One lot of scientists is mocked as stooges of a free-market conspiracy to dismantle the welfare state. The other stands accused of marshalling a bloody-minded and ideologically driven “witch-hunt”.
How did an argument about a clinical trial become so personal? The first thing to understand is that chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a very real and traumatic illness affecting about a quarter of a million Britons.
Although the main symptom is fatigue, others include muscle pain and problems with sleep, memory and concentration.
For many years patient groups and sympathetic researchers had to fight the medical establishment for acknowledgement it is a real syndrome.
Now it has been officially recognised, the battle line is between those who think ME needs psychological interventions and those who believe it is mainly physical.
Six years ago, UK government-funded scientists published the results of the 641-patient Pace trial, which showed that ME could be treated with a combination of standard medical care, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Yet many patients resent the implication ME is somehow “in the mind”. The Pace trial’s academic critics also say they have found a large number of serious flaws.
The dispute touches on people’s political beliefs. Only one thing is sure: yesterday’s broadside by the Journal of Health Psychology will not be the last word on the subject.