The ongoing saga of unravelling stories in the claims against Dr. Andrew Wakefield are reaching the point of outright humor. Brian Deer has chimed in with statements so far outside the realm of reality that one must wonder how he manages to exist without assistance. But most interesting of all is that the pathologist on whose reports so much of this case swings has now spoken out—and his statements clearly support Wakefield’s claims. Dr. Dhillon was the pathologist who examined the slides of gut mucosal biopsies from the children in the 1998 study published—and later retracted—in The Lancet. He has written a commentary that was published today (17 November) in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). It should first be noted that Dhillon’s part of the study was blinded. He was presented with normal results and with the results of the children under study, but did not know which was which. Dhillon goes into quite a bit of detail explaining exactly what was and was not done, and exactly what can and cannot be determined from his report. (His report, a series of score sheets, can be seen here.) He clarifies that, without having details of the individual patients’ histories, he could not give detailed diagnoses. That is why he did not use the term colitis on the grading sheets. Dhillon stated:
Prejudgment of the significance or otherwise of the histological changes in isolation in the 1998 study cases would have been inappropriate previously
Thus, at the time of submission of the Lancet 1998 publication, with the limited supplementary information available to me (which I had been prevented deliberately from knowing during the study); and in the context of a comprehensive clinicopathological review by trusted clinical colleagues, the designated diagnosis of colitis seemed to me to be plausible.
In other words, the combination of Dhillon’s documentation (in the form of the simple “tick sheets“) with Dr. Wakefield’s and other doctors’ knowledge of the children’s clinical aspects made the diagnoses that Dr. Wakefield stated in the Lancet paper accurate. In other words, the pathologist who reviewed the lab results has clarified that Dr. Wakefield did not commit fraud.
First, let’s talk about Brian Deer. On 9 November, the BMJ published his commentary on the recent revelations demonstrating that his claim of Wakefield inventing the colitis diagnoses of children was simply wrong. That was published on 9 November, before Dr. Dhillon’s commentary (described above) came out today, 17 November. Deer tries to give the impression that David Lewis, of the National Whistleblowers Center, is working with the British Medical Journal (BMJ)! Referencing the data on which Lewis made his statements indicating that there was no fraud by Wakefield, Deer states that it was:
… passed to us by David Lewis, a self employed American environmental microbiologist working with Wakefield …
There isn’t a single true element in that statement! The suggestion that Lewis “passed” the data sheets, giving the impression that he was surreptitiously slipping them to the BMJ and himself, is absurd on the face of it. The claim that he’s “a self employed” microbiologist is false. Lewis is a member of the National Whistleblowers Center. The claim that Lewis is “working with Wakefield” is also false. He merely examined documents given to him by Wakefield. Not an auspicious start on the part of Brian Deer, is it? Deer then goes on, at quite some length, documenting what the BMJ’s trotted-out “expert”, Bjarnason, said. He slips around the fact that Bjarnason did not have access to any of the actual lab reports, and therefore could not possibly have given a single diagnosis of any of the children involved. Deer then goes on, and on, … and on obfuscating the salient point: Lewis stated that Wakefield did not commit research fraud.
Fiona Godlee is the BMJ editor who is now pressing the charge against Dr. Wakefield. She is the one who wrote to Andrew Miller, the chair of Parliament’s Commons Science and Technology Committee, insisting that they open an investigation into the case and widen it to include all the members of Wakefield’s research team and several high-level academics at the university where the study took place. The request was quickly slapped down by Miller, who responded the day after she sent her e-mail. Miller publicly stated:
While the committee welcomes being alerted to issues that may require investigation, it must be careful not to appear to be vulnerable to public lobbying. … … However, I have responded to Dr Godlee that the select committee is not the right forum for dealing with allegations of professional misconduct.
So, Miller has effectively placed Dr. Fiona Godlee alongside common lobbyists! It appears that her chance—along with that of the BMJ that she heads—to get out of this whole fiasco gracefully may have passed. After the statement from David Lewis, she might have put forth an apology for attacking Dr. Wakefield as a fraud. Instead, she doubled down. She tried to take this whole mess to a higher level. She tried to cast the web of fraud over all the scientists and doctors involved in Wakefield’s study, along with academics at a high level in the university. Fiona Godlee was slapped down, placed in the class of a lobbyist. Since then, one of the most significant people involved in this affair, the pathologist who did the original report on the children’s pathologies, has clearly stated that there was no fraud. Can we hope for this to end? We can hope for it…but don’t expect anything to happen quickly. There will be massive scrambling behind the scenes. Godlee may find that she’s to become a sacrificial lamb in this affair. We can hope that the powers-that-be finally realize they cannot continue to press this case, but there are matters of money at issue—very big money for the care of enormous numbers of autistic children as they grow into adulthood. There is fraud here, but it’s entirely at the hands of those who have accused Dr. Wakefield of it.
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