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The paper by C H Hawkes (Is multiple sclerosis a sexually transmitted infection?1) has caused predictable distress to people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their families. Living with MS is a difficult enough experience without such sudden and avoidable alarm. The UK Multiple Sclerosis Society’s national helpline and local branches have been inundated with calls expressing anger and anxiety.
It is hard to understand the motive for publication when your own expert editorial commentator specifically referred to the paper’s “pure speculation” and “potential to cause harm”. Did the sensational nature of Dr Hawkes’s hypothesis and the virtual guarantee of extensive publicity it could receive outweigh proper consideration of its scientific merit?
There is also the worrying question of what damage may have been caused to the reputation of MS research in the UK by the lay media coverage which was attracted. The MS Society has a current forward commitment of around £12 million to nearly 70 research projects. That money is raised by voluntary donation. Anything which could discredit the quality of research here is of material concern to us.
Ed: The journal regrets any distress caused to patients with MS as a result of the widespread publicity this article received in the media. However, we wish to emphasise that the article was subject to the usual peer review process.