Thursday, August 25, 2011

Autism, journalistic integrity and (gasp) pharma conflict of interest

Remember Andrew Wakefield,  the U.K. medical researcher and surgeon judged guilty of professional misconduct, dropped from the U.K. medical register, original article retracted by The Lancet, and all-round condemned because he suggested that the link between the MMR vaccine and autism merited further study?

Well, cracks are appearing surrounding the case for the "evidence" against him, and they're getting larger. The British Medical Journal (BMJ)  has published a letter to the editor (23 August 2011) that publically raises the pharmaceutical industry/BMJ Group conflict of interest. Cracks routinely appear where pressure is brought to bear on an object.

Here's the letter. You will need to know that GlaxoSmithKline manufactures the MMR vaccine.

Re: Guilty by association?

Mark Struthers, GP and prison doctor

Bedfordshire, UK

James Murdoch, son of Rupert, is in deep water and struggling. [1]

James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation Europe and Asia, and chairman of BSkyB, apparently has strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry. In May 2009, Murdoch was appointed a non- executive director of GSK, to serve on GSK's 'corporate responsibility committee' with a remit to review "external issues that might have the potential for serious impact upon the group's business and reputation". [2]

It is now understood that the BMJ Group exists in a 'complex commercial environment' and the editor of the BMJ has acknowledged the potential for 'perceived' as well as 'actual' conflicts of interest over ties to industry. [3]

May I humbly suggest that the association between a large British vaccine manufacturer and this particular media baron ... is an unhelpful one.

Competing interests: None declared
Submit rapid responsePublished 23 August 2011

You might also want to know that there was a partial admission by the BMJ of conflict of interest in March 2011.

In a less than forthcoming clarification to its accusatory article "Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent", way back in March 2011, the BMJ wrote:

The BMJ should have declared competing interests in relation to this editorial by Fiona Godlee and colleagues (BMJ 2011;342:c7452, doi:10.1136/bmj.c7452). The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines. For further information see the rapid response from Godlee ( The same omission also affected two related Editor’s Choice articles (BMJ 2011;342:d22 and BMJ 2011;342:d378).

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1678

[1] James Murdoch: Man of many fabrications and few friends. Mail&GuardianOnline, Brian Cathcart: Analysis, Aug 19 2011. and-few-friends/

[2] Glaxo brings in James Murdoch. Chris Tryhorn, The Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009 murdoch

[3] Correction: Wakefield's article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. BMJ 2011; 342:d1678 (Published 15 March 2011).

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