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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.

BMJ instructs lawyers to “defend the claim vigorously” against Andrew Wakefield’s lawsuit

6 Jan

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has issued a press release (below) about the lawsuit initiated by Andrew Wakefield claiming defamation arising from a series of articles published last year. The BMJ and Mr. Deer stand by their articles and statements and have instructed their attorneys to “defend the claim vigorously”.

Although not formally served with the legal papers, the BMJ is on notice that Andrew Wakefield has issued defamation proceedings, not in London as might be ordinarily expected as concerns a predominately English publication, but in Texas, USA, where he now lives. The proceedings primarily relate to an article written by Brian Deer and published a year ago on 5 January 2011, entitled Secrets of the MMR Scare: How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine was Fixed, and an accompanying editorial which related to Mr Wakefield’s now infamous Lancet Paper on MMR.

Of course, following the findings of the British General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel and Mr Wakefield’s history of pursuing unfounded litigation, any action brought against the BMJ and Mr Deer in London would have been immediately vulnerable to being struck out as an abuse of process.

Despite the findings of the GMC’s Fitness to Practice Panel and his co-authors having publicly retracted the causation interpretation put forward by the Lancet Paper, it would appear from the Claim filed at court that Mr Wakefield still stands by the accuracy of the Lancet paper and his conclusion therein, thereby compounding his previously found misconduct. While we await formal service, unsurprisingly the BMJ and Mr Deer standby the material published in the BMJ and their other statements and confirm that they have instructed lawyers to defend the claim vigorously.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The Lancet Paper was published on 23 February 1998 entitled “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children”. Its claims of a temporal association between MMR vaccine and autism were retracted by the authors (excluding Mr Wakefield) on 6 March 2004, following the first findings from Brian Deer’s investigation for The Sunday Times. The paper was retracted in its entirety by the Lancet on 2 February 2010, with the Lancet noting that elements of the paper “have been proven to be false” during hearings of a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel.

2. Following a 217-day investigation by the GMC’s panel, on 24 May 2010, the panel found Mr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct. It found that Mr Wakefield “had a clear and compelling duty to ensure that the factual information contained in the [Lancet] paper was true and accurate and he failed in this duty”. The Panel also found that Mr Wakefield was intentionally dishonest and misleading in describing the patient population, and that he had been dishonest when questioned about it later. Similarly, the panel stated that “the description of the referral process was irresponsible, misleading, and in breach of [Mr] Wakefield s duty as a senior author”. The Determination also set out how Mr Wakefield compounded his misconduct by failing to correct the content of the paper.

3. As a result of Mr Wakefield’s “persistent lack of insight” into his behaviour, the GMC determined that his name should be erased from the medical register.

4. Mr Wakefield adduced no evidence in mitigation and made no arguments or pleas in mitigation in front of the Fitness to Practice panel. He did not appeal its decision and has not attempted to replicate the Lancet paper’s findings in order to attempt to vindicate his position.

5. At various times in the past, Mr Wakefield has brought claims and made complaints against Mr Deer, The Sunday Times, Channel Four and Twenty Twenty Productions in respect of allegations of dishonesty relating to his Lancet paper. In no case has he been successful. Indeed, in each instance the case has been dropped by Mr Wakefield. In Wakefield v Channel Four Television Corporation, Twenty Twenty Productions Ltd and Brian Deer [2005] EWHC 2410 (QB) Mr Justice Eady refused to grant a stay sought by Mr Wakefield, stating that the case would turn on fundamentally serious issues going to the heart of the Claimant s honesty and professional integrity.

In refusing the stay, Eady J considered Mr Wakefield’s conduct in relation to the various proceedings he had brought. He noted that Mr Wakefield had written to a number of other organisations including: the Cambridge Evening News; Evan Harris (an MP who criticised Mr Wakefield on a radio programme); and the Department of Health (which provided a link on its website to the Channel Four Dispatches website).

Mr Wakefield informed these entities in correspondence that he had issued proceedings against The Sunday Times, Mr Deer and/ or Channel Four, indicating that proceedings were ongoing. He made no mention of the stays which he had obtained, or was seeking. Eady J considered this misleading, and concluded that Mr Wakefield wished to use the existence of the libel proceedings for public relations purposes, and to deter critics, while at the same time isolating himself from the downside of such litigation, in having to answer a substantial defence of justification. The Judge believed that there was a pattern of using the existence of libel proceedings, albeit stayed, as a tool for stifling further criticism or debate.

6. On 2O December 2011, the BMJ’s solicitors, Farrer & Co, wrote to Mr Wakefield’s Texan lawyers setting out the matters referred to above, as well as other points. No response has been received.

7. Mr Wakefield’s allegations, that the MMR vaccines causes or contributes to autism, were investigated in three test cases in the United States Court of Federal Claims, heard from July 2007 and with judgments handed down on 12 February 2009. Although listed as a witness, Mr Wakefield was not called to give evidence, and his allegations were rejected. The judgments were upheld on appeal. In the lead case, Cedillo v Secretary for Health and Human Services, Special Master George Hastings said in his judgment with regard to evidence in the case: “Therefore, it is a noteworthy point that not only has that autistic enterocolitis theory not been accepted into gastroenterology textbooks, but that theory, and [Mr] Wakefield s role in its development, have been strongly criticized as constituting defective or fraudulent science.”

