Andrew Wakefield, MMR and….The Observer??

8 Jul

I have a category tag on this blog especially for the loons at the Daily Mail (Melanie Phillips et al) which I usually select whenever I write about Andrew Wakefield or the MMR because its invariably one of them doing the writing.

This time I was amazed to see that it was that usual bastion of intelligence and propriety, The Observer, that had decided to play the role of media dumbass. Obviously the mail and Private Eye are having an off day.

First up was Andrew Wakefield himself – comparing himself to Vaclav Havel no less he pontificates:

Wakefield told The Observer that he has no regrets for saying what he did in 1998 nor for continuing to seek to prove his view of MMR as the likeliest explanation for the rise in cases of autism in Britain. Almost every child health expert, though, regards the jab as hugely beneficial to public health and rules out any connection between it and autism.

‘My concern is that it’s biologically plausible that the MMR vaccine causes or contributes to the disease in many children, and that nothing in the science so far dissuades me from the continued need to pursue that question’, Wakefield said.

Nothing in the science? Is he joking?

How about the sworn testimony of Stephen Bustin, the world expert in the technique Wakefield’s lab of choice screwed up:

What I immediately observed was that they had forgotten to do the RT step…….If you detect a target that is apparently measles virus in the absence of an RT step by definition it can’t be measles virus because it has to be DNA. It’s a very simple concept. At least it is to me. It’s not to everyone else……[b]ecause measles virus doesn’t exist as a DNA molecule in nature, they cannot be detecting measles virus….

What’s not to get here Andy? Your lab fucked up. And whats more, in your original study, you ignored the fact that you had been proven wrong:

Q Okay. Did you personally test the gut biopsy samples for measles RNA?
A Yes.

Q What tests did you perform?
A A PCR test, a polymerase chain reaction.

Q What results did you receive from the gut biopsy materials for measles RNA?
A They were all negative.

Q They were always negative?
A Yes. There were a few cases of false positive results, which I used a method to see whether they were real positive results or false positive, and in every case they turned out to be false positive results. Essentially all the samples tested were negative.


Q So you personally tested while you were in Dr. Wakefield’s lab gut biopsy material, CSF and PBMCs?
A Yes, that’s right.

Q And all the results were either negative, or if they were positive it always turned out that they were false positives?
A Yes, that’s correct.

Q Did you inform Dr. Wakefield of the negative results?
A Yes. Yes.

Please, someone – anyone – I mean it, anyone. please explain to me _what science_ exists that supports Andrew Wakefield’s opinion that ‘it’s biologically plausible that the MMR vaccine causes or contributes to [autism]’.

Also in The Observer (where is the third to complete the Trifecta of Stupid?) is the story:

New health fears over big surge in autism

And how did The Observer know this?

A study, as yet unpublished, shows that as many as one in 58 children may have some form of the condition

An unpublished study…? So, in other words, hearsay? Is there any indication as to the methodology of this study?

Well, according to Public Address, the team used the CAST (Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test) tool for evaluation. CAST has the following conclusion applied to it by the team that developed it:

The CAST is useful as a screening test for autism spectrum conditions in epidemiological research. There is not currently enough evidence to recommend the use of the CAST as a screening test within a public health screening programme in the general population

Those sorts of questionnaires are preliminary, for children who *might* have an ASD, and who should be followed up. If you take the 1 in 58 having features that might make you suspicious of ASD, then it’s a much more realistic feature – go down the full diagnostic road and you’re going to find that not all of them have an ASD.

And yet this is trumpted as a new health fear? An alternate and much more accurate headline would be: _We think some kids may have autism but we haven’t really tested for it at all_ – not quite as snappy though I grant you.

And hey, how did this story get linked to the MMR?

Seven academics at Cambridge University, six of them from its renowned Autism Research Centre, undertook the research by studying children at local primary schools. Two of the academics, leaders in their field, privately believe that the surprisingly high figure may be linked to the use of the controversial MMR vaccine.

Well, well, I wonder how these two could be? Again, from Public Address (link as above):

Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott. Stott is a psychologist and is about as qualified to comment on diseases of the gut, immunology and PCR testing (all of which are relevant to the MMR claims) as I am. But there’s more to it. Her name will be known to anyone who has looked at this saga. It was Stott who sent a string of abusive emails to Brian Deer, which led to a formal warning from the British Psychological Society. (Stott accused her colleagues of failing to support her in her battle with Deer because they were in thrall of drug companies.)

