Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brian Deer "Immensely Proud" of Using Deception to Collect Data Included in the BMJ Article

In my last post I talked about the possiblity that Brian Deer might have used deception to collect statements used in his BMJ article.  Well, that is no longer a possiblity but now an almost certainty.  Mr Deer did in fact use a fake identity in requesting and conducting an interview and quotes from this interview were later included in the BMJ's article.

Here is Brian Deer explaining the situation in his own words (out of respect for the privacy of the mother, I have removed her actual name and replaced it with Smith) -
Exactly right. In fact, not only do I have no shred of doubt about interviewing Rosemary Smith while using a pseudonymn, I’m immensely proud of the encounter (reported seven years ago in The Washington Post) which, with a similar (telephone) interview with Jackie Fletcher of the Jabs group, gave probable cause for the inquiries which I believe eventually brought about the collapse of the vaccine-autism fraud in both the UK and the USA.
Thanks Ms Smith.

I discussed the intended use of a pseudonym in advance with editorial and legal staff, and the subterfuge was wholly justified by the public interest in the safety of children by means of vaccination, which Ms Smith sought to challenge. The challenge was to get a detailed account of her story, unaffected by any assumptions she might have about the person she was speaking to. Indeed, clown that he is, Mr Olmsted evidences in his poisonous tirade against me the need for a pseudonym when he observes that Ms Smith would never have talked to me if she had looked at my website. Ethics case closed.

The untold circumstances of the interview, in late 2003, were that Ms Smith and I talked (as Mr Olmsted notes) for some six hours. Your readers might wish to consider whether any encounter, in the interviewee’s own home, could have effectively gone on all day were it not to the best standards of courtesy and interest. I was not exactly shouting allegations through her letter box. If I find the time, I may post audio from that interview on my website.

In her letter, Ms Smith also wishes the world to believe that I would use only one audio cassette, which I’m supposed to have kept turning over (hence erasing the previous portions of the interview!). Think about it. Her claim might once have been wishful thinking. Seven years later, and with a crucial passage published in the BMJ, it just looks pitiful.

The truth of what happened was that we had a long, amicable and wide-ranging discussion (featuring frequent cups of tea and a sandwich), near the end of which I asked her what it was that she thought was the trump card for the claimants in what was then still a possible UK lawsuit over MMR. She told me it was the O’Leary measles tests.

At that point, I made what I now realize to have been a mistake. I gave her my honest and well-intentioned impression, which I’d gained even within a few days of starting my inquiries, that O’Leary’s work was probably a bust (as it turned out to be). I also said to her that I thought she needed to be wary of lawyers, experts, journalists (yes indeed), politicians and others who I thought had piled into the story, would drain was was useful for them, and then move on, leaving parents looking back wondering what on earth had happened (as it turned out to be). I’ve seen this in a number of pharmaceutical product liability disputes, and in Britain it’s always the patients who get shafted.

The consequence of what was, in fact, a kindly observation of someone with some experience of these sort of issues – me – was that the atmosphere darkened as Ms Smith realized that I was not a “supporter”, as she had assumed, but had a detached view of the whole thing. I was not part of the Wakefield-journalist collaboration which then dominated British media discussion of MMR.

The next day, she spewed out a torrent of foul abuse (of the kind with which people who read Mr Olmsted’s blog will be familiar) in a letter to the editor of The Sunday Times (who just nine days ago singled out the MMR story in an article about investigative journalism). She didn’t then know that I had used a pseuonym. Her aim was to keep the material from public view – and perhaps just to vent her bile.

This abuse was so horrendous and bizarre that Mr Olmsted feels obliged to edit out of her letter some of the stranger stuff which I think, if read in context, would leave any rational person wondering about her sanity. He tells his reader(s) that he has only omitted “a few irrelevant details”. He lies. He has left out material which would tend to undermine Ms Smith’s credibility (incidentally, he is also presently grappling with how to leave out a direct allegation of fraud against Wakefield made in another letter by a Lancet 12 parent).

Even in 2003, my investigation was very time consuming. I hadn’t then looked into Ms Smith and I didn’t then know that talking to her amounted to talking to Wakefield. The pair of them were in it together. However, I did get from her a detailed account of what she said happened to her son (which broadly squares with her case in litigation), and it was at total variance with what was recorded in the Lancet.

This anomaly became the question. The answer only came when Wakefield made the biggest mistake of his life and sued me for libel in a “gagging” attempt to shut down further debate over MMR. For, in that action, I obtained a court order which permitted me to read the Lancet children’s medical records, and, armed with the arising insight, I then sat through the GMC hearing where those records entered the public domain.

In summary, not only are there no ethical irregularities in my work, but my stories on MMR are now widely-regarded as the textbook public interest investigation in the field of medicine. Hence, my second British Press Award, which, as every British journalist will know, are immensely difficult to win.
I think my option of Mr Deer actually was lower after reading this, if such a thing is possible.  The only good things that comes from this passage are that Mr. Deer's motives in this whole matter are becoming clearer and that several unanswered questions have been answered.

Notice that Deer says that  he was of the opinion that the whole Wakefield matter was a fraud "within a few days of starting my inquiries" back in 2003.  I always thought the purpose of an investigation like the one he undertook was to find the truth of the matter, not to find the facts that meet your preconceived notions.  Apparently I was wrong.

I am now quite convinced that Deer's sole motivation was simply to get a story and I think it is clear that he didn't really care about who got in his way.

As a case in point, consider the privacy of the children in Wakefield's study.  Last year, I wrote about Mr. Deer's claims that he had the medical records of all twelve children involved in the study.  I noted at the time that he should not have, use, or publicly discuss the contents of the records without the consent of the parents or the patients themselves.  I wondered how he could have obtained access to the records.

Now, thanks to Deer's own words, we know that he obtained the records because Wakfield sued him for defamation.  I think it goes without saying that the parents nor the children consented to the records being turned over to him.  And notice the apparent glee that Deer feels about violating the medical privacy of children.  He seems so fixated on attacking Wakefield that he does not seem to care about the children whom he is using as weapons.

As a parent, I cannot adequately express my outrage at his attitude.  Children - especially children with disabilities such as autism - should not be used as pawns by a journalist, not matter what the circumstances.  Does any parent out there feel differently?

My children have been in two studies so far and I would be absolutely furious if a journalist decided that he or she had some right to my children's medical records because they disagreed with what a researcher said.

Unfortunately, this sort of cavalier attitude fits with other comments that I have seen Deer make.  For example, over two years ago I wrote about him commenting on some disabled children and saying "its no wonder that they have problems with their brains" given what their parents believe.  Here are his exact words -
And they wonder why their children have problems with their brains.
And when he was called on that statement, he elaborated -
Well, actually Joseph, I didn’t intend that observation as an insult. I made it as a shorthand way of raising an issue that I believe may reasonably be raised.
I genuinely think that the three individuals I was criticising – and I know who all three of them are – do need to question whether their personal behavioural issues are indicative of a better explanation for their children’s issues. Certainly a lot better explanation than MMR.
The festering nastiness, the creepy repetitiveness, the weasly, deceitful, obsessiveness, all signal pathology to me.
Deer might have well been describing himself with that last remark.  Wakefield might well have done many things wrong, but Deer is no better.

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