Follow the money

31 Dec

Regularly whenever I read about some nefarious plot by Big Pharma to use vaccines to take over the world/cause autism/incite riots/insert crap of your choice here, the writer exhorts the reader to ‘follow the money’ as a phrase to indicate that the evil, money grubbers at Big Pharma can have their actions rationalised by seeing how much they might gain from the particular conspiracy theory under discussion. Of course, very rarely can these writers actually name an individual at Big Pharma or an alleged ‘payout’ they are getting.

Luckily, Times reporter Brian Deer is an _actual_ reporter – i.e. one who investigates his findings and sources his facts. Today he published the findings of his latest investigation into Andrew Wakefield and the associated people that support his vaccine/autism/legal financial business.

Brian has basically found that UK tax payer funded legal aid to the sum of _£3.4m_ was spent (wasted might be a better word) on payments to doctors and scientists who had been recruited to support a now failed lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. This information wasn’t submitted voluntarily, Brian had to submit a Freedom of Information request in order to unearth the figures. There are some notable names on the list:

Andrew Wakefield: £439,553. Quite profitable to start vaccine litigation isn’t it? Seems that you can fleece the British tax payer to the tune of nearly half a million quid. Follow the money indeed.

But is good old Wakers alone? Oh no, this money making machine had a few members, some familiar names to this blog:

Dr Ken Aitken, Scottish DAN! Doctor: £232,022. After resigning under a cloud from his role at Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, Aitken gladly signed up for this gravy train which seems to have netted him nearly a quarter of a million quid of tax payers money. In 2004, Aitken was severely reprimanded by the British Psychological Society concerning his handling of an autistic child’s case. The society’s conduct committee said that he “allowed his professional responsibilities or standards of practice to be diminished by considerations of extraneous factors”.

Peter Fletcher: £39,960. I wrote a blog entry about Peter Fletcher’s anti-MMR strawmen awhile ago. Here’s a quote from him:

There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves.

You can say that again.

And on it goes:

Arthur Krigsman, Business partner of Andrew Wakefield: £16,986. His unpublished ‘papers’ have been cited numerous times by Wakefield and supporters as evidence Wakefield was right, conveniently forgetting they were a) unpublished and b) written for his boss. According to Brian (see link in Aitken paragraph), in December 2004, he left Lennox Hill hospital, New York,after a lawsuit, which was followed by an ethics inquiry. In August 2005, he was fined $5,000 by the Texas Medical Board for misconduct. Gotta try and recoup some of that money somewhere eh?

Jeff Bradstreet: £21,600. Bradstreet – who recommends exorcism for autism – snapped up Wakefield as Director of his business after Wakefield was booted out of the Royal Free.

Mark Geier: £7,052. We could write a whole book on the Geier’s and their dubious practices. Luckily, Kathleen has documented most of them already. Suffice it to say, Geier shouldn’t be offering legal expert advice to anyone.

See some more notables on Brian’s personal site.

Brian’s report in the Times also states:

…among those named as being paid from the legal aid fund was a referee for one of Wakefield’s papers, who was allowed £40,000…

Which is an interesting position as Wakefield is on record as stating:

You cannot referee your own soccer matches. It’s like asking the Italians to — an Italian referee to take over the game of Italy between South Korea. It doesn’t work. Can’t do it. You have to separate those agencies that endorse and mandate vaccines and those who monitor safety. One needs to be on the back of the other all the time in order to check on safety.

Quite. That same principle also works against you Mr Wakefield. Back-handers to referee’s of your papers makes you an Italian throwing a bung to an Italian referee. Follow the money.

Also according to the LSC (who oversee administration of Legal Aid) A private GP who runs a single vaccines clinic received £6,000. Follow the money.

What the hell are the LSC playing at? They have a £2billion per year budget in order to provide legal services to people who can’t afford to retain a lawyer. Once that money is spent, its spent. Apparently, they’ve already:

acknowledged that the attempt to make a case against MMR with taxpayers’ money was “not effective or appropriate”.

Understatement of they year!

One of the legal aid recipients, John March has broken ranks to speak out against what has happened:

“There was a huge conflict of interest,” said Dr John March, an animal vaccine specialist who was among those recruited. “It bothered me quite a lot because I thought, well, if I’m getting paid for doing this, then surely it’s in my interest to keep it going as long as possible.”

I doubt March was alone in his thinking.

