News of the Bizarre

Chronic fatigue syndrome researchers face death threats from militants
by Robin McKie @ The Observer (UK Guardian)

Chronic fatigue syndrome – also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) – is common and debilitating. A recent BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) feature suggested that as many as one in 250 people in the UK suffers from it. Patients are sometimes unable to move and become bedridden, occasionally having to be fed through a tube. For more than 20 years, scientists have struggled to find the cause, with some pointing to physiological reasons, in particular viral infections, while others have argued that psychological problems are involved.

It is the latter group that has become the subject of extremists’ attacks. The antagonists hate any suggestion of a psychological component and insist it is due to external causes, in particular viruses. In the case of McClure, her “crime” was to publish a paper indicating that early studies linking the syndrome to the virus XMRV were wrong and the result of laboratory contamination. So furious was the reaction that she had to withdraw from a US collaboration because she was warned she might be shot.

Wow, guys. You seriously need to chill. Even if your condition is psychological, that doesn’t make it any less real.

You know what I suspect, though? I suspect the umbrella term “chronic fatigue syndrome” covers a lot of unidentified maladies, some of which are conversion disorders and some of which are physiological. “Chronic fatigue syndrome” is like the term “idiopathic” in a way. As Dr. House once cleverly observed, “idiopathic” is Latin for “we’re idiots because we don’t know what’s causing it.”

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