Friday, January 7, 2011

On Wakefield and Fraud

On his blog, the rather well-known blogger and commenter, Harold Doherty, writes:

I was aware that a medical society tribunal in the UK had found problems with the MMR study but I was unaware that a court of law, or governing medical society tribunal, had found Wakefield guilty of the serious offence of fraud.

If anyone knows which court of law, or governing medical society tribunal, found Dr. Wakefield guilty of fraud could you post a link to this site please?

The "medical society tribunal" Doherty refers to was the British General Medical Council, (or "GMC"; see their website here). They are hardly a mere "medical society tribunal" -- they're a governing body established by legislative action. They have a direct government mandate... and the legal authority to control who can and cannot practice medicine in the UK.

I suppose you could call them a "governing medical society tribunal", per Mr. Doherty's instructions. I would not: they're a regulatory body tasked with a judicial function. They are not part of any medical society (although the memberships certainly overlap!).

In its sanction against Dr. Wakefield, the GMC found (among other things):

The children described in the Lancet paper were admitted for research purposes under a programme of investigations for Project 172-96 and the purpose of the project was to investigate the postulated new syndrome following vaccination. In the paper, Dr Wakefield failed to state that this was the case and the Panel concluded that this was dishonest, in that his failure was intentional and that it was irresponsible. His conduct resulted in a misleading description of the patient population. This was a matter which was fundamental to the understanding of the study and the terms under which it was conducted.

In addition to the failure to state that the children were part of a project to investigate the new syndrome, the Lancet paper also stated that the children had been consecutively referred to the Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology with a history of a pervasive developmental disorder and intestinal symptoms. This description implied that the children had been referred to the gastroenterology department with gastrointestinal symptoms and that the investigators had played no active part in that referral process. In fact, the Panel has found that some of the children were not routine referrals to the gastroenterology department in that either they lacked a reported history of gastrointestinal symptoms and/or that Dr Wakefield had been actively involved in the process of referral. In those circumstances the Panel concluded that the description of the referral process was irresponsible, misleading and in breach of Dr Wakefield’s duty as a senior author.

The statement in the Lancet paper that investigations reported in it were approved by the Royal Free Hospital Ethics Committee when they were not, was irresponsible.
In other words, the GMC found that Wakefield lied repeatedly in the Lancet paper. Moreover, he concealed financial interests in the results being what they were:

Regarding the issues of conflicts of interest, Dr Wakefield did not disclose matters which could legitimately give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest. He failed to disclose to the Ethics Committee and to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement in the MMR litigation and his receipt of funding from the Legal Aid Board. He also failed to disclose to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement as the inventor of a patent relating to a new vaccine for the elimination of the measles virus (Transfer Factor) which he also claimed in the patent application, would be a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

In summary of their findings, the GMC wrote:

The Panel made findings of transgressions in many aspects of Dr Wakefield’s research. It made findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health, and with regard to his subsequent representations to a scientific body and to colleagues. He was dishonest in respect of the LAB funds secured for research as well as being misleading. Furthermore he was in breach of his duty to manage finances as well as to account for funds that he did not need to the donor of those funds. In causing blood samples to be taken from children at a birthday party, he callously disregarded the pain and distress young children might suffer and behaved in a way which brought the profession into disrepute.

As such (among other things):

The Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s shortcomings and the aggravating factors in this case including in broad terms the wide-ranging transgressions relating to every aspect of his research; his disregard for the clinical interests of vulnerable patients; his failure to heed the warnings he received in relation to the potential conflicts of interest associated with his Legal Aid Board funding; his failure to disclose the patent; his dishonesty and the compounding of that dishonesty in relation to the drafting of the Lancet paper; and his subsequent representations about it, all played out against a background of research involving such major public health implications, could not be addressed by any conditions on his registration.

In short, Wakefield was found to be a dirty, rotten liar who faked data for publication in The Lancet. In common scientific parlance, they found that the paper was a classic example of academic fraud.

Edit: Kev of LBRB does an excellent analysis of the issue here, focusing less on the legal findings and more on illustrating the fact that Wakefield's paper was fraudulent.

1 comment:

  1. Harold isn't big on evidence. That explains his popularity with the anti-vaccine community.