The BMJ: Rabid Responses and Competing Interests

May 29, 2010 at 2:07 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Conspiracy, Nutritionism, Patrick Holford, Supplements) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A recent article in the BMJ attracted comment from the drearily ubiquitous John Stone (known to some as “the Pope of Jabs”). This comment on competing interests reminded me of Patrick Holford’s foray into the rabid responses section.

Holford and Colquhoun

In curry cures cancer, I briefly mentioned Patrick Holford’s failure to declare his competing interests and his untrue assertions regarding the competing interests of Professor David Colquhoun.

As reported by HolfordWatch, Holford receives royalties and payments for books, seminars, and food supplements and “when writing to and for the BMJ, such interests need to be declared – in order to maintain transparency”. These competing interests are clearly relevant and should have been declared to the BMJ.

Holford went on to argue that since he doesn’t run an Indian restaurant he didn’t feel there were any conflicts involved in recommending curry. Holford’s HealthProductsForLife, though, was at the time selling curcumin/turmeric supplements.

Having failed to declare relevant competing interests and unconvincingly argued that such interests did not exist, Holford also thought it wise to point out Prof Colquhoun’s “competing interests and financial involvement with the pharmaceutical industry”.

This was not so wise a move as Holford imagined. Mainly because Prof Colquhoun’s research has never been funded by the drug industry, but always by the Medical Research Council or by the Wellcome Trust. See HolfordWatch for more detail.

Harris and Stone

The competing-interest-by-proxy that Stone is so interested in is hardly relevant. Harris senior’s interests are his own – not his son’s.

Writing about competing interests is something I find deadly dull. I don’t really care what Evan Harris’s dad did, whether John Stone’s child has been to the Royal Free, or whether someone’s auntie once met someone who knew an employee of GSK.

We have had a scandalous public health scare sparked by Andrew Wakefield and inflamed by the press, and have seen unethical behaviour that merited Mr Andrew Wakefield being struck off by the GMC. These issues are far more important and more interesting than the ever more tenuous links dug up by the drearily ubiquitous John Stone. If the best he can do is “Evan Harris knows his own father”, perhaps he should give it a rest.

Here are the edited ‘highlights’ of the response I sent to the BMJ regarding the tenuous claims of competing interests in the case of Dr Evan Harris:

Mr Stone states that Dr Harris “…failed to mention [the unremunerated Industry and Parliament Trust Fellowship programme] when introducing the House of Commons debate on this topic on 15 March 2004”, but as I understand it the parliamentary rules are such that an IPT fellowship neither did at that time nor now does (even since rules were tightened) need to be declared. […] Mr Stone seems to believe that it is clear that Dr Harris should have declared his unregistrable interest. I beg to differ. In referring to “contact with senior executives”, Mr Stone appears to imply that merely meeting someone would represent a conflict of interest. Again, I beg to differ.

Dr Harris, according to Stone, “disclosed in the 2004 debate, but not here, that his father (Frank Harris) was a recently retired professor of paediatrics”. It was necessary in neither case. Mr Stone further states that Evan Harris “has not disclosed on either occasion that his father sat on the Committee on Safety in Medicines”. Stone, though, fails to explain why Harris senior’s work with the Committee on Safety in Medicines should be listed as a competing interest by Harris junior. […]

It is perhaps also worth noting that as “UK editor, Age of Autism”, and a member of the anti-vaccination lobby that has campaigned so vociferously against MMR, John Stone might be said to have “a strong antipathy to persons whose interests may be affected by publication [of his response]”. […]

The Age of Autism website has consistently published articles which claim or imply that MMR causes autism, and has also published articles that imply a conspiracy around MMR involving “improper relations between government and industry” (the quote comes from this piece written by John Stone: “Scandalous history of MMR in the UK”).

The Age of Autism article I refer to above also contains the information that the person who commissioned Deer’s articles was the son of somebody who sat on the Committee on Safety of Medicines. Mr Stone seems overly interested in familial relationships, while paying insufficient attention to major financial competing interests – for example, Mr Andrew Wakefield’s competing interest to the tune of £50,000 that was apparently not declared at the submission of the Lancet paper.

It seems that whether it is MMR or a competing interest that is the subject of discussion, the anti-vaccination lobby highlight poor quality evidence and tenuous links, while ignoring well-conducted research and quite blatant conflicts of interest.


