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Mike Fitzpatrick calls Andrew Wakefield’s bluff. Wakefield moves goalposts

17 Apr

As recently noted here at Left Brain/Right Brain, Andrew Wakefield asked to debate someone about the MMR vaccine. In specific, he wrote:

The more light that shone on this subject by way of informed, balanced debate, the better. I am offering to debate any serious challenger on MMR vaccine safety and the role of MMR in autism, live, in public, and televised.

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick wrote in Andrew Wakefield: return of the wicked witch, Wakefield’s MMR-autism nonsense had a baleful influence on public health, but he doesn’t bear sole responsibility for recent measles outbreaks. that he would take Mr. Wakefield’s challenge.

As both a GP and a parent of an autistic son who had followed the destructive consequences of Wakefield’s campaign over the past 15 years, I for one would welcome the opportunity to challenge his baleful influence. Are you ready for a debate now, Andrew Wakefield?

As you might surmise from the wording above, Dr. Fitzpatrick has previously attempted to debate Mr. Wakefield and offered to engage in a full debate:

Wakefield has subsequently restricted his public appearances to conferences of sympathetic parents, anti-vaccination activists and promoters of quack autism therapies. When I asked him a question from the floor at one such conference in Bournemouth in February 2007, he simply refused to answer, deferring to another platform speaker. When I offered to debate with him at a follow-up conference in March 2009, the organisers refused.

How has Mr. Wakefield responded?

What I’m suggesting is a formal scientific debate in public in front of an audience that is televised. And specifically Dr David Salisbury I would like to debate you because I believe you are at the heart of this matter. I believe the decisions taken by you and by your committee, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, lie at the heart of this matter.

Yes, having had his bluff called, Andrew Wakefield moves the goalposts. He won’t take on Mike Fitzpatrick. He won’t take on “any serious challenger”. Only Dr. David Salisbury.

In addition to lacking integrity, Mr. Wakefield now shows that he lacks courage.

Mike Fitzpatrick is a physician. He is an autism parent. He has written two books on autism: MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know and Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion. Hard to find a more “serious challenger”.

Hundreds of children are suffering from measles in the U.K.. This isn’t the time for empty offers of debate. This isn’t the time for publicity stunts. It’s time to own your mistakes and do what you can to fix the problems you helped create. Do you have that courage, Andrew Wakefield?

By Matt Carey

Stephen Bustin: Why There Is no Link Between Measles Virus and Autism

9 Apr

Andrew Wakefield promoted the idea that the MMR vaccine caused autism. While his now-retracted 1997 Lancet paper is most often discussed, the strongest evidence he had actually came in later work where his team reported that they found evidence of the vaccine strain of the measles virus in the intestinal tissues of autistic children. The team used a methodology called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies a specific fragment of DNA, allowing one to identify if small amounts of that gene are present in larger samples. PCR tests were performed by John O’Leary in Dublin. As revealed later, Andrew Wakefield had a business stake in this laboratory.

As part of the MMR litigation in the UK, the vaccine manufacturers hired Stephen Bustin to review the methods and results of the O’Leary laboratory. Those results were not made public, but Prof. Bustin later was called in to testify in the U.S. Autism Omnibus Proceeding (the vaccine court). That testimony was discussed here at LeftBrain/RightBrain and elsewhere. Prof. Bustin is one of the world’s experts on PCR.

Prof. Bustin has now written his own account of the history of the measles-virus/autism work by Mr. Wakefield’s team in Why There Is no Link Between Measles Virus and Autism. The full report is free, open access. The report discusses what he already disclosed in his testimony: the multiple failures which resulted in the reporting of a false association of measles virus and autism.

Some of those failures include:

Absence of transparency: the key publication shows no data; hence an expert reader cannot evaluate the reliability of its conclusions

Unreliable techniques and protocols: analysis of the qPCR data was incorrect

Disregard for controls: obvious evidence of extensive contamination was disregarded

Lack of reproducibility: the data could not be duplicated by several independent investigators

One key failure involved skipping key steps in using PCR on measles virus. The measles virus is an RNA virus. PCR is very inefficient at detecting RNA, so a step called reverse transcriptase is used to convert the RNA to DNA before PCR (RT-PCR). The O’Leary lab did not perform this step. This result, and others, show that the samples used by Mr. Wakefield’s team were contaminated. Prof. Bustin goes into detail and covers more important topics, and as the paper is relatively short, it is worth a read for those interested in the science.

Prof. Bustin concludes:

As a result, the conclusions put forward by this [the Wakefield/O’Leary] paper are entirely incorrect and there is no evidence whatever for the presence either of MeV genomic RNA or mRNA in the GI tracts of any of the patients investigated during the course of the studies reported by O’Leary et al. Instead, it is clear that the data support the opposite conclusion: there is no evidence for any MeV being present in the majority of patients’ analysed. Unfortunately, the authors do not report whether any the patients had received the MMR vaccination. However, assuming that a significant proportion had done so, it is also clear that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and the presence of MeV in the intestine of autistic children.

