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Wakefield, distortion and the Sunday Times

Posted Jul 02 2009 4:50pm

The journalist Brian Deer has done as much as anyone to investigate the background to what Ben Goldacre describes as the MMR Hoax. In the course of his investigations he discovered undisclosed conflicts of interest by Andrew Wakefield that led to most of the authors of the original paper in the Lancet withdrawing their names and the editor publishing a retraction.

Then in February this year Deer published his latest investigation. The Lancet paper had already been dismissed as bad science. Now, if Deer’s findings were correct, it would seem that some of the data had been deliberately falsified. Wakefield responded by complaining about the article to the Press Complaints Commission. The Times stood by its story and also forwarded all details to the General Medical Council who are still investigating Wakefield over allegations of misconduct.

And that was it until this week, when Thoughtful House, the clinic that Wakefield has established in Texas, issued a press release announcing

Press Complaints Commission Orders Sunday Times to Remove MMR journalist’s Stories on Dr. Wakefield from Paper’s Web Site

It goes on to suggest that this “interim order”

appears to indicate there are questions about the accuracy of the Deer stories.

Of course it does no such thing. Thoughtful House even quote Stephen Abell of the PCC as saying that

Given the ongoing nature of the dispute the articles should be removed from the newspaper’s website until this matter has been concluded. This would not be an admission of any liability on the part of the newspaper.

The wording reveals what actually happened. The Sunday Times has not been ordered to take down the articles. The PCC decided to postpone its investigation until after the GMC reaches a decision on the allegations of misconduct. This makes sense. If Wakefield is found guilty the complaint will fail. Meanwhile the PCC has asked the Sunday Times to remove the article from its website until matters can be resolved and the Sunday Times has agreed. That tallies with the email I received from the PCC

The PCC has considered the matter initially and has elected to stay its investigation until the conclusion of the GMC inquiry. It has reached no formal decision on the substance of the complaint and there is no published ruling on our website.

The Commission has asked that the paper remove the articles temporarily until the conclusion of the PCC investigation. This is without any admission of liability on the paper’s part.

So no order was issued, no judgement was made and there is no suggestion of impropriety by Deer or the Sunday Times. All the suggestions come from one source, Wakefield himself. His friends on the web may try to pretend that this is further proof of the brave maverick doctor’s innocence in the face of a vicious campaign against him. I think they are clutching at straws.

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