A syndromologist writes

It is flattering to be labelled as Britain's "syndromologist in chief" ("Ill-defined notions", 5 February). If only my colleagues and those who determine research funding in this country shared that view. In reality I am but one of many who struggle to understand the nature of modern symptoms and syndromes, such as ME or Gulf war syndrome.

I share Ziauddin Sardar's view that this is an area replete with technical difficulties, and played out not just in the medical, but also in the social and political arenas. That bit could have come straight out of our recent book on the subject (Chronic Fatigue and its Syndromes, OUP, 1998).

Our studies established that going to the Gulf affected the health of many of those who served there. They were three times more likely to be suffering from numerous symptoms than those who served elsewhere, including Bosnia. That we did not find evidence of a unique Gulf war syndrome was a side issue, dependent largely on complex statistics. As the extensive media coverage showed, far from being angry, the Royal British Legion and the majority of veterans interviewed welcomed the research as validating their complaints, even if it had been too long in coming.

Sardar seems to think that I would dread being locked in a studio with Gulf veterans. Wrong again. Esther Rantzen, now that would be frightening, but I already spend much time with Gulf veterans, and I am proud to do so.

Professor Simon Wessely
King's College Medical School
London SE5

This article first appeared in the 12 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kick out the image-makers