The Wakefield MMR hypothesis is already failed, so this does not really change the conversation. What this report by Prof. Bustin does is document his own observations, measurements and analyses for the historical record so we can see just how bad the science was that promoted the Wakefield hypothesis.

By Matt Carey

Last chance to participate: UJA Adults with Autism Survey

29 Dec

IAN, the Interactive Autism Network, the UJA Federation of New York and the Autism Science Foundation have teamed up to sponsor the Adult with ASD Survey.

The survey closes on December 31, so time is short to participate.  You can take the survey here.

Here is a description of the effort from the ASF:

As many of you know, there is little information about the changing needs of adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to guide those planning programs and services. That is why the UJA Federation of New York and the Autism Science Foundation are asking adults with ASD (and their parents or guardians) to complete a survey addressing what is going well in daily life, and what is a challenge. The results of this survey will inform decision making with regard to which programs should be expanded and which may no longer be of value.

We invite you to take this survey by joining the Interactive Autism Network (IAN)—the world’s largest online autism research project—and then completing the UJA Adult with ASD Survey. As a member of IAN, you’ll be informed about future surveys and studies, with a chance to provide ongoing input regarding the experience of adults with ASD over time.

Your participation is critical, and will inform those planning programs about which resources and services adults with ASD and their families need most.

Eligibility for Study Participation:

You are eligible to participate in IAN and the UJA Adult with ASD Survey if you are:

An 18-35 year old adult with ASD who is independent (that is, you are not under anyone’s legal guardianship)
The parent of an independent 18-35 year old adult with ASD (that is, your adult son or daughter with ASD is not under legal guardianship and maintains the right to make their own medical and legal decisions)
The legally authorized representative of a dependent 18-35 year old adult with ASD (For example, you may have legal guardianship or medical power of attorney for the adult with ASD)
Participation Details:

IAN registration and this survey can be completed entirely online and will take approximately 20 minutes.

If you’d like to read the IAN Research study consent form, including privacy policies, before continuing, click here:

Principal Investigator: Dr. Paul A. Law

Contact Information: If you have any questions, the IAN team is happy to answer them for you. You can contact them at 1-866-348-3440 or

To begin registration and the survey, click on the link below:

By Matt Carey

Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality

26 Aug

The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) has just published a lengthy report, Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality.

The short summary, via Reuters, is: “the big take-home message is that we found only a few cases in which vaccines can cause adverse side effects, and the vast majority of those are short-term and self-limiting.”

As to autism? There are two main theories of autism and vaccines: MMR and Thimerosal. The autism and MMR theory is one of the most studied and most clear. The committee found that the research “Favors Rejection”. As in,

The committee concluded the evidence favors rejection of five vaccine-adverse event relationships. These include MMR vaccine and type 1 diabetes, DTaP vaccine and type 1 diabetes, MMR vaccine and autism, inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma exacerbation or reactive airway disease episodes, and inactivated influenza vaccine and Bell’s palsy. The evidence base for these conclusions consisted of epidemiologic studies reporting no increased risk; this evidence was not countered by mechanistic evidence

The epidemiological evidence says there is no increased risk. There is no good mechanism known or postulated whereby MMR could cause autism.

Thimerosal is barely mentioned in the report, with only 7 mentions. As far as autism+thimerosal is concerned, the IOM reviewed the literature years back and found no evidence of a link. Since that time, the evidence has grown greater against a link and thimerosal has been removed from the routine pediatric vaccine schedule (e.g. Price et al. Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism
and, while not specific to autism, Thomson et al. Early Thimerosal Exposure and Neuropsychological Outcomes at 7 to 10 Years)

Previous IOM reports on Thimerosal: Immunization safety review: Thimerosal -containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Previous IOM report on vaccines and autism (especially MMR and thimerosal): Immunization safety review: Vaccines and autism.

I expect much criticism to be focused on the IOM from some circles. The arguments will likely focus on “look at all the vaccines which have not been specifically studied in relation to autism”. It is a semi valid point. The problems with the argument are many, but include: what mechanism is there for these vaccines to cause autism? (Too many too soon is a slogan, not a scientific argument). Without a mechanism, and without some sort of data showing a possible link, there is such a low possibility of finding anything that resources are best spent elsewhere. In addition, the studies to date give a reasonable proxy for vaccine exposure: the more thimerosal an infant was exposed to, the more vaccines. Thimerosal exposure becomes a proxy for the number of vaccines. It has been shown (multiple times) that there isn’t an increased risk for autism with thimerosal.

Lastly, if you read the criticisms claiming “but they’ve only studied one vaccine and one ingredient”, watch for the intellectual honesty. That’s the part where the critic admits that “they’ve only studied one vaccine and one ingredient, and they found that those don’t increase the risk of autism“. Most critics in this field are cake-eaters. They want their cake (the argument that the studies have only looked in depth at MMR and thimerosal) and they want to eat it too (by denying the results of those studies). It’s predictable.

