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Institutional research misconduct

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7284 (Published 09 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7284
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  1. fgodlee{at}bmj.com

Failings over the MMR scare may need parliamentary inquiry

It is now more than 18 months since the UK’s General Medical Council found Andrew Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and other serious professional misconduct1; and it is nearly a year since the BMJ concluded that his now retracted Lancet paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism and bowel disease was an “elaborate fraud.”2 3 At that time, January 2011, we called on Wakefield’s former employer, University College London (UCL), to establish an inquiry into the scandal. Ten months on, no inquiry has been announced.

Our coverage in January showed how Wakefield manufactured the appearance of a link between the vaccine and regressive autism while employed by lawyers trying to build a case against the MMR vaccine,4 and while negotiating extraordinary commercial schemes that would succeed only if confidence in the vaccine was damaged.5 The articles, by investigative journalist Brian Deer, also showed that the conflicts of interest were not confined to Wakefield. They drew in his then employer, the Royal Free hospital and medical school. Now part of University College London, the Royal Free issued public statements of support for national immunisation policy while privately holding business meetings with Wakefield over purported diagnostic kits, single vaccines, and autism products meant to be sold on the back of the vaccine crisis.

Now we can report that it is not only Wakefield and UCL’s administrators who have a case to answer. This week we publish new information that puts the spotlight on Wakefield’s coauthors. Previously unpublished histopathology grading sheets apparently completed by Amar Dhillon, the senior pathologist on the paper, remove any remaining credibility from the claim that the Royal Free doctors had discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease associated with MMR. Along with …

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