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Feature BMJ Investigation

Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 02 November 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2635

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Rapid Response:

The fact checker's response to The BMJ open letter to Facebook

Dear Editor

Fact checker for Facebook, Dean Miller from Lead Stories, opines that the title of Paul Thacker’s BMJ article: "Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer's vaccine trial" [1] is misleading [2]. He also says that many anti-vaccine activists have used it as "proof" that the entire clinical trial was fraudulent and the vaccine unsafe [2].

However, the headline is factual and abuse by others cannot justify Facebook’s censorship. Moreover, it is not the task of fact checkers to police informative titles. Thacker’s article clearly explains that the data integrity issues concern only three of the 153 test sites. More importantly, Miller does not consider what this might mean for the other 150 trial sites. It takes a lot of courage to step forward publicly, and it carries a huge cost, as the whistleblower will never get a job in the drug industry again. People are therefore not likely to blow the whistle.

Facebook’s "Missing Context" label was also unjustified. Nothing in Thacker’s article can mislead “without additional context.”

Miller attempts character assassination by saying that the whistleblower, Brook Jackson, “is not a lab-coated scientist” and “holds a 30-hour certification in auditing techniques.” What matters is that she provided clear evidence of wrong-doing committed by the company. Moreover, she had more than 15 years’ experience in clinical research coordination and management.

Miller also uses the trick guilt by association when noting that Jackson tweeted something that agreed with what a “leading COVID misinformation-spreader” had written. He believes she is hugely biased because she wrote that vaccination makes sense if a person is in a high-risk category. But it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that people in a low-risk category, e.g. children, do not need to get vaccinated, which I have done based on the evidence [3]. Furthermore, whatever Jackson’s views of the COVID vaccines are, they are irrelevant.

Miller talked to people with vested interests and then concluded that “It's not at all clear yet whether there are data integrity issues if you ask the other stakeholders, and that's the crucial missing context.” This is utter nonsense, as it cannot annul the clear evidence produced by Jackson, which she shared with the BMJ.

Miller opines that the problems were not ignored, which is not true either. The company ignored them; the FDA ignored them; and the FDA did not even inspect the three trial sites after Jackson had informed the agency about the problems.

The only honourable thing to do would have been for Miller to admit he was wrong and to remove the flagging of Thacker’s article. Instead, he demonstrated to the whole world that he and Lead Stories cannot be trusted.

There are numerous other stories about busybody fact checkers, and they raise a pertinent question. Facebook and other social media get a large part of their income from advertisements. Could this be the reason why Lead Stories seems so unreasonable when it comes to vaccines?

The social media and their fact checkers appear to be a threat for our democracies, open societies, and free scientific debate. There was a Ministry for Truth in Orwell’s novel, 1984. But today, it is not only Big Brother is watching you, it has come close to everyone is watching everyone, and Big Brother is not the State but Big Tech, which cannot be overthrown by a revolution.

The social media have become monsters and we do not yet know how best to fight them. They remind me of the Inquisition. Only one opinion is allowed at a time when it comes to vaccines, which is the official one.

[1] Thacker PD. Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial. BMJ 2021;375:n2635.

[2] Miller D. Lead Stories' response to BMJ open letter objecting to a Lead Stories fact check. 2021; Dec 18.

[3] Gøtzsche PC. Vaccines: truth, lies, and controversy. New York: Skyhorse; 2021.

Competing interests: No competing interests

05 January 2022
Peter C Gøtzsche
Institute for Scientific Freedom, Copenhagen