Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Observations GMC Wakefield Verdict

Why did the Lancet take so long?

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 02 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c644

Rapid Response:

Judgement on what’s good for science?

In 2003, Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, wrote these words
about the 1998 Wakefield et al paper,

"The MMR vaccine paper was published not because peer review
indicated that the findings were true - peer review can never prove truth,
only indicate acceptability to a few experts, as was indeed the case with
Wakefield’s findings - but because the issue raised was so important for
public health and so in need of urgent verification that not to publish
with appropriate caveats would, in my view, have been an outrageous act of
censorship." [1]

And even Ben Goldacre, in 2005, said that he thought "the paper
always was and still remains a perfectly good small case series report."

And yet in 2010, Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care
at UCL, believes that the recent retraction of the peer reviewed paper,
published in 1998, "can only be a good thing for science."

Why? Professor Greenhalgh doesn't provide a credible explanation.

However, it is more than obvious that that what has happened to
Andrew Wakefield will have taught scientists that it's safer not to rock
the boat. Many doctors will be scared to speak for fear that what happened
to Andrew Wakefield could happen to them. Can this state of affairs really
be good for science? Andrew Wakefield doesn't think so, and I, for one,
would strongly agree with him. [3] Over to you, Professor Greenhalgh.

[1] Richard Horton glorifies Wakefield, with "no regrets" over
discredited MMR paper. Richard Horton, Second Opinion, Granta Books, 2003

[2] Ben Goldacre. Don't dumb me down. We laughed, we cried, we
learned about statistics ... The Guardian, 8 September 2005.

[3] Sally Beck. Judgement day for MMR rebel: an investigation that
has blighted doctor's life for 12 years finally approaches conclusion.
Daily Mail, 23 January 2010.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

08 February 2010
Mark Struthers
GP and prison doctor