Wakefield has circulated a pitiful defence of his antics stating that these monies were received over a period of nine years and that after tax and ‘out of pocket expenses’ which he failed to detail or summarise he donated the money to charity. What a saint. The point, of course, is entirely missed. It doesn’t matter what you did with it Mr Wakefield, the point is that you got it. I hear tell some religious heroin dealers in Columbia donate some of their profit to churches. Big deal – they’re still crooks.

According to Brian’s report, at least one MP is calling for a an inquiry into how exactly this could’ve come about and a Lib Dem MP is quoted as saying:

“These figures are astonishing,” said Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. “This lawsuit was an industry, and an industry peddling what turned out to be a myth.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

More reading

Diva, Mike, Orac and Anthony.

32 Responses to “Follow the money”

  1. livsparents December 31, 2006 at 18:18 #

    I guess it does not matter that before Wakefield, the connection between autism and ‘gut’ issues was never made. That there still COULD be a connection between the regressive form of autism and these gut issues (whether one causes the other, remains to be seen). That this subgroup of regression has never been adequately categorized and studied against the gut comorbid and possibly against the MMR/thimeresol issues.
    I guess it’s just better to employ character assasinations using everything short of traffic tickets to discredit ANYONE who involved in the research. Why not stick to the scientific facts instead of bringing up every medical infraction for circumventing proper research protocol? I’m not saying there is not scientific data to thwart many parts of the arguements, I’m just getting sick of hearing all the smear tactics from Mr Deer who is clearly more interested in government waste than helping autistic kids, and would probably stop short at nothing to make sure everything of Dr Wakefield’s research, including the FACT of the comorbidity between gut issues and some autism, was buried and tossed in the ashcan; along with all those children who would not recieve proper treatment because it was deemed ‘quackery’…

  2. Joel Smith December 31, 2006 at 18:55 #

    Conflict of interest *is* a valid reason to discredit research, and the convention when publishing in academic journals is to disclose possible conflicts of interest. Some conflicts aren’t a big deal, some are, but all should be disclosed and the journal referees (who should not likewise have conflicts of interest!) and readers can determine whether they believe the conflict to be a big deal.

    I note Wakefield never disclosed his conflict. That’s the biggest problem.

    I also challenge the assertion that gut issues and autism are connected – I’m not sure that’s the case, and I also think many autistic gut issues (runny stool in particular) can also be explained by the tremendously high stress autistic kids are often under. Certainly I have no problem with research in this area, but to state it as “FACT” without any evidence is rather disingenuous. There very well may be a connection, but why don’t we research that rather than simply asserting it as fact? (I know that I’m a heretic for not accepting this fact without proof, but I’ll be able to live with myself despite that)

  3. Lisa/Jedi December 31, 2006 at 19:13 #

    I’ll second Joel & add that that I have yet to see proof that a “regressive form” of autism exists…

  4. Kev December 31, 2006 at 19:14 #

    I’m sorry Bill, I know you think there’s a definite connection between autism and gut issues and I appreciate that you use the word ‘comorbidity’ but as Joel says there really is no reason to give Wakefield any credit whatsoever for his beliefs and I’m afraid it is far from a fact that there are gut issues associated with autism.

    Further, this particular issue is in regard to MMR vaccine litigation and the utter waste of tax payers money – approaching £15m, including approaching half a million personally to Wakefield – in pursuing this through the courts.

    Gut issues and autism are much more scientifically published by Tim Buie. Wakefield isn’t, and never was, a hero. Far from this being a smear tactic, its the right of every UK tax payer to know how their money is utilised in such a pointless and wasteful way.

  5. livsparents December 31, 2006 at 19:21 #

    My point exactly. At this point, I almost consider it a fact, I should have put that ‘FACT’ in quotes (kinda like we should also put the FACT that autism is related to genetics in quotes, because it is not officially proven). But with attitudes like that, legitimate study points will be buried under the rhetoric of ‘conflict of interest’…

  6. Joel Smith December 31, 2006 at 19:54 #

    Getting 450,000 pounds is not “rhetoric of ‘conflict of interest'”. That’s a huge problem, well outside the conflicts of interest of other scientists (INCLUDING even scientists that work at drug companies doing research for the drug companies!!!).

    Find real research. It does exist and there are plenty of people finding new and unexpected (and often unpopular) things through research *WITHOUT* having conflicts of interest. Examples of things found that were unpopular to the interests were global warming, increased suicides with anti-depressants in teens, and the fact that some pain drugs have side-effects that were undisclosed.

    If the peer review process works without conflict of interest in areas such as global warming – which every energy company on the planet wishes didn’t exist, and have plenty of money to make that wish come true – then relatively non-controversial areas such as whether or not gut issues are involved in autism can be researched presumably quite easily by scientists who aren’t being paid by Big-Legal to sue drug companies.