One thing I failed to note in my rabid response was John Stone’s previous statement to the effect that his child “has been seen at the Royal Free hospital paediatric gastro-enterology department but […] has not been diagnosed as suffering suspected MMR vaccine damage” and that Stone has “a deep ‘interested’ concern in the cause(s) of the rise in autism generally”. John Stone believes that there is “an epidemic of autism” and that this “epidemic” has been caused by MMR. He is wrong.

Like Holford, Stone is somewhat one-eyed in his view of competing interests. Both fail to see clear competing interests for what they are, while imagining competing interests in others. I would liken their approach to competing interests to the nature of the mimosaphant.

A mimosaphant is “a creature with the delicacy of a mimosa when its own sensitivities are threatened, but the grace of an elephant when dealing with the sensitivities of others”.

By contrast, the holfordstone sees a conflict of interest in every chance meeting and every family relationship when those chance meetings and family relationships involve opponents, while ignoring the very real and not insignificant financial competing interests of those in their own camp.


  1. Cybertiger said,

    I haven’t read this nonsense but it’s bound to be more specious crap from the asshole that is James Cole Esq – I can feel it in my water.

  2. David Colquhoun said,

    Oh mimosaphant is just brilliant. What a wonderful word.

    The ubiquitous Stone pops up every time I have anything in the BMJ. quite regardless of subject.

    It certainly isn’t pleasant to be subjected to false accusations, but it seems to be par for the course. After all, if these people were better at checking facts, they probably wouldn’t hold the beliefs that they espouse.

  3. Andy Kwak said,

    What a ridiculous slur on my good friend Paddy O’Holford. JDC is obviously another Pharma shill who posts from his mansion in Pharmaville in readyness for the Pharmageddon.

    Paddy’s excellent curcumin/turmeric supplements not only cure all ills but also go very nicely with 5 pints of Hitlerbrau 1949 on a Friday night.

    It is at times like this that I remember Master Chiun’s last words to me: “Don’t Andy that gun’s loaded!”

    Bright blessings


  4. pv said,

    @Cybertiger said,
    “I haven’t read this nonsense…”

    Profound comment as usual.

  5. Badsciencemonk said,

    He may not have read any nonsense but he has written a load again

  6. warhelmet said,

    I’m going to declare a COI viz Eurovision. My uncle has done plumbing work for Agnetha Fältskog.

    I voted for Lordi one year.

  7. Badsciencemonk said,

    Anyone fancy a curry?

  8. Cybertiger said,

    How nice of Professor David ‘bollocks’ Colquhoun, the dog’s deity of bad science, to drop by for a whinge and a glass of whine.

  9. Cybertiger said,

    The ‘dog’s bollocks’ of science said,

    “After all, if these people were better at checking facts, they probably wouldn’t hold the beliefs that they espouse.”


    Professor (Sir)* David Colquhoun espouses sophistry to rival that spewed by the well known sophist and statistics scrambler, Professor Sir Roy Meadow (GMC registration restored by a High Court judge).

    * knighthood in the bag.

  10. Cybertiger said,

    “* knighthood in the bag.”

    What I meant to say was that the ‘Colquhoun knighthood is in the bag’ … of bollocks

  11. draust said,

    Anyone who has actually read any of David Colquhoun’s output would be well aware that he is a no fan of things like honours systems. So he will be “Prof Sir David” when Hell freezes over. In any case, he is the antithesis of the kind of smooth committee men and grandees who end up as Professor Sir Something.

  12. Cybertiger said,

    Herr Draust simply doesn’t recognise the two faces of his Lordly peer. As hell hots up, Sir David Janus will be seen lording it up over the other hellfire-scientists as Lord Colquhoun of ScienceBollocks.

  13. draust said,


    I first met David Colquhoun when I was a graduate student some time in the early 80s, so I would hazard a guess I know him rather better than Shabby does.

  14. Cybertiger said,

    The fact that you met Lord Colquhoun of ScienceBollocks while you were snoring doesn’t make him a greater fraud or any less bogus than he already was.

  15. The Nutritionism Industry « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] directories that appear in his books, perhaps. After all, I am sure that Patrick would agree that competing interests should be declared. He is so keen on competing interests being declared, he thinks that even those […]

  16. Anti-vaccinationists: Competing Interests and Conspiracy Theories « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] written before about the anti-vaccination lobbyists and their obsession with competing interests. John Stone’s big discovery was apparently that Dr Evan Harris’s father was once on a […]

  17. A Brief Guide To Deflecting Criticism « Stuff And Nonsense said,

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