Naive, not unethical

June 16, 2006

I am among the very few people to know both Arpad Pusztai and Andrew Wakefield personally. From my limited knowledge of them, I believe both to be men of integrity. But that does not excuse their appalling naivety and over-interpretation of very limited scientific data. The consequences for genetically modified food and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination have been awful.

All scientists make extravagant statements based on preliminary results and optimism, but we usually do it in the privacy of a laboratory to critical colleagues who demolish our enthusiasm and persuade us to go away and do more experiments until we can justify our hopes.

Who on earth allowed these two innocents to expose themselves (and their nascent hypotheses) to the spotlight of the media, and why? Once you have told a few million enthusiastic readers and listeners, it is very difficult to withdraw or even qualify.

Pusztai retired, but the perception that he was sacked remains, and the belief that he was martyred has (foolishly) strengthened the support for his irrational statements.

Although I reject Wakefield's views on MMR, I am not confident that if the General Medical Council does bring him to book it will advance the cause of raising confidence in vaccination.

Alan Malcolm


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