Andrew Wakefield tries to make himself relevant again

2 Oct

Andrew Wakefield is the former research surgeon who championed the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Multiple researchers have told me that even at the time of Mr. Wakefield’s first research announcements, Mr. Wakefield’s idea was a stretch in terms of biological feasibility. For a few years at least, Andrew Wakefield was relevant in the autism research community. People worked to replicate his findings and otherwise answer the questions he posed. That was years ago. The result is we now know his ideas of persistent measles infection and a leaky gut causing autism were not valid and that, at best, Mr. Wakefield was a mediocre scientist who took this poorly conceived hypothesis and ran with it. Running as in a “running with scissors”, ignoring safety. As has been demonstrated since, he was also ignoring ethical concerns as well. But this is all old news.

In 2004, yes 8 years ago, Brian Deer exposed many of the ethical lapses in Mr. Wakefield’s autism career. Since then we’ve heard a lot of words from Mr. Wakefield about how it is all about the children, but seen a lot of his actions more akin to it being all about himself. He sued Mr. Deer over those 2004 reports (how is that helping autistics?). Mr. Wakefield abandoned his suit (how is that helping autistics?). Mr. Wakefield asked that the GMC look into the possible charges stemming from the reported actions (OK, that helps autistics a little by exposing Mr. Wakefield’s ethical and scientific deficiencies better, but that wasn’t exactly his intention). Mr. Wakefield attended the GMC hearings even though he sayed he didn’t need his medical license (registration) any more. This provided a great deal of drama (again, how does this help anyone but Mr. Wakefield?) but not much advancement. Mr. Wakefield was struck off the register (which could be argued helps autistics in a small way). Mr. Wakefield appealed and then dropped his appeal of the GMC decision. When Mr. Deer wrote more articles, this time for the BMJ, Mr Wakefield filed a complaint with the PCC (press complaints commission) in the UK, but he appears to be not pursuing that. Just letting it exist as a complaint (again, benefit?). Then, this year, he chose to sue Brian Deer, the editor of the BMJ and the BMJ itself this year for defamation over another set of articles and public statements (again, to what benefit to autistics?).

Mr. Wakefield’s latest day in court was short, but likely expensive. A judge in Texas ruled that Mr. Wakefield doesn’t have the standing to bring that case to trial.

Recently Mr. Wakefield appealed. Which, frankly, was enough of a non event in my view that with Respectful Insolence covering the discussion I felt no need to.

In the past eight years we can point to no advances in autism research championed by Mr. Wakefield, but we can (and just have) point to numerous occasions of Mr. Wakefield use procedural methods to keep himself in the news.

Mr. Wakefield claims essentially that calling him a fraud is defamatory. Which brings up the part of recent events that I did find interesting. Again at Respectful Insolence, in Time to rally the troops against the antivaccine movement, Orac calls on people to, well, rally. I’ll stand apart from Orac on this one. Frankly, making this appear to be a controversy, adding drama, is not helping matters.

One might rightly ask, why write about this at all? Why spend time on a topic which has obviously become irrelevant? In setting up his press conference Mr. Wakefield (through his team) made a bit of a poor move.

Mr. Wakefield’s approach to the discovery of his ethical and scientific failings has been to deny even the most clear facts. For example, when presented with direct evidence that he had major financial interests in creating a viable court case out of the MMR/autism hypothesis (being a paid expert witness, creating test kits with the idea that litigation-driven profits will be millions per year, etc.), Mr. Wakefield tells us it is all about the children, and he made all his financial ties public in advance (which he didn’t). When it was discussed on TV that he had a patent application in place covering an alternative measles patent–one whose commercial viability hinged directly on the confidence level of the current vaccine–he told us that it was all misdirection on the part of Mr. Deer. Later it became public that Mr. Wakefield had business plans in place to develop the invention as a potential vaccine.

Essentially, after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Mr. Wakefield tells us he was never in the kitchen and, besides, he was only getting the cookie for the children.

From a public relations standpoint (and let’s not forget that Mr. Wakefield had a PR representative since before Brian Deer entered the scene) Mr. Wakefield has played his hand somewhat well. He plays the role of a man who remains polite even in the face of this alleged adversity we are to believe has been put upon him. Mr. Deer, on the other hand, is (I believe in his own words), mercurial and has made statements which are easy to use against him.

Mr. Wakefield is portrayed as the guy you’d love to sit down to a glass of beer (or more likely wine) with while Mr. Deer is someone you’d best not provoke (I believe the term “reptilian” has recently been used by his detractors). I’m not so motivated by the opportunity to sit down to a glass of wine with unethical people, but let’s move on.

In an article on the Age of Autism blog, Ed Arranga writes about Mr. Deer being brought out to the U.S. to give talks to some academics and how Mr. Wakefield will hold a press conference. As one would expect from the Age of Autism, the approach is strongly negative. Here’s how it starts out:

Brian Deer – a liar, fraud, and former reporter for The Sunday Times of London – is coming to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse October 4 and 5 to lecture you about Dr. Andrew…

Mr. Arranga is doing the attack here, allowing Mr. Wakefield to retain his polite persona. But with a multi-million dollar lawsuit ongoing, is this really enough distance for Mr. Wakefield? How will the above statements play out should Mr. Wakefield win the chance to sue?

Mr. Arranga runs AutismOne, whose convention presents Mr. Wakefield as a prime draw. In other words, Mr. Arranga has a financial interest in Mr. Wakefield’s reputation. A small conflict of interest which, while obvious to most of his readers, should have been made clear in Mr. Arranga’s article. Mr. Arranga also serves on the “Strategic Autism Initiative”, a charity formed after Mr. Wakefield’s ouster from Thoughtful House. [Correction: Mrs. Arranga serves on the SAI board, but Mr. Arranga is not listed in the available tax document]. Most importantly to this discussion, Mr. Arranga is also on the “executive staff” of the “Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund“.

So someone intimately involved with Mr. Wakefield’s career and defense is calling Mr. Deer a “fraud” and a “liar” and, in general, attacking Mr. Deer. Consider that Mr. Wakefield’s case is based at least in part on the idea that using terms such as “fraud” is defamatory. Mr. Wakefield’s original court filing states that defamation occurred: “Based on Defendants’ purported “reanalysis,” Defendants made and continue to make assertions that Plaintiff Dr. Wakefield committed fraud and is “a fraudster.”” Again, one should ask, did Mr. Wakefield blunder in allowing this personal attack on Mr. Deer? How will a judge or jury view a man who sets his team to attack others while claiming that the very same terms are defamatory? It’s not enough to cost him the case, but it was not a wise move.

The sad thing is that this is as close to relevance and Mr. Wakefield can currently attain in the autism communities. Holding a press conference in response to lectures by Brian Deer, who is discussing events that happened 15 years ago. Attacking Mr. Deer through surrogates. Putting time, money and effort into the latest in a string of procedural maneuvers which, even if he were right, hold no benefit for the communities.

As far as cost/benefit calculations go, Mr. Wakefield is a simple case. Costs to the autism communities in time and resources wasted chasing the ideas he championed. Costs to the public at large in terms of health scares and increased infectious disease. All this weighed against a complete lack of benefit brought to the communities by Mr. Wakefield. I guess we should put this in terms of a benefit/cost ratio to avoid dividing by zero.

By Matt Carey

25 Responses to “Andrew Wakefield tries to make himself relevant again”

  1. Shorty October 3, 2012 at 09:21 #

    The only possible reason that Mr Wakefield’s fundraising campaign group would have posted this abuse of Deer is that they all know Mr Wakefield has no chance of winning a defamation suit in Texas. Anyone who reads Deer’s responses can see that.

    If Mr Wakefield had the slightest belief that he had been defamed, he would have sued in the UK, where defendants have to prove the truth of their statements. But in the UK, the loser has to pay the winner’s legal bills, so vexatious suits are very rare.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 3, 2012 at 14:54 #

      I seem to recall that Mr. Wakefield would have been required to post a bond before filing in the UK.

  2. Broken Link October 3, 2012 at 12:51 #

    While AoA is all over this event, it is not a big deal on the yahoo groups or on Facebook. It is only the most “dedicated” in the anti-vax movement who want to reclaim their “glory days” when Wakefield got front page headlines and carried some credibility. Their problem is that they just don’t have a figure to replace him – the Geiers just don’t cut it. If they had a credible medical professional to cling to, Wakefield would be just old history now. But, of course, they don’t have anyone – the science has since moved on. Way on.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2012 at 03:39 #

      From what I see, the venue they booked has a max capacity of 40. I suspect they won’t fill it, but they may prove me wrong.

      It’s all an attempt at theater. Much like the “press conferences” after the PACE study was released. Videotaping one’s self without other press present isn’t a press conference. Supposedly Mr. Wakefeld is working with someone on a documentary. From the sound of it, a direct to YouTube company. A far cry from a decade ago when he got “hear the silence” on BBC

  3. Big Dick October 3, 2012 at 19:21 #

    Don’t worry Broken Link. They won’t ever find a new figure. Every body in mainstream medicine and academia now understands what happens if you question vaccine safety. You are toast.

    • Lawrence October 3, 2012 at 20:11 #

      What an apropos name there – maybe if Wakefield hadn’t been a fraud, you would have at least the semblance of a point.

    • lilady October 3, 2012 at 20:18 #

      “Don’t worry Broken Link. They won’t ever find a new figure. Every body in mainstream medicine and academia now understands what happens if you question vaccine safety. You are toast.”

      Let me FTFY…

      Everybody in mainstream medicine and academia understands what happens when you falsify data for your study subjects, when you have undisclosed “Conflicts of Interests” including a scheme to develop and market a single antigen measles vaccine, when you order invasive, painful and not-medically-indicated tests for your study subjects, you are subject to disciplinary action from the medical licensing board.

      Click to access Wakefield_SPM_and_SANCTION.pdf_32595267.pdf

      “….The Panel considers that Dr Wakefield’s conduct in relation to the facts found falls seriously short of the relevant standards and that suspension would not be sufficient or appropriate against a background of several aggravating factors and in the absence of any mitigating submissions made on his behalf. Dr Wakefield’s continued lack of insight as to his misconduct serve only to satisfy the Panel that suspension is not sufficient and that his actions are incompatible with his continued registration as a medical practitioner.

      Accordingly the Panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register. The Panel concluded that it is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest, including the maintenance of public trust and confidence in the profession and is proportionate to the serious and wide-ranging findings made against him….”

      • mikemawords October 3, 2012 at 20:39 #

        Questioning vaccine safety goes on continuously with no observable downside to those who understand evidence. Committing fraud to advance your vaccine over another is a (thankfully) rare problem. And one to which AJW will be tied for the foreseeable future.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2012 at 02:14 #

      People question vaccine safety all the time. Some successfully (look into the story of how the US dropped the oral polio vaccine).

      Mr. Wakefield hides behind the blameshifting “I was questioning vaccine safety and what you see is retribution” theme. He won’t own up to the fact that he was unethical and got caught. It’s the “I would do it all again, suffer all the slings and arrows because it’s for the children” nonsense.

      The thing is, I believe he would do it all again. He’d just be more careful about getting caught.

      • Chris October 4, 2012 at 03:46 #

        Don’t forget the Dark Lord himself, Dr. Paul Offit, voted against vaccinating for smallpox after 9-11.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2012 at 02:23 #

      Yeah, toast. He left the UK and ended up director of Thoughtful House making $270k/year. Probably double what he could have made at the Royal Free. Plus speaking fees. I guess your definition of toast is different from mine.

      • Marrt October 4, 2012 at 03:00 #

        The Royal Free is the best hospital in the world. Matt, are you developmentally disabled?

