: And this reaction, this backlash, how bad did it get?


SW: Well, it’s difficult to talk about really because it’s been there for a long time, and it’s not just me by the way, it’s happened to lots of people in this area, but it’s a constant presence, you know, we talk to the same people that my friends who do animal work talk to and we get the same advice and information, and take some of the same precautions that they do, that’s…


JA: You’ve personally been threatened haven’t you?


SW: Yes I have, that’s not actually the biggest deal, it’s more the organised attempts at interfering with your science, your research, your career actually, and all sorts of pressure. It’s like being stalked I think. It very much feels like, very similar to that. But again, I have to say that the fact I’m here Jim suggests that it’s not been that effective, but it’s not been that pleasant either.


JA: And at its worst you decided, well, you tell me, what did you do?


SW: Well some years ago, coming back from a meeting in America with another colleague of mine, and both of us just took the decision, I think that it’s time to move on. I felt that I was not really in a good position to help take the subject forward and I just took a conscious decision it’s time to move on, and it was the right decision to take.


JA: You didn’t stop seeing patients?


SW: Oh no, patients I kept seeing all the time, it’s like A. J. Cronin’s Adventures In Two Worlds, there’s the world of the clinic, but there’s this other world of politics and internet and things like that which is pretty unpleasant at times.


JA: And looking back, you know, twenty-five years ago, do you think now or wish that you’d done anything differently?


SW: I think the youthful me probably could have handled it a bit more sensibly. I think that’s probably true, and I think that I certainly underestimated the depth of hostility that was out there, to psychiatry, and by the time I’d realised that some of the things had been said [?!]. But equally, I don’t think that it would have made much difference. There are some people out there who continue over the years to make things up and distort and tell lies about you and that would have happened anyway to be honest Jim, in this field, it happened to others as well.


JA: [Moves on to GWS]

[Minor additional bit 26:00:]

SW: And also, the other thing I like is when we do our research, you know Jim, we all know, you find something but it’s years before it makes any impact. I mentioned Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it was years and years before we made any impact on policy. But [goes on to say military responds more quickly]
 
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"Oh no, patients I kept seeing all the time, it’s like A. J. Cronin’s Adveentures In Two Worlds, there’s the world of the clinic, but there’s this other world of politics and internet and things like that which is pretty unpleasant at times."

I think this is deeply revealing. For me there was only ever one world - the real world. The clinic is not in a different world from politics and the internet. It seems that it is because this group of psychiatrists somehow think that their clinical work occurs in some other world from normal human communication that they fail to see that the same patients they are talking to in the clinic are in a position to see straight through their integrity. Perhaps they are trained to think that patients in clinics are just mad people who will never understand anything presented at scientific meetings or written in scientific papers.
 
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"Oh no, patients I kept seeing all the time, it’s like A. J. Cronin’s Adveentures In Two Worlds, there’s the world of the clinic, but there’s this other world of politics and internet and things like that which is pretty unpleasant at times."

I think this is deeply revealing. For me there was only ever one world - the real world. The clinic is not in a different world from politics and the internet. It seems that it is because this group of psychiatrists somehow think that their clinical work occurs in some other world from normal human communication that they fail to see that the same patients they are talking to in the clinic are in a position to see straight through their integrity. Perhaps they are trained to think that patients in clinics are just mad people who will never understand anything presented at scientific meetings or written in scientific papers.
They quickly ditch any notion of the social, and when they try it they are bad at it.

It sounds like he depersonalizes the patients in the clinic. Does it not matter to him if a patient is refused social security for instance? Does it matter is the patient is malnourished, or cannot afford heating, or transport, or social interactions?

Or is everything the patients fault and institutions have no impact outside the immediate surroundings?

Did he ever get any training in Psychiatric History? There are many reasons people can have suspicions about it, and objections to practices, theories and methods of social control. It's not all bad faith irrational cranks who are jealous of his enormous brain.

