By John Stone
Nearly three weeks after BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee’s flimsy “it didn’t occur to us” apology for failing to disclose links with Merck and GSK in regard to its publication of Brian Deer’s allegations against Andrew Wakefield (HERE) only the most token and near-invisible gestures have been made to rectify matters.
While a correction notice (HERE) has been placed on line in regard to the original editorial signed by Godlee and fellow editors Jane Smith and Harvey Marcovitch (who doubles as chair of panels at the General Medical Council), there is no link to it on the article itself or the several other related articles in the journal, including those by Brian Deer himself. So, having admitted they were wrong they have done almost nothing to visibly correct it, continuing to leave at a disadvantage everyone who read, heard or saw the story reported, not to mention a great many of their own readers. It is a very disappointing result from Godlee and Marcovitch who have long purported to be experts on journal ethics, and are both former chairs of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) (HERE). If BMJ and its distinguished editors were really interested in rectifying the problem they would have published on-line links above the relevant articles, as for example in this instance (HERE).
The notice itself reads:
“The BMJ should have declared competing interests in relation to this editorial by Fiona Godlee and colleagues (BMJ 2011;342:c7452, doi:10.1136/bmj.c7452). The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines. For further information see the rapid response from Godlee (www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d1335.full/reply#bmj_el_251470). The same omission also affected two related Editor’s Choice articles (BMJ 2011;342:d22 and BMJ 2011;342:d378). “
However, this also still fails to mention the most glaring conflict of all, which started all this, which is BMJ’s business partnership with Merck through their “information” arm, Univadis (HERE ). Furthermore, Marcovitch has remarked elsewhere on the double standards of the big journals (HERE ) .
"It is a paradox that the professional medical association that owns JAMA was less than open and transparent with Lundh and colleagues about potential financial conflicts (such as their income from industry sources) as they expect their authors to be."
“BD’s investigation led to the GMC proceedings referred to in this report, including the charges. He made many submissions of information but was not a party or witness in the case, nor involved in its conduct.”
Or, in other words, he reported on the matter for several years as a professional journalist without telling anybody he had himself made formal complaints to the GMC against Andrew Wakefield, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch.
But while this is now after many representations opaquely acknowledged, they continue to baulk at requiring Deer to acknowledge that he accepted hospitality at conference last November, sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry including MMR manufacturers (and former defendants) GlaxoSmithKline (HERE ).
Or perhaps the message is that if you work for the pharmaceutical industry “anything goes”.