The correspondences between Patrick Holford and Dr Andrew Wakefield are extraordinary. Even leaving aside the fact that Patrick Holford recently emailed a large number of people, asking them to sign a petition in support of Andrew Wakefield (albeit the first few times that I checked after this email, Patrick Holford and his name are conspicuous by their absence). They both regard themselves as prophets who are without honour in their own country.
Patrick Holford has a treatment programme for autism that relies heavily upon Wakefield’s findings for its theoretical justification and underpinning (see, e.g., Patrick Holford and Dr Andrew Wakefield’s Discredited Findings: Part 1 and Part 2 and more related posts, as below). Andrew Wakefield needs high-profile media types who paddle in the same scientific shallows who are ready to lend the imprimatur of their charisma to his findings.
So these mavericks continue to circulate, paddling in the same scientific shallows, attending the same conferences and boasting connections with the same research institutes. They travel the world quoting each other in circular support, reinforcing a fringe belief in unproven interventions for autism and propagating the mistaken view that ordinary doctors are cowed by mysterious vested interests (pharmaceutical companies?) into not doing their best for children with autism.
Their harmful agenda is, regrettably, assisted by newspapers with acres of space to fill, who delight in feeding the middle-class paranoia over perfect parenting…
There is nothing wrong with a scientist pursuing a hunch, and everything right about parents wanting to do the best for their child. There is nothing even particularly sinister about Dr Wakefield gambling his reputation on an instinct. But there is something depressing beyond belief about a scientist who refuses to recant in the face of overwhelming opposing evidence.
The Observer carries an ill-judged interview with Wakefield in advance of the General Medical Council (GMC) and the fitness to practise hearings this week.
To supporters, Wakefield is a hero, a lone crusader for truth and a principled, caring doctor challenging a policy that is harming significant numbers of children. Some scientists, a handful of doctors and parents of sons and daughters they claim have been damaged by the triple vaccine see him as the victim of a Department of Health-led plot to discredit him, and the GMC hearing as a show trial designed to suppress an uncomfortable truth. Wakefield, talking to The Observer in his only interview before the hearing, says he plans to defend himself vigorously against allegations he sees as ill-conceived and malicious. ‘I’ve done what I’ve done because my motivation is the suffering of children I’ve seen and the determination of devoted, articulate, rational parents to find out why part of them has been destroyed, why their child has been ruined. Why would I go through this process of professional isolation if it was simply to do with egomania? My alleged egomania doesn’t explain things very well. There’s been no upside for me in having pursued this issue. It’s been very difficult.
‘As Vaclav Havel once said: “Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.” I can’t tell you that we know that the MMR vaccine causes autism. But the Department of Health can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that it doesn’t, and they believe that, and that concerns me greatly.’
Indeed, this heavily-promoted view of himself is widely accepted. A substantial number of the signatories to the Nigel Thomas petition believe the claim that:
The threat that faces Dr Andrew Wakefield, Professor John Walker Smith and Professor Simon Murch is that they may be struck-off the medical register for daring to investigate why these children are so ill, which no-one else has been prepared to do.
On just one page of signatories, people write of Wakefield as a hero, as a prisoner (who is awaiting crucifixion and will be retrospectively vindicated) and in terms of Pasteur and Galileo; he is credited with a paradigm shift. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science has provided an overview of the charges but the GMC is not convening a hearing because these researchers investigated these children, nor, as Patrick Holford would have us believe, for “challenging the status quo“. They are holding the hearings because of alleged ethical lapses, dishonesty and irresponsibility. According to an excellent article by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick if the devastating Bustin report had not been suppressed for so long that it only came to public attention during the Autism Omnibus proceedings, then there might have been other matters included for the GMC to consider.
As for the personal difficulties encountered by Wakefield, Brian Deer has mentioned that Wakefield was paid around £500,000 for his legal consultancy services for the failed MMR vaccination. Brian Deer has an excellent summary of the whole sordid mess: including the interpretation that Wakefield effectively chose to leave the Royal Free Hospital and the UK sooner than meet the Royal Free’s request that he should validate his research.
