The Cochrane Collaboration recieved a $1.15 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and lo and behold, a little over a year later, Cochrane was busy putting out a review that sang the praises of the HPV vaccine.
If we know that our healthcare industry is nothing more than a business that is only concerned about profit, can this knowledge be more that a source of frustration and actually contribute to our awakening?
Anyone who has looked into the inner workings of the Western healthcare system–especially with regards to the relentless promotion of vaccines–can see that it is primarily a ‘business’, where ‘health’ is secondary at best. Following the money shows that vaccine research is primarily funded (or pseudo-funded through shell companies) by the pharmaceutical industry.
Such industry-funded research is demonstrably structured in ways that ensure that vaccines can be said to be safe and are not causally linked to serious conditions like autism. As this Health Impact News article points out,
ALL industry funded studies are designed to protect the company’s financial investment. That is THE overriding primary bias. In vaccine clinical trials in particular, there is a built-in bias; namely, the comparator arm. The so-called “placebo-controlled” comparative vaccine studies do not use a genuine placebo. They include an adjuvant such as aluminum or mercury in the so-called “placebo” comparators both of which generate serious adverse effects. They use these adjuvants precisely in order to mask the serious risks posed by vaccines.
But even this strategy is not fool-proof, and when things don’t work according to plan, more direct means are employed. As we saw in the case of CDC researcher William Thompson, deliberately deleting or fudging data is often in play if causal links with serious conditions like autism are indeed established in their studies. And the fraudulent behavior that we actually hear about is probably just the tip of the iceberg. For every brave whistleblower like Thompson who risks his livelihood, reputation, and possibly even his life to bring this information to the public, the vast majority of people privy to this knowledge have likely been kept silent by the carrot (continued employment and funding, promotions, outright bribes) or the stick (fear of loss of employment, damage to reputation, physical harm, or murder).
A supposedly neutral government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry to give the official government stamp of approval on vaccine safety. Furthermore, the CDC is a business partner of the pharmaceutical industry, acting as a wholesaler and distributor of vaccines with an annual purchasing budget of $4 billion. Conflict of interest? Nothing to see here, right?
Probably the only hope for people who want the objective truth about vaccine safety is with independent research companies. Sadly, it looks like one of the biggest and most respected companies of this kind have fallen under the control of corporate big money.
The Cochrane Collaboration, now known simply as Cochrane, is an international and independent non-profit organization established in 1993 aimed at providing up-to-date, accurate information about the effects of healthcare available worldwide. Cochrane produces and disseminates systematic reviews of healthcare interventions and diagnostic tests, and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other interventional studies.
Up until recently, the Cochrane Collaboration had been considered the “gold standard” in scientific integrity. That is, until it started making the move a few years ago from being a principled, proudly independent research company to one that started to come under the influence of certain sponsors based on ‘donations’ like this one proudly announced on their website:
Once again, we are starkly confronted with what seems to be the underlying reality of the world we live in. Do we see any conflict of interest in the Cochrane Collaboration accepting over a million dollars from HPV vaccine-pusher Bill Gates? Do we have any reason to believe that this donation is designed to ‘support the development of Cochrane’s next generational evidence system,’ or do we suspect that this is just a bribe to garner Cochrane’s support and seal of approval for the HPV vaccine?
Well, fortunately, we didn’t have to wait very long for the answer to that question. A Cochrane Systematic Review from May 2018 entitled ‘Prophylactic vaccination against human papillomaviruses to prevent cervical cancer and its precursors‘ appears as the perfect payback for Gates’ ‘donation’ a mere year and a half earlier. In it, the reviewers came to conclusions that were sure to have pleased Gates:
There is high‐certainty evidence that HPV vaccines protect against cervical precancer in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 26…We did not find an increased risk of serious adverse effects. Although the number of deaths is low overall, there were more deaths among women older than 25 years who received the vaccine. The deaths reported in the studies have been judged not to be related to the vaccine. Increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes after HPV vaccination cannot be excluded, although the risk of miscarriage and termination are similar between trial arms.
