Another manufactured controversy

26 Jul

People are mad at Brian Deer. Really mad. His work uncovered a number of facts behind Andrew Wakefield’s research and business interests. These facts, these actions by Mr. Wakefield, led to many of the problems Mr. Wakefield has suffered in recent years. It is understandable that people are mad at Brian Deer. Andrew Wakefield is rather important to the groups who believe that vaccines caused an epidemic of autism. Mr. Wakefield is the researcher who took the parent’s hypothesis and put it into a prestigious medical journal. Mr. Wakefield has good credentials, and demeanor which makes for excellent TV footage. It is difficult to listen to him and think, “here is a man who lied to the world, caused a fear of the MMR vaccine and vaccines in general, and hid not only his faulty research, but other ethical lapses and shortcuts taken along the way”.

Difficult, but not impossible. The U.K.’s General Medical Council decided that contrary to what Mr. Wakefield had to say in his defense, he had misrepresented his work, he had taken many ethical shortcuts. While the GMC wasn’t interested in the vaccine fears promoted by the faulty, even fraudulent research, the GMC did find Mr. Wakefield guilty of ethics violations, research misconduct and dishonesty and had him struck off the U.K.’s medical register.

And, yes, it was the facts that led to the downfall of Mr. Wakefield. But, that doesn’t shield the messenger. In this case, Mr. Deer. Well, he was more than the messenger. He uncovered the facts as well as presented them.

One thing Mr. Wakefield’s supporters are mad about is the fact that Mr. Deer interviewed one parent using a pseudonym. He presented himself as “Brian Lawrence”, not “Brian Deer”. This is not news, having been in the press for at least 7 years. Much more to the point, it isn’t even a controversy, as I’ll show below. But, it is blog fodder. Apparently enough for Dan Olmsted of the Age of Autism to put out 3, count them 3, articles on the subject.

Since AoA have discussed Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Deer on their blog, it is not surprising that people came here looking to see if there would be a response to Mr. Olmsted’s pieces. There was a time when I read the Age of Autism blog, so perhaps, just perhaps, I was aware of the articles. In a comment on my piece, My comment to the IACC, I got the following

Jim Thompson, frequent commenter here, wrote:

Sullivan:

It seems that your interests parallel those on AoA with a major exception. Have you read this?

See “I was visited yesterday, Friday 28th November 2003 by Brian Lawrence…” at http://www.ageofautism.com/201…..dical.html

I used to get a lot of comments like that. Thread-jacking comments pointing me to one blog or another where some heated discussion was supposedly going on. I pulled the comment this time. In this case I felt it justified. The article it was attached to had nothing to do with the subject of the comment. In fact, to be blunt, I found it both ironic and insulting that the comment was attached to that piece.

Yes, my piece asking for research into better medical care for autistics is so like rehashing the “Brian Deer used a pseudonym” argument. If anything, this serves to show the differences between the Age of Autism and Left Brain/Right Brain. Differences which are becoming more pronounced with time. I’m pushing for a better future. They are rehashing their failures of the past.

Believe me, when I first heard that Brian Deer used a pseudonym in order to obtain an interview, I looked into the question. I asked a simple question: can a journalist lie to a source and if so, when?

The answer is, yes, a journalist can lie. As to when: there are two criteria that must be met. First, there must be a pressing need for the public to obtain the information. Second, the information is not expected to be obtainable by straightforward means.

Let’s consider the news investigation into Mr. Wakefield’s research. It is clear that there was a pressing need for the public to know whether the details were being accurately presented. Mr. Wakefield’s research was creating a fear of vaccines in general, and the MMR in specific. The vaccination rates were dropping to dangerously low levels, presenting a public health hazard. An investigation into the research, even if it required suberterfuge, was warranted, as long as the second criterion was met: there must be a valid expectation that the information would be obtainable by straightforward means.

OK, so point one is met. Let’s look at point two. Mr. Olmsted gives us insight into that question himself:

Deer had written a number of critical articles about parents’ claims of vaccine injury, and if he gave his real name, he doubtless feared, Child 2’s mother would not agree to talk to him. Once she checked his blog, she would be more likely to kick him out of the family home than sit still for what turned into a six-hour inquisition.

Mr. Deer is also described by Mr. Olmsted as being considered at the time of the interview as “a journalist notoriously hostile to people who claimed that vaccines had injured their children. ”

Clearly, the second point is met as well: the information was not expected to be obtainable by straightforward means

Mr. Olmsted is, no doubt, quite aware of the ethics of such methods. The Society of Professional Journalists have the following rules (emphasis added):

Journalists should:
— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
— Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
— Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Never plagiarize.
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

As an aside: consider the rules above and Mr. Olmsted’s reporting on autism. “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting”. “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.” and more…

Back to the question of whether it is permissible to use “surreptitious methods of gathering information” in obtaining a story. Aside from these being the published rules of the Society of Professional Journalists, Mr. Olmsted is likely well aware of the method. Back when he was at UPE, Mr. Olmted’s journalism partner on what may have been his real intro into medical news reporting (a series on Lariam) was a gentleman named Mark Benjamin. Mr. Olmsted included Mr. Benjamin in the dedication of his book, “The Age of Autism”.

I believe that this is the same Mark Benjamin who went on to write a series for Salon.com called “Getting straight with God“, a “four-part investigation into the Christian netherworld of “reparative therapy,” a disputed practice to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. ”

How did Mark Benjamin, a straight man, obtain the information he needed for the story? ” I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name. ”

He flat out admits, he lied:

When I arrived in Levy’s office, I was asked to fill out roughly 15 pages of questions about myself and my family. Mostly the questions centered on how I got along with my folks. In a section about my problems, I wrote “possible homosexuality.” The fact is, I’m straight, I’m married to a woman, and I have a 3-year-old daughter and a son due in October. I wrote on the form that that I was married with a kid. But I lied and said I was also living a secret life, that I harbored homosexual urges.

This is why I’m calling this out as a manufactured controversy. Brian Deer interviewed someone using a pseudonym. He misrepresented himself. It happens in journalism. It not only happens, it is clearly allowed under specific circumstances. As a journalist, a journalist whose colleagues have used the same techniques, Mr. Olmsted should be quite aware of this.

et

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59 Responses to “Another manufactured controversy”

  1. Harold L Doherty July 26, 2011 at 08:45 #

    You seem to be abandoning your professed high ethical standards. First discussion of vaccine safety is taboo. Now Brian Deer is above criticism?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 08:46 #

      As noted below in the comments:

      “When I checked this blog earlier, Brian Deer’s response was the only one that could be seen. Now I see one by Harold L. Doherty posted above Deer’s making the latter seem to be responding to Doherty.”

      Mr. Doherty’s comment was held in moderation until I checked this morning, making this apparent response. Because of that, I am inserting this comment after Mr. Doherty’s.

  2. Brian Deer July 26, 2011 at 09:17 #

    Exactly right. In fact, not only do I have no shred of doubt about interviewing Rosemary Kessick while using a pseudonymn, I’m immensely proud of the encounter (reported seven years ago in The Washington Post) which, with a similar (telephone) interview with Jackie Fletcher of the Jabs group, gave probable cause for the inquiries which I believe eventually brought about the collapse of the vaccine-autism fraud in both the UK and the USA.

    Thanks Ms Kessick.

