This was originally posted at http://africanjungle.iblog.co.za on June 16th, 2010.
In my last blogpost, I wrote about Andrew Wakefield and the anti-vaccination movement that was boosted by his 1998 paper. In this post I will write about Brian Deer, the journalist who exposed Wakefield’s fraud.
In 2004, Brian Deer wrote a number of articles on Wakefield that were published in the Sunday Times. These articles were expanded on and used in a documentary screened on Britain’s Channel 4. Deer had found out that a solicitor named Richard Barr had hired Wakefield in 1996. Barr was involved in putting together a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR triple jab, and wanted Wakefield to find evidence that could be used in the trial.
To research the MMR vaccine, Wakefield was paid a fee of 150 pounds an hour out of the Legal Aid fund. In total, he would earn more than 435,000 pounds. Over and above that, he was paid 52,000 pounds for expenses. In addition, a few months after he started investigating the MMR jab, Wakefield had patented a single shot measles vaccine that would have stood a good chance of being used were confidence in the MMR triple jab to fail. Wakefield never reported these two major conflicts of interest to The Lancet as he should have done.
Of and by themselves, conflicts of interest do not automatically render research fraudulent. However, they must be declared by researchers as they have the potential to taint the research. And that is exactly what happened here. Firstly, the 12 children mentioned in Wakefield’s paper were specially selected from the families in the MMR jab litigation and not referred to the Royal Free Hospital in the normal way. Secondly, and most damning of all, when Deer compared the data in the Lancet paper with the children’s clinical reports he found noticeable discrepancies.
Wakefield had cooked the data to fit his claim of autistic enterocolitis.
Wakefield responded by laying a complaint against Deer. He would ultimately withdraw the complaint and pay Deer’s legal fees. Disappointingly, other journalists continued to support Wakefield after Deer’s expose. On more than one occasion, researchers who attempted to replicate Wakefield’s research got results that contradicted Wakefield’s results. The press downplayed, and in some cases completely ignored, these reports.
In my next posting, I will write about vaccines and the Vaccine Court.