Andrew Wakefield takes to the courts again

5 Jan

Andrew Wakefield, one of the doctors who was stricken from the register by the U.K.’s General Medical Council, has filed a complaint in Texas claiming that Brian Deer (Journalist) and Fiona Godlee (Editor of the British Medical Journal). The complaint alleges that the articles, editorials and statements made later about those include “false and defamatory allegations” about Mr. Wakefield.

From the complaint filed:

This defamation lawsuit arises, in part, out of the publication on or about January 5, 2011 and thereafter, in the British Medical Journal, of an article authored for the BMJ by Brian Deer, titled Secrets of the MMR Scare (Exhibit A) and accompanying editorials by the BMJ’s editor, Fiona Godlee (Exhibit B 1-2). Defendants’ article and editorials, distributed to subscribers in Texas and which fonn the basis of Plaintiffs claims, contained unfair, incorrect, inaccurate and unjust criticisms of findings previously reported by Dr. Wakefield and 12 other co-authors. More significantly, Defendants accused Dr. Wakefield of fraud and of fraudulently and intentionally manipulating and falsifying data and diagnoses in connection with a clinical paper he co-authored called Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children, originally published in the medical journal The Lancet in 1998 (the “Lance,t Paper”). Defendants’ false and defamatory allegations have been widely disseminated by Defendants through the BMJ and other sources since their original publication.

Mr. Wakefield sued Mr. Deer in the past, but dropped that suit.

Mr. Wakefield’s legal team consists of William M. Parrish, J.D. Ellwanger, John D. Saba Jr of DiNovo Price Ellwanger & Hardy LLP, a firm which primarily focused on intellectual property and commercial litigation.

Mr. Wakefield does not specify an amount for damages:

Dr. Wakefield hereby prays for a trial by jury as to all disputed issues of fact, and upon findings appropriate, further prays for judgment from this Court against the Defendants for: nominal damages, actual and compensatory damages, special damages, including injury to reputation and character, injury to feelings, humiliation, loss of earning capacity, exemplary damages pursuant to TEX. CIv. PRAC. & REM. CODE §41.001, et. seq., declaratory relief, costs and expenses, prejudgment and post-judgment interest as allowed by law, and for such other and further relief to which he may be justly entitled.

Should this go to court, Mr. Wakefield, In arguing a “injury to reputation and character, injury to feelings, humiliation, loss of earning capacity, will have to quantify the state of his reputation and character, feelings, humiliation and loss of earning capacity at the time. This will have to take into account the fact that he had already been struck off the medical register in the UK after being found to have committed “serious professional misconduct” and had lost his job at Thoughtful House. Were the donors to the “Strategic Autism Initiative” less likely to contribute after the BMJ articles?

Honestly, I thought the Andrew Wakefield saga was over and I was glad of it.

The lack of substance in Andrew Wakefield’s supporters’ arguments

11 Nov

Andrew Wakefield, the man who brought us the MMR scare, is back in the news. In a relatively small way. Earlier this year, Mr. Wakefield was in the news in a big way when the BMJ called him out for research fraud. At the time, Mr. Wakefield was enjoying the hospitality of wealthy patrons in a Jamaican resort, under the auspices of a “vaccine safety conference“. Also attending the conference were a team from the National Whistleblowers Center (aside, I am getting more and more leery of groups that put “national” into their name). Why is this important? Because instead of responding to the BMJ article directly, Mr. Wakefield provided material to one of members of the Whistleblowers Center so he could reply. The letter, by David Lewis, attempts to address one of the many issues involved with Mr. Wakefield’s research. It does not do this well, to be frank.

One problem with discussing Andrew Wakefield’s work is that there is just so much wrong that one can easily lose the forest for the trees. The big picture gets lost going over count after count of dishonesty and unethical behavior.

When analyzing Mr. Lewis’ argument, there are again many problems to discuss. Once again, it is easy to lose the story for the details. Allow me to address a few.

First, the argument is a classic strawman. Mr. Lewis posits that it is reasonable for Mr. Wakefield to have reported nonspecific colitis in his 1998 Lancet article, therefore no intentional misinterpretation was committed. To bolster this argument, he provided the BMJ with the original scoring sheets used by the pathologist who reported on the samples. Writes Mr. Lewis:

As a research microbiologist involved with the collection and examination of colonic biopsy samples, I do not believe that Dr. Wakefield intentionally misinterpreted the grading sheets as evidence of “non-specific colitis.” Dhillon indicated “non-specific” in a box associated, in some cases, with other forms of colitis. In addition, if Anthony’s grading sheets are similar to ones he completed for the Lancet article, they suggest that he diagnosed “colitis” in a number of the children.

