Writing in the Sunday Times, Brian Deer reveals that MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism.
THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.
Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.
Sunday Times presents a very useful timeline of events: MMR: Key Dates in the Crisis.
A Sunday Times investigation has found that altered data was behind the decade-long scare over vaccination.
The PCR, qPCR revelations in last year’s Autism Omnibus Hearings were a heads-up that we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that there were some major revelations still to come out, but it is all rather dispiriting to learn just how shoddy the scientific underpinning of all this sound and fury was.
No researchers have been able to replicate the results produced by Wakefield’s team in the Lancet study…
In evidence presented to the GMC, however, there has emerged potential explanations of how Wakefield was able to obtain the results he did. This evidence, combined with unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper, has shown the selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted. [Brian Deer: Hidden records show MMR truth]
We learn some shaming details about why measles has become endemic again in the UK after years in which the number of cases steadily reduced. How the MMR Scare Led to the Return of the Measles.
Through herd immunity, the WHO hoped to eradicate measles by 2010, but there are now “serious doubts” that this will be possible. The UK has been identified as one of the worst European countries for measles – along with Romania, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. The high rate of measles in Europe was labelled “embarrassing” by WHO scientists, especially after outbreaks in otherwise measles-free South America were traced back to Europe.
It is timely that this information has come out now as it further highlights Dr Ben Goldacre’s recent criticism of Jeni Barnett’s MMR Segment on LBC Radio. Brian Deer’s revelations may well be relevant to discussions of what was known and when and the standards of evidence that underpinned what Ben Goldacre characterises as the MMR hoax perpetrated by the mainstream media.
It is all so reminiscent of Manatoski’s summing up on the final day of the Autism Omnibus Hearings (following extracts used by permission).
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 part of Manatoski’s closing, he presented this unsettling chronology of events. (For a more detailed summary of events, see Brian Deer and the MMR-autism scare.)
I’ve mentioned several times in the course of these proceedings Andrew Wakefield and his theory, and there’s a reason for that. That’s because all the strands through these cases come back to him. He presented bad science.
I’m going to run through the chronology again because it’s important, the chronology of how this arose and how it was promoted. In 1996, Alexander Harris, a firm of solicitors in Great Britain, approached Andrew Wakefield and asked him to consult with them in cases involving MMR, allegations of MMR causing autism. Andrew Wakefield was paid 55,000 pounds for his efforts at that point.
Andrew Wakefield in 1997 took out a patent for a monovalent measles vaccine. In 1998, he published the paper that caused the stir that we’ve now seen reinterpreted, rearticulated a number of times until more than 10 years later we have it in our courtroom today.
He did not reveal at the time that he published that paper that he had this financial interest. He did not reveal that several of his patients in that paper were in fact litigants in the MMR litigation.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield approached John O’Leary and consulted with him. John O’Leary went on to set up Unigenetics, a company of which he was the director and shareholder. Unigenetics’ purpose was to test samples for the U.K. MMR litigation.
Now, you’ve heard testimony about the reliability of that testing. You’ve seen the papers that have come out of that lab. In fact, the Uhlmann paper that was discussed here at length and relied on so heavily by the Petitioners, the patients, some of the patients at least, some of the patients in that case study were MMR litigants. There’s a direct connection between that litigation and our litigation here. That litigation folded. Unigenetics went away, but we have it back here now in this case. It folded in 2004 after the whistle was blown on Andrew Wakefield and it was revealed his substantial financial connection with ongoing litigation. [pgs 30-2: Day 12 Transcript of Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services (pdf)]
And now we learn even more about the true state of the evidence on which this shoddy edifice was erected as if the devastating revelation by Dr Nick Chadwick and Professor Stephen Bustin were not sufficient to close this sorry chapter. As if MacDonald and Domizio have not clearly demonstrated that Andrew Wakefield created his own, self-serving disease by interpreting normal findings as abnormalities that supported a new form of gut pathology.
What will the Daily Mail and Melanie Phillips make of all this, Virginia? What will Patrick Holford have to say after so publicly aligning himself with Andrew Wakefield despite the comprehensive and damning scrutiny that Wakefield’s research papers and practices endured in the Autism Omnibus hearings? See, Patrick Holford and Andrew Wakefield; Patrick Holford and Andrew Wakefield’s Discredited Findings: Part 1 and Part 2.
Updates and Related Reading
Last year, Left Brain/Right Brain carried a thorough analysis of The Truth about Andrew Wakefield his standing as a scientist, and the many problems with his data and subsequent attempts to replicate it. This item carries a detailed if (understandably) editorialised timeline of events.
Phil Plait discusses the “potential bombshell”. Did the founder of the antivax movement fake autism-vaccine link?
Many, many independent tests have shown that vaccines are unrelated to the onset of autism. There is vast evidence that vaccines are very safe, and what small risk they pose is massively outweighed by the good they do. Whether Wakefield faked his results or not, he’s still wrong.
The good news is that if this pans out, then perhaps there will be a net loss of people from the antivax side of the argument. The ones who are true believers won’t waver in their faith, of course, but anyone with doubts may finally see reality for the way it is.
Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority has some excellent analysis of Brian Deer’s latest revelations about Andrew Wakefield: Scientific Misconduct and the Autism-MMR Vaccine Link.
If even a fraction of the accusations leveled by The Times are accurate, Wakefield engaged in absolutely outrageous academic misconduct, if not outright fraud. In order for any of the accusations to not be accurate, The Times would have to be lying about the contents of medical records…
Even if deliberate fraud did not take place, the accusations – if even a quarter are true – represent gross research malpractice of an extent that’s rarely seen in the history of science.