    I discussed the intended use of a pseudonym in advance with editorial and legal staff, and the subterfuge was wholly justified by the public interest in the safety of children by means of vaccination, which Ms Kessick sought to challenge. The challenge was to get a detailed account of her story, unaffected by any assumptions she might have about the person she was speaking to. Indeed, clown that he is, Mr Olmsted evidences in his poisonous tirade against me the need for a pseudonym when he observes that Ms Kessick would never have talked to me if she had looked at my website. Ethics case closed.

    The untold circumstances of the interview, in late 2003, were that Ms Kessick and I talked (as Mr Olmsted notes) for some six hours. Your readers might wish to consider whether any encounter, in the interviewee’s own home, could have effectively gone on all day were it not to the best standards of courtesy and interest. I was not exactly shouting allegations through her letter box. If I find the time, I may post audio from that interview on my website.

    In her letter, Ms Kessick also wishes the world to believe that I would use only one audio cassette, which I’m supposed to have kept turning over (hence erasing the previous portions of the interview!). Think about it. Her claim might once have been wishful thinking. Seven years later, and with a crucial passage published in the BMJ, it just looks pitiful.

    The truth of what happened was that we had a long, amicable and wide-ranging discussion (featuring frequent cups of tea and a sandwich), near the end of which I asked her what it was that she thought was the trump card for the claimants in what was then still a possible UK lawsuit over MMR. She told me it was the O’Leary measles tests.

    At that point, I made what I now realize to have been a mistake. I gave her my honest and well-intentioned impression, which I’d gained even within a few days of starting my inquiries, that O’Leary’s work was probably a bust (as it turned out to be). I also said to her that I thought she needed to be wary of lawyers, experts, journalists (yes indeed), politicians and others who I thought had piled into the story, would drain was was useful for them, and then move on, leaving parents looking back wondering what on earth had happened (as it turned out to be). I’ve seen this in a number of pharmaceutical product liability disputes, and in Britain it’s always the patients who get shafted.

    The consequence of what was, in fact, a kindly observation of someone with some experience of these sort of issues – me – was that the atmosphere darkened as Ms Kessick realized that I was not a “supporter”, as she had assumed, but had a detached view of the whole thing. I was not part of the Wakefield-journalist collaboration which then dominated British media discussion of MMR.

    The next day, she spewed out a torrent of foul abuse (of the kind with which people who read Mr Olmsted’s blog will be familiar) in a letter to the editor of The Sunday Times (who just nine days ago singled out the MMR story in an article about investigative journalism). She didn’t then know that I had used a pseuonym. Her aim was to keep the material from public view – and perhaps just to vent her bile.

    This abuse was so horrendous and bizarre that Mr Olmsted feels obliged to edit out of her letter some of the stranger stuff which I think, if read in context, would leave any rational person wondering about her sanity. He tells his reader(s) that he has only omitted “a few irrelevant details”. He lies. He has left out material which would tend to undermine Ms Kessick’s credibility (incidentally, he is also presently grappling with how to leave out a direct allegation of fraud against Wakefield made in another letter by a Lancet 12 parent).

    Even in 2003, my investigation was very time consuming. I hadn’t then looked into Ms Kessick and I didn’t then know that talking to her amounted to talking to Wakefield. The pair of them were in it together. However, I did get from her a detailed account of what she said happened to her son (which broadly squares with her case in litigation), and it was at total variance with what was recorded in the Lancet.

    This anomaly became the question. The answer only came when Wakefield made the biggest mistake of his life and sued me for libel in a “gagging” attempt to shut down further debate over MMR. For, in that action, I obtained a court order which permitted me to read the Lancet children’s medical records, and, armed with the arising insight, I then sat through the GMC hearing where those records entered the public domain.

    In summary, not only are there no ethical irregularities in my work, but my stories on MMR are now widely-regarded as the textbook public interest investigation in the field of medicine. Hence, my second British Press Award, which, as every British journalist will know, are immensely difficult to win.

    http://briandeer.com/brian/press-awards-2011-win.htm

  3. Julian Frost July 26, 2011 at 15:19 #

    Lovely Strawmen Harold. Make them yourself?

  4. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 15:27 #

    According to the NUJ Code of Conduct:

    “A journalist…obtains material by honest,straightforward and open means, with the exception of … evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means”

    http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=174

    Mrs Kessick agreed to give an interview to a Sunday Times journalist. So the story could have been obtained by straightforward means. There was no reason therefore to give a false name and no evidence to justify that. Mr Deer’s speculation in the face of the evidence of an agreed interview and that of his editors and Sunday Times legal advisors shows that the current judicial investigation into the ethical and other behaviour of News International journalists is wholly justified.

    Claiming Dan Olmsted’s speculation now that Mrs Kessick would not have agreed an interview then in November 2003 justifies the actions of News International journalists and legal advisors is tosh. Even if it were so, there is no reason to believe she would not have given an interview to another Sunday Times journalist. Again demonstrating no need to give a false name.

    Mr Deer is deceiving us by implying that the story of him turning the tape round is a new “and pathetic” account of events seven year’s ago. The details are recorded in Mrs Kessick’s contemporaneous complaint in her letter to Sunday Times editor John Witherow in November 2003.

    What Mr Deer does not tell us is that he had two tape-recorders. One was to put on the table, if he was refused consent to record, so he could give the appearance of complying with the wishes of the interviewee. The other was concealed. Mr Deer had to go through the bizarre pretence of turning a single tape round, while making frequent visits to the lavatory to change the tape in the concealed machine. Had he troubled to bring enough tapes for the machine on the table it would not have made his secret recording so obvious. Interestingly, Mr Deer anticipates this in his account by claiming there were numerous cups of tea, when in fact he had a single cup of tea and a glass of water. That made the frequent trips to the toilet look out of place.

    Mr Deer claims Mrs Kessick “spewed out a torrent of foul abuse” which was so “horrendous and bizarre” that he claims it would leave “any rational person wondering about her sanity”.

    Mr Deer is very given to publishing documents so perhaps he would also like to publish the full unedited text of Mrs Kessick’s letter to John Witherow so that everyone can see for themselves this alleged “horrendous and bizarre torrent of foul abuse”. There was nothing in the letter published on Age of Autism to justify Mr Deer’s claim. So show us where Dan Olmsted left out this “horrendous and bizarre torrent of foul abuse”.

    Finally, perhaps Mr Deer can tell how he came to read William Kessick’s case papers from the MMR litigation. What documents is he citing, and how did he come by them? And if they are from the GMC transcripts, perhaps he should say which days and which pages. But then again, the MMR vaccine injury children’s litigation documents were not used in the GMC proceedings were they? Or is Mr Deer saying they were and if so which ones?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 16:35 #

      Why edit such a short statement as the NUJ rule?

      Here in full:

      5. Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 16:49 #

      Thanks for the link. The NUJ definition of public interest was very clearly met:

      Problems over media coverage often hinge on the “public interest”. The Code of conduct uses the concept as a yardstick to justify publication of sensitive material. This is the NUJ’s definition, drawn up by the Ethics council.
      The public interest includes:
      Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour
      Protecting public health and safety
      Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation
      Exposing misuse of public funds or other forms of corruption by public bodies
      Revealing potential conflicts of interest by those in positions of power and influence
      Exposing corporate greed
      Exposing hypocritical behaviour by those holding high office
      There is a public interest in the freedom of expression itself.
      In cases involving children, journalists must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of the child.

  5. Rebecca Fisher July 26, 2011 at 16:44 #

    Do you have evidence for a second tape recorder John?

    Given that Ms Kessick gave permission for Mr Deer to tape, why would he need to use your alleged hidden recorder?