Campbell doesn’t tell his readers all that. He also forgets to note that Stott is no longer employed as a junior researcher at Cambridge. She now works with the California-based clinic Thoughtful House, which is run by – did you see this coming? – Andrew Wakefield. As you might expect, Deer takes a dim view of what goes on there.

Until Deer started writing about it, Stott and Dr Fiona Scott shared a website, on which they touted their “substantial experience in medico-legal and educational-legal expert witness work” to parents who might have been minded to pursue legal action in the belief that the MMR vaccine had caused their children’s autism.

It would appear that either or both of Stott and Scott are Campbell’s source, and that the timing of the story around Wakefield’s return to face the music before the GMC is no accident.

Suddenly, the story becomes clearer. Andrew Wakefield is on a PR campaign to paint himself as the beatific hero of the piece and his two glamorous assistants are happy to sell out their study partners in order to help him. of course, this will also entail rehashing all the unfounded and non-scientific fears about autism and MMR just to muddy the waters a bit.

I am not surprised at Wakefield or his two cronies. But The Observer? I’m surprised to say the least.

Update from Ben at Badscience

Ben has received email from Fiona Scott regarding this. Her email reads:

I can respond to your question in terms of the following which will be the
formal press release available from the National Autistic Society:

The Cambridge University Autism Research Centre have not yet released the
findings from their prevalence study, as the study is not yet complete. The
Cambridge researchers are surprised that an unpublished report of their work
was described out of context by the Observer. They are investigating how
this report was made available to the Observer. They are equally surprised
that the Observer fabricated comments attributed to their team. They do not
believe there is any link between rising prevalence and the MMR, or chemical
. It is untrue that Prof Baron-Cohen “was so concerned by the 1 in 58
figure that he proposed informing public health officials in the county “.
Such journalism raises anxiety unnecessarily and is irresponsible.

So it really does seem as if The Observer has out-and-out fabricated comments. Incredible.


Autism Diva
Autism Vox
Black Triangle
Mike Stanton
Public Address
Tim Worstall
Tony Hatfield

74 Responses to “Andrew Wakefield, MMR and….The Observer??”

  1. HN July 16, 2007 at 02:07 #

    Landau-Kleffner Syndrome is also known as “Acquired Epileptiform Aphasia”. A sleep EEG is often ordered to diagnose it, but it is still difficult to do:

    Other reasons an older child would have developmental problem at age four would be contracting a disease such as mumps, measles, Hib, E-coli… or other diseases that can cause meningitis or encephalitis. Or even a stroke: (if you continue through the pages you will find several reasons for strokes, including malformed blood vessels that are congenital time bombs).

    These are things that need to be investigated before claiming it was a vaccine that has been used since the early 1970s.

  2. Lucas McCarty July 16, 2007 at 07:58 #

    Doesn’t PubMed also have quite a high number of studies on regression showing no significant cognitive difference between kids their parents say regressed and those who were seen to show signs from birth? Wouldn’t that suggest that the difference between regressive and non-regressive is, well all in the mind?

  3. HN July 16, 2007 at 16:59 #

    Lucas, could you give us a hint as to what to look for?

    What was interesting is in the Autism Omnibus trial in the USA the Cedillos claimed their daughter was normal before the MMR. But the autism expert witnesses reviewed the videos, and noted several autistic traits in the child at a much younger age.

  4. Tara McLaren July 16, 2007 at 17:45 #

    If you were asked if a known paedeophile could take out your child for 30 mins, he had had the medical castration and was ‘cured’. Would you allow that to happen?
    My answer is no because there is — a chance.
    There is a possibility that with a susceptable group of children that a degree of Autism will result subsequent to having the MMR jab.
    Why take the chance?
    I would have begged or borrowed to find the money – and indeed I did and I can’t imagine I will ever make a more important decision.
    In fact every time my children are ill I thank whoever/ whatever.
    Again I say whatever evidence you believe, is your self satisfied knowledge worth taking the chance?

  5. Lucas McCarty July 17, 2007 at 07:55 #

    Unfortunately I’m still clueless with PubMed, most of my info on papers is second-hand. You’d proberley have to ask Michelle Dawson. I remember hearing that adult outcomes weren’t really different if their parents said they regressed. I tried searching for one of the studies but was bombarded with ones linking regression to epilepsy.

