The BMJ article, How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed, has had a lot of media coverage in the United States. With that coverage has come the defense of Andrew Wakefield, by himself and a few others. As a part of the defense (arguably the bulk of the defense) has been an attack on Brian Deer, the investigative reporter who wrote the article. I say attack because the main accusation, as you will read below, is false. Easily verified as false.
Consider this, on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Mr. Wakefield made the accusation:
WAKEFIELD: Well, that’s interesting you should say that, because he was supported in his investigation by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, which is funded directly and exclusively by the pharmaceutical industry. So…
On CNN with Ali Valshi, Generation Rescue founder J.B. Handley made the following statement:
“The British Medical Journal is only publishing allegations from a single investigative journalist named Brian Deer, who was funded by a pharma front group for four years to investigate Andy Wakefield.”
He later states that Brian Deer was “...funded by pharmaceutical groups from the getgo”.
Where did this accusation come from?
In a blog post, Mr. Handley let’s us know how he came to this conclusion:
In fact, Deer was originally funded to investigate Andy by a front group for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industries, just as Andy Wakefield said. From a confidential source:
We also see the story shifting we also see the story shifting. Instead of “funded from the getgo” or “funded by a pharma front group for four years” we find that he was given “free assistance” We don’t even know how much free assistance.
An unsupported assertion is made that the company is “owned and controlled by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry”.
At least we have something we can verify. A claim like this should be verified, one way or the other. So I did. I contacted Medico-Legal Investigations. I posed a simple question:
You may be aware that Brian Deer has recently published the findings of his investigations showing that Andrew Wakefield committed research fraud in his investigations into MMR and autism. In retaliation, Mr. Wakefield and his supporters are claiming that Mr. Deer is conflicted himself. As part of this, they claim:
The statement in bold lettering is totally false. We had no idea he was undertaking this investigation until he was about halfway through. At that point, and knowing that we were the only people in Europe experienced in the investigation of research fraud and misconduct, he contacted us to seek advice on a general issue related to Ethics Committees. We had a one off meeting with him and were able to offer guidance without knowing the details of the confidential investigation. I would like to know how anyone can say we are a pharmaceutical front group – we have always retained our independence.
Shall we count the errors in Mr. Handley’s attack?
1) Medico-Legal Investigations had no part in the investigation. They only offered a one-off meeting on medical ethics. Medico-Legal Investigations was unaware of the specifics of Mr. Deer’s investigations.
2) Medico-Legal Investigations is not “owned and controlled by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry”. Thus it is not a “front group”.
3) On top of all that, Mr. Deer was not even funded by Medico-Legal Investigations.
4) The association with Medico-Legal Investigations was a simple meeting, as Mr. Deer was over half way through his investigation. The association was not “from the get go” and was not “four years” (funded or not).
In essence, we see what Mr. Wakefield and his supporters are reduced to: a publicity campaign. Get their message out, accurate or not. Attack the source rather than address the allegations.