Science Betrayed: Reflections on research misconduct

Dr Adam Rutherford looks into misconduct in scientific research

A pair of 30 minute documentaries Science Betrayed have recently aired on Radio 4 (UK). In these programmes, Dr Adam Rutherford, Nature journalist and science interpreter for the broader public, investigates the murky world of scientific misconduct.

In the first episode, Rutherford looks at some historical and recent examples of misconduct ranging from the Piltdown Man hoax through to the case of South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-Suk. He and his interviewees reflect on some of the pressures that lead researchers to fabricate data.

The second episode focuses more specifically on the case of Andrew Wakefield and the alleged link between MMR and autism. The programme includes an interview with Wakefield himself as well as investigative journalist Brian Deer who was pivotal in uncovering evidence of malpractice.

The episodes can both be accessed via the BBC website. At the time of writing the BBC iPlayer gives no mention of expiry date so I am hopeful these are resources that will be directly available for some while. It appears that there is also an abbreviated version (18 mins) of episode 1 (and presumably episode 2, once broadcast) on the Discovery site where it is actually downloadable as an mp3 podcast – thanks to Joe (comments, below) for this tip-off.

13 Responses to Science Betrayed: Reflections on research misconduct

  1. parent101 says:

    I don’t think you should take Brian Deer to seriously
    this 1 hour film about Deer Explains his COI and issues with the ethics of him obtaining Childrens medical notes.

    Also its interesting that the BMJ have issued a statement saying that they should have declared links to Glaxo and Merck on publication of Deers Series,, Ethics anyone???

  2. Alan Jones says:

    Adam Rutherford displays gross ineptitude in the programme I have just listened to (on Andrew Wakefield). For anybody contemplating listening to this drivel, I suggest you fast forward to the last two minutes. He presents the audience with a ‘fait accomplice’ aided and abetted probably by the pharmaceutical industry…..yes I’d like to see his bank statements. He doesn’t mention that Brian Deer’s ‘campaign’ was funded (commissioned) by the son of one of the original directors of the pharmaceutical company that introduced MMR. He doesn’t mention the fact that Thimerosol in vaccines has now been withdrawn in the States and that vaccine damaged children are being awarded compensation EVERY SINGLE DAY in the US courts. He doesn’t mention the fact that 80% of the ‘science’ that proves MMR is ‘safe’ has been proved to be biased and untrustworthy. No-one EVER mentions the fact that in the year before MMR was introduced, there were only 30 deaths from measles and that the figure was dropping year on year. In fact, the deaths were probably from children who may well have fallen ill with the flu and not survived (ie. had underlying health problems). Why does DR. Adam Rutherford not tells us this? Because as I suspect, if we look at his bank account, we’ll find some very large cheques from the pharmaceutical industry. He allows Brian Deer to put ridiculous spin on whether ‘baby books’ constitute medical records or not. They are a perfectly adequate log of what vaccination a child has received. He (Rutherford) also accuses Dr. Wakefield (yes he’s a proper doctor) of not being an ‘autism specialist’. Well, as a father myself of a child with high-functioning autism, who hasn’t one professional medical qualification to my name, I can tell him that I’ve met lots of pediatricians, health visitors, child psychologists and others that don’t know as much about autism as me. It’s taken me seven years to unravel the lies and deceptions about autism. The biggest lie, is one I suspect was ‘invented’ by the pharmaceutical industry sometime during the fifties or sixties and it’s this. Ask any health professional about child development and the first onset of autistic behaviour and they will point to a period around 12-18 months when any acquired speech that the child may have begun to learn begins to disappear and the child becomes withdrawn and aloof. They say that it’s just coincidence that this occurs around the same time as the the MMR vaccination, a point at which it should be noted marks the final stage of childhood vaccinations until the boosters received around 36 months of age.
    The second greatest lie is that we have been told that the rate of autism in vaccinated populations and un-vaccinated populations is the same. It is if you doctor the figures in such a deceitful way and include ‘un-vaccinted’ populations to mean, children who received their vaccinations not in a triple MMR vaccine, but as separate ones. I kid you not, this is the junk science that pharmaceutical companies use to prove their case.
    If you want the truth about vaccinations and MMR just type it into Google. The BBC, as John Pilger recently proved, is fast becoming the ‘Newspeak’ for the 21st century……shame on you BBC!

