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Shaky Foundation- Sloppy Research Standards or Innovative Science?

By Craig Maupin at

Respect.  It is a word that says a great deal, and it says it with just a few letters. When I hear the word respect, another word pops into my mind - earned. Respect must be earned. A parent must earn the respect of a child. An employer must earn the respect of his employees.

What about medical research and respect? Is there such a thing as respect in the scientific community? Of course there is. Just like in other areas of life, respect in the scientific community must be earned. In science, it is the not just the ability to make conclusions from data that are important to achieving respect. The methods and assumptions used in drawing those conclusions are important as well.

 For any researcher, the ability to make nonpartisan clinical observations, draw clear distinctions, and utilize uniform methodology are all important requirements for achieving respect in the scientific community. If you undervalue these key foundations of good science, then respect is all but guaranteed to be difficult to come by.

Right now, when I think of the current state of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) research, I can’t help but come back to that word – respect. Thus far, the CFS research community has failed to earn it. Blurred distinctions, conflicting methodology, and political will are often shaping the CFS research community far more than scientific principles that are based on a firm foundation.

There is a widespread consensus that the 1994 CDC case definition, which is the foundation of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) research, is a failure. What is not agreed upon is why it failed.   It is not just the text of the 1994 revised case definition that makes it a failure, but it is the unsound philosophies and ideologies that underpin it that are leading to poor results. In the CFS research community, these ideas are widely accepted and rarely challenged. But like many fads, they are trendy for a season. Eventually, they will be challenged, and political needs will give way to proper scientific research methods. But meanwhile, how long that takes, will greatly affect those with CFS.

To repair anything that is broken, it helps to know how it became broken. Putting the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) research community back on a firm foundation cannot be accomplished without a reevaluation of the flimsy yet trendy philosophies that have contributed to the shaky foundation that now underlies CFS research.

 In this series, we will discuss some of the prevalent mindsets that led to the current case definition, as well as some of the political forces that are behind the adoption of the controversial 1994 revised CDC case definition.

But first, we will take a look at the state of current CFS research. There is no better way to do that than to examine the vastly dissimilar patients that now, because of the broadness of the 1994 CDC case definition, call the CFS community their home.