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The Ivory Tower: Not So Lily White by Sandy Gottstein

Most people, when they learn that a study was conducted by a university, assume that it involves the “disinterested search for truth”, untainted by conflict of interest.

But is such an assumption really justified?

While it is unknown exactly how much university research is compromised, there are clear signs of concern about widespread conflict of interest.  Editors of some of the most prestigious medical journals are even sounding the alarm and calling for tightening controls.

Dr. James Cherryof UCLA is a case in point.  Somewhere along the line he became an advocate for vaccine manufacturers, using grants and other monies supplied by them, to vindicate, rather than independently question and study, vaccine safety.  Because he has had the prestige of a great university behind him, few would even think to challenge his results.

Once again, however, because of lawsuits, testimony is available for public scrutiny.  From this testimony, it becomes clear that Dr. Cherry is not a disinterested seeker of the truth.  (At one point the National Vaccine Information Center even called for his removal from ACIP, the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee.)

In what should have been one of the more embarrassing examples of how this conflict can play out, Dr. Cherry wrote a scathing editorial in JAMA in which he summarily dismissed concerns about a connection between the pertussis component of the DPT vaccine and encephalopathy.  Shortly after the editorial, JAMA issued a correction, noting that Cherry had failed to disclose his conflicts of interest.  Approximately one year later, the Institute of Medicine published its own conclusion that pertussis vaccine appears to cause encephalopathy  ("evidence is consistent with a causal relation"), using research that was available to Dr. Cherry at the time of the editorial, and which he apparently chose to ignore.

Unfortunately, most such conflicts are either waived or unknown.

Vaccines are recommended, even mandated, based on the assumption that the research supporting their use is legitimate and sound.  Few parents question the validity of such recommendations and mandates because they assume they would not be recommended or mandated without solid research to back up these policies.

Isn’t it time to start questioning the research?

Isn’t it time to start refusing vaccines until and unless we are satisfied that the research justifying their use is completely free from conflicts of interest?

Isn’t it time to begin to let the free market system work, so that only customers satisfied with vaccine research and vaccine results use the product?  

 Sandy Gottstein

Date: 5-3-2002

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