The Measles Initiative and the myth of mild measles

9 Jul

Advance warning: this post has basically nothing to do with autism. It is about a group called the Measles Initiative. I found the site for the Initiative while looking for information about the effects of measles in the non-developing world. There have been outbreaks in France, for example, in recent years. Large enough outbreaks that people have died.

Here is a figure from a presentation given by Daniel Floret of the Claude Bernard University Lyon and Chairman of the French NITAG and of the French Working group on measles elimination.

Yes, even in modern times, in developed countries like France, measles can kill. Unfortunately, segments of the autism communities play an active role in disseminating the misinformation about measles (downplaying the risk) and the vaccine (inflating the risk).

One thought: you’ve probably seen groups and people on the net claiming that the developing world doesn’t need vaccines. Clean water and/or improved sanitation they say, will suffice. Of course, we would all like to see better water and sanitation worldwide. But next time you see that argument posed, ask yourself, “Has this group ever advocated for or raised money to improve the water or sanitation anywhere?”

In the past 10 years there has been a major initiative to increase vaccination rates in Africa. This has had a major impact, with measles deaths dropping by 90%. The World Health Organization announced the success of this effort in a press release, Measles deaths in Africa plunge by 91%.

Measles deaths in Africa fell by 91% between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396 000 to 36 000, reaching the United Nations 2010 goal to cut measles deaths by 90% four years early. The spectacular gains achieved in Africa helped generate a strong decline in global measles deaths, which fell 68% worldwide – from an estimated 757 000 to 242 000 – during this period.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been a strong focus on measles reduction in South Asia, and measles deaths have not changed. The following image shows that as the number of deaths have dropped in Africa, they have not dropped in south Asia.

It really bothers me that so much of the bad information about vaccination comes from a segment of the autism communities. It bothers me that this misinformation puts people at risk. There is a real risk of injury and death, even in the developed world as we can see from the data from France. Measles vaccines work. They prevent deaths. And, while I haven’t gone into it in this discussion, the MMR-causes-autism notion has been tested carefully and it is wrong.

Four Somali children die of measles

5 May

Dr. Abdirahman D. Mohamed, the chief of staff at Axis Medical Center in Minneapolis, said last month he knew of four unvaccinated Somali children who had died from measles.


This appalling news comes hot on the heels of anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist Andrew Wakefield’s visit to the Somali community in the US to promote his fraudulent anti-MMR ‘studies’. Generation Rescue has also attended to the Somali community in Minneapolis.

Antivaccine groups have noticed. In November, J. B. Handley…wrote an open letter to “Courageous Somali Parents.”

He warned them not to trust the state health department and suggested they slow down their children’s shots and get exemptions to school vaccination requirements. He also offered to pay for some to attend an antivaccine conference.

All these people and groups should now reap the harvest of what they have sown. Death. Preventable death.

No association between early gastrointestinal problems and autistic-like traits in the general population

28 Mar

Gastrointesintal problems are a common topic of discussion and debate in the online autism communities. Much of the discussion involves causation: do GI problems cause autism? A recent study looks at a tangent of this argument. Considering the general population, do GI problems early in life predict autistic traits later in life? The methodology isn’t the strongest: they use parent reports of GI complaints and the self-report questionaire Autism Quotient. They also asked about whether the individuals were immunized with the MMR vaccine.

The results:

There was no statistically significant difference in AQ scores between those who had (n=133) and those who had not (n=671) experienced early gastrointestinal symptoms. (2) analyses revealed that the children with early gastrointestinal problems were no more likely to be represented in the upper quintile of scores on any of the AQ scales. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination was unrelated to gastrointestinal symptoms or AQ scores.

The abstract is quoted below:

No association between early gastrointestinal problems and autistic-like traits in the general population

The aim of this study was to determine whether gastrointestinal problems in early childhood relate to autistic-like traits in a general population sample.

The parents of 804 children (442 females; 362 males) reported at 1-, 2-, 3-, and 5-year follow-ups whether their child had been taken to a hospital, general practitioner, or health clinic for any of five gastrointestinal symptoms: (1) constipation; (2) diarrhoea; (3) abdominal bloating, discomfort, or irritability; (4) gastro-oesophageal reflux or vomiting; and (5) feeding issues or food selectivity. Parents also reported whether their child had received the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. Autistic-like traits were measured when the children had reached early adulthood (mean age 19y 7mo; SD 0.63y) using a self-report questionnaire, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ).


There was no statistically significant difference in AQ scores between those who had (n=133) and those who had not (n=671) experienced early gastrointestinal symptoms. (2) analyses revealed that the children with early gastrointestinal problems were no more likely to be represented in the upper quintile of scores on any of the AQ scales. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination was unrelated to gastrointestinal symptoms or AQ scores.


Parent-reported gastrointestinal problems in early childhood are unrelated to self-reported autistic-like traits in the general population.