Part 3: The one about Wakefield’s weird addendum
No sooner had I completed my previous post about Dr Andrew Wakefield having falsified data for the notorious study that led to the recent measles epidemics and his subsequent complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), than I found on Brian Deer’s website the evidence to confirm Wakefield has totally lost his marbles.
The evidence is in the form of an addendum to Wakefield’s complaint and it is basically 15 pages of repetition of what Wakefield already said on pages 1-2 of that document. This is that Deer, being the initiator of the complaint against him to the General Medical Council, thereby had a ‘conflict of interest’, which should have precluded him from writing about the case for a newspaper. It’s a rather long-winded way of saying what I summed up in my previous post like this:
P1. Deer made a complaint about him to the GMC.
P2. Deer wants the GMC to uphold the complaint.
C: Therefore any report Deer makes will be biased.
In fact my summary was too charitable. I would now amend that conclusion to read:
C: Therefore Deer is obviously lying whenever he writes anything about the case.
Whether or not Mr. Deer initiated the GMC investigation as ‘complainant’ in his letter dated Feb. 25, 2004, or acted as an ‘informant’ in an investigation already begun by the GMC, he did not disclose his own direct participation in the GMC investigation in his most recent accounts in the Sunday Times, intending to give the public the misimpression that he was acting as a neutral and disinterested reporter. By failing to disclose his dual role, Deer has breached the ethical standards of professional journalism and has no place in further reporting on Dr Wakefield in this matter. In breech of PCC rules and any ethical standard of journalistic conduct, it is alleged that Mr Deer has sought to mislead, not only by his non-disclosure of matters material to his conflict of interest, but in denying his role in these matters. Based upon the available evidence, one can reasonably conclude that these allegations are true.
Apart from the weirdness of talking about himself in the third person, the more times I read this, the more I wonder if Wakefield has been taken over and configured by some alien who comes from a place where journalists are “neutral and disinterested”. What on earth must this alien make of desperately biased hacks like Melanie Phillips and Jeni Barnett?
Wakefield has a love-hate relationship with the media. He’s happy to court publicity whenever it suits his purpose, such as when the Lancet paper first appeared and he called a press conference to scaremonger people into rejecting the MMR in favour of single vaccines like the one he’d patented but preferred not to talk about publicly. He loved the press then. He’d love them even more now if they would just agree to a news blackout on the GMC hearing where he faces charges of professional misconduct.
What does he mean by ‘disinterested’, anyway? Does he perhaps mean that a journalist shouldn’t write an article suggesting there is a causal link between, say, a vaccine and neurological damage if that journalist happens to be payrolled by, say, a lawyer representing parents who believe their children have been damaged by that vaccine? This is an argument I respect, though my greater sympathy lies with the view that it doesn’t really matter who pays a journalist as long as the story is properly researched and based on the best available evidence. In other words, that the journalist tries to write the truth and doesn’t make stuff up. What matters in this case is whether Deer has done this and the GMC’s ruling will be crucial in helping us decide.
The funding by personal injury lawyer scenario is obviously borrowed from Wakefield’s own grubby history. Nevertheless, it isn’t a million miles away from what some of Wakefield’s supporters are — without a trace of irony — insinuating about Deer.
The news that James Murdoch had come out of the closet and publicly accepted an executive position on the Board of GlaxoSmithKline, in whose interest he now vows to use his good offices to put down community opposition to their drugs, gave some hope that The Sunday Times and Brian Deer would be seen for what they are; there was even a rumour that The Sunday Times was to be renamed The GlaxoSundayKlines.
In the final analysis, we have to ask whether Brian Deer was acting independently when he ‘investigated’ and wrote about Andrew Wakefield.
MMR vaccine manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has appointed to its Board the head of News International James Murdoch. Murdoch is also boss of The Sunday Times, London, England publisher of stories by freelance journalist Brian Deer to discredit research into the link between MMR vaccine and autism in the US and UK.
Murdoch is Chief Exec of News Corp, one of the world’s largest media conglomerates and owned by his father, Rupert Murdoch. It owns News International Ltd, which publishes several major titles owned by its subsidiary companies, one of which is Times Newspaper Ltd.
