New York Magazine’s Intelligencer published an fallacious article last week about Long COVID and ME/CFS in which the author, Jeff Wise, paternalistically argues that graded exercise therapy (GET) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can successfully treat patients if only the ME and Long COVID communities were open to this possibility. Wise fails to acknowledge the long history of patients willingly undergoing these treatments at the guidance of their doctor, and the subsequent harm that ensued for many people.
Wise made no effort to actually engage the community he claims to have authority to write about. He does not interview anyone living with ME directly, and draws a sweeping conclusion about treating ME and Long COVID based on the experience of one person who had Long COVID for 7 months.
#MEAction sent the email below to the journalist, Jeff Wise, as well as New York Magazine editors Justin Miller and Margaret Hartmann. Miller has acknowledged receiving the email, but has offered no further response.
Dear Jeff, Margaret and Justin,
I’m emailing to raise concerns about Jeff Wise’s recent article in New York Magazine’s Intelligencer regarding Long COVID and ME/CFS. Unfortunately, Wise’s article draws many illogical conclusions based on inaccurate information, biased reporting and flawed assumptions. We are deeply concerned not only by this sloppy reporting but by the way it stigmatizes a community of people who are chronically ill and vulnerable, and causes real-world harm.
Wise’s paternalistic take-away is that millions of people could easily cure their disease if they weren’t so militant against psychological interventions. Wise fails to mention that thousands of those very people had willingly undertaken these psychological interventions at the recommendation of their practitioner, and experienced either worse outcomes or no benefits. And, Wise completely ignores the fact that the very “evidence” that these treatments were based on has been debunked as junk science by the scientific community.
- We request that New York Magazine editors and fact checkers delve into the full evidence available on this subject, and not simply draw conclusions from a few disgruntled researchers who *wish* their results had been true.
- We request that Wise actually speaks with the people he claims to be reporting on, instead of writing an entire article about a community without actually interviewing anyone from that community.
- We ask that New York Magazine hold itself to a standard of publishing well-informed journalism and remove the article.
Misinformation and fallacies in Wise’s article include:
1. Wise’s inference in the article that the patient population is fundamentally opposed to psychological interventions. This is blatantly false, and ignores the fact that thousands of people with ME have willingly undergone GET and CBT treatments at the recommendation of their practitioners since this was the standard practice in the UK for years. Patients began to express concern after willingly undergoing these treatments at the recommendation of their practitioner because they found that their health was either worsening or not improving, and realized that they were not alone.
A 2017 survey from the UK with over 1000 respondents reported that over 80% experienced worse health outcomes following GET. A 2019 Oxford Brookes survey of 2,274 respondents shows the majority reported deterioration or no change in symptoms and health after undergoing GET and CBT. More than two thirds (67.1%) of those who underwent GET reported deterioration in their physical health.
There is also growing evidence that people with ME experience physiological abnormalities in their response to exercise, including reduced blood flow to the brain and heart, reduced oxygen uptake in hemoglobin, reduced oxygen utilization, and abnormal gene expression.
This is not a theological choice. Our community is desperate for answers and have willingly tried many, many treatments looking for relief. We began to express concerns with treating ME with GET and CBT after seeing that these treatments were either ineffectual or harming our community.
2. Wise’s article fails to mention that the scientific community has resoundingly criticized Dr. Sharpe’s design of the PACE trial for containing multiple, serious methodological flaws. More than 100 scientists in the field called for an independent re-analysis of the PACE trial data.
3. Wise’s dismissive remarks of the National Academy of Medicine report is ridiculous. The panel of experts reviewed over 9,000 separate studies and concluded that ME/CFS is a multi-system disease often preceded by an immune challenge.
4. Wise presents a biased presentation of the patient community as he only interviewed one person with post-viral disease for his article. He shared the experience of that one data point as proof that anyone can recover from post-viral illness by just ignoring it and exercising through. That patient, Paul Garner, recovered at month 7. As we see with Long COVID and know about post-viral disease, many people do recover within the initial months. For this reason, an official diagnosis of ME/CFS is not made until month 6. It’s irresponsible to draw a conclusion from the experience of one person, and apply it to millions of people. This is just bad science, and sloppy reporting. Furthermore, it’s not clear what made Garner recover – whether it was the months of resting or CBT, or if he would have recovered naturally anyway.