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>Wakefield Speaks to His Cult Following: 2009 Before the Fall

March 3, 2010


“There is now unequivocal evidence that MMR is not a risk factor for autism – this statement is not spin or medical conspiracy, but reflects an unprecedented volume of medical study on a worldwide basis,” Murch said.  —In 2003, Simon Murch, one of Wakefield’s 12 colleagues

Ahead of this January’s GMC findings being released, Andrew Wakefield took the time to set the stage in The Autism File‘s 33rd issue. Wakefield titled his piece “That Paper,” referring back, of course, to the 1998 now-retracted Lancet article.

Long used by those who believe in a connection between the MMR and autism, Wakefield’s 1998 paper, was not the first mention or preconception of a link–obviously, as he was already retained by “Richard Barr, a solicitor acting for persons alleged to have suffered harm caused by the administration of the MMR vaccine, as to the research that would be required to establish that the vaccine was causing injury” in 1996 (see GMC Ruling). However, it along with his press conference and subsequent interview(s), served to catalyze the anti-vaxing movement among parents of children with autism. While it should be noted that most of these parents are not picky and will blame whichever vaccine (or component) is handy, Wakefield with the MMR fears, along with Kirby and the thimerosal fears, has been a key figure in that particular segment of the autism community.

That these same parents now choose to disavow the Lancet paper as pivotal, a study, or proof of anything other than 12 autistic children had intestinal issues is irrelevant.

Wakefield himself asserted his concerns with the MMR as being involved in the causation of autism:

“DR ANDREW WAKEFIELD: No, the work certainly raises a question mark over MMR vaccine, but it is, there is no proven link as such and we are seeking to establish whether there is a genuine causal association between the MMR and this syndrome or not. It is our suspicion that there may well be but that is far from being a causal association that is proven beyond doubt.”  —from Brian Deer’s transcript of a February 1998 interview

In addition, the press release is titled  “New Research Links Autism and Bowel Disease” and does suggest a link between autism and the MMR:

Wakefield in “This Paper” goes over some of what he believes are myths regarding the 1998 paper:

Unfortunately, this is not a myth:

“The Panel is satisfied that you had a duty to disclose to the LAB, via Mr Barr, that clinically indicated investigations would be funded by the NHS, and that, despite having  opportunities to do so, you failed in that duty.” GMC Ruling

Also not a myth:

“Found proved in relation to the second instalment of £25,000.
The Panel is content that the first instalment of £25,000 was used for the purposes for which it was granted.
The Panel is convinced by documentary, and your own evidence, that you used the second instalment for, amongst other things, research staff wages, not the items listed in 3.d.i and 3.d.ii.” GMC Ruling

“The Panel is satisfied that you had a duty to, but did not, use the funds for the purposes previously stated.” GMC Ruling

“The Panel is satisfied that you had a duty to account accurately to the LAB for the funds provided, but even in  your “interim report to the Legal Aid Board” of January 1999 you did not explain how the investigations on the children had been funded.” GMC Ruling

Sorry, not a myth:

“e. Indicating that you would be responsible for arranging a number of those procedures including MRI, lumbar puncture and EEG,
Found proved in respect of MRI and EEG.
Found not proved in respect of lumbar puncture.”

“c. The research study was carried out on Child 2 was investigated under the project without the approval of the Ethics Committee in that it was not research covered by any Ethics Committee application other than that for Project 172-96 and,

(Amended) Found proved

The Panel is satisfied that there was no relevant Ethics Committee approval at the time when these investigations were carried out.”

The Autism Omnibus trial, day 8 of testimony (as reported at Respectful Insolence) saw the expert testimony of Stephen Bustin, who stated, regarding the finding of the measles virus in the intestinal lining:

“The fact is that I’m showing that they are getting DNA contamination. Where it comes from is another matter. What matters is we’re getting DNA contamination, and, by definition, therefore, we’re not detecting measles virus.” (page 233 of the transcript)

See Kev Leitch’s article covering Bustin’s testimony, as well. In addition, a news article from 2005 shows that the measles/intestinal findings couldn’t be replicated.

Interesting to note that Hornig et al. didn’t replicate it and had to conclude no link:
Hornig M, Briese T, Buie T, Bauman ML, Lauwers G, et al. (2008) Lack of Association between Measles Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy: A Case-Control Study: “This study provides strong evidence against association of autism with persistent MV RNA in the GI tract or MMR exposure. Autism with GI disturbances is associated with elevated rates of regression in language or other skills and may represent an endophenotype distinct from other ASD.”

He may be pulling a Clinton on this one.

“But the document, a memo dated February 20, 1997, from Walker-Smith to Wakefield and marked as copied to Murch, warned: “It is clear that the legal involvement by nearly all the parents will have an effect on the study as they have a vested interest.”

