Last September (2018), shockwaves reverberated through the scientific community as Cochrane expelled its co-founder, Professor Peter Gøtzsche. The move caused four other highly respected board members to resign in protest. As Cochrane seeks to minimise fallout from the debacle, Prof Gøtzsche has released an explosive new book, Death of a Whistleblower and Cochrane’s moral collapse. The book provides a blow by blow account of the whole sordid affair and exposes what is tantamount to a witch hunt.

Fearless defender of scientific rigour

Prof Peter Gøtzsche is a Danish doctor, medical researcher, co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration and until recently, Director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre. He is possibly one of the most well-known of all Cochrane Collaborators, vociferous in his criticism of current medical models and the less than honest machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. He is well known for his publications on the dangers of mammograms, the overuse of prescription drugs, the view that psychiatric drugs do more harm than good, and possibly, most controversial of all, he has expressed serious concerns over the medical justification underpinning population-wide HPV vaccination.

Sometimes described as exasperating and often viewed as controversial, Prof Gøtzsche, equally, is held in high regard for his passion for remaining true to the scientific method, as well as for demanding high levels of transparency and rigour when it comes to research and its interpretation or communication.

The start of the rot

For many, the downward spiral of the Cochrane Collaboration’s integrity began with the appointment of Mark Wilson as CEO in 2013, along with the changes the new CEO orchestrated. A grant of $1.15 million received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2016 may have signalled the final step in the corruption of what was until recently, for many, the bastion of scientific independence for clinical decision-making on the basis of so-called evidence-based medicine (EBM).

Cochrane’s (stated) reasons 

After several weeks of damage control and following a further meeting of the Board of Trustees to consider Prof Gøtzsche’s appeal, Cochrane released a statement confirming termination of his membership of Cochrane. The reasons for both his expulsion and termination of membership were somewhat vague and ill-defined with Prof Gøtzsche being accused of “disruptive and inappropriate behaviours […] over a number of years” and “repeatedly representing his personal views as those of Cochrane”.

The action taken against him centres around his alleged misuse of Cochrane letterhead and violation of the Cochrane Spokesperson Policy.

Evidence-based review of.….Cochrane

Prof Gøtzsche’s book recounts with great accuracy the conflicts he has had with Cochrane leadership along with a damning recount of the Board Meeting on the 13th September 2018. That the situation appears to have been carefully stage-managed to shoot the messenger seems in little doubt.

Amongst Prof Gøtzsche’s claims, most of which have seemingly been brushed under the carpet, are:

  • Bullying and intimidation by Cochrane CEO Mark Wilson
  • Scientific censorship and public denunciation of Prof Gøtzsche’s work by Cochrane leadership
  • One rule for Cochrane and another for Prof Gøtzsche
  • Threats to deregister the Nordic Cochrane Centre following publication of the HPV vaccine review
  • Manipulation and tampering of meeting minutes
  • Selection bias in the dossier sent by co-chair Martin Burton to the Cochrane’s lawyers to favour the CEO
  • Repeated violation of Cochrane’s core principles of fairness, honesty, transparency and openness by the Cochrane leadership
  • Violation of charity rules – Prof Gøtzsche has since made a complaint to the UK Charity Commission about “serious mismanagement”

Supporting documents can be found on Prof Gøtzsche ’s website – Deadly Medicines.

Putting the record straight

Cochrane leadership appear to have, in Prof Gøtzsche’s words, “hid[den] behind confidentiality clauses and continued to defame me, misleading millions of people, including its own members about what really happened”. For Prof Gøtzsche, this is about the truth, transparency and a righting of wrongs. Of standing up for the core Cochrane Collaboration principles that have seemingly been thrown in the gutter by the new leadership – values that were lost when the word Collaboration was lost from Cochrane’s name (with the exception of its @cochranecollab Twitter handle where its vestige remains).

Just how damaging this debacle will be to Cochrane in future is a tough one to judge. It remains to be seen if Cochrane can maintain its status as an independent provider of high-quality scientific evidence going forward. Its future may be more assured, in our view, if Mark Wilson were to step down or be asked to take leave of his position as CEO.

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