A pointer to further articles by Brian Deer and others, highlighting an excellent comment by a reader of Respectful Insolence and brief thoughts.
The British Medical Journal–better known by it’s acronym, BMJ–continues to offer articles by Brian Deer on the long-running Wakefield saga, accompanied by several opinion pieces and editorials.
In particular Deer’s latest article points fingers at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School and the editorial board of Lancet as Harvey Marcovitch, Associate Editor at BMJ, relates with an edge of understated British humour:
Experience of cases reported to the Committee on Publication Ethics, a body founded by medical journal editors, leads to a conclusion that universities and other funding bodies differ in their response to reports from suspicious editors, reviewers, or readers. Some investigate, some retreat into a Trappist silence, and others are adept at carpet sweeping. Brian Deer’s report in the BMJ this week implies no shortage of shagpile in the Royal Free Hospital Medical School and the Lancet office.7
The articles at BMJ include (all open-access and linked to full-text web page):
Brian Deer’s latest feature (18th Jan):
An editorial (18th Jan):
Assuring research integrity in the wake of Wakefield (Opal et al.)
A Views & Reviews article (18th Jan):
And more commentary on 19th Jan:
Institutional and editorial misconduct in the MMR scare (by BMJ editor Fiona Godlee)
MMR and scientific fraud: Is research safe in their hands? (by BMJ associate editor Harvey Marcovitch)
While this story may have fallen from main-stream media attention, articles and comments continue on-line. Well-known blogger ‘Orac’, at Respectful Insolence continues to weigh in. (Despite strongly supporting Deer’s investigation into the Wakefield case, Orac differs in opinion with Deer on a few matters outside of Wakefield’s work itself, including ’Deer’s attack on Drs. Offit, Goldacre, and Fitzpatrick’.)
Rather than extensively quote or paraphrase these articles, I encourage interested readers to read the originals. I would like, though, to suggest that some of the commentary following Orac’s article is worth reading. In particular, this response by ‘Prometheus’ to Brian Deer’s hopefully innocent misunderstanding of another commenter’s remark deserves attention and I quote it below in full:
Orac writes in response ’you nailed it better than I could think of a way to do.’
I’m highlighting this comment as it says well something raised in an earlier thread on my own blog by Alison: ’The whole study was flawed even before the evidence of outright fraud came to light.’ It’s worth to remember the fraud allegations are in addition the scientific conclusions, that they are separable things.
What the fraud revelations may do is get the anti-vaccine promoters to move on. The science community can handle the research issues, but the advocacy groups may need different motivations. (I like to think of Prometheus’ two magisteria here, with ethical issues being one few would want to bear, whatever their view on medical science.)
Some advocacy groups and their members are prone to rejecting scientific explanations–that’s part of what causes them to hold the views they do–but it’s perhaps harder to them to continue to support work that has been shown to be fraudulent.
Deer’s latest article, with it’s focus on the hospital and editorial boards, will raise more discussion on what academics, perhaps journal editors in particular, can do to prevent fraud.
It is a vexed question, as it is not something peer-reviewed is aimed at tackling. Peer review considers what data is presented to be presented in good faith. It doesn’t start by considering that the data might be ‘cooked’. My initial reactions were to be a bit of a pessimist and say that fraud is likely to always be caught well in arrears of the actual events, a few cases excepted.
Having read Opal and colleagues’ editorial Assuring research integrity in the wake of Wakefield I’m inclined to think that their thoughts might point that way. They offer examples of fraud being dealt with promptly, raising the question of why this was not true of Wakefield’s work. Their examples suggest a need for the open involvement (i.e. not sweeping things under carpets, shagpile or otherwise) of the institutions the research is conducted at and their staff.
It’s easy to dismiss this as an isolated incident–fraud with the sort of impact Wakefield’s work has had is rare–but more modest cases must occur and with these in mind it’s perhaps worth institutions taking note – ?
Other articles on Code for life: