Today, British Medical Journal launches a new offensive against Andrew Wakefield and the Lancet paper which did not link MMR with autism and gut disease, with a press release entitled: ‘MMR fraud needs parliamentary inquiry, says BMJ, as new information puts spotlight on Wakefield's co-authors’. Remarkably, there was not a hint of this only two months ago (September 6) when editor Fiona Godlee addressed the US National Institutes of Health and stated :
18.55 "What these articles also say that when those three things didn't come up trumps on the twelve children included, and the subsequent series of children, Andrew Wakefield altered the data to make those three things emerge"
46.06 "we need co-authors to do their job...I think in this case the co-authors did not fulfil their responsibilities... there is no allegation of misconduct against them apart from the other two who were arraigned with Andrew Wakefield, but they didn't fulfil their responsibilities."
But suddenly Godlee’s world appears to be falling apart. The case that Wakefield was somehow supposed to have altered the data under the noses of the 12 senior medical scientists without a single one noticing or commenting for 13 years, and several of them conspicuously standing by the data is beginning to take its toll of BMJ’s credibility. Notably, BMJ has come under attack from a leading whistleblowing scientist Dr David Lewis, as reported in a report from Nature News. According to Nature’s reporter, Eugenie Samuel Reich, even the scientist Godlee hired to review the Lewis’s assessment, though scarcely well-disposed towards Wakefield, doubts that there is evidence for fraud:
‘Before publishing Lewis's letter, the BMJ asked Ingvar Bjarnason, a gastroenterologist at King's College Hospital, London, to review the materials. Bjarnason says he doesn't believe they are sufficient to support claims in the Lancet paper of a new disease process. He also questions whether "non-specific" on the grading sheets refers to colitis, saying it could refer to any kind of gut changes. But he says that the forms don't clearly support charges that Wakefield deliberately misinterpreted the records. "The data are subjective. It's different to say it's deliberate falsification," he says.’
So, why the vendetta? The latest thing is that she seems to have started a war with University College London over their failure to hold an inquiry into the affair, but it is becoming increasingly evident to even Wakefield’s enemies that there is nothing whatsoever to investigate.
Perhaps, Godlee’s colleagues ought to start asking questions. This farrago has been going on far too long. And even now she hasn’t published Dr Lewis’s letter.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.