Much attention has been focused on Andrew Wakefield again recently. This follows Mr. Wakefield’s lawsuit against Brian Deer, Fiona Godlee and the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Also, a lengthy complaint authored by David Lewis was made public, detailing his views about the allegations of fraud levied against Mr. Wakefield by the BMJ.
The two are not directly related as Mr. Lewis’ complaint fails to address many of the issues raised by the BMJ in their articles alleging fraud. That said, If one pokes around Mr. Deer’s website, one will eventually stumble upon this page: David L Lewis: indignant abuse as complaints turn to nothing. There is an introduction to the subject including Mr. Deer’s interactions with Mr. Lewis followed by a point by point response to Mr. Lewis’ complaint. For anyone who may be thinking that Mr. Deer is intimidated by the complaint I encourage you to read the response. It is very much in the style of Brian Deer. For example
DAVID L LEWIS: “My report, which I have submitted to UCL, UKRIO and HEFCE, includes 72 emails exchanged between me and the BMJ’s editors.”
DEER: I offer the recipients at UCL, UKRIO and HEFCE my sympathy.
Aside from such dismissive statements, Mr. Deer takes on the many (often repetitive) claims by Mr. Lewis directly. Mr. Lewis’ complaint and main thesis in his rapid response to the BMJ focus on non-specific colitis as used in the Lancet paper: the histology grading sheets of Dr. Dillhon somehow prove that there was no fraud. It is a confusing argument because it doesn’t address the many issues raised by Mr. Deer and the BMJ.
Per Mr. Deer in his introduction:
These biopsy assessments, however, weren’t the basis upon which, in January 2011, the BMJ concluded that Wakefield’s MMR work was “an elaborate fraud”. The evidence we presented rested firmly on the GMC panel’s findings of research dishonesty, and was overwhelmingly related to Wakefield’s activities with regard to the admission of patients to the study, as well as the purported clinical histories and findings which lay behind a claim by Wakefield of a 14-day temporal link between the administration of MMR and the first “behavioural symptoms” of autism. We say this purported link was fraudulent.
Later, in response to Mr. Lewis’ claim:
DAVID L LEWIS: “… alleged that Andrew Wakefield fabricated the diagnosis of colitis in a 1998 Lancet study involving 12 children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).”
Mr. Deer responds:
DEER: At the core of our problems in dealing with Lewis is that nowhere was such an allegation made in the BMJ. He repeatedly identifies my feature “Autistic enterocolitis under the microscope”, published in April 2010, but this simply doesn’t make such an allegation. Plain reading would make this clear.
Not only can I find no foundation for this fundamental of Lewis’s complaint (and I think I’d remember forming any view at that time that the histopathology reporting in the Lancet was fraudulent, as distinct from, say, wrong, misleading or incompetent), we consulted legal counsel, before and after publication, and expert peer-reviewers. We remain unable to identify any text inferring Wakefield’s intent with regard to histology reporting. I’ve similarly asked Nature to identify any such text, and they too have failed
Mr. Lewis has taken issue with the fact that the BMJ did not print his rapid response exactly as submitted:
DAVID L LEWIS: “To support their new fraud theory, Godlee rewrote my Rapid Response, removing any evidence that undermined their allegations against Wakefield and others.”
DEER: Lewis’s rapid response was extensively re-written because it was false and defamatory. Legal advice was taken. Two peer reviewers rejected the submitted text. No changes had any effect in supporting any “fraud theory”, whether new or otherwise. Lewis approved the published text.
In hosting the words of Mr. Lewis, the BMJ would itself be responsible in part for any defamatory language included. This is the way of the law in the U.K..
In my opinion, the Mr. Lewis’ arguments are a side show of the the Wakefield saga (Yes, in my view Mr. Wakefield is a major side show in itself). They don’t address the substance of the claims of fraud put forth by the BMJ.