Legal thuggery, antivaccine edition, part 3: Andrew Wakefield rallying the troops

I realize I’ve already written two posts about Andrew Wakefield suing investigative journalist Brian Deer, the first one pointing out how it’s just another example of cranks trying to silence criticism not through producing good science to defend their views but rather through abusing legal process and starting frivolous libel suits, the second one pointing out a connection between Andrew Wakefield and Autism Trust USA that might indicate how Wakefield is getting cash to pay for this lawsuit. Through it all, I’ve asked one question: Why is Wakefield doing it?

Well, as part of the legal complaint, Wakefield’s attorney complained that Deer said that Wakefield, “now apparently self-employed and professionally ruined, remains championed by a sad rump of disciples.” Seeing what that rump is saying is instructive, as a perusal of Facebook pages of anti-vaccine activists and groups. For example, Louise Kuo Habakus announced the lawsuit on her Facebook page, and there was much rejoicing. A collection of comments include:

Go Dr Wakefield!!!!

Habakus herself says:

Be careful. Things are often not as they seem. Click on the link and read the petition. Then check out the law firm representing Dr. Wakefield. Big gun law firms do not get involved if they don’t think they can win. It is time for our physicians and families to have the opportunity to be heard in a real courtroom, by real judges, before a real jury of our peers. Not a show trial, manipulated by the press. A real trial. We will follow the money and see who stands to gain and lose. Keep an open mind and watch carefully.

And:

Wakefield is an honorable man who will be vindicated someday. The truth has a way of finding the light eventually. Having heard him speak in person and having met him on several occasions…I know what I speak of.

And:

this is only the beginning. now our voice will be heard!!

The delusional thinking is strong in these people.

It appears to me that Andrew Wakefield, realizing that the criticism against him asking him the question: If Brian Deer were really as wrong and malicious as Wakefield and his disciples claim, then why doesn’t Wakefield sue him for libel? Given that Wakefield appears to be reduced to living solely on speaking fees and whatever cash he can attract through his antivaccine activities. Wakefield’s failure to do so sowed doubt about him even among his die-hard fans. As Prometheus put it:

I’m not a lawyer (nor am I a solicitor or barrister), so I won’t speculate on the legal aspects of the suit – others far more qualified have already done so. The only explanation that makes sense is that, knowing he’s going to lose, he’s decided to lose quickly, before the legal fees climb too high.

I realise that this may make no sense from a legal standpoint, but it is immensely sensible from the perspective of a narcissist who senses his audience slipping away. Andy Wakefield is in serious danger of becoming entirely irrelevant, and so he needs to “rally the faithful”.

The fact that he mounted such a pathetic defence at his GMC hearings and made only a token feint at suing Brian Deer has created a lot of doubt among his faithful followers. They are asking themselves – and others – “Why didn’t he show the GMC evidence of his innocence?”. After all, Andy promised that he has such evidence and that he would reveal it to the world….about two years ago.

Now, before he slips “below the fold” permanently, Andy Wakefield is putting up a last “Hail Mary” attempt to get himself back into the limelight. He may have convinced himself that he has a legitimate grievance and that he has been unfairly handled by the press (including the BMJ), but he has to know that his claim of defamation won’t stand in US courts.

I strongly suspect that Wakefield filed his lawsuit in Texas because he (or, more precisely, his lawyers) knew that it wouldn’t get very far – either it would be tossed because the Texas courts don’t have jurisdiction or because it is so blatantly a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP). What he hopes to accomplish – and what he has probably already accomplished – is to show “the faithful” that he truly believes in his own innocence and is willing to fight to prove it.

Leaving aside that he hasn’t a chance of winning, the important part – from a psychological rather than legal perspective – is that giving up the legal fight would be a tacit admission of guilt in the eyes of his followers. So what if he can’t win – he can (and will) claim that the courts are “biased” against him, that “Big Pharma” bought the judges, that the jury (were it to ever get that far) were all reptilian aliens in the employ of the Galactic Overlord (AKA “Big Pharma”). Reality doesn’t matter – what matters is that he has a good story.

That sounds about right to me. By suing (and hopefully having the suit dismissed quickly, so that it doesn’t cost that much money), Wakefield can prove he’s still willing to fight, even though he has about as much chance of winning as there is of a single molecule of a homeopathic remedy being left in a 30C dilution. Even better, from his perspective, by doing so he can cause extreme irritation, inconvenience, and possibly expense to his enemies in the process. It’s already working; the troops are rallying, on Facebook at least, anyway. Will it be enough bring in additional cash and to bolster Wakefield’s standing in the antivaccine movement to the point where he’s relevant again? We’ll have to wait to see how this all plays out. I suspect that it will be some time before we have any additional news. I guess I’ll have to reactivate my Google Alert on Andrew Wakefield.