Most Christians are definitely not terrorists

By Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol
Posted on 4 February 2016

Human cognition can be exquisitely attuned to our environment, but it can also be subject to numerous strong biases. To illustrate, consider the following logical puzzles:

Some Christians are terrorists. Therefore all Christians are terrorists.

Some Jews are terrorists. Therefore all Jews are terrorists.

Some Muslims are terrorists. Therefore all Muslims are terrorists.

The answer in all cases is a clear and unambiguous no—the inference is not warranted. Notwithstanding the existence of Timothy McVeigh, the Stern Gang, or Osama bin Laden, the inference that all members of their respective faiths are terrorists is entirely invalid.

Yet, depending on one’s background, worldview, and faith, it may be more or less tempting to endorse or reject one or the other of the above puzzles. There is much evidence that people’s reasoning—especially when it comes to accepting scientific findings—is affected by variables beyond logic, in particular worldview and other motivational variables.

The role of those variables was brought into sharp focus by the recent commentary in Nature, authored by me and Dorothy Bishop. Our commentary sought to stimulate discussion about the boundary conditions of transparency and openness. As committed supporters of openness and transparency, we were particularly concerned with how researchers might be protected from harassment that goes beyond legitimate scrutiny, and how such harassment might be differentiated from the legitimate scrutiny that transparency and openness demand.

We therefore stated:

“Orchestrated and well-funded harassment campaigns against researchers working in climate change and tobacco control are well documented. Some hard-line opponents to other research, such as that on nuclear fallout, vaccination, chronic fatigue syndrome or genetically modified organisms, although less resourced, have employed identical strategies.” [Emphasis added]

The public record, sadly, contains ample evidence that opposition to research in those areas goes beyond robust discussion or intense scrutiny, with death threats being received by researchers measuring the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and by medical researchers working in the area of chronic fatigue syndrome, to cite but two examples.

Bafflingly, this accurate statement has led to considerable invective and accusations on Twitter and on various blogs by critics of chronic-fatigue research. Those critics often appeared to be unencumbered by any acquaintance with what we wrote.

To understand why, let’s revisit the puzzles just discussed:

Some Christians are terrorists. Therefore all Christians are terrorists.

Some Jews are terrorists. Therefore all Jews are terrorists.

Some Muslims are terrorists. Therefore all Muslims are terrorists.

Some hard-line opponents of research on chronic fatigue syndrome overstep the bounds of legitimate discussion. Therefore all opponents of research on chronic fatigue syndrome overstep those bounds.

That last inference is as false as the preceding three.

Accusations that I have “slurred patients” akin to a “racist pig” and that I have compared critics of chronic fatigue research to climate deniers are therefore not only invalid—see here for my detailed thoughts on patients’ rights and how they can and should be protected—but counter-productive.

I have no involvement in research on chronic fatigue, nor do I have any research interest in it. However, I have ample experience in studying the symptoms of pseudoscience and recognizing when an agenda or motivated cognition overpowers reasoned argument.

On the basis of that expertise, it has become quite clear that some (note that crucial word again here: some) opponents of chronic-fatigue research are not engaging in reasoned discourse but are exhibiting all the hallmarks of pseudoscience. The evidence for that is on the public record, in broad daylight, and for all to see who care to look for it.

There are two conclusions that do not follow from this: First, it would be illogical to tar all opponents or critics of chronic-fatigue research with the brush of pseudoscience.

Second, it would be illogical to conclude that just because some opposition to chronic-fatigue research relies on pseudoscience and harassment, that research is thereby vindicated and must be beyond reproach. Perhaps there are problems with some research somewhere, notwithstanding how unreasonable some critics are.

However, given how quickly people can jump to conclusions when it serves their purposes, moderate critics of chronic-fatigue research—who exist as surely as there are people of faith who are not terrorists—ought to consider whether it might not be in their best interest to distance themselves from such rhetoric lest it impair their own credibility.