As though, even if accurate, this would exonerate Mr. Wakefield. As the BMJ point out, in not one, but two pieces by specialists (gastroenterologist and pathologist), these grading sheets do not support the claims made in the 1998 Lancet article.

If you don’t have time to read those short articles, here’s the title of one: “We came to an overwhelming and uniform opinion that these reports do not show colitis”. Pretty clear.

And, yet, one can already see the battle lines being drawn and the talking points distributed. Before, people ignored the facts and instead tried to frame this as a personal battle: “Brian Deer, journalist, vs. Andrew Wakefield, Doctor.” Just a quick tweak and we have “David Lewis, expert who knows colonic biopsy analysis vs. Brian Deer, mere journalist.” This is, of course, more convincing that “Opinion of soil scientist vs. a pathologist and a gastroenterologist.” And, of course, easier than tackling the facts.

Let’s consider some facts, then. The first sentence of the (now retracted) 1998 Lancet paper: “We investigated a consecutive series of children with chronic enterocolitis and regressive developmental disorder. ”

“Consecutive series” was, at best, misleading given the facts of how the children were referred to the Royal Free. A fact not addressed in any way by Mr. Lewis.

“Chronic enterocolitis”. Note, “enterocolitis”. Not “non-specific colitis”. Let’s break this down. “-itis” means inflammation. Colitis “refers to an inflammation of the colon and is often used to describe an inflammation of the large intestine (colon, caecum and rectum).”

All fine so far. But, “enterocolitis“? The word actually used in the first sentence of the Lancet? The word used in the condition Mr. Wakefield coined for the condition he proposed, “autistic enterocolitis“? Enterocolitis is “an inflammation of the colon and small intestine.” And small intestine.

You can check the scores on grading sheets in the table Mr. Deer provided on his website. These include links to the scanned sheets themselves. For example, the sheets for Child 1.

The sheets and the table are arranged in a specific order: top down. From the highest point reached in the colonoscopy on down to the rectum (the exit of the large intestine).

Why point this out? Because you will notice from the table that for two of the eleven children reported (child one and twelve), there are no data for the duodenum (start of the small intestine) or the ileum (as noted in the Lancet article). Those reports start at the Caecum (the start of the large intestine) or lower. For some of the other children (child four, seven and nine), there are data, and they are listed as “normal”. The Lancet reports them as having lymphoid nodular hyperplasia. Child two has some notation, but again is checked “normal” by Dr. Dhillon. Likewise child 5 and child 6.

Which begs the question: how can you diagnose “enterocolitis”, inflammation of the large and small intestine, without data from the small intestine, or when the data you do have is normal? For 8 out of the 11 children, by my count.

Answer: you can’t. Hence the switch from “enterocolitis” to “non-specific colitis” in Mr. Lewis’ letter to the BMJ. In that letter, the term “enterocolitis” only appears in his citation of a Brian Deer article.

So, back to the first sentence of the Lancet article and ask, what is accurate? Let’s include the points made by Mr. Deer that not all these children demonstrated regression, and there wasn’t a single developmental disorder. So, with thanks to a reader who pointed this out: “We investigated a consecutive series of children with chronic enterocolitis and regressive developmental disorder(s).

or,

“We investigated children with developmental disorder(s)”

Not really very exciting.

While I have fallen into the trap I described at the outset, losing the forest for the trees, allow me to discuss one last piece of the way people are attempting to frame the way Mr. Wakefield wrote his paper. Instead of being an active researcher, it seems he is considered to be merely the man who collected the data and typed the manuscript. Mr. Lewis wrote, “I do not believe that Dr. Wakefield intentionally misinterpreted the grading sheets as evidence of “non-specific colitis.” ”

As though the entire process of diagnosing children with enterocolitis involved looking at Mr. Dhillon’s grading sheets. Once again, what did the Lancet article say? Under “Histology”:

Formalin-fixed biopsy samples of ileum and colon were assessed and reported by a pathologist (SED). Five ileocolonic biopsy series from age-matched and site-matched controls whose reports showed histologically normal mucosa were obtained for comparison. All tissues were assessed by three other clinical and experimental pathologists (APD, AA, AJW).

AJW refers to Andrew J. Wakefield. So, did he just accept the diagnoses from others, as we are being asked to believe now, or did he assess tissues, as he wrote in the Lancet in 1998? Seems an important point to downplay, as Mr. Lewis is not attempting.

To bring this to a close, a press release has been issued in support of Andrew Wakefield. Mr. Lewis is quoted:

“There was no fraud committed by Dr. Wakefield. The crux of the matter in Wakefield’s case, so far as research fraud is concerned, is whether Wakefield fabricated the diagnosis of non-specific colitis for 11 of the 12 Lancet children as claimed in Table 1. Drs. Paul Dhillon’s and Andrew Anthony’s grading sheets clearly show that Wakefield did not fabricate the diagnoses of non-specific colitis reported in the Lancet article.”

Well, no. Nonspecific colitis is not the “crux of the matter” at all. Mr. Lewis is referred to Mr. Deer’s article, and the discussion of regressive autism and when symptoms appeared. Facts which were not reported accurately in the Lancet.