It's like he's never learned to ask 'What if I am wrong?', 'How correct are my assumptions etc'?

He's been thoroughly socialized into a role of a 'Professional' with a disciplined mind. http://disciplinedminds.tripod.com/
 

A.B.

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Perhaps they are trained to think that patients in clinics are just mad people who will never understand anything presented at scientific meetings or written in scientific papers.
The patients they see in clinics are probably newly diagnosed, inexperienced and too busy trying to adjust to their illness to actually start questioning how things are run. That there is so much confusion and bad information out there doesn't help either.

Conformism is also powerful. Patients that are surrounded by the belief that this is a silly non-illness may very well try to conform to that, at least for a while.

The questioning starts later, when it becomes undeniable that these explanations make no sense and the treatments don't help.
 
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TiredSam

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SW: Well, not just me, there’s a few of us that come under that heading, but I think that it’s to do with, for some people, the very existence of psychiatry was almost an affront to them, that the fact we unashamedly did what we did and that we were also showing that some of the treatments that we used, were not entirely biologically based, were helping, I think some people just couldn’t bear because they felt that it was denigrating them, that it was in some ways saying that they weren’t genuinely ill, and they felt that any association with psychiatry was close to intolerable, too painful, and they would rather if we simply weren’t there.
Equating criticism of Simon Wessely with an attack on psychiatry is typical of his self-aggrandizing posturing. It also makes it more likely for his colleagues to support him against a perceived common attack, rather than distancing themselves from him for dragging their field into disrepute. And these days, why would any psychiatrist criticize Wessely? Under his leadership they have the first psychiatrist as president of the Royal Society of Medicine, and psychiatry is having more and more influence in NHS policy, which means more jobs for the boys (and girls). Who would rock that boat, and would their colleagues thank them for it? You're better off under Wessely, so just keep turning a blind eye and enjoy the ride.
 
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I think it would be interesting to see the prevalence of how many "invisible illnesses" fall prey to this sort of "adoption" by the psychiatric clique. They rely on the fact that they are invisible to the general public to perpetuate "it's all in the mind", simply because they are not going to get any arguments from anybody other than the patient.....who is of course of lesser importance because they "don't know what's good for them". It's self fulfilling and rely on most people preferring to turn a blind eye to stuff that is difficult to deal with.
 

rosamary

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'Jonathan Edwards said:
Perhaps they are trained to think that patients in clinics are just mad people who will never understand anything presented at scientific meetings or written in scientific papers.'

I was just picking up on that too:

Over the years I have watched, listened and read things written by Simon Wessely and I mostly find his attitude towards the patients whom he relies on for his career to be disrespectful.

I imagine he picked this up from some of his senior colleagues in the seventies and eighties.

He says the neurologists at Queens didn't like ME patients. I can imagine it: lots of sneering jokes etc.

Simon tries to present himself as a sort of saviour to those disliked patients. However, I suspect that, based on his sneering senior colleagues' attitude, he saw an opportunity for himself to build an empire. He could be a saviour to his sneering senior colleagues and take these problem patients away. Without proof they'd all decided many of the patients had some kind of neurosis.

This was a minefield for a young psychiatrist who'd just drifted into the profession without really knowing why but was ambitious.

He knew all about 'hysteria' and, due to his preference for the arts rather than science, this appealed to his imagination.

Simon loves his jokes too. He loves to make his colleagues laugh. I've seen it when he talked at a conference. But who were the jokes about? Well, of course we know the answer to that.

I went to a meeting a few years back about shoddy diagnosing by GPS and how that meant patients' records were not true record. I think I upset them when I said that simon Wessely was the most dangerous man involved in the NHS because his influence contributes to 'subjective' diagnosing where people die or remain ill because GPS were too eager to decide a patient's symptoms (and signs) were due to psychological illness.

I think Simon and his ilk are slowly on the way out.

