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Standing up for Science

Professor Simon Wessely from King’s College London's Institute of Psychiatry has been awarded the John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science 2012 for “his ambition and courage in the field of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Gulf War syndrome.”

At a special award ceremony last night, Professor Wessely was awarded the Prize in recognition for the way he has dealt bravely with intimidation and harassment when speaking about his work and that of colleagues. 

The John Maddox Prize, in its inaugural year, is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature and Sense About Science, a charity dedicated to helping the public make sense of science of scientific and medical claims in public discussion. The Prize recognises the work of individuals who promote sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so. 

Professor Simon Wessely says: 'I was surprised but also delighted to be one of the first two recipients of the John Maddox Prize. There have been times over the years when standing up for science has indeed been difficult, but it has always been worthwhile and never lonely. I have been helped and sustained by the support of so many other wonderful clinicians and scientists who work in the same field and have had similar experiences to me over the years, any one of whom would have been equally worthy of this honour.'

Professor Anthony David, from the IoP at King’s who nominated Professor Wessely says: 'Professor Wessely has had to suffer continued abuse and obstruction from a powerful minority of people who, under the guise of self-help organisations, have sought to promote an extreme and narrow version of ME/CFS. It is not his personal safety that has bothered him so much as what their reaction says about the way psychiatric illness is stigmatised in our society. Simon’s work and ability to communicate, despite impediments has made a significant impact in reducing this stigma.'

Professor Simon Wessely is currently Director of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research and Professor of Psychological Medicine at the IoP at King’s. He began research into ME/CFS in the 1980’s. His work, and that of colleagues showed there was no simple causal association between common viral infections and the disorder. He later developed a treatment approach using cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), now in the NICE guidelines.

The John Maddox Prize is supported by the Kohn Foundation, and named after the late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science. 

Philip Campbell, Editor of Nature and judge, says: 'We looked beyond communicating for a more unusual degree of courage and to uncover people who otherwise don't get noticed. The winners of the prize demonstrated the kind of sustained resilience and determination to communicate good science that John Maddox personified.'

For further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377