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“Piltdown” medicine: Andrew Wakefield’s scientific fraud was worse than previously thought

Pity poor Andrew Wakefield.

2010 was a terrible year for him, and 2011 is starting out almost as bad. In February 2010, the General Medical Council in the U.K. recommended that Wakefield be stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U.K. because of scientific misconduct related to his infamous 1998 case series published in The Lancet, even going so far as to refer to him as irresponsible and dishonest, and in May 2010 he was. This case series, thanks to Wakefield’s scientific incompetence and fraud, coupled with his flair for self-promotion and enabled by the sensationalistic credulity of the British press, ignited a scare about the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in which, afraid that the MMR vaccine causes autism, parents in the U.K. eschewed vaccinating their children in droves. As a result, vaccination rates plummeted far below the level necessary for herd immunity, with the entirely predictable result of massive measles outbreaks in the U.K. Measles, which as of the mid-1990s had been declared under control by British and European health authorities, came roaring back to the point where in 2008 it was declared once again endemic in the British Isles. In a mere decade and a half, several decades of progress in controlling this scourge had been unravelled like a thread hanging off a cheap dress, all thanks to Andrew Wakefield and scandal mongers in the British press.

True, Wakefield had long since moved to Texas, the better to be the founding “scientific director” of a house of autism quackery known as Thoughtful House. Thus, the removal of his license to practice had little practical import, or so it would seem, given that Wakefield did not treat patients and hauled in quite the hefty salary for his promotion of anti-vaccine pseudoscience. Fortunately, karma’s a bitch, and, as a result of the GMC’s action, in short order The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s 1998 paper; Wakefield was pushed out of Thoughtful House; and his latest attempt to “prove” that vaccines cause autism in an animal study was also retracted. Investigative reporter Brian Deer’s investigation finding that Andrew Wakefield had committed scientific fraud in carrying out his Lancet study joined prior findings that Wakefield had been in the pocket of trial lawyers (to the tune of £435 643, plus expenses) seeking to sue the vaccine industry at the time he carried out his “research” and the allegations by renowned PCR expert Stephen Bustin during the Autism Omnibus as to how shoddily Wakefield’s other research was carried out. Finally, the mainstream media started to back away from its previous embrace of Wakefield and his claims. As a result, for a while at least, Wakefield was reduced to lame appearances at sparsely attended anti-vaccine rallies last spring.

As bad as the findings were that Wakefield had committed scientific fraud, it turns out that it was even worse than the original reports indicated. A few hours ago, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an analysis of the scientific fraud committed by Wakefield, fraud that journalist Brian Deer likens in an accompanying editorial to the Piltdown Man. The articles are:


And here is CNN reporting on the story:

Even better, this is part one of a two-part series, and it knocks down whatever is left of Andrew Wakefield’s scientific reputation (such as it was), jumps up and down on it, and then kicks the ashes away. Deer begins, as he began one of his news stories before, with the testimony of a parent of one of the 12 children that Wakefield included in his study:

Mr 11, an American engineer, looked again at the paper: a five page case series of 11 boys and one girl, aged between 3 and 9 years. Nine children, it said, had diagnoses of “regressive” autism, and all but one were reported with “non-specific colitis.” The “new syndrome” brought these together, linking brain and bowel diseases. His son was the penultimate case.

Running his finger across the paper’s tables, over coffee in London, Mr 11 seemed reassured by his anonymised son’s age and other details. But then he pointed at table 2–headed “neuropsychiatric diagnosis”–and for a second time objected.

“That’s not true.”

Child 11 was among the eight whose parents apparently blamed MMR. The interval between his vaccination and the first “behavioural symptom” was reported as 1 week. This symptom was said to have appeared at age 15 months. But his father, whom I had tracked down, said this was wrong.

“From the information you provided me on our son, who I was shocked to hear had been included in their published study,” he wrote to me, after we met again in California, “the data clearly appeared to be distorted.”

Then Deer describes exactly how. For instance, before Wakefield ever undertook his infamous study, he and a solicitor named Richard Barr had claimed to have identified a new syndrome consisting of bowel inflammation and regressive autism and aimed to show a temporal association between MMR vaccination and the onset of first symptoms. Unfortunately, Child 11’s case was a disappointment, as his discharge summary from the Royal Free Hospital, which showed that the boy’s regression began two months earlier than claimed in Wakefield’s paper and a month before he had ever received his MMR vaccine. Deer also describes Child 2, whose parents were the first to have approached Wakefield, sent by the anti-vaccine group JABS. This boy appeared in numerous news reports and was one of the four “best cases” used by Barr in a lawsuit. The boy’s mother’s story was vague and she wasn’t clear on how long it was between the child’s vaccination and the onset of his symptoms.

