Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor-in-Chief of the BMJ, has published a call for the Science and Technology Committee to undertake an inquiry into the conduct of individual academics and clinicians and into what she describes as ‘institutional misconduct’ by University College London in relation to the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield on the MMR vaccine and other issues.
In response, Andrew Miller MP, chair of the committee, today said:
“While the committee welcomes being alerted to issues that may require investigation, it must be careful not to appear to be vulnerable to public lobbying.
“Dr Godlee has written to me with details of her concerns, and it appears that there are issues that warrant further investigation.
“However, I have responded to Dr Godlee that the select committee is not the right forum for dealing with allegations of professional misconduct.
“The committee is already on record as having urged greater transparency in relation to the release of scientific information by publicly-funded institutions such as universities in response to Freedom of Information requests: a recommendation in our report on the Reviews into the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit’s E-Mails addressed this.”
INFORMATION FOR EDITORS
Letter from Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, to Dr Fiona Godlee FRCP, Editor in Chief, BMJ
8 November 2011
UCL and the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield
I am writing in response to your e-mail of 8 November drawing my attention to the proposed editorial in the BMJ asking the Science and Technology Committee to investigate institutional misconduct at UCL in relation to the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield on the MMR vaccine and other issues.
Your letter of 17 May to Mr Tim Perry lists a number of issues which you wished UCL to investigate, or to cause to be investigated by an independent body. A number of these issues are around the conduct of individual academics and medical practitioners, and it would be inappropriate for a parliamentary committee – which has neither the locus nor the expertise of professional disciplinary/employment tribunal bodies – to investigate those issues.
You also indicate concerns about the broader questions of whether or not UCL adequately investigated the roles of all those who put their names to Dr Wakefield’s papers and whether there was pressure to minimise any investigations in order to protect the institution. These relate to the integrity of the academic institution as a whole and are not simply an issue of whether or not the institution promotes ‘good science’. This is a matter rather for a body such as HEFCE, which has the task of ensuring academic standards in publicly-funded bodies.
Although I understand your desire for an independent investigation of the issues you list, I therefore suggest that my committee is not the right forum for such an investigation.