And there’s that whole first sentence not being accurate at all thing…let’s not even get started on the concluding sentence:

We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.

Brian Deer on Andrew Wakefield: Pathology reports solve “new bowel disease” riddle

10 Nov

Today the British Medical Journal (BMJ) released a four articles on Andrew Wakefield and his research efforts at the Royal Free Hospital. To sum up the four articles in a single sentence (from Fiona Godlee of the BMJ): “Previously unpublished histopathology grading sheets apparently completed by Amar Dhillon, the senior pathologist on the paper, remove any remaining credibility from the claim that the Royal Free doctors had discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease associated with MMR”

For those who may wish a bit of background, earlier this year, the BMJ had a series of articles on Mr. Wakefield’s research:

Secrets of the MMR scare: how the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed (Feature by Brian Deer)

Secrets of the MMR scare How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money (Feature by Brian Deer)

The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news (Feature by Brian Deer)

and

Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent (editorial by Fiona Godlee of the BMJ)

These articles came after Mr. Deer was able to review the transcripts of Mr. Wakefield’s “Fitness to Practice” hearings held before the General Medical Council (GMC).

Mr. Wakefield’s work focused on gastrointestinal disease. He went so far as to claim to have found a new syndrome, which he coined autistic enterocolitis. 13 years later, there is still no proof such a condition actually exists. When evidence came forward that the discussion of the children in the Lancet did not match the clinical records, Mr. Wakefield claimed that ““Dr Dhillon’s diagnosis formed the basis for what was reported in the Lancet,” and “I played no part in the diagnostic process at all.” Unfortunately it has been difficult to verify these statements. For one, the slides made from the samples taken from the children in the Lancet study are apparently missing, so direct comparison of what was reported in the paper to what was actually found in the children was difficult. Also, Dr. Dhillon’s analyses were not available. Until now. The scoresheets used by Amar Dhillon, the pathologist coauthor on the 1998 Lancet article, were recently made available to the BMJ. These form the basis for the articles published today.

In his new BMJ article, Pathology reports solve “new bowel disease” riddle, Mr. Deer discusses the pathology reports. He compiled a table based on these reports (for example, the report from Child 1). If I can summarize Mr. Deer’s discussion: what is striking about these reports is that they are not striking. Dr. Dhillon used his own score method to rank the disease found in the specimens. In most cases, these were “normal” or “mild”.

Mr. Deer shared the reports with a number of professionals for comment. Including Dr. Henry Appleman:

“Most of this stuff is so close to normal that you’ve really got to question whether there is really anything there,” said Henry Appelman, professor of surgical pathology at the University of Michigan and a specialist in gastrointestinal disease. “These are the kind of things that we in our practise here would ignore completely.”

And Ingvar Bjarnason:

“Everyone thinks I am crazy even asking them,” said King’s gastroenterologist Bjarnason, after discussing the scorings with other specialists. “All but one of the children is normal in their eyes. There is no enteritis and no colitis, simple as that.”

While the reports were not striking, there is indication of inflammation. Mr. Deer argues that a key point was left out of the Lancet article, the presence of constipation in many of the children, which would have put the inflammation signs into better perspective for the readers:

No less controversial, the authors omitted from the paper the children’s principal gastroenterological problem. “Almost all” had “severe” constipation.(30) The GMC panel heard, for example, that after bowel preparation by nasogastric tube, the first patient, who had mild caecal cryptitis, endured two attempted ileocolonoscopies that failed because of faeces in the caecum, with “scope trauma” noted on the second.

This omission of constipation was no small matter. It went to the heart of how the paper would be read. Specialists told me that both mild inflammation and prominent lymphoid follicles may be expected to be associated with this sign.

(30) Murch S, Thomson M, Walker-Smith JA. Authors’ reply. Lancet 1998;351:908.

Mr. Deer, of course, is not a medical professional. But, we do not have to rely solely on Mr. Deer’s report. The BMJ has two companion pieces by medical professionals.

In Commentary: I see no convincing evidence of “enterocolitis,” “colitis,” or a “unique disease process”, Karel Geboes, Professor Doctor, Department of Pathology Univ Hospital KUleuven reports:

In general, the data are rather similar to the reports of the Royal Free hospital pathology service, which I reviewed for the BMJ last year.(7) Although minor abnormalities are noted in a minority of patients, I see no convincing evidence of “enterocolitis,” “colitis,” or a “unique disease process” being present in all patients. The Wakefield et al paper is obviously problematic and its wording does not reflect the data shown in the grading sheets.

(7) Deer B. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” under the microscope. BMJ 2010;340:c1127.

In Commentary: We came to an overwhelming and uniform opinion that these reports do not show colitis, Dr. Ingvar Bjarnason, professor of digestive diseases, consultant physician and gastroenterologist at King’s College, London, writes:

The hospital pathology service found the histopathology to be normal,(3) and, except in the case of the child mentioned above, the grading sheets also note normal findings. The fact that these scores were interpreted as abnormal raises, in my opinion, questions for the authors of Wakefield et al to answer, and particularly for the consultant histopathologists.