But that’s not all. The more the paper was investigated, the more anomalies were found. For example, only one child clearly had regressive autism, and three of nine described as having regressive autism did not. In fact, none of these three even had a diagnosis of autism at all! There were other anomalies as well. Several of the children clearly had preexisting conditions. For example, all twelve children were described in the paper as “previously normal,” but at least two of them clearly had developmental delay and facial dysmorphisms noted before they were vaccinated with the MMR. All twelve children taken together did not support the existence of a syndrome of bowel problems and regressive autism, at least not the syndrome as described in Wakefield’s paper. Deer summarizes how Wakefield “fixed the link” between MMR and regressive autism with enterocolitis:

The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed “new syndrome” of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an “apparent precipitating event.” But in fact:

  • Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism
  • Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns
  • Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination
  • In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results–noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations–were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”
  • The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations–all giving times to onset of problems in months–helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link
  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation

As Brian Deer so aptly put it, Wakefield “chiseled” the data, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.” The discrepancies between the case reports as described in Wakefield’s Lancet paper and the actual medical records are anything but random; all are in the direction of suggesting a link between the MMR and Wakefield’s as yet unverified syndrome of regressive autism and enterocolitis. The cases that were selected appear not to have been random, sequential patients but were rather recruited specifically through anti-vaccine activists and trial lawyers. Moreover, as Deer puts it:

Moreover, through the omission from the paper of some parents’ beliefs that the vaccine was to blame, the time link for the lawsuit sharpened. With concerns logged from 11 of 12 families, the maximum time given to the onset of alleged symptoms was a (forensically unhelpful) four months. But, in a version of the paper circulated at the Royal Free six months before publication, reported concerns fell to nine of 12 families but with a still unhelpful maximum of 56 days. Finally, Wakefield settled on 8 of 12 families, with a maximum interval to alleged symptoms of 14 days.

Between the latter two versions, revisions also slashed the mean time to alleged symptoms–from 14 to 6.3 days. “In these children the mean interval from exposure to the MMR vaccine to the development of the first behavioural symptom was six days, indicating a strong temporal association,” he emphasised in a patent for, among other things, his own prophylactic measles vaccine, eight months before the Lancet paper.

Yes, that’s exactly what Deer has found. When the time frame between vaccination and the onset of symptoms was too long to be useful for showing a link between MMR and regressive autism with enterocolitis, Wakefield systematically removed subjects whose parents blamed the MMR for their children’s autism until the time frame between vaccination and onset of symptoms was a much more impressive 14 days. There is no innocent explanation possible for the systematic and numerous discrepancies between the medical record and Wakefield’s paper, as the editors of the BMJ point out in their accompanying editorial:

The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.

Exactly. The degree of falsification and the number of discrepancies were huge. The chutzpah Wakefield demonstrated in his fraud was truly breathtaking. So is the chutzpah he continues to exhibit today with his denials. Even after this report and all the stories reporting on it, Wakefield continues to deny that he has done anything at all wrong and blames the criticisms leveled against him on conspiracies. In reality, given the way the anti-vaccine movement has begun to circle the wagons to defend Wakefield yet again, it’s tempting to claim that this is a conspiracy. Personally, I consider it a conspiracy of utter cluelessness. For one example, check out this video of J.B. Handley:

Yes, Handley’s regurgitating antivaccine favorites like the “tobacco science” mischaracterization, touting Wakefield’s “monkey business” study (which he neglects to mention was withdrawn), and defending Wakefield.

For another example, check out this defense of Andrew Wakefield by the anti-vaccine National Autism Association, which makes the astonishingly ludicrous claim that the BMJ article is “yet another attempt to thwart vaccine safety research.” The anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism naturally reposted the NAA’s counterattack.

One of the NAA’s claims in its press release is that Wakefield’s study has been “repeatedly confirmed,” and the NAA cites five studies that allegedly confirm Wakefield’s fraudulent results. However, as Just the Vax and Sullivan show, these studies do not represent independent confirmation of anything. One of them was by a close associate of Wakefield; one is a case report of an adult autistic with enterocolitis; and none of the rest confirm Wakefield’s results either. Yet, every time a story pops up showing that Wakefield committed scientific fraud, Wakefield defenders in the anti-vaccine movement dutifully trot out the same five studies, as though any of them were independent confirmation of his work, while anti-vaccine activists launch ad hominem attacks against BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and regurgitate old attacks on Brian Deer. Particularly off-base is the NAA’s claim that somehow, by laying bare Wakefield’s clear cut and vile scientific fraud, the BMJ is interfering with “vaccine safety research.” No, it’s revealing a dangerous scientific fraud, nothing more.

So egregious was Wakefield’s fraud that Deer likens it in an accompanying blog post to “Piltdown medicine,” making this direct comparison to the infamous “Piltdown Man” hoax:

The Piltdown contrivance involved the pre-arranged “discovery” of features brought together to be sensationally “found.” A piece of skullcap was human, a partial jaw was an orangutan’s, and a tooth was a chimpanzee’s, filed down. They were stained with chemicals and, to fabricate a temporal link, were buried with flint tools in datable gravel near the tiny village of Piltdown, East Sussex.

