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Addressing the ‘too many too soon’ hypothesis

3 Jun

Regular readers may be aware that I blogged about a study recently that demonstrated the early stages of tackling the ‘too many too soon’ hypothesis. It came in for some fierce criticism in the comment section so I wrote to the lead author to get his thoughts. What follows is his answer to me via email:

Reviewing your blog, there are two related criticisms of our study.

First, I must clarify the conflict of interest comment. Though less relevant in my mind, it addresses the other limitations noted by your readers. This study was completely unfunded – not by any pharmaceutical company, not by the CDC. We did this all in our free time because of a simple non-financial “conflict” – as infectious disease physicians we take care of children who suffer needlessly from vaccine preventable diseases. This clarification of funding leads to point 2 – because we
did not have millions of dollars at our disposal we chose to use pre-existing data to address a common parental concern for which we could not find any evidence-based talking points.

This strategy had significant benefits – once we had the idea for this study we got right to work and did not have to wait 7-10 years to see what the outcomes might be. However, as we acknowledge in the discussion (and your readers point out), the use of pre-existing data also introduces limitations. We did not have control over which outcomes were tested, nor which children were included or excluded from the original study.

Nevertheless, I believe this study was accepted for publication in an academic medical journal because it offers a unique methodology that may be used to study the effects of delayed vaccination on any outcome of choice, whether it be the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases or the proposed vaccine side effect du jour. Unfortunately, I do not have the resources to perform these studies myself.

A separate question – which is really a critique of the original NEJM study (with which I was not involved) and not ours per se – is why the authors chose to exclude the children they did. In the time since you e-mailed be I believe “Luna_the_cat” has explained this fairly clearly. Basically, the original study excluded children with brain injuries that would not have been related to vaccination (except for a few – pneumococcal and haemophilus influenza meningitis which vaccines PREVENT) and this seemed reasonable in the initial study. Furthermore, the majority of these exclusion criteria are prenatal or congenital diagnoses that would have predated vaccination anyway.

Finally, regarding lack of “controls”. This was not a “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” study, nor was it intended to be. It was designed to address the “too many too soon” hypothesis. Our “controls” were those children in the cohort who received fewer vaccines later during the first year of life. In this case the “exposure” was timely vaccine receipt – which was never associated with any adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Blocking immunisation

2 Jun

The rise of a public anti-vaccine movement in the US is partly to blame for blocking effective immunisations according to the AAP today.

A story on WebMD says that the

…rise of a public anti-vaccination movement that uses the Internet as well as standard media outlets to promote its position, which is “wholly unsupported by any scientific evidence” linking vaccines with autism and other childhood conditions.

is at least partly to blame for ensuring that ‘pockets’ of unimmunised children exist throughout the US. Other reasons given include problems with cost.

Read the whole story at Web MD (@WebMd).

Andrew Wakefield – as succesful an author as researcher

2 Jun

Andrew Wakefields supporters were hoping his new book would be a bestseller. That ain’t going to happen given how much a publishing insider revealed to me how many he has actually sold:

He sold a total of 1017 copies. Top sales 157 copies in NYC. 46 in LA, 43 in Atlanta (perhaps CDC people wanted to see what he said?!), 38 in Boston, 24 in Chicago, 18 in Seatlle and 17 copies in his hometown of Austin

Ouch. It’ll be interesting to see how well the book does as interest in it fades. Or maybe ‘well’ isn’t the right word.

Anne Dachel, Age of Autism Editor, makes remarkable claim

27 May

I was browsing the comments section of a seemingly innocuous story about autism – that early intervention might not be the universal panacea once thought – when I came across a comment from Anne Dachel, one of the leading ‘thinkers’ and editors behind the online anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism.

…I think a disorder that was unheard of 25 years ago…

I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I was seeing it right – I was – Anne Dachel believes autism was unheard of prior to 1985.

To say this is a remarkable claim is being overly fair to Dachel. Its one of those claims that is regularly made by the Age of Autism team that leaves one’s jaw on one’s chest with the sheer audacity of either its boldness or stupidity. It reminds one of John Best’s claim that autism was unheard of in China prior to 1999. Another rampant piece of stupidity.

As previously noted, Dachel writes for Age of Autism. I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions as to the accuracy of their blogging based on their Editors own bizarre beliefs about autism.

New study: many vaccines at once OK for kids

24 May

A new study from Pediatrics has come to the conclusion that:

Timely vaccination during infancy has no adverse effect on neuropsychological outcomes 7 to 10 years later. These data may reassure parents who are concerned that children receive too many vaccines too soon

Lead researcher Michael J. Smith said:

Our study shows that there is only a downside to delaying vaccines, and that is an increased susceptibility to potentially deadly infectious diseases,

We hope these findings will encourage more parents to vaccinate according to the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule, and reassure them that they’re making a safe choice when they do so.

Lets hope so. Today is a great day in the forward momentum of the confidence in vaccines now that Andrew Wakefield has been struck off and this latest study can only add yet more weight that no vaccine, no vaccine ingredient and no vaccine schedule has _ever_ been shown to cause autism either directly or indirectly.

This is the first time that a study such as this has been carried out:

…nobody had studied whether getting several vaccinations in a short time could have negative consequences, for instance by overloading the immune system, as many parents believe, according to Smith. He found that receiving as many as 10 different shots — including flu and whooping cough — had no impact.

And a CDC spokesman said:

Parents that are considering delaying vaccination should realize that there aren’t any specific benefits, and that they are putting their child at risk, and not only their child but also the community,

An excellent point. The benefits of vaccination are not just personal but societal. Those who refuse to vaccinate not only risk the personal well being of their children but the society they choose to live in.

The Panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register

24 May

The following is taken from a GMC press release.

This case is being considered by a Fitness to Practise Panel applying the General Medical Council’s Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules 1988

Date: 24 May 2010

Dr Andrew Jeremy WAKEFIELD

Determination on Serious Professional Misconduct (SPM) and sanction:

The Panel has already given its findings on the facts and its reasons for determining that the facts as found proved could amount to serious professional misconduct.

It then went on to consider and determine whether, under Rule 29(1) of the General Medical Council Preliminary Proceedings Committee and Professional Conduct Committee (Procedure) Rules Order of Council 1988, the facts as admitted or found proved do amount to serious professional misconduct and if so, what, if any sanction it should impose. It has accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice in full as to the approach to be taken in this case, and has looked at each doctors’ case separately but, when considering whether Dr Wakefield is guilty of serious professional misconduct, has looked at the heads of charge found proved against him as a whole. It has not confined its consideration to the heads of charge; it has also had regard to the evidence that has been adduced and the submissions made by Ms Smith on behalf of the General Medical Council. On behalf of Dr Wakefield, no evidence has been adduced and no arguments or pleas in mitigation have been addressed to the Panel at this stage of the proceedings. In fact Mr Coonan specifically submitted:

“……we call no evidence and we make no substantive submissions on behalf of Dr Wakefield at this stage.” “…I am instructed to make no further observations in this case”.

Nevertheless, the Panel considered the totality of the evidence in Dr Wakefield’s case including the reference dated 27 October 1995, from Professor Leon Fine, the then Head of the Department of Medicine at the Royal Free Hospital, when reaching its decision at this stage, having been asked to consider that as part of Mr Coonan’s submissions at Stage 1.

Serious professional misconduct has no specific definition but in Roylance v General Medical Council [1999] Lloyd’s Rep. Med. 139 at 149 Lord Clyde, in giving the reasons of the Privy Council, said:

“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances…”

Lord Clyde went on to say:

“The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession of medicine. Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”

The Panel has acted as an independent and impartial tribunal and exercised its own judgement on these matters. It has borne in mind the relevant GMC guidance at the time, namely the 1995 Good Medical Practice and, in so far as the findings relate to events after 1998, the 1998 Good Medical Practice. It has considered what has been adduced and submitted on behalf of the doctors about the standards and procedures which were prevalent at that time.

In considering Dr Wakefield’s case, the Panel has also taken into account the passage of time before these matters were brought before it and the length of time this case has taken. It noted that the multiple sittings were for a variety of reasons including professional commitments of the Panel and requests from Counsel for reasons such as illnesses, accidents, unavailability of witnesses and preparation time.

The Panel has noted Dr Wakefield’s previous good character and taken into account everything it has heard including his qualifications, experience and standing within the profession, with patients and the parents of patients.

