On Andrew Wakefield and the use of the term “fraud” in the press

6 May

Andrew Wakefield has sent a threatening letter to Forbes and Emily Willingham claiming harm over their use of the word “fraud” in a recent article. I wrote about this recently but then thought, “I wonder how often the term ‘fraud’ shows up in the press. Here are some examples from a recent Google News search.

Vail Daily column: Vaccine: Not a 4-letter word

But before I continue, realize that a few years later Wakefield was found guilty of falsifying data in order to fit a desired conclusion and was stripped of his license to practice medicine. The hypothesis that MMR caused autism was declared fraudulent, and Wakefield is now living in Texas pushing homeopathic medicine (read: watered-down to the point it needs no FDA approval) to the gullible.

STONE: Vaccines save lives

First, let’s put to bed one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories brought on by the anti-vaccine movements that vaccines cause autism. Jenny McCarthy, fueled by a biased and fraudulent study in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claiming autism was linked to the combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, used her celebrity stature to “raise awareness” for parents to reconsider vaccines for their children.


LETHBRIDGE: The victory of reason over my vaccination fears

In retrospect, it was the correct decision. Wakefield’s work was later found to be fraudulent. His research practices were ethically dubious, he falsified data and failed to declare certain vested interests.

The vaccine and its controversy

The MMR vaccine became the centre of a controversy following claims (which were subsequently established as fraudulent) that the vaccine was responsible for causing Autism-spectrum disorders in children. The controversy was kicked off in 1998 by the publication of a paper by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield in the medical journal The Lancet. Investigations later revealed that Wakefield had multiple undeclared conflicts of interest, had manipulated evidence, and had broken other ethical codes. The Lancet paper was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010, and Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and was struck off the Medical Register.

Collin Boots | Immune to reason
The Devil’s Advocate | The anti-vaccine movement, whether religious or secular, needs a dose of reality

Not only have countless follow-up studies directly contradicted this result, but The Lancet actually retracted the original article in 2010 when it was revealed to be fraudulent. Wakefield was also stripped of his medical license

Richard Feldman: Vaccines and autism: Numerous studies indicate no connection

British researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield authored completely bogus research in 1998 that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. His fraudulent research was finally exposed; he was completely discredited and lost his British medical license.

Don’t let parents opt out of ‘mandatory’ vaccinations

In 2011, the British Medical Journal published an investigative piece by Sunday Times reporter Brian Deer, debunking Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s vaccine/autism study as “an elaborate fraud.”

Only 12 children were studied. Doubts were raised about the manner in which they were recruited and the science with which the study was conducted.

As well, it was discovered Wakefield was on the payroll of a group that had launched a lawsuit against manufacturers of the MMR vaccine — and their claim would be based on his evidence.

What’s most shocking about this is that well-meaning, concerned parents around the world stopped vaccinating their children on the basis of this fraudulent study and Wakefield became the darling of the anti-vaccine activists movement.

Even though it’s been shown to be a giant fraud, there are those who still persist in parroting the untruths.

EDITORIAL: Vaccinate your children

Reasons vary. Some parents prefer a “natural immunity” to vaccine-acquired immunity; others believe vaccines overload a child’s immune system; others say we shouldn’t worry about diseases that have “disappeared.” Then there’s the Jenny McCarthy phenomenon. The former Playboy model has convinced some parents that vaccines cause autism. The one study that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism, by British doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998, has been discredited as fraudulent, and the published paper was retracted. Autism rates are the same in vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

My position on immunization – Dr. Mark Fishaut

Editors of BMJ, the British medical journal, have even called the study “an elaborate fraud,” accusing author Andrew Wakefield of deliberately falsifying medical data.

Prevention is better than cure

It was also reported that his research methodology was questionable as patient data was manipulated to create the appearance of a link to autism. This conflict of interest plus the fraudulent research resulted in the withdrawal of Wakefield’s paper from The Lancet and revocation of his medical licence.

That’s, what, 10 examples in only the past few weeks?

None have any notation that Mr. Wakefield has contacted them. I have not heard of any such letters being sent other than the one to Forbes and the lawsuit instigated against Brian Deer and the BMJ.

Odd, isn’t it, that all of a sudden Mr. Wakefield decides to threaten one of the Age of Autism’s favorite targets and no one else?


By Matt Carey

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11 Responses to “On Andrew Wakefield and the use of the term “fraud” in the press”

  1. reissd May 6, 2014 at 22:33 #

    He may have also thought she’s an easier target. He was, again, wrong.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 6, 2014 at 23:27 #

      Emily Willingham is not someone I would want to take on. She’s as competent as they come. Her publication list is impressive and very relevant to the autism discussion.

      • reissd May 6, 2014 at 23:32 #

        Yup. Brains, guts and heart. If he thought she’d be easy, he misjudged.

  2. Science Mom May 7, 2014 at 04:03 #

    She was a calculated target and the release of his pathetic, whiny threat to AoA was a manipulation of them to re-invigorate his donations and support. I seem to recall quite clearly what happened to him the last time he took on simultaneous litigations. Somehow I doubt he’d risk a redux.

  3. Ren May 7, 2014 at 04:05 #

    Would you expect any less of that blog? There’s a very odd post that uses the word “whore” no less than 15 times, including 2 in the comments, and once or twice directed at Dr. Willingham.

    Oh, and she’s “Ms.” to them when they lose their minds when someone calls Wakefield “Mr.”

    • Lawrence May 7, 2014 at 19:06 #

      Somehow, I’ve been allowed to post (quite a bit, actually) at AoA recently….they are extremely delusional & tend to drift off topic back to the typical anti-vax tropes fairly quickly (regardless of what the original topic was).

      • lilady May 7, 2014 at 21:17 #

        I’ve seen your comments Lawrence and I give you a lot of credit for dealing with the AoA critters.

  4. DT35 May 7, 2014 at 19:53 #

    Rebecca Fisher routinely refers to Wakefield as “Mr. Fraudytrousers”; I do not recall hearing that he has sued her or threatened to do so.

    He seems more and more contemptuous of his fan base. In 2005, when Mr. Justice Eady commented on the obvious effort to squeeze PR benefit out of the pending libel case without actually moving forward to prove the libel, at least Wakefield had filed a case. Now The Brave Maverick expects the faithful to rally around and contribute just because he has said he might someday file some litigation.

  5. Stuart May 30, 2014 at 17:04 #

    Did the authors of these examples do their own independent research and all come up with the term “fraud”? If they did, that would give it some weight. Or did they pick up a talking point word and pass it around to galvanize the clique? That would make a list of those who use the word fraud worthless to those who want to know the truth.

    • Chris May 30, 2014 at 21:19 #

      I am sorry, but I don’t understand your point. Wakefield was wrong about the MMR vaccine, and his paper had fraudulent data. Plus he claimed the vaccine had risks without any real evidence. How is that not fraud?

      What is this “truth” you are alluding to? What have most of missed? The dozen studies showing Wakefield was wrong? The almost twenty years of MMR vaccine without any appreciable connection to autism in the USA before 1990? Please elaborate and clarify.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) June 6, 2014 at 02:07 #

      “That would make a list of those who use the word fraud worthless to those who want to know the truth.”

      By which you demonstrate that you don’t want to know the truth, you believe you already do know the truth. You separate the world into two groups: those who use the word fraud and those who want to know the truth. In your world those who use the word “fraud” are not the same as those who want to know the truth.

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