Jeremy of Scothouser’s Corner has a son with autism and he discusses emotions that may be common to some parents at present: The Lie that Started It All: Doctor Who Claimed MMR Caused Autism Falsified Reports.
So why is this particularly disappointing? Because it was a doctor that gave this information. A doctor, who threatened thousands of children with childhood measles, mumps, and rubella, because he caused an unnecessary scare and untrue link to a genetic condition.
But the damage doesn’t stop at those children at risk because they were never vaccinated for these deadly diseases.. N0, he set Autism research and treatment back 20 years by convincing people that vaccinations were the cause of Autism. So instead of research scientists checking on development of the brain during this period, they were distracted by angry parents duped by this one doctor.
PZ Myers notes the story: Anti-vax study a case of scientific fraud? He has a dispiriting but probably accurate assessment.
Will this revelation matter? Not one bit. The anti-vaxers have ignored all the evidence that they are wrong so far, so one more demonstration that one of the primary promulgators of this nonsense was an outright fraud won’t change a thing, I’m afraid. This is still a clear-cut case where delusions can kill.
Dr Dave Gorski of Science Based Medicine provides his own thorough analysis and a fine overview of the manipulation of the clinical findings and the biased sample of children involved in the study: Antivaccine hero Andrew Wakefield: Scientific fraud?
But perhaps the most unethical, at least from a human research standpoint, was that the patients recruited to his study were not anything resembling a random or neutral sample. As pointed out by Brian Deer, the parents of these children heard through word of mouth about Wakefield. Finally, Wakefield subjected children to unnecessary invasive medical procedures, and then incompetently analyzed the specimens obtained from them for measles virus. Given such a level of ideological blindness that seems to think his cause so just that good science and ethics are optional in pursuit of it, a lack of concern over blatant conflicts of interest, and an appallingly inflated opinion of himself that he is seems to believe that he is actually a persecuted Galileo, is it any surprise that Wakefield may have stooped so far as to falsify research results in his campaign?
Not to me, it isn’t.
Sadly, none of this will matter to antivaccinationists, who view Wakefield as exactly that–a persecuted scientific hero.
Dr Peter Lipton of White Coat Underground offers a pithy summary: The anti-vaccination movement—rotten to the core. It is one thing to believe that there may have been genuine errors or a zeal that produced confirmation bias when interpreting results, it is another to learn that the Sunday Times alleges that there are inconsistencies and plain contradictions in data from the patients’ hospital and GP records, and that pathology findings were altered beyond reasonable parameters.
This goes to the heart of the difference between medical science, medical ethics, and “everything else”. Real medicine is built upon real science, and follows (ideally) a set of ethical principles. When medical practice is based on science, and is deployed with compassion, the art of medicine is at its pinnacle. When quasi-medical ideas are corrupted, whether in ignorance or for personal gain, the harm that can be done on an individual and societal level is nearly unimaginable. People like Wakefield help to break the relationships between patients and doctors, and between public health officials and populations. They cloak their self-promoting idiocy in false compassion. They. Kill. People.
Skeptic Dad of Science-Based Parenting contemplates the impact that a lie can have when it resonates with parents’ fears: Discredited: Dr. Wakefield Further Discredited.
Wakefield has been laughed out of the scientific community, but his legacy lives on. This man has been completely discredited – he was abandoned by most of the co-authors of his failed study; and yet, despite Wakefield’s fall from grace, measles rates are soaring in England…
Moral of the story? It only takes one liar, with a big mouth and bad facts, to change the world, for better, or in this case, for worse.
Van Santos links to the story: FYI – vaccinations may not (ok, do not) cause autism and asks a hard question. Likewise Skepacabra: Andrew Wakefield-incompetent scientist and fraud. Nicholas Whyte notes: Andrew Wakefield’s faked research kills children and observes: “Further comment is superfluous”. Sharon of The Family Voyage gives a good summary of the impact of L’Affaire Wakefield on families: Wakefield falsified data to link MMR to autism. Her phrase, “Wakefield blithely ignored the truth when it didn’t support his theory” is an elegant summation – sadly, it seems all too true of those who have supported and believed in him for so long.
Autism Reality of Facing Autism in New Brunswick considers that the Sunday Times revelations reflect badly upon justice in England: So Much For Due Process: Times Online Convicts Wakefield Of Fixing Autism Data and others claim that:Sunday Times – Sinks To New Low With Yet More MMR Junk Journalism. The item is long on snide remarks and ad hominem remarks but, as far as we can see, short of any minim, screed or iota of rebuttal for the reports.
Maggie of The Sceptics’ Book notes that there are: Allegations that Andrew Wakefield Faked the Data in his Lancet Paper. Indeed, it will be very helpful when Brian Deer posts the supporting documents and sources on his site or any other forthcoming outlet. Tristan of Cargo Cult Science argues that the press had a substantial role if giving disproportionate prominence to this shoddy research: MMR: Wakefield hearing uncovers research falsification. He quotes the words that Andrew Wakefield used at the time that now sound so hollow:
It’s a moral issue for me. I can’t support the continued use of these three vaccines, given in combination, until this issue has been resolved.
Benjamin Gray is one of several bloggers to identify Jeni Barnett as one of the: MMR Moonbats who have given undue prominence to Andrew Wakefield and his fellow antivax travellers.
When examining the merits of a scientific argument, facts are vital.
