Amongst the signatures on the British Medical Journal editorial accompanying Brian Deer’s latest ambush of Andrew Wakefield the name of Harvey Marcovitch has gone almost unremarked (HERE). While Marcovitch is indeed an associate editor of BMJ it should not go unnoticed that he is also Chair of the GMC Fitness Practice Panels. Whilst this is disclosed amongst his competing interests in the article he notes in exculpation:
“HM chairs GMC fitness to practise panels. He had no association with the Wakefield hearings and the views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of the GMC.”
But it is almost impossible to see how the second statement could be true even if his sole contribution to the hearing was not to intervene. As we know, the chairman of panel at the hearing, Surendra Kumar, was appointed in spite of the fact that he had shares in GSK and sat on two medicine licensing authority committees (HERE), and further blotted his copybook after the hearing by leading a debate at the British Medical Association calling for MMR vaccination to be made compulsory in the UK (HERE). What makes Marcovitch’s signature here utterly remarkable is that he is not apparently in the habit of signing BMJ editorials: a search of the journal’s index reveals he has signed only four since BMJ went online 17 years ago, and all of the previous ones were solo efforts. Whatever it was that induced him to accept collective responsibility for this editorial while appeals in the case are still pending, it seems curiously insensitive and a potential contempt of court.
Entirely undisclosed by Marcovitch in BMJ is his board membership of the United Kingdom Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) (HERE), a body sponsored by a number interested public bodies and by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) (HERE), and so far BMJ has refused to publish a letter pointing out the connection. Also on the board of UKRIO is the medical director of ABPI Dr Richard Tiner (HERE). Tiner is also a non-executive director ABPI’s associate outfit MedicoLegal Investigations which specialises in investigating doctors and bringing them before the GMC (HERE). It was MLI that boasted of its involvement in Brian Deer’s initial investigation of Andrew Wakefield (HERE):
“The extraordinary tale of the problems found in the paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield (as published in the Lancet) concerning MMR and autism were shared with MLI in strict confidence whilst Brian Deer's fine piece of investigative journalism was under way. We were asked to advise on matters that were clearly quite alarming.
“It is rewarding to know that our knowledge and understanding of research problems is recognised. Brian Deer's investigation reinforces our view, yet again, that in medical research there is far too much pressure to publish. The damage done to the integrity of research is such that it places doubt in the minds of the public about all research. Tragically, as in this case, the information provided by Dr Wakefield not only throws doubt on the work of his colleagues within the medical profession it affects the decision-making process for parents who became totally confused about the rights and wrongs of MMR.”
Dr Marcovitch wears several different hats - as journalistic opinion former, investigator and prosecutor. Like Pooh-Bah - the Lord High Everything Else in Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ - it may be important to establish just which of these gentleman you are addressing.
(With thanks as ever to Jake Crosby.)
John Stone is UK Contributor to Age of Autism.