In a recent post here on LeftBrainRightBrain we discussed the first in a series of articles by investigative journalist Brian Deer in the BMJ. There is also an editorial by the BMJ, “Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent“. The Lancet’s retraction of the Wakefield paper was fairly mild, citing only that the patients were not consecutively referred and the study did not have ethical approval. The BMJ’s statement is much more clear, and with a reason. From the editorial:
The Lancet paper has of course been retracted, but for far narrower misconduct than is now apparent. The retraction statement cites the GMC’s findings that the patients were not consecutively referred and the study did not have ethical approval, leaving the door open for those who want to continue to believe that the science, flawed though it always was, still stands. We hope that declaring the paper a fraud will close that door for good.
Perhaps wishful thinking on their part, as there will always be people who believe Mr. Wakefield.
The BMJ goes further. They are calling for a review of other papers by Mr. Wakefield with the question of whether more retractions are warranted.
What of Wakefield’s other publications? In light of this new information their veracity must be questioned. Past experience tells us that research misconduct is rarely isolated behaviour. Over the years, the BMJ and its sister journals Gut and Archives of Disease in Childhood have published a number of articles, including letters and abstracts, by Wakefield and colleagues. We have written to the vice provost of UCL, John Tooke, who now has responsibility for Wakefield’s former institution, to ask for an investigation into all of his work to decide whether any more papers should be retracted.
This parent of an autistic child welcomes this move by the BMJ. I am grateful to the editors for their action.