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Brian Hughes

It’s ‘bogus argument’ time again, as Ireland’s right-wingers gear up for divorce referendum

A letter in today’s Irish Times:

And — oh look! — basically the very same letter in today’s Irish Independent:

This chap really does make heavy use of his letter-writing kit. It’s almost as though he is on some sort of campaign.

Here are some line-by-line hot takes:

“… we will be asked to facilitate more liberal divorce laws. We will also be asked to pave the way for the recognition of foreign divorces.”

Darn those foreigners! We don’t want their foreignness here!

We already have in our country too many victims of shattered households.

That may be, but it has nothing to do with divorce. Ireland’s divorce rate — 0.6% — is amongst the lowest in the world. It turns out that households shatter all by themselves, and that divorce laws have nothing to do with it.

Divorce is the end result of family break-up, not its cause. (I’m getting some serious “Hello Divorce, Bye Bye Daddy” flashbacks as I type this.)

“Those of us who are involved with homeless services, youth support or societies like St Vincent de Paul, are all too aware of the heartache and confusion caused by divorce and the fragmentation of families”

Caused by divorce” you say? This seems unlikely. In Ireland, divorce is only available after four years of separation. People who become homeless due to relationship breakdown become homeless straight away.

It is absolutely true that relationship breakdown is a risk factor for homelessness. For example, children of separated parents are more likely to become homeless, especially in socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

But this is entirely different from the claim that divorce causes homelessness. If anything, having a legal divorce helps to make homelessness less likely, given the way courts mandate the provision of alimony and other financial security for family members.

It is the chaotic nature of non-divorce breakups — where no law or court determines what financial arrangements are made — that places families at financial risk.

You could say that this is one of the main reasons for divorce laws: to protect families from the chaos of unstructured and unregulated family breakdown.

“Every marriage worthy of the name has to try to withstand the storms of life; it is more than just a fair weather relationship.”

I repeat the point — Ireland has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. I think we get the fact that marriages are not fair weather relationships.

“My family and I will be voting No”

Ah, his family and he. Such a family guy. All about the family.

Remember the 90s? I sure as hell do….
(Pic: Newstalk.com)

Basically, his line — that liberalizing divorce laws will lead to an increase in family break-up — is a retread of what was run back in Ireland’s previous divorce referendum, in 1995.

I have written about that particular campaign, and the timelessness of its reactionary subtext, before.

But the argument holds no water. The ‘evidence’ presented — namely, that homelessness and family break-up exists — does not support the hypothesis — i.e., that reducing the mandatory waiting time for divorce will make homelessness worse.

Pic: Flickr/Free Stater

Meanwhile…it turns out our letter writer has been writing letters before.

Just last October, when writing to the Sligo Champion, he complained that the provision of abortion services would turn his local hospital into an “abattoir for infants.” In January, he popped up in the Irish Catholic to recommend that “spiritual counselling” be offered as treatment for women who suffer from “post-abortion trauma” (a mental health condition that, inconveniently for him, does not exist).

In past times, he was using the terms “foetus” and “child” interchangeably when discussing different types of abortion. Later he claimed that the “people of this area” — i.e. Sligo-Leitrim — “want the right to life of the unborn child to be protected” (the actual referendum result showed that 60% of them begged to differ).

Elsewhere he busied himself defending the Catholic Church from the Irish Times‘s terrible accusation that bishops had a habit of ‘dictating’ to the state. And he has popped up in the Irish Catholic on several occasions, at one point to offer a “big thank you to all our hard-working Catholic priests.”

I don’t know about you, but I think he might be a religious conservative.

And there it is. The folks to object to the mere existence of divorce, never mind the reduction of the mandatory waiting time, are all religious conservatives. That’s their beef. They don’t want divorce because, well, because Jesus.

You know, I’d nearly respect them more if they just said so, instead of trying to mount bogus arguments about X causing Y — as though they give a damn about using empirical evidence to resolve ethical questions.

Or about homelessness, for that matter.

If this is what the collapse of centrism looks like, then PLEASE give me more centrism

All the “worst people in Ireland” are running for election at the same time. We’re talking your racists, we’re talking your sexists, we’re talking your anti-vaxxers, your anti-fluoriders, your anti-Semites. The anti-5G brigade are in there. The anti-feminists too. And the anti-LGBT folks.