After all, no one benefits if people are jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. Thankyou for the clarification. You have walked into a decades long controversy over ME/CFS that is much more complicated than it first appears, and less in favour of the PACE trial interventions than what supporters of them would have you believe. The strong response to your Nature article was understandable given the following background:

    Supporters of the PACE trial have typically denied the existence of major problems with the trial, conflated valid questions and criticism with a vexatious campaign, and apparently exploited the allegations of abuse in ways which smear critics who have nothing to do with the abuse. The narrative of harassment, promoted and sensationalised by PACE trial supporters and the Science Media Centre since 2011, clearly has the effect of marginalising and de-legitimising critics of the PACE trial no matter how polite or reasonable they are, as all objections to the trial are generally framed as stemming from the same misguided or extremist views.

    As you say, "The evidence for that is on the public record, in broad daylight, and for all to see who care to look for it." But can anyone find a single example of a key PACE trial supporter saying the equivalent of [yes, the critics were correct, the trial did have major problems which demand acknowledgement and a re-analysis of data, but some people just went too far in expressing their objections]? No, there is little room given for the possibly that the group of critics are both right but some went too far, much like the consensus for anthropomorphic climate change.

    I hope you can understand why when you say some in the ME/CFS patient community went too far like other groups of extremists, many take that as a total dismissal of individuals making valid points. Labelling people as extremists has serious consequences and such labels must be used wisely.

    Prominent figures such as Professor Simon Wessely ignore the biggest problems and compare the PACE trial to a luxury ocean liner successfully crossing the Atlantic with only minor course adjustments. But there were major course changes, such as post-trial and post-hoc changes to the published trial protocol that were often poorly or erroneously justified. These changes probably inflated the estimates of clinical response and recovery by several fold, not to mention the highly controversial “normal range” for fatigue and physical function that overlaps with trial eligibility criteria for severe disabling fatigue. Others have likened the PACE trial to the Titanic disaster, where a dismissive captain ignored all external warnings and pushed full steam ahead.

    Would it not be embarrassing if a re-analysis of the trial results as pre-specified in the published trial protocol may show the results were inflated by several fold? Could this be a more likely reason for not wanting to share data, rather than other stated concerns? In what other fields of research is it not a red flag when post-trial and post-hoc changes heavily inflate the apparent success of the trial? Only the sharing of data is going to resolve the PACE trial controversy, irrespective of how people have behaved or what the re-analysis will show. Patients are frustrated that even the most blatant of flaws and factual errors are ignored while those who raise these issues are labelled vexatious. Most researchers are “definitely not terrorists”, but some do engage in questionable publication practices, so we need transparency and open data to be sure either way.

    Please also consider that the patient community has difficulty trusting the Science Media Centre after their apparent involvement with news coverage that hyped the strength and quality of the PACE trial results and downplayed the weakness and problems with it. The appearance of bias has damaged their reputation among the patient community and may, rightly or wrongly, help to explain why your article was doubted once it was discovered the co-author was associated with the SMC.
  2. The narrative that portraits critics of psychological research into chronic fatigue syndrome as anti-science extremists is part of lobbying campaign to make UK universities exempt from the freedom of information act, which would allow them to hide inconvenient data from critics. The people behind this campaign have a long history of refusing to share data and accusing anyone requesting data as wanting to harass them.

    James Coyne has documented these things on his blog
  3. micaljorden99 at 23:10 PM on 5 February, 2016
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  4. I guess some people got a tad upset by language like "[a]s committed supporters of openness and transparency".

    I am unfamiliar with Dorothy Bishop, but the other author is not known for his commitment to openness and transparency.
  5. Some psychologists defraud their data. All psychologists are fraudsters. Some psychologists demonize ill ME patients. All psychologists demonize. Some psychologists abuse their patients. All psychologists are abusers. Some psychologists have morbid theories. All psychologists have morbid ideas. What is the point? Patiënts are really ill and wants to get better. CBT and GET doesn't make CFS/ME patiënts better in any objective way. CBT and GET isn't science but a very dangerous ideology of the Wessely, Chalder and White school. This is pseudoscience. Now they want to hide their data because they are afraid to be unmasked. But one day they will!
  6. This is perhaps intended as a provocation article, an acceptable device so long as the intention is honourable and not manipulative, sadly what is offered here isn’t easily distinguished as lacking manipulative intent.

