Yesterday, the following notice appeared on the P2P ME/CFS website in a red box:
Important Notice: The ODP recently discovered that one set of public comments was not forwarded to the panel for consideration. Because the ODP is committed to ensuring that all public comments have been considered, we have paused the publication process in order to give the panel time to consider the new information and determine if changes are needed before the release of the final report. Once the panel has been able to deliberate, the publication process will resume, and the ODP will announce a new timeline on our website. (emphasis added)
First, let me acknowledge NIH’s public admission of the gross negligence I pointed out in my FOIA appeal. It is never easy to admit that you messed up. And I appreciate NIH trying to remedy the problem. However, this proposed fix is completely inadequate.
Public comments on the P2P report should be considered equally. They should be compared and contrasted, and given equal weight. By failing – through some kind of monumental mistake – to provide the Panel with ALL of the comments at the same time, the missing comments will automatically be considered differently than the comments sent to the Panel in January.
For example, imagine you are a scientist and you’ve written up a recent set of experiments for publication. You’ve finished the Results and Discussion sections; you’ve completed your figures and tables. Then, at the last minute, someone points out to you that you failed to include a large chunk of data in the paper. Do you look at the missing data to see if it changes your paper at all? Or do you rewrite the paper, with the data now included?
Or, since NIH is so fond of the jury analogy for P2P, imagine this jury trial. The jury has deliberated and is about to come into the courtroom to announce their verdict. The judge stops them and says, “We failed to present testimony from a number of witnesses. We don’t have time to do that the usual way, with cross-examination and so on. So just read their statements and see if it changes your mind.” A mistrial would be declared so fast you would get windburn.
The whole point of public comment is for the Panel to have the benefit of outside views on their draft report. The process is designed to give the Panel time to consider ALL the public comment TOGETHER, before revising their draft report. Instead, NIH is now trying to close the barn door after the horses by asking the Panel to read these comments and see if it changes anything in their report.
Here is what I think NIH should do to remedy the situation:
- Reconvene the Panel in person. Provide them with all the public comment. Provide them with the IOM report. Ask them to review all of that information and revise their report again. That is the only fair way to treat those comments that NIH failed to send the Panel in the first place.
- Undertake an audit of the P2P process and staff. This is a monumental screw up (believe me, I’m using much stronger language in my head). There is absolutely no excuse for “misplacing” half of the public comment submitted on this report. It’s even more outrageous because it appears that the comments from HHS’s own advisory committee were among those misplaced. How is this possible!? In the real world, this is the kind of thing that gets you fired. And it’s only one problem among the many that we have uncovered in the P2P operation. NIH needs to audit the Office of Disease Prevention, and establish who is responsible for this string of bad decisions and poor performance.
Do not make the mistake of thinking all this is a technicality. Failure to provide the Panel with all of the public comment when they revised their report undermines the validity of the report. ODP is obliged to handle the public comment fairly. They failed to do so in the most basic, fundamental way.
CFSAC and Mass CFIDS and Mary Dimmock and all the rest of you who submitted such great comments deserve a full and fair hearing. NIH is still not giving that to you, despite it’s supposed commitment to do so.