By John Stone
After months of arm-wrestling British Medical Journal seem to be preparing to give more ground in acknowledging its commercial relationship with MMR manufacturers Merck. Following pressure from Age of Autism and AHRP in February and March BMJ editor in chief, Fiona Godlee, made limited acknowledgement of sponsorship of BMJ Group’s annual awards by Merck and another MMR manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, but still failed to make a formal disclosure regarding the partnership between BMJ Learning and the not-for-profit information arm of Merck, Univadis. The controversy blew up after BMJ published renewed allegations in January by journalist Brian Deer against Andrew Wakefield.
Now BMJ have published a letter from the present writer asking point-blank what they intend to do about acknowledging the conflict. However, the published version has been altered in order to get BMJ off-the-hook once again from linking any corrections in the journal to Deer’s articles, leaving the matter less than transparent for the bulk of readers. Age of Autism has published several articles showing Deer’s allegations to be completely erroneous (The Big Lie, Time To Revisit Deer's Claims , Part 2 Time to Revisit Deer's Claims and Part 3 Deer's Claims ), while BMJ have been legally defensive and restricted discussion of Deer’ alleged evidence (See Guardian UK HERE and BMJ.com HERE ).
The following new letter has been submitted to the journal:-
Re:Re:Re:Time to curtail the excesses of vested interest
It is regrettable that BMJ should have altered the single question I posed in my last published Rapid Response from:
"What action do BMJ propose to take in relation to making known the group's conflict over its partnership with the information arm of Merck, Univadis, in relation to the publication of Mr Deer's articles?"
"What action do the BMJ propose to take in relation to making known the group's conflict over its partnership with the information arm of Merck, Univadis, in relation to the editorial and two editor's choices on Wakefield's research?"
I do not know whether this presages the publication of a new correction to the editorial material indicated in the journal's altered version of my letter, five months after the first correction, but there is still the problem that while that might in a limited way make acknowledgement of BMJ group's conflict, people reading Mr Deer's articles on their own would still be none the wiser about the journal's conflict, and this would not betoken a high standard of transparency. (It has to be said, further, that even if they were at this late stage to make this relevant information available with Mr Deer's articles this would still not be giving it the publicity of the international press launch in January).
It may be that BMJ would like to argue that they would be doing enough by simply appending a correction to the editorial pieces and not Mr Deer's articles, but they are surely trying to pre-empt open and legitimate discussion of that point by altering my letter to something I did not say.