  7. livsparents December 31, 2006 at 20:08 #

    “I’ll second Joel & add that that I have yet to see proof that a “regressive form” of autism exists…”

    I appreciate you all helping me prove my point. Another potential legitimate issue that could get swept under the research rug because of ‘guilt by association’ (or in this case, ‘false by association’) Thanks, Lisa…

  8. Kev December 31, 2006 at 21:17 #

    _”But with attitudes like that, legitimate study points will be buried under the rhetoric of ‘conflict of interest’…”_

    Not so Bill. What Wakefield has done is not in any way legitimate science, neither is his progeny (Krigsman etc). There is a good reason that none of Krigsman’s stuff has been published and that Wakefields has been refuted and its nothing to so with a smear tactic and everything to do with shoddy work.

    No one has an issue with a legitimate look at such things (at least no one I know of) but its approaching 10 years now science Wakefield published his original MMR bashing piece and so far nothing has supported his beliefs that MMR is related or causative to autism.

    Look by all means but when its clear that there is no association, do the decent thing and don’t carry on taking the British taxpayer for a ride.

  9. Joseph December 31, 2006 at 21:40 #

    Gut issues as a comorbidity of autism is no more a FACT than, say, the common cold being a comorbidity of autism. I know of at least one study which found that autistic and non-autistic kids had the same rate of gastrointestinal issues.

    Wakefield is discredited, due to his actions, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean all research relating to an association between gut issues and autism has been halted. It shouldn’t mean that. Science doesn’t work that way, and I wouldn’t be concerned about that.

  10. mcewen December 31, 2006 at 21:54 #

    Gives me another legitimate reason to grouch about still paying taxes in the UK.
    Mind you, I still have a healthy list of grouches about paying taxes out here too.
    Democracy! I’m thinking of changing my allegiances to a Benign Dictatorship instead. There again…?

  11. livsparents December 31, 2006 at 23:23 #

    “its approaching 10 years now science Wakefield published his original MMR bashing piece and so far nothing has supported his beliefs that MMR is related or causative to autism.”

    Not arguing that point, but I will argue that is also ten years that many legitimate scientists won’t touch studying gut comorbidities and regressive autism with a ten foot pole.

    I may be biased but I, for one, woud like these two pieces studied. Agreed that this time the studies should not be ‘funded’ by an illegitimate legal aid means; they should fund it through Parliament/Congress where all the ‘legitimate criminals’ get their money!

  12. Ms. Clark January 1, 2007 at 00:24 #

    The whole vaccine autism thing is a like a swirling eddy off the mainstream…. I used to go inner tubing on rivers and I can still picture how there would be these little swirling spots next to the bank where the flow of water actually went against the main flow as it swirled in circles. You could see the leaves caught in them, going ’round and ’round in circles as the rest of the main flow of the river moved on.

    Wakefield and some other profiteers started screaming “autism is caused by vaccines!!” in the 1990’s and other quacks and charlatans picked up on the yell, “autism is caused by vaccines!! All you have to do is ask that big, tall, handsome ‘Dr. Dreamy’ Wakefield (big dreamy sigh). He and his friends are all saying the same thing. Must be true!!”. Just because they have screamed this some parents parents stopped vaccinating their kids, following the belief, “better dead than autistic” which is promoted by these same people. Never mind that Wakefield had his own patented measles vaccine in mind while bashing the MMR.

    There’s no reason to think that doctors would never have gotten around to investigating the digestive systems of autistic kids apart from this greed driven anti-MMR hysteria.

    Wakefield wasn’t the first person to look at digestive problems in autism. We still don’t have any proof that the majority of the gut problems WHICH MAY BE NO MORE COMMON than in normal kids, are not just the result of high levels of cortisol (from stress) and possibly from things like lactose interolerance or a problem with other sugars, which causes gas and diarrhea, the things that Wakefield shows in his slides (bloated stomaches and diarrhea on the floor… Martha Herbert used the exact same pictures in her presentation at the MIND). The most common complaint in autistic kids is constipation, anyway, not unremitting diarrhea. The indications so far is that autistic kids do not “*usually* respond to a GFCF diet by becoming less autistic. Whatever parents are seeing with the GFCF diet may be the placebo effect. The majority of autistic kids don’t need to be on a special diet… though the sellers of diet books and seminars would not like you to believe that.

    But hey, Wakers he’s given up EVERYTHING for these dear, dear poisoned, measely …. *chulderun* (deep martyr-like sigh).