    Were you there to count the number of cups of tea, glasses of water and trips to the toilet? What about the sandwich John – was that a fabrication too?

    Why are you so angry when you suggest that Mr Deer published details that could identify children – but then you use the actual name of the child involved?

    Why was Mr Deer not flung out on his ear well before the six hours were up?

    What – exactly – did Mr Deer publish that wasn’t accurate, and hence (as Wakefield was a danger to the country’s children) in the public interest? And when is Wakefield going to sue? After all, claims of this kind could destroy his career.

    When are you going to stop clutching at straws?

    Who exactly is behind the British establishment – as you recently claimed in a comment on AoA?

    Do you really believe that HIV was initially caused by vaccines – as you recently claimed in a post on Comment Is Free?

    All questions which I feel you should be answering – but I know you won’t.

    Kind regards,

    Becky

  6. Sniffer July 26, 2011 at 17:00 #

    Mr Stones remark`s fill in the gaps so far as I can see…

    Why would Mrs Kessick make things up when she was perfectly happy to do the interview?

    Where is the “horrendous torrent of foul abuse” in the letter?

    How did Brian Deer come to read William Kessick’s litigation documents?

    I think without the protection of Mr Murdoch matters arrising here are going to become hot hot hot for Mr Deer …it ain`t half hot Mum ..just ask Brian…

  7. Brian Morgan July 26, 2011 at 17:11 #

    When I checked this blog earlier, Brian Deer’s response was the only one that could be seen. Now I see one by Harold L. Doherty posted above Deer’s making the latter seem to be responding to Doherty.

    Brian Deer is not confirming that he is ‘above suspicion’.

    On the matter of ethics, I’m a freelance member of the NUJ, and I observe the union’s ethics guidance. If specific dispensation is needed it’s not the union that decides, it’s the media outlet one is working with. I don’t know whether Deer is an NUJ member. The union will not disclose personal details such as membership or otherwise as this would be a Data Protection breach.

  8. Chris July 26, 2011 at 17:12 #

    Mr. Stone, so what? And why should we believe you since you have been known to rewrite history in previous comments? Undercover reporting has been a tool of journalists since the days of Nellie Bly, and has made some television programs infamous (like the program “Dateline” on NBC in the USA, and checking its site I see on July 24 there was a rerun of Follow the Money where “Dateline NBC goes on a hidden-camera investigation to stop email scams”).

    Still, in the end it was determined that the evidence against either MMR vaccine used in the UK was really not there. Especially since Wakefield was never clear on which version of the MMR vaccine was supposed to be the culprit, and it was only a small case series of twelve children that has never been independently replicated.

  9. Chris July 26, 2011 at 17:14 #

    (oops I mixed up Mr. Stone with someone else, but the statement still stands, he also has issues with veracity)

  10. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 17:14 #

    I see only flannel. I think Mr Deer needs to answer.

    1) Why did he need to give false name when Rosemary Kessick had agreed to an interview with a Sunday Times journalist? She acted in good faith, so why didn’t they?

    2) Let’s see the “torrent of foul abuse” if there was one.

    3) How has he seen William Kessick’s litigation documents?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 17:21 #

      “Why did he need to give false name when Rosemary Kessick had agreed to an interview with a Sunday Times journalist”

      Do you really expect that argument to work here? If so, you are sorely mistaken. This isn’t either of your blogs, where half truths go unchallenged.

      “a Sunday times journalist” is not the same thing as “Brian Deer, Sunday times journalist known to not be favorable to her cause”

  11. Brian Morgan July 26, 2011 at 17:26 #

    When people intimately involved in a particular scenario know you have uncovered information detrimental to their cause, they will definitely not be interviewed by you. That, may I say it, is a fact.

  12. Sniffer July 26, 2011 at 17:27 #

    “Undercover reporting has been a tool of journalists since the days of Nellie Bly”

    When the questioning get`s tough, Brian dosen`t get going – he has just confused himself and buggered off.

    Come back and have some banter Brian two confused peole working for NOTW is enough they don`t need three…

  13. Chris July 26, 2011 at 17:35 #

    Brian Morgan, that is exactly what happened when Dan Olmsted finally found out about the Clinic for Special Children. He missed it, and was made aware of its existence after his first “Age of Autism” articles came out. He claims to have contacted the clinic but was refused, and it would seem they had good cause to not deal with him.

  14. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 17:44 #

    ““a Sunday times journalist” is not the same thing as “Brian Deer, Sunday times journalist known to not be favorable to her cause””

    Well, that’s germane because he obviously had a hidden agenda, but no one in 2003 would have heard of him.

    Mr Deer has claimed that Rosemary Kessick “spewed out a torrent of foul abuse” (sorry I misquoted him above) so he ought to make good the claim by publishing it, if she ever did.

    How did he come to read William Kessick’s litigation documents?

  15. Stuart Duncan July 26, 2011 at 17:48 #

    These people must have hated the movie Fletch… he didn’t only use different names, he looked entirely different. He must have been a dozen different people in his investigations!

  16. Chris July 26, 2011 at 17:55 #

    And they must really hate Nelly Bly!

  17. Dedj July 26, 2011 at 18:08 #

    “Even if it were so, there is no reason to believe she would not have given an interview to another Sunday Times journalist.”

    Who was the other Sunday Times journalist that was investigating the story? Journalists are assigned to departments and/or particular stories, they are not interchangable in the same way that the servers down your local fast-food chain are.

    If there was no other journalist assigned to the story, then saying she could have been interviewed by them is both factually false and logically bizarre.

  18. Brian Morgan July 26, 2011 at 18:10 #

    So, what about the record of undercover reporting in hospitals and similar? Pretending to be a care worker? It’s unethical then and anybody reporting what they find should be pilloried?

    When I exposed unethical neonatal and infant research practice the main culprit, a paediatrics professor had me arrested on a conspiracy charge. I totally and absolutely refused to answer any questions which might have incriminated other people in this so-called conspiracy. That’s what my union says a journalist must do. The magistrate (same name as me with a y instead of an i) threw the prosecution case out and said I was only doing what a journalist should do. I didn’t resort to a undercover work, but I was sent documents which had been copied by a whistleblower. Long story, going to be a book later this year.

  19. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 18:52 #

    Just to emphasise the point I would like to quote from an article on Mr Deer’s website ‘Brian Deer on JABS and MMR lawsuit’ aka ‘The Cruelty of JABS’ which in my opinion would rank more plausibly as “a torrent of foul abuse” and remarkable from a professional journalist:

    “Call me old fashioned, but I think JABS should know better than to invoke poor Ms …. saying – presumably out of ignorance – that “legal aid was mysteriously taken away”. There was no mystery, as Jackie surely knows. It followed the exchange of reports. In fact, having read them, I defy anyone with an IQ greater than their waist measurement to study those documents and not come to the conclusion that the Wakefield case was a bust. Even I was shocked – and I thought I was past that – by the calibre of much of the work.”

    http://briandeer.com/wakefield/jabs-cruelty.htm

    So, how did Mr Deer come to read the exchange reports (a question I posed in BMJ Rapid Responses last year before they took it down on legal advice)?

  20. MJ July 26, 2011 at 19:21 #

    I think part of the issue might be getting lost here. I don’t think it matters that Brian Deer used an alias to obtain an interview for a newspaper, that sort of thing happens all of the time and is expected.

    What matters is that these statements appeared in a peer-reviewed article in a journal like the BMJ. Journals have a much higher standard of ethics than newspapers do and for very good reasons.

