- Sworn testimony by Deputy Editor & internal correspondence confirm that Deer’s BMJ articles were not peer reviewed
Internal BMJ correspondence entered as evidence in a legal defamation suit against the BMJ reveals that the written, published and publicized assertions repeatedly made by the BMJ editor-in-chief; namely, that Deer’s BMJ articles had undergone “intense scrutiny” and “external peer review” – are false. In her sworn deposition7 (June 2012) Jane Smith, BMJ Deputy Editor and “fact checker,” who stated that she “worked very closely” with the Editor-in-chief, and with Deer, acknowledged under oath that Brian Deer’s BMJ articles had not undergone external, independent peer review.
The evidence shows that BMJ editor-in-chief failed to perform basic due diligence.
BMJ deputy editor Smith testified that the editor-in-chief had expressed the view (on July 14, 2010) that “it would be worth getting [the articles] sent for peer review.” But for reasons not known to the deputy editor, Dr. Godlee dispensed with that requirement of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Recommendations (2008)
“Unbiased, independent, critical assessment is an intrinsic part of all scholarly work. Peer review is the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are usually not part of the editorial staff. Peer review can therefore be reviewed as an important extension of the scientific process…A peer-reviewed journal submits most of its published research articles for outside review.”
BMJ failed to subject the articles to independent peer review, or to read the testimonies of the three defendants, each of whom disputed the false charges and offered evidence to back up his testimony. The GMC transcripts contained both sides of the argument, and were available to the BMJ editors; but they chose not even to read them. Not only was Dr. Wakefield denied an opportunity to rebut the charges made by the BMJ, deputy-editor, Ms. Smith, who was responsible for comparing the GMC transcript with Deer’s articles, acknowledged under oath that she never read the testimonies of Dr. Wakefield or Professor John Walker-Smith. She read only those segments from the GMC transcripts that supported Deer’s case against Dr. Wakefield.
The BMJ editors disregarded entirely the testimonies and evidence that might cast doubt on the extremely injurious assertions made in an editorial that they each signed. Furthermore, the testimony shows that the editorial review of Deer’s articles, and so-called “fact-checking” process, was guided (if not directly supervised) by Deer.
Question Re: Deer’s article, “How the Case Was Fixed” [Exhibit 2]: “You knew that this was something very serious that was being alleged, don’t you think if there was going to be rigorous fact checking you should have made some effort to find out what Dr. Wakefield said about those issues?”
– Smith: “Well, Mr Deer in general knows what Mr Wakefield says about those issues. We were satisfied from the checking that we did, that everything Brian said in those articles stacked up.” [p. 53]
Question:“As the British Medical Journal don’t you think you had obligation in fact checking these serious allegations to look beyond what Mr Deer said and to look and see what was said on the other side of the coin?
– Smith: “We were satisfied that, no, we didn’t feel we had an obligation to do that.”[p. 54]
Question: “Are you telling this judge and this jury under oath that when accusing a man of fraud in an article like this you don’t think you had any obligation to investigate the facts of what that individual said about the issues?
– Smith: “The information in article one comes from, largely from the GMC transcripts and the GMC hearing… the way that these cases were described in the Lancet Paper was a complete fabrication, and we were satisfied with that. There wasn’t much point asking Mr. Wakefield what he thought because we know he would deny it. We knew that before we started.” [p.55]
Question: But you don’t know what was said in the GMC hearing by Dr. Wakefield or Professor Walker-Smith [because you haven’t read their testimony]… In supposedly confirming Deer’s findings is it fair to say that you did not make an effort to look at what Dr Wakefield testified in that 6 million word transcript about those findings, or the issues covered by those findings?
– Smith: Yes [p.88]
In an email that Deer sent to Dr. Godlee, he stated: “I am getting a little nervous about others stepping in and claiming my investigation as their own, and I am also slightly anxious lest we have another communication breakdown and your people go off trying to check my work, which I requested, without talking to me about how this might be done.” [Exhibit 39, p.79]
- This suggests that the BMJ “fact checking” of his articles was supervised by Brian Deer.
In another email communication Deer advised the editor-in-chief:
“If you plan to use my tables, which I think are rather powerful, you might need to peer review the legitimacy of the exercise I have carried out since they are freshly generated by me and involve interpretation of the paper.”
- Smith acknowledged that BMJ did not have those tables peer reviewed either. [p. 84]
Question: “In all of the investigation that you did was there ever anything on a single page of the GMC record, or in any document that you looked at that showed that Dr. Wakefield had altered a document, that he had erased something or written over something, or changed the language on a document?
– Smith responded under oath: “I did not see anything of that sort.” [p.67]
Question: “And just so it is clear, there is no evidence that he actually altered any documents or any medical records, any charts, anything like that, correct?
– Smith: “That is correct.” [p. 68] She indicated that she asked Dr. Harvey Marcovitch “[who used to assess our filler paper articles, which are very short personal pieces by doctors]…to make a “swift review” of Deer’s article “for pediatric issues…to make sure it made medical sense.” [p. 91]
“Marcovitch was not asked to review the medical or scientific accuracy of Deer’s articles;”
nor was he asked to review whether the children’s diagnoses were accurately described in the Lancet. [p.92]
Dr. Marcovitch, a pediatrician, was a BMJ Associate Editor who co-authored with Dr. Fiona Godlee and Jane Smith, the editorial: “Wakefield’s Article Linking MMR Vaccine And Autism Was Fraudulent.” He had deep institutional vested interests: he was Chairman of GMC Fitness to Practice Panels; the syndications editor for BMJ Publishing Group; and listed his affiliation as an employee of the BMJ Group in the journal PLoS (2010).
- Clearly, Deer’s BMJ articles were never peer reviewed by any legitimate standards. Thus, the BMJ declaration appended to his articles, “externally peer reviewed”—is an intentional falsification –ie, fraudulent.