Is there value in continuing to report on Andrew Wakefield’s ethical lapses?

15 Oct

Andrew Wakefield has been a major subject of discussion here on LeftBrainRightBrain and elsewhere for many years. The question comes up repeatedly as to what is the value of continuing to discuss someone whose ideas have been discredited, and who is no longer having much of an impact on the autism research discussion.

Mr. Wakefield has publicly stated that he is “not going away”. His book has come and, for all practical purposes, gone. He no longer works for Thoughtful House. His name is being dropped from papers for projects he has worked on.

He does have a new business venture to consult with some vaccine-advocacy groups, and I am sure that from time to time he will appear in the public’s eye.

We have already discussed here at LeftBrainRightBrain the outcome of the General Medical Council (GMC) fitness to practice hearings, which found Mr. Wakefield guilty of multiple ethics violations. I recently posted observations on Mr. Wakefield’s patent activities, based on the transcripts of the GMC hearings. A valid question is why? Why go through those transcripts? The GMC already reported the results when they struck Mr. Wakefield off the register. Brian Deer has covered the Wakefield story much more thoroughly than we can here. Some people are just tired to the point of being annoyed with discussions of a Mr. Wakefield, and I can understand that.

All that said, I find the transcripts very interesting. No way I can read them all, but what I have read leaves me even more dismayed. I didn’t think it possible, but there it is.

I have already read important facts that surprised me. As I already wrote, Mr. Wakefield applied for his patent without the knowledge of his hospital. That is an amazingly foolish maneuver. This could have invalidated the patent. It was also foolish in that he could have left out key claims that could have protected the Hospital’s intellectual property. On many, many levels, this was a foolish thing to do.

I remain intrigued by the hearing transcripts. I am finding things I didn’t know. I assume those who don’t want to read will skip the posts, and some will read and a discussion will ensue.

So, I will blog about the hearing transcripts. With apologies to those who are tired of the Wakefield story. With no apologies to those who defend Mr. Wakefield and have accepted his rationalizations.

One problem is that there are so many details, so many ethical lapses, multiple conflicts of interest, so many details that it is easy to lose sight of what all this means.

This is long saga. For the most part, each day is a separate Word document and there 155 of them. A typical day’s testimony can be 80 pages long. Even the GMC decision is long. But what it shows is a pattern of multiple instances of lack of respect for the disabled children in his group’s care, multiple instances of disregard for ethical standards, multiple instances of conflicts of interest.

There is a pattern here. And it is pretty ugly.

22 Responses to “Is there value in continuing to report on Andrew Wakefield’s ethical lapses?”

  1. daedalus2u October 16, 2010 at 00:40 #

    I think there is value, even though the cost to you may be higher than what it is worth, but that is a decision only you can make.

    It is not something I want to read about, but it is important that it is not forgotten, how an evil person can exploit the vulnerable even while the vulnerable sing his high praises.

    As Edmund Burke said:

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    Countering Wakefield’s evil has taken much hard work by many good men and women.

    If even one person gets vaccinated because of reading this, and only one vaccine preventable death is prevented, then it will be worth it.

  2. Liz Ditz October 16, 2010 at 02:44 #

    Sully, if you can stomach it, I think there is value in blogging bite-size pieces of General Medical Council (GMC) fitness to practice hearings.

    1. As we have seen again and again at comments at Shannon Rosa’s essay at Shot of Prevention

    There are still many many people who believe that Wakefield was…well unjustly deprived of his license because he “told truth to power”… or something. The whole brave maverick doctor meme, or “I fought the man, and the man won.”

    2. because you aren’t Brian Deer.

    3. Erm. I am not a psychiatrist, nor am I qualified to use the DSM-IV_TR. But Wakefield, well, I believe he is deceiving both himself and those around him.

  3. Science Mom October 16, 2010 at 03:13 #

    I’m finding your reporting of the transcripts very illuminating. His defenders have only heard the fictional ranting of Martin Walker (what happened to him any way?)of the GMC trial. So if you are up to slogging through what must be a very difficult read, I see benefit to it.

  4. Catherina October 16, 2010 at 08:20 #

    What SM says – also, I would *really* like to have a read myself, especially because of Walker’s allegations that the GMC was poorly prepared and the proceedings essentially a joke. I have read the entire 2000+ pages of the Cedillo proceedings and have learned a tremendous amount. If you saw a way to pass the transcripts on, I’d appreciate it, Sullivan.

  5. passionlessDrone October 16, 2010 at 19:21 #

    Hi Sullivan –

    I’m going to take the opposite view.

    I appreciated your XRMV post, the folic acid finding in Price that you brought to my attention, or indeed your piece on the genetically heritable, though not necessarily present in the parents, postings far more that more Wakefield / AOA stuff.

    It is the bizzaro world version of another study on thimerosal; resources spent on a question that we know the answer to. Everyone seems to know that the people who believe Wakefield’s hypothesis are likely impervious to detailed analysis. In the meantime, interesting stuff is happening.

    – pD

  6. Laurentius Rex October 16, 2010 at 19:53 #

    Wakefield may have come and gone, his supporters not apparently, there are still enough of them to turn the stoic paranoid.

    That’s not the point though, Wakefield may have been one of the more flagrant abusers of his institutions ethical code, he is not the only one though, and I am not talking about the well known mercurians here, but the many scientists who are committing breaches of etiquette through either lack of over sight or essentially unethical experimental design sanctioned by the heirarchs who fail to see the problems.