    So the overall question, for me at least, is whether it is acceptable to use deception to obtain data points or statements for peer reviewed literature. If you were included in published research, would you be happy if the people conducting the research directly lied to about who they were or why they were conducting the research?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 19:27 #

      MJ,

      the real issues here are

      1) Andrew Wakefield was wrong.
      2) Andrew Wakefield used unethical methods in his research, including research fraud, unethical treatment of research participants and financial dealings

      • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 19:55 #

        Sorry for the quick response before, MJ,

        In many respects, you have pointed to the one argument which should have been the focus of one (not three) posts by Dan Olmsted. That’s not how it is being packaged, though. I’m interested to see if/how the BMJ responds to any of this.

        The other point is the distinction between publicly available information and public use information. I haven’t gone through (and I don’t think I will) all the details in the BMJ articles to see which are not included in the GMC transcripts. Complaints about the confidentiality of those facts, presented already in public, are a stretch.

        Here is the main segment discussing the interview with Mrs. 2 (the primary focus of the AoA articles)

        But Mr 11 was not the first parent with a child in the study whom I interviewed during my inquiries. That was Mrs 2: the first of the parents to approach Wakefield. She was sent to him by an anti-vaccine campaign called JABS.19 Her son had regressive autism,20 longstanding problems with diarrhoea,21 and was the prime example of the purported bowel and brain syndrome—still unsubstantiated 14 years later.22 This boy would appear in countless media reports, and was one of the four “best” cases in Barr’s lawsuit.

        I travelled to the family home, 80 miles northeast of London, to hear about child 2 from his mother. That was in September 2003, when the lawsuit fell apart after counsel representing 1500 families said that, on the evidence, Barr’s autism claims would fail.23 By that time, Mrs 2 had seen her son’s medical records and expert reports written for her case at trial.

        Her concerns about MMR had been noted by her general practitioner when her son was 6 years old.24 But she told me the boy’s troubles began after his vaccination, which he received at 15 months.25 “He’d scream all night, and he started head banging, which he’d never done before,” she explained.

        “When did that begin, do you think?” I asked.

        “That began after a couple of months, a few months afterward, but it was still, it was concerning me enough, I remember going back . . .”

        “Sorry. I don’t want to be, like, massively pernickety, but was it a few months, or a couple of months?”

        “It was more like a few months because he’d had this, kind of, you know, slide down. He wasn’t right. He wasn’t right. Before he started.”

        “Not quicker than two months, but not longer than how many months? What are we talking about here?”

        “From memory, about six months, I think.”

        The next day, she complained to my editors. She said my methods “seemed more akin to the gutter press.” But I was perplexed by her story, since there was no case in the Lancet that matched her careful account.

        According to the paper, child 2 had his “first behavioural symptom” two weeks, not six months, after MMR. This was derived from a Royal Free history (citing “headbanging” and “screaming” as the start26) taken by Mark Berelowitz, a child psychiatrist and a coauthor of the paper.27 He saw Mrs 2 during the boy’s admission, at age 8, after she had discussed her son’s story with Wakefield.28

        As I later discovered, each family in the project was involved in such discussions before they saw the hospital’s clinicians.29 Wakefield phoned them at home, and must have at least suggestively questioned them, potentially impacting on later history taking. But I knew little of such things then, and shared my confusion with Walker-Smith, whom I met shortly after Mrs 2.

        “There is no case in the paper that is consistent with the case history [Mrs 2] has given me,” I told him. “There just isn’t one.”

        “Well that could be true,” the former professor of paediatric gastroenterology replied, disarmingly. He knew the case well, having admitted the boy for the project and written reports for Barr, who paid him £23?000.30

        “Well, so either what she is telling me is not accurate, or the paper’s not accurate.”

        “Well I can’t really comment,” he said. “You really touch on an area which I don’t think should be debated like this. And I think these parents are wrong to discuss such details, where you could be put in a position of having a lot of medical details and then try to match it with this, because it is a confidential matter.”

        It was not merely medically confidential, it was also legally protected: a double screen against public scrutiny. But responding to my first MMR reports, in the Sunday Times in February 2004,31 the GMC decided to investigate the cases and requisitioned the children’s records.32

        The regulator’s main focus was whether the research was ethical. Mine was whether it was true. So as a five member disciplinary panel33 trawled through the records, with five Queen’s counsel34 and three defendant doctors,35 I compared them with what was published in the journal.36

        Let the BMJ respond to if/how these statements fit within their rules. It is an interesting question. Not nearly as interesting as how Mr. Wakefield committed research fraud, in my considered opinion. Not nearly as important, either.

  21. Sniffer July 26, 2011 at 19:22 #

    “Mr Deer has claimed that Rosemary Kessick “spewed out a torrent of foul abuse” (sorry I misquoted him above) so he ought to make good the claim by publishing it, if she ever did.”

    Incidentally, isn’t Mr Deer a dog which hasn’t barked during his above allegations? Normally a rent-a-gob, Mr Deer has been strangely silent since raising the above today strangely quiet indeed.Him a rampant medical law-breaking gun for hire , journo and such a hammer of the vaccine compensation criminal lottery classes too.

    That may be because the stain of this sordid affair is about to seep through the LBRB walls into the Deer newsroom itself.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 19:28 #

      And, with that, Sniffer, we all see why you were asked to leave this blog before. Well that and the (rather ironic in this case) use of sock puppets in the conversation.

  22. Rebecca Fisher July 26, 2011 at 19:46 #

    John,

    What, exactly, did Mr Deer write about Wakefield that was inaccurate, and why hasn’t Wakefield sued over those inaccuracies? If all you can muster is that an investigative journalist used a false name during an interview, that’s hardly evidence that suddenly supports all Wakefield’s claims, is it?

    Sullivan has the issues absolutely right, and all your bluster about ethics isn’t going to change that – and frankly sound a bit silly coming from a fan of Wakefield. Admit it John, Wakefield made it up for money, and is a fraud. You know, in your heart, that that’s the case.

    Kind regards,

    Becky

  23. MJ July 26, 2011 at 19:47 #

    Sullivan,

    So your position is that it is acceptable to use what could be considered unethical methods to exposure someone else’s unethical conduct?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 20:08 #

      “So your position is that it is acceptable to use what could be considered unethical methods to exposure someone else’s unethical conduct?”

      Clearly this is not my position. Using methods such as Mr. Deer used are not unethical as clearly stated by both the UK and the US conduct codes for journalists. What if I turned this around and asked if it was OK for Andrew Wakefield to use unethical means to perform his research? Had his work been correct, would that have made it OK for the ethical shortcuts he took?

      I also feel that people are totally overplaying the importance of the interview. Sure, it confirmed for Mr. Deer that there was something quite wrong with the Lancet study. But it is the work done after that time that really showed that the reason why the study was wrong was that it was built on fraudulent research. Take out the interview from the BMJ articles and you still get a very damning report on Mr. Wakefield’s career.

  24. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 20:15 #

    Becky

    A barrow load of red-herrings if I may say so. AoA has had plenty say about the veracity (or rather otherwise) of Deer’s claims.

    Notably:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/01/the-big-lie-wakefield-lancet-paper-alleged-fraud-was-not-possible-for-anyone-to-commit.html

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/04/time-to-revisit-deers-claims-that-wakefield-fabricated-his-findings.html

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/05/time-to-revisit-deers-claims-that-wakefield-fabricated-his-findings-part-2.html

    but plenty else beside, which no one will address here, and which BMJ has largely blocked discussion of. Nor, indeed has Mr Deer been prepared to answer questions regarding those articles.