    As to why it should be necessary to labour a simple invalid syllogism in answer to the very extensive criticisms of Lewandowsky and Bishop’s use of CFS patients as a “community” harbouring extremists who harass researchers is inexplicable the repletion works, whether intended or not, as an insult to the intelligence of those critics Lewandowsky now seeks to address. Yes not all cats are black – now perhaps we can move on.

    What is at issue in Lewandowsky and Bishop’s Nature Comment article is the relevance of CFS research when matched against the examples of climate and tobacco research. Here Lewandowsky and Bishop rely on media reports for which there are no corresponding legal actions to verify the claims of illegality that are made in those reports. Given that the reports imply serious criminal activity this lack, no matter how exalted the sources quoted, places the media reports themselves as demanding scepticism. Ironically Lewandowsky now compounds this guilt by media with a class error of his own by placing the imputed harassers as part of an identifiable group such as that characterised by Christians, or Jews or Muslims. CFS is not a religion CFS does not involve choice, and CFS has no cultural shared space in any way comparable to religions whose followers can be counted in billions. Yet Lewandowsky now suggests that “…it might not be in their [every CFS patient who is not an ‘extremist’] best interest to distance themselves from such rhetoric lest it impair their own credibility.” This essentially means that for a patient – someone who has no choice in their condition, must in perpetuity state that they disagree with anyone who has ever claimed an interest in CFS and who has ever done anything to offend legitimate research, or for Lewandowsky they will not be credible.

    It is the case, much to the annoyance of many, that I have frequently voiced distaste for any association of pseudoscience with CFS, but I can’t effectively distance myself from those who have carried out illegal or otherwise harassing acts if I don’t know who those people are, what they did or the circumstances in which they acted. Endlessly repeating the same inadequate media reports or quoting researchers whose own actions have lacked openness and who have singularly failed to engage with or treat with respect the patient group they claim to serve, does not add legitimacy to the claims made. Yes I believe that harassment of the PACE researchers has likely happened – ( it certainly happened to Charles Shepherd of the MEA) but are the offenders CFS patients ? I have no idea. Are the offenders members of any legitimate CFS patient organisation ? Certainly not. With this lack of identity or connection to me, why merely because of my health status have I to effectively adopt a badge saying “I abhor researcher harassment” ? My credibility in any debate about CFS does not depend upon anything that Lewandowsky wishes to impose upon me or any other patient, it depends on my (our) status as a citizen and as a patient with experience of a particular disease. Lewandowsky and Bishop were wrong to use CFS as a totem for their arguments, it’s a shame that Lewandowsky is intent on defending the error and even more a shame that he seems intent on compounding the error.
  7. Professor Lewandowsky - I don't mean this to sound harsh, but the article above seems to indicate that you have completely misunderstood why your Nature commentary received the response it did.

    In the Nature article you stated that 'organised harassment campaigns' have been carried out by 'hard-line opponents' of chronic fatigue syndrome research. There are two problems with this statement. The first - and most significant - is that there is *no* evidence in the public domain to support the claim that such a campaign has ever existed. The Guardian article you linked to (which I think was actually published in The Observer) quotes a number of incidents in which prominent researchers received hate mail and threats. This would obviously be extremely distressing for the recipients. There are over 250,000 ME/CFS patients in the UK and it's sadly inevitable that a tiny percentage of this number are prepared to overstep the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Their conduct is not excusable, and I don't want to downplay its seriousness or the amount of distress they cause. However angry letters from a few cranks does NOT amount to an organised campaign of harassment. I think this is such an important point, I'm going to repeat it in capital letters: ANGRY LETTERS FROM A FEW CRANKS DOES NOT AMOUNT TO AN ORGANISED CAMPAIGN OF HARASSMENT.

    If this 'campaign of harassment' really is as serious as has been claimed, then you have to ask - why have there been no arrests, prosecutions or convictions of these dangerous 'hard-line opponents of chronic fatigue research' (to use your phrase)? Why is there no evidence currently in the public domain that supports this narrative of an organised campaign? Why is it that Wessely, Sharpe and Crawley have been unwilling (or unable) to produce some supporting evidence when they've been challenged to do so?