Some would suggest that their proximity was a matter of chance, but the odds of this would have taxed an astronomer. “That two different individuals were present,” one of the scientists who unmasked the fraud explained later, “a fossil man, represented by a cranium without a jaw, and a fossil ape, represented by a jaw without a cranium, within a few feet of each other and so similar in colour and preservation, would be a coincidence, amazing beyond belief.”

And so it was with Wakefield, eight decades after the Piltdown discoveries. Amazing beyond belief. For skullcap read “developmental disorders”, for the jaw “enterocolitis”, and for the tooth “parental complaints about MMR”. Bring them together at one hospital, with a 14-day temporal link, and another assemblage was “found”.

This is a very apt analogy. The more we find out about how Wakefield put together his case series for The Lancet, the more it becomes obvious that he calculatingly put together a fraud every bit as elaborate and planned as that of the Piltdown Man hoax.

What I can’t figure out–I mean, really, really can’t figure out–is why the anti-vaccine movement continues to cling to Wakefield’s tattered “science.” Surely the more sober and intelligent members of the anti-vaccine mvoement (they do exist, believe it or not) must realize by now that Wakefield is now very much like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who, having had his arm hacked off by King Arthur declares it to be “just a flesh wound.” After hacking off all but the Black Knight’s left leg, the Black Knight keeps taunting Arthur, who retorts, “What are you going to do, bleed on me?” and finally, unable to take any more, cuts off the Black Knight’s last leg.

This article by Brian Deer is the last swing of the sword that hacks off Wakefield’s last limb.

Unfortunately, like the Black Knight, not realizing that, scientifically he’s been utterly discredited, Wakefield fights on. Worse, he is still feted by the anti-vaccine movement. Right now, he’s in Jamaica as part of a “vaccine safety” conference whose list of speakers is chock full of anti-vaccine activists.

For Wakefield, even 13 years later, fraud pays.

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]

332 replies on ““Piltdown” medicine: Andrew Wakefield’s scientific fraud was worse than previously thought”

The misery this man has caused to parents and children around the world. His actions are no less than evil.

Orac, I think you mean to say “Wakefield” in this sentence:
“Particularly off-base is the NAA’s claim that somehow, by laying bare Deer’s clear cut and vile scientific fraud…”

Nobody in the anti-vaccine movement will ever admit that Wakefield’s nothing but a scammer. Because once they do, then they invite scrutiny of some of their “research”, which I’d bet is as fradulent and scandal-ridden as Wakefield’s.

I think the most telling part of the article was the table which showed that none of the 12 children conclusively developed sysmptoms within days of MMR (although there are 2 that are unknown) compared to the 8 cited in Wakefield’s original paper.

The sad part is that the funding he received could have been used for genuine autism research

Maybe it’s just a techological delay or fault (I wouldn’t want to be accused on conspiracies!), but I’ve seen several sites (including my own and Orac’s post above) link to the Age of Autism page: despite offering a list web logs that link their page, none are shown.

Not that they seem to listen much to what others say…!

Just wondering, supposing Wakefield is the devil you paint him to be, how does that make my son’s injury any less real, or that of Hannah Poling or any other child who suffered a vaccine injury?

I might be mistaken but Brian Deer’s paycheck is signed by James Murdoch. Murdoch of course sits as a member of Merck’s Board of Directors. Should there be any reason why I should place a great deal of trust and faith in Mr. Deer’s expose’ because of such relationship? Or really even in a company that’s owned by the people who bring us Glenn Beck and whose News Group News­papers paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/08/murdoch-papers-phone-hacking

Did you know 200 Americans died in the Gulf War? 26,000 died afterwards of Gulf War Syndrome from the vaccines they were given.

Little Augie, if you just make bold statements like that without posting the real verifiable evidence we just assume you made it all up.

Did you know 200 Americans died in the Gulf War? 26,000 died afterwards of Gulf War Syndrome from the vaccines they were given.

Citation Needed.

Augustine has apparently nothing on-topic to say about his fraudulent friend, so he tries trolling.

The pessimist in me says that this news will only elevate Wakefield’s martyr status among his fawning fans.

The optimist in me hopes beyond hope that his decline towards a career as a public toilet cleaner has just been given a kick-start.

Orac wrote:

What I can’t figure out–I mean, really, really can’t figure out–is why the anti-vaccine movement continues to cling to Wakefield’s tattered “science.”

It seems fairly obvious to me – if they abandon him now, they’d have to admit to themselves that they were duped (or simply dishonest) to defend him before.

Ge wrote:

Augustine has apparently nothing on-topic to say about his fraudulent friend, so he tries trolling.

That differs from any of his previous posts how?

Orac, I took a look at the speakers at the “vaccine safety” conference and noted a name I recognized, no not Andrew Wakefield or Barbara Loe Fisher (they are both there) … Larry Rosen, MD is Chairman-Elect of the AAP Section on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Very sad and disappointing for pediatricians everywhere.

