Andrew Wakefield: Pushed out by the board of directors at Thoughtful House?

Last night, it came to light from a posting on the Thoughtful House Yahoo! discussion group that Andrew Wakefield has apparently resigned from Thoughtful House. I have yet to see confirmation anywhere, although Brian Deer has chimed in that this comes as no surprise to him and that he suspects that Dr. Arthur Krigsman, Anyssa Ryland, and Jane Johnson are behind Wakefield’s ouster. However, more interesting is this comment from Liz Ditz. In it, she points out a couple of interesting bits of background.

Tidbit #1 from 2008:

In 2007 alone, Thoughtful House saw 1,500 new patient requests — or about 60 percent of the center’s current total patient load — and almost a 50 percent increase in new patient requests in the last six months, says Anissa Ryland, director of operations. Thoughtful House’s funding, which comes largely from foundations and private donors, has also been rising steadily in the last two years. From 2005 to the end of 2007, the nonprofit saw a 48 percent increase in private donations and an 84 percent increase in donations from foundations and trusts, Ryland says. In the past two years, the nonprofit raked in $5.5 million in donations.

Tidbit #2:

A number of celebrities and “prominent central Texans” are supporters of Thoughtful House. Former Dell Inc. executive Charlie Ball and his wife, Troylyn, are among the founders of Thoughtful House; their son has “struggled with physical and developmental problems.” The co-managing director of Thoughtful House’s board is Jane Johnson of New York, part of the family of the Johnson & Johnson health care products and services company. Johnson (who co-authored Jepson’s book, Changing the Course of Autism) and her husband, Chris, donated $1 million to lay the groundwork for Thoughtful House in 2004:

Naturally, I can’t resist suggesting that, given that a member of the Johnson family of the J & J pharmaceutical and health products company is a founding donor of Thoughtful House and sits on its board of directors, that, by Jake Crosby’s logic on Age of Autism, Wakefield has clearly been a minion of big pharma at least since 2004. Add to that his having been in a paid minion of the trial lawyers when he did his infamous and now retracted 1998 Lancet paper, and the inevitable conclusion is that, given how AoA frequently calls Dr. Paul Offit “Dr. PrOffit” and a “biostitute,” perhaps it should start calling Andrew Wakefield the same thing.

Of course, that will never happen because the anti-vaccine movement sees Wakefield as being on the side of angels.

The hypocrisy of Generation Rescue and the merry band of anti-vaccine propagandists at Age of Autism aside, though, although I had heard that Jane Johnson is on the board of directors of Thoughtful House, I had forgotten about it. Knowing that, I think that my speculation last night was very likely on target in that Wakefield has become too toxic for Thoughtful House and needed to be chelated away. What I missed is that, if the announcement on the Yahoo! list is true, then very likely it was the board of directors who decided that Wakefield had to go. His reputation is now so damaged that, his cult of personality notwithstanding, he had become a liability. My best guess is that he had become a liability when it came to fundraising (after all, wealthy donors don’t want to be associated with someone who has been found guilty of a variety of research misconduct charges by the British General Medical Council).

The retraction of Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper then became the last nail in the coffin of whatever zombie of Wakefield’s scientific respectability remained to shamble about and eat the brains of journal editors, like those at NeuroToxicology, who had accepted his “monkey business” study and then apparently later withdrew it. Those two developments guaranteed that Wakefield will almost certainly not be able to fool a respectable journal into accepting one of his manuscripts again for the forseeable future and that he will be relegated to publishing in crank journals like JPANDS and Medical Veritas. The stream of seemingly respectable “research” would thus dry up and further compromise Thoughtful House’s ability to raise cash and attract patients not belonging to the anti-vaccine fringe.

The confluence of those factors appear to me the reason that the board of directors appear to have decided that Andy Wakefield must go. It will, however, be very interesting to see the spin that AoA and other anti-vaccine groups will put on this development, assuming that the news is true. If it’s not true, the story might become even more interesting. Perhaps it’s a clever fishing expedition, although for what I have a hard time imagining. In any case, if the story is indeed true (and we do not yet know whether it is yet, given that there has been no confirmation from Thoughtful House or any of the usual suspects), I see a clinic in central America or someplace with similarly lax regulation of medical clinics in Wakefield’s future. Or maybe someplace as close as Tijuana. He could even still live in the U.S. and commute across the border.

ADDENDUM: It looks as though it’s true. Wakers is toast. Andy Wakefield has been removed from the list of research staff at Thoughtful House.