The fallout from Brian Deer’s further revelations of the scientific fraud that is anti-vaccine hero Andrew Wakefield continues apace.
Remember last week, when I wrote about the first article of the two-part series enumerating the various ways that Andrew Wakefield committed scientific fraud in putting together the case series that became the basis of his now infamous 1998 Lancet paper (now retracted)? Remember how, in describing the crazed manner in which Wakefield apologists immediately started circling the wagons to defend their hero?, I wondered what had happened to the celebrity spokesmodel for the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue. Where had Jenny McCarthy gone to? After all, when the GMC first found Wakefield to have committed professional misconduct and major breaches of medical ethics during the conduct of his investigations, she and her then-boyfriend Jim Carrey wrote a post defending him that was so full of burning stupid that it formed a firestorm that sucked the oxygen out of the air for a hundred miles surrounding Jenny’s southern California abode. Yet, this time around, Jenny refused to be interviewed for various stories that erupted Wednesday night and Thursday in the wake of the release of the BMJ articles. My first thought was that, maybe, just maybe, she had gotten a bit of sense. After all, she hasn’t been nearly as vocal about vaccines and vaccine-autism conspiracy mongering in recent months compared to the height of her reign as queen of anti-vaccine quackery promotion in 2008 and 2009.
It turns out that McCarthy was apparently waiting for talking points from her handlers at Generation Rescue. Yesterday afternoon, what to my wondering eyes should appear in–where else?–that wretched hive of scum and anti-vaccine quackery The Huffington Post, a post ostensibly penned by McCarthy entitled In the Vaccine-Autism Debate, What Can Parents Believe? Although the stupid is just as strong as it was nearly a year ago, it’s recycled stupid; so it doesn’t burn quite as hot. Consider it smoldering stupid that produces a black, oily stench that sucks IQ points from the brains of those who inhale it faster than McCarthy can find her way into another sleazy role on Two and a Half Men. Basically, view it as a concentrated amalgamation of the same dubious arguments that have been flying fast and furious over at Generation Rescue’s propaganda blog, Age of Autism, which is–surprise! surprise!–being pimped on that very same blog.
Let’s see how much nonsense Jenny can lay down in less than 700 words. Actually, let’s see how much nonsense whoever Jenny’s ghostwriter from AoA is can lay down in less than 700 words:
Last week, parents were told a British researcher’s 1998 report linking the MMR shot to autism was fraudulent — that this debate about vaccines and autism is now over, and parents should no longer worry about giving their children six vaccines at a single pediatric appointment or 36 by the time they are five years old.
While it’s true that last week parents were told that Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper was fraudulent, what we’re dealing with is not a “debate.” It’s a pseudodebate. It’s a manufactroversy. The actual scientific debate over whether vaccines cause autism was over years ago. Unfortunately, dim-witted celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who thinks that her Google University education trumps the knowledge accumulated by scientists who have spent their careers studying autism and/or vaccines, keep it alive, science be damned, medicine be damned. In her arrogance of ignorance, Jenny McCarthy thinks that her ill-informed opinion about whether or not vaccines cause autism and whether or not they are safe and effective should be taken as seriously as the science-based views of real scientists. That’s why she’s apparently happy to lend her name to the same misinformation that her handlers want her to promote, including the “36 vaccine” canard, which exists mainly to scare parents.
McCarthy then continues with her greatest hits of anti-vaccine canards:
Is that the whole story? Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study of 12 children with autism actually looked at bowel disease, not vaccines. The study’s conclusion stated, “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described [autism].”
I’ve addressed this claim before, most recently about a year ago. Let’s take a look at some of what Wakefield said in his paper, shall we? For example, Wakefield asserted:
We identified associated gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.
What could that trigger be, pray tell? I wonder. Hmmmmm. Oh, yes:
We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.
Well, that certainly sounds as though Wakefield is–wink, wink, nudge nudge–not exactly saying that vaccines cause autism associated with enterocolitis, if you know what I mean, but he’s just saying, you know? Just like he was saying here in the manuscript:
If there is a causal link between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and this syndrome, a rising incidence might be anticipated after the introduction of this vaccine in the UK in 1988.