It’s about time Wakefield was shown for being the fraud he is, every study he touches seems to be corrupted.

Hopefully 2011 will be the year that the rest of the anti-vaccine movement is shown up for the dangerous nonsense that it really is.

There will be an interesting mix of reactions here – you’ll see quite a number of fence-sitters (the ones that are concerned about the vaccine-autism link, but not convinced) fall to the wayside here & come to their senses.

But, this will only encourage the die-hard anti-vaxers to dig their heels in even further, because any attack on their beliefs is taken as an attack on themselves – they’ve invested so much of their identity into this mess, that they cannot disassociate themselves from the idea.

Age of Autism is going absolutely bloody nuts, it’s like someone kicked over a beehive over there.

Did you know 200 Americans died in the Gulf War? 26,000 died afterwards of Gulf War Syndrome from the vaccines they were given.

Actually, US Army is now performing field trials with mortar shells filled with vaccines due to their superior efficiency over high explosives.

True fact.

oh goody, another enemy on my enemy list. Guess what chikee…you are so full of wholes and lies, you are on ours~! Watch your back. Or should I say, your countless millions off the backs of our children’s suffering? Another person to hold up to the light of day, gee I wonder if her hair can get any greyer? Or whiter? Oh, I am not angry, vengeance is the Lord’s, all I have to do is sit back and see the dismanteling. The truth is, our truth is making them shit their pants more than usual. Time to invest in some depends chikee.

Kathy Blanco

Words fail.

It was interesting to see how Handley tap danced and failed to answer direct questions, but managed to keep talking over Spitzer. The guy was teetering on becoming his typical unglued self. Perhaps he’ll ask his pal John Best to start stalking those hosts now.

@boojum – Kathy Blanco and John Best types are typical of Handley and his crew.

@Bensmyson: Hannah Poling is a bad example; she has NOT been diagnosed with autism. The court declared that she had suffered a vaccine injury related to her mitochondrial issues. She was compensated appropriately. (And it’s very nice for her parents that they were able to pin it on a vaccine, rather than a cold with fever, the flu, or anything else that could cause a fever and make her issues worse).

No one denies that vaccine injuries occur. We DO say that there is no sciene that links vaccines with autism. The Vaccine Court has compensated families many times for “table injuries” that have been proven to be related to vaccines.

Since you have not bothered to go to the court and try to get compensation (and yes, I remember you have spouted your reasons), you cannot honestly claim your son’s autism is related to a vaccine as it has not been proven.

And really. Conspiracy issues, much? Amazing how Brian Deer finds and shows PROOF of his information, unlike AOA, NAA, or anyone else who only clings to refuted research.

There’s one thing that I still don’t understand about Wakefield. Even before the extent of the faked data came to light, even before Stephen Bustin testified as to how sloppy the PCR was, a lot of people were talking about how hard it was to conclude anything from such a small sample of data.

So why the falsified data AND the incredibly small sample size? If he was going to just make crap up about patients, why not make crap up about lots more patients?

A little update, Fox News has reported on the kerfuffle, and their take is that the anti vaccine crowd are dangerous, and Wakefield is a fraud.

Bet you didn’t think that FNC and CNN would ever agree on anything.

Alan: actually that doesn’t 100% surprise me. Brian Deer is employed by the Sunday Times which is also owned by News Corp.

I appreciate that Brian Deer is a good and impartial journalist, the Sunday Times is a respectable conservative newspaper and Fox News is a hive of far-right insanity, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox has been instructed to follow a party line on this one.

Can someone please translate the Kathy Blanco post quoted above into English? Yeesh.

@18: The Lancet paper was just the first in a series of papers by Wakefield. He “looked” at more kids later, supposedly finding measles virus in their bowels. Unfortunately, that was rigged too – his grad student testified at the Autism Omnibus hearings that all the positive tests for measles virus were false positives, and that he informed Wakefield of this, but that Wakefield insisted on publication anyway.

You know I should be elated but after finishing reading everything I’m just deeply depressed.

Just wondering, supposing Wakefield is the devil you paint him to be, how does that make my son’s injury any less real, or that of Hannah Poling or any other child who suffered a vaccine injury?

It’s completely unrelated to ACTUAL vaccine injury. But it is another nail in the coffin of the fraudulent claim that vaccine injury includes autism. Remember that Hannah does NOT have autism. I don’t recall the full details of your son’s case to comment more specifically on that bit.

I might be mistaken but Brian Deer’s paycheck is signed by James Murdoch. Murdoch of course sits as a member of Merck’s Board of Directors. Should there be any reason why I should place a great deal of trust and faith in Mr. Deer’s expose’ because of such relationship? Or really even in a company that’s owned by the people who bring us Glenn Beck and whose News Group News papers paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories?

This is the sort of utterly meaningless tenuous connection that can be found between ANY two individuals.

Like what Leherer missed in his bit of fluff, Science eventually rights itself. Unlike religion, superstition or woo, which keep on going, unchanged through the ages save for occasional fads.