The Panel considered the conduct of Dr Wakefield whilst he was registered as a medical practitioner and employed by the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in 1996 and 1997, initially as a Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Medicine and Histopathology. Later, from 1 May 1997 he was a Reader in Experimental Gastroenterology and an Honorary Consultant in Experimental Gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital.

The Panel has already found proved that Dr Wakefield’s Honorary Consultant appointment was subject to a stipulation that he would not have any involvement in the clinical management of patients. On five occasions (child 2, 4, 5, 12 and 7) he ordered investigations on children, when he had no paediatric qualifications, and in contravention of the limitations on his appointment. The Panel considered this alone constituted a breach of trust of patients and employers alike.

In February 1996 Dr Wakefield agreed to act as an expert in respect of MMR litigation. In relation to the Legal Aid Board (LAB), the Panel found that Dr Wakefield accepted monies totalling £50,000 procured through Mr Barr, the Claimants’ solicitor to pursue research. A costing proposal had been submitted by Mr Barr to the LAB containing detailed information provided by Dr Wakefield, and Dr Wakefield ought to have realised that Mr Barr would submit it to the LAB.

The costing proposal set out costs in respect of the investigation of five children. It covered each child’s four-night stay in hospital with colonoscopy, MRI and evoked potential studies. Dr Wakefield admitted that the funding subsequently provided by the Legal Aid Board had not been needed for these items because these costs were borne by the National Health Service as the patients were being admitted as NHS patients.

The Panel found that Dr Wakefield had a duty to disclose this information to the Legal Aid Board via Mr Barr. It was dishonest and misleading of him not to have done so. The Panel concluded that his intention to mislead the Legal Aid Board was sufficient on its own to amount to serious professional misconduct.

The Panel also found that in respect of £25,000 of LAB monies, Dr Wakefield caused or permitted it to be used for purposes other than those for which he said it was needed and for which it had been granted. In doing so he was in breach of his duties in relation to the managing of, and accounting for, funds.

In September 1996 Dr Wakefield made an application to the Ethical Practices Sub-Committee of the Royal Free Hospital (Ethics Committee) seeking approval for a research project involving 25 children. This was approved by the sub-Committee as Project 172-96. He named himself as one of the three Responsible Consultants, thereby taking on the shared responsibility for the information given in support of his application; for ensuring that only children meeting the inclusion criteria would be admitted to the study; that conditions attached to the Ethics Committee approval would be complied with; and that children would be treated in accordance with the terms of the approval given.

In respect of Research and Ethics Committee approval, the Panel had regard to the particular ethical guiding principles with regard to conducting research on children. It rejected Dr Wakefield’s overall contention that Project 172-96 was never undertaken; that all the investigations carried out on the children were clinically indicated and that the research elements of the project were covered by another Ethics Committee approval.

The Panel concluded that the programme of investigations that these children were subjected to was part of Project 172-96. It further determined that the conditions for approval and the inclusion criteria for that project were not complied with. The Ethics Committee’s reliance on the probity of Dr Wakefield as a Responsible Consultant was not met.

With regard to nine of the eleven children (2,1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 5,12 and 8) considered by the Panel, it determined that Dr Wakefield caused research to be undertaken on them without Ethics Committee approval and thus without the ethical constraints that safeguard research. Ethical constraints are there for the protection both of research subjects and for the reassurance of the public and are crucial to public trust in research medicine. It was in the context of this research project that the Panel found that Dr Wakefield caused three of these young and vulnerable children, (nos. 3, 9 and 12) to undergo the invasive procedure of lumbar puncture when such investigation was for research purposes and was not clinically indicated. This action was contrary to his representation to the Ethics Committee that all the procedures were clinically indicated. In nine of the eleven children (2,1, 3, 4, 9, 5,12, 8 and 7) the Panel has found that Dr Wakefield acted contrary to the clinical interests of each child. The Panel is profoundly concerned that Dr Wakefield repeatedly breached fundamental principles of research medicine. It concluded that his actions in this area alone were sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct.

The results of the research project were written up as an early report in the Lancet in February 1998. Dr Wakefield as a senior author undertook the drafting of the Lancet paper and wrote its final version. The reporting in that paper of a temporal link between gastrointestinal disease, developmental regression and the MMR vaccination had major public health implications and Dr Wakefield admitted that he knew it would attract intense public and media interest. The potential implications were therefore clear to him, as demonstrated in his correspondence with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and reports which had already appeared in the medical press. In the circumstances, Dr Wakefield had a clear and compelling duty to ensure that the factual information contained in the paper was true and accurate and he failed in this duty.

The children described in the Lancet paper were admitted for research purposes under a programme of investigations for Project 172-96 and the purpose of the project was to investigate the postulated new syndrome following vaccination. In the paper, Dr Wakefield failed to state that this was the case and the Panel concluded that this was dishonest, in that his failure was intentional and that it was irresponsible. His conduct resulted in a misleading description of the patient population. This was a matter which was fundamental to the understanding of the study and the terms under which it was conducted.

In addition to the failure to state that the children were part of a project to investigate the new syndrome, the Lancet paper also stated that the children had been consecutively referred to the Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology with a history of a pervasive developmental disorder and intestinal symptoms. This description implied that the children had been referred to the gastroenterology department with gastrointestinal symptoms and that the investigators had played no active part in that referral process. In fact, the Panel has found that some of the children were not routine referrals to the gastroenterology department in that either they lacked a reported history of gastrointestinal symptoms and/or that Dr Wakefield had been actively involved in the process of referral. In those circumstances the Panel concluded that the description of the referral process was irresponsible, misleading and in breach of Dr Wakefield’s duty as a senior author.

The statement in the Lancet paper that investigations reported in it were approved by the Royal Free Hospital Ethics Committee when they were not, was irresponsible.

Subsequent to the paper’s publication, Dr Wakefield had two occasions on which he could have corrected the content of the Lancet paper yet both times he compounded his misconduct.

First, in a published letter in response to correspondents who had suggested that there had been biased selection of the Lancet children, Dr Wakefield stated that the children had been referred through the normal channels, a response which was dishonest and irresponsible. He provided an inaccurate statement which omitted relevant information when he knew that the description of the population in the study was being questioned by the scientific community.

Second, at a meeting of the Medical Research Council, the Chair, Professor Sir John Pattison referred to the seriousness and importance of the implications of Dr Wakefield’s research and its major public health implications. At that meeting and on the issue of bias in generating the series of cases, Dr Wakefield stated that the children had come by “the standard route”, a response which was dishonest and irresponsible.

Regarding the issues of conflicts of interest, Dr Wakefield did not disclose matters which could legitimately give rise to a perception of a conflict of interest. He failed to disclose to the Ethics Committee and to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement in the MMR litigation and his receipt of funding from the Legal Aid Board. He also failed to disclose to the Editor of the Lancet his involvement as the inventor of a patent relating to a new vaccine for the elimination of the measles virus (Transfer Factor) which he also claimed in the patent application, would be a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Even before the publication of the Lancet Paper, eminent professionals had expressed concerns about the LAB funding to Dr Wakefield and potential conflicts of interest. Dr Wakefield rejected these views. With regard to non-disclosure to the Ethics Committee, Dr Wakefield did in evidence accept that the Legal Aid Board funding should have been disclosed, but said that his involvement in the litigation need not, especially because of his interpretation of the questions in the application form. He said no question was asked which related to that matter and therefore felt no need to disclose. In evidence to the panel he stated:

“The form is set out expecting certain answers to specific questions and no such question exists. Therefore, since it was not asked, it was not answered.”

However, given the importance of an Ethics Committee’s reliance on the probity of an applicant, the Panel determined that this was a failure by Dr Wakefield and his actions amounted to serious professional misconduct.

With regard to the non-disclosure to the Lancet the Panel accepted evidence from the Editor of the Lancet, as to the importance of this issue. The Lancet published clear guidance in relation to the conflict of interest test that the applicant should apply and the need to discuss any issues arising from it with the Editor. The Lancet test was: “Is there anything that would embarrass you if it were to emerge after publication and you had not declared it?” Dr Wakefield chose not to declare or discuss any conflict of interest with the Editor. He stated that he was able to reconcile his position, was not embarrassed by it, and was quite proud of the position he had taken on behalf of the Lancet children.

