In deciding to sue Brian Deer, Fiona Godlee, and the BMJ for Brian Deer’s BMJ article about his scientific fraud a year ago, Andrew Wakefield was clearly grabbing for publicity, seeking to fire up his supporters (which he’s largely succeeded in doing), and trying to make himself relevent again after the allegations published in the BMJ a year ago led to his further decline. Regarding making himself relevant again, I might caution Andy to be careful: He might just get what he wished for, just not in the way he wished it. After all, right before his lawsuit became public, Wakefield had already been listed by Medscape as the worst doctor of 2011 for his research fraud. What could come next?
How about being listed among the Great Science Frauds of all time by TIME Magazine, along with Woo Suk Huang and Charles Dawson (the latter of whom is particularly amusing, givne how Brian Deer referred to Andrew Wakefield’s work as “Piltdown medicine” in his expose for the BMJ)? Check it out:
Do vaccines cause autism? Medical experts say no, but we can thank Wakefield for introducing the doubt that won’t die in many parents’ minds. In 1998, the gastroenterologist at Royal Free Hospital in London published a study describing a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, after he found evidence of these viruses, presumably from the shot, in the guts of a dozen autistic children, eight of whom developed autism-like symptoms days after receiving their vaccination.
Other scientists could not replicate Wakefield’s findings, nor verify a link between the vaccine and autism. In 2010, the journal that published his paper retracted it, and its editors noted that “it was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false.” Later that year, the General Medical Council in the U.K. revoked Wakefield’s medical license, citing ethical concerns over how he recruited the patients in the study as well as his failure to disclose that he was a paid consultant to attorneys representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by vaccines.
The final shoe dropped a year later, when another prestigious medical journal concluded that his research was also fraudulent, after evidence that some of the timelines of the children’s symptoms were misrepresented.
Great going, Andy! Keep it up, and maybe you can be on more lists like this in 2012!
In the meantime, we are reminded of the power of vaccination by this story, which points out that it’s been a year since the last case of polio was recorded in India. Although it has been delayed by antivaccine sentiments based on religion and paranoid conspiracy theories, the eradication of polio is now–finally!–potentially achievable. Just as smallpox was eradicated. Compare and contrast: Thousands of cases of measles in the U.K. and Europe, largely thanks to the fear of the MMR stoked largely by Wakefield’s fraudulent research. No matter how much Wakefield’s antivaccine fans try to spin it otherwise, that is how Wakefield will be remembered by history, and, in my opinion, rightly so.