From the histological and endoscopic reports, there are no grounds to believe that any new inflammatory bowel disease may have been discovered, or any possible “unique disease process” observed, as reported by Wakefield et al. Nothing can be said about the aetiology of any minor irritations noted, and nothing can be inferred regarding treatment.

(3) Deer B. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” under the microscope. BMJ 2010;340:c1127.

In Institutional research misconduct, Failings over the MMR scare may need parliamentary inquiry, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee discusses how there is no sign that the Royal Free Hospital (University College London) has begun the expected inquiry into the misconduct which occurred there in the 1990’s:

It is now more than 18 months since the UK’s General Medical Council found Andrew Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and other serious professional misconduct(1) ; and it is nearly a year since the BMJ concluded that his now retracted Lancet paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism and bowel disease was an “elaborate fraud.”(2) (3) At that time, January 2011, we called on Wakefield’s former employer, University College London (UCL), to establish an inquiry into the scandal. Ten months on, no inquiry has been announced.

Ironically, these data were made available to the BMJ with the intent of exhonerating Mr. Wakefield.

In 1997, Dhillon was asked to reassess intestinal biopsy specimens taken from children enrolled in Wakefield’s research after the hospital’s histopathology service, under consultant and fellow coauthor Susan Davies, reported most of the children’s biopsies to be normal. His 62 A4 grading sheets were sent to the BMJ by c, a self employed environmental microbiologist. Lewis says he was given them by Wakefield after they met at a vaccine safety conference in January. In his accompanying letter, Lewis concludes that a non-expert pathologist such as Wakefield could have thought they showed that the children had non-specific colitis.

Ms. Godlee is being kind, in my opinion, using the title the self-styled “vaccine safety” conference chose. This was the same conference in Jamaica which was discussed here at Left Brain/Right Brain recently.

It strikes me as rather odd that Mr. Wakefield did not provide these documents to the BMJ directly. Perhaps in a response to the articles published earlier this year. What advantage he gained in providing them through a proxy is unclear.

When he was found guilty of misconduct by the GMC, Mr. Wakefield vowed that he would not go away. So far, this appears true. However, his arguments are getting weaker as time goes on. In this case, they seem to have outright backfired. Writes Ms. Godlee:

The grading sheets are certainly interesting, but not for the reasons Lewis (or, it may be assumed, Wakefield, in giving them to him) intended. We sent them to two independent reviewers and supplied the data for comment to two further senior gastroenterologists. We also showed them to Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who over the past eight years has uncovered the secrets behind the MMR scare and who arguably knows more about this case than anyone apart from Wakefield. Our expert reviewers are in no doubt that Dhillon’s findings—like Davies’s before him—are almost all normal, or as near to normal that the changes they reported were likely to be physiological.(6) (7) In an accompanying feature article, Deer explains what they add to our knowledge of the Wakefield saga.(8)

(6) Geboes K. Commentary: I see no convincing evidence of “enterocolitis,” “colitis,” or a “unique disease process.” BMJ 2011;343:d6985.
(7) Bjarnason I. Commentary: We came to an overwhelming and uniform opinion that these reports do not show colitis. BMJ 2011;343:d6979.
(8) Deer B. Pathology reports solve “new bowel disease” riddle. BMJ 2011;343:d6823.

Lessons from the MMR scare by Fiona Godlee

2 Sep

Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, will address the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Tuesday, Sept. 6th. Her talk, Lessons from the MMR scare, will take place at 11am eastern time, and is scheduled for 90 minutes.

It will also be videocast.

Please join BMJ Editor Fiona Godlee for a discussion of the stunning investigation she published earlier this year that revealed the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on deliberate fraud. The three-part series was produced by journalist Brian Deer, who spent seven years investigating Andrew Wakefield’s infamous study linking the MMR vaccine with autism, discovering Wakefield had been paid by a lawyer to influence his results and had blatantly manipulated the study data.

In an editorial accompanying Deer’s report, Godlee and colleagues noted, “Science is based on trust. Without trust, research cannot function and evidence based medicine becomes a folly. Journal editors, peer reviewers, readers, and critics have all based their responses to Wakefield’s small case series on the assumption that the facts had at least been honestly documented. Such a breach of trust is deeply shocking. And even though almost certainly rare on this scale, it raises important questions about how this could happen, what could have been done to uncover it earlier, what further inquiry is now needed, and what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.”