    I do not think there is any study in autism that does not have some implications for autistic people, either in the way we are marginalised as people and considered as less than human in the way the study is reported, or in terms of the wider implications for the publics ideation of autism when the press get’s hold of an entirely wrong idea of what has or has not been proven.

  7. Laurentius Rex October 16, 2010 at 23:36 #

    Oh and as for my wierd apostraphasisation there, I have to confess, it was I who shot the panda and ate it 🙂

  8. Ken October 16, 2010 at 23:47 #

    Well…well…well. All of you Wakefield bashers are going to look pretty foolish it seems. Please explain these findings:

    70 of the 82 children so far had measles virus in their guts….

    Where have I heard that before?

    • Sullivan October 17, 2010 at 00:29 #


      “where have I heard that before?”

      IMFAR 2006. It was a presentation that has still not been published.

      Walker, Karin Hepner, Jeffrey Segal, Arthur Krigsman, Wake Forest University School of Medicine

      I can’t speak for you, but I’ve heard that repeatedly since 2006, when the story you link to was published. You are aware that the “news” story is 4 years old, right? You are aware that the story is about a presentation made at a conference, not a paper, right? You are aware that the study has never been published, right?

    • Sullivan October 17, 2010 at 00:31 #


      There is a nice study by Hornig et al. that came out a couple of years ago where they actually looked at autistic children with GI complaints that warranted endoscopy (which is what Mr. Wakefield claimed, but wasn’t true, about his Lancet 12). When they checked the tissues of those children, they found measles virus in, as I recall, one autistic child and one non-autistic. It pretty well laid to rest the Wakefield hypothesis.

  9. Ken October 17, 2010 at 00:36 #


    My apologies. Very confusing as the date on the article shows today.

    What ever happened to this study?

    Sorry again.

  10. Broken Link October 17, 2010 at 01:52 #

    The study which was publicized in the Daily Mail in 2006 was a poster presentation. It never was published as a paper in a peer-reviewed journal.

    I imagine that they found that the measles virus they found was a false positive, similar to what happened to Wakefield.

  11. daedalus2u October 17, 2010 at 04:09 #

    I went to a talk by Stephen Walker in December 2008. He didn’t seem to understand why the Lancet paper was withdrawn, because the conclusion in it seemed reasonable. At that time he was still accumulating samples and hadn’t analyzed them yet. He was trying to get the funding to do the analysis.

    This was after the Cedillo transcript was out where Chadwick had said that he sequenced every positive PCR result and they were all false positives and told Wakefield before Wakefield published the Lancet paper.

    I told Stephen Walker it verges on fraud to publish a paper with positive results (from immunology) when you have negative results using a technique that is orders of magnitude more sensitive and orders of magnitude more more discriminating (Chadwick’s PCR results). That what matters in a paper is the data. If the data is wrong, the paper must be withdrawn. It doesn’t matter what the conclusion is.

  12. Science Mom October 17, 2010 at 04:23 #

    @ Ken, you may also wish to read days 3 and 8 of the Cedillo vs. HHS OAP transcripts:

    One of the co-authors of that presentation, Dr. Hepner testified and the presentation wasn’t all that.

  13. Chris October 17, 2010 at 04:23 #

    Ken, why don’t you write and ask Dr. Walker?

    Here is another article: Wake Forest Researcher Warns Against Making Connection Between Presence of Measles Virus and Autism.

  14. Neuroskeptic October 17, 2010 at 10:45 #

    Meh, I think Wakefield is history. Unless he actually does something notable, which he hasn’t recently, I’d ignore him. He’s a nobody.

  15. Ken October 17, 2010 at 15:11 #

    Thanks Chris and SM. I will be contacting Dr. Walker to find out the status of that particular study.

    SM, I slogged through over 100 pages of those links, what am I looking for in particular? There are about 600 total pages…

  16. Science Mom October 17, 2010 at 16:12 #

    SM, I slogged through over 100 pages of those links, what am I looking for in particular? There are about 600 total pages…

    Particularly Dr. Hepner’s direct and cross examinations. Even she cannot defend this presentation’s use by the petitioners as proof that measles vaccine virus is found in the GI tracts of autistic children. I also included day 8 because the methods used by Walker’s group are discussed.

  17. Trish Parnell October 18, 2010 at 00:24 #

    Yes, there is value, and I agree with Liz Ditz and daedalus2u as to what that value is. Thanks for keeping with it.

  18. Niels November 6, 2010 at 15:35 #

    Since the MMR scare more than 12 years ago the number of children receiving the combined jab for measles, mumps and rubella has fallen by a third. Children who haven’t had the MMR jab should be banned from schools, according to a leading doctor. Dr Sohail Bhatti, a director of one of the largest health trusts in Britain, said the draconian measure was the only way to ensure higher uptake of the vaccine. Many parents argue against the MMR convinced that there is a link between the jab and brain damage – Related info–90-000-payout-concerns-vaccine-surfaced.html

    Likewise many parents think they should be allowed to make their own decisions. How do you feel about the MMR? Should children be excluded from school if they are not vaccinated? for more info.


  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Is there value in continuing to report on Andrew Wakefield’s ethical lapses? « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - October 16, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev, Alltop Autism. Alltop Autism said: Is there value in continuing to report on Andrew Wakefield’s ethical lapses? […]

  2. blog-thing : Andrew Wakefield - down but not yet out - October 26, 2010

    […] at LBRB Sullivan recently asked, “Is there value in continuing to report on Andrew Wakefield’s ethical lapses?” His reputation both as a researcher and as a doctor is in tatters. Following the outcome of the GMC […]

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