    The Guardian/Observer article that you linked to was published in August 2011 - six months after the first PACE paper was published in the Lancet, and at a point where the numerous methodological issues with the paper had come into clear focus. The Observer article was accompanied by similar articles in the Telegraph, Spectator, The Times and on the BBC - all of which were organised by the Science Media Centre, and extensively used quotes from people with SMC links. The timing of these articles seems deeply suspect - just as criticisms of PACE are starting to build, an organisation which has been cheerleading the trial since inception promotes a narrative which discredits the critics as dangerous anti-science militants.

    This leads me into the second problem with your statement - which is that critics of PACE are NOT opponents of CFS research, as you described them. They are criticising the specific methodological errors which render the PACE trial uninterpretable. They are NOT anti-research (or anti-science) - they are pro-good research and pro-good science, but PACE can't credibly claim to be either of those things.

    The reason this is so important - and the reason why your flawed Nature article received the response it did - is because you were (either inadvertently or deliberately) perpetuating an untrue narrative which the PACE authors are continuing to use to avoid scrutiny of their work. Namely, that anyone who criticises PACE in any way is a dangerous anti-science militant engaged in an organised campaign of harassment.

    The Science Media Centre continues to push this line today, claiming that as FoI requests are part of this 'campaign of harassment' the law needs to be amended to provide additional exemptions for research. For the last couple of years the SMC has been running a lobbying campaign to this effect. Given that your Nature co-author, Dorothy Bishop, currently sits on the Science Media Centre's Advisory Committee, you can understand why many commentators suspected that your original article might have an ulterior motive, connected to the SMC campaign.

    If you really are both "committed supporters of openness and transparency" (as you describe yourselves above) then I look forward to seeing you both call for the release of the PACE trial data in the very near future.
  8. Lets examine the author's logical argument of one condition inferring another or a label in this case. Define a 'terrorist' ? the roman empire, the mongol empire, the ottoman empire, the hapsburg empire, the british empire, the spanish empire, the russian empire, the french empire, the german empire were built by acts of terrorism, murder and crime. These criminal empires were terrorists and they ruled by terror. So if some persons or groupings opposed these terrorists, would they also be called 'terrorists' ? If the structure of causation is ignored and the structures of reaction also ignored then how can any person arrive a 'logical' conclusion about it ? There is no logic in bias and ignorance. Humanity has much to learn, including its many professors and academics, I urge all to read

    Proceeding from this, let us examine the net effects of the psychiatric domination of ME and CFS for 25 years, lets begin with this list of those who died from the illness . Did these people experience terror, neglect, harassment, pain, suffering ? and who was responsible ? who has inflicted their views and subjective opinions on ME and CFS patients for 25 years ? the psychiatrists and their disciples. Are there logical alternatives, based on logic, evidence and facts ? yes, take some time to read and acquaint yourself with the scientific and medical facts.
  9. This essay is a giant distraction from the fact that the PACE researchers have admitted that their five million pound study is a bust. Don't believe me? Well, here it is in their own words, from their own abstract on PubMed:

    "Rehabilitative treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome: long-term follow-up from the PACE trial.

    There was little evidence of differences in outcomes between the randomised treatment groups at long-term follow-up."

    Any questions?
  10. Stephan,

    You received very reasoned and well-thought out replies to your Nature article by many commentators, readers may look at my comments under your nature article as one example; but I'd like to point out one thing, you say opponents of 'chronic fatigue research'. Just as you say 'not all Christians are terrorists', there is much chronic fatigue research underway, particularly in the US, that doesn't attract any criticism to my knowledge. As someone who works in this area and keeps up to date with it, I would argue the top ten leading world CFS experts are mostly based outside the UK, and to my knowledge have never reported harassment from CFS patients. You need to qualify your statements, because currently this narrative of a group of sufferers opposed to CFS research is not factual and only shows your lack of understanding of this area, which you admit above.

