University of Bristol Responds, Sort Of

By David Tuller, DrPH

Last week, I e-mailed a letter to Sue Paterson, director of legal services at the University of Bristol, to express my concerns about Professor Esther Crawley’s false claim that I had libeled her in reporting on her research for Virology Blog. On Friday, I received a two-sentence response from Ms. Paterson. She addressed it to “Mr. Tuller” and wrote this:

“Thank you for your email of 14 June. Your comments have been noted.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this terse reply. Was that all that Bristol’s director of legal services had to say about the fact that a well-known faculty member issued an absurd allegation during a high-profile event sponsored by this august institution? Had she simply noted my concerns herself, or had she actually conveyed them to Professor Crawley, as I’d requested? Did the university feel any sense of responsibility for what had occurred? Would Ms. Paterson’s “noting” of my comments be followed by any further missive or perhaps even an apology after the university investigated the event? Who knows?

I responded at somewhat greater length but prefer for the moment to keep the exact phrasing private. My tone was what I would describe as very pointed but within bounds, although I have come to realize that the British tend to interpret “within bounds” somewhat more narrowly than Americans.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“Thank you for your response. (For the record, it should Dr. Tuller, not Mr. Tuller. I have a doctorate in public health, as I indicated in the sign-off to my letter. However, please feel free to call me David.)” 

I have a feeling the pro-PACE camp might have difficulty with the “Dr” thing because my behavior—like tearing up Lancet papers at public events—does not fit their preconceived notions of how people with advanced academic degrees should act. However, this group apparently thinks it’s fine to accuse patients of being “vexatious” just because they want to know the actual answers that the PACE investigators promised to provide in exchange for five million pounds of public funds.

Anyway, my letter went on from there. To paraphrase: I noted that the prolonged silence from Professor Crawley indicated to any reasonable observer that she could not defend her allegation, and that I took this as her tacit acknowledgment of error. I also noted that Ms. Paterson’s own minimalist, content-free response included no documentation or evidence that anything I wrote about Professor Crawley’s research was inaccurate. I stated that, as far as I was concerned, no further communication about the matter was necessary, since at this point it was obvious to all that I had not written “libellous blogs” about Professor Crawley.

I also wrote that I hoped someone would explain to Professor Crawley the distinction between opinions she dislikes and libel. And I expressed the expectation that the offending slide would be retired for good and that Professor Crawley would no longer repeat her false libel accusation in public. I explained as well that whatever she said about me in private was obviously her own business.

I have no idea if I will hear back again from Ms. Paterson or anyone else in Bristol’s legal department, but I will provide an update if I do.



20 responses to “University of Bristol Responds, Sort Of”

  1. Fiona Avatar

    “Your comments have been noted.” That doesn’t even indicate whether your email is being actioned one way or another. My inference: major stonewalling. How sad!

  2. Lady Shambles Avatar
    Lady Shambles

    ‘Move along , nothing to see here’. Variations on that theme seem to be the default setting for the Wessely School when they’re discovered with their pants on fire. I suspect, given their body of work, we should get used to hearing more of it in future. I’d like to think they could be a tad more original.

  3. Olivia Rowe Avatar
    Olivia Rowe

    The brevity of that response suggests to me that they are aware that Esther’s actions are libellous and therefore any information they give you further than that given may be used as evidence if legal action follows.
    In some ways it’s a shame you’ve gone public about your intention to not take her to court so you can continue to publish continuing correspondence – but there’s nothing to stop you changing your mind, is there?

  4. Paul Watterson Avatar
    Paul Watterson

    Good God! Pathetic.

  5. Olivia Beatty Avatar
    Olivia Beatty

    Prof David Spiegelhalter is a biostatistician at Cambridge and once worked with the MRC. Would it be worthwhile​ writing to him about the PACE trial ?

  6. Wendy Boutilier Avatar
    Wendy Boutilier

    There are more “smoke & mirrors” in the UK than all of China. The University of Bristol appears to be operating the same way as Kings College & Queen Mary University of London.

  7. Alison Orr Avatar
    Alison Orr

    Shockingly unprofessional.

  8. Lois Addy Avatar
    Lois Addy

    ok. what that response meant was – (a) it’s an acknowledgement they have received it and (b) it’s an acknowledgement that they’ve read it. And that’s as far as they’re going to go right now.

