Is Wakefield being shut up, or are Jenny and Jim trying to get publicity for his research?

5 Feb

In a public statement, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey claim that “Dr. Andrew Wakefield is being discredited to prevent an historic study from being published”. Readers of LeftBrainRightBrain are already well aware that Dr. Andrew Wakefield was recently found to be “dishonest” and to have acted in a manner against the clinical interests of the children who were his research subjects. This recent statement is in support of the now discredited doctor.

Or, is it? A cynical mind might consider that this is a public relations ploy to get Dr. Wakefield’s current research in front of the media. His last paper was much hyped by Jenny McCarthy’s organization, but got little if any actual press coverage. But now, with the media focused on Dr. Wakefield, what better time to promote his research in hopes of getting some play in the media?

Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Carrey are prominent members of Generation Rescue (“Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”) and have posted their statement on the Generation Rescue website with the full version on the blog sponsored by Generation Rescue, the Age of Autism.

This reader is somewhat amazed at the language used and the ignorance of the history of the General Medical Counsel proceeding that Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Carrey have shown.

The language puts the team well into the world conspiracy-theory:

It is our most sincere belief that Dr. Wakefield and parents of children with autism around the world are being subjected to a remarkable media campaign engineered by vaccine manufacturers reporting on the retraction of a paper published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues

We are to believe that the news reporting on the retraction of the paper in The Lancet is orchestrated by vaccine manufacturers. That’s worth considering a moment–two actors, people who depend on their public image for their livelihood–are claiming that the reporting on a major news event is “engineered by vaccine manufacturers”.

The fact is that Dr. Wakefield thrust himself into the limelight with a press conference to publicize the paper. This and the fact that he has kept himself in the public’s eye for 12 years appears to have been lost on the McCarthy/Carrey team. After over a decade of promoting his research well beyond its importance or scientific merit, of course the media would take to the story that Dr. Wakefield had been found guilty of misconduct and that his paper had been retracted.

If there is any doubt as the conspiracy-theory theme of the statement, phrases like “Kangaroo court” and “in the pocket of vaccine makers” should put that to rest:

The retraction from The Lancet was a response to a ruling from England’s General Medical Council, a kangaroo court where public health officials in the pocket of vaccine makers served as judge and jury.

The article goes on:

Despite rampant misreporting, Dr. Wakefield’s original paper regarding 12 children with severe bowel disease and autism never rendered any judgment whatsoever on whether or not vaccines cause autism, and The Lancet’s retraction gets us no closer to understanding this complex issue.

This is a very strange statement to have made by representatives of Generation Rescue. Generation Rescue states on their own website, in reference to Dr. Wakefield’s paper in The Lancet, “”This study demonstrates that the MMR vaccine triggered autistic behaviors and inflammatory bowel disease in autistic children”.

Much more to the point, the press release for Dr. Wakefield’s press conference on the release of his study in The Lancet states that “Their [Wakefield et. al] paper, to be published in The Lancet 28 February, suggests that the onset of behavioural symptoms was associated with MMR vaccination”

If the defense now is that there is a difference between “proven” and “associated with” in the minds of the public, the importance of that is lost on me. Dr. Wakefield himself put the idea in the public’s mind that the MMR was causing autism.

In a video interview about his 1998 study, Dr. Wakefield stated that the link was not proven. However, he went on to claim that the “risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combine vaccine”:

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.

If there is rampant misreporting of the notion that Dr. Wakefield’s study in The Lancet promoted the idea that vaccines cause autism, then it is the fault of Jenny and Jim’s own organization, together with Dr. Wakefield himself.

Much of the trouble resulting from Dr. Wakefield’s work (and by that I mean trouble caused to the world and the autism communities in particular, not trouble to Dr. Wakefield), stems from Dr. Wakefield overplaying the importance or the quality of his research. Even had the study been done as claimed in the publication, it was not a very strong study. It has been reported that four referees recommended rejecting the paper before publication. I don’t know the policy at The Lancet, but often 2 or 3 referees total are used to screen a paper for a journal.

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. In this case, overplaying the importance of research well beyond its scientific merit. In their statement, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey promote Dr. Wakefield’s ongoing research as though it is so earth shattering that it must be stopped at all costs. They discuss a series of studies Dr. Wakefield’s new group is undertaking. This research has been discussed by Medical Researcher David Gorski in an article Monkey business in autism research.

We are to believe that there is a media campaign afoot to keep Dr. Wakefield from making his new research public. In the internet age, there is no way to keep information from the public. Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues are even editors of a new pseudo-journal for autism research.

At no point to Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Carrey address the ethical violations that Dr. Wakefield was found guilty of. No mention of whether it is appropriate for medical researchers to perform invasive procedures on disabled children when there is no clinical reason to do so.

In other words, Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Carrey never actually defend Dr. Wakefield for his actions. They never address the serious ethical lapses found proved by the General Medical Counsel.