For more information, read the BMJ articles:

The fraud behind the MMR scare, Fiona Godlee, et al
Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent
Institutional and editorial misconduct in the MMR scare

Secrets of the MMR scare: Brian Deer

Part 1: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed
Part 2: How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money
Part 3: The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news

The NIH website gives a brief biographical blurb on Ms. Godlee:

About Fiona Godlee

Fiona Godlee has been Editor in Chief of the BMJ since 2005. She qualified as a doctor in 1985, trained as a general physician in Cambridge and London, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Since joining the BMJ in 1990 she has written on a broad range of issues, including the impact of environmental degradation on health, the future of the World Health Organisation, the ethics of academic publication, and the problems of editorial peer review. In 1994 she spent a year at Harvard University as a Harkness Fellow evaluating efforts to bridge the gap between medical research and practice. On returning to the UK, she led the development of BMJ Clinical Evidence, which evaluates the best available evidence on the benefits and harms of treatments and is now provided worldwide to over a million clinicians in 9 languages. In 2000 she moved to Current Science Group to establish the open access online publisher BioMed Central as Editorial Director for Medicine. In 2003 she returned to the BMJ Group to head up its new Knowledge division. She has served as President of the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) and Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and is co-editor of Peer Review in Health Sciences. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.

hat tip to a commenter at Respectful Insolence for this information.

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

Brian Deer: Stomping at the Savoy

5 Apr

The Press Awards ceremony is ongoing at the Savoy. Brian Deer was nominated for and won the Specialist Journalist of the Year award for his work on MMR. He was cited for perseverance and for righting a wrong.

Brian Deer, of course, is the journalist who broke the stories surrounding Andrew Wakefield’s MMR research.

and video:

Brian Deer nominated for Specialist Journalist of the Year and News Reporter of the Year

25 Feb

Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who broke the story of Andrew Wakefield’s improprieties in his autism research, has been nominated for “Specialist Journalist of the Year” and “News Reporter of the Year”. The Press Gazette lists all the nominees in their piece The Press Awards: The Times leads with 18 nominations. For other non-UK residents, I’ve been told that The Press Awards are akin to the Pulitzer Prize in the US.

The article doesn’t cite the reason for Mr. Deer’s nominations, but it is a pretty safe bet that his articles on Andrew Wakefield in the BMJ had a lot to do with it. Links to those articles are below:

Secrets of the MMR scare: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed

Secrets of the MMR scare : How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money

Secrets of the MMR scare: The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news

Congratulations, Mr. Deer. It was a lot of hard work. Glad to see it recognized.

Russ Roberts hosts: Deer on Autism, Vaccination, and Scientific Fraud

2 Feb

I keep thinking I’ve blogged the last on this. But, I do think there is some interesting information here for some. In Deer on Autism, Vaccination, and Scientific Fraud, Brian Deer goes through the history of his investigation–how/why he got started, what tipped him off that something was amiss with Mr. Wakefield’s research, the mistakes Mr. Wakefield made in trying to handle and quash the story.

This post is long, but it covers a lot of material not about the investigation. It answers many questions that have been posed (such as what sort of job does Brian Deer have, how did he get access to information about the Lancet 12 children).

Investigative journalist Brian Deer talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Deer’s seven years of reporting and legal issues surrounding the 1998 article in The Lancet claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism and bowel problems. Deer’s dogged pursuit of the truth led to the discovery that the 1998 article was fraudulent and that the lead author had hidden payments he received from lawyers to finance the original study. In this podcast, Deer describes how he uncovered the truth and the legal consequences that followed. The conversation closes with a discussion of the elusiveness of truth in science and medicine.

Russ Roberts’ bio:

Russell Roberts, Associate Editor. Russell Roberts is Professor of Economics and the J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Distinguished Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Before coming to George Mason University, Roberts was at Washington University in St. Louis where he was the founding director of the Center for Experiential Learning at the John M. Olin School of Business and a Senior Fellow at the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy. Roberts has also taught at the University of Rochester, Stanford University, and UCLA. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago.

Roberts is a regular commentator on business and economics for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. In addition to numerous academic publications, he has written for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Professor Roberts is especially interested in communicating economics to non-economists. His first novel, The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism, a jargon-free book on international trade written for the non-economist, was named one of the top ten books of 1994 by Business Week and one of the best books of 1994 by the Financial Times. An updated and revised edition was published in the spring of 2000. His new book is The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance (MIT Press, 2001).

Russ Roberts is the host of EconTalk, economics podcasts available here and through iTunes. He blogs at Cafe Hayek along with Don Boudreaux.

There is an audio podcast and a rough transcript on the site.

In 1998, when the Lancet paper came out with a big splash, Brian Deer was working on stories about the DPT vaccine. But he decided against working on the MMR story at that time. He knew that to do the story correctly meant a lot of work, not just publishing what Mr. Wakefield and the Royal Free put out in a news conference:

I happened to be looking at that purely by chance when Wakefield’s paper was published. I looked at his paper and thought there was something very odd about it, doesn’t sit right just reading it on the page. Said at the time I was absolutely not going to get involved in MMR. Journalistically at the time, allegations against vaccines, if you want to do them in a responsible way rather than simply go to government experts or parents or people with interests and write down what they say and present the clash of opinions–if you want to understand what the story is really about, they require an enormous amount of work.