    • Rene Najera says:

      The usual anti-vaccine drivel, Alan. You guys will dig deep to find ANY association between one person and another, and then call that a COI. You guys will spew all sorts of things that seem like facts but either put them out of context or twist them completely around. “If you want the truth… just type it into Google.” You’re laughable. If you want the truth about vaccines, ask your physician, take a course in immunology at your local community college. Hell, ask your HS biology teacher. For crying out loud, it’s basic science, not rocket science.
      Sure, after I write this, Alan will come back and accuse me of being a shill for the Pharmaceutical industry. I can see it now, watch…

    • Liz Ditz says:

      [Caveat as I am in the United States, I have not listened to the program]
      Alan Jones seems to be throwing every anti-vaccination talking point into his comment. I will address three, and an additional point about child development:

      He doesn’t mention the fact that Thimerosol in vaccines has now been withdrawn in the States

      1. What does that have to do with Rutherford’s coverage? The MMR never contained thimerosal.
      2. The US thimerosal removal story began in 1999. Paul Offit covers the chain of events that lead to the precipitous (and arguably unneccessary) removal of thimerosal from vaccines in Autism’s False Prophets, pp.60-73 and 79-80. It is worth noting that the associated decision, to delay the birth dose of Hepatitis B, killed at least one infant. It is also worth noting that the removal of thimerosal has also made vaccines more expensive.

      and that vaccine damaged children are being awarded compensation EVERY SINGLE DAY in the US courts.

      More distortions from Mr. Jones. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was created in 1986 and is a no-fault alternative to American tort law. VICP publishes statistics at For the last full year of reports (2010) 173 cases were compensated. As VICP also covers adult vaccinations, some of those awards may have been to adults.
      3. The subject of Rutherford’s report was the MMR vaccine. In the 23 years that the VICP has been in place, 307 cases of vaccine injury from MMR have been compensated. It is not perfectly clear when the individual vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella became unavailable in the US, but compensation has been paid for 55 cases of vaccine injury from measles vaccine alone; 1 case of mumps alone; and 70 cases of rubella alone. Let’s do the numbers, shall we? 307+55+1+70=370 compensated cases of vaccine injury from MMR. In the same time period, approximately 89million children have been born in the US. Using a conservative figure of 92% of children receiving either the separate vaccines, or the combined MMR vaccine, the injury rate is…0.0000041415. Or for every million children, 4.1415 will have an adverse reaction that the VICP program (using extremely lax standards) will compensate.

      No-one EVER mentions the fact that in the year before MMR was introduced, there were only 30 deaths from measles

      How callous can Mr. Jones be? Complications from measles are common, and it is one of the most infectious of the vaccine-preventable diseases. Why would any parent want to expose his child to a miserable disease? Why would anyone want to expose a child not his own to disease?

      Ask any health professional about child development and the first onset of autistic behaviour and they will point to a period around 12-18 months when any acquired speech that the child may have begun to learn begins to disappear and the child becomes withdrawn and aloof.

      Mr. Jones is assuming that all autism is regressive autism. There are a number of prospective studies underway in the US attending to the development of “at risk” children — those who have an older sibling with autism. Just two of note are (1) the multi-center EARLI study ( and (2) Mel Rutherford’s eye-gaze study,