I try to remain objective but having witnessed so much and seen people die or remain ill, I can honestly say there is hate inside me.

Simon Wessely and his clique have been an obstruction to research and also to correct diagnosing of many diseases.

Jokes are fine but not when dealing with people's lives.

Hope that makes sense.
 

trishrhymes

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Thank you @Esther12 for making the transcript. It really gives the flavour of the man. (And leaves a horrible taste in the mouth).

Points I'd highlight:

1. Nobody really liked dealing with CFS patients. They don't know what to do, so they get psychiatrists involved...

This seems to have morphed now into the potentially huge and lucrative industry of MUS where every annoyingly puzzling patient is palmed off on CBT therapists. This stems directly from SW and his chums invented BPS model.

They are so far divorced from science now that the inconvenient truths of PACE being a null trial, and the mounting evidence of a biomedical basis is not even considered. Therapists trained to carry out their treatments are kept in complete ignorance of science. And hence patients are too.

2. Following from this - 'organised attempts at interfering with your science, your research, your career,....Like being stalked'.

I think this reveals what really made him leave the front line of ME research and retreat to manipulating from behind the scenes, putting up 'front men' like White and Chalder to take the flak.

He couldn't bear that his so called science was wrong, and feared that his planned glittering career was likely to be revealed to be built on sand. He couldn't stand the scrutiny of science. Part of their game is to bundle together scientific challenge and complaints from patients as 'harassment'.

Someone like that has no business calling themselves a scientist.

It's a pity JAK didn't pick him up on the question of 'organised attempts at interfering with your science'. It's called scientific progress, Simon. And proper scientific scrutiny.

3. He really does play the victim role to perfection. In a horribly creepy way. Fighting for truth and justice...

I'm tempted to say 'words fail me'! But I seem to have written quite enough....

Such a missed opportunity by the BBC.

Does anyone have the energy to write to the Beeb and/ or Jim Al- khalili ?

Edit: @rosamary has just put it much better than I have. Thank you.
 
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Sean

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SW: Well, it’s difficult to talk about really because...
'...I don't want to get pinned on the details and consistency, or lack thereof.'

...and it’s not just me by the way, it’s happened to lots of people in this area, but it’s a constant presence, you know, we talk to the same people that my friends who do animal work talk to and we get the same advice and information, and take some of the same precautions that they do, that’s…
Look, I am not saying via vague plausibly deniable implied association that SW and his like-minded colleagues are abusive psycho-fascists. It is important that all civilised decent people do not think of an elephant, let alone one named Simon the Abusive Psycho-Fascist. Definitely not. Put all such unkind prejudices from your discerning minds.

I am just saying that we ME patients have talked to the same people that our friends in the wider disabled and disenfranchised communities talk to and we get the same advice and information, and take some of the same precautions and (legal) actions they do, that's...

...only fair.

Don't you love that sneaky little "constant presence" smear. I vaguely recall some high-level formal tribunal – the only formal legal assessment to date of the harassment and threats claims – unanimously and forcefully ruling that the claims were utter shit; and, separately, Esther Crawley reluctantly conceding that it was only minor level for her, was probably just one or two people, and it hadn't happened at all for some years now.

His claiming it to be a constant presence says more about what goes on inside his mind than any patient's.

The constant presence in the lives of ME patients is that he is wrong, has been from the start, and won't admit it.

So they started, and this happens a lot when people don’t know what to do, they started asking psychiatrists to get involved, so I started to get involved, and I was the only one, and I just got more and more fascinated
Because, you know, senior neurologists in a very traditional establishment power structure are well known for turning to a completely unknown, newly graduated psychiatrist, with no track record of anything significant, as the person of choice to deal with this mysterious intractable problem.

Actually, it might be true, if they were looking for a muggins to take the heat off them. If so, then it worked. :rolleyes:

I have to say that the fact I’m here Jim suggests that it’s not been that effective
Nor, hence, that serious. :meh: