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Oh Deer…

Posted Jan 31 2010 3:30am

Apart from people who have boosted Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and dishonest wild theories about MMR vaccine over the years (Lucy Johnston, Melanie Phillips, Fiona Phillips et al), one journalist will forever be associated with Wakefield: Brian Deer.

Brian Deer is no shill for the pharmaceutical industry. Back in the 90s he tackled the harms of Septrin (a widely prescribed antibiotic), and later went on to tackle Merck over Vioxx. Brian has pursued Wakefield in the same way as he carried out his investigations of “big pharma”. Not that this has protected him from allegations about his motivations, his detractors being unable to accept that a journalist might investigate the Wakefield hoax without help from “big pharma” or a conspiring UK government. Melanie Phillips alleged he was part of a witch hunt, although she was incorrect. Last year, the increasing lunatic fringe of the UK’s anti-vaccine movement alleged Brian’s sexuality was the reason for his investigative reporting:

By all accounts a gay man and therefore unlikely ever to have to face the multiple vaccine risk agonised over by parents from around the world in relation to their children, Brian Deer has made it his business to portray the parents of these autistic vaccine damaged children as deluded mendacious chancers.

We now know that the man with callous disregard for children’s welfare was the man they have supported; Andrew Wakefield. He had a financial conflict of interest. He treated children unethically. He exposed children to “high-risk” procedures without ethical approval and against their best clinical interests [Here’s an example of what can happen].

Brian was also subjected to a libel action brought against him by Wakefield, the current toy of the rich (Wakefield leads a comfortable life in Texas now, working at a quack treatment centre for £170,000 a year). In an article at the Sunday Times today, Deer talks of the benefits of exposing Wakefield.

Wakefield will probably never admit to his errors. But exposing his methods has been worthwhile, according to medical sources.

“People can’t understand whether a scientific study is valid or invalid,” said a senior doctor who had watched vaccination rates slump, even in the face of endless research on MMR safety. “But they can understand ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and they can understand ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’.”

Lawyers have told me that any one of the more than 30 charges that were proved against Wakefield would typically lead to his being struck off. His days as a medical practitioner will soon be history. A further hearing will determine whether “serious professional misconduct” was committed.

Yet more troubling for Wakefield’s future are his prospects for research, or at least of getting it published.

“Any journal to which a researcher shown to be dishonest submitted a paper would reject it,” said Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, this weekend. “They would say, ‘This man can’t be trusted’. His career as a researcher is effectively over.”

On the latter point, I’m not so sure. His days as a real researcher are over, but he and his friends already have a plan to tackle that obstacle.

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