    But actually this is shifting the ground from the original topic of this article, and Mr Deer’s extraordinary response to it. Why, when Rosemary Kessick acted in good faith receiving a Sunday Times journalist did they feel the need to enter into deception. Where is the “torrent of foul abuse” which Mr Deer described, and how did he come to read William Kessick litigation papers.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 20:23 #

      “Why, when Rosemary Kessick acted in good faith receiving a Sunday Times journalist did they feel the need to enter into deception.”

      Asked and answered. Seven years ago, for a start. Once again, Mr. Stone, you seem to think very little of the readers here in regards to their ability to see through your logical leaps. By the way, I have addressed many of the questions posed in the articles you link to.

      Bottom line: Andrew Wakefield was a second rate researcher. His most famous research effort was based on research fraud. I find it amazing the lies and straw men he puts together in his defense. What I find even more amazing are the people who repackage them for him. It is truly astounding.

      By the way, why is it that you folks seem to feel the need to advertise AoA over here?

  25. Chris July 26, 2011 at 20:34 #

    MJ, do you think Nellie Bly was wrong to go undercover to expose problems in a mental health “hospital”, which was then called an “insane asylum”?

    Why is there all this fuss over one interview by one reporter? What eventually brought Wakefield down was his own greed. There were questions about his “research” right after he gave statements in a video press release that did not match what was written in the now retracted Lancet paper. Even by mucking with the data, the results did not show a relationship between either MMR vaccine, autism and gut issues.

    Wakefield even caused damage to children who were actually harmed by getting meningitis from the Urabe strain of mumps in the first MMR vaccine approved in the UK. He ignored the real issue to go after his own idea because he is a greedy narcissist. Sure there is a video where he claims to have been called to deal with the mumps strain, but if it were actually true he would not have allowed any children born after 1991 or an American who would have received the MMR vaccine with the Jeryl Lynn mumps strain.

    Wakefield committed fraud. Measles has become endemic in the UK, and children have suffered. He was caught. Deal with it.

  26. Brian Morgan July 26, 2011 at 20:47 #

    I tried to find out from Dr Andrew Wakefield why he did not appeal the GMC findings. I didn’t get a response. Brian Deer did not have the authority to remove the medical licence of the above, only the GMC could do that. Dr AW could have done what many struck-off doctors have done and taken this to the High Court. If there was flawed evidence against AW then a judge could have ruled the GMC action out of order and ordered a new hearing or making the GMC find different outcomes (maybe – they could have come to the same conclusions).

    Perhaps someone from AoA will help us with this? All of this posturing over what a journalist did or did not do outside the GMC hearing is, I think, irrelevant. Of course I know the straw undeclared conflicts will arise.

  27. John Stone July 26, 2011 at 21:14 #

    You’d probably have to be the head of a media empire to take on all the litigation that Brian Morgan and Becky etc suggest. However, I would point out that most of substantive issues in the GMC which could possibly relate to Brian Deer’s allegations of fraud against Wakefield are currently under appeal by John Walker-Smith. It is apparent, for example, that John Walker-Smith defended his own role in the paper and in the diagnosis of the children: much less so then how Andrew Wakefield could possibly be exclusively responsible for the data it is alleged he fabricated.

    Meanwhile, I note that Brian Deer has made himself once again exceedingly scarce.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 21:42 #

      “I would point out that most of substantive issues in the GMC which could possibly relate to Brian Deer’s allegations of fraud against Wakefield are currently under appeal by John Walker-Smith”

      Seems unlikely that he would be considered to have standing to argue for Mr. Wakefield’s defense.

      Which, of course, begs the question of why Mr. Wakefield declined the chance to appeal his own case. Having failed to do so, the proven charges stand.

      I reject the Wakefield framing of this argument, which you are promoting, that this is a “Brian Deer vs. Andrew Wakefield” struggle. The GMC brought forth it’s own charges against Andrew Wakefield. There were no “Brian Deer’s allegations of fraud” argued, defended nor proven. There were a great deal of breaches of ethics, research fraud and other concerns proven, any small fraction of which would have lost Mr. Wakefield his license.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 22:10 #

      “Meanwhile, I note that Brian Deer has made himself once again exceedingly scarce.”

      These sorts of comments get very old, very quickly. I’ve put up with them far too long from your (now banned) colleague and others.

      Let’s assume that Mr. Deer is not returning to this conversation and get on with things.

      (Or I could point out that Mr. Wakefield has always been very scarce when it comes to responding to the questions posed by commenters and bloggers here….Perhaps if I phrase it correctly, it will make it seem like he has something to hide. But why do that when the facts are clear and damning?)

  28. MJ July 26, 2011 at 21:16 #

    Sullivan,

    “The other point is the distinction between publicly available information and public use information.”

    This distinction is rather meaningless because Deer is the original source for the quotes in the article. It does not matter whether he has repeated them in other forums or whether they were no-longer confidential because he had already published them. What matters is how Deer obtained the statements in the first place and whether those methods are ethical in the context of a peer-reviewed journal.

    “Clearly this is not my position. Using methods such as Mr. Deer used are not unethical as clearly stated by both the UK and the US conduct codes for journalists”

    But are they unethical methods to use for material included in a journal? You haven’t really answered that one core question either way other than to say that it is interesting.

    “What if I turned this around and asked if it was OK for Andrew Wakefield to use unethical means to perform his research? Had his work been correct, would that have made it OK for the ethical shortcuts he took?”

    No, it wouldn’t. But the exact same line of reasoning applies to Deer’s work. Assuming that his work is correct, is it OK that (presumably) non-consented statements that were obtained with deception were included in an article commissioned by the editors of a peer-reviewed journal?

    “I also feel that people are totally overplaying the importance of the interview.”

    No, unethical is unethical. How many times has the unethical birthday party blood draw been brought up? That episode is a rather minor lapse of ethics that doesn’t have anything to do with the core of the charges against Wakefield yet it gets mentioned quite frequently.

    And I would argue that using deceit to obtain facts that you are basing your article on is quite serious. I don’t really see the different between this and other researchers lying about how they obtained their data.

    “Take out the interview from the BMJ articles and you still get a very damning report on Mr. Wakefield’s career.”

    That is not how journals work and I am pretty sure that you know that. If a scientific article includes fraudulent data then the article gets retracted. I have never seen a journal publish a retraction that basically says to just ignore the fraudulent bits but leaves the rest of article alone.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 21:38 #

      “This distinction is rather meaningless because Deer is the original source for the quotes in the article.”

      For a minority of the quotes, and not the most important at all. It is a quite important distinction. The BMJ articles rely largely on the GMC hearing transcripts. For example, here is the “how the link was fixed” summary box from one of the BMJ articles. It doesn’t rely upon the interview with Mrs. 2.

      The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed “new syndrome” of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an “apparent precipitating event.” But in fact:
      Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism
      Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns
      Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination
      In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results—noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations—were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”
      The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations—all giving times to onset of problems in months—helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link
      Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation

      “No, unethical is unethical”

      Which doesn’t follow at all from the sentence you are replying to. Did you misunderstand? The statement was quite clear, and wasn’t a discussion of the ethics. Hence the “also” part of the sentence.

      “Assuming that his work is correct, is it OK that (presumably) non-consented statements that were obtained with deception were included in an article commissioned by the editors of a peer-reviewed journal?”

