Lessons from the MMR scare by Fiona Godlee

Headshot of Fiona Godlee

Fiona Godlee
Editor in Chief,
British Medical Journal

On September 6, 2011, the Fogarty International Center and the National Library of Medicine presented Lessons from the MMR scare by Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of the British Medical Journal, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. 

BMJ Editor Fiona Godlee presented a discussion of the stunning investigation she published earlier this year that revealed the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on deliberate fraud.  The three-part series was produced by journalist Brian Deer, who spent seven years investigating Andrew Wakefield’s infamous study linking the MMR vaccine with autism, discovering Wakefield had been paid by a lawyer to influence his results and had blatantly manipulated the study data. 

In an editorial accompanying Deer’s report, Godlee and colleagues noted, “Science is based on trust. Without trust, research cannot function and evidence based medicine becomes a folly. Journal editors, peer reviewers, readers, and critics have all based their responses to Wakefield’s small case series on the assumption that the facts had at least been honestly documented. Such a breach of trust is deeply shocking. And even though almost certainly rare on this scale, it raises important questions about how this could happen, what could have been done to uncover it earlier, what further inquiry is now needed, and what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.”

For more information, read the BMJ articles:

 

About Fiona Godlee

Fiona Godlee has been Editor in Chief of the BMJ since 2005. She qualified as a doctor in 1985, trained as a general physician in Cambridge and London, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Since joining the BMJ in 1990 she has written on a broad range of issues, including the impact of environmental degradation on health, the future of the World Health Organisation, the ethics of academic publication, and the problems of editorial peer review. In 1994 she spent a year at Harvard University as a Harkness Fellow evaluating efforts to bridge the gap between medical research and practice. On returning to the UK, she led the development of BMJ Clinical Evidence, which evaluates the best available evidence on the benefits and harms of treatments and is now provided worldwide to over a million clinicians in 9 languages. In 2000 she moved to Current Science Group to establish the open access online publisher BioMed Central as Editorial Director for Medicine. In 2003 she returned to the BMJ Group to head up its new Knowledge division. She has served as President of the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) and Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and is co-editor of Peer Review in Health Sciences. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.

Updated 9/6/11

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