Later, he got pulled into the story:

At the time people were already saying: MMR, Brian Deer, he’s our expert, based on what I’d done in DTP. But in 2003, one of the editors was changing jobs, taking over some feature pages; wanted some stories. Said to me: Can’t you do investigation? I said: Well, what? Three or four different ideas. One was MMR. Didn’t want to get involved because there was a lawsuit coming up. By serendipity the lawsuit was cancelled and we’ll just do a feature, spend 2-3 weeks on the outside on MMR. Three weeks turned into 7 years, though not the whole time. Did make a couple of TV shows about other things as well.

Brian Deer started on the story, and right away he got pushback from Andrew Wakefield:

When you started looking into that Wakefield study, how did you proceed and what did you discover? Did routine journalistic work. At the start, put a phone call in to Dr. Wakefield. He always works with professional publicists; this time his publicist, within about 3 hours of me calling, his publicist had made a complaint against me to the paper. A bit of a strategic mistake on their part. The essence of the mistake is I am self-employed. But I have worked for the Sunday Times since 1981–that is my home. I was a staff reporter, a specialist, they sent me to the United States, and so on. But they imagined that this meant I was some sort of outsider. When they got onto the paper and started making complaints, they were making complaints against somebody who actually sat at the next desk to the editor, who had worked with the head of the legal department since we were all young together. So, it didn’t work, the complaint. I was a known entity. Whilst I am regarded as being a difficult, mercurial person, I think it is true to say I am trusted. That was the first mistake they made.

Brian Deer made some phone calls. Talked to parents of the Lancet 12. He immediately found that there was a problem. The “case series” was heavily biased. The children were recruited. They were involved in litigation.

Right at the start I rung up some parents who had been in the original paper and interviewed them. Interviewed them in a way they had not been interviewed before. Produced important information within hours of beginning the story. Which was? I phoned a lady who had started a campaign group against the MMR back in the 1990s and she told me in the conversation that members of her group were in the Wakefield study; said: they are all members of our group and still in the group. So these parents who had turned up at the hospital, she told me they were all members of her campaign group. Immediately alarm bells started to ring, because nothing about that had been mentioned in the paper. They all just appeared to be routine patients of a big London hospital; but she was saying they were part of a group. A group that had been created before the study. It was the result of her campaigning. She put advertisements in newspapers and made approaches to a firm of lawyers.

He discusses the start of the interviews. How he interviewed one parent using “Brian Lawrence” and how the information he heard didn’t mesh with the Lancet paper:

How did you interview them and what did you discover? The key one in the series of 12 was family 2. The mother, it came out over a period of time, had been a long-time collaborator of Dr. Wakefield’s. I went to interview her; in fact, I used my middle name which had been editorially approved from my managers rather than my full name so they wouldn’t google me and see I was an investigative reporter. I said I was Brian Lawrence, my middle name. How were you representing yourself? My friends say I’m a journalist you wouldn’t want to write about you. You would google me. I asked her all the questions people ask, isn’t it awful; who do you blame? I then went into exceptional detail as to what actually happened when she said her child was vaccinated and developed these problems. Went over her story in great detail. She’d already recently been involved in litigation; so the matter was very clear in her mind. She told me a very detailed story. You could say: People forget, matter of time; but this was the moment when she was saying her child’s life had forever been destroyed. Have to expect she would have that in her mind. It was quite clear that the story she was telling me did not correspond with any case in Wakefield’s paper. What it boiled down to in her case was that she had changed her story, told one story when she’d gone to the hospital and now telling another story; and the two stories couldn’t be reconciled. The difference was when did the problems of autism first reveal themselves. In her story that she told the hospital, it was 14 days; but in her actual story, far from the case. In fact it was months. She’d given one story which suited the paper. She may have done so in complete good faith. Might have misremembered. But when she had the opportunity to study her child’s records, it was a different story.

He tells of the first stories coming out in the Sunday Times, revealing that Mr. Wakefield was working as a paid expert, his patent, and the fact that data from his own laboratory (from Nicolas Chadwick) showed that there was no evidence of measles virus in the gut tissues of the children.

As a result of that, Wakefield made his second big mistake. His first was to have complaints made against me to my employers. Second was to begin litigation. He sued for libel.

Because of the lawsuit, Brian Deer was able to obtain more information. He was pretty much forced to in order to defend himself in the legal action. He used the freedom of information act. This exposed the connection to the Legal Aid Fund and the documents from the ethics approvals for Mr. Wakefield’s research (which showed that Mr. Wakefield started before he had ethical approval).

He couldn’t have expected–maybe this was his second mistake and suing me was his third mistake–in late 1996, early 1997, going back to when Princess Diana was still alive, that the incoming Labour government, the Tony Blair government, with a commitment to produce a Freedom of Information Act. America’s had a freedom of information act for so long no one can remember when it began. We had one introduced by the incoming Blair government. Enacted in 2000, started to take effect in 2004. Because the government had told government bodies to act as if the Act was in force, I was able to get from public bodies the fact that Wakefield had been paid. Funding Authority, in Britain called the Legal Aid Fund. Kind of like public defender system except the government doesn’t provide the defenders–it provides the money. So, it was a government fund to allow access to poorer people to litigation which had funded Wakefield’s lawyer. He could never have expected when he was doing this research that all of a sudden his funding would be exposed to scrutiny, and also the Ethics Committee. In America called Institutional Review Boards. Bodies of doctors, scientists, others associated with medical centers which give permission for research to take place. The paperwork of that body of the Royal Free Hospital also moved into the public domain by the Freedom of Information Act. I think I was the first person ever to get hold of these kinds of papers.