  6. HN July 17, 2007 at 18:48 #

    Oh, you have got to try PubMed… just go to and plug various terms into the search box. Most times you can just access the abstracts, which means you will have to go to the library to see if they have a subscription to the journal service to get you the full paper. Though once in a while the full paper is online free to everyone.

    For instance if you plug in “autism vaccines” you will lots of papers, letters, reviews, etc… One of them is listed as:

    If you look over the right, you will see a “Final Version FREE” link:

  7. Lucas McCarty July 18, 2007 at 07:41 #

    Horay for PubMed!

  8. notmercury July 18, 2007 at 12:21 #

    Singh’s reports of elevated MBP and MV antibodies didn’t hold up when properly investigated. When scientists investigate the work of others it isn’t an ‘attack’ it is an attempt at replication. When the matter is investigated properly and the findings aren’t reproduced, it’s generally an indication of a methodological flaw in the original study.

    The MBP antibodies that Singh reported are apparently some other protein. Wouldn’t you like to know what it is and how it may be involved rather than insisting MMR is to blame?

  9. Nigel Thomas July 18, 2007 at 19:03 #

    Being a brother of two seriously ill children, and not a scientist, I had to hunt for the answer to HN’s question, i.e.

    The MMR in question was approved for use in the USA in 1971, and in 1988 in the UK (the UK switched to a vaccine with a safer mumps component). Why did the Merck MMR vaccine only start being a problem after over 20 years of use, and in the UK?

    “In the UK, autism increased immediately after 1988 and this is very clear demonstrated in Kaye’s paper

    In an annual birth cohort analysis of 114 boys born in 1988-93, the risk of autism in 2 to 5 year old boys increased nearly fourfold over time, from 8 (95% confidence interval 4 to 14) per 10 000 for boys born in 1988 to 29 (20 to 43) per 10 000 for boys born in 1993.

    UK increase followed the US by ten years.

    Both versions of MMR (containing Urabe and Jeryl Lynn mumps) were known to be causing neurological problems from either the mumps or measles components before its introduction into the UK children’s vaccination programme in 1988.”

    I hope this is helpful HN.

    All the best,


  10. HN July 18, 2007 at 19:16 #

    Uh… no.

    That is just a chart on autism. That does not explain how it relates to any vaccines, nor to any change in diagnostic code. You did not answer my question at all. Show me the published documentation that explains why the Merck MMR became a problem.

    And sincy you claim the Jeryl Lynn mumps strain is as bad as the Urabe strain.

    Use some actual science, especially one that is indexed in

  11. Brian Deer July 18, 2007 at 19:33 #

    Actually, Nigel has got the wrong end of the stick over that graph. You actually have to go back to the original materials, re-align the axes, correct the dates when the vaccines kick in, and eventually what you see is a picture more or less showing what we all know: the rise is, if not wholly, then to such an extent nobody can disentangle, a result of the changing classification systems, earlier diagnosis, blah blah. If I wasn’t totally exhausted by another day at the GMC, I’d find the references and the replies I’ve received from the authors of that wholly misleading graph he’s dug out.

    If Nigel wants to do some real detective work, he might want to ask why the drug companies do nothing – at least nothing that I’ve found – to counter the idea of an “autism epidemic”. If their vaccines were at fault, you would think they would throw their bucks at fighting that one.

    I would venture to suggest that profits from vaccines come nowhere near the potential profits from behaviour-altering drugs such as (but by no means confined to) Ritalin. The idea of an autism epidemic is, in my view, very welcome to the industry. The technique is quite central to flogging drugs, for all kinds of conditions. Then the reps go to the doctors and say, “based on this new data, you should be seeing x number of kids who need our medication, but you’re only prescribing to 100th of x. Be our guest at our conference in Rio next month, and we’ll tell you more…”

    I think Nigel should tell us who is paying him to promote these ideas? Is he funded by big pharma? When will Merck sponsor Thoughtful House?

  12. Nigel Thomas July 18, 2007 at 19:40 #

    Ok Brian – I’ll look into why the drug companies do nothing. In exchange, you can do some real journalism and look into why so many thousands of children are so ill and not being properly investigated and treated. Maybe then you’d get the chance to do a video with a different ending then.

    Hope you’re not too tired. Get some sleep.


    P.S. HN – sorry that wasn’t useful. It’ll be a pleasure to look into it for you.

