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I was recently sent an article and am trying to evaluate some of the claims. [1] The claim of interest here is this one:

In light of new evidence that has emerged clearing Dr Wakefield of the allegations that he fabricated study data involving MMR vaccines and symptoms of autism, Dr Wakefield is now publicly demanding a retraction from the British Medical Journal and author Brian Deer. Documents just made public reveal that another medical research team which included a senior pathologist independently documented evidence of a possible MMR vaccine - autism link 14 months before Dr Wakefield's paper first appears in The Lancet -- based on several of the same children appearing in Dr Wakefield's study.

Essentially, the Lancet retracted Wakefield's original 1998 paper after finding that he had altered data. [2] The British Medical Journal discussed this fraud in detail. [3] The article above claims that Wakefield didn't tamper with the diagnoses because he couldn't have -- due to a researcher named Walker-Smith having discussed 7 of the 12 children's diagnoses 14 mos. prior to the publishing of the 1998 Lancet paper. [4] Since these "new documents" have been uncovered, Wakefield has demanded a retraction. [5]

My questions are:

  • Even if this is true, does it change the implications of the BMJ allegations? In other words, the BMJ accusation is that of incorrectly reporting various facts. For example, the 1998 paper reports children having contracted autism-like symptoms days after vaccination, while follow up investigation by journalist Brian Deer found that in many cases, it was actually months before the onset of symptoms. Thus, while perhaps it wasn't fraud, am I correct that the core content is unchanged -- the 1998 paper still featured incorrect data and thus its conclusions were ill-founded?
  • What conclusions, if any, can be drawn by the fact that Walker-Smith is a co-author of the 1998 paper? In other words, I find that Natural News is treating this as though an independent research team unconnected with Wakefield verified what he wrote in his paper... but the very person who is being used to show that Wakefield didn't make up these findings was actually a co-author.
  • Is anyone familiar enough to offer a cited summary of where this all stands? It's been difficult to track down exactly how this has played out. How many of the 12 children actually ended up with autism diagnoses or bowel disorders? Is there a summary of their symptoms and time until onset after vaccination? This is a very he-said she-said topic, I'm finding.

[1] http://www.naturalnews.com/031117_BMJ_Dr_Andrew_Wakefield.html
[2] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673697110960/fulltext
[3] http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452.full
[4] http://www.vaccinesafetyfirst.com/pdf/BRIAN%20DEER%20IS%20THE%20LIAR%20.pdf
[5] http://www.vaccinesafetyfirst.com/pdf/BMJ%20MUST%20RETRACT.pdf

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Natural News' claims of fraud on the part of BMJ hinge on two things:

  1. BMJ is allegedly "largely" funded by the very vaccine makers they are allegedly "protecting" by unfairly attacking Dr. Wakefield's paper published in The Lancet in 1998.
  2. The BMJ's claims of fraud are disproved by research presented by Professor Walker-Smith and Dr. Amar Dhillon that "independently" presents identical data on 7 of the 12 children in Wakefield's paper.

The first is simply laughable. Even if we assume that Natural News' claim that the BMJ is "largely funded" by vaccine manufacturers is true (and while I have no evidence, I suspect it is not), it's not relevant. The BMJ published a series of articles by journalist Brian Deer, who (apparently) originally uncovered the fraud in 2004. Once the original evidence came to light, the GMC investigated Wakefield, his co-authors, and his paper, and concluded (wholly independently of the BMJ) that Dr. Wakefield et al had engaged in fraud in their paper.

It also hypocritically uses the specter of "biased funding source" to attack the BMJ, while conveniently ignoring the fact that it was "biased funding source" (to the tune of over £400,000) that originally lead to the investigation of Dr. Wakefield in the first place!