That may sound like a truism, but it seems to be lost on a vast swathe of people with little scientific background or understanding, who nonetheless feel that they have the right to gob off about the merits of a vaccine they barely understand.
Benedict of Do Not Trust Me has a briefing but damning verdict: Andrew Wakefield Is Not A Scientist. Mainstream Parenting covers the issue in More MMR Misdeeds by Andrew Wakefield and wryly asks, “I wonder if our friend Dr. Bob [Sears] has any thoughts on the matter?”. Instapundit is moved to ask:
another bogus high-profile article in The Lancet? Who do they use for peer review?
The Milligan has taken the opportunity to highlight the assocation between these revelations and recent events: Jeni Barnett and Andrew Wakefield – what can you say?. Milligan concludes:
Brian Deer does his profession proud with the fruit of some excellent, long-running investigations.
About time the fallacies over this crucial issue were dispelled.
What a great weekend for evidence, logic and truth… for a change.
Like Milligan, DB has not doubt that the mainstream media bear a heavy weight of responsibility in this matter: Vaccination/Autism Link Allegedly FAKED.
I blame this entire anti-vaccination movement on the lazy mainstream media who gives a stage to non-experts who are fascinated by conspiracy theories.
Danny of The Phrenologist’s Notebook carries a slightly wistful account: Andrew Wakefield A Fraud?
I fell for it. When I read Robert Kennedy’s article Dangerous Immunity, I initially believed that autism could be caused by mercury poisoning. Then a couple of studies were published which refuted this, and I saw it as a blip on the research radar, not realizing until just last year that this contoversy was still going on.
Now information is coming out claiming that Andrew Wakefield not only took money from anti-vaccine interests before and during his research into the defrauded Autism-MMR link, but that he outright lied about the time of onset in his autism patients to enhance the link with MMR.
Which resonates with the sad/angry comment from Linda (below).
The Fabulous Unity of the Ministry of Truth provides anticipates the present revelations about Andrew Wakefield and the integrity of his research: Jeni Barnett – Pig Ignorant and Proud. With respect to Jeni Barnett claiming that knowledge that MMR vaccines are harmful is akin to knowing that smoking is harmful and that Andrew Wakefield was never allowed to have his say, Unity states:
The evidence relating to the MMR jab tells us that Andrew Wakefield was an unprincipled charlatan who should never be allowed near a research facility for the rest of his life and that there is no evidence to support any of claims made about the MMR vaccine linking it to autism or Crohn’s disease.
Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc has recently seen a child with measles, a disease that should have been on-track to be eliminated by 2010 had it not been for L’Affaire Wakefield: I’m a Believer, MMR, Measles, Autism and Andrew Wakefield.
How many of you have read Peter Pan? Do you remember Tinker Bell? Do you remember her saying that every time someone says that they do not believe in fairies, a fairy dies? It is the same with immunisations. Every time someone says they don’t believe in immunisations, a child will die. And if that “someone” is on the radio or the television, it may be more than one child. A statement made on the radio or on TV has spurious gravitas. Ben Goldacre is furious with LBC’s Jeni Barnett because someone, somewhere will, as a result of that broadcast, decide not to give their child the MMR immunisation.
Steven Salzberg of Genomics, Evolution, and Pseudoscience has an useful contribution that is worth reading in full: Autism, vaccines and Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent claims.
Wakefield reported on biopsies of the colon for all the children, saying that the biopsies were abnormal. This indicated what he claimed was a new syndrome, where measles particles in the vaccine inflamed the colon, causing a “leaky gut”, through which “toxins” somehow made their way to the brain. Subsequent research has shown no evidence of this, and Wakefield has never identified any specific toxins (nor has anyone else).
Well, it turns out that Wakefield altered the biopsy data too. The paper concluded that 11 of the 12 children had “uniform” intestinal changes that they called “nonspecific colitis”. The hospital pathologists, however, “concluded that they were not uniform but varied and unexceptional.” Wakefield’s team met and reviewed the reports, and decided to stick with their original findings anyway.
For people who are unfamiliar with Salzberg, Dr Aust highlights a talk in which Salzberg argues that we need to do more to counter anti-vaccination propaganda. The talk was Autism and Vaccines: How Bad Science Confuses the Press and Harms the Public and it is available from YouTube, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Salzberg also has an upcoming (June 14, 2009) and updated talk: Autism & Vaccines: How Bad Science Confuses the Press & Harms the Public.
Tara Smith of Aetiology asks, semi-plaintively: Vaccines and autism–can we stick a fork in it now, please? She reprises some of the negative results that indicate that there is no association between vaccination and autism. So, even though the lack of scientific credibility for Wakefield’s research is familiar to her, she is still taken aback by the current reports although pessimistic of the power of this to change minds.
This is truly incredible. Even being familiar with Wakefield’s statements over the past decade about his research, and his complete denial about studies that have contradicted his own findings, it’s still pretty shocking that he completely made up data, and then pushed it for ten years as children around the world became ill and even died in light of his research. It’s even more disgusting in light of the fact that I doubt this new information will change many minds when it comes to vaccination–the meme has already spread too far to let a little thing like atrocious scientific misconduct rein it in now.
The Volokh Conspiracy carries:
Alleged Misreporting of Data in Lancet Study Connecting Autism to Vaccine: The Times Reports. There is some mention of the limitations of a peer-review system that does not provide resources for data-checking and, of course, the privacy issues that would preclude it. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air is another commentator with some strong criticism of the Lancet: Another Lancet embarrassment: Vaccine-scare doctor faked data. “Maybe someone should put the Lancet out of our misery.”
Equinox of Plime is one of several people to refer to the reports briefly: Father of Anti-Vaccination Movement Faked His Research and come to the terse conclusion, “Dr. Wakefield’s research has been exposed as a complex package of lies”.
Wesley Smith of Secondhand Smoke reports: Scientists Accused of Cooking Books to Connect Vaccine with Autism and reflects upon the harm that scientific fraud can cause. Smith argues that:
we must keep our perspective: There is no question, that most scientists are honest, ethical, and care a great deal about accuracy, and that such apparent skewing is the exception, rather than the rule.
He concludes, however:
But something sure seems wrong. There are too many of these kinds of things happening lately. And some are really big…But this kind of thing has the potential to badly undermine the public’s faith in scientific findings.
Brad of CanSpice carries links to summaries of studies that investigated the safety of the MMR vaccine: Paper linking MMR vaccine to autism written with falsified data?
In the face of overwhelming evidence, anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy and John F. Kennedy Jr. continue to spout nonsense about vaccines. There’s a “Green Our Vaccines” campaign to “remove toxins from vaccines” which, as Mike Stanton points out, would remove anything useful from the vaccines, given they’re made up of weakened forms of the disease being vaccinated against…
A pseudo-scientific movem… no, I won’t even go that far. A quackery movement based on the suspected lies and falsifications of one person has led to more children getting sick and dying from a fatal disease.
Buttle of Buttle’s World has a trenchant comment: There goes what’s left of The Lancet’s credibility.
1998 is the year my daughter was born and, as a worried new parent, I was almost taken in by this cretin and the useful idiots in the press. So I take this decipt rather personally – and am doubly glad I’ve become a confirmed skeptic. As far as I’m concerned both Wakefield and The Lancet have blood on their hands.
Behind Blue Lines identifies: Autism Fiction and highlights one of the distinctive differences about L’Affaire Wakefield that is so disturbing.
A disturbing phenomenon of our times is the willingness of scientists to falsify their research data…The Google search ’scientists falsification of data’ brings up thousands of reports of misconduct.
Most of the time, however, these lapses are not fatal. It’s just some abstruse data in a journal. But sometimes highly publicized ‘research’ profoundly influences public behavior.
Dr Iced Latte of Medical Marginalia has a strong reaction to this story: Somebody Give Andrew Wakefield MMR.
Shout it from the rooftops. One of the biggest dominos that started anti-vaccine nonsense is a fraud. Big nasty, weak, bad, stupid research. Why the original story from the Times isn’t running on the front page of every major newspaper in the freaking world, I don’t know.
Polonius, however, sounds a note of caution about accepting the story, albeit this caution is grounded in former gaffes by the Sunday Times rather than a lack of confidence in Brian Deer: Andrew Wakefield Made It All Up?
Dr Rita Pal of NHS Exposed notes, in The Professionals:
There is no criticism of Andrew Wakefield from the anti vaccine lobby – because he supports their world view. In their world, if he supports them, he must be right. In their eyes, he is perfect and they are willing to overlook any imperfections. There is no 360 degree scrutiny of his work.
Jonathan of No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands reports: Peter Hitchens Reckons Your Child Probably Won’t Die [of measles should you forgo MMR vaccination]. That’s dandy even if it does should the pernicious influence of the Jeni Barnett meme. Jonathan also reflects upon Brian Deer’s revelations about Andrew Wakefield’s research and thinks about the many contradictions that this story has thrown up:
It’s hard to read people like Hitchens and not come away with the idea that, on some issues, they just take the opposite view to authorities they don’t like, and choose the evidence that supports their previously-held view. I can imagine that in an alternate universe somewhere the NHS has withdrawn the MMR vaccine, citing a 12-subject preliminary study claiming a link to autism, in which the doctor involved reportedly tweaked his results. In that universe, The Mail is running screaming headlines about every subsequent child death from measles, and columnists are suspicious that the decision to withdraw was merely financial, that the NHS and Government have simply decided that letting a few kids die of measles is ‘cost-effective’.
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle summarises Deer’s report that: Andrew Wakefield changed and misreported results.
Gabriel Malor of Ace of Spades reports on: Ten Years of Bad Science [from Andrew Wakefield].
Wakefield has been bending the ear of the Congress for ten years now and scaring the bejebus out of parents. To their credit, the CDC and the UK’s Department of Health insisted that his research was faulty from the very beginning.
Crowhill links to the Deer revelations and observes that this is: Why understanding science matters (again).
Like several other commentators, Dave of Scibites comments on the role of media in amplifying the manufactroversy: MMR and Autism: How the Media Endangered Children. He also provides a good overview of the Measles Initiative and its effectiveness of reducing measles mortality throughout the world.
Dr Nancy Reyes writes for Blogger News Network on the vexed issue: When Medical Journals Err: MMR and Iraq Death Articles Questioned. Discussing both of these unfortunate lapses in Lancet‘s standards, she concludes:
Like the MMR study, these issues should have been detected by peer review, and either corrected before publication, or the articles could have been published as anecdotal data, with the caveat that the data might not be accurate.
So in both these cases, the Lancet’s editors are the ones who are to blame, and the mainstream media share the blame for spreading the rumor without asking an expert to analyze the reports before spreading the stories.
Clarice Feldman of American Thinker criticises the review process that allowed this to be published: Lancing Lancet.
For a publication whose very existence depends on its reputation for veracity, this seems a substantial blow.
AnthonyS at Alter Destiny describes these revelations as indicative of: Weird (and very bad) Science. He briefly alludes to the difficulties of peer review and asks where were the checks for fact-checking and data integrity (a thorny privacy and privileged information issue) and then raises the issue of what this story tells us about the need for skilled, professional journalists such as Brian Deer.
Brian Deer’s decade long investigation of this fraudulent study is an example of the press doing something invaluable for society, something that could not be done by anyone but a supported, professional journalist. Especially when the people being investigated sue the journalist.
There’s a clear and cheerfully robust recommendation at the end:
In any event, this is more evidence that you need to get your kids…vaccinated, even if your religion requires a medieval distrust of science and book-larnin’, or you choose to believe in mystic crystals, tarot cards, and Earth Godesses to keep your offspring healthy.
Emily of A Life Less Ordinary presents: It defies description and addresses a simple, fundamental issue in science:
Don’t lie. Especially, do not lie to scientists. Especially do not tell high-profile lies to scientists. Someone will find you out.
It’s one thing to tell the kinds of lies that cost money or time…It’s another thing entirely to tell the kinds of lies that pervade the globe, that influence the way parents choose to protect their children…It’s a big deal to tell a lie that costs lives or that diverts hard-to-come-by funds from research that could save lives.
Scott Gilbreath of Nova Scotia Scott offers: MMR doctor doctored his data Scott remarks upon something which seems to have surprised a number of commentators and is therefore (indirectly) a sad comment on the standard of the media coverage.
What is especially incredible to me is that the scare was based on a study of only 12 patients. Even if the data had not been manipulated, a sample that small cannot prove much of anything. At the very least, the study’s results would need to be verified by further research involving larger samples before reaching any definitive conclusions.
There have been several further studies, all returning null results. However, it is unlikely that there is a quantifiable number of studies, results etc. that would change the mind of those who are firmly committed to the concept that there is a causal link between vaccination and autism.
Liz Ditz of I Speak of Dreams is compiling another round-up post, without annotation, for people who prefer faster browsing: 11 Years On: Wakefield Manufactured Data Showing MMR-Autism Link?
Jacob Aron offers the perspective of a science communicator: Wakefield Faked MMR Data, Says the Sunday Times.
Early in the course at Imperial, we examined the role of the media in this case. Wakefield and colleagues held a press conference to announce his findings, stating:
“It’s a moral issue for me. I can’t support the continued use of these three vaccines, given in combination, until this issue has been resolved.”
In class, we were asked to imagine ourselves as reporters at the press conference – what would our reaction to this news be? The answer was more or less unanimous: it’s headline news. If the Sunday Times’ allegations are true, then Wakefield knowingly acted to deceive and defraud his fellow scientists, the press, and the public at large.
Maggie of Sceptics’ Book asks: What more do the MMR/anti-vaccers want?. They reproduce a crucial part of the partial retraction of the paper by 10/13 of the original authors.
Peter of Qohel is one of many commentators who argue that Andrew Wakefield must have forseen the drop-off in vaccination that would follow his claims and is therefore morally responsible for any avoidable morbidity or mortality that may have arisen. There are many questions as to whether Wakefield bears any criminal responsibility: see, e.g., Susan of Care 2: MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism. Similarly, My Aspie Blog links to the story: MMR Vaccine data was faked and writes, “I think it should even be considered if Dr Andrew Wakefield should be tried for manslaughter”. Moron Pundit of Double Plus Undead goes much further and expresses some strong emotion along with exasperation that so many seem to prefer counter-intuitive explanations: MMR Research Faked.
Turns out the study that raised that ugly fear was completely fabricated by a man that should be executed for manslaughter…
And, Andrew Wakefield? Stay out of Milwaukee, WI because I owe you the physical equivalent of worrying that my daughter’s brain has been damaged by a vaccine. I’m pretty sure the conversion ratio doesn’t bode well for your survival chances.
TigTog of Hoyden About Town similarly experiences a visceral reaction and expresses it in strong terms: This is the first of no doubt many occasions that I will utter my husband’s new perfect curse. There is also a measured observation about scepticism and, effectively, whether grabbing onto any research that supports you, no matter what the quality, will undermine your case.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to people who are sceptical of the corporate business side of vaccinations, being wary to accept what appears to be boilerplate marketing hype from Big Pharma, but latching on to dubious research just because it says what they want it to say will only lead to valid concerns being swept aside as just more noise from the loony flakes.
SavRed of Principal’s Office has previously argued that not vaccinating children is socially irresponsible. On learning: Anti-Vaccine Doctor Faked Data on MMR, SavRed remarks, “I can’t wait to hear what the virulent, anti-vaccine crowd has to say about that”. Antaeus Feldspar briefly mentions and publicises Deer’s findings: Cause dishonesty in scientific research should be named and shamed. Rick Moore of Holy Coast sees the revelations as an object lesson as to why we should be more careful about embracing “fad science”: Vaccination and Autism Connection Was Fabricated. Shawn Wasson of The News Junkie reads that the Autism/Vaccine Link Dealt New Blow and notes that “[t]he sloppy science behind the Vaccines Cause Autism movement continues to unravel”. Ted H of Please be patient, I am evolving as fast as I can discusses the consequences of: Mis-representing science. He presents some recent statistics about cases of measles and invasive Hib:
In other words the mis-representation of science has caused the deaths of children! Theses deaths were preventable!
And supporters of the so-called ‘academic freedom’ bills want to keep on encouraging those mis-representations!
TK Kenyon of Science for Non-Majors offers: Autism / Vaccination Link: Research May Have Been Faked.