    You might argue that you don't need to be working in this area to comment on the harassment UK CFS researchers report. My first question is, have your claims been verified by evidence? If you do not work in this area as you admit, how are you able to verify the legitimacy of these claims and put yourself forward as a spokesperson, given your distance from the field. Second, in good research and journalism, we should be dealing with facts, not conjecture. How many CFS militants have been arrested or charged or convicted of such crimes; after all, harassment is a crime? I note the example of trolls on twitter who harassed a campaigner to have more women on British pound notes being arrested and charged. How many convictions have taken place of CFS militants? We may be able to begin to quantify the level of harassment that takes place versus the level of frustration articulated by the estimated 250,000 UK CFS sufferers and their families/friends. My guess would be harassment pales into insignificance compared to the growing concerns of CFS patients; yet your article and blogs do not address these concerns, rather a flippant remark that ‘some research might be bad, sometimes’. Again, with you having no knowledge in this area, you are not able to say, which research and why?
    Third, you might argue that we are dealing with a different type of harassment; as you detail in your Nature article, such as researchers being harassed by freedom of information requests or having letters of complaint raised. Might it be that this is not harassment at all? We may argue over the very meaning of harassment. I would contend that a FOI request if properly framed with proper intention, is not harassment, but the researcher or institution receiving such a FOI request might turn around and view the request as vexatious and harassing if the CFS researcher feels like deeming it so. Where are we then in this ethical dilemma? US researchers from prestigious Universities have been denied access to the PACE data on these very grounds, this is a real world example. In your Nature article you call for a third level of bureaucracy, for the FOI requester to be scrutinised using Bishop and your Red Flags Checklist. I have discussed in my previous commentary why this is not needed, using the example of the UK PACE Trial, whereby the researchers in question have to-date, failed to share data without Red Flags. In my mind, Red Flags will be used to further impede open access to data and information sharing; this is my reasoned argument. You state above, you are all for open access to data, thus I hoped you would consider this point, but you make no mention of the actual events surrounded the PACE trial, perhaps because you don’t know anything about the history of CFS research, as you state above.
    I don't think there is enough time and space to offer you detailed points on why many CFS patients are frustrated by UK CFS research. You consider patients a powerful group but do not consider doctors and scientists, highly educated, well paid and politically astute professionals, an even more powerful lobby. Some UK CFS researchers are currently lobbying the Government to exempt them from freedom of information requests. Top scientists often have access to the channels of political power and researchers (like you) have a platform and access to publishing, whereas patients do not. Perhaps this is why some patients resort to unwanted militancy. I am sure a good sociologist might offer better insights than my own, on the trauma many CFS patients report to me, however given patients are often the junior partner in any scientific debate, we must ask how can patients concerns be heard and addressed. In your article you almost forget patients, being more concerned with scientists feeling annoyed (vexatious requests for data). Instead of dreaming up ways to offer powerful scientists even more protections, on top of the many protections they hold, we should be asking how do protect patients? … how do we respond to patients concerns? These are more critical issues. I would urge you to spend some time talking to CFS patients; I wonder if you interviewed any before writing your article in Nature or this blog? Then I would urge you to consider the bigger picture of protecting freedoms of data access, rather than adding to a poorly informed narrative that might be used to restrict FOI and data sharing.
  11. I have no involvement in research on chronic fatigue, nor do I have any research interest in it. However, I have ample experience in studying the symptoms of pseudoscience and recognizing when an agenda or motivated cognition overpowers reasoned argument.

    I n this case you should be complaining about the pseudoscience that has lead to the wrong idea that M.E. can be treated like reactive depression which is what the people who have been wrongly diagnosed as having M.E. have responded to. I can say without any doubt that CBT is only of value to someone with M.E. in coming to terms with their now greatly reduced capabilities in both physical and cognisciential arenas, it is by no means any sort of cure. In fact expecting it to be is akin to saying talking therapies can cure cancer, a different physically caused condition. Also from personal experience, having twice been taken to hospital in a blues and twos emergency, and needing several hours of emergency medical input to stabilise my condition following GET interventions, the therapist would not allow me to continue with the treatment. Unfortunately due to the wrong ideas of these t"treatments" being effective, it makes it very difficult for any sufferer of the condition to get any help either financially or medically for the condition. Simon Wesely et al need to stick to what they are qualified to deal with which is psychiatric conditions and leave non psychiatric/psychological conditions to those with experience in those areas.
  12. Dr. Lewandowsky, it looks like you've earned a whole new boatload of friends. As if Barry Woods and friends were not bad enough...
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