April 17, 2004

MMR — Responding to Retraction


Editor’s reply

We do not accept Andrew Wakefield and colleagues’ interpretation of the letter published in The Lancet on May 2, 1998, which was, in any event, only published 3 months after the original 1998 Lancet paper. This letter was written in response to a letter from Dr. A Rouse, published in the same issue. Dr. Rouse’s letter raised concerns about whether children investigated in the 1998 paper had been referred to the authors by the Society for the Autistically Handicapped, and simply mentioned that his concerns arose out of a fact sheet produced by a firm of solicitors.

Although the letter made it clear that Dr. Wakefield “has agreed to help evaluate” some children for the Legal Aid Board, it does not indicate that in fact such work had been commissioned and was being undertaken well before the 1998 paper was published. The natural and ordinary meaning to be drawn from Dr. Wakefield’s letter at the time was that following the publication of the 1998 paper he had agreed to complete evaluations of children reported in the 1998 paper for the Legal Aid Board. We understood the letter to mean that, although Dr. Wakefield agreed to undertake an evaluation for the Legal Aid Board, the evaluation had not taken place before the 1998 paper’s publication.

In the light of this, and Dr. Wakefield’s express statement that no conflict of interest existed, we had no reason to investigate the position further, until the editors were notified for the first time that Dr. Wakefield’s relationship with the Legal Aid Board predated the publication of the 1998 paper by some considerable time.

Published: April 17, 2004


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