This is damning evidence. I mean, seriously. This is far worse than the fact that some other reports have not found the same conclusion. Autism is clearly a spectrum of conditions with similar behavioral and physiological symptoms. Not finding exactly the same results could be accounted for.
However, in this case, ToL reviewed the kids’ charts and found that the original doctor, Andrew Wakefield, misstated what was in these kids’ records. Wakefield either lied or was terribly mistaken.
Ethan of Starts With A Bang! is disgusted by this story: There isn’t enough punishment for this. Ethan gives a good overview of a number of issues albeit we would not agree on some points, perhaps (such as the ‘existence of a higher incidence of autism’) but there are some good points in the summary.
One scientist’s false data has led to the resurgence of a disease that should be eradicated by this point. Nice move, Andrew, seriously.
That said, autism is a serious problem. We don’t know what causes it, we don’t know why the incidence of autism is so much higher than it’s ever been in the past, and these are things that need further investigation, absolutely. But not on a foundation of lies. And not by searching for a link that doesn’t exist with vaccines.
Jo Buckley of In Other Words has a strong reaction to the news: “Autism Caused By Vaccines” Data Faked?
if this story is at all true, then Wakefield has done more than just “bad science”, and more that merely committing fraud. If this story is at all true then he has committed a horrendous crime to the public health that verges on attempting genocide on the young who need virus protection the most.
Likewise, Monado of Science Notes is seeing red: Vaccines and autism: done like dinner.
Outraged parents should be hanging Wakefield in effigy.
Depleted Cranium is angry enough to use some very strong words: Andrew Wakefield: Bold Face Liar.
Wakefield seems to relish his new status, as a hero to the ignorant and a villain to those who know better. Wakefield has shed any semblance of legitimacy to take a place as the figurehead of a community of conspiracy theorists, ill-informed parents and fellow lying scammers. A strange cross between a political movement, a cult and a 19th century medicine show , it is the kind of movement tailor made for someone like Wakefield.
Sullivan of Left Brain/Right Brain finds this all profoundly time-wasting, irritating and sad: Wakefield.
The name alone conjures up strong images for many in the autism communities. If you think vaccines cause autism, he is a hero. For many others, he has brought shame to the greater autism community.
In addition, I know many who think that Andrew Wakefield’s time has come and gone and we should just ignore him now. To those, I apologize, but the recent information is just too important to ignore.
Walter Olson of Point of Law links to the story: Roots of the vaccine-autism panic and notes the conflict of interest of Wakefield being involved with personal injury lawyers.
The Happy Hospitalist links to Times: Data Linking Autism to Vaccinations Was Faked.
What a travesty. Millions of kids being denied access to life saving vaccinations because of hysterical parents who base their decisions on celebrities and fear. There is no link. End of story. 1,400 kids with measles last year in England. 1/10 that number before the scare was started. Two dead kids. All for nothing.
John Wick of Wicked Thought just links to the story but there is a useful exchange in the comments about scientific method and processes being contaminated by human involvement. Larry Horn of Isotropic links to other coverage and commentary: Anti anti-vaccination and mentions in passing that Andrew Wakefield is the bedrock of “Jenny McCarthy’s logic-free argument against vaccination”. About Autism has put up one of those ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other articles’ that passes for balance among people for whom chewing gum passes as a complex cognitive activity: Andrew Wakefield, autism and the MMR: a new controversy arises.
Garry Marshall of Bigmouth Strikes Again links the recent Jeni Barnett anti-MMR segment to the news that Wakefield’s research has been exposed as more flawed than has been apparent: Mummy duck said “Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!” and all the MMR crap came back. Ted Miller recounts an on-point SNL newcast that we hadn’t come across previously: MMR Vaccine Autism Threat Debunked.
There was a joke on Saturday Night Live’s newscast that a trend in parents not getting their children vaccinated will lead to an exciting new trend: “Polio.”
Tornado Chaser just reproduces Eco Child’s Play but there are some interesting comments. Robin Elton of Eco Child’s Play seems to rather miss the point: Original Link Between MMR and Autism Based on False Data.
The question of vaccination keeps growing more complicated. Does this new information change your stance?
We disagree, the complications arise from refusal to accept studies that indicate the safety of MMR and the continuation of a manufactroversy long after some of the issues should have been settled by the quality of the science that investigated them. To quote Winston Churchill:
Some men eventually stumble over the truth but they usually pick themselves up and walk on as if nothing ever happened. [quoted in: Irving Klotz, Bending perception, a book review, Nature, 1996, Volume 379, p 412 (1).]
However, it seems other people are also experiencing different responses to the story – Ororo DC of The Hoi Polloi feels that there is a dilemma but is still ‘skeptical’ of the need for vaccination: Vaccines, Autism and … a Dilemma.
God seems to be beating me up with the irony stick. Today – of all days – The Times of London published an article reporting that Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study linking autism and the MMR vaccine was based on falsified data…
Fast forward to approximately one hour after having read the article. My husband called to tell me that our son’s daycare had sent him home with a note threatening expulsion if we didn’t prove that all of our son’s shots were up to date.
Ororo’s solution to her dilemma?
I’ve decided to draft a religious exemption and submit it to the school. I’m a member of a fairly … very liberal religious denomination. I could probably cite a few of its tenets to support the notion that our religious beliefs don’t permit vaccination of our son. Even so, I feel a tad guilty. But, I have to protect my son. Right??
Jodi of Rational Moms links to the story: MMR & Autism: The Books Were Cooked.
If this one little study doesn’t sound like a big deal, here is an alarming fact from the article. [Data on herd immunity and death of 2 children.]
