Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Observations Media watch

Journalists: anything to declare?

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 06 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:480

Rapid Response:

Re: Restrictions on hospitality apply to journalists and doctors

I am grateful to Heather Simmons.

We can all benefit from Ben Goldacre's wisdom. For instance, in 2004
Goldacre received the Association of British Science Writer's (ABSW) award
for "the best feature on a science subject in a national or regional
newspaper (2003) [1] for an article on MMR: 'Never mind the facts' [2].
The major sponsor of the award of £2000 was MMR manufacturer and defendent
Glaxo SmithKline [1]. This has not been disclosed in many Guardian
articles mentioning MMR, nor was it recently Goldacre's BMJ piece 'MMR,
the scare stories are back' [3].

I also wonder whether this one of the best examples of Goldacre's
work. Goldacre cited four studies three of which were subsequently
reviewed by Cochrane 2005 [4]. Of these Cochrane stated:

"The study demonstrates the difficulties of drawing inferences in the
absence of a non-exposed population or a clearly defined causal
hypothesis". (Re: Taylor 1999)

"The number and possible impact of biases in this study was so high
that interpretation of the results is impossible". (Re: Fombonne 2001)

"The interpretation of the study by Madsen was made difficult by the
unequal length of follow up for younger cohort members as well as the use
of the date of diagnosis rather than onset of symptoms of autism". (Re:
Madsen 2002)

The fourth study mentioned was the most remarkable of all, the
Peltola letter to the Lancet of May 1998 which recorded no cases of autism
or inflammatory bowel disease following 3 million applications of MMR in
Finland simply because they were not in the follow up criteria of the
larger study [5].

Moreover, there was a complex of funding issues unrelated by Goldacre.
The Peltola study received funding from MMR defendent Merck [5]. The
department of Elizabeth Miller who contributed to the Taylor study [6]
benefited from funding by MMR defendents SmithKline Beecham and Aventis
Pasteur [7]. At least one MMR study authored by her and Brent Taylor
received funding from SmithKline Beecham [8]. The Fombonne study disclosed
no interests [9] but according to a later study [10]:

"In the United Kingdom, Dr Fombonne has provided advice on the
epidemiology and clinical aspects of autism to scientists advising
parents, to vaccine manufacturers, and to several government committees
between 1998 and 2001. Since June 2004, Dr Fombonne has been an expert
witness for vaccine manufacturers in US thimerosal litigation. None of his
research has ever been funded by the industry."

So you can't be too careful!

[1] ABSW Science Writers Award 2003:

[2] Ben Goldacre, 'Never mind the facts', Guardian 11 December 2003:,,1103958,00.html

[3] Ben Goldacre, 'MMR, the scare stories are back', BMJ 21 July

V Demicheli, T Jefferson, A Rivetti, D Price,[Review]
'Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children', Cochrane (Wiley

[5] Heikki Peltola, Annamari Patja, Pauli Leinikki, Martti Valle,
Irja Davidkin, Mikho Paunio, 'No evidence for measles, mumps, and rubella
vaccine-associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year
prospective study', Lancet vol 351, May 1998, p. 1327-8:

[6] Brent Taylor, Elizabeth Miller, C Paddy Farrington, Maria-
Christina Petropoulos, Isabelle Favot-Mayaud, Jun Li, Pauline A Waight,
'Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological
evidence for a causal association, Lancet vol 135, 12 June 1999.

[7] According to Geier M and Geier D (P3R to PEDIATRICS,' Thimerosal does not belong in vaccines' 8 September 2004) this funding was disclosed by Elizabeth Miller to the Committee on Safety of Medicines in 2002, and this was not denied by Dr Miller in her response:

[8] E Miller, P Waight, C P Farrington, N Andrews, J Stowe, B Taylor,
'Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and MMR vaccine'. vol. 84 p.227-9
March 2001,

[9] Eric Fombonne, FRCPsych and Suniti Chakrabarti, FRCPCH,
'No Evidence for A New Variant of Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Induced Autism
',PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 4 October 2001, p. e58

[10] Eric Fombonne, MD, Rita Zakarian, ME, Andrew Bennett, PhD,
CPsych, Linyan Meng, MSc and Diane McLean-Heywood, MA, 'Pervasive
Developmental Disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and Links
With Immunizations', Published online July 3, 2006
PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 1 July 2006, pp. e139-e150 (doi:10.1542/peds.2005-
2993) ,

Competing interests:
Autistic son

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 September 2007
John Stone
London N22