Not all of them are so negative. Some of them are actually pro stuff. For example, we have pro-lifers. We have pro-gun people. We even have pro-Illuminati Conspiracy theorists.

Pro or anti, there is something for everybody.

Conall McCallig has made a list (check out his original blog post for hyperlinks):

[Edit: The list has since been updated to include Allan Brennan (Independent) – Anti-5G, Anti-Vaxxer, Diarmaid Mulcahy (Independent) – Anti-Vaxxer, Anti-Fluoride, and James Miller (Independent) – Anti-5G, Anti-Vaxxer, Anti-Semitic, Anti-Muslim]

Is it just me, or are there rather a lot of names on that list?

In Ireland, 59 candidates are running in this year’s European Parliament elections. The above list accounts for a quarter of the field. But as Conall himself points out, there were other candidates about which he could source no information. These off-grid people could be even more fringe than the horribles he did manage to track down. In other words, we could be talking about close to a third of the slate holding extremist, esoteric, or, shall we say, eccentric views on social issues.

In the Irish part of the Euro elections, thirteen seats are up for grabs (two of which may be re-allocated back to Britain if the UK eventually decides not to leave the European Union). In other words, there are more kooky candidates than there are seats to be filled.

It seems to me that some of these folks are more sinister than others. If anything, the anti-Illuminati, anti-5G, or anti-GMO candidates are very much the lesser of evils. In fact their worst influence might not be to actually get elected. Rather, their damage would be to facilitate the seriously shady ones — the real bigots — to hide behind the crazy bush.

In other words, there’s a danger that the wackos who think that 5G internet is a deep-state conspiracy to line the pockets of Big Telecom while causing cellphone brain cancer in the masses will make the de facto racists come across as serious politicians.

But they’re not. The racists are…well…they are racists. And there are several of them. And this is precisely their opportunity to capitalize on a global trend of chaos to push xenophobic agendas through to the middle-class mainstreams of the Western world, including in our own little backwater here in grand old Ireland.

I mean, they are already setting fire to asylum centres.

This is far from a comedy election.

If you spend 20 years gaslighting your patients, perhaps you should think twice before accusing *them* of trolling *you*

This week we learned that online activists are silencing scientists in the UK:

Reuters contacted a dozen professors, doctors and researchers with experience of analysing or testing potential treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. All said they had been the target of online harassment because activists objected to their findings. Only two had definite plans to continue researching treatments…

The idea of critics or activists challenging researchers and seeking to hold science to account isn’t new. Most researchers say they are happy to engage in discussion. But with social media, email and internet now accessible from almost every home, mass communication gives online activists a voice with unprecedented power. In the field of CFS/ME research, it’s often personal. Those at the centre of it say it’s gotten out of control.

The good news is that these poor put-upon scientists are not going down alone. They have defenders. For example, rushing to their aid on the pages of The Times was none other than that paragon of fact-checking, Mr Rod Liddle:

Yep. That Rod Liddle.

Far be it from me to say anything bad about Mr Liddle. I will leave it to Wikipedia to explain how his various writings have been described as racist, homophobic, transphobic, ablist, misogynistic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic, and regularly just hurtful to whatever vulnerable minority or target group he chooses in the moment. I know, Wikipedia might be wrong. Bad Wikipedia.

Nonetheless, we can certainly say that Mr Liddle is very much on the side of the silenced scientists. I won’t quote him directly. Instead, I will direct you to Frances Ryan’s eloquent riposte over at The Guardian, where she identifies the vilification of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome patients as just yet another form of 21st-century hate speech.

But won’t somebody please think of those poor scientists?

Who are they, exactly? Well, here’s an old group photo that contains some of them:

A group of people who were definitely *not* trolling anybody.
(Pic: Adapted from @BenMcNevis via Twitter)

Yep, there they are, attending a meeting on “Malingering and Illness Deception” way back in 2001 (and yes, I edited the image to blur their faces and remove their names, as a courtesy).

For 20 years, they have promoted a psychogenic model of ME/CFS. Their theory dismisses sufferers as psychiatric patients whose condition is all in the mind, rather than persons debilitated by authentic physical illness or disease.

But those terms though. “Malingering“? “Illness Deception“? Seriously? Even if the psychogenic theory were true, such labels are not very nice ways to describe patients. You might even consider them, well, abusive.