*sigh* Of all nights, I had to go to bed early last night. This morning I wake up with this story on the local news. When I finally get around to logging on, I find that it’s already been covered all over the place. Here, over at Bad Astronomy, Just the Vax, Skepchick…

Ah well. Good news, at any rate.

23:

You know I should be elated but after finishing reading everything I’m just deeply depressed.

I agree. It’s very disheartening that, in the face of overwhelming and probative evidence, some people dig in their heels as their claims of conspiracy cascade to include more participants.

Now what?

I just read this story as posted on the Huffington Post.
The comments were mind-blowing. At least 80% were PRO-vaccine. Supporters of Wakefield and posters of nonsense are quickly put in their place.
What is happening? I feel like I fell down a rabbit hole.

@Andreas Johansson (10): Well, since the comment has now been quietly disappeared, I’d imagine it differs from augustine’s usual pronouncements in not actually having been made by augustine. I’m a bit curious as to the motivations of this meta-troll imposter. It’s not as if augustine doesn’t say enough stupid things anyway … there’s no need to make up even more stupid things for him to have said.

Anyway, I’m hopeful that mainstream opinion in the UK is moving back towards the side of sanity. I read an article in this morning’s Metro about the possible shortage of flu vaccine, and it was presented as unequivocally a Bad Thing with no “balance” from anti-vaxxers. Perhaps even a tabloid journalist can now not help but see that Wakefield’s “research” was complete bollocks from start to finish.

PR is a screwy thing – in this case, because of the amount invested in their particular areas (AoA, etc) we are seeing the “saving-face” defense of Wakefield to placate their hardcore supporters, but in a day or so, they will very quickly and quietly sever their ties with him – and start re-writing history again, as they’ve done in the past.

@Scott

Whether or not Hannah Poling meets your criteria for an autism diagnosis is not what Im curious about. Suppose the children in Wakefield’s study all had encephalitis and he pointed to a possible connection between encephalitis and the MMR, do you think this is about autism? I think this is about vaccine safety or the lack of it. Encephalitis or a mitochondrial disorder doesn’t fit on Murdoch’s front page as well as autism otherwise Deer would have been all over it, or would he?

He came off as pretty crazy in his interview with Cooper I thought, claiming there is a global conspiracy against you probably isn’t a good way to attempt to save face.

For anyone who missed it, Anderson Cooper’s interview of Andrew Wakefield is here.

Wakefield’s blusterings and evasions get shredded, not only by Cooper but by none other than Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Seth Mnookin. Mnookin highlights the bizarre chutzpah of Wakefield trying to link reporter Brian Deer to a pharma-funded conspiracy against him, while obfuscating the actual conflict of interest scandal in the matter – Wakefield’s acceptance of heavy cash from trial lawyers and his attempt to patent a vaccine to compete with the MMR.

Another terrific thing about the program was that participants addressed false equivalency – the media pattern of giving fringe proponents of bad science equal time to debate evidence-based views held by the vast majority of scientists and public health experts.

It looks like the news media has definitively turned on Andrew Wakefield (and due to its uncritical acceptance of him, the antivax movement is getting a far more critical look).

“PR is a screwy thing – in this case, because of the amount invested in their particular areas (AoA, etc) we are seeing the “saving-face” defense of Wakefield to placate their hardcore supporters, but in a day or so, they will very quickly and quietly sever their ties with him – and start re-writing history again, as they’ve done in the past.”

I suspect there will be a split among antivaxers on this score. Some will find this reverberating scandal to be doubleplusungood and file Wakefield down the memory hole. The most hardcore (like AoA) will champion him no matter how egregious his fraud or numbers of papers retracted. He could take a post as staff physician for the World Wrestling Federation or run an autism clinic with John of God* and they’d still love him.

*come to think of it, this isn’t all that far out a possibility.

I too first heard of this story on the local news radio this morning. They pulled no punches against Wakefield. They even had a clip from an angry other who complained that she trusted his research so much that she denied the MMR vax for her daughter “leaving her needlessly unprotected”. Then, at the end of the story, their medical reporter came on and skewered Wakefield again.

It was like waking up in an alternate universe. It totally made my day.

I’m so happy for all of the hard work that people like Brian Deer, Orac, and Todd W. have done on this front. I worried a good bit about those first few vaccinations I got for my son because of that fraud Wakefield, I’m glad that people have been willing to fight the good fight so that other parents can avoid that needless worry.

bensmyson wrote:

I might be mistaken but Brian Deer’s paycheck is signed by James Murdoch. Murdoch of course sits as a member of Merck’s Board of Directors.

Well, in fact, you are mistaken — it took me about three seconds to find Merck’s web page listing their board of directors, and there is nobody named Murdoch on that board. You’re welcome.