After failing to honour an agreement with the Royal Free that he would mount properly organised research to verify his claims, Wakefield was ejected from his employment at the medical school in late 2001, albeit with substantial compensation.
Mr Matanoski, a lawyer for the US Govt. Health and Human Services Dept., recently made this remarkable comment in his concluding statements for the first part of the Autism Omnibus hearings (pdf) in the US. The MMR-autism case has no plausible or verifiable science to support it.
It’s at best speculation, idle speculation. Now, at worst–at worst–it’s a contrivance. It’s a contrivance that’s been developed and articulated and promoted by its chief proponent, and that’s Andrew Wakefield. He promoted it for financial gain. Either way it’s not science.
pgs 28-9: Day 12 Transcript of Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services (pdf)
As Ben Goldacre pithily expressed the matter when discussing a notice that invited hubris:
People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it” (a jinxed George Bernard Shaw quote also used by international bowel-whisperer Pilltrick Holford, shortly before his own debagging after an unwise foray into the BMJ comments forum).
Patrick Holford depends upon Wakefield’s work to justify some of his entrepreneurial and charitable endeavours. He owes it to the people who rely upon him to revise his acceptance of Wakefield’s science and findings. And people are guided by Patrick Holford when it comes to MMR. Petition signatory 4797 credits Patrick Holford with her daughter’s decision not to vaccinate her children:
Thank God my daughter used her judgement and did not have the MMR for her children. She based her decision on extensive research, most particularly ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ and Patrick Holford.
Patrick Holford owes it to that woman to put together a better overview of the research that purports to find a link between MMR and autism: he may even owe it to her that he should strongly reconsider his position on a number of important matters no much how many fellow feelings he may have for Andrew Wakefield.
Ben Goldacre of Bad Science: Try Me, Sh*thead – the strange case of Carol Stott, Wakefield and the Observer
Tony Hatfield of Retired Ramblings: What the Observer’s MMR Piece Didn’t Tell You!
Tim Worstall: Crap Reporting in the Observer
Anthony Cox: New Autism Fears, A Man in Denial and MMR Memes in Newspapers
Mike Stanton: Cry Shame on Wakefield and MMR
Kristina Chew of Autism Vox: 1 in 58
Ms Clark of Autism Diva: Embattled Andy Wakefield Speaks and Wakefield and Walker-Smith: Dishonest and Irresponsible
Russell Brown of Public Address: Bad journalism, old stories
Wakefield: Another Triumph for Mainstream Journalism in the UK
Wakefield and Why the Edith Piaf Routine is Baseless: Part 1 and Part 2
Related posts or relevant reading
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick on Stephen Bustin’s devastating testimony and why there is nothing in the MMR-autism theory
Brian Deer for a very readable summary of The MMR-autism scare and Wakefield’s role in it.
Brian Deer on Prof. John Walker-Smith and his involvement in experimentation on children with autism symptoms and his statement relating to the revelations about the Lancet paper.
Brian Deer on Prof Simon Murch and his involvement with the studies and his defence of the Wakefield research. Brian Deer has performed a thorough analysis of the differences between that statement and the claims made in the Lancet paper
Daily Telegraph on Prof Murch and his statement that there is no link between MMR and autism
Brian Deer has made available an easy-to-read format of the cross-examination of Dr. Arthur Krigsman in the Cedillo case of the Autism Omnibus.
Andrew Wakefield, Chronology and “Bad Science”
Patrick Holford and Dr Andrew Wakefield’s Discredited Findings: Part 1 and Part 2
Wakefield’s Latest Tent Mission on the Doctrine of Autism
Kevin Leitch on Andrew Wakefield and the death of the MMR debacle
Patrick Holford, MMR and What Passes for Hard Evidence
Mike Stanton on Patrick Holford and his unusual views on vaccination, MMR and autism
Patrick Holford Claims Remarkable Benefits for Homeopathic Vaccinations
Holford Watch: Holford believes Secretin is “Worth considering” as an autism treatment; however, there is no evidence that this treatment is effective and
Holford is sceptical about off-label prescribing, but thinks that secretin for autism is “Worth considering”