Andrew Wakefield Is Not A Fraud?

Most folks have a good idea of who Andrew Wakefield is and what he did.

Who's to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?
Who’s to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?

Still, some folks seem to be pathologically optimistic that he didn’t actually do anything wrong.

Andrew Wakefield Is Not A Fraud?

You remember Andrew Wakefield, right?

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.”

J. B. Handley

He is the guy who published the 1998 paper in Lancet in the UK that started folks thinking that the MMR vaccine is somehow associated with autism.

In 1998, a major medical journal based in the UK, The Lancet, published a report headed by Andrew Wakefield, who was at that time a gastroenterological surgeon and medical researcher. The report implied a causal link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the development of autism combined with IBD in children, which Wakefield described as a new syndrome he named “autistic entercolitis”.

Andrew Wakefield’s Harmful Myth of Vaccine-induced “Autistic Enterocolitis”

But he didn’t actually say that the MMR vaccine caused autism in that paper, did he?

No, he saved that for the press conference for the paper.

If not for the press conference, which in itself was unusual, and all of the media attention over the next few years, his small study, which was “essentially a collection of 12 clinical anecdotes,” would have gone nowhere.

But there was no “Wakefield Factor” on immunization rates in the UK, was there? Didn’t measles cases continue to go down in the 10 years after his Lancet paper was published?

MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn't fully recover until 2012.
MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn’t fully recover until 2012.

Despite the heroic efforts of some folks to manipulate the data, it is clear that MMR vaccination rates dropped and measles cases jumped in the years after Wakefield’s MMR scare.

But even if his paper scared people away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, he was never really found guilty of fraud, was he?

While the findings of the General Medical Council panel that took away Wakefield's medical license never used the word 'fraud,' they described things that are fraudulent.
While the findings of the General Medical Council panel that took away Wakefield’s medical license never used the word ‘fraud,’ they described things that are fraudulent. The words dishonest and misleading come up a lot too.

How do you define fraud?

“The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism.13 Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No.”

Fiona Godlee on Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

Brian Deer wasn’t the only one calling Wakefield a fraud.

But those charges from the General Medical Council were later all overturned, weren’t they?

While charges against John Walker-Smith, a co-author of Wakefield’s study, were dropped on appeal, that doesn’t exonerate Wakefield in anyway. Remember, John Walker-Smith was actually against blaming the MMR vaccine and unlike Wakefield, he and another co-author actually published their own press release stating continued support of the use of the MMR vaccine.

But the other coauthors have stood by the results of the paper, haven’t they?

“We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.”

Retraction of an Interpretation

They stood by the idea that it is important that research be done so that gastrointestinal problems in autistic children can be recognized and treated. Almost all of them retracted Wakefield’s interpretation of the paper though.

Yeah, but other studies have proven Wakefield to be right though, haven’t they?

No, they haven’t. In fact, other labs could not even replicate Wakefield’s original study.

Why wasn't Wakefield ever charged in a criminal court?
Why wasn’t Wakefield ever charged in a criminal court?

But Wakefield’s Lancet paper wasn’t retracted because it’s findings were wrong…

Yes it was!

“Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children

Still think Andrew Wakefield isn’t a fraud?

Every time there is a measles outbreak, anti-vaccine folks pop up to defend Andrew Wakefield. The problem is that they get virtually everything about him wrong!

Their false narratives and myths attempt to rewrite history and make you forget that he doesn’t just scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, he hurts autistic kids and their families.

More on Andrew Wakefield Myths

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