Pamala of Because I Should Care links to the story but is unsurprised: Say it ain’t so.
But people still don’t vaccinate their children, and call those that do ignorant or uneducated on the facts. I think those that are uneducated are those who believe this link. Plain and simple. And they put their children at risk and society at risk as well.
Merrie of Psych, Soc, Ling and Af Am@the Library links: Data Altered on Autism and MMR link.
Fudging data to make one’s point: it’s a temptation for many researchers. But this appears to be bad, unethical science done for money from legal services and to sell a new vaccine for the same diseases.
Ari N of Ari’s blog links: Do You Still Believe MMR Vaccines Cause Autism?
Not that I believe for one second that the MMR scare is now history, with nutters like watsername married to Jim Carrey running around crying wolf, but it still feels like a victory to me.
Caz of Assorted Ramblings has posted on Stuff that makes me angry, part of that stuff being the Deer Wakefield revelations. She recalls the uncertainty of being the mother of a young child when this all started up.
When the debate was at its height, I remember that it was almost impossible to hear a dissenting voice in the media – whenever anyone tried to challenge Wakefield’s research, they were shouted down, and yet his research was, as far as I remember, not backed up by any other studies. I’m not an expert, but I do believe that, in any form of scientific research, it’s normal practice for experiments and theories to be substantiated by further research and corroborated by other studies…
Thing is, this isn’t the only time something like this – a concern which has been blown out of all proportion by the media – has happened. I’m sure we can all think of examples, and I guess that the reason I’m posting this is because I’m sick of being presented with “news” which is based on hypothesis, speculation and some talking-head-so-called-expert nattering on in the absence of real information.
And I guess being a mum – and incidentally, both my girls had the MMR with no ill effects – scaremongering on this sort of scale, which is now affecting the lives of our children, it makes me even more angry.
Stephen of Live Granades reminds us that: The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them. He considers vaccination rates in England and cases of measles, reproducing some useful graphs from the Health Protection Agency.
Finding Dulcinea offers a very well-constructed round-up of background information in response to the allegations: Newspaper Accuses MMR–Autism Doctor of Falsifying Data. They cover fears about vaccine safety (including the case of Hannah Poling) and measles outbreaks. A USA Today blog carries a mention of the story. Daily Kos carries links to the story and analyses: Anti-Vaccination Scientist Accused Of Manipulating Data.
Some things just make you sick to your stomach. The only silver lining is what we all hope will be a return to fact-based science (the hallmark of which is reproducibility) going forward.
LA Times’ Booster Shots offers a cautious summary: British doctor who kicked off vaccines-autism scare may have lied, newspaper says.
Back in the UK, The Guardian reports on compulsory schemes in the US: MMR vaccine: ‘No jab, no school’. The article outlines the many exemptions that are allowed in several states and discusses the consequences. It also provides a realistic appraisal of the dangers of measles and the likely consequences of an epidemic in the UK.
Dr Steve Novella of Neurologica offers a good summary of Brian Deer’s work relating to Wakefield’s research and the most recent allegations: Brian Deer Finds Andrew Wakefield Faked Data.
If true this is extremely damning. What it would mean is that Wakefield either deliberately faked data, or he is such a sloppy researcher that he manipulated data to suit his biases. Confirmation bias, cherry picking, and creative interpretation can occur to manipulate data without being conscious that one is out-and-out lying. The difference hardly matters as far as scientific ethics are concerned – a researcher is responsible for the integrity of their data, and in supposed to take care that data is not fake, whether it was deliberate or not.
Novella is not sanguine that the news will change the minds of ‘hard-core anti-vaccinationists’:
But hopefully each new such revelation, and each new piece of scientific evidence supporting vaccine safety, can futher marginalize the very dangerous antivaccinationist quackery.
In relation to new reviews, David of Belm deplores what he categorises as: Irresponsible, criminal behaviour. He argues:
Wakefield thrives only because he appeals to emotion instead of reason. The science is unequivocal – there is no autism/vaccination link.
David usefully advises readers to download a copy of Jeffrey Gerber and Paul Offit’s Feb. 2009 article in Clinical Infectious Diseases: Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses. The review is written with authority and clarity and reaches a firm conclusion that is a formal expression of, “We’ve looked at the matter in considerable detail and we can’t see any clinical evidence to support a link between vaccination and autism or a plausible mechanism”:
…speculation that an exaggerated or inappropriate immune response to vaccination precipitates autism is at variance with current scientific data that address the pathogenesis of autism.
David Aaronovitch of The Times decries: The preposterous prejudice of the anti-MMR lobby. After a synopsis of the Ben Goldacre v. LBC Radio and Jeni Barnett kerfuffle, some recent experiences and Brian Deer’s further revelations about Andrew Wakefield’s research, Aaronovitch is semi-seriously calling for a class action against those who deliver misinformation about public health issues that might end in harming other people’s children.
Liz Hunt has an unclear article in The Telegraph: The MMR Scandal Is Back. No, it isn’t. The only scandal is the alleged manipulation of the clinical and research data, nothing to do with MMR really, move along.
Should [parents] chance the triple vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella, or should they seek out a single version?
They should discuss their children’s vaccination needs with an appropriately qualified health professional. There are many fine reasons why, in the absence of any contraindications, combination vaccinations are to be preferred to single. Now, really, move along.
MarkH touches on Wakefield in his discussion of crankery and denialist tactics: The Autism/Vaccines Fraud.
