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As if there were any doubt about the cult of personality around Andrew Wakefield

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I just don’t understand it.

I just don’t understand how anyone can take the charlatan Andrew Wakefield seriously anymore.

If anyone had any doubt that there is a cult of personality around this discredited vaccine fear-monger, whose shoddy science and undisclosed conflicts of interest managed to ignite a false hysteria over the MMR vaccine, wonder no more. Observe the support that he still commands from parents as he is finally called to account for his misdeeds:

Waving placards and chanting support for Dr Andrew Wakefield, parents from across the country gathered outside the General Medical Council to support the controversial doctor – each with a story to tell about how their child or grandchild had changed after the MMR jab.

Dr Wakefield and two other doctors stand today before the GMC’s Fitness to Practise Panel, accused of serious professional misconduct. The GMC will hear allegations that Dr Wakefield, who now works in the US, and Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch failed in their duty to act in the best interests of children.

The trio, who face being struck off, published a paper in The Lancet in February 1998 suggesting there could be a link between the triple jab – against measles, mumps and rubella – and bowel disease and autism. It led to falling numbers of parents immunising their children and a row over whether the then prime minister, Tony Blair, had vaccinated his son, Leo.

The accusations relate to investigations for the study on 12 youngsters with bowel disorders carried out between 1996 and 1998. The GMC charge sheet covers several allegations, including that Dr Wakefield took blood samples from children at a birthday party after offering them money.

All three are accused of performing colonoscopies and lumbar punctures on children without proper approval and contrary to the children’s clinical interests. At the time, all three doctors were employed at the Royal Free Hospital’s medical school in London.

That’s right; Wakefield performed unnecessary and invasive procedures on autistic children as well. Moreover, the British press is complicit in lionizing Wakefied, who should have his license to practice stripped for what he did. Indeed, over the weekend, The Independent and The Daily Express each published utterly credulous articles that parroted the same myths about the MMR causing autism as though they had equal credibility with the scientists citing studies that fail to find a link between vaccines and autism.

Arthur Allen and I have both written about why the myth that vaccines cause autism will probably never die, no matter how many wooden stakes of scientific studies are plunged into its dark heart. No matter what the result of this hearing, which could take several months, you can be sure that it will continue. If Wakefield is stripped of his license to practice and forced to face sanctions, he will be portrayed as a martyr to the cause, a veritable mini-Galileo, and the same activist groups will continue to claim that MMR causes autism. If, on the other hand, no sanctions are imposed, he will be portrayed as having been vindicated, and the same activist groups will continue to claim that MMR causes autism.

And so it goes.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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