The BMJ Correction

In February of 1998, the Lancet published the paper “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children” as an “Early Report” and identified it as a case series. The thirteen authors’ wrote:

“We identified associated gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.

They further stated: “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”

This paper drew much attention yet for six years the integrity stood unquestioned. One of the authors, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, testified before Congress on the findings and his ongoing research into the relationship between gastrointestinal disease and autism. This was a new field of science then that now—twenty years later—is widely known and is supported by a rich body of scientific research. The gut-brain connection is now the focus of much research into both causation and treatment of many neurological issues.

Six years later—the London Sunday Times inexplicably published an article by a freelance journalist that questioned aspects of the study. What unfolded is too detailed to include here, please see links below to explore the events, but the result was a trial by the General Medical Council (GMC) that ended with charges of professional misconduct on the part of three of the thirteen study authors. It was a lengthy trial during which no one and no aspect of the study was accused of fraud. The misconduct charges were basically matters of paperwork filings and disclosure of details of other ongoing studies (charges which were later found to be either inept or intentional tangling of evidence by the GMC.) The parents of the children involved in the original case-series paper stand firmly behind the study authors and are deeply grateful for the work they did in searching for the cause of their children’s distressing health issues, as well as the quality treatment they received.


Then, again inexplicably, in 2011, the same freelance journalist had a series of articles published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), accusing just one of the thirteen study authors—Dr. Andrew Wakefield—of fraud. This journalist’s articles were supported by editorials written by BMJ’s Fiona Godlee in which she uses the words “scam” and “fraud.” Why?

What compelled the journalist to publicly question the Lancet study six years after it was published, and then to accuse one of the authors of fraud several years later? What compelled Godlee to support his accusations? Is conflict of interest involved?

On March 15, 2011 the BMJ published corrections admitting they should have declared competing interests in relation to editor Fiona Godlee’s 3 editorials. They published this correction:

“The BMJ should have declared competing interests in relation to this Editor’s Choice by Fiona Godlee (BMJ 2011;342:d22, doi:10.1136/bmj.d22). The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines. For further information see the rapid response from Godlee (www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d1335.full/reply#bmj_el_251470). The same omission also affected two other related articles by Godlee (BMJ 2011;342:c7452 and BMJ 2011;342:d378).”

In 2012, a British High Court quashed all the findings of the GMC in regards to one author, John Walker-Smith, whose insurance company covered the cost of an appeal. The judge wrote that the GMC hearing had used “inadequate and superficial reasoning and, in a number of instances, a wrong conclusion” and that “It would be a misfortune if this were to happen again.” He said that in future such cases should be “chaired by someone with judicial experience”.

The charges against Dr. Wakefield were nearly identical. He also filed an appeal, but unlike Walker-Smith, his insurance did not cover the costs, and he was forced to withdraw. GMC regulations do not allow a renewed appeal.

The quashing of the GMC findings should have led to the reinstatement of the Lancet paper since the reasons for its retraction had all been declared unfounded by the British High Court.

But the Lancet has yet to reinstate the paper. Instead, the accusations of fraud—which exist only in the BMJ articles and Godlee’s editorials—went viral, became marketing slogans, were assumed to be fact, even though the journalist and Godlee later down-played their accusations against Wakefield, citing what they perceived as “discrepancies.” No formal investigation was ever launched as there is no evidence of any fraud.

Now, however, when anything negative about any vaccine is mentioned, the twenty-year-old Lancet paper that did not claim MMR causes autism is referred to and Dr. Wakefield’s name is mentioned in order to end all conversation. The false accusations of just two people created a marketing dream for drug companies who have a vested interest in silencing all dialogue on vaccine risk. The intervening twenty years of science revealing the gut-brain connection and the neurotoxicity of mercury and aluminum is completely ignored, as is the fact that there are a dozen other vaccines administered to infants and children during critical stages of neurological development. The general public is unaware that only one vaccine (MMR) and one ingredient (thimerosal) were ever studied in relation to autism, and then only with epidemiological studies which by their very nature cannot determine causation. Independent studies show biological mechanisms by which vaccination can and does lead to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in some children. Even former CDC Director and current Merck executive Julie Gerberding has admitted this connection.

In summary:

  • Dr. Andrew Wakefield was never charged with nor convicted of fraud in any court of law,
  • the accuracy and authenticity of the data and findings presented in “that paper” were never found lacking in any court of law,
  • all thirteen authors of “that paper” to this day stand firmly behind the data presented in the paper,
  • “that paper” did not conclude that MMR causes autism,
  • and a British High Court quashed the GMC findings.
  • The unsubstantiated accusations of fraud came from a single journalist and were supported by the BMJ, which admitted to “competing interests” with Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

For details, read Who is Dr. Andrew Wakefield? by Mary Holland, faculty at NYU School of Law. Holland has written and edited books and articles on human rights and law. She has clerked for a federal judge, worked at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and at prominent U.S. law firms. She has testified before Congress, filed amicus briefs, and appeared on Court TV, Fox, CBS, and NBC. She graduated from Harvard College and holds graduate degrees from Columbia University. She is a cofounder and board member of the Center for Personal Rights.

AND for a definitive, in-depth, highly detailed account, read L’affaire Wakefield: Shades of Dreyfus & BMJ’s Descent into Tabloid Science by Vera Sharav, Alliance for Human Research Protection|10/30/2017

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