A copy of the memo only recently came to light among hospital records. Walker-Smith said in it: “I would be less concerned by legal involvement if our work was complete and we had a firm view.”  Brian Deer, memo

The issue of funding aside, there is another, perhaps more fundamental, issue. After lengthy investigations by The Sunday Times, Wakefield finally admitted last week that “four, perhaps five” of the children in his Lancet study were among the 10 named in the legal aid contract. Was it four or five? “Let’s make it five,” he said. The questioning went on. Were they litigants? Yes. Was he being paid to help them to build their case? Yes. Were his colleagues told that they had ended up in the Lancet sample? I don’t recall. Did he reveal the conflict of interest to The Lancet as its rules explicitly require? No. Why not? “I believe that this paper was conducted in good faith. It reported the findings. There was no conflict of interest. Do we have any reasons (now) to change our opinion? No, but again it’s a debate.”  Brian Deer, The Sunday Times (London) February 22 2004

Novella writes back in 2009 on Deer’s uncovering of evidence that Wakefield did, indeed, fix his data. Deer writes in The Sunday Times:

“Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.”

The scientific community is in accord: Wakefield’s linking of the MMR and autism is inaccurate at best, fraudulent, dishonest, and unethical at worst. For more than a decade, Wakefield has made his money, his livelihood off of catering to desperate parents while framing himself as a noble martyr to the cause.

Wakefield ends his defense of “that paper” with these thoughts:

“The damage done to my reputation and to that of my colleagues as well as the personal price for pursuing a valid scientific question while putting the patients’ interests above all others is trivial compared with the impact of these falsehoods on the children’s access to appropriate and necessary care.”

It is unfortunate that Wakefield’s falsehoods appear to be all of his own making. There is no big government or big pharmaceutical conspiracy to silence a brave maverick looking to help the poor, suffering children. Indeed, there’s no reason to believe that his (prior) running of an organization that gouges desperate parents for over 400 dollars an hour just for a phone consult has done anything to help anyone but the doctors (and staff) themselves.

Wakefield’s legacy is a tarnished one, with little hope for recovery. Oh, he may rise above, find a new nesting place, and undoubtedly, he will continue to have loyal supporters to the cause, his cause. Let us not forget that David Koresh also had willing and loyal supporters to the bitter end.

(This perusal through the myths surrounding Wakefield would not have been possible without Brian Deer’s herculean efforts to coalate information regarding Wakefield and other dedicated bloggers like Orac, Novella, and Kev Leitch.)

  1. March 3, 2010 10:17 pm

    >Well done…Thanks for putting together such a large amount of data. 🙂

  2. March 4, 2010 4:22 am

    >Ch-ch-ch-Changes! I liked old layout, here printing too small, and I found it all confusing. Aaahh!(Love you, though.) 😉

  3. March 4, 2010 4:36 am

    >Sorry Clay, can't not rearrange. I'll make the text bigger, though. I must have messed with it a half dozen times already, tweaking it. Right back at you; you always make me smile! 🙂

  4. March 4, 2010 4:58 am

    >Much better! I've often complained when somebody had a small font and black background. Just hard to read.And you should know that if I've got something funny to say, I can't not say it. I'm afraid I've PO'ed Kowalski again, earlier today, offlist. Just bein' funny.

  5. March 4, 2010 6:36 am

    >A comment about gullibility (mine) and a plug for my blog.Wakefield is truly the master of the Big Lie. You have it correct when you talk about the ethics committee and research. Those few words: False – The research element of the paper that required such an approval, detailed systematic analysis of children’s intestinal biopsies, was covered by the necessary EC approval", is his defence and the Big Lie. Because Wakefield's defence is that whatever you would normally do with a patient can't be medical research. He used other words, of course, but he and his supporters and Bil Long (who spent hours being lied to by Wakefield) all accepted that definition. I think even Jim Moody, who wrote the complaint to the GMC for what the doctors testified to, got fooled. See the section on Dr. Pegg.I got fooled as well. It was only while researching what the GMC panel should have written, did the penny drop. It doesn't matter what you are doing with your patient, it is what you intend to do with the knowledge you are getting. If you are planning to "generalize" the knowledge, it is medical research. And what was Wakefield planning from day one?I never bothered to check because who would make up such an obvious lie? Wakefield did. His lawyers argued it at the GMC. The GMC got fed up enough with it that I put a reference to 162-95 at the beginning. For more info, see my to the new website, I am impressed.

  6. March 4, 2010 4:16 pm

    >I think the new design is cleaner, and it loads LOTS faster (Firefox).but (perhaps I'm dim) I'm not getting the difference between the mulberry block quotes and the light blue block quotes.

  7. March 4, 2010 5:07 pm

    >Thanks, Sheldon, for the information (and compliment).Liz, the blue quotes are actual screen captures, and the background was blue (except for one pdf file that I had selected all when I screen captured); the others are block quotes copied and pasted in. :-)I'm relieved to know the load is better of firefox; it's slow on IE8 (and I mean slow).

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