…himself sole author of his own disgrace?
So passes into ignominy the career of Sir Roy Meadow, eminent professor, paediatrician and as lousy an expert witness as has had the misfortune to grace our legal system in some considerable time.
Of course misfortune is a relative thing.
Meadow has lost the right to practice medicine, having been found guilty of serious professional misconduct and subsequently struck off by the medical register by the General Medical Council. At 72 years of age, he already retired and with his credibility as a ‘expert witness’ long since shatters one has to consider such a loss to be no real loss at all. What value can his professional standing amongst his peers – which is all that the GMC has really taken away – have by comparison to the losses of those convicted of that most heinous of crimes, the murder of one’s own children, as a result of his now discredited and thoroughly discreditable testimony.
Sally Clark served more than four years in prison, wrongfully convicted by Meadow’s ‘expert opinion’. Margaret Smith served more than two years. Angela Cannings over a year. Trupti Patel was the ‘lucky’ one of the quartet; lucky inasmuch as she, unlike the others, was acquitted by a jury…
But then luck, like misfortune, is also a relative thing and the relief of acquittal is scant compensation for the trauma of having been accused in the first place and of having to sit in court and listen while this supposed expert, this ‘man of science’ expounded his pet theories, yet again, with the full expectation that his word would be ‘as law’ in the eyes of the jury.
Meadow fully deserves his fate and has no one to blame but himself.
Yet if the verdict of the GMC is damning – the panel found that he had “abused his position as a doctor”, that he had failed in his duties as an expert witness and that the consequences of his errors “cannot be underestimated” – it is not so damning as the simple fact that Meadow was guilty of bad science, of an unshakable belief in his own eminence and authority, and in the hypothesis that made his career, that was so fierce that it led him to present his personal opinion without equivocation as a scientific law.
Meadow’s ‘Law’ – that, in reference to cot deaths, “one in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder” – has been shown for what it really is; a trite aphorism based on the adage that ‘once is happenstance…’. Not science but sophistry.
As a scientist, Meadow should have heeded the words of a man far greater that he in eminence and authority, the philosopher and one of the father’s of psychology, William James;
“I believe there is no source of deception in the investigation of nature which can compare with a fixed belief that certain kinds of phenomena are impossible.