The coverage of this story on my local Fox affiliate this morning was wonderful. (I like KMSP; I’ve been watching them since they were a UPN affiliate.) They have a “morning Q” on Facebook every day, and on air they’ll read some of the responses. All the ones they read were pro-vaccine, though at least one brought up the “too many too soon” gambit. Even that one was solidly anti-Wakefield, though.

I don’t give anything controlled by Murdock any credibility. Too bad a thief outed another one.

bensmyson @ 5:

Just wondering, supposing Wakefield is the devil you paint him to be, how does that make my son’s injury any less real, or that of Hannah Poling or any other child who suffered a vaccine injury?

It doesn’t, of course. What it does is to make depressingly clear how much valuable time was wasted in understanding, treating, and preventing actual vaccine injuries — and in understanding, treating, and possibly preventing autism as well. On top of that, infectious diseases once thought under control are making a comeback. All in all, like many great scientific frauds, it wasted a great deal of time and effort by directing research in a futile direction.

Wouldn’t you rather *good* science be done to understand your son’s condition, its cause, its treatment, and how to prevent it happening to another? Fake science doesn’t do your son any good at all.

Just wondering, supposing Wakefield is the devil you paint him to be, how does that make my son’s injury any less real, or that of Hannah Poling or any other child who suffered a vaccine injury?

Easy, Your son did not suffer any vaccine injury per your own account of his medical history and your Vaccine Court claim was quickly tossed out. As for Hannah Poling, we don’t have all of the facts of her case and she didn’t suffer from ‘autistic enterocolitis’ following an MMR jab as Wakefield claimed. None of the other children compensated for vaccine injuries remotely resemble what Wakefield has claimed. Next strawman?

I might be mistaken but Brian Deer’s paycheck is signed by James Murdoch. Murdoch of course sits as a member of Merck’s Board of Directors. Should there be any reason why I should place a great deal of trust and faith in Mr. Deer’s expose’ because of such relationship? Or really even in a company that’s owned by the people who bring us Glenn Beck and whose News Group News­papers paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/08/murdoch-papers-phone-hacking

Of course, the next strawman. BMS, Mr. Deers findings speak for themselves and are verified so his tenuous ties are irrelevant. Murdoch doesn’t sit on the board of Merck, it’s GSK so if you can’t get those facts straight, what else can’t you get right? And Alisyn Camerota works for Fox News, owned by the Murdochs. Didn’t you folks over at AoA just give her an ‘award’ for her journalism? By your logic, publications such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Post should also not be believed.

Wakefield is coming out with the usual claims that CTs come up with. It seems that Big Pharma is entirely responsible for the outcome of the investigation:

http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/autism-study-doctor-andrew-wakefield-says-he-is-the-victim-of-smears-by-drug-companies/story-e6frfku0-1225983306645

And some of the comments to the news report below have to be seen to be believed:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/wakefield-study-that-linked-autism-with-mmr-vaccine-was-fraud-british-medical-journal/story-e6frg6n6-1225982874239

“What I can’t figure out–I mean, really, really can’t figure out–is why the anti-vaccine movement continues to cling to Wakefield’s tattered ‘science.'”

You’ve studies the Holocaust. Even after the existance and operations at the death camps was widely known, people obeyed the orders to show up at the train stations for deportation from their homes and transport to them. They would not believe that a “civilized” nation would engage in systematic genocide. Similarly, when Stalin systematically starving and ethnically cleansing various populations within the USSR, many ignored the facts and asserted that all would be well “if only Uncle Joe knew what was happening.”

If you give up the belief in vaccination causes autism (blaming someone else — and Big Pharma is vilified (sometimes rightly so) quite widely), you are left with concluding that autism is genetic. As a parent, that means that if someone has to be blamed, you blame yourself and your spouse. Further, you tell your neurotypical children that they may be “carriers,” as well. It is hardly surprising that there are those who would rather believe a falsehood that allows blaming a faceless “they” rather than accept what may be an awful, personal, reality.

I think the Wakefield affair has made me, more now than ever, take those “my son was vaccinated and suddenly got autism” claims with serious grains of salt. Whenever I hear that, I just figure that they are distorting reality in a Wakefieldian manner.

I would think that those people who are making those claims would want to disavow Wakefield completely, and any association with him, because he does not help their credibility.

Orac writes:

What I can’t figure out–I mean, really, really can’t figure out–is why the anti-vaccine movement continues to cling to Wakefield’s tattered “science.”

Pretty simple. Ever see An Officer and a Gentleman? Remember the segment where Richard Gere’s drill sergeant tries to “break” him, and is surprised at Pretty Boy’s tenacious refusal to quit? The sergeant is hollering contemptuously at Gere “Why don’t you just get the hell out?”, or words to that effect, and Gere, with rain, sweat and tears dripping off him and obviously at the end of his rope, finally howls:

I got nowhere else to go!

It’s always astonishing to me that Wakefield has the gall to accuse others of conflict of interest when he himself was attempting to create a competing vaccine:

http://briandeer.com/mmr/st-wakefield-vaccine.htm

Seriously, you don’t get to say “you can’t trust them because they’re making money off of it” when you are trying to make the exact same money.