I am left thinking that this is in reality a pre-release promotional event to get press coverage for Dr. Wakefield’s upcoming paper. The study is “on the brink” of being published. In other words, it is likely already in-press. The faux outrage that his work is being suppressed in light of this is painful to read.

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10 Responses to “Is Wakefield being shut up, or are Jenny and Jim trying to get publicity for his research?”

  1. David N. Brown February 5, 2010 at 23:21 #

    “Dr. Wakefield himself put the idea in the public’s mind that the MMR was causing autism.”

    This is giving him too much credit. Suspicions that vaccines cause autism can be traced back to the 1960s, before MMR existed. It seems to be well-documented that Wakefield was recruited by parents who already believed MMR caused autism. Also, I’m skeptical whether Wakefield even had as great a role in the MMR scare as is widely assumed. The numbers on vaccine uptake show MMR declining even before 1998, and the steepest drop was a few years later (something Goldacre has commented on). I suspect that, ultimately, Wakefield did not cause a scare so much as provide a convenient rationalization for it.

  2. Socrates February 5, 2010 at 23:41 #

    Jenny’s taken the place of the shaman reading the entrails. Planting seeds of Myths in the fertile soil of the parents’ anguish.

    Wakefield is the Prophet and AoA the Cantor.

    Our science can’t touch them. They have their own Holy Catholic theology.

  3. Joseph February 5, 2010 at 23:49 #

    They are point blank accusing the GMC members of being in the pockets of vaccine manufacturers. That sounds like a pretty serious accusation to me, particularly coming from people with deep pockets.

  4. _Arthur February 6, 2010 at 00:59 #

    “At no point to Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Carrey address the ethical violations that Dr. Wakefield was found guilty of.”

    What ? They dont address the EVIDENCE ? Paint me any color but surprised.

  5. FreeSpeaker February 6, 2010 at 02:32 #

    Joseph: They are point blank accusing the GMC members of being in the pockets of vaccine manufacturers. That sounds like a pretty serious accusation to me, particularly coming from people with deep pockets

    And with the GMC being in the defamation plaintiff loving UK….

  6. Clay February 6, 2010 at 07:23 #

    I wouldn’t mind if “they” shut him up, but yeah, this is just a pre-release promotional event to get press coverage for Dr. Wakefield’s upcoming paper. These people don’t give up.

  7. AutismNewsBeat February 6, 2010 at 10:46 #

    I like this part:

    Moreover, why now, after 12 years of inaction, did The Lancet and GMC suddenly act? Is it coincidence that the monkey study is currently being submitted to medical journals for review and publication?

    Don’t they have that backwards? It seems to me that Wakers’ monkey study was timed to defend himself against the GMC’s investigation.

  8. Phil H February 6, 2010 at 11:22 #

    “And with the GMC being in the defamation plaintiff loving UK…”

    If only honest men could be comfortable using the weapons of knaves…

  9. Brian Deer February 6, 2010 at 11:34 #

    David B: I find your posts very interesting and constructive, but sometimes you’re not correct. MMR vaccination levels were NOT in decline prior to Wakefield. In the UK, the vaccinated 2 year olds figure was 92% prior to Wakefield. This was the highest ever figure.

    The first fall – from 92 to 91% – followed Wakefield’s widely-publicised claims that MMR causes Crohn’s disease. This was just before the retracted Lancet paper. Thus, those perhaps somewhat less familiar than I am with Wakefield’s activities might mistake this to be evidence that there was a fall before him.

    He is entirely responsible for the collapse in immunisation figures in the UK. Indeed, at his GMC hearing, his leading counsel was very clear in acknowledging the impact of his 1998 paper.

    Moreover, there were no suspicions in the 1960s that vaccines cause autism. Previous concerns about possible neurological problems with vaccines never mentioned autism. I think (from memory) the US Coulter book in the 1980s may have one mention of autism on one page somewhere in a shopping list.

    With respect, I think it’s important in this matter of health and safety that people don’t just extemporise off the top of their heads. If you have some evidence to substantiate what you are saying, this is your chance.

    The vaccination figures are listed at the bottom of this page of mine:

    http://briandeer.com/solved/story-highlights.htm

  10. David N. Brown February 7, 2010 at 01:06 #

    Brian,
    Bernard Rimland has been cited as suggesting a link between autism and vaccination in the 1960s. Of course, his immediate influence would have been American, not British. I think you misunderstood a bit: I said the drop started before 1998 (ca. 1996?), and I hadn’t considered the influence of his Crohn’s claims. What I think consensus accounts (esp. your own) show is generalized suspicions about MMR were in the air by ca. 1992, which as I recall is the date given in the LAB for when litigation was first considered.

    I approach this issue from the background of a student of science and theology, and as a writer of speculative fiction. From this perspective, I’m reserved about drawing direct links between two manifestations of the same or similar ideas. I think a passage in Ecclesiastes could serve as a caution: “Nothing is done that has not been done before, and will not be done again.” In the present case, the idea that a vaccine caused autism (and popular acceptance of it) is explainable by repeated independent evolutions.

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