The British Medical Journal stands accused of double standards and misleading its readers in refusing to acknowledge journalist Brian Deer’s role as complainant in the UK General Medical Council hearing against Andrew Wakefield, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch in two articles by him that it has published on the subject. Deer’s role was defined by a High Court ruling by Mr Justice Eady in 2006 who stated:
“Well before the programme was broadcast [Mr Deer] had made a complaint to the GMC about the Claimant. His communications were made on 25 February, 12 March and 1 July 2004. In due course, on 27 August of the same year, the GMC sent the Claimant [Dr Wakefield] a letter notifying him of the information against him.”
The text of two of these complaints are available on line. Moreover, it is evident that Deer stood to gain professionally from their successful prosecution. And in a letter to Channel 4, dated November 4 2004 from solicitors RadcliffesLeBrasseur, acting for the Medical Protection
Society it was stated:
"It is clear and probably not disputed that Mr Deer is operating on his own agenda in respect of these matters and it is also right to say at this time that he has made a formal statutory complaint to the General Medical Council against Mr Wakefield and others concerning these matters. That statutory inquiry within the auspices of the Medical Act and the GMC’s Fitness to Practice procedures is ongoing."
It should also be noted that Deer’s three complaints are the only ones listed in the screening process leading to the GMC prosecution.
In contrast the first of Deer’s BMJ articles ‘Reflections on investigating Wakefield’ (2 February) has no disclosure at all and the second ‘Wakefield’s ‘autistic enterocolitis’ under the microscope’ (15 April) simply reads:|
“BD undertook the Sunday Times investigation which led to the GMC hearing and retraction of the Lancet paper.”
A follow up letter published under Deer’s name states abstrusely:
“BD's investigation for The Sunday Times led to the retraction of the Wakefield et al paper, and the GMC proceedings in Wakefield, Walker-Smith and Murch” (HERE)
But no mention of the letters of complaint. Deer’s role as complainant was already discussed extensively last year in a Spectator article by leading UK columnist Melanie Phillips. (HERE)
It was also troubling that in this letter which effectively accused one of the histopathologists signatory to the Wakefield-Lancet paper of perjury at the GMC hearing seemed to display an altogether different level of scientific expertise to Deer’s normal writing, and that Deer may be being used as proxy for persons who will not declare themselves. The different style of disclosure may also indicate a different author.
Meanwhile, after several exchanges of email the BMJ’s editor-in-chief, Fiona Godlee seems to stand in bare-faced denial of reality:
“From the information and documentation provided to the BMJ I am confident that the conflict of interest statement published with the article is an accurate reflection of the true position. You are welcome to pursue this matter by other avenues but I do not propose to answer further queries from you on this. Best wishes, Fiona Godlee”
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.