Anti-Vaccination Doc A Fraud

2010 was a bad year for Andrew Wakefield. And 2011 isn’t shaping up to be much better.

In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the doctor — oh, sorry, disgraced former doctor (he was struck from the British Medical Register last year) — he’s the guy behind a 1998 study published in the Lancet that claimed to find a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine. His study has been buttressing the claims of the anti-vaccination movement for 13 years. He’s the go-to science slinger for high-profile, “Don’t Prick My Kid” activists like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

That’s despite the fact that his paper, as it turns out, was a load of crap. The results were rigged. The case studies doctored. And people have known this since early last decade.

How do we know? Well, the science made no sense for one. And no one has ever replicated his results, for two.

But for the details of the fraud side of things, we have British journalist, Brian Deer, to thank for much of what’s been revealed. He’s been unravelling Wakefield’s nasty little scheme for years now and yesterday, the British Medical Journal, published Deer’s latest exposé, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed.” He went back and interviewed the parents of the 12 kids (yeah, just 12) used in Wakefield’s original study and discovered that the “good” (former) doctor was even more underhanded and unethical than was previously thought.

Now, naturally, Wakefield is responding that Deer is some kind of Big Pharma shill. (This is a typical tactic of anti-vaccination campaigners: anyone who opposes them is either a dupe or on some kind of super-secret pharmaceutical industry payroll.) Which is funny considering what Deer has revealed about Wakefield’s likely motivations behind his 1998 study:

Wakefield was working on a lawsuit, for which he sought a bowel-brain “syndrome” as its centrepiece. Claiming an undisclosed £150 (€180, $230) an hour through a Norfolk solicitor named Richard Barr, he had been confidentially put on the payroll two years before the paper was published, eventually grossing him £435 643, plus expenses.

Yep. Wakefield was in it for the money. And the prestige, no doubt.

Sadly, the impact of his fraud goes far beyond the black eye the Lancet‘s credibility suffered (that is, until it retracted his article back in 2004). Wakefield’s study is one of the key reasons millions of parents have been scared off of vaccinating their children — not just the MMR vaccine but the entire range of immunizations. Thanks to Wakefield and all his fans and acolytes, really nasty diseases we’d almost wiped out — things like measles and whooping cough — are making a comeback.

The anti-vaccination movement — with it’s house of cards built of bad science and conspiracy theory — has made a lot of people very sick. Kids have died. Wakefield and co. have blood on their hands.

Hopefully, the next time we see him he won’t making his case on CNN or Oprah, he’ll be behind bars.

For a good summary of the whole Wakefield affair, it’s worth reading this piece over at Science-Based Medicine. Or if you want something livelier (and more ranty) check out Skepchick Elyse at Skepchick.org. There you can also watch the CNN clip where Anderson Cooper takes a verbal bat to the squirming shyster. Aw heck, I’ll save you a click and embed the clip myself.

Later, if you want to support some people who are doing good pro-vaccination work — and get your kids some nifty, post-needle threads while you’re at it — the Women Thinking Free Foundation is selling awesome “Hug Me I’m Vaccinated” onesies and t-shirts.

I’ve got a bunch on order. Me and my kids are getting jabbed next month.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Vaccination Doc A Fraud”

  1. I don’t know, some of the practices in the vaccination industry are pretty sketchy. Companies are basically allowed to do their own QA. And I’ve read some of the stuff on his paper being “discredited” that is kind of sketchy too. I can see lots of half-assery on both sides of the broader issue of vaccination, and plenty of room for error and “getting the results we wanted” in ALL of the studies. I read something about the Amish not having any autism and also not having lots of people die from the diseases we vaccinate for these days. I think it is true that we over-vaccinate these days and thus prevent our immune system from evolving correctly, eventually ending up weaker than it would have been. Also I’ve heard that you may be better off long-term if you catch chicken pox (for example) instead of getting the vaccine. Same with measles, and the seasonal flu. I’ve even had a doctor recommend against the seasonal flu vaccine because it is almost always behind in the evolutionary / mutational cycle.
    But stuff like hepatitis? Yeah bring on the meds.

  2. “I think it is true that we over-vaccinate these days and thus prevent our immune system from evolving correctly, eventually ending up weaker than it would have been.”

    Well, I think that’s a robustly inane statement.

  3. Anonymous dude #2: You need to purge your bookmarks of all those quack websites.

    That Amish and autism thing is nonsense. Utter crap. First of all, many Amish communities do vaccinate their kids. Second, autism rates in Amish communities are the same as everywhere else. Stories to the contrary have been spread around by discredited bunk-peddlers like Dan Olmstead (of “Age of Autism” infamy). But guys like him like to point to folksy, true-sounding stories like “oh, the old-timey wisdom of the Amish is all you need to keep you healthy” because it bolsters their claims.

    As for the rest of your comment, it’s similarly wrongheaded. Study after study has confirmed that vaccination programs have made us healthier. And because large numbers of people have stopped getting their kids immunized, many really nasty diseases are becoming problems again.

    Maybe you’ve “heard” differently. But I’d rather trust the scientists and doctors I’ve read, thanks very much.

  4. my uncle read that study and didn’t get vaccinated against rabies and he got bit and he died. he ran a dogfighting business.

  5. You know, I started looking into the “vaccination can be harmful” thing to try to find evidence to reject the argument. But the more I read the more I found that actually SUPPORTS the argument, or at least casts vaccination as a practice that is not infallible or completely safe. I believe in science OK? This is not simply a black-and-white issue of “if you believe in science then you must believe that ALL vaccines are safe AND effective”. Science is about experimentation, studying data, coming up with a model that seems to work, and then doing the whole thing over and over again. “Studies show” convinces me of nothing…. what’s in the study? What did they miss? What is an acceptable margin for error? It scares the shit out of me what passes as “science” sometimes.

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