      Interesting–what makes you think that the statements were “non-consented”? If you believe that she would not have consented to being interviewed by Mr. Deer, then he had the right to use a pseudonym.

      The blood draw is a “minor” ethical laps only in comparison to the rest of the proven violations of Mr. Wakefield. Performing research using human subjects without obtaining ethical approval is enough to land Mr. Wakefield in serious trouble. Paying money was a serious infraction. Again, only small in comparison.

      “That is not how journals work and I am pretty sure that you know that. ”

      Absolutely, but (1) it hasn’t been shown that this is an ethical lapse on the part of the BMJ and (2) I wasn’t arguing that they should edit it. I was pointing out that the fact remains that Mr. Wakefield’s work was incorrect, fraudulent and irresponsible.

      AoA can do whatever they want. They are not resurrecting Mr. Wakefield with this discussion.

  29. stanley seigler July 26, 2011 at 21:37 #

    i dont believe VAXs cause autism…but have no horse in the deer v wakefield race…tho, do think it’s a distraction from issues re a quality life for special needs folks…that said;

    believe we need to be most aware of all manufactured crap…eg, as posted elsewhere on LBRB:

    [quote] Manufacturing uncertainty on behalf of big business [big pharma] has become a big business in it self. Product defense firms have become experienced, adept, and successful consultants in epidemiology, biostatistics, and toxicology. (agnotology, the making and unmaking of ignorance)
    http://books.google.com/books/…..7rKT56fw0C

    believe ms dawson addressed similar issue (promotional science) re autism/ABA…

    stanley seigler

  30. MJ July 26, 2011 at 21:37 #

    Chris,

    The context of the content is important. There is a difference between using deceit to obtain a story for a newspaper and using deceit to obtain material included in a journal article.

    Think about a person lying in general. In the context of a social situation that could be an acceptable thing to do depending on the exact nature of the lie. In the context of a relationship that would be a less acceptable thing to do, but again the exact nature of the lie matters. But if you are on the witness stand in court of law then any lie is unacceptable.

    Perhaps more to your point, what Wakefield did or did not do has absolutely no bearing on whether Deer’s actions were ethical. You can’t say that Deer is allowed to act unethically (assuming that he did) because Wakefield did it first.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 22:00 #

      “Perhaps more to your point, what Wakefield did or did not do has absolutely no bearing on whether Deer’s actions were ethical. You can’t say that Deer is allowed to act unethically (assuming that he did) because Wakefield did it first.”

      Deer’s actions in obtaining the information from Mrs. 2 were ethical. They meet the criteria for a journalist to use indirect means to obtain information.

      The question you appear to be asking is whether it was appropriate to use the same information in the BMJ.

  31. Brian Morgan July 26, 2011 at 21:38 #

    So John Walker-Smith is head of a media empire then? Why isn’t he helping AW fund his appeal if the grounds are so strong? Why isn’t AW using these strong grounds? What happened to the usual source of funding for this litigation – the defence unions?

  32. MJ July 26, 2011 at 22:25 #

    Sullivan,

    I think we are reaching the end of productive conversation here, but the distinction about public/non public disclosure really is irrelevant here. Deer is quoting his conversation with the mother, a conversation in which he admits to having under false pretenses (assuming that really is Deer up at the top of the comments).

    If I lie to collect some data and then publish it in a newspaper or say it at a court hearing, that does not change how the data was collected. I still lied to obtain the data and when I use the data I am using data that was collected using deception. You might have a point if Deer was quoting someone else’s conversation that had been publically writen about but that clearly isn’t the case here.

    “Which doesn’t follow at all from the sentence you are replying to. Did you misunderstand?”

    No, I did not misundertand. Your point was that this was a small thing and that the article as a whole stilll has value even if this charge is true. My point is that is doesn’t matter whether this is minor lapse or if there are other, non-related facts in the article that didn’t have the same taint.

    If a journal article contains data that is unethical then the normal reaction is for the entire article to be retracted.

    “Interesting—what makes you think that the statements were “non-consented”? If you believe that she would not have consented to being interviewed by Mr. Deer, then he had the right to use a pseudonym.”

    Consented in terms of the journal’s policy –

    http://resources.bmj.com/bmj/authors/editorial-policies/copy_of_patient-confidentiality

    Our policy is based on the UK’s Data Protection Act, the English common law of confidentiality, and the traditions of medical ethics.

    1. Any article that contains personal medical information about an identifiable living individual requires the patient’s explicit consent before we can publish it.

    We will need the patient to sign our consent form, which requires the patient to have read the article. This form is available in multiple languages.

    2. If consent cannot be obtained because the patient cannot be traced then publication will be possible only if the information can be sufficiently anonymised. Anonymisation means that neither the patient nor anyone else could identify the patient with certainty.

    See the link for the rest of the text.

    The data is not anonymised and I believe that Deer himself had at one point published the names of all of the patients or their parents. The details provided are certainly enough to identify the patient and the family in question so I would assume that consent would be required for the statements to be included in the BMJ.

    And since the parent in question is said to have complained to Deer’s editors the next day about how the interview went years ago, I would tend to doubt that they signed the appropriate forms for the current article.

    Therefore it is likely that the quotes were published without the appropriate consent. The only out here would be if the quotes were in the public domain but, as I said above, I don’t think that applies here. Deer is the original source of the material and he should not be able get around ethical requirements by the simple act of publishing the details in a newspaper. He is the source of the data and he is responsible for how it was collected.

    If that weren’t the case then any researchers could lie to collect data, publish it in a newspaper, and then claim that the data was public knowledge and use it in peer-reviewed research despite how it was collected.

    “I was pointing out that the fact remains that Mr. Wakefield’s work was incorrect, fraudulent and irresponsible.”

    As I said above, what Wakefield did is irrelevant. No matter how much you want to make this about what Wakefield did, the issue here is what Deer did. The question here is whether the BMJ should have included statements in a peer-reviewed article when those statements were collected using deception.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2011 at 22:56 #

      “No, I did not misundertand. ”

      Well, if you didn’t misunderstand, your response had nothing to do with what I said.

      “If I lie to collect some data and then publish it in a newspaper or say it at a court hearing, that does not change how the data was collected”

      True. But one is allowed to lie in very specific circumstances for a newspaper article.

      That makes this statement either incorrect or redundant:

      “Deer is quoting his conversation with the mother, a conversation in which he admits to having under false pretenses (assuming that really is Deer up at the top of the comments).”

      So what if he had “false pretenses”? We are spinning our wheels in the same old dirt here. Calling it a lie, false pretenses, deceit, doesn’t change the fact that it was an ethical and appropriate interview.

      I will be very interested to see if/how the BMJ responds to the appropriateness of using the information in the articles. One very real question has to do with the statement “Any article that contains personal medical information”. The information is public. Is that no longer personal? That goes to the concept of publicly available vs. public use. A very important distinction. Pretty much the heart of the question.

      “As I said above, what Wakefield did is irrelevant. No matter how much you want to make this about what Wakefield did, the issue here is what Deer did. ”

      The small question to you is what Deer did. The big question to me is how this impacts the autism community. Notice the autism focus of the blog. The fact is that people are claiming (hoping, more like it) that this will somehow help to resurrect Mr. Wakefield’s

      Seriously, would anyone on the autism blogs care about this were it not for how it might impact Andrew Wakefield? Research quality and ethics are not exactly a major focus of the Age of Autism blog (nor, for that matter, pretty much any blog I’ve seen which promotes the vaccine-causation idea)

      As a published researcher, I am interested in the outcome of this. As someone who has had to ask questions about the difference between public use and publicly available data, I am interested. I’d appreciate it if you would stop dowplaying that.

