Updates from 17/09/2018

Posts from Ray Moynihan Let’s stop the burning and the bleeding at Cochrane—there’s too much at stake and Trish Greenhalgh The Cochrane Collaboration—what crisis?

Cochrane have also released just released Statement from Cochrane’s Governing Board. This starts with “These are extraordinary times and we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation.” – one can’t really argue with that.

This has been a really interesting day as the story developed. A decent number of people have contacted me expressing disquiet about the situation. My view is that this will quickly blow over. Those who love Cochrane will still love Cochrane and Cochrane will carry on being Cochrane – with perhaps some modifications.  People who are critical of Cochrane will still be critical of Cochrane.  Where the truth is, I’m not sure we’ll ever fully know and then, what we do know, will be clouded by our own values/perspectives.  Good old complexity.

I will try to keep things updated and I’ll continue to reflect on what’s been an “extraordinary situation”.

Richard Smith has written Is Peter Gøtzsche the boy who sees that the emperor has no clothes and says so? where he doesn’t discuss the incident but is full of praise for Peter.

Updated at 9.33 am 16/09/2018 It appears a further 2 members of the Governing Board (Rae Lamb and Catherine Marshall) have resigned.

Update at 1.14 pm 16/09/2018 This was reported to me via Twitter “This situation required further changes in the composition of the Board in order to comply with Cochrane’s Articles of Association, and as a result Rae Lamb and Catherine Marshall, two appointed trustees, volunteered to step down.

Update at 4.47 pm 16/09/2018 Organización Civil Internacional published Cochrane Regeneration which sheds more light on the goings on which includes this section “The “independent review” did not find that Gotzsche has violated the spokesperson policy….No recommendations were made by this Counsel to discipline Peter Gotzsche nor was he found to have violated the spokesperson policy which was the main accusation made against him by the Cochrane leadership.

Update 7.16 pm 16/09/2018 BMJ EBM blog posts Cochrane – A sinking ship? which paints a really damning picture. To be clear, although I’ve been a strong critic of Cochrane I get no joy from how this is unfolding. It’s nothing but a mess.  I hope Cochrane can re-group, learn some lessons, and move forward on a more positive path.

I have also heard that David Tovey (Cochrane chief) has resigned but I’ve not been able to corroborate that.


As Cochrane meet in Edinburgh for it’s latest Colloquium they seem to have got off to a bad start as they have kicked out Peter Gøtzsche from the organisation. Peter was a high-profile and prominent member of Cochrane; occasionally outspoken and controversial – but always passionate and driven by a desire for obtaining good evidence to support decision making.

I found out via this tweet from Trish Greenhalgh:

The link in the tweet points to this article from Peter A moral governance crisis: the growing lack of democratic collaboration and scientific pluralism in Cochrane.

Subsequently a note has been released by the board members who resigned in support of Peter:

I have been asked (alongside others) to highlight this story.

The official and detailed reasons why Peter Gotzche was sacked are not known, the speculation is that the critique of the Cochrane HPV review was the last straw. Monday at the AGM a clearer motivation might be revealed.

Without all the details it’s not clear what’s going on but I think it’s indicative of the direction Cochrane are taking.  Gone are the early ideals of ‘collaboration’ (they jettisoned the term ‘collaboration’ from Cochrane Collaboration a number of years ago) and they’ve now become more of a large corporate publisher, keen to protect the Cochrane brand. Two quotes from Peter’s letter set this out quite nicely:

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.

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.

Cochrane have invariably moved this way deliberately and people who are uncomfortable with this are now feeling pressured/unwelcome. Peter is perhaps at the more extreme end of the spectrum but what starts with him, where next?  Will people see this move from Peter as a broad crackdown on dissent?  One can imagine the effect on those left in Cochrane who may have legitimate concerns now not raising them for fear of sanction.

Cochrane is seen by many as being some lovely cuddly charitable organisation that does lots of ‘good’ and that is why it does so well in attracting volunteers. But the more it moves away from this position and into the ‘corporate’ (perhaps being seen as just another large ruthless commercial organisation) they may find their pool of volunteers evaporating rapidly – which would be a disaster.

This story will no doubt run and run but I leave you with two ironies:

  1. Cochrane have something called the Bill Silverman Prize.  “It is offered annually and explicitly acknowledges Cochrane’s value of criticism…
  2. The hashtag for the Colloquium is #CochraneForAll.  #CochraneForAllExceptPeterGøtzsche seems more appropriate.