Brian Deer responds to David Lewis’ complaint

10 Jan

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.

16 Responses to “Brian Deer responds to David Lewis’ complaint”

  1. Sullivan January 10, 2012 at 20:27 #

    I’ll point out that I found amusing Mr. Lewis’ claim that he coined the term “institutional misconduct”

    DAVID L LEWIS: “In November 2011, Fiona Godlee, chief editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and a reporter, Brian Deer, used newly discovered documents I obtained from Andrew Wakefield’s personal files to allege that University College London (UCL) may have committed ‘institutional research misconduct.’”

    DEER: As indicated above, the “institutional misconduct” charge was made by Dr Godlee in January 2011 – 10 months previously, and before we’d ever heard of Lewis. The documents supplied by Wakefield to Lewis, and by Lewis to us, was in part an occasion for the BMJ to re-rehearse issues arising from the Wakefield affair with the addition of the fresh information. The core of the issues which the BMJ and I believe constitute institutional misconduct have nothing to do with histopathology. And, indeed, they are nothing to do with Lewis.

    DAVID L LEWIS: “The term, which I coined at the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) in Washington, DC, refers to instances in which institutions, such as government agencies and universities, commit or support acts of research misconduct to protect government policies and industry practices.”

    I would encourage him to do a google news search for “institutional misconduct” in the archives. Without much work I’ve seen articles using the term he “coined” as early as 1993.

    It doesn’t help one’s case to claim credit for something which is (a) not a big deal and (b) not something you did.

  2. Science Mom January 10, 2012 at 21:43 #

    It’s so obvious to me that Wakefield is more than happy to use Dr. Lewis as his patsy; I really do feel sorry for the latter. I simply can’t get my head around the cognitive disconnect of the Wakefield worshippers who refuse to see him for the manipulative, scheming liar he is.

    • Sullivan January 10, 2012 at 21:47 #

      Science Mom,

      so you aren’t going to become an annual subscriber to the “Dr Wakefield Justice Fund”?

      (seriously, annual memberships? What are they thinking?)

  3. Science Mom January 10, 2012 at 21:52 #

    Science Mom,

    so you aren’t going to become an annual subscriber to the “Dr Wakefield Justice Fund”?

    [snigger] Why I’m going to sign up for the “Champion” membership, aren’t you?

    (seriously, annual memberships? What are they thinking?)

    I don’t know, maybe a more secure income for him?

  4. Visitor January 10, 2012 at 21:52 #

    I liked the part where Lewis said that Deer knew too much about what he was writing about to have written it.

    • Sullivan January 10, 2012 at 21:59 #


      you mean this?

      DAVID L LEWIS: “The scientific and medical content of his articles are well beyond what any individual with no formal training in science or medicine would normally be able to write.”

      DEER: I’m deeply indebted to David Lewis for his kind words regarding the quality of my journalism. It reassures me that perhaps, among all the tribulations of the last eight years, my labours in the public interest have not entirely been in vain.

      Funny, I’ve had the same charge levied against me. I’ve never seen Brian Deer and a certain vaccinologist’s wife in the same room. Makes one wonder….

  5. sharon January 10, 2012 at 23:03 #

    “Dr Wakefield Justice Fund”?

    I feel sick.

  6. MikeMa January 11, 2012 at 00:39 #

    You only need to feel sick if you are forced to contribute.

    Lewis has chased Wakefield down the rabbit hole. I do hope he finds his way out.

  7. Liz Ditz January 11, 2012 at 01:28 #

    I’ve never seen Brian Deer and a certain vaccinologist’s wife in the same room. Makes one wonder….

    Oh NOES!! Another round of the B—– O—- game? Are we all going to be her (or him) again?

  8. Science Mom January 11, 2012 at 02:58 #

    Whew, I just finished reading Deer’s response to Lewis’ allegations. Of course this is purely speculation but I get the sense that Lewis was used as Wakefield’s patsy to try and get Deer to admit to something given how Lewis pounded on the demonstrably false allegation regarding the histopathology results. If that was the case, Lewis failed miserably.

  9. Visitor January 11, 2012 at 06:47 #

    “of the Dhillon grading sheets for 11 children supplied to us by Lewis, Wakefield managed to append incorrect labels in the cases of three patients. Child 3’s ileal sample was reported by Wakefield to be from the patient’s duodenum. Child 4’s sigmoid colon sample was reported by Wakefield to be from the patient’s rectum. And the ascending colon sample from child 12 was reported by Wakefield to be from a different patient altogether. Despite his training in science, Lewis evidently failed to notice.”

  10. daedalus2u January 11, 2012 at 14:32 #

    The problem with claims about the histopathology slides is that they are missing and are no where to be found. When data used to support a hypothesis goes missing, it is unavailable to be used to evaluate the hypothesis.

    This is how it is in science, if you don’t have the data to back something up, no one takes it seriously. No one should take it seriously.

  11. Prometheus January 12, 2012 at 17:59 #

    If Wakefield is using Mr. Lewis as a tool in his ongoing fight to “vindicate” himself, he has made a poor choice. Publicly releasing the histology scoring sheets – which only reinforce the charges of reearch fraud (or Galactic-level incompetence) – was an “own goal” against team Wakefield. Mr. Lewis’ ongoing (and ridiculous) argument with Brian Deer is shaping up to be another. Tools like that should be kept sheathed in the drawer, as they too often turn in the hand and cut the user.

    And is it true that Wakefield’s “Legal Justice Fund” has annual subscriptions? Is he planning on filing lawsuits indefinitely? Has he become one of those pathetic characters who endlessly harrasses his critics in the courts? And I thought he had fallen as low as possible…


    • Sullivan January 12, 2012 at 21:03 #

      “Is he planning on filing lawsuits indefinitely?”

      My guess is that the plan would be to grow this into something whereby Mr. Wakefield could offer assistance to others facing legal issues. In recent years notable members of his community have faced legal actions. For example, Mark and David Geier and Anju Usman.

      You may remember that a call went out for legal support for a family Mr. Wakefield was working with (and I believe is the subject of his next book). As I remember the call didn’t result in donations to meet their modest goals. (Ironically, shortly thereafter a call went out to fund a media campaign focused on vaccines and that immediately gathered more money than the legal fund). I suspect the idea of an annual contribution would be so that Mr. Wakefield could add an additional hat to his “Strategic Autism Initiative” hat, the “Wakefield Justice Fund”.

  12. Science Mom January 12, 2012 at 19:55 #

    Yes Prometheus, they are offering “annual” memberships or as they phrased it “one year”:
    Personal Membership (1 Year):
    $25 – Member $250 – Defender
    $50 – Supporter $500 – Protector
    $100 – Advocate $1000 – Champion
    Organization Membership (1 Year):
    $100 – Member $1000 – Defender
    $250 – Supporter $2500 – Protector
    $500 – Advocate $5000 – Champion

    Of course you can always donate a one-off but that probably won’t get you the nifty tee-shirt or autographed copy of “Callous Disregard”. Yes, I just made that up.

    You mentioned how low could Wakefield go, as did a commenter on my ‘blog. Perhaps we should have a “Wakefield Limbo Contest”; how low can he go?

  13. Brian Deer January 13, 2012 at 12:29 #

    Further to discussion of the David Lewis saga, I have a leter in Nature this week.

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