Mr. Wakefield tried to get the lawsuit put on hold, but Mr. Deer was able to force the case to proceed. Mr. Wakefield kept the pressure up:

There were occasions. He also sued me for my website, for which I have unlimited liability, would have lost my home had it been true. I would be sitting at my computer doing some work and there would be a ring on the doorbell and there would be a man dressed in black leather with a motorcycle helmet on and he would present me with an envelope. This happened to me twice. I opened the envelope and there’s an [?] for Wakefield’s legal costs for the hearing that was going to take place the next day in court. The figures were about $30,000 U.S. dollars, that kind of money just for one hearing. That was the kind of pressure they were trying to put on me.

And this proved to be a tactical mistake for Mr. Wakefield. This gave Brian Deer access to the medical records:

The next stage which was very unfortunate for him was that we got a court order against him requiring him to hand over to our lawyers the hospital medical records of the children. I never took possession of them. The judge balanced the issues of the confidentiality of the children as opposed to the fairness of the litigation in front of the court. Ordered that I be allowed to read the unredacted–with their names and all their details–of the 12 children. There were just 11 at the time–the American wasn’t involved in this. So under strict supervision of my lawyers, with a lawyer sitting at the end of the table throughout, I sat and read the medical records of the children.

It appears that Mr. Wakefield knew that giving Brian Deer access to this information was a problem, as he chose this time to cancel his lawsuit. Brian Deer couldn’t use the information, but at this point he knew enough details to realize that there was an even bigger story here. So he attended the GMC hearings:

I have never said anything about what I read in those medical records. The position is that they were disclosed to me in the course of litigation and I may make no use of anything I saw in those records or disclose anything. As I was sitting there reading them, Dr. Wakefield’s lawyers were in a taxi travelling across London to the High Court to disband the lawsuit against me. When I got home that night–and I hadn’t taken any notes with me or documents–I went home, phone rang, and it was my lawyers saying: It’s over. They’ve thrown in the towel. So I’m in the position where I have read the medical records of these children but can make no use of the content of them. However, I have to say–I’ve talked to my lawyers about this–it is a fact that it’s impossible to un-know something. Once you know something, you can’t stop knowing it. Unrealistic. So, what I did was to ensure that I presented myself at the next opportunity where these medical records would go on display. And they would go on display at a Disciplinary Hearing which arose from my original stories.

Asked a “what next?” question, Mr. Deer responds that it is time to move on:

Not sure I want to spend a lot more time on long investigations. Saying of the Buddha: The things we dwell on become the shape of our minds. I’m kind of tired of the hunt aspect of it and the adversarial quality to investigative journalism, the extraordinary hours that have to be put in to it to get anywhere. The complex legal issues that are always coming up. In an ideal world I’d find something that didn’t require me to do more than write a couple of hundred words in a piece and be cheap and cheerful. But I have a feeling that is just how I am feeling at the moment and it won’t be long before something else comes along that I get interested in and get drawn off into. I think what I need now is a holiday! I for one now am grateful. Striking a blog against fraud doesn’t make up for all the pain and losses people suffered as a result of the fraud, but it will open people’s eyes down the road to other things.

Mr. Deer goes into the results of the investigation, both his and the GMC investigation. He discusses how Mr. Wakefield was found guilty of multiple ethical violations, including subjecting disabled children to procedures which were for research purposes and not in their clinical interest, dishonesty, financial issues, etc.. He discusses the costs, both in Mr. Wakefield’s expert fees (about $750,000) and the costs of the GMC investigation. The costs to public health as MMR uptake dropped in the UK and measles came back.

Most people in this subject have seen it in terms of vaccines, measles, infectious disease, autism, or things like that. From the start, I’ve always seen it as being as being an issue of the integrity of science. Whether this paper was true or not and how he could get away with how he got away with. I think it is a depressing picture. It’s been in the region of $10 million dollars to crack a case series of 12 patients. The money involved with the General Counsel hearing, the litigation involved, journalistic fees, and all the staff gone around this to get to the bottom of this little case series of 12 patients. The great bulk of science is not that interesting to the general public and therefore would not create the cause for a newspaper reported to be funded by a newspaper or television station to go after this for such a long period of time and get all this investigative work done with government regulators and what have you. So, you really would have to wonder what else is going on in laboratories and medical centers. The fact that Wakefield thought he was going to get away with it, and the casual way he went about it leads me to think he was working within a culture within which that wasn’t far from unusual, wasn’t far from extraordinary–the kind of misrepresentations he made were far from remarkable by common standards, I suspect. Part of it the nature of human beings; part of it the elusive nature of truth. Part of it is the nature of the publication process.