Is Andrew Wakefield the new Cyril Burt? No, I take that back- it’s much too complimentary. I was very fortunate to turn on the TV to Cooper’s show at *exactly the right time* and see what D. Bacon has so graciously provided above; later, they also re-played some of the Handley/ Spitzer exchange.

Some employment opportunities for Wakefield:

Pet owners often have the most obtuse “theories” about what causes the kitteh’s IBD or dog’s behavioral anomalies ( some even involve vaccines)- Andy could start a Research Institute for pet IBD/”autism”
He could work for Deirdre Imus’ Research Center,@ HUMC, investigating toxins.
His own radio show @ the Progressive Radio Network.
“Citizen Journalist”/ House Physician/ Research expert for NaturalNews.
Being a regular on the “educational” lecture circuit, cruise ship division.
He could develop his own line of vitamins/supplements and set up shops in malls, eventually selling franchises.
Late night TV info-mercials- works for Trudeau!
Day time TV- Oprah has network with 24hr time slots to fill.
Writing fiction.
Medical director for a cut-rate weight-loss spa ( Hyman’s read “Ultra Wellness” books for clues )

Does anyone know why Wakefield left Toronto or qualified in pathology after having invested years in training in clinical medicine?

Face it everyone, we simply cannot survive without drugs and vaccines! I would even expect that Jesus would get a flu shot before returning! My family doesn’t drink water unless it has fluoride! We avoid anything organic and we’re certainly not eating anything without preservatives! Dr. Wakefield? What a crack pot! We made sure that we all had weekly flu shots last month, we also doubled up on vaccines and we drink lots of tylenol instead of juice! Hey…you never know…Thank Heaven for the pharmaceutical companies! I don’t know how I would make it through the day without my Adderall. And I certainly couldn’t sleep without my prescription sleep aids! It saddens me that the entire population doesn’t vaccinate their children. I would vaccinate my parents had they not passed away from cancer! They died because they refused the chemo! Anyone know where I can get a dose to prevent this horrible disease? Face it! We need our drugs! Drugs are the only way to ensure our survival! Come on! Don’t you believe the commercials?
Here’s to drugs and alcohol!
Marco

If, as Wakefield claims, this is all a conspiracy by Big Pharma, then how are they doing it? Are the holding guns to the heads of the parents of children from the study? Changed their memories in a way to discredit Wakefield? And if Big Pharma has that kind of massive power, why didn’t they just nip the problem in the bud in the first place?

Marco, maybe you should take a cup of tea, close you’re eyes for a moment and relax a little: you’re starting to hyperventilate.

Big yawn Marco, boring stupid troll is boring.

Come back when you have something original to say, not just a post of old strawmen. Why don’t you actually take a few minutes and read the posts here on the topics you mention so that you can understand why they are strawmen? Or do you just enjoy attacking positions no one actually holds because it is much easier and makes you feel good about yourself?

“Does anyone know why Wakefield left Toronto or qualified in pathology after having invested years in training in clinical medicine?”

I’ve never heard of Wakefield having trained in pathology.
As a pathologist, please, please tell me he has no connection with the field other than promoting someone else’s dubious pediatric intestinal biopsy interpretations.

By the way, another enjoyable moment during the Anderson Cooper show on CNN was when Wakefield attempted to co-opt Sanjay Gupta with the “we’re both doctors so you’ll understand we can’t trust those muckraking journalists” gambit. To his credit, Gupta was having none of it.

About the only criticism I have of Gupta was that he did not bring up the great amount of time and resources spent on a futile search for a vaccine-autism connection, and the need to now concentrate efforts on deserving avenues of research into etiology, prevention and treatment of autism.

Oh, this is so wonderful. I’m just happy today.

Why AoA and the Anti-vaxxers cling so tight to Wakefield? Pride. It’s very hard to admit that you are not only wrong, but the other side is right, especially when you’ve dedicated your life to attacking them based on fraudulent evidence.

They’re too proud to admit they’re wrong, and they’ve perfected a selective view of reality over the years, so this then becomes one more thing to deny, no matter how tenuous their position becomes. The more the mainstream turns against them, the more fanatic they will become, flattering themselves that they are the lone “truth seers” – a delightful, special-snowflake position that makes them super-unique.

I’m just glad the mainstream media is starting to call out their nonsense, and Brian Deer is a fabulous journalist.

I am not sure what to think about Gupta now. Perhaps he sort of blows in the breeze and will take the stand that he feels will be popular considering the current situation. Wakefield is looking bad so he is critical. John of God is looking popular and people seem to like the stuff so he is positive about it.

I really do not get this man at all, one minute he seems fairly competent and the next he is a train wreck.

Congratulations Orac.

I just watched Dr. Nancy nail Wakefield on the Today Show with Matt. She was you but much prettier. Living in the heartland of woo, I am celebrating all day. Going to write an editorial for the local rag. Piss off more than a few people and not care.