For some of the researchers affiliated with one of Cochrane’s regional member centers (the Nordic Cochrane Centre), Cochrane’s HPV review was so biased that they felt compelled to write an exhaustive critique of it, entitled ‘The Cochrane HPV vaccine review was incomplete and ignored important evidence of bias,’ published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. Their conclusions demonstrate that they have taken notice of the change of policy at Cochrane and saw evidence of undue influence and conflicts of interest:
Part of the Cochrane Collaboration’s motto is ‘Trusted evidence’. We do not find the Cochrane HPV vaccine review to be ‘Trusted evidence’, as it was influenced by reporting bias and biased trial designs. We believe that the Cochrane review does not meet the standards for Cochrane reviews or the needs of the citizens or healthcare providers that consult Cochrane reviews to make ‘Informed decisions’, which also is part of Cochrane’s motto.
This review was co-written by one of the ‘old guards’ of the Cochrane Collaboration, Peter Gotzsche. Peter has published more than 70 papers in “the big five” (BMJ, Lancet, JAMA, Ann Intern Med and N Engl J Med) and his scientific works have been cited 30,000 times (source). With about 80 others, he helped start The Cochrane Collaboration in 1993 with the founder, Sir Iain Chalmers, and established The Nordic Cochrane Centre the same year.
Among other things, Peter has been an outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry, and saw his role in the Cochrane Collaboration as a counterbalance to their undue influence in the healthcare field. He is the author of the book Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime: How big pharma has corrupted healthcare. The video below will give you a taste of his stance on the pharmaceutical industry:
As if the agenda could not be more obvious, the newly centralized Governing Board of this formerly serious ‘collaboration’ of researchers and reviewers suddenly removed Peter Gotzsche from Cochrane without any clear justification. Notably, this was the first action taken against any member of the Cochrane Collaboration in its entire 25-year history. In a letter to members of the collaboration, Peter eloquently describes the unfortunate direction that Cochrane is taking, which exemplifies the capacity of big money and big business to run roughshod over anyone that gets in the way of their profits.
Nordic Cochrane Centre
Rigshospitalet, Dept. 7811
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel: +45 35 45 71 12
14 September 2018
A moral governance crisis: the growing lack of democratic collaboration and scientific pluralism in Cochrane.
I regret to inform you that I have been expelled from membership in the Cochrane Collaboration by the favourable vote of 6 of the 13 members of the Governing Board. No clear reasoned justification has been given for my expulsion aside from accusing me of causing “disrepute” for the organization. This is the first time in 25 years that a member has been excluded from membership of Cochrane.
This unprecedented action taken by a minority of the Governing Board is disproportionate and damaging to Cochrane, as well as to public health interests. As a result of this decision, and a number of broader issues concerning the inadequate governance of Cochrane, in accordance with its principles and objectives, four other members of the Board have resigned.
As a result, the Cochrane Collaboration has entered an unchartered territory of crisis and lack of strategic direction. A recovery from this dire situation would call for the dissolution of the present board, new elections and a broad based participatory debate about the future strategy and governance of the organization.
In just 24 hours the Cochrane Governing Board of thirteen members has lost five of its members, four of which are centre directors and key members of the organization in different countries. Recently the central executive team of Cochrane has failed to activate adequate safeguards, not only technical ones (which are usually very good) to assure sufficient policies in the fields of epistemology, ethics and morality. Transparency, open debate, criticism and expanded participation are tools that guarantee the reduction of uncertainty of reviews and improve the public perception of the democratic scientific process. These are conditions and tools that cannot be eliminated, as has happened recently, without placing into serious doubt the rigorous scientific undertaking of Cochrane and eroding public confidence in Cochrane’s work. My expulsion should be seen in this context.
There has also been a serious democratic deficit. The role of the Governing Board has been radically diminished under the intense guidance of the current central executive team and the Board has increasingly become a testimonial body that rubber-stamps highly finalized proposals with practically no ongoing in-put and exchange of views to formulate new policies. On dozens of issues the Board can only vote yes or no with very little opportunity to amend or modify the executive team ́s proposals.
This growing top-down authoritarian culture and an increasingly commercial business model that have been manifested within the Cochrane leadership over the past few years threaten the scientific, moral and social objectives of the organization. Many Cochrane centres have sustained negative pressure and a lack of productive dialogue with the CEO of the central office. Upon alerting the Cochrane leadership of these worrisome tendencies that negatively affect the operability and social perception of our scientific work, the Nordic Cochrane Centre has received a number of threats to its existence and financing. Many of the directors or other key staff of the oldest Cochrane centres in the world have conveyed their dissatisfaction with the senior central staff’s interactions with them. While the declared aims of interactions with the central office is to improve the quality of our work, the heavy-handed approach of some of the central staff has sometimes created a negative environment for new scientific initiatives, open collaboration and academic freedom.