The second claim here... I'll go ahead and call it outright fraudulent. According to this article from The Sunday Times in 2006, Dr. Wakefield's research began 2 years before his paper was published in The Lancent in February of 1998; roughly the first quarter of 1996. This puts his research beginning almost a full year before Walker-Smith and Dhillon presented their own "independent" findings in December of 1996. Notice how weasel-worded Natural News and Dr. Wakefield's writings are, careful to always say that this was 2 years before The Lancet published their paper, carefully avoiding the fact that it was almost 1 year after their research for the paper began!

The second claim further hinges on the alleged fact that Prof. Walker-Smith and Dr. Amar Dhillon independently verified Wakefield's research, when in fact there was nothing independent about it -- both individuals are co-authors on Wakefield's 1998 The Lancet paper (registration required to read the full text, but the authors list is there without it), and in fact Prof. Walker-Smith was himself investigated and determined to be guilty of Serious Professional Misconduct by the UK's General Medical Council in relation to -- coincidentally -- 7 of the 12 children in the 1998 The Lancet paper! (This was actually the very first Google result when searching for Walker-Smith's name; I unfortunately could find no additional information on Dhillon.)

Given that Natural News is blatantly biased -- their "articles" on this conclude as ads for Dr. Wakefield's book -- and that they are clearly misrepresenting (at best) the facts, I don't think we need to consider Wakefield's paper to be any more valid now than we did before these "new documents" were released, especially since they fail in any way to refute any of the reasons for Wakefield's paper to have been retracted and he and many of his co-authors to be sanctioned by the GMC.

  • Yup -- I'll go for that. Very nicely written and thanks for laying things out so clearly. – Hendy Jun 1 '11 at 20:28
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    @Hendy No problem. In all honesty, you did most of the research yourself -- I added merely two Google searches (one of which turned up nothing) and a link from a related question here on Skeptics -- between this question and your related one; all I did was piece together the details offered up by what you'd already found. – Kromey Jun 1 '11 at 20:34
  • Can't really add much to this answer either. it is a passionate subject for me, hence why I run factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.php but that's all I would add to the whole debate. – Larian LeQuella Jun 2 '11 at 0:35
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Actually, the first point has merit: the BMJ does state that it's funded by pharmaceutical manufacturers, with display advertising listed on its revenue page: http://group.bmj.com/group/about/revenue-sources

It's also sponsored by pharmaceutical companies: "Only reputable pharmaceutical companies licensed to operate in the territory in question or other ethical sponsors can be considered for sponsorship of subscriptions." Link: group.bmj.com/group/advertising/policy/sponsored-subscriptions (I can only post two hyperlinks, so that one is partial)

On the page where they list the policy for acceptance of advertisements ( http://group.bmj.com/group/advertising/policy/acceptance-of-adverts ) you will see that they have fairly low requirements for advertising alcohol sales, tobacco company recruitment, patent slimming products, and even escort agencies, provided that they conform to the guidelines of the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion.

It does however demand peer reviewed research papers be submitted before a manufacturer of vitamins or mineral supplements may place an ad. I mention this because it goes to whether the BMJ is biased towards "big pharma" and other big industries, even where they may arguably cause serious harm to some consumers.

It's not a stretch to think that the BMJ would not like to lose its advertising revenue and sponsorships: if I find anything verifiable regarding £ amounts, I'll post it. (Reason for posting here - family member becoming visibly brain damaged after her MMR shot, still undecided about it all personally, so just trying to keep up with the whole thing. I didn't know any of this about the BMJ until your post made me want to check.)

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    You've missed a pertinent link: group.bmj.com/group/advertising/policy Particularly point 7: "As a medical publisher, BMJ Group occasionally needs to make special rules regarding the advertising of products considered harmful or potentially harmful to health. The rules relating to these products are detailed in this document." So for any product which is considered harmful or potentially harmful, there are stricter guidelines for advertising said product. – Darwy Nov 29 '11 at 7:01
  • Vaccines aren't actually very profitable for pharmaceutical companies. – rlms Jan 25 '15 at 22:07

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