  13. Kev July 19, 2007 at 08:13 #


    There’s a lot of comments going straight to Akismet Hell (Akismet is a spam catcher). In order to prevent this and ensure your comments make it through please:

    1) No more than 2 links per comment
    2) Avoid swear words linked to sexual slang
    3) Avoid words that are associated with porn

    I’m not saying you need to be puritanical just that you need to avoid patterns that might be interpreted by a piece of software as spam.

  14. A. mulen July 27, 2007 at 21:14 #

    Okay HN, maybe YOU can answer my question to: Why did the UK change in 1988 (the UK switched to a vaccine with a safer mumps component). Or could it be that the Merck MMR vaccine used in the UK is what we should be looking at? How would that explain the parents from elswhere (USA)?

  15. HN July 27, 2007 at 21:27 #

    The reason that the UK switched was because the mumps vaccine they were using was contained the Urabe strain. That strain caused meningitis. They switched to the Merck MMR because it had the much safer Jeryl Lynn mumps strain.

    The Merck MMR used in the UK is the exact same one that has been used in the USA since 1971.

    I’ve mentioned this… this is not a secret. The switch in 1988 was to a much safer vaccine. From here: … “The combined MMR vaccine was introduced to UK in 1988 and uptake of the vaccine rose rapidly to a high of 92%. In 1992, brands containing the Urabe strain of the mumps vaccine virus were withdrawn after it was noted to be associated with an increased risk of aseptic meningitis.[1]”

    You can also read about it, including the development of the Jeryl Lynn strain of mumps vaccine in

    Okay, I have answered your question. It should be noted that this is the same information I put forth when asking MY question. Knowing now that the MMR vaccine in question is the EXACT same one that was approved for use in the USA in 1971… answer my question (cut and pasted from above… so forgive the repetitiveness)
    Okay, A. mulen… maybe YOU can answer my question: The MMR in question was approved for use in the USA in 1971, and in 1988 in the UK (the UK switched to a vaccine with a safer mumps component). Why did the Merck MMR vaccine MMR vaccine only start being a problem after over 20 years of use, and in the UK?

  16. HN July 27, 2007 at 22:18 #

    Despite using only two links, my comment has gone into the spam bucket, or waiting to be moderated.

    A. Mulen, if you read my question properly your question would have been answered.

    So I’ll note that in this recent paper:

    It says “In 1992, brands containing the Urabe strain of the mumps vaccine virus were withdrawn after it was noted to be associated with an increased risk of aseptic meningitis.[1] This did not appear to have a deleterious effect on uptake. ”

    And it continues in the full paper: “While there are known adverse reactions following the vaccine, as with any live vaccine, these are predictable in that they are also complications of the diseases e.g. febrile convulsions and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. [6] On the other hand, features of autism do not follow postnatal measles, mumps or rubella, unless accompanied by a severe encephalitis. For this reason, prior to its release, no studies had been carried out specifically looking for autism after administration of the vaccine and no significant concerns had been raised in this respect after 16 years of use in the US.”

    So here it is… the vaccine being used now replaced one where the Urabe mumps strain caused problems. But even when they were removed, the uptake was not effected. The one being used now is the one used in the USA for sixteen years before its introduction in the UK, and is the one with the safer Jeryl Lynn mumps strain (if you go into PubMed who will find several studies compaing those two strains, with other mumps strains… guess which one is considered the safer version?).

    Now, why is it that when a dangerous mumps strain was replaced with a safer one that did not cause a problem? But after almost 20 years of use the safety of the SAFER vaccine gets called into question?

    Where does it show that the USA had some massive increase of autism related to gut issues starting in the early 1970s? Why is it that Wakefield is the only one to make that connection? Why does he still make that connection when it was found that his samples were contanimated and did not actually contain measles virus?

  17. A. mulen August 3, 2007 at 22:22 #

    HN, thanks for your reply. Unfortunatel save for blogers etc information is not readily out there. I think there should be more effort to educate and reassure parents than what we see now. So part of the discussion should be how to reach out to the parents not only purely scientific discussions. I imagine this question should be answered by all researchers

  18. HN August 4, 2007 at 01:34 #

    The information is freely available here:

    And can also be found in papers indexed at (you can get full papers from a library, either academic or municipal, that subscribes to certain journal services.

