NOTE: This is supplementary evidence from Age of Autism accepted and published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the United Kingdom House of Commons as part of the inquiry into Fake News. It follows on evidence submitted and published by the committee in November.By John Stone
The following observations are occasioned by events too late to be considered in the original submission to the inquiry .In the original submission I remarked on the 2005 report by the House of Commons Health Committee which criticised the Department of Health for being too close to the pharmaceutical industry. To quote briefly from the report :
The Department of Health has for too long optimistically assumed that the interests of health and of the industry are as one. This may reflect the fact that the Department sponsors the industry as well as looking after health....
The consequences of lax oversight is that the industry’s influence has expanded and a number of practices have developed which act against the public interest. The industry affects every level of healthcare provision, from the drugs that are initially discovered and developed through clinical trials, to the promotion of drugs to the prescriber and the patient groups, to the prescription of medicines and the compilation of clinical guidelines...
But even as I was writing it looks like the final boundaries between the state and the industry were being demolished with the creation of the Accelerated Access Partnership (AAP) with Sir Andrew Witty, lately CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, in charge. Of course, it is very easy to project this in the mainstream media – if it is mentioned at all - as good news. On the other hand we might wonder why having at least putative independence for pharmaceutical licensing and surveillance was thought to be good thing in the past. The mainstream media would be asking serious questions if it was alert, competent and independent. If…
About this departure two LSE professors have warned :
Nonetheless, the proposal says too little on expected benefits for patients and wider society. Instead, several concrete pledges are made to industry, including a promise to establish a new commercial unit within the NHS to “immediately streamline the pathway for access discussions” and pave the way for “flexible and confidential commercial arrangements.” Why? Because innovators want it, according to the report.
Meanwhile, an international authority on infectious diseases, Tom Jefferson, queried the simultaneous appointments of Witty to head the AAP, Patrick Vallance head of R&D at GSK as Chief Government Scientist, and Jonathan van Tam – a figure with strong industry connections – as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for emergency preparedness and pandemic planning. Jefferson writes :
The lowering of regulatory and HTA [Human Tissue Act] standards is in full swing and its main driver is the pharmaceutical industry. The general rhetoric of rushing drugs and devices through to needy patients willing to accept substantial risk rests on very thin evidence of benefit and unclear public support.
Improving the quality of evidence is desperately needed as shown by the scores of examples of clinical trials that have been abandoned or distorted that have come to light in the last decade. Pandemic planning also requires some rethinking as the millions of pounds spent on a dubious pandemic with equally dubious fixes has shown. The close space of time of these “revolving doors” makes me wonder whether the government has objectively and properly overseen the decision making which has led to such important public positions being filled by senior industry figures. Can one walk away from leading industry, or rubbing shoulders with it, and perform an important public health function with impartiality? HM Government seems to think so, but if you are unsure (as I am) you may be given pause for thought.
What we have here are cosy arrangements between the government and the pharmaceutical industry which more certainly benefit the industry than the public, which completely escape serious comment in mainstream media and might easily get to be categorised as misinformation by the public relations machinery of the government and the industry if they came to be mentioned in social media. In the original response I wrote of a deal between Sir Andrew Witty as CEO of GSK and the Italian government which may have done a lot to undermine the Italian public’s trust in their government  and now he is to lead a body to fast track products under development when he was head of one the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers only months before.
In the light of all of this I was dismayed to see the comments of Samantha Bradshaw of the Oxford Internet Institute in the first oral hearing of the inquiry  talking about “undermining research” as an issue under consideration including prejudicial talk about “anti-vax campaigns” as if governments have a monopoly on truth: there may in fact be an awful lot wrong with government science which ought to be talked about. You cannot have an a priori view on that and believe seriously in freedom of speech.
It was particularly farcical to see the very day our original submission was published by the Committee the Daily Mirror run with the story Russian cyber units 'spreading false information about flu and measles jabs in the UK'  The article was couched in the most slippery language, spokespersons were quoted outside any clear context, and of course not a shred of evidence supporting the allegation was offered. Now this patently is “fake news” and targeted at an audience likely thought to have limited critical reading skills.
Amid all this it was encouraging to hear on Boxing Day a government minister, Jo Johnson, admonishing universities to tolerate free speech and diversity of opinions . We can only hope that the government will think it through and get back to promoting a plural democracy in which dissenting voices are genuinely welcome instead of the menacing game we have at the moment.
 John Stone, Written evidence submitted by Age of Autism [DCMS Inquiry, Fake News], http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/fake-news/written/73097.html
 House of Commons Health Committee, The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2005 p.3 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhealth/42/42.pdf
 Naci H and Mossialos E, Accelerated access to new drugs and technologies, BMJ 2017; http://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5387 (Published 22 November 2017)
 Tom Jefferson, The UK turns to Witty, Vallance, and Van Tam for leadership: revolving doors?, 6 December 2017, http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2017/12/06/tom-jefferson-the-uk-turns-to-witty-vallance-and-van-tam-for-leadership-revolving-doors/
 Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Oral evidence: Fake News, HC 363, 19 December 2017 Q38 http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/fake-news/oral/74926.html
 Russell Myers, Russian cyber units 'spreading false information about flu and measles jabs in the UK', Daily Mirror, 26 November 2017 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/russian-cyber-units-spreading-false-11592627?service=responsive
 Nicola Woodcock, Universities warned over free speech by Jo Johnson, The Times, 26 December 2017 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/universities-warned-over-free-speech-by-jo-johnson-bqp2d5np0