Cranks believe in something contrary to observable reality. They will do anything to prove it. When reality gets in their way, they ignore, subvert, lie, cheat, or obfuscate to create confusion. And when it’s proven beyond all doubt they’re wrong? That’s when the conspiracies come out. The comments on the Huffington Post coverage of the most recent Wakefield dishonesty are an excellent example of this. Wakefield is a victim of Big Pharma, being persecuted by Brian Deer, it’s all a conspiracy against children by doctors and pharmaceutical companies etc.
Adrianna of Placemental has a strong gut reaction to the news: Andrew Wakefield Should Be Tried.
Personally, my pediatrician warned me that my Brooklyn neighborhood no longer enjoys herd immunity, because so many parents are opting out. Since no vaccination is 100% effective, my daughter could get measles if we had an outbreak.
Mattison of Agnostic Coracle discusses: Measles in the news.
There are lots of people who are to blame for this. Putting Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy an oubliette might be proper justice the problem goes well beyond. The fundamental problem is that despite our amazing science and technological achievements, most people are still poor scientific consumers.
There are many things to look for when trying to identify psuedoscience. When it comes to the anti-vaxors the two that stand out in my mind are conspiracy theories and anecdotes.
Free my brain from migraine pain links to the story: There is NO link between Vaccinations and Autism but adds:
It boggles my mind that someone would falsify this kind of information. This mis-information, once published, is extremely hard to eradicate from the public consciousness. My heart goes out to every parent struggling with an autistic child, but the public health implications here are staggering. Most of us are too young to remember the rampant epidemics of every period of human life up to the late 20th century.
Blogust simply links to the Times‘ story: Autism/MMR Link Fabricated but asks a simple question that disturbs many people.
Now why somebody do something like that?
Roxy Hickey of Ethics in Science briefly links: Doctor who claimed MMR vaccine-Autism link may have falsified data and characterises is as a “perfect example of misconduct in reseach”.
Dr Michael Fitzgerald asks: The MMR scare: from foolishness to fraud? He provides an excellent overview of of his objections to the value of the GMC investigating Andrew Wakefield, Professors Walker-Smith and Murch.
These hearings have had the additional disadvantage of implicating the former Royal Free paediatricians Simon Murch and John Walker Smith, decent clinicians who have paid a heavy price for loyalty to Dr Wakefield. Even if Dr Wakefield is struck off the medical register by the GMC, he will still be able to claim that the science advanced in his Lancet paper is sound.
By contrast, Brian Deer’s allegations go the heart of the scientific basis for the claim for a link between MMR and autism, mediated by the hypothesised inflammatory bowel condition subsequently dubbed ‘autistic enterocolitis’ by Dr Wakefield.
Fitzgerald then sums up the comparatively recent revelations by Dr Nick Chadwick and Professor Stephen Bustin concerning difficulties with PCR and qPCR and their significance in tainting the claimed validity for Wakefield’s biopsy results; Dr Susan Davies recently revealed that she had contemporaneously “expressed particular concern at the use of the term ‘colitis’ to describe what she regarded as ‘relatively minor’ abnormalities”. Fitzgerald gives an elegant summary of other relevant issues and ends with a reminder of the people affected and an acknowledgement of Brian Deer’s efforts:
Once again families affected by autism owe a debt to Brian Deer, who has sat through the GMC hearings despite enduring a torrent of scurrilous abuse by anti-MMR campaigners. Almost alone among British journalists, he has been prepared to ask difficult questions and as a result he has got to the heart of the MMR controversy.
Melanie Phillips still reposes her full confidence in Andrew Wakefield: The Witch-Hunt Against Andrew Wakefield. She fully accepts all of Wakefield’s responses without investigating them further and states:
I stand by everything I have written and the conclusions I have previously reached: that the clinical jury is still out on the risks of MMR; that the epidemiological research on which the claims are based that it has conclusively been proved to be safe is at best methodologically inadequate and at worst has been misleadingly spun; that although any link to MMR remains unproven, Wakefield’s Lancet findings of a new clinical syndrome have been replicated.
There are no links or further information on these “replicated” findings. And we have the, by now, familiar references to Hannah Poling (here and here) and Dr Bernardine Healy. The whole sundae is then topped off as Phillips echoes Wakefield’s call for single vaccines: an argument that holds no merit. Ironically, in the comments, several people affect to object to what they characterise as Brian Deer’s unethical disclosure of children’s medical records – other issues aside, no identifying details were revealed. However, those people have nothing to say about David Kirby’s treatment of Hannah Poling’s records, the breaching of the tribunal order, or the fact that John Poling had failed to disclose his relationship with Hannah when authoring a paper about her condition, nor did he declare that he was involved in a pending action before the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation that concerned the matters described in the paper.
Andrew Wakefield has posted Andrew Wakefield’s Response To Brian Deer (pdf). Wakefield continues to imply that any mistakes are the responsibility of his colleagues and his clearest message is that he regrets nothing:
there was and continues to be every reasonable basis for suspecting a possible link between MMR vaccination and autistic regression…
Measles outbreaks are preventable, immediately, by offering to parents with entirely valid concerns about the safety of MMR vaccine, a choice of single measles vaccine; not to do so is unethical and puts the vaccine policy, “our way or no way”, before the wellbeing of children.
We provide a quick response: Andrew Wakefield Responds to Brian Deer: Summary, “I regret nothing…Single jabs are the way ahead”.
Dr Dave Gorski has written up a magisterial account both of the Deer revelations and the findings from the Autism Omnibus: 2009: Shaping up to be a really bad year for antivaccinationists.