Dr Wakefield was insistent that his involvement with the new patent had not given rise to any prior need to disclose. Despite the clear terms of the patent, he did not accept that the invention was envisaged as an alternative vaccine to MMR. He acknowledged that he had envisaged the use of transfer factor for at least a proportion of the population and that he had a financial and career interest in its success, but he said that it did not cross his mind to disclose it, and even with hindsight he insisted that there was a reasonable argument, as he put it, for non-disclosure. The Panel considered that his actions and his persistent lack of insight as to the gravity of his conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct.

In relation to the administration of Transfer Factor to Child 10, the Panel noted the admitted background of Dr Wakefield’s involvement in a company set up with Child 10’s father as Managing Director, to produce and sell Transfer Factor. Around the same time, Dr Wakefield inappropriately caused Child 10 to be administered transfer factor. The Panel accepted that information as to its safety had been obtained and that the approval to administer Transfer Factor to one child was granted in the form of “Chairman’s approval”, “on a named patient basis” in a letter from Dr Geoffrey Lloyd, Chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee at the Royal Free Hospital. Nonetheless the Panel found that Dr Wakefield was at fault because the substance was given for experimental reasons, he did not cause the details to be recorded in the child’s records, or cause the general practitioner to be informed, and he did not have the requisite paediatric qualifications.

Dr Wakefield’s actions were contrary to the clinical interests of Child 10 and an abuse of his position of trust as a medical practitioner. The Panel considered these to be serious departures from the standards of a registered medical practitioner and concluded that these amounted individually and collectively to serious professional misconduct.

Dr Wakefield caused blood to be taken from a group of children for research purposes at a birthday party, which the Panel found to be an inappropriate social setting. He behaved unethically in failing to seek Ethics Committee approval; he showed callous disregard for any distress or pain the children might suffer, and he paid the children £5 reward for giving their blood. He then described the episode in humorous terms at a public presentation and expressed an intention to repeat his conduct. When giving evidence to the Panel, Dr Wakefield expressed some regret regarding his remarks. The Panel was concerned at Dr Wakefield’s apparent lack of serious consideration to the relevant ethical issues and the abuse of his position of trust as a medical practitioner with regard to his conduct in causing the blood to be taken. The Panel concluded that his conduct brought the medical profession into disrepute.

Dr Wakefield defended the ethical basis for the taking of blood at a birthday party contrary to the experts who gave evidence to the Panel and who strongly condemned this action. The Panel determined that his conduct fell seriously short of the standards expected of a doctor and was a breach of the trust which the public is entitled to have in members of the medical profession. It concluded that this behaviour amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The Panel has borne in mind the principles guiding a doctor as set out in the relevant paragraphs of 1995 Good Medical Practice which relate to providing a good standard of practice and care, good clinical care, keeping up-to-date, abuse of professional position, probity in professional practice, financial and commercial dealings, and the general principles of conflict of interest, followed by particular provisions as to the way in which research must be conducted. The 1998 Good Medical Practice, relevant to Dr Wakefield’s conduct at the birthday party, lists the duties of a doctor in providing a good standard of practice and care, keeping up-to-date and the issue of research and the absolute duty to conduct all research with honesty and integrity.

In all the circumstances and taking into account the standard which might be expected of a doctor practising in the same field of medicine in similar circumstances in or around 1996-1998, the Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s misconduct not only collectively amounts to serious professional misconduct, over a timeframe from 1996 to 1999, but also, when considered individually, constitutes multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct.

Accordingly the Panel finds Dr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct.

In considering what, if any, sanction to apply, the Panel was mindful at all times of the need for proportionality and the public interest which includes not only the protection of patients and the public at large, but also setting and maintaining standards within the medical profession, as well as safeguarding its reputation and maintaining public confidence in the profession. It bore in mind that the purpose of sanctions is not punitive, although that might be their effect.

The Panel noted the submissions of GMC Counsel that the appropriate and proportionate sanction would be erasure in light of his serious and wide-ranging misconduct. However the Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that this was only a submission on behalf of the GMC and it was for the Panel to make up its own mind. Dr Wakefield’s counsel did not make any substantive submissions on his behalf.

The Panel went on to consider whether it should, pursuant to Rule 30(1), postpone the case. It received no submissions in this regard and so went on to determine whether it was sufficient to conclude the case without making a direction or with an admonition.

The Panel made findings of transgressions in many aspects of Dr Wakefield’s research. It made findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health, and with regard to his subsequent representations to a scientific body and to colleagues. He was dishonest in respect of the LAB funds secured for research as well as being misleading. Furthermore he was in breach of his duty to manage finances as well as to account for funds that he did not need to the donor of those funds. In causing blood samples to be taken from children at a birthday party, he callously disregarded the pain and distress young children might suffer and behaved in a way which brought the profession into disrepute.

In view of the nature, number and seriousness of the findings the Panel concluded it would be wholly inappropriate to conclude the case without making a direction or with a reprimand.

It next considered under rule 31 whether it was sufficient to direct that the registration of Dr Wakefield be conditional on his compliance during a period not exceeding three years with such requirements as the (Panel) may think fit to impose for the protection of members of the public or in his interests. Conditions have to be practicable, workable, measurable and verifiable and directed at the particular shortcomings identified. The Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s shortcomings and the aggravating factors in this case including in broad terms the wide-ranging transgressions relating to every aspect of his research; his disregard for the clinical interests of vulnerable patients; his failure to heed the warnings he received in relation to the potential conflicts of interest associated with his Legal Aid Board funding; his failure to disclose the patent; his dishonesty and the compounding of that dishonesty in relation to the drafting of the Lancet paper; and his subsequent representations about it, all played out against a background of research involving such major public health implications, could not be addressed by any conditions on his registration. In addition, the Panel considered that his actions relating to the taking of blood at the party exemplifies a fundamental failure in the ethical standards expected of a medical practitioner. It concluded that conditional registration would not mark the seriousness of such fundamental failings in his duty as a doctor.

The Panel next went on to consider whether it would be sufficient to suspend Dr Wakefield’s registration for a period not exceeding twelve months. Dr Wakefield has demonstrated a persistent lack of insight and has insisted in many instances on his ethical propriety: in the context of the referral process and the treatment of the children in the research project in which he was engaged; in the context of the funding of the project; with regard to the terminology of the Lancet paper; with regard to his non-declaration of interests; with regard to not acting in the best clinical interests of the Lancet children and with regard to obtaining blood from children at a birthday party.

The Panel noted that the sanction of suspension may be appropriate for conduct that falls short of being fundamentally incompatible with continued registration; where there is no evidence of harmful deep-seated or attitudinal problems; and where there is insight and no significant risk of repeating behaviour. Although these points have been set out in the GMC’s Indicative Sanctions Guidance which was published subsequent to these events, the Panel considered that the guidance outlines the type of sanction appropriate to the gravity of misconduct and that the same principles are applicable to Dr Wakefield’s actions at the material times. 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.

The effect of the foregoing direction is that, unless Dr Wakefield exercises his right of appeal, his name will be erased from the Medical Register 28 days from when formal notice has been deemed to be served upon him by letter to his registered address.

Dr Wakefield is presently not subject to any interim order on his registration. The Panel will hear submissions on whether an immediate order of suspension should be imposed upon him pending the outcome of any appeal, first from Ms Smith on behalf of the General Medical Council and then from Mr Coonan on behalf of the doctor but will do that at the conclusion of the reading of all three determinations.

Nature Fubar

13 May

Nature, the usually reputable Science magazine have launched a Scitable Autism section and with it screwed up their usual impeccable attention to detail.

Who for example thought it necessary to put:

Determining the cause of — and the cure for — autism is crucial for our society

I wonder. And who thought it necessary to link to no less than three anti-vaccine links on the home page of this….blog? Wiki? Two links to Autism Speaks whose controllers recently attended a DAN! conference and one link to ARI itself.

Its a ridiculous and desperately sad state of affairs when even Nature, that bastion of good science resorts to scaremongering about autism and promoting an anti-vaccine viewpoint.

California’s Invisible Autism Epidemic Continues

13 Feb

Over a year ago, I wrote a post at Autism Street titled,
California’s Invisible Autism Epidemic“.

At the time, IDEA child count and population data was available through 2007. Admittedly, what follows is a bit of a repeat, but there is updated information included too.

