“It is troubling that people would be prepared to sit back and watch a serious injustice being committed because of a disagreement with those being falsely accused of improprieties. I think we need an explanation.”
The anomalies mount up. Last week I called Goldacre over his vacillating position on Wakefield’s Lancet study and the GMC findings (HERE ). I pointed out that statements he had made both in 2005 and last month seemed to contradict the GMC result. As usual with Goldacre he blanked my criticisms directly but as if in reply in his review of the year in the Guardian this weekend (HERE) he cited his January article welcoming the GMC verdict.
Taking the war to Goldacre’s own territory I posted twice on the matter beneath the Guardian column, and was met not only with his customary silence but also that of all the usual Skeptic brigade who normally surround him. Notably, I reproduced my letter to the BMJ of February in which I challenged everyone and anyone to square the circle of the GMC findings. This was under an article by government scientist Prof Trisha Greenhalgh who had contributed an analysis of the Lancet paper to journalist Brian Deer’s website (HERE ). It was very clear also that Goldacre’s view of the paper was opposed to Greenhalgh and Deer. I was in effect challenging Greenhalgh, Deer and Goldacre from their different perspectives to explain how the GMC verdict could possibly be right. No one – in front of a professional audience - came to set me straight, and although Deer subsequently contributed to the thread in a controversial way he did not respond to the central issue I had raised. The truth is that no one can answer and a gross injustice has surely been committed. Here is the text of my post (HERE), which may or may not be allowed to remain up:
‘Regarding Wakefield and the GMC I would just like to reproduce my comment in BMJ Rapid Responses in February noting that I could easily have been taken up on it then by Ben, or Brian Deer or Prof Greenhalgh (Deer, indeed, sent a comment to the same thread but had nothing to say on this matter). Moreover, it is interesting to note that what Ben has been saying about the Lancet study is in direct contradiction of Greenhalgh who had contributed an article to Deer's website about the study (but not to a peer review publication):
‘’The panel stated in the short version of their findings on fact read out to journalists at the GMC last month...:
‘’“The Panel has heard that ethical approval had been sought and granted for other trials and it has been specifically suggested that Project 172-96 was never undertaken and that in fact, the Lancet 12 children’s investigations were clinically indicated and the research parts of those clinically justified investigations were covered by Project 162- 95. In the light of all the available evidence, the Panel rejected this proposition.”
‘’However, it is my understanding that 162-95 was not a "project" in any normal sense but the ethical approval granted Prof Walker-Smith on his arrival at the Royal Free Hospital in September 1995 - as probably the most senior figure in British paediatric gastroenterology - to retain biopsy samples from colonoscopies for research purposes. If this is the case it would seem a basic criticism of the panel, that in reaching their view, they did not explain why this ethical permission did not obtain in this instance. We are also confronted by the oddity that the panel having concluded that the study was in fact project 172-96 then found the three doctors to be in breach of its terms at every twist and turn, instead of drawing the more obvious inference that it wasn't 172-96 at all, but an "early report" as stated. (And this, incidentally, is why several of us think that Ben Goldacre had it right in the first place.)’
‘It is troubling that people would be prepared to sit back and watch a serious injustice being committed because of a disagreement with those being falsely accused of improprieties. I think we need an explanation.’
I have also now written to the Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger:
‘Dear Mr Rusbridger,
‘Re: Ben Goldacre's position on the Wakefield affair
‘I would like to draw your attention to discrepancies in your columnist's handling of this matter. In 2005 Dr Goldacre wrote an award winning article insisting that Dr Wakefield's Lancet paper "was and still remains a perfectly good small case series report". It is therefore troubling that he should have welcomed the GMC verdict against the three doctors which on no evidence that the panel could cite found fancifully the Lancet paper was not what it (and Dr Goldacre) had said it was but an ill conducted version of a protocol for a study commissioned by the Legal Aid Board. This was so discrepant from reality that GMC panel also found that the doctors had breached the terms of the protocol in innumerable respects. And Dr Wakefield was found to be "dishonest" on the basis that he had not declared or accounted the LAB funding as being for the Lancet publication.
‘I might have been prepared to accept that Dr Goldacre had simply been persuaded of the GMC position if he had not spoken again in an Irish on-line publication last month saying very similar things to the 2005 article:
‘“But you have to remember this paper didn’t actually say MMR causes autism, it didn’t even speculate on that. It was accompanied by an editorial that said by the way people should be very clear that it doesn’t mean that MMR causes autism.
‘“Also, this was a 12 subject case series report - it was a description of only 12 children’s clinical anecdotes, and while this is not good evidence to say MMR causes autism, it is a perfectly legitimate thing to publish.”
‘If this is right (and I believe it is) then the big fraud is surely that of the GMC, and should not Dr Goldacre and the Guardian being saying this? I have put this to Dr Goldacre a number of times on-line… and he chooses not to answer, but it is apparent his view is not only factually correct but is completely incompatible with the GMC findings.