Ben Goldacre

http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#184754

Re: Restrictions on hospitality apply to journalists and doctors

21 September 2007
John Stone,
none
London N22

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Re: Re: Restrictions on hospitality apply to journalists and doctors

I am grateful to Heather Simmons.

We can all benefit from Ben Goldacre's wisdom. For instance, in 2004 Goldacre received the Association of British Science Writer's (ABSW) award for "the best feature on a science subject in a national or regional newspaper (2003) [1] for an article on MMR: 'Never mind the facts' [2]. The major sponsor of the award of 2000 was MMR manufacturer and defendent Glaxo SmithKline [1]. This has not been disclosed in many Guardian articles mentioning MMR, nor was it recently Goldacre's BMJ piece 'MMR, the scare stories are back' [3].

I also wonder whether this one of the best examples of Goldacre's work. Goldacre cited four studies three of which were subsequently reviewed by Cochrane 2005 [4]. Of these Cochrane stated:

"The study demonstrates the difficulties of drawing inferences in the absence of a non-exposed population or a clearly defined causal hypothesis". (Re: Taylor 1999)

"The number and possible impact of biases in this study was so high that interpretation of the results is impossible". (Re: Fombonne 2001)

"The interpretation of the study by Madsen was made difficult by the unequal length of follow up for younger cohort members as well as the use of the date of diagnosis rather than onset of symptoms of autism". (Re: Madsen 2002)

The fourth study mentioned was the most remarkable of all, the Peltola letter to the Lancet of May 1998 which recorded no cases of autism or inflammatory bowel disease following 3 million applications of MMR in Finland simply because they were not in the follow up criteria of the larger study [5].

Moreover, there was a complex of funding issues unrelated by Goldacre. The Peltola study received funding from MMR defendent Merck [5]. The department of Elizabeth Miller who contributed to the Taylor study [6] benefited from funding by MMR defendents SmithKline Beecham and Aventis Pasteur [7]. At least one MMR study authored by her and Brent Taylor received funding from SmithKline Beecham [8]. The Fombonne study disclosed no interests [9] but according to a later study [10]:

"In the United Kingdom, Dr Fombonne has provided advice on the epidemiology and clinical aspects of autism to scientists advising parents, to vaccine manufacturers, and to several government committees between 1998 and 2001. Since June 2004, Dr Fombonne has been an expert witness for vaccine manufacturers in US thimerosal litigation. None of his research has ever been funded by the industry."

So you can't be too careful!

[1] ABSW Science Writers Award 2003: http://www.absw.org.uk/Awards/abswwinners2003.htm  

[2] Ben Goldacre, 'Never mind the facts', Guardian 11 December 2003: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,,1103958,00.html  

[3] Ben Goldacre, 'MMR, the scare stories are back', BMJ 21 July 2007: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7611/126  

[4] V Demicheli, T Jefferson, A Rivetti, D Price,[Review] 'Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children', Cochrane (Wiley 2005), http://mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004407/frame.html  

[5] Heikki Peltola, Annamari Patja, Pauli Leinikki, Martti Valle, Irja Davidkin, Mikho Paunio, 'No evidence for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine-associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year prospective study', Lancet vol 351, May 1998, p. 1327-8: http://www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/gingernut/lancet/Finland%20May%201998.pdf  

[6] Brent Taylor, Elizabeth Miller, C Paddy Farrington, Maria- Christina Petropoulos, Isabelle Favot-Mayaud, Jun Li, Pauline A Waight, 'Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association, Lancet vol 135, 12 June 1999.

[7] According to Geier M and Geier D (P3R to PEDIATRICS,' Thimerosal does not belong in vaccines' 8 September 2004) this funding was disclosed by Elizabeth Miller to the Committee on Safety of Medicines in 2002, and this was not denied by Dr Miller in her response: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/eletters/114/3/584.  

[8] E Miller, P Waight, C P Farrington, N Andrews, J Stowe, B Taylor, 'Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and MMR vaccine'. vol. 84 p.227-9 March 2001, http://adc.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/84/3/227  

[9] Eric Fombonne, FRCPsych and Suniti Chakrabarti, FRCPCH, 'No Evidence for A New Variant of Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Induced Autism ',PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 4 October 2001, p. e58 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/108/4/e58  

[10] Eric Fombonne, MD, Rita Zakarian, ME, Andrew Bennett, PhD, CPsych, Linyan Meng, MSc and Diane McLean-Heywood, MA, 'Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and Links With Immunizations', Published online July 3, 2006 PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 1 July 2006, pp. e139-e150 (doi:10.1542/peds.2005- 2993) , http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/1/e139  

Competing interests: Autistic son

OK Ben, let's be transparent 19 December 2007
John Stone,
none
London N22

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Re: OK Ben, let's be transparent

In the name of transparency BMJ readers may like to know that Ben Goldacre is a research fellow at the Maudsley Hospital [1]. In this regard his prominent intervention in the WiFi dispute with the BBC Panorama programme earlier this year may be relevant [2], noting that the Mobile Phones Research Unit which researches this issue [3] is for some reason part of the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital [4]. Given Dr Goldacre's normal fastidiousness it is not clear why this information has not been made readily available.