  3. Jenny Allan says:

    Re Radio 4 Science Betrayed programme.
    This programme is nothing more than than deliberate political and pharmaceutical industry propaganda. I could have forgiven Adam Rutherford for being ‘taken in’ by Brian Deer and Fiona Godlee, BMJ Editor, but not for his hostile and rude treatment of Dr Wakefield. Godlee and Deer both accuse Dr Andrew Wakefield et al of ‘fraudulently altering’ GP records for their 1998 Lancet article. This nonsense was the basis for a series of ‘specially commissioned’ BMJ articles by Brian Deer called ‘Secrets of the MMR scare’and a BMJ Editorial co authored by Dr Godlee.
    There are several small problems with this assertion.
    The Royal Free clinicians, as is normal hospital practice, DID NOT USE GP records when compiling the childrens’ medical histories. Instead they asked the parents to bring their childrens developmental records or ‘red books’. On the programme Deer infamously refers to these important health records as ‘baby books’!! Brian Deer, I should add has absolutely NO medical or scientific qualifications but he nonetheless considered himself ‘qualified’ to state that ‘only an incompetent doctor uses baby books.’ So Professor Walker-Smith, one of the foremost UK paediatric gastroenterologists with a worldwide reputation is an ‘incompetent doctor’ according to the gospel of Brian Deer!!
    De Wakefield of course, was employed by the Royal Free as a research scientist NOT a clinician. He was based in his laboratory with no clinical access to the Lancet 12 children. The Lancet research paper was written by Dr Wakefield based on the clinicians’ notes regarding the childrens’ developmental and medical histories. According to Dr Wakefield in his book ‘Callous Disregard’, the clinicians DID consult with the children’s GPs and other hospital paediatricians on occasions. In one of the most notorious injustices in recent history, Professor Walker Smith and Professor Murch were dragged into the GMC ‘dock’ along with Dr Wakefield. It was Brian Deer who made the original complaint to the GMC, something he initially attempted to deny. Adam Rutherford should certainly have properly investigated this aspect of this scandal before the programme.
    Professor walker Smith was ‘struck off’ the medical register after the GMC panel believed Brian Deer’s assertion that he did not have proper ethical approval for ‘subjecting’ children to ‘unnecessary’ invasive scopes, scans and blood tests for ‘purely research purposes’. This was a terrible travesty of justice because Professor Walker Smith and Professor Simon Murch were simply doing their jobs, properly diagnosing and treating children for their bowel problems. No parent complained; most remain grateful for the professional and compassionate care received. My own grandson was one of these children, although not one of the Lancet 12. Professor Murch was exonerated of all charges by the GMC and Professor Walker Smith is appealing the GMC’s decision. Incidently the GMC trial took three years and cost an estimated £7 million.

    On the programme Adam Rutherford accused Dr Wakefield of ‘paranoia’. Dr wakefield attempted to reply to this by quoting that infamous Merck e-mail which surfaced during the equally infamous Vioxx scandal, another medicine with potentially dangerous side effects. The e-mail states how Merck deals with ‘whistleblowing’ medical researchers by ‘seeking them out and destroying them where they live’. How utterly sinister!! Dr Rutherford, having failed to ‘drown out’ this reply then said it was irrelevant!! I wonder how ‘professional geek'(his description), Adam Rutherford would feel if he was hounded out of his job, his profession and his country, vilified and treated like the ‘devil incarnate’ just for making some discoveries which threated to dent the fat profits of the pharmaceutical industry and embarrass some high ranking medical and political persons.
    I could go on and on….for example highlighting the links between Professor ‘pharma superstar’ Mark Pepys and the GSK, makers of the MMR, via the UCL’s ‘commercial arm’. The deal appears to be something like this:-
    The UCL medical researchers, funded by the UK taxpayers, research treatments and cures which GSK can then develop for profit. GSK makes it clear that ONLY successful products will result in any money going back to UCL. Perhaps Prof Pepys, who featured on the programme can explain any financial and other benefits to UCL and the UK taxpayers.
    Oh incidently-the news just coming in from the US- tells us that Poul Thorsen, who was involved in all those Danish epidemiological studies which purported to ‘debunk’ MMR and autism links is being tried for fraud in the US. He recently absconded with more than two million dollars of US taxpayers money meant for yet another ‘study’. The Danes are also taking him to court for tax evasion.
    This boil is about to burst!! I hope the BBC producers of the Science Betrayed programme are now feeling ashamed of themselves!! An apology to Dr Wakefield should be forthcoming. Oh and perhaps Dr Rutherford should ask Dr Godlee WHY she recently took her own name off the GMC register voluntarily!!

    • Liz Ditz says:

      Golly Jenny Allen, you need to get your facts straight.

      Poul Thorsen, who was involved in all those Danish epidemiological studies which purported to ‘debunk’ MMR and autism links

      Oops, just one study on MMR, see below. But of course, a second study on thimerosal. And check the dates…

      He recently absconded with more than two million dollars of US taxpayers money meant for yet another ‘study’.

      Thorsen was a junior author on:

      study published 2002
      Madsen KM, Hviid A, Vestergaard M, Schendel D, Wohlfahrt J, Thorsen P, Olsen J, Melbye M. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. N Engl J Med. 2002 Nov 7;347(19):1477-82.

      note the publication date: November 2002, which probably meant the study was submitted months earlier (if not in 2001).

      study published September 2003
      Madsen KM, Lauritsen MB, Pedersen CB, Thorsen P, Plesner AM, Andersen PH, Mortensen PB. Thimerosal and the occurrence of autism: negative ecological evidence from Danish population-based data. Pediatrics. 2003 Sep;112(3 Pt 1):604-6.

      Again, the work would have been completed well before the publication date.