Anyone who’s been in science a while and read a lot of scientific papers can rapidly recognize statements and passages of text that reviewers probably forced the authors of papers to insert in order to water down statements that aren’t well-supported by the data. We can recognize reviewer-mandated hedging, and the statement cited by McCarthy sounds just like such a reviewer mandate. Reading between the lines, specifically the statements I just cited above compared to the statement that Jenny McCarthy and her fellow anti-vaccine loons love to cite as evidence that Wakefield never tried to argue that vaccines cause autism or autistic enterocolitis, I sense the heavy hand of the reviewers. It’s just too bad that their hands weren’t a hell of a lot heavier, to the point of checking the “reject” box on the summary sheet they had to fill out after reviewing the manuscript.
Then, of course, let’s not forget that Wakefield appeared in a 20 minute video promoting his work released by the Royal Free Hospital in which he went far beyond the measured, caveat-laden language of medical academia. Here is a taste:
INTERVIEWER: So you’re saying that a parent should still ensure that their child is inoculated but perhaps not with the MMR combined vaccine?
DR ANDREW WAKEFIELD: Again, this was very contentious and you would not get consensus from all members of the group on this, but that is my feeling, that the, the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.
WAKEFIELD: And I have to say that there is sufficient anxiety in my own mind of the safety, the long term safety of the polyvalent, that is the MMR vaccination in combination, that I think that it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines, that is continued use of the individual measles, mumps and rubella components.
These assertions were certainly not contained in Wakefield’s Lancet paper. More importantly, even if Wakefield’s work had not been utterly fraudulent, even if they had been the result of rigorously and ethically performed clinical investigation, his assertions to the press in the wake of the publication of his Lancet article were most definitely not supported even by the data presented in that paper. There was no evidence in Wakefield’s paper to support the recommendation that the MMR be broken up into its three component vaccines because somehow together these vaccines caused Wakefield’s syndrome of regressive autism associated with enterocolitis. There was no evidence presented that would suggest that breaking up the MMR into its three component vaccines would be somehow safer than administering the combined vaccine. That just came out of nowhere. Or maybe not, given that Wakefield was working on his own measles vaccine at the time.
In other words, it’s a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys when McCarthy tries to point Wakefield as a responsible scientist who wasn’t at all trying to show that the MMR vaccine causes autism.
McCarthy can’t resist stinking up the joint even more by letting the dingo’s kidneys sit in the sun a while longer to ferment a bit before before she regurgitates this gem:
Dr. Wakefield did something I wish all doctors would do: he listened to parents and reported what they said. His paper also said that, “Onset of behavioral symptoms was associated, by the parents, with measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in 8 of the 12 children,” and that, “further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome [autism with gut disease] and its possible relation to this vaccine.”
Since when is repeating the words of parents and recommending further investigation a crime? As I’ve learned, the answer is whenever someone questions the safety of any vaccines.
The burning stupid starts producing even more oily, stinky smoke, the better to complement the aroma of the fetid dingo’s kidneys. Oh, I suppose that it could be said that Wakefield “listened to the parents,” at least insofar as they, with their human, fallible memories confused correlation with causation, while some of them failed to note that their children had exhibited signs of developmental delay and disorders before they ever received their first dose of the MMR vaccine or that some of the children never actually received a diagnosis of regressive autism. The evidence from the BMJ paper is damning in the extreme in this respect. As this table shows, not one of the original twelve children exhibited all three of the characteristics described by Wakefield: regressive autism, nonspecific colitis, and first symptoms occurring days after the MMR, even though Wakefield reported that 6/12 had all three of these features. In “listening to the parents,” Wakefield heard what he wanted to hear rather than what the evidence showed. He also falsified data in order to shoehorn those stories to fit his hypothesis.
As for “listening to the parents,” actually Wakefield was more than happy t to discard subjects from his analysis when their parents’ stories didn’t suit his narrative of the MMR causing some sort of syndrome of regressive autism and enterocolitis. That’s what he did when he reduced the number of children to 8/12 showing symptoms within days of vaccination in order to eliminate the embarrassment of the children who supposedly didn’t show signs of autism and enterocolitis until weeks or months after vaccination, which, without the exclusion of these children, produced, as Deer drily put it, an “unhelpful” maximum of 56 days between vaccination and onset of symptoms. Put briefly, it can’t be repeated often enough that Wakefield falsified data in order to produce the result he wanted.
