The name alone conjures up strong images for many in the autism communities. If you think vaccines cause autism, he is a hero. For many others, he has brought shame to the greater autism community.
In addition, I know many who think that Andrew Wakefield’s time has come and gone and we should just ignore him now. To those, I apologize, but the recent information is just too important to ignore.
Kev would be able to show the annoyance that Dr. Wakefield’s research has caused many of us in the autism community. It would be a better read than this–a post written by someone who finds the entire affair sad. Too much harm has been caused by what even before today was already pretty obviously bad science. It’s just a sad story that has just gotten sadder.
For those who may not know, Dr. Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on the papers which attempted to link autism to the MMR vaccine. The story is so long and tortuous that it is difficult to know what to include and what to leave out. You know what, if you don’t already know the story–count yourself lucky and skip this post! How’s that for an introduction?
Brian Deer took a closer look than most (all?) journalists at Dr. Wakefield’s story. He exposed the fact that Dr. Wakefield’s patients were litigants claiming MMR caused autism. He also exposed the fact that Dr. Wakefield and some on his team were well paid for their efforts.
It is very likely that Mr. Deer’s investigation is what prompted the General Medical Council (GMC) to investigate Dr. Wakefield’s actions in this research. As part of that investigation, the GMC has collected medical histories of the subjects of Dr. Wakefield’s study. And, Brian Deer has had access to these data, and they don’t match what was presented by Dr. Wakefield’s team.
Before we look at what was said in the papers and what the medical histories actually indicated, let’s look at the introduction from the original Lancet paper:
We saw several children who, after a period of apparent normality, lost acquired skills, including communication. They all had gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and bloating and, in some cases, food intolerance. We describe the clinical findings, and gastrointestinal features of these children.
Compare that to what’s here’s Brian Deer’s article, MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism.
Here’s a more thorough article, again by Mr. Deer:
Hidden records show MMR truth
A Sunday Times investigation has found that altered data was behind the decade-long scare over vaccination
As a short sidetrack, Mr. Deer isn’t the only one suggesting that there were problems with the Wakefield studies.
Wakefield claimed (in a separate paper from the original Lancet article) that his team found evidence of persistent measles virus in gut biopsies from the autistic children he saw. In the Omnibus hearing, a member of Wakefield’s team told the story of how the data which clearly disagreed with Wakefield’s conclusions was ignored.
Or, to put it another way, Dr. Chadwick [note correction] told Dr. Wakefield that he (Bustin) had data which directly contradicted the results Wakefield was going to publish. This should have quashed the paper, and, yet, not mention is even made of it by Wakefield et al.
But, back to the Brian Deer report.
Let’s look at a few examples from Mr. Deer’s story. There were 12 children in the original study. Mr. Deer refers to them as child 1 through child 12. Mr. Deer looks at them individually..
Child 11 had a “positive” test for measles RNA by Wakefield’s team. The father had 3–yes 3!–other labs test the same biopsy samples. Result? No sign of measles.
Here’s a bit about child one from Mr. Deer’s story:
In the paper this claim would be adopted, with Wakefield and his team reporting that Child One’s parents said “behavioural symptoms” started “one week” after he received the MMR.
The boy’s medical records reveal a subtly different story, one familiar to mothers and fathers of autistic children. At the age of 9½ months, 10 weeks before his jab, his mother had become worried that he did not hear properly: the classic first symptom presented by sufferers of autism.
It’s very tempting to quote example after example, but I’ll just end up copying the entire story. I encourage you to read the story, there are numerous examples of how many of the 12 subjects of Wakefield’s study were not previously normal.
Rather than pick all the examples of discrepancies about development of Wakefield’s subjects, how about the second part of the question: did these kids all show GI problems? Again, there are numerous examples in Mr. Deer’s story. Here’s an excerpt.
The most striking change of opinion came in the case of Child Three, a six-year-old from Huyton, Merseyside. He was reported in the journal to be suffering from regressive autism and bowel disease: specifically “acute and chronic nonspecific colitis”. The boy’s hospital discharge summary, however, said there was nothing untoward in his biopsy.
A Royal Free consultant pathologist questioned a draft text of the paper. “I was somewhat concerned with the use of the word ‘colitis’,” Susan Davies, a co-author, told the ongoing GMC inquiry into the ethics of how the children were treated, in September 2007.
“I was concerned that what we had seen in these children was relatively minor.”
Not only are there problems in the reported information and the records, one of the co-authors is indicating that the paper overplayed the data they had.
Sorry, but this all just makes me more sad. Sometimes bad science can be, well a little funny. Sometimes just annoying. This is just really sad.
“A Sunday Times investigation has found that altered data was behind the decade-long scare over vaccination”
What more can be said?
(note: I edited this shortly after publishing it. The substance was not changed)