    What it may mean is, that they aren’t going to take any action to find out, so it’s a polite ‘this is the end of it’ (aka the corporate brushoff, where you say something, intending your boss to deal with it, cos it’s above your paygrade and the boss says ‘it’s been noted’ often means, yes you said it but that’s where it ends.

    OR it may mean they are going to look into it, in their own time, and in the meantime aren’t giving out any opinion or info that may or may not cause problems later on. It is entirely likely that behind the scenes there’ll be wheels turning and things happening that we may never find out about, but in the end, will add considerable weight to some future decision about the issue. that won’t be acknowledge publicly.

    OR it may mean that wheels are turning and there will be a full response possibly an apology, possibly a refutation at some stage in the future once they’ve got their ducks in a row.

    Basically – it is an acknowledgement that leaves it open for the person to either never go near the issue again, or to deal with it in their own time.

    It is however pretty deliberately phrased to discourage further enquiry, in my personal view. that’s how I’d read it if I got it. that said, such phrasing doesn’t mean nothing is going to be done about it. It just means they don’t want to get in a discussion about it. Genuinely doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be parked or buried. Only time will tell.

  9. JustinReilly Avatar

    David, thanks for your continued follow up.

    Im going to message you in a second about this.

  10. Gina Avatar

    Ester Crawly and Bristol University are not alone in supporting the indefensible PACE/Cochrane review debacle. Micheal Sharpe and Oxford University are also attacking patients and calling patients anti science when in reality it is patients who are calling out for objective/scientific data and trials.

  11. Gina Avatar

    Maybe it’s now time to go to the top of the Bristol University tree…..the chancellor?

  12. Not this again Avatar
    Not this again


    I know, I know. Obviously you’re not suing & the idea is impractical. I think we all get that. So that’s not a serious suggestion, or request.

    It just sounds good. Doesn’t it?


  13. esthersiebert Avatar

    Has anyone investigated the financial side in the UK ie how these researchers have a financial stake in upholding their debunked science? Could Llewellyn do this? Any regular investigative reporters who might be interested in looking at the whole picture?

  14. Anil van der Zee Avatar
    Anil van der Zee

    It’s interesting how one can be ruined in biomedical research when making a small mistake, but with this sort of “science” you get full protection from the universities? PACE, Knoop /Nijmegen and FITNET…. bizarre

  15. Lisa Petrison Avatar
    Lisa Petrison

    Thanks for the update, Dr. Tuller.

  16. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I didn’t know about your doctorate – it is icing on the cake!

    The MDs won’t accept it – but they act like a bunch of robots following protocols established by various medical societies out of large quantities of ‘data’ which may not apply to the patient at hand (such as drug doses developed on young male prisoners being given to older female adults). An MD is NOT a research degress; a PhD IS.

  17. Luise Avatar

    Thank you for the update!

  18. Brian Hanley Avatar
    Brian Hanley

    Indeed. “Only qualified to teach MDs.”
    However, most MDs I know are pretty good that way. FWIW – as one goes east and south MDs become more and more hidebound and impossible in my experience. That is especially true with women who come to them.

  19. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    The MDs I’ve been to for almost three decades have been useless except for paperwork, routine stuff, and having a doctor of record. None would learn anything – they confessed their ignorance but had no desire to change that state. I haven’t needed a specialist in other things, since the third pain specialist finally discovered Celebrex worked for me. The rest I manage myself.

    The brand new cardiologist (I’m human – other stuff comes up even though I already contributed by having CFS) ALSO has no interest in listening or learning. I had a horrible time (check blog if curious) with the stents I acquired in Feb. because of drug reactions, after I warned them I don’t tolerate most drugs. She doesn’t want to read anything. Again, I need to maintain a cardiologist of record for routine things. I thought a female cardiologist would be better (and she’s better than the male cardiologists at her practice, way too many of which I’ve now met and interacted with), but it’s no panacea.

    They think they know everything, even in areas they are completely ignorant in. Maybe the God Complex is required to be able to do the things they have to do, and prescribe the things they prescribe, but I am too old to bow down any more. And now that I’m retired, every single working doctor is much younger than I am – and they are no better than their predecessors.

  20. Wendy Goodall Avatar
    Wendy Goodall

    Physiology please!!! Objective data on what is wrong…