  19. HN August 4, 2007 at 02:12 #

    By the way, there is lots more information in this book (where I learned that the MMR approved for use in the UK in 1988, was the same that had been in use in the USA since 1971):

    It is a very good and readable book.

    Another good online book on vaccines is this:

  20. Sarah August 11, 2007 at 12:27 #

    seriously, i think the way some of the people saying these things about Andrew Wakefield are being very unprofessional themselves! To use terms such as “f**ked up” is one easy way to put people off believing the pile of crap about mmr being safe on your site.
    i dont think its safe. and i dont care what you or the gmc or any investigation shows. i SAW my sister have that vaccine. the night before was the last time she spoke to me or made any sound or eye contact for five years, and there is no way in hell you are telling me that she and thousands of other children in this country can have the same symptoms immediately after mmr and the two are unrelated. i dont care about science. i am not in the medical profession nor do i wish to be. but i dont need any research or government filtered papers telling me that MMR is safe because i wouldnt believe that over my own dead body. so dont try and ram it down my throat because i just wont swallow that one for any of you biased people on here.
    yeah sure mmr may be safe for about 90% of kids, but if the government is giving it to all at the cost of the normality and lives of the other 10% they can stick it in their own a**es because its wrong. i dont care which of you agree and which of you dont and post abusive replies.
    i have my voice as according to my human rights to freedom of expression, opinion, belief and choice (which were still mine last time i looked) ; and so do all of you, so i will make up my own damn mind thank you, and my beliefs on mmr stood long before i even heard the name Andrew Wakefield.
    But i’ll tell you this much. i hope that even if this hearing and all you slanderers smear his name, i hope to god he or someone of his stature proves this link and you eat your words – because this vaccine has to meet its end sooner or later, and since there was no clinical reason to get rid of the singles in the first place (which i will be PAYING for all of my children to have rather than be bullied by my health visitor) its a bit obvious why it was really done. do the words budget cuts, overspend and reducing costs ring any bells? Problem is, they havent messed up a few benefit claims or immigration cases this time, the government are, when it is inevitably proven, responsible for the deaths and occurence of disabilities in the very people they were meant to protect, our children.

  21. Kev August 11, 2007 at 16:26 #

    Thanks Sarah, for putting a name and a voice to bullshitters everywhere. Your opinions are clear. You refuse to listen to science, you listen to proven charlatans. You will do so in spite of the facts. Good for you.

    Trouble is, you’re wrong. You’re demonstrably wrong. So at the moment you’re just another person with their fingers in their ears singing ‘I CAN’T HEAR YOU LA-LA-LA’. You’re not doing anyone any good with this level of denial.

  22. Joseph August 11, 2007 at 17:54 #

    thousands of other children in this country can have the same symptoms immediately after mmr

    That is not credible. Even if you count all existing anecdotes of such, we’re probably talking about a handful of occurrences. In most cases, the child is said to be diagnosed a few months after the MMR. In some cases, it has been shown that parents change the dates of the events to have it match. The Cedillo case is interesting, because that’s a “test case” (i.e. the best the petitioners could find) and it has been shown the child was autistic before the MMR. So excuse me if I’m a tad skeptical of your anecdotal account.

  23. Ms. Clark August 11, 2007 at 19:58 #

    The situation with Dr. Amy Holmes also knocks a big hole in all the stories told by the parents where the child miraculously comes out of their autism following some treatment or other. The woman was hallucinating that her child was speaking following some biomedical thing or she was in deep denial or the kid just “regressed” again following the biomedical miracle and she forgot to report that part. 6 years after all his miraculous gains, her son is still autistic and can’t speak at all apparently. She also claimed he was making friends in school, well, that must have disappeared, too, because apparently, apart from other kids using letter boards in Texas, he has no friends his age.

    Of all her claims, the hardest one for me to buy is that Mike’s strabismus (an eye that turns in) disappeared with chelation. It would be interesting to see if he still has it, or if he had a surgery to correct it at some point. My kid had strabismus, lots of autistic kids have it. My kid had surgery to correct it at age 4. It’s not the kind of thing that self-corrects.


  1. The Observer eventually responds to my e-mail pointing out their basic factual errors on MMR. And tries to weasel their way out of an apology, again. « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science - August 5, 2007

    […] · No Comments On July 5, the Observer published two terrible MMR stories that Kevin Leitch summarised nicely: The Observer “had decided to play the role of media dumbass. Obviously the mail and Private […]

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