Winning at all costs
By Matthew Chute
was the kind of
work that almost never gets done by either the government or the universities because there is no support
and no reward for doing it."
Theo Colborn, Our Stolen Future
Our medical schools produce the best doctors and researchers in the world due to the
They are literally the top minds in the intellectual game, and we benefit from their accomplishments.
But the same competition that helped shape those individuals can hurt their chances of ever finding a
cure for chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS).
Unfortunately for us, competition
has become the controlling standard in the field of medical research. The best researchers are so focused
on battling with each other for limited funding that they have less time to use their mental powers to
solve challenging medical problems. They are often more preoccupied with sales than with science.
can certainly appreciate the value of good salesmanship. My advertising agency has helped companies
that do not have the best product on the market sell their product as well as the best. Thatís business,
right? When it comes to our illness, however, "thatís business" means some research is being funded just
because the researcher is a good salesman. And more importantly, it means there are other brilliant researchers
who are not being funded because they are not good at selling their ideas.
Many play the game
of procuring research funding to "win at all costs" based on the belief that "allís fair in love and war."
He who has the best connections has a better chance of coming out on top. I realize that there is a finite
amount of money available, but is it in everyoneís best interest to play the game this way and pit different
chronic conditions and diseases against one another?
It seems that more and more research is being
done because of political motives (those of the government, universities, private industry) as opposed
to a desire to seek the truth. Laboratory work is often aimed at confirming the answer that the party
funding the research wants. Universities are becoming extensions of private industry in their desire to
be money-makers and not the bastions of free thought and inquiry they were meant to be.
wonder that the political motives for research often have to do with profit. I wonder how much is being
spent on finding a cure for baldness, obesity and other "profitable" afflictions? Obviously businesses
need to make money, but it angers me that one large pharmaceutical company will spend more on advertising
a new drug than the entire country will spend researching treatments for our illness.
book Our Stolen Future is a good example of what happens when the quest for profit hinders research.
It examines the impact of persistent chemicals in the environment on health, and the ramifications are
threatening to many corporations. Colborn has told me about the public relations battles that followed
the publication of her book. She was funded without any strings attached, but I am sure many other researchers
who have uncovered public health problems have been driven out of existence by the very entities that
provided their initial financial backing.
Like Colbornís work, our illness (as well as multiple
chemical sensitivities, Gulf War syndrome and fibromyalgia) may garner such criticism because there is
a possibility that some industry may be to blame in part for our plight. Not to be overly cynical, but
Elaine Showalter, John Stossel and others in the media who negatively portray our condition do not form
their opinions in a vacuum. They answer to the CEOs and editors who do not believe that CFIDS is real
or worth investigating.
So what can we do? To start, we should use our limited resources to rally
public support and foster understanding about CFIDS in order to gain the kind of political support we
need to get funding. We may think we have influence over our condition, but the truth is that we need
others to help us out of this nightmare. That means maintaining the flow of public dollars toward our
Theo Colborn is right. The most important kind of research, which is not politically motivated,
is not being done. In our case, it is the job of coordinating and interpreting the wide variety of complex
and contradictory information about our illness. We need a brilliant, broad-minded individual who has
knowledge of the bodyís many interdependent systems. Someone who understands the immune system and the
environment. Someone who can seek solutions free from competitive distractions. Someone who isnít "employed"
by someone else.
I realize that this is a difficult task, but we cannot afford to leave that job
to those with their own personal agendas who would "win at all costs." Itís just too costly for us.
Matthew Chute lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he co-owns a public relations
agency, Perrone & Chute.