      However, as the parent of an autistic kid, not so interested.

      By the way, Data are not unethical. They can be unethically obtained. They can be inappropriately used or disclosed. They are not, in and of themselves, unethical.

      That said, the information in the BMJ articles is not unethically obtained. (by comparison, the data used by Mr. Wakefield was unethically obtained). Again, the question you appear to be posing is whether the data were appropriately placed in the BMJ articles. If you are attempting to pose a different question, it would be good if you could make it clear.

  33. MJ July 26, 2011 at 23:51 #

    Sullivan,

    As much fun as it is to go in circles with you, this is getting rather pointless.

    You keep claiming that the quotes from the interview are public knowledge but fail to acknowledge that Deer is the source of the quotes and so the public/private arguments don’t apply.

    So let me try putting this another way. Assuming the statements are in the public domain it has to be Deer who put them there. Should a researcher be able to get around the restriction on using private medical information by breaching the privacy in a different forum first?

    I think the answer here is obvious. Even if the statements are in the public domain, Deer put them there so the way that he collected the data matters.

    “The small question to you is what Deer did.”

    That might be a small question for you as you have bigger fish to fry but I think it is very important to know whether journals such as the BMJ can be trusted. Do they actually stand for unbiased science or do they have an agenda?

    If the BMJ ignores the issue or tries to make it all about Wakefield then it will be clear that they have an agenda that they are promoting. But if they fairly address the core of the issues – even if they come to the conclusion that there is no problem – then the priority is unbiased science.

    The BMJ’s handling of the first controversy surrounding this article (financial conflict of interest) was mediocre at best. I hope that they do better this time.

    “Seriously, would anyone on the autism blogs care about this were it not for how it might impact Andrew Wakefield?”

    I would most definitely care if any of the research on autism were done in an unethical manner. If memory serves, you have written about what you think is unethical research in autism on many occasions. Why should this case be any different? Do you think it is unimportant because you happen to agree with the conclusions of the paper in question and so are willing to overlook the problems?

    “As a published researcher, I am interested in the outcome of this. As someone who has had to ask questions about the difference between public use and publicly available data, I am interested. I’d appreciate it if you would stop dowplaying that.”

    A published researcher…. I am not going to even touch that one other than to say that I aware of only one poster presentation that you had. Maybe you have published more than that but I haven’t ever run across your name on pubmed when researching autism. Just saying.

    As for downplaying the different between public and private data, I am most certainly not doing that. I am simply saying that the distinction does not apply in this case for the reasons that I gave above and in earlier comments.

    “By the way, Data are not unethical.”

    You are splitting hairs and rather meaningless ones at that. If data was obtained unethically then its use is tainted making its use, by default, unethical. And there are some data sets that are unethical by their very nature. For example, think of the human experimental data complied by the nazi’s.

    “That said, the information in the BMJ articles is not unethically obtained.”

    Then how do you reconcile the use of deception in collecting data – a clear no-no in journals – with the use of said data? And if you are just going to say that it is in the public domain again then at least address the issue of how the data got there in the first place and how that absolves Deer of any responsibility for its collection.

  34. Chris July 26, 2011 at 23:57 #

    MJ:

    The context of the content is important. There is a difference between using deceit to obtain a story for a newspaper and using deceit to obtain material included in a journal article.

    The interview was in 2003. In what context are your calling the London Times a “journal” and not a newspaper.

    Wakefield is central to this discussion. Vilifying Deer is a way to exonerate Wakefield’s actions. Actions that were questioned starting after his video conference where he made statements that were not supported by the paper. In fact, one of the first people to question Wakefield’s actions was a researcher at the same hospital, you will notice that this was published before the interview:
    Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Bowel Problems or Developmental Regression in Children with Autism: Population Study.
    Taylor B et al.
    BMJ 2002; 324(7334):393-6

    You cannot keep on about Deer and ignore all of the other people who questioned Wakefield, and did studies that showed the opposite of what Wakefield was claiming.

    You said:

    But if you are on the witness stand in court of law then any lie is unacceptable.

    So is making up data for a research paper. It is not a crime to be wrong. Many studies were done trying to find what Wakefield was looking for, and they could not because Wakefield was just wrong. And the reason he was wrong was because he changed the data. And even with the changed data it did not match what he said in the video conference announcing the paper (which, in case you are unclear on the concept, meant he was lying).

  35. MJ July 27, 2011 at 01:06 #

    Chris,

    I don’t believe the relevant quotes were included in the London Times article in 2003. The interview was done in preparation for that article but was not used.

    But, even if the quotes were used earlier, they are still published in the BMJ and, in that context, the method used to solicit the quotes matters.

    And, as I said earlier, what Wakefield did doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that other people had doubts about Wakefield. The question at hand is whether it was ethical for the BMJ to publish medical statements from a person that were obtained using deception.

  36. Jorge Campo July 27, 2011 at 05:58 #

    I am inclined to see the lying issue as a scientific approach in order to avoid biases rather than an unethical issue.

    Instead of “impersonating” somebody else Brian could have send another journalist and therefore we would not have “lies” as a counterargument.

    As Sullivan stated:
    “the real issues here are

    1) Andrew Wakefield was wrong.
    2) Andrew Wakefield used unethical methods in his research, including research fraud, unethical treatment of research participants and financial dealings”

  37. Chris July 27, 2011 at 06:39 #

    Jorge Campo, what if there was no other journalist to take the assignment? Plus, how does it matter in light of the several actual scientists, like Dr. Taylor, who showed that Wakefield was wrong?

  38. Barbara July 27, 2011 at 10:45 #

    On the question of name change and ethics:

    During the data-collection phase of my PhD, I had a problem. The interviews I was holding with 15 people had to be their own view, uncontaminated by myself. I’d already written a book on Asperger’s Syndrome, and it was thought, by my Professor, that if the participants read this book, it might unduly influence what they told me in interview – some may be trying to please me, others to undermine me.

    We took this question to the Ethics’ Committee of the University. It was decided that I conduct all data collection and contact with participants in my maiden name, rather than in my known professional (married) name.

    That’s what happened. For the entire 4 years of my PhD I was told I must not write about autism, or be interviewed about autism, anywhere, in order to protect my data. (I lost thousands of ££s of income because of this)

    So actually, academia as well as journalism, is aware of the danger of a known name, and the influence it can have on data supplied.

    What Brian Deer did in changing his name for that interview protected his data. Far from being unethical, it was an example of the highest levels of ethical behaviour. Data are what matters. They have to be uncontaminated in order to protect their veracity and validity.

  39. Brian Morgan July 27, 2011 at 11:57 #

    Two points, one to do with conflicts of interest the other to do with failure to appeal the GMC sanction.

    I’ve mentioned the first point elsewhere this morning, and I’m only putting this up for discussion. Do those associated with AoA have conflicts of interest because income is generated through what is published there, the comments that follow and trade generated by those reading and publicising what is written?

    Why will those supporting AW not tell us why he has not appealed? They seem to be part of the AW camp and very supportive of him, totally uncritical, dismissing actions they agree happened – the paid-for blood sampling for example.

  40. Garbo July 27, 2011 at 20:15 #

    Wakefield and Deer are the trees. The children are the forest.

    Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Aug;5(4):465-77.
    Autoimmune and gastrointestinal dysfunctions: does a subset of children with autism reveal a broader connection?
    Brown AC, Mehl-Madrona L.
    Source
    Department of Complementary & Alternative Medicine, John A Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 651 Ilalo Street, MEB 223, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA. amybrown@hawaii.edu.
    Abstract
    A large number of autoimmune disorders have a gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction component that may interplay with genetic, hormonal, environmental and/or stress factors. This narrarive review investigates possible links between autism, immune system abnormalities and GI symptoms in a subgroup of children with autism. A literature search on Medline (1950 to September 2010) was conducted to identify relevant articles by using the keywords ‘autism and gastrointestinal’ (71 publications) and ‘autism and immune’ (237 publications), cross-referencing and general searching to evaluate the available literature on the immunological and GI aspects of autism. Sufficient evidence exists to support that a subgroup of children with autism may suffer from concomitant immune-related GI symptoms.

  41. Chris July 27, 2011 at 20:17 #

    “Department of Complementary & Alternative Medicine”

    You expect us to take this seriously?

    • Sullivan July 28, 2011 at 18:19 #

      I had a feeling that some important piece of information was not being discussed. How about this statement on patient confidentiality for the BMJ:

      5. Special cases: Patients who lack capacity. If the patient lacks the mental capacity to make a decision about publication then our advice is that usually no one can give consent on behalf of the patient. Even if someone has this power, by means, for example of a health and welfare Power of Attorney, it has to be exercised in the best interests of the patient. There may be some benefit to the patient in having his or her case described in a publication, but usually this is not obvious or certain. In such cases we will normally require any personal information to be anonymised or will not be able to publish it.

      Emphasis added. I’m not fully comfortable with that rule, but it is there. Many, if not all, of the Lancet 12 are adults.

      Note, I just did a search of the Age of Autism blog for “lacks the mental capacity” and found no hits. Has this rule been presented to the readership there? It appears not.

      Listing a few points, after a little time to look at the issue:

      1) The interview of Mrs. 2 was conducted ethically. The arguments to the contrary are obviously an attempt to make a controversy where none exists.
      2) The medical information on the Lancet 12 was made public in the GMC hearing. I’m open to hearing if there are details in the BMJ article which were not presented in the GMC hearing. But many (if not all) of the details were made public.
      3) the Lancet 12 are now adults (or mostly adults. “Child 2″ is an adult). The BMJ allows for publishing of private details in the case of those who lack ” the mental capacity” to concent.
      4) A question to consider. Did Andrew Wakefield obtain consent forms for the Lancet 12 before publishing his 1998 paper? If so, the consent form (at least in its present form) includes the statement “I give my consent for all or any part of this material to appear in The Lancet journals and all editions of The Lancet journals, and any other works or products, in any form or medium.“. (emphasis added). If he didn’t obtain consent forms, why not? And if not, why are people asking for a different standard now?

      (note, I can’t find the phrase “consent form” in the GMC transcripts so I can not confirm if Mr. Wakefield obtained these consents)

      I find it hard to believe that there is anything of substance in the arguments that the BMJ articles are in breach of ethics.

      edit to add–even the phrase “breach of ethics” is an overstatement. Have they broken their own policies? It doesn’t appear so. Have they broken any other rules by someone outside the BMJ? No. That’s part of the mountain that people are making out of this molehill.

  42. Dedj July 28, 2011 at 00:32 #

    “Instead of “impersonating” somebody else Brian could have send another journalist and therefore we would not have “lies” as a counterargument.”

    I asked John Stone above who that ‘other’ journalist could even possibly have been, as journalists are typically assigned to a article or particular commission.

    If no other journalist was on the story, then there was no other journalist who could have been sent.

    The editor could have commissioned another journalist, but no editor would double their cost and risk annoying their primary talent (Deer was already experienced and well regarded by this point) when a legal and ethical workaround was already availble.

  43. Eileen July 28, 2011 at 05:26 #

    I have two daughters with autism. They are 12 and 14. They were diagnosed ten years ago. I have spent many years reading books, journal articles, websites, blogs, and comments. Maybe it’s those the lingering effects of a Jesuit education, but guess what, I still believe in truth. And it can be found in the scientific method, and at the end of your nose if you will look there.

    First truth – Andrew Wakefield had a personal profit motive and he lied, and he broke the trust of his patients and millions of parents globally. This is no conspiracy theory, just a bad Law and Order episode of an egomaniac doctor gone wrong.

    Second – Brian Deer is a journalist who found this out and wrote about it. People are pissed because they want someone to blame for their kids’ autism, and Brian Deer took that away from them.

    Third – scientific research has uncovered genetic dispositions for autism, 300+ genes at last count. There are also PRENATAL environmental factors involved, like parental age, depression drugs, infertility treatments (which I had) and many more. Study after study has found no link between vaccines and autism. The recent fraternal twin study further proves that any environmental factors are in utero, not post natal, since that is the only thing fraternal twins share that regular siblings do not.

    Fourth – we need our children to be recognized as full people and phrases like “vaccine-damaged” and “vaccine-injured” are not only false, they conjure a hopeless image that does not make the greater world want to help, invest money, or care.

    Fifth – there is no conspiracy among doctors and “big pharma.” Pediatricians enter into a less than glorious branch of medicine to work long hours and help children. They are smart enough to read medical journals and studies and understand what they mean better than average people. I do no believe for a second they are duped into giving vaccines which are dangerous, or are greedy enough to harm children. This is insane. Conspiracy theories are insane. People blab and talk and can’t keep secrets, so they are incapable of such a large scale conspiracy. Only Tom Cruise could believe in such a stupid Pediatrician/Big Pharma conspiracy to hurt kids. My kids’ pediatrican always looks exhausted and has spent her life calming parents, cooing at crying babies, getting puked on angry toddlers, and working long rounds at the hospital. She drives an old Jeep and has a lot of dogs. I am pretty sure she has not been involved in any global conspiracies. Oh yeah, and she believes in vaccinations to keep my girls healthy and safe.
    Bottom line: There is truth. Kids with autism deserve better than the semantic BS arguments of conspiracy theories, and dangerous treatments like chelation and chemical castration. Autism is not demonic possession. It is your kid. As Temple Grandin said, “I am different, not less.” Truth, deal with it.

  44. stanley seigler July 28, 2011 at 17:06 #

    [Eileen say] there is no conspiracy among doctors and “big pharma [BP].” Pediatricians enter into a less than glorious branch of medicine to work long hours and help children. They are smart enough to read medical journals and studies and understand what they mean better than average people.

    COMMENT
    i do not believe VAXs cause autism (may trigger)…but my belief is NOT due to a belief BP and some docs are NOT capable of conspiracy…

    [quote] Why are pharmaceutical companies getting the results they want […] there are many ways to hugely increase the chance of favorable results, and there are many hired guns who will think of new ways to stay one jump ahead of peer reviewers.

    *[one of 8 examples] conduct trials of your drug against a product known to have inferior results [end quote]

    BTW kickbacks was not one the 8 examples…

    i could not find text (eg, 8 example, etc) on the internet…and i am a slow typist…one may want to read: “agnotology, the making and unmaking of ignorance”
    http://books.google.com/books/…..7rKT56fw0C

    oh/and, i have gotten dangerous misinformation (DXs) from those practicing a less than glorious branch of medicine…eg;

    chief of pediatrics at major hospital DXed our daughter’s classic kanner autism as colic (she screamed 16 out of 24 hrs) and young, over concerned, parents…surprised he didnt claim refrigerator parents…probably thought it tho.

    stanley seigler

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