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2012 at 03:16 #

        No. My child is developmentally disabled. When you have matured enough to realize that using “developmentally disabled” as an insult is bigotry, you will be welcome to return.

        You have the gift of intelligence and you squander it. That is a terrible waste.

      • Chris October 4, 2012 at 03:47 #

        So, Marrt, why did Wakefield decide to leave the best hospital in the world?

  4. Big Dick October 3, 2012 at 21:40 #

    Help me out here. How could Wakefield “develop and market a single antigen measles vaccine” when a single antigen measles vaccine had already existed since 1964?

    • lilady October 3, 2012 at 22:36 #

      “Help me out here. How could Wakefield “develop and market a single antigen measles vaccine” when a single antigen measles vaccine had already existed since 1964?”

      The single antigen measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, were being phased out…in favor of the triple antigen MMR vaccine. ALL OF THE CHILDREN who were the subject of Wakefield’s study received the triple antigen MMR vaccine:

      • Marrt October 4, 2012 at 02:48 #

        Are you for Wakefield or against him? You sound like you support everything he was saying.

    • mikemawords October 3, 2012 at 22:38 #

      AJW developed a competing vaccine. Multiple strains/sources/delivery methods are fairly common.

      I have no idea if it would have stood on its own against either previous single vaccines or against the far more popular combined version. He tried to unfairly tip the scales in his favor by trying to blacken the reputation of the combined version. Lawyers paid some cash to move that fraud forward.

      • Marrt October 4, 2012 at 02:53 #

        Lawyers paid some cash to move that fraud forward. Wow. This blog contains some real Einsteins.

      • Chris October 4, 2012 at 03:59 #

        So, Marrt, if you feel we have issues with our intelligence, perhaps you can answer a couple of questions about Wakefield. Do it in the spirit of making us smarter.

        Exactly which vaccine was Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper on? Was it one of the three used in the UK before 1992, or the one they used after dropping the two with the Urabe mumps virus? And if he was studying the effects of “the” MMR vaccine (implying one), why was there an American child who would have been given an MMR vaccine not used in the UK? (remember there are several vaccine strains each of measles, mumps and rubella, so there is not “one MMR”, there are actually several versions, so you have to be specific… and after reading that Lancet paper several times I never found out which vaccines strains were being studied)

        What would you call the measles vaccine/transfactor stuff he was patenting in conjunction with (former) Dr. Hugh Fudenberg (and VJ Singh)? Was it a vaccine, or was it a cure? What was it?

        So what gave Wakefield the idea that the MMR vaccine was dangerous? Was it Richard Barr, a lawyer? Or was it actual data from the use of the MMR in the USA since 1971? Is there data from the USA that there was a spike in autism diagnoses after the 1978 Measles Initiative in the USA where the MMR was favored over the single antigen vaccines? When you answer that be sure to include the title and journal of the PubMed indexed papers dated before 1997 that there was a marked increase in autism in the USA starting before or during the 1980s.

        Thank you for educating us in advance.

  5. livsparents October 4, 2012 at 04:03 #

    Cold fact is that Wakefield is NOT a champion of the autism community. He is a champion for the anti-vaccine movement, and of course, for himself. He is a non-entity and his press conference at his rival’s appearance is a last gasp. His books ain’t sellin’, the courts ain’t buyin’ and the world is movin’ on. I stand by my prediction that in 3-4 years, he will be sitting at one of the booths at an AutismOne convention, hawking some company’s supplements…I need John Ratzenberger to say “Move on, citizens, there’s nothing to see here.”

    • Chris October 4, 2012 at 04:16 #


      I love the visual and sound of that thought.

  6. mooncatadams October 4, 2012 at 12:00 #

    With all the twisting of facts that Wakers is doing, it sounds as though he’s gone and hired Karl Rove as his PR guy!

    • lilady October 4, 2012 at 16:55 #

      I’m just waiting for all the earth-shattering new “evidence” Andy will be presenting to back up his fraudulent study.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2012 at 22:41 #

        You are a patient one, lilady.

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