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 Wakefield was not paid to investigate damage

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John Stone Posted - 06/29/2006 : 23:28:42
I return to this point because the false claim keeps on being made, although in fact it was never actually made by Brian Deer or Richard Horton in the first place. In his original Sunday Times story Deer wrote:

"The investigation has found that when he (Wakefield) warned parents to avoid MMR, and published research claiming a link with autism, he did not disclose he was being funded through solicitors seeking evidence to use against vaccine manufacturers..."


"The Sunday Times has now established that four, probably five, of these children were covered by the legal aid study. And Wakefield himself had been awarded up to 55,000 to assist their case by finding scientific evidence of the link..."


I am sure most people at the time read this to say that Andrew Wakefield was paid this money to undertake the investigation. This is what the BBC were still saying two days ago:

"Dr Wakefield was being paid to see if there was any evidence to support possible legal action by a group of parents who claimed their children were damaged by the vaccine. Some children were involved in both studies."

and the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago:

"It was discovered in 2004 that at the time that he was preparing the Lancet paper, Dr Wakefield, 50, was being paid to look for evidence that could be used by parents who believed their children had been damaged by the MMR vaccine in order that they could take legal action."


These statements, however, go significantly further than Deer, who does not actually state that money was being paid to Wakefield personally. In fact, Wakefield, in response to the Sunday Times allegations, stated in the Lancet (5 March 2004):

"The grant of 55,000 was paid not to me but the Royal Free Hospital Special Trustees for my research group to conduct studies on behalf of the legal aid board. These funds were properly administered through the Royal Free Hospital Special Trustees".


Now, this actually ought to have set this matter straight more than two years ago. This statement was never contradicted by Deer, the editor of the Lancet Richard Horton, or the Royal Free Special Trustees. Indeed, Wakefield could scarcely have made such a claim if it was deniable by the Royal Free Special Trustees.

After I remonstrated with BBC on Tuesday they actually changed the NewsOnLine story to read:

"It (the Lancet) said Dr Wakefield was being paid to see if there was any evidence to support possible legal action by a group of parents who claimed their children were damaged by the vaccine. Some children were involved in both studies.

"Dr Wakefield denies receiving any direct payment, and said funds were given instead to the hospital at which he worked, London's Royal Free."


In fact, Richard Horton's statement (Lancet 5 March 2004) did not state that Wakefield "was being paid" but that "he received 55,000 from the legal aid board to conduct this pilot project".

So, in fact, the changed BBC report is still wrong. The Lancet did not claim that Wakefield was paid the money, and it is wrong either to suggest that he was paid money, or that there is any documentary ambiguity about the matter. When I pointed this out to the BBC the story was removed to the archive but it was not further corrected.

The BBC really need to answer this, because it looks as if they have been duped and are afraid to admit it.

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John Stone Posted - 07/01/2006 : 08:02:17
I have been going back through the BBC NewsOnLine archive and have come up with a remarkable discovery. The first occasion on which they make the explicit claim that Andrew Wakefield was paid is in the report of the Lancet retraction (of "an interpretation") by ten of the co-authors of the 1998 paper.


The "retraction" appeared in the same issue of the Lancet (5 May 2004) in which Wakefield stated that the money had not been given to him but the Royal Free Hospital Special Trustees - something which trustees would have been anxious to deny if untrue. But this was not considered worth reporting by the BBC.

Prior to this - the public rumpus had begun on 20 February - people presumably assumed that Wakefield had received payment, otherwise it would have been hard to justify the fuss. But the BBC's story that he had received payment seems to have started at the very moment it emerged for certain that he had not.

I have written to the head of BBC news asking for an explanation.

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