Just in case you didn’t see it–Brian Deer published more information about Dr. Andrew Wakefield recently. This has caused a lot of furor (we are over 160 comments on that thread already). No surprises there: saying anything which might suggest Dr. Wakefield is anything less than a hero, especially when Brian Deer is doing it, will do that.
Almost all (if not all) of the responses to Brian Deer’s piece has been one big diversionary tactic: attack the messenger. Everyone seems to be studiously avoiding facing the real tough questions. Let’s avoid the ethics questions for the moment. If the details Mr. Deer presented in his article are true, Dr. Wakefield’s autism research has lost any last shred of support. That is a tough pill to swallow for the Wakefield supporters.
David Kirby joined in on the Deer bashing. Seems he read an article by Melanie Philips and rehashed it for his fans on the Huffington Post. He found Ms. Philips’ story to be “very interesting reading”. You see, Ms. Philips postulated:
What the Sunday Times did not report was that the GMC investigation into Wakefield was triggered by a complaint from… Brian Deer, who furnished the allegations against him four years ago.
This was then spun into a story of supposed conflict of interest and a great avoidance of the direct and specific claims of possible misinformation in Dr. Wakefield’s papers.
But, back to Mr. Kirby. He states:
The point is an excellent one. Imagine if a US journalist sued a doctor for libel or misconduct, and then went to the NY Times and asked to be hired as a freelancer to cover the trial that they themselves had instigated in the first place. It wouldn’t happen.
I found that statement very ironic, coming as it did from someone who aided significantly in manufacturing the thimerosal controversy, and who now seems to owe some of his employment to servicing that same controversy.
That said, what about this notion, this postulate as I have called it, that Brian Deer initiated the investigation that he is now reporting on? Well, it turns out that Mr. Deer is not a complainant in the GMC hearings on Dr. Wakefield. Below is a letter to Mr. Deer explaining exactly that.
Strictly Private & Confidential
Mr Brian Deer
25 May 2005
General Medical Council – Dr Wakefield, Dr Murch, Dr Walker-Smith
I write further to your telephone conversation with Peter Swain last Thursday seeking clarification in relation to your role in the above General Medical Council (“GMC”) proceedings.
I have now had the opportunity to review the GMC’s files. My understanding is that further to your articles appearing in the Sunday Times in February 2004 in relation to your investigation into Dr Andrew Wakefield and the MMR vaccine, you were approached by GMC case officer Tim Cox-Brown, who asked you to supply the GMC with further information regarding this matter.
Your situation as a journalist who has carried out an investigation into the conduct of the practitioners in question is unusual for the GMC. I note from the GMC and FFW’s correspondence files that there does appear to have been some confusion in relation to your role in these proceedings.
In GMC ‘complainant’ cases an individual will have approached the GMC with a complaint against a particular practitioner. If the GMC decides to hold an inquiry, legal representation is offered to the complainant for preparation and presentation of the case before the Professional Conduct Committee.
As stated in Peter Swain’s letter to you dated 16 December 2004, your role in this matter is that of ‘informant’ rather than ‘complainant’. This is due to the fact that the conduct of the practitioners in question has not affected you directly and clearly involves issues of a wider public interest.
As you are aware, your involvement the GMC’s conduct of this case prior to our commencing our investigation and subsequent to our meetings with you on 24 February 2005 and 7 March 2005 has been minimal. We are preparing this case for presentation at the Professional Conduct Committee on the instructions of the GMC. Moreover, we are not able to discuss draft charges with you for reasons
We apologise for any confusion in relation to your status in these proceedings and any difficulties this may have caused you. We have made it clear to all parties that your role is that of informant rather than complainant. Please find enclosed a copy of the letter sent to Dr Wakefield’s legal representatives clarifying your status in these proceedings.
We are grateful for information supplied by you and your assistance to date.
So, Brian Deer didn’t initiate the investigation. He wasn’t a complainant. It isn’t like, as in Mr. Kirby’s analogy, Mr. Deer didn’t “sue a doctor for libel or misconduct”.
Let me take a page out of Mr. Kirby’s own playbook:
David, if you read this (and we both know you will), take the message to heart and write a correction to your blog piece on the Huffington Post. Better yet, put up a new one with an explanation and apology.