There has also been criticism in Cochrane concerning the over-promotion of favourable reviews and conflicts of interest and the biased nature of some scientific expert commentary used by the knowledge translation department of Cochrane.
At the same time, Cochrane has been giving less and less priority and importance to its civic and political commitment to promoting open access, open data, scientific transparency, avoiding conflicts of interest and, in general, not promoting a public interest innovation model. I feel that these issues are intricately related to providing “better evidence” as the Cochrane motto professes. Recently the Cochrane executive leadership has even refused to comment publicly on new health technology policies, open access policies and other key advocacy opportunities despite the fact that an auditing of Cochrane fulfilment of objectives has shown a total failure to comply with Cochrane advocacy objectives. There is stronger and stronger resistance to say anything that could bother pharmaceutical industry interests.
The excuse of lack of time and staff (around 50) is not credible.There has also been great resistance and stalling on the part of the central executive team to improving Cochrane’s conflict of interest policy. A year ago, I proposed that there should be no authors of Cochrane reviews to have financial conflicts of interests with companies related to the products considered in the reviews. This proposal was supported by other members of the Board, but the proposal has not progressed at all.
The Cochrane executive leadership almost always uses the commercial terms of “brand”, “products” and “business” but almost never describes what is really a collaborative network with the values of sharing, independence and openness. To the chagrin of many senior leaders in Cochrane, the word “Collaboration”, which is part of our registered charity name, was deleted from communications about Cochrane. Nevertheless, it is precisely “collaboration” that is the key to what distinguished Cochrane from other scientific organisations where competition is at the forefront. The collaborative aspect, social commitment, our independence from commercial interests and our mutual generosity are what people in Cochrane have always appreciated the most and have been our most cherished added-value.
Often it is forgotten that we are a scientific, grass-roots organisation whose survival depends entirely on unpaid contributions from tens of thousands of volunteers and substantial governmental support throughout the world. We make a substantial contribution to people’s understanding and interpretation of scientific evidence on the benefits and harms of medical interventions, devices and procedures that impact the population.
Our work informs government legislation globally, it influences medical guidelines and drug approval agencies. Therefore, the integrity of the Cochrane Collaboration is paramount. We pride ourselves on being global providers of “trusted evidence” on a foundation of values such as openness, transparency and collaboration.
However, in recent years Cochrane has significantly shifted more to a business -a profit-driven approach. Even though it is a not-for-profit charity, our “brand” and “product” strategies are taking priority over getting out independent, ethical and socially responsible scientific results. Despite our clear policies to the contrary, my centre, and others, have been confronted with attempts at scientific censorship, rather than the promotion of pluralistic, open scientific debate about the merits of concrete Cochrane reviews of the benefits and harms of health care interventions.
Because of this moral governance crisis of the Cochrane Collaboration, I decided to run for a seat on the Governing Board and was elected in early 2017, with the most votes of all 11 candidates. It was considered an achievement, especially since I was the only one who had questioned aspects of our leadership. Regrettably today, I have been expelled because of my “behaviour”, while the hidden agenda of my expulsion is a clear strategy for a Cochrane that moves it further and further away from its original objectives and principles. This is not a personal question. It is a highly political, scientific and moral issue about the future of Cochrane. As most people know, much of my work is not very favourable to the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry. Because of this Cochrane has faced pressure, criticism and complaints.
My expulsion is one of the results of these campaigns.
What is at stake is the ability of producing credible and trustworthy medical evidence that our society values and needs.
Peter C Gøtzsche,
Professor, Director, MD, DrMedSci, MSc, Nordic Cochrane Centre, Rigshospitalet, Dept 7811
Peter has recently written a book about the whole affair entitled ‘Death of a whistleblower and Cochrane’s moral collapse.’ He will be hosting an important symposium in Copenhagen on March 9th, 2019 where he will be announcing the opening of the ‘Institute for Scientific Freedom.’ He explains his reasons for the need to create such an institute here.
As disheartening as this story is, it also contributes to our growing awareness of the world around us and the true levers of power in the healthcare field. The days are gone when we had a naive trust that the pledge to ‘do no harm’ was the backbone of Western healthcare. When we reach a critical mass of people who see our system for what it is, as revealed by stories like these, we will have the power to simply step away from it.
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