    So did Wakers donated money to a charity that pays him to be tall and gorgeous and inspirational and spiritual (even) and to talk parents into letting him take bits of their children’s intestines while they are under general anaesthetic?

    There never were measles in the autistic kids intestines. The D’Souza et al paper shows that plainly, the PCR primers Wakefield et al used didn’t find measles.

    One of the legal aid payments was made to someone for 25 spinal taps or tests on CSF… 25 kids underwent spinal taps for this idiocy.

    No big deal, huh Bill? We’re all just picking on poor Dr. Dreamy?
    I don’t think so, I think we are following the money, big money.

    I wonder how far all this would have gone if he wasn’t so charismatic? Can you see women lining up around the block to take their kids to Wakers if he looked like Lenny Schafer?

  13. livsparents January 1, 2007 at 01:48 #

    “Last time I played the moral equivalency game, pr0n in the office of a doctor at a kids’ hospital didn’t get measured in terms of parking meter tickets.”

    No, I’m just upset that research into my daughters issues may not be done because a reporter considers getting the truth out about pornography in a doctor’s office of higher import that researching comorbid gut issues and regression in autistics…

    I’m sorry Kev, I’ll stop digressing. I’ll let everyone get on with the Wake…

  14. Kev January 1, 2007 at 04:47 #

    Bill, I’d point you once more to the work of Tim Buie who is doing interesting work on gut issues in autism.

    The point I’m making when I say that is that decent science _is_ and _has_ been done in this area – just not by Wakefield et al and not by anyone who wants to make a quick buck by a sloppy association with MMR.

  15. livsparents January 1, 2007 at 05:26 #

    But Tim Buie is associated with that evil organization DAN!…anyone associated with that organization is equally evil, regardless of their ancillary relationship…

  16. Kev January 1, 2007 at 09:24 #

    I’m not sure he would see himself as being associated with DAN! But even if he is, I’m not sure how that invalidates his work? You should also note I’m not saying his work is faultless, its just better than Wakefield’s and doesn’t require the prop of MMR to support it.

  17. Mike Stanton January 1, 2007 at 23:48 #

    I can understand Bill’s frustration. I know parents whose autistic children have gut problems. This does not mean that they are co-morbid or have a causal link to autism. It means that they have gut problems. But for a long time these problems were not taken seriously. I well remember a letter from Nick Hornby to the Guardian in which he stated that while he had no axe to grind regarding MMR, it was only went he took his son to the Royal Free that they paid any attention to his son’s GI distress and offered trteatment.

    The real scandal is that for too long, and it still persists, autistic children have been denied adequate health care because problems with eating, bowel function, toilet training, sleep disorders, etc are seen as a consquence of the autism and hence untreatable in their own right.

    This attitude amongst some, not all, mainstream health professionals is what pushes parents into the arms of the biomed quacks who agree that these problem are all part of autism. But they go on to claim that these conditions cause autism which is therefore treatable via biomedical means.

    Wakefield may have drawn attention to some of thes eproblems. But his insistence on a link between measles and gut disorders in autistic children has done immense damage.

    Professor Ann LeCouteur is seeking £2 million to finance the CANDAA project (University of Newcastle) into diet and autism. This is a serious study backed by Autism Research. I am pretty sure that the government or the medical research council would be more likely to fund research like this if they were not still smarting from the cost, both financial and political of the MMR debacle. But CANDAA did not get funding this year. I have just asked a question on my blog. What would you spend £16 million on – lawyers, expert witnesses or something of value to autistic people?

    Do not forget the lawyers. Wakefield netted £400,000 out of around £3.4 million paid out in fees to experts. Legal fees came to over £11.5 million. See it here.

  18. anonimouse January 2, 2007 at 16:25 #

    I like how people want to dance around the issue that Andrew Wakefield received enormous amounts of money from lawyers for the express purpose of doing research that supported the MMR/autism link. And was receiving that money for years before any research was published.

    All of the stuff about gut issues and autism is interesting, but it’s off-topic. The issue at hand is that a sanctimonious piece of garbage spent years railing about the evil drug companies and his desire to protect the public health, acting as if he was a martyr fighting against the establishment. The whole time, he was taking large amounts of money from lawyers, some of which went to ensure that his papers got published.

    THAT is the big story here, and obfuscation by the likes of Bill only serves to distract from the real issue – that the alleged “freedom fighters” of the vaccine/autism link are getting their money from lawyers. I’d like to see – no, I demand to see – the same research done into the American autism organizations. I think there are some dirty hands there as well.

