Response to feature Wakefield’s "autistic enterocolitis" under the microscope from ESPGHAN

6 May 2010
Deirdre Kelly,
President, ESPGHAN
Liver Unit, Birmingham Children's Hospital,
David Branski

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Re: Response to feature Wakefield’s "autistic enterocolitis" under the microscope from ESPGHAN

We, the President of the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) and the Editor of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (JPGN-Europe) were concerned to see the publication of the recent feature on ‘Autistic enterocolitis’ written by the journalist Brian Deer in the BMJ on 15 April (BMJ 2010; 340:c 838).

The article presents Brian Deer’s summary of the process and interpretation of the gut pathology in the retracted Lancet paper (Lancet 1998; 351:637-41). It clearly states his competing interest in the Sunday Times investigation which led to the current GMC hearing of three of the authors, and the subsequent retraction of the paper.

The accompanying editorial by Professor Sir Nick Wright (BMJ 2010; 340: c 1807) puts the complexity of pathological interpretation in both clinical and research situations, including the process in the Lancet paper, in proper context. He states that the editorial was commissioned and there was no external peer review.

We were concerned about the provenance of Brian Deer’s article as it quotes from the recent GMC hearing for which no transcripts have yet been released. Furthermore no information was provided on the peer review process at the time of publication.

Nevertheless, we are surprised that such a respected scientific journal as the BMJ would accept and publish such a sensitive paper while the researchers in question are being examined by the GMC.

Moreover, we feel that publishing this article, by a journalist with a declared interest in the GMC case, just prior to the final judgment by the GMC of the researchers involved is both unjust and inappropriate.

Competing interests: None declared