      Here’s the account of Thorsen’s fraud

      From February 2004 through June 2008, Thorsen allegedly submitted more than a dozen fraudulent invoices, purportedly signed by a laboratory section chief at the CDC, for reimbursement of expenses that Thorsen claimed were incurred in connection with the CDC grant. The invoices falsely claimed that a CDC laboratory had performed work and was owed grant money.

      Am I defending Thorsen? No. I am contesting your assertion that Thorsen’s fraud invalidates the two studies in which he was a junior author.

      I am also refuting the equivalence between Wakefield’s proven repulsive and unethical treatment of children, and Thorsen’s alleged financial misbehavior.

  4. Jenny Allan says:

    Liz Ditz has accused me of not getting my ‘facts straight’ on Poul Thorsen. The ‘facts’ will come out in court. It is correct to say Thorsen has been charged in the US on 13 counts of fraud and 9 of money laundering, in relation to the many epidemiological studies carried out in Denmark and paid for by US taxpayers via the CDC. Liz Ditz is correct to state that only one of these studies involved the MMR and she is also correct in stating that MMR did not contain Thiomersal, a mercury containing preservative used in many other vaccines and a known neurotoxin. At the time of the Lancet Wakefield et al article, 1998, Thiomersal was still used in the DTP vaccine given to babies. It is STILL a component of the Influenza vaccine administered to children and pregnant mothers. ALL of Thorsen’s ‘epidemiological studies’ were carried out in Denmark and ALL ‘debunked’ any association between vaccines and neurological and other damage. (Autism is a neurological condition).
    The following was written about Thorsen’s MMR study in 2005 by Dr Ed Yazbak, who is based in the US. Like myself he has a ‘Wakefield babe’ relative. WE are both indepted to Profs Walker Smith and Murch and their Royal Free Team for the care and treatments given to our relatives:-

    Click to access DanishStudy2005.pdf

    The following is a letter from the paper. It appears to confirm a central role by Poul Thorsen, who worked for the CDC at the time, for setting up the Danish series of epidemiological studies. He certainly had a principle role in designing and carrying out these studies. Anyone who has studied statistics knows how they can be manipulated to obtain a desired result.
    I think all this is disgraceful!! We are REALLY talking about is possible damage and dangers to children. In the UK one in 64 children is now autistic , an exponential rise since 1988 when MMR was first introduced. These parents DON’T NEED epidemiological studies to tell them THAT!!
    ‘As we discussed on Friday, we have become aware through Poul Thorsen of an exciting opportunity to study the role of MMR vaccine and autism using several registries/existing studies and the repository of biologic specimens and laboratory capabilities in Denmark. Attached below is a proposal for such a study. Poul will be leaving on Thursday to travel to Denmark where he will be meeting with the PIs for the proposed study on June 6th. We would like to be able to have Poul say whether it is likely that CDC (NIP) can fund the study, if NIP is interested. The proposed budget is included; there may be additional sources of funding (in addition to NIP) but we are not certain at this time. Unfortunately, the DD Branch does not have much (if any) $$ to fund the study, but we do have the expertise that we have developed due to the autism surveillance in Atlanta and the MMR/autism casecontrol study. I will be out of the office tomorrow, but you may contact Diana or Poul if you have questions. Thank you so much for considering this proposal.

  5. parent101 says:

    @Chris Willmott
    any comments on Deers behavior in the above film. or is he above scrutiny?

  6. Mark Struthers says:

    I agree with Jenny Allan: this was a disgraceful programme and presenter Adam Rutherford behaved disgracefully. I believe Deer and Rutherford have now established themselves as “twin pillars” of misconduct and disgrace.

  7. rickster strand says:

    I was pretty appalled at the lack of balance in this programme, I’d say this was ‘truth betrayed’. One witness Brian Deer, leant heavily upon, with no scrutiny of his own integrity is worth a programme himself. No mention of the swelling body of quality work from all over the world indicating strongly that there are many questions that remain unanswered; and the swelling body of high-powered criticism of the science used to reassure the public. While the various questions may be settled in the minds of the producers, a vast number of members of the public and healthcare profession, including many directly affected by these issues, are clear that something still really really stinks about the official lines on both Wakefield and vaccine-autism matters. The public will continue to smell a rat until a credible official audit of the situation and surrounding issues is carried out. Sorry BBC, no stars for this.

  8. […] article caused when linking vaccinations to autism.  Although this was debunked and the scandal prominently featured in a 2011 BBC documentary the damage was done. It is much easier to get away with such shoddy work in theoretical […]

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