See the razor-sharp reasoning going on here? The son of the bloke who owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that publishes the Sunday Times sits on the Board of Big Pharma. Therefore any journalist who writes for the ST or any other paper owned by Murdoch is linked to Big Pharma. Sure enough…
Whilst Mr James Murdoch is not reported to have involvement in editorial decisions at The Sunday Times, the recent appointment to the MMR vaccine manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline’s Board may give rise to public concern over the close links between key players in MMR litigation in the US and UK and the support at The Sunday Times for the campaigning activities of journalist Brian Deer. Similarly, there is no suggestion of any direct, indirect or other impropriety arising from the relationships noted in this article, the public is entitled to ask questions such as “what medical journal editor, newspaper editor or journalist is going to write unfavourable stories about GlaxoSmithKline and not write favourable stories when his boss in on Glaxo’s board. How will the existence of such relationships influence the thinking and actions of subordinates and others without being asked? How can this healthy and in the public interest?
We might also ask what this has to do with Brian Deer, seeing as his well-supported revelations about Wakefield were published a full five years before Murdoch joined the board of GSK?
In fairness to Wakefield, he himself does not appear to be casting aspersions of this sort against Deer. No, Wakefield claims that Deer fails to meet the ‘neutral and disinterested’ criteria, not because of any supposed link to Big Pharma but because Deer complained about him to the GMC and, even if hadn’t, the case against Wakefield depends heavily on information supplied by Deer. Here’s Wakefield himself:
In Deer’s case, he has not only provided source material but he is the actual complainant and this means he has an interest in the outcome of the process. How can he objectively or even fairly be expected to cover an investigation in which he plays an undisclosed but significant role for the investigating agency? How is the public to know, for example, whether he is making false statements to the GMC simply to enhance his role, his salary, or his reputation as a journalist? This is akin to an arsonist setting a fire and then rushing back to the firehouse where he works and gets paid to put out fires.
If you can’t see how this analogy is supposed to work, you are not alone. It was not Brian Deer who started the fire, it was Wakefield and his co-authors, with the help of the Lancet editor and, ultimately, the rest of the media who gave his crock of an idea about MMR and autism publicity it didn’t deserve. As a result, children have been left unprotected from potentially serious infectious disease and some have died. Deer, an experienced investigative journalist, simply did a good job in bringing to the public’s attention certain salient facts about Wakefield and his way of doing things. Undoubtedly, Brian Deer believes in what he has written. Why? Because he had a mountain of evidence to back it up (check his website). If he hadn’t, he couldn’t have written the articles he wrote and the ST wouldn’t have published them. If the GMC find against Wakefield, it will indicate that they agree with Deer’s interpretation of the evidence and that will be very nice for Deer. That, then, is Deer’s ‘interest in the outcome’.
Forgive me for not seeing this ‘interest in the outcome’ as being in quite the same league of duplicity as Wakefield’s own failure to disclose that he was being funded by the Legal Board via a lawyer representing families who believed their children had been damaged by the MMR triple vaccine and which led to ten of Wakefield’s co-authors formally retracting the relevant part of the Lancet paper and the editor of same to declare he wouldn’t have published it if he’d known. Yet to Wakefield’s closed-minded and moronic supporters, this kind of treachery is apparently absolutely fine. It takes all sorts.
What Wakefield is really trying to say, or course, is that Brian Deer’s article is a pack of lies. To repeat:
How is the public to know, for example, whether he is making false statements to the GMC simply to enhance his role, his salary, or his reputation as a journalist?
Unfortunately for him, this is how those of us who aren’t involved in any way and have no axe to grind one way or another see it:
A journalist with a nose for a good story, nosed around and found out some stuff. He wrote it up in a quality newspaper. As a result, a respected and charismatic scientist faced a disciplinary hearing. The hearing examined evidence about the scientist that was supplied to them by the journalist.
This, in the jaundiced eyes of Team Wakefield, is reason enough why the journalist should never write another word on the subject. Whatever else he may have found out about Wakefield, however serious the implications for public health, however many unvaccinated children die because of what Wakefield started, the journalist should be gagged because…well, it was his story in the first place.
Even though I have come to despise Wakefield, I feel no sense of schadenfreude at the sight of this drowning man clutching at straws. He really does seem to have no idea how unhinged he’s beginning to sound to anyone who isn’t blinded by their own anti-vaccine agenda.
It’s just sad.