It is necessary for professional groups to resist unsupported change and on occasion to suppress unjustified claims. However a greater problem is the mind set of those who have been educated to believe in a particular doctrine. ‘Rules’ encourage inflexible thinking and this can make reasoned discussion difficult. John had the disadvantage of being dyslexic, this made it difficult for him to pass exams to the point that he failed his basic dental qualification four times, only passing it on the fifth occasion because a recommended ‘Honours’ in orthodontics was set against a ‘Failure’ in Dental Materials. This no doubt handicapped him in academic circles.
On the other hand, lateral thinking enabled him to introduce many new techniques to orthodontics in the 60’s and 70’s. At that time most were unacceptable to the establishment, so much so that he was heavily fined by the National Health Service for providing ‘inappropriate’ treatment. After several years of oppression, he appealed against the Minister of Health in the high court, where in 1987 Mr Justice Stuart Smith decided that “these very serious strictures were wholly unwarranted and perhaps go some way to justify the applicant’s doubts as to the impartiality of the Dental Services Committee”. He awarded John substantial costs. As a result, the NHS attitude to alternate orthodontics changed and orthodontists in the UK became able to use expansion and functional appliances as they wished.
As soon as he challenged traditional orthodontic belief he was labelled a maverick and had difficulty in getting of his scientific papers published. One major paper Mew,JRC. 2004. “The Postural Basis of Malocclusion: A philosophical overview”. The American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. 126:729-738 took 23 years and was rejected 15 times although it is now accepted as major contribution to the literature. Andrew Graham editor of Dental Practice wrote concerning one of his papers “beautifully reasoned as ever, it makes good and sensible reading, never-the-less it pains me to tell you we can not publish’. ‘The reasons as I expect you know are the same as before, namely the disgraceful uproar from your colleagues”.
Another paper, ‘Mew JRC 2007. Facial Changes in Identical Twins Treated by Different Orthodontic Techniques. The World Journal of Orthodontics. 8: 174-188.}, a study of Identical Twins treated by different methods, took 15 years to get published despite or possibly because of its very powerful findings. Another paper “Using the ‘Best Results’ Method to Establish the Potential of Different Orthodontic Techniques” showed that Orthotropics® had a far greater potential than a wide range of other methods but was rejected because the referees were unwilling to accept that the statistics required to confirm the potential (efficaciousness) of a treatment should be dealt with differently from those required to demonstrate the success ratio (effectiveness). This resistance has inevitably delayed the acceptance of Orthotropics®.
Many of those who have supported his views have been unable to do so openly for fear that their career structure would have been threatened and several students believe that they failed their exams because they mentioned his name. In 2008 the British Orthodontic Society evicted him from membership because of his criticisms of orthodontic research and practice. He had spoken out because his concerns about the poor standards of orthodontic research and the fact that no one appeared willing to look at the evidence suggesting that Fixed Appliances could cause facial damage.
He was never invited to present a paper at the British Orthodontic Conference, despite the fact that he had addressed equivalent societies in many overseas countries and had certainly published more papers than most British university lecturers. The same fate has befell Dr Bill Clark who was never invited to talk about the Twin Block appliance which he invented and is used all round the World. The Establishment can be very protective.
In 1989 John wrote to David Di Biase the chairman of the British Association for the Study of Orthodontics saying “My biggest regret is that I do not have the opportunity for intellectual debate. You know of my knowledge and experience in this field and yet I have no chance of sharing it”.
Above all we need an independent assessment of the aetiology of malocclusion and an impartial comparison of the different methods of correction. There is no doubt that the UK orthodontic establishment is currently suppressing free debate on these issues.