It is also fair to question whether the sarcastic tone of an article entitled 'Watch out for that blob of radiation!' or his personal attack on another journalist [2]:

"The Independent has put its green columnist Julia Stephenson on to Panorama's Wi-Fi scare story: a charming beef heiress living in Chelsea on a trust fund, who believes her symptoms of tiredness and headache are caused by electromagnetic radiation from phones and Wi-Fi."

constitutes good or objective science.

[1] Royal College of Psychiatrists, Liason Psychiatry Faculty, Annual Residential Conference 2008: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/ProvProgLi08.pdf  

[2] Ben Goldacre 'Watch out for that blob of radiation' Guardian 2 June 2007: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/badscience/story/0,,2093766,00.html  

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6583815.stm  

[4] http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/departments/?locator=364&context=975  

Competing interests: Autistic son

...and the Maudsley should be transparent too 22 December 2007
John Stone,
none
London N22

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Re: ...and the Maudsley should be transparent too

On reflection the implications for the Maudsley Hospital and its teaching institution, the Institute of Psychiatry, are profound. They have in effect indulged Dr Goldacre's career, and benefitted from his journalism, without taking responsibility for it. Dr Goldacre, for example, gave a seminar at the Institute entitled 'Science and Journalism' on 10 December [1]. A check on Pub Med suggests the only articles he has published are journalistic.

Does the hospital take responsibility for Dr Goldacre's website where he warns bloggers:

".. personal anecdotes about your MMR tragedy will be deleted for your own safety" [2]  

Is this ethically tolerable, or a proper way to do science? I believe they have to look at their position.

[1 ]http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/departments/?locator=364&context=779  

[2] http://www.badscience.net/?page_id=7  

Competing interests: Autistic son

Ben Goldacre's publications 23 December 2007
Michael L Calais,
medical student
RF&UCMS

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Re: Ben Goldacre's publications

Mr Stone states that "A check on PubMed suggests the only articles he has published are journalistic," yet a simple search on the PubMed database [1] using the parameter "goldacre b" reveals one page of results, number 7 being a research article from a team at the University of Milan in 1997 on "Functional heterogeneity of left inferior frontal cortex as revealed by fMRI"[2].

I'm fairly sure this particular B Goldacre is the same author as the "journalistic" pieces since his biography mentions that he "he was a visiting researcher in cognitive neurosciences at the University of Milan, working on fMRI brain scans of language and executive function" in between leaving Oxford University with a first in his pre-clinical studies and before going on to UCL for clinical medicine[3].

Mr Stone clearly has some sort of grudge against Dr Goldacre, and he is making some serious accusations here, so it would be expedient for him to get his facts right first, wouldn't it?

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez  

[2] Neuroreport. 1997 May 27;8(8):2011-7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=9223094&ordinalpos=7&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

 [3] About Dr Ben Goldacre http://www.badscience.net/?page_id=4

Competing interests: None

Re: Ben Goldacre's publications 27 December 2007
John Stone,
none
London N22

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Re: Re: Ben Goldacre's publications

I can assure Michael Calais that I have no grudge against Ben Goldacre. I have taken a close interest in the MMR affair, and vaccine related issues. Goldacre has been prominent and publicly influential in the MMR debate since 2002, so I am legitimately concerned with accuracy and transparency. I note my objections to the science in the GSK/ABSW award winning 2003 article [1,2] have never been met. Nor were Goldacre's close connections with the psychiatric community made clear, for example, with intervention in the Observer affair earlier this year [3]. For, instance a senior luminary of the Institute of Psychiatry is Sir Michael Rutter who has taken a strong line on the issue of MMR [4]. Simon Baron- Cohen, who was quoted in the article, formerly held a senior position at the Institute [5].

It is unusual for someone in Goldacre's position to withold their place of work: there is a box for this information even in Rapid Responses, and if Goldacre had published research in the recent past he would certainly have had to make such a declaration. There is obviously a problem with someone attached to an institution representing themselves as an independent journalist.

I bow to Michael Calais over my failure to turn up the 1997 study in Pub Med. I typed into the search engine "Goldacre, B" and "Ben Goldacre" and neither search recovered the article. However, the article is irrelevant to the present circumstances, and changes nothing.

[1] http://www.pfd.co.uk/clients/goldben/a-pre-image.html  

[2] John Stone, 'Re: Restrictions on hospitality apply to journalist and doctors',http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#176662  

[3] Ben Goldacre, 'The MMR story that wasn't', http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2128834,00.html  

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4311613.stm  

 [5] http://www.jkp.com/mindreading/documents/SBC_bio.pdf  

Competing interests: Autistic son