Not that any of this stops McCarthy from moving on to this:
For some reason, parents aren’t being told that this “new” information about Dr. Wakefield isn’t a medical report, but merely the allegations of a single British journalist named Brian Deer. Why does one journalist’s accusations against Dr. Wakefield now mean the vaccine-autism debate is over?
No, these “new” allegations are based on the proceedings and report of the General Medical Council, which investigated Andrew Wakefield for two and a half years before rendering a verdict, characterizing him as irresponsible and dishonest. Indeed, Brian Deer himself explained right here in the very comments of a post of mine:
To clarify a point I have clarified many times. I read the children’s hospital records, under legal supervision, as the result of an order against Andrew Wakefield issued by a High Court judge. Thus there can be no question of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
Since Wakefield abandoned his action against me and, very sadly, we didn’t get him to trial, I could make no collatoral use of the knowledge I had obtained by reading the records.
However, one cannot un-know something. I determined that the best course of action would be to attend the Wakefield GMC where, as it happens, those medical records, plus a great deal more were introduced in public. I think I was the only non-participant who took any notice, although the anti-vaxxers paid someone to sit through the hearing.
This is how the critical patient data has come to be published in the BMJ, after staff checking, independent of me, and peer review.
Indeed. In Deer’s BMJ article, it is explained that reports by Deer in the BMJ were “commissioned and paid for by the journal” and that his work was externally peer reviewed. Moreover, contrary to the talking point parroted by Jenny McCarthy from her handlers at Generation Rescue that Deer’s allegations of fraud are the product of a single man’s unhinged obsession with Wakefield, Brian Deer wasn’t the only person who suspected fraud, and the GMC discovered research improprieties. What this latest BMJ set of papers demonstrate is that Wakefield’s fraud was worse than previously thought, even more egregious than previously thought. I know I’ve said it before, but I still can’t understand why anti-vaccine loons cling so tightly to Wakefield even after he’s been utterly discredited beyond any chance of scientific redemption. If I believed that vaccines cause autism, I would have dropped Wakefield like a load of radioactive waste a long time ago and turned my attention elsewhere to try to support my belief. Wakefield is such a disgrace that he does far more harm to the anti-vaccine movement then good. Yet he remains a hero, most recently being featured at a cushy anti-vaccine conference in Jamaica.
The allegations against Wakefield keep drip, drip, dripping, like some sort of bizarre Chinese water torture. Every time you think that everything’s been found out, it seems, more revelations show just how much lower Wakefield went. Thae anti-vaccine movement can’t counter them with facts and evidence; so it does what it does best. It launches ad hominem attacks, like this one by J.B. Handley attempting to smear Brian Deer, even going so far as to add petty little digs at him as referring to him contemptuously as an “unmarried, childless man” and claiming that the parents of the 12 children in Wakefield’s case series view him of being “unhinged, dangerous, and able to cause harm to their families,” and quoting someone named Jane Bryant, who describes Deer as a “nasty, aggressive man, completely out of control and rapidly developing own-goal status for the pro vaccine lobby.”
Yes, J.B. predictably uses the pharma shill gambit liberally, even going so far as to insinuate that because the BMJ journals accept advertising from the pharmaceutical industry it must mean that the industry leaned on BMJ editors to go after Wakefield.
Perhaps the most hilarious attack on Brian Deer comes from an old “friend,” Ginger Taylor, who decided to take this opportunity to pimp her upcoming anti-vaccine book and rant about Brian Deer. In this post, while promoting her book, cowritten with Louise Kuo Habakus (whom we’ve met before), Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children, Taylor says one of the most amusingly un-self-aware things I’ve ever seen in the blogosphere:
If it is not clear to you this far, let me be frank about it. The coverage of the vaccine/autism debate that you see in the media, is not scientific debate or earnest investigation… it is a dog fight. And Pharma plays dirty.
Comedy gold! After all, no one I’ve met plays as dirty as the anti-vaccine movement, with smear campaigns, attempts to get certain bloggers fired, all topped off with huge helpings of sheer nastiness mixed with lunacy.
I wonder if I can get a review copy of the book.
On second thought, no I don’t. I’m not sure I could tolerate the massive waves of neuronal apoptosis that might result. (Look it up, Ginger.) I do, however, very much look forward to part 2 of Brian Deer’s expose, due to be published this Thursday. You can be sure I’ll be commenting on it when it is.
ADDENDUM: Mike also comments.