That January 2009 post asked the following question:

It would seem that many an “autism advocate” has warned us of an impending “crisis” that looms for California’s healthcare systems and schools. If autism caseload is increasing, and it represents a real increase in autism itself, then a next logical conclusion is that, ceteris paribus, similar increases will also be seen in the total numbers of children in special education in California’s schools, right?

And suggested an answer:

Wrong – well, maybe wrong.

Another year has passed, and IDEA data for 2008 is beginning to become available. Here’s what the preliminary IDEA data for California kids in elementary, middle, and high schools shows for autism now:


To borrow a phrase from Bev over at Asperger Square 8, “Don’t Panic!”.

Also, please remember, that like the CDDS client data, the IDEA is not descriptive epidemiology.

The USDE data are not reliable for tracking the prevalence of autism, and they in fact never were meant to fill this need.


What we can actually learn from this, is that the increase in the number of kids receiving special education services who wear an “autism” category label continues to increase.

Of course the, “not so fast” is next.

The Invisible Epidemic

The next graph shows a bigger picture in California. It’s the number of students (age 6-17) receiving special education services, as a percentage of the population (age 6-17) for all disability categories.

All Disabilities

The percentage has been flat, at a little under 9.2%, for 11 straight years. How is this possible? If there have been “epidemic” increases in the autism category, all things being equal, we should have seen this number rise, shouldn’t we? And therein lies one potential answer – all things are probably not equal. It’s true that within the IDEA data for California, the increase in the use of the “Autism” category label is not offset by decreases in the use of the category label “Mental Retardation”. The increase is also not offset by a corresponding decrease in use of the label “Speech or Language Impairment”.

Speech or Language Impairment

A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.


So what else is there? Something big in California?

Autism and SLD's

Specific Learning Disability

A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.


I can still see how, in days of lower awareness and recognition of autism among parents and educators, an autistic child could easily be placed in this category (as a kind of catch-all), based on the first portion alone – “A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written…”. It could even be the case, that alongside less awareness and recognition, there was also some degree of unwillingness to use a category label like “Autism” on the part of both parents and educators.

Interestingly, the apparent in increase of .09% of the resident population categorized under “autism” appears to be offset by a .09% of the resident population decrease for “specific learning disabilities” in 2008.

Source data can be found at

Five-percent of nothing

25 Dec

To paraphrase Mark Twain, a phony statistic will travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on – and even further when the phony statistic is hitched to the wagon of vaccine denialism.

A case in point: last June, blogger Amy Lutz  launched a broadside against neurodiversity with the following alleged quote:

Dr. (Lee) Wachtel estimates that “less than five percent” of diagnosed autistics have the linguistic and cognitive skills to participate in this movement. “Most are not going to grow up to be Temple Grandin,” she adds, referring to the famous autistic author and doctorate in animal science. On the contrary, Dr. Wachtel believes the average autistic will never go to college or live independently, and instead will struggle his entire life with the communication and social deficits that define the disorder…

Wachtel is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Center. Lutz didn’t explain what it means to “participate” in neurodiversity, nor did she reflect on the fact that most kids don’t grow up to be Temple Grandin anyway. “This article by Lutz … has the appearance of journalism, and quotes a doctor in support of Lutz’s contention that neurodiversity is a bad thing, overall,” notes autism blogger Kim at CounteringAgeOfAutism, who tracked down the source of Wachtel’s alleged quote. “It doesn’t help that Lutz doesn’t seems to understand what neurodiversity is.”

Lutz’s post raised a few eyebrows. Commenter Jen Niebler wrote ND is not about “marginalizing the ‘real autistics’ – it’s about listening to all autistics and how they wish to be treated.” LBRB founder Kevin Leitch commented “A total misrepresentation of the ND viewpoint who (as I am one, and parent to a severely autistic child I am very aware of this) consider autism a disability AND a difference. Did the author talk to anyone from the ND community before writing this?”

Eventually Wachtel’s quote faded into the ether, only to be resurrected six months later in a comment at, where blogger Lisa Jo Rudy worried that Ari Ne’eman’s recent nomination to the Council on Disability might not sit well with the anti-vaccine crowd. Commenter LoopyLoo wrote:

I’m frustrated and worried. High-functioning, highly verbal people with autism have just about zero in common with my severely impaired, non-verbal child. I’m glad that things have worked out so well for him, but in the general population of people with autism only about five percent will ever be able to participate in a movement like neuro-diversity. Acceptance of/for people who aren’t NT is a fine and lovely goal, but I’d rather have a cure.