  19. Mike January 3, 2007 at 02:35 #

    The government in the UK forked over 15,882,159 pounds to fund a case that was found to have no merit. Reportedly the evidence and research that cost millions to obtain was found to be woefully lacking. The lawyers and experts collect their fees and look for a new target or angle. The only ones hurt were the legitimate research facilities and the children.

    In US dollars we are talking about the waste of $ 31,259,265. Think of what the school systems and the special education programs could have done with this much additional funding. These experts are then asked to speak to groups about autism??? I believe that an investment in tar and feathers should be the last spent on these folks.

  20. Brian Deer January 3, 2007 at 13:08 #

    Hi Mike,

    Where is your $31m figure coming from? I’m always up for a good fact.

    Oh, and while I’m here, I started writing a blog comment, but it got so long and sarcastic that I ended up posting it on my own site.

    In due course, Wakefield’s “science” will be taken apart before the world’s amazed eyes, and shown for what it is. The money is one thing, but I promise you, you just wouldn’t believe what’s being going on.

    Meanwhile: here’s my thoughts on Wakefield’s dough:

    Happy new year. It’s going to be a good one.

  21. Junior January 3, 2007 at 14:13 #

    Check out some of the comments here:

  22. HN January 3, 2007 at 16:03 #

    Though this one is more amusing:

  23. Kev January 3, 2007 at 20:05 #

    _”Oh, and while I’m here, I started writing a blog comment, but it got so long and sarcastic that I ended up posting it on my own site.”_

    You should do writing for a living or something ;o)

  24. Mike January 3, 2007 at 22:15 #

    Brian Deer,

    I hope it is a good fact. I simply ran 15.8 million British pounds through a currency converter to get the equivalent in US dollars. Based upon the exchange rates in effect yesterday and today it yielded an equivalent of slightly over 31 million dollars.

    If there is a flaw in that process please let me know. We can test it further by wiring 31 million dollars into Kevin’s Tee Shirt account and waiting to see if we get 15.8 million pounds worth of Tee Shirts back.

  25. anonimouse January 4, 2007 at 13:37 #

    Though this one is more amusing:…..e=s5i13261

    The sad thing is that within that spoof are more than minor germs of truth.

  26. livsparents January 5, 2007 at 20:11 #

    “THAT is the big story here, and obfuscation by the likes of Bill only serves to distract from the real issue – that the alleged “freedom fighters” of the vaccine/autism link are getting their money from lawyers.”

    Funny I thought the REAL overriding issue here was to get the autistic proper care and to prevent people from needless/dangerous treatment. You can relish in Wakefield’s demise all you want as long as you KEEP the focus on helping the autistic…

  27. Joel Smith January 5, 2007 at 22:21 #

    Dangerous treatment includes giving advice that goes against medical research, such as to avoid vaccines.

    But when the only thing the anti-vaccine crowd has going for it is that its’ leaders “don’t get any kickbacks” and it’s discovered that there is a rather large kickback, well, I do think that’s relevant to the discussion.

  28. notmercury January 6, 2007 at 02:51 #

    livsparents: Funny I thought the REAL overriding issue here was to get the autistic proper care and to prevent people from needless/dangerous treatment.

    When wannabe doctors like McCandless get it in their heads that autistic guts are laden with measles virus and they cook up schemes to kill said virus including high dose vitamin A and any old thing that anecdotally kills viruses, proper care should include protection from quackery.

  29. century January 10, 2007 at 18:38 #

    Brian Deer said

    “In due course, Wakefield’s “science” will be taken apart before the world’s amazed eyes, and shown for what it is.”

    But Brian has been saying this for a long time


    “The money is one thing, but I promise you, you just wouldn’t believe what’s being going on.”

    Go on then – enlighten us

  30. Kev January 11, 2007 at 06:53 #

    “Go on then – enlighten us”

    You’re going to have to wait Century. Handling this responsibly takes time.

    If only a certain doctor had had the maturity to wait he never would’ve found himself in such a mess.

  31. David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction) January 26, 2007 at 20:41 #

    Paper girl….

    Marry me!

    Wakers was a pillock amongst pillocks to go the way he did!



  1. Left Brain/Right Brain » Andrew Wakefield backs down - January 4, 2007

    […] However, its not been the best start to 2007 for Andrew Wakefield. On 31st December 2006, Brian published an article in the Times that demonstrated that Andrew Wakefield had been paid approaching half a million pounds to conduct his MMR investigation for lawyers. This runs contrary to the bottomless claim by Wakefield’s apologists who told the BBC he hadn’t. […]

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