Lessons from the MMR scare

13 Sep

Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), recently presented to the National Institutes of Health on the “Lessons from the MMR scare”.

The talk is now online at the NIH site (no embed link is obvious to me at present).

The talk gives a nice hour long discussion of the issues surrounding Andrew Wakefield’s research efforts in autism and the MMR vaccine.

One of the points Ms. Godlee goes into is a good example of the sort of falsification that is prevalent in the Lancet paper. She discusses the fact that 11 of the 12 families thought that the MMR vaccine was linked to developmental regression. The paper reported that only 8 families felt there was a link. Earlier drafts of that more families thought there was a link, but those families reporting long times to onset after MMR were removed.

Another discrepancy to emerge during the GMC hearing concerned the number of families who blamed MMR. The paper said that eight (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11) linked developmental issues with the vaccine. But the total in the records was actually 11. The parents of child 5, 9, and 12 were also noted at the hospital as blaming the vaccine, but their stated beliefs were omitted from the journal.

It is one of those very simple arguments that shows misrepresentation of the facts.

How did the misconduct become exposed? She discusses how 4 factors played into why this case of fraud was exposed:

1) A skilled investigative reporter was put on the case (Brian Deer)
2) the freedom of information act was enacted in 2000 (allowed access to information)
3) Mr. Wakefield’s decision to sue Brian Deer. (This forced Brian Deer to do further digging to defend himself.)
4) The GMC’s decision to take up the case. (This placed much data in the public domain)

It has been discussed a number of times previously that Mr. Deer gained access to the medical records after the lawsuit was started, and that the lawsuit was withdrawn literally as he was reviewing the documents.

She discusses the backlash that the BMJ has received with negative comments. Also some very strange misrepresentations. For example, an article in “Natural News” is incorrect (not surprising to those familiar with the site) in stating “BMJ admits that fraud claim against Dr. Andrew Wakefield has no basis in fact”.

She discusses the claim that Andrew Wakefield’s work has been replicated. It is a common argument that comes up. And, it isn’t true. There are attempts to replicate which his work which failed to do so.

No legal challenge from Mr. Wakefield and no complaints to the press complaints commission. Interestingly (to me at least) is that he declined an offer from the BMJ to write a reply.

I find it intersting that she couldn’t even recall Jim Carrey’s name (and had even less recall of Jenny McCarthy’s name).

She points out that the GMC was not really the proper forum to investigate the research fraud. But, at present the UK has no office of research integrity.

She poses the question of what could have been done to prevent this. She suggests that greater oversight needs to be in place. She also points out that co-authors need to take a more active role in oversight of data reporting. Better peer review is needed. But when an author lies, it is difficult for an editor to discover it. There should be some level of penalty for research fraud–as in, why isn’t this a criminal act?

She calls for better research on vaccine safety research. Also for better autism research.

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One Response to “Lessons from the MMR scare”

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  1. Exclusive: Forced Injection of Children Without Parents Consent – Dr. Andrew Wakefield « News Worldwide - September 17, 2011

    […] Lessons from the MMR scare (leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk) […]

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