When asked to source the “five percent” figure, LoopyLoo pointed to Wachtel. But a query to KK’s media relations office tells the rest of the story:

Regarding Dr. Wachtel’s quote, her comments were pulled from a conversation that she had with a parent. She wasn’t aware that they would appear on a large web site as was the result. Her comments were also made relative to the severely impaired patient population that she sees. The majority of these patients can be described as she did in her comments, but the full context of the discussion would include mention of the fact that advances are happening in the field of early intervention which may change outcomes for toddlers who are being newly diagnosed today at age two or earlier. Also – she does not have a citation or reference for the “less than 5 percent” reference. Again – it was a casual comment made to a parent, and within the context of her patient population.

In a follow up email, KK characterized Wachtel’s words as “casual comments made relative to Dr. Wachtel’s daily frame of reference – her severely affected patient population.” In other words, the five percent figure does not refer to all autism spectrum disorders.

The blogger, Amy Lutz, confirms the quote came from her private conversation with Wachtel, and she stands by it. “I asked Dr. Wachtel to approximate, based on her seven years of work in autism treatment and research, the percentage of diagnosed autistics who could actively participate in a political movement – because, as we all agree, there is (sic) no data in the scientific literature to answer this question,” said Lutz in an email. “Her answer, five percent, is, as I explicitly stated in my essay, an ‘estimate.'”

In a perfect world, a throwaway quote by a careless writer wouldn’t matter. But in our wired, interconnected world, poorly sourced quotes are sustenance for ideologues.

The premise here – that only the highest functioning autistics can “participate” in neurodiveristy –   would be news to many of the pro-ND bloggers who are significantly disabled, notes autism blogger Sullivan. “The fact of the matter is that everyone (autistic/non-autistic, all levels of disability) benefit from neurodiversity.”

As anti-vaccine activists and other line up to oppose Ari Ne’eman’s nomination, we are sure to see more inaccurate and self-serving definitions of neurodiveristy. And it’s a safe bet that the “five-percent” quote will surface yet again.

Age of Autism to Autism Families: Make your children suffer

24 Nov

Your pretty red house is engulfed in a roaring fire. You keep feeding the fire. Maybe petrol will help. Pour it on. Maybe some oil. Pour that on too. You don’t know. Nobody knows. Some guy you met on the internet tells you he’s a fireman and that the best way to stop a fire is to try and smother it with bone dry hay.

Your burns are bad. Your kids burns are worse. Do you throw them out of a window where a few other ‘firemen’ are holding on to a sheet made of melting plastic? Or do you push them down the stairs, where the rest of the injured and dead families are?

Thats my response to the utterly asinine response Kim Stagliano posted on the Age of Autism blog today to the Chicago Tribune’s series of articles on the quacks and hacks infesting the autism community. She wheels out the same old strawmen…

That’s my response to the Chicago Tribune accusing us of performing “uncontrolled studies” on our kids. (Our medical doctors are thorough and safe, by the way.)

I know of at least two doctors associated with the biomed movement who are on sex offenders registers. I know of one DAN! doc who is associated with the death of a child. I know of one other who hospitlaised a child. I know another who performed exorcism on autistic kids. I know another who is under investigation for more than one complaint.

And why does it bother journalists like Trine Tsouderos and Pat Callahan that some of us are improving our children’s lives?

I can’t speak for these journalists but I’ll speak as the parent (and step-parent) of two autistic kids. You’re not improving your childs autism. Thats the claim that these journalists are challenging. I challenge Kim Stagliano or Mark Blaxill to show the autism community where a biomed treatment discussed by the Tribune led to a measurable and scientifically documented improvement in their child’s autism. In fact, I can’t think of a child belonging to the founders of Autism FAIR Media, Generation Rescue, Age of Autism, SAFE MINDS or the NAA that has either been cured of their autism or made any sort of progress towards that end result as a sole consequence of biomed treatments. Why? Because in terms of curing/recovering/treating autism *they do nothing* . As a direct consequence of that obvious fact, parents continuing with detox, urine injections, exorcism et al are – as the Tribune indicate – experimenting on their children.