Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Lawsuit threat could delay UK edition of Paul Offit’s book about anti-vaccine movement

with one comment

Although they’re not a core Embargo Watch subject, book embargoes do come up from time to time. Today, the story of a science-related — and even retraction-related — book whose sale date is apparently being postponed thanks to a threatened libel suit.

As the BMJ reported last month, the UK version of Paul Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All will likely not make its March 17 publication date. That’s because Offit is rewriting a page of the book that contained an error after Richard Barr, the UK attorney who represented children whose parents were suing for damages due to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, threatened to sue.

The original page, according to the BMJ, suggested:

that Mr Barr personally paid money to Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who hypothesised that the vaccine might cause autism, to carry out a study for the purpose of the MMR litigation.

In fact Dr Wakefield’s fees of £440 000 (€524 000; $714 000) as an expert witness in the case came from the Legal Aid Board, now the Legal Services Commission, which agreed to fund the study.

Discussions of autism and vaccines — despite the complete lack of scientific evidence for any link — are heated, to say the least. I asked Basic Books, Offit’s publisher, for comment last week. The company’s publisher, John Sherer, responded:

Our author has asked us to revise a page of the text, which we are in the process of doing, and we hope to have the book available for sale in the UK shortly, although we might not make our original March 17 publication date.

When I asked for more details, he responded only with:

For obvious reasons, I can’t comment on the specifics of any potential litigation.

I’ll update with anything else I hear, particularly with a final publication date.

Update, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, 3/8/11: Sherer tells me:

Looks like the e-book should be ready, but the print books will likely take longer.

Hat tip: Liz Ditz


Written by Ivan Oransky

March 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. It’s hard to say without seeing the before and after text, but it sounds like a relatively small error. According to Brian Deer’s website and supporting documents, the funds came from the Legal Aid Board, and were disbursed by Richard Barr’s Law Firm. When it was pointed out that this arrangement was, at best, ethically dubious, it was converted into a trust at the hospital. That Richard Barr didn’t personally give the money to Wakefield does not alter how deeply involved both he and Wakefield were in the fraud.


    March 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm

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