As it happens, the psychogenic theory is in fact highly unlikely to be true. The theory is defended by an ever dwindling (predominantly British) cohort of professionally interconnected psychomedical practitioners, and stands in increasing contrast to, say, the scientifically informed positions listed by the ME International Consensus Panel, the US National Academy of of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

As I have written about before (here, here, here, here, and here), ME/CFS is a chronic, inflammatory, physically and neurologically disabling and likely immune-mediated disease, involving disruption and dysfunction of multiple bodily systems.

That is, unless you are in the UK’s crazy ME/CFS psycho-vortex. In that topsy-turvy place, ME/CFS is an example of “malingering” or “illness deception”. Basically, the disease is just an opinion. An idea the patient dreamed up in their free time. After all, patients have so much free time — you would too, if you were restricted to lying in your bed, unable to move, for several decades.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Note that the “Malingering and Illness Deception” conference pre-dated, by several years, the much beleaguered PACE Trial, which is so often held up as providing key evidence to support the use of psychosocial therapies for ME/CFS. According to Reuters,

…[the PACE trial] sought to evaluate the effectiveness of different types of therapy in CFS/ME patients…the results found that cognitive behavioural therapy – designed to help patients change their thinking and behaviour – and graded exercise therapy – in which patients are encouraged to start from very low levels of daily activity and then incrementally raise them – are safe and moderately effective treatments for some people.

It is striking how the Reuters reporter so readily accepts that the PACE Trial simply “found” what it said it found, just because the authors said so in the original research report. In reality, the PACE Trial has been described as flawed by several high-profile authoritative reviews, and is extensively described as such in subsequent scientific and medical literature (although not, it seems, extensively enough for the Reuters reporter to find it using, I don’t know, maybe the internet? Perhaps their broadband was down that day…).

Pro-tip: Next time, try PubMed.
(Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com)

It is notable that most of the high-profile figures who promote the PACE Trial held their views long before the PACE Trial was ever conducted. They wrote papers about their views, authored books about their views, designed therapies based on their views, developed psychometric instruments drawing on their views, and — yes — organised conferences among themselves in order to discuss their views. These views are core to their professional identities. For many, these views are the only reason they have professional identities.

Rather than providing evidence to support a new understanding of ME/CFS, the PACE Trial was conducted long after the investigators’ conclusions were formed. PACE was not the source from which insights were sprung. It was practically the last act in the play. And according to one of its authors, the PACE Trial pretty much amounts to the very last thing he will have to do with ME/CFS:

[He] no longer conducts research into CFS/ME treatments, focusing instead on helping severely ill cancer patients. “It’s just too toxic,” he explained. Of more than 20 leading research groups who were publishing treatment studies in high-quality journals 10 years ago, [he] said, only one or two continue to do so.

(Of course, an alternative view could be that research prospects are drying up because the field of psychogenic treatments for ME/CFS is scientifically unsustainable. The model is proving to be anachronistic; it is increasingly hard to get research funding for the stuff.)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is absolutely true that much of the discourse surrounding ME/CFS is deeply fraught and highly contentious. There is a lot of anger. There is serious pressure. There is extensive name-calling and criticism that targets individuals. Things can get messy. No doubt about it.

That said, though, we should remember what is going on here.

Namely: patients with serious physical disabilities are being told, by a small coterie of academic health professionals, that their illness is a figment of their imaginations. That’s pretty incendiary. But then they are told that, as a consequence of their “illness deception”, they must be treated effectively as psychiatric cases. They must be given psychological and behavioural therapy, instead of biophysical medicine.

It is quite the double-whammy. Many of these patients are bed-ridden for decades, emaciated and debilitated, unable to study or work or hold down a normal family life. And yet they are told: “We do not believe you are really ill. You are malingering. And precisely because you are malingering, you now will be prevented from receiving proper treatment.

I don’t know about you, but that pretty much sounds like trolling to me.

These practitioners have basically been gaslighting their patients for twenty years.

All of which makes it just a little pathetic to watch them now leverage their press contacts to publicly complain that they are the ones being insulted by, ugh, mere sick people.

A final word: We have all been trolled on the internet. I have been trolled on the internet. In fact, just about every time I write about ME/CFS, I get trolled, sometimes on Twitter, sometimes by email. And I can tell you this. The folks who troll me are far from critics of the PACE Trial.

Very far indeed.

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