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Rapid response to:

Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Trust me, I’m a scientist

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3658 (Published 09 September 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3658

Rapid Response:

David Colquhoun and the Goldacre MMR polemic: science or PR?

For the benefit of David Colquhoun [1] I would like to point out that
Ben Goldacre has never responded to criticism of his analysis of the
epidemiology of MMR which I for one have voiced in BMJ Rapid Responses and
elsewhere (not to mention a plethora of unacknowledged competing
interests) [2]. Ad hominem attacks on people expressing concern about the
safety of MMR cannot substitute for courteous discussion of the
limitations of the evidence. Dismissing vaccine critics as "anti-vaxers"
and eliding them with other groups Colquhoun does not like [1] in itself
demonstrates that we are involved in a less than scientific mode of
discussion.

I note that elsewhere Colquhoun has acknowledged extensive industrial
support:

"David Colquhoun has received research support from AstraZeneca,
Pfizer, Merck Sharpe Dohme, Fornier Pharma, Solvay, Schering-Plough,
Bristol-Myers Squibb, Abbott, Sanofi, and Boehringer Ingelheim. He has
been on the speakers’ bureau of, received honoraria from, and served as a
consultant for Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, Merck Sharpe Dohme, Abbott,
Servier,and Fornier Pharma." [3]

Of these Merck and Sanofi are former defendants in the UK MMR
litigation. In contrast Colquhoun subsequently wrote in these columns:

"Oh dear, Patrick Holford really should check before saying things
like "I notice that Professor David Colquhoun has so far not felt it
relevant to mention his own competing interests and financial involvements
with the pharmaceutical industry". Unlike Holford, when I said "no
competing interests", I meant it. My research has never been funded by the
drug industry, but always by the Medical Research Council or by the
Wellcome Trust. Neither have I accepted hospitality or travel to
conferences from them. That is because I would never want to run the risk
of judgements being clouded by money. The only time I have ever taken
money from industry is in the form of modest fees that I got for giving a
series of lectures on the basic mathematical principles of drug-receptor
interaction, a few years ago." [4]

I am not sure how both statements can "scientifically" be true.

[1] David Colquhoun, 'Trust me, I'm a scientist' BMJ 9 September
2009, http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/339/sep09_1/b3658

[2] John Stone, 'Re: Restrictions on hospitality apply to journalists
and doctors', BMJ Rapid Responses 21 September 2007,
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#176662

[3] Letter by Colquhoun et al Regarding Article “Effect Size
Estimates of Lifestyle and Dietary Changes on All-Cause Mortality
inCoronary Artery Disease Patients: A Systematic Review”, Circulation
2006,
http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/114/2/e40.pdf

[4] David Colqhoun, 'Competing interests', BMJ Rapid Responses 18
April 2007, http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/334/7588/292#163993

Competing interests:
Autistic son

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 September 2009
John Stone
Contributing editor: Age of Autism
London N22