Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Pressure grows on Lancet to review “flawed” PACE trial

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 22 August 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3621

Rapid Response:

Re: Odd piece in Times newspaper about pressure on the Lancet to review unwelcome PACE trial findings

This 'news item' refers to a three times recycled letter that has been repeatedly sent to the editor of the Lancet journal by campaigners, about a study that was published in 2011. [1] The study was a clinical trial which found that cognitive behaviour and graded activity therapies in addition to medical care were better treatment for patients with chronic fatigue syndromes (CFS) than either a form of pacing therapy or medical care alone. However these findings were not well-received by some, including the main authors of the letter referred to. They have long campaigned to stop research into such treatments for people with ME/CFS and to get published studies, such as this one, retracted.

The trial referred to in the letter was subject to rigorous monitoring whilst being done and extensive peer review before being published. Furthermore, and unusually, because of the campaign against it, has been subject to a number of further reviews after being published, all of which have found its conclusions to be sound. Although it is the largest trial to test these therapies, it is not the only one; other studies have also found cognitive behaviour and graded activity therapies to help patients.

Science does not progress by campaigners trying to stop research being done or by suppressing its findings, simply because they are unwelcome. Science works best by testing ideas by doing experiments and then seeking either replication or refutation of the findings; the PACE trial findings have so far been replicated a number of times. We look forward to them being subject to further testing by other researchers in future.

[1] Whipple T. Call for review of ‘flawed’ ME research in Lancet letter. The Times 2018 Aug 21:14 (cols 3-5).

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 August 2018
Michael Sharpe
PACE trial team
University of Oxford
University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry