Editor in the eye of a storm

Re: "MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story III

9 March 2010

We should note in fairness to Andrew Wakefield that when Sir Crispin Davis gave evidence as CEO of Reed Elsevier, publishers of the Lancet, to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 1 March 2004 that there was no disclosure by Sir Crispin either of his directorship of MMR defendants GlaxoSmithKline or that it was his brother Sir Nigel Davis who was the High Court judge who had ruled on Legal Service Commissions removal of funding from the MMR case just three days before [1,2]. Indeed, his relationship to Sir Nigel had already been the subject of comment in an article about him in the Sunday Times a few weeks earlier [3].

"Family get-togethers could become galling for Davis if he ever slips up, such is the incredible success he and his brothers have achieved. One of them, Ian, is managing director of McKinsey, the management consultancy, another, James, is a partner at the top law firm Freshfields, while a third, Nigel, is a High Court judge.

"Davis’s only other City job is as a non-executive board member at Glaxo Smith Kline, a position he secured last year."

Notwithstanding, Davis condemned Wakefield for his lack of candour in an exchange with Evan Harris [1]:

"Mr Davis:...At the time of the submission of the article there was no admission of conflict of interest. Three months later there was a written letter. I think I have got it somewhere here.

"Q88 Dr Harris: I have it as well, 7 May 1998

"Mr Davis: It actually says, "There is no conflict of interest". Should the editor then—"

Neither Davis or Harris mention that Wakefield had stated in the letter that he was working for the Legal Aid Board while denying it constituted a conflict in the Lancet paper [4], but Davis's evidence is also faulty in that Wakefield's letter was published only two months after the paper [5] (actually 2 May 1998), must have been submitted within that time span, and was responding in context to a letter from Andrew Rouse apparently dispatched soon after the publication of the paper [6]:

"Sir—After reading Andrew Wakefield and colleagues’ article...I did a simple Internet search and quickly found the Society for the Autistically Handicapped.(http://www.mplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/autism/index.html) I downloaded a 48 page fact sheet produced for the society by Dawbarns, a firm of solicitors in King’s Lynn."

Again, Horton repeated the claim that three months had elapsed in the Lancet on 17 April 2004 [7]:

"We do not accept Andrew Wakefield and colleagues' interpretation of the letter published in The Lancet on May 2, 1998,..which was, in any event, only published 3 months after the original 1998 Lancet paper."

But if the length of time was critical to understanding, by no stretch of imagination had three months elapsed between the last day of February and the second day of May 1998.

I do not believe that it is alright to be vague on one side, when the label of dishonesty has been stuck to the other. I would add that Horton's claim not to have been told about Wakefield involvement in the litigation prior to the publication of the paper was hotly disputed at the hearing [8].

[1] Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence, Examination of Witneasses, Monday 1 March 2004, Questions 80-93, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/399/...

[2] 'Law Brief Encounters', Daily Telegraph 10 May 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1551116/Law-Brief-Encounters.html

[3] Andrew Porter, 'Has Reed's Mr 10% lost his golden touch', Sunday Times 11 January 2004, http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/article992360.ece?token=n...

[4] AJ Wakefield, 'Autism, inflammatory bowel disease, and MMR vaccine', The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9112, Page 1356, 2 May 1998, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)79083- 8/fulltext

[5] AJ Wakefield et al, 'Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non- specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children', The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9103, Pages 637 - 641, 28 February 1998, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(97)11096- 0/fulltext

[6] A Rouse, 'Autism, inflammatory bowel disease, and MMR vaccine', The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9112, Page 1356, 2 May 1998,http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140- 6736(05)79082-6/fulltext

[7] Richard Horton, 'MMR—responding to retraction', The Lancet, Volume 363, Issue 9417, Page 1328, 17 April 2004, http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(04)16018- 2/fulltext

[8] John Stone, 'Re: Financial conflicts - shock horror', BMJ Rapid Responses 22 October 2008, http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/337/oct01_3/a1856#203466

Competing interests: Autistic son

Competing interests: None declared

John Stone, Contributing editor: Age of Autism

London N22

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