Thank you Orac for all you do, have done, and will do.

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen also presented a summary of last night’s Wakefield news after 11 am.

bensmyson, you can feel skeptical of the reporting journalist all you want, but you should believe the science and the facts, regardless of who reported them.

Does anyone know of a transcript of the Anderson Cooper interview? I can’t hear the audio; I need something I can read.

Marco:

and we drink lots of tylenol instead of juice!

So, you’re dead, then? Could you give me the name of your Internet provider? I want to be sure that I, too, can post from the afterlife.

Travis:

I am not sure what to think about Gupta now. Perhaps he sort of blows in the breeze and will take the stand that he feels will be popular considering the current situation.

Gupta’s a human being. There probably is a certain component of fad-following, but people are not stereotypes. Although there are people who are total woo-meisters and people who worship conventional medicine to absurd extremes (I know because I’m related to some of them), most people are more complex, and it’s unwise to draw too many conclusions based on any one view they may express. But if we have to place Gupta in a camp, it’s probably the “shruggie” camp — basically a proponent of conventional medicine, but perhaps a little too casual in his assessment of unconventional medicine.

Calli Arcale:

But if we have to place Gupta in a camp, it’s probably the “shruggie” camp — basically a proponent of conventional medicine, but perhaps a little too casual in his assessment of unconventional medicine.

I guess I am a little more suspicious of him. I know lots of somewhat science minded people, people with degrees in physics or other sciences, who are shruggies but normally they do this over things that are fairly harmless and while have little evidence could conceivably do something, but probably will not hurt anyone. But for the crazier things I find they generally think they are indeed crazy (though often underplay the danger by assuming people only do it for minor ailments, seemingly not realizing that people do die perusing quackery). John of God is one of these crazy ones that I really have a hard time attributing to him simply being a little too casual in his critical thinking, it is just so far out there in lala land.

I agree with Alan “A little update, Fox News has reported on the kerfuffle, and their take is that the anti vaccine crowd are dangerous, and Wakefield is a fraud.
Bet you didn’t think that FNC and CNN would ever agree on anything.”

I have spent way too much time basking in this wonderful news today. Anyone who endangers children like this man has deserves to be tarred and feathered in the media. Wakefield looks entirely unhinged in the Anderson Cooper interview. In all the interviews I have seen of him before he seemed composed and utterly detached from reality. It is gratifying to see him sweat.

It is laughable that BMS acts all innocent parent now, as if we have all forgot the bile he (and she) has spewed in this same space in the past.

@ Travis…

Sorry to offend my friend! Just having some fun!
Seriously, I clearly understand everyone’s concerns. My wife and I never bothered having our two youngest children vaccinated and both are well. The issue I have is this: I have many friends and family members that are on too many prescription drugs and worry that without the drugs, they would certainly not be able to function. Most are unfit and not as healthy as they could be and they’re all over stressed. We’ve never put too much worry into getting sick as we are perfectly able to keep ourselves well. If parents want to vaccinate, by all means, take the immunizations. If one believes the shots offer protection, I expect they will choose to vaccinate. (Our two oldest were vaccinated) No worries! Dr. Wakefield will certainly not have any sympathy from me if he intentionally mislead folks with his research.
Stay healthy!
Marco

So here’s a question: will formal charges of fraud likely be levied against Wakefield, now? It’s one thing for Deer to write his article, full as it is with evidence, and another for actual formal charges of fraud to be brought against him. Any thoughts?

Travis — don’t get me wrong. I tend to think of shruggies as more dangerous than the outright woo-meisters. John of God — well, I don’t want to get too much offtopic here, but I suspect Gupta probably regards John of God as a harmless crank, and so if his network sponsors want to endorse him, why not smile and go along? It’s not like anybody will be hurt by him . . . right? And that’s where the danger lies, of course. The shruggie is the person who doesn’t fully appreciate the ramifications of thinking of this stuff as just human interest fluff stories with no serious ramifications in the real world.

Back to Wakefield. I’m pleased that this spade is being called a spade in such a definitive way at last, and not just by the authorities and those in the know. The tide of public opinion has clearly turned, and in this case, that is a good thing.

Marco:

. My wife and I never bothered having our two youngest children vaccinated and both are well.

So you admit to being a leech on society by using the benefits of herd immunity.

Good to read news like this.

…I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Creationist troll rambling about his “Darwinists worship Piltdown man!” straw man.

Marco:
Offended? Not really.
I rolled my eyes a bit, another tired post of the same old, same old. Which is boring. If you are going to disagree with people at least disagree with their actual viewpoints. It leads to much more honest and interesting discussions.

And about Wakefield, as Calli mentioned, I am glad they are finally pushing him hard like he deserves. It seemed to take so long though. Fawning article after another, with only a few journalists like Deer apparently actually looking into this stuff.

@Marco:

If one believes the shots offer protection, I expect they will choose to vaccinate.

So you believe that vaccines are ineffective?

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