In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the doctor — oh, sorry, disgraced former doctor (he was struck from the British Medical Register last year) — he’s the guy behind a 1998 study published in the Lancet that claimed to find a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine. His study has been buttressing the claims of the anti-vaccination movement for 13 years. He’s the go-to science slinger for high-profile, “Don’t Prick My Kid” activists like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.
That’s despite the fact that his paper, as it turns out, was a load of crap. The results were rigged. The case studies doctored. And people have known this since early last decade.
How do we know? Well, the science made no sense for one. And no one has ever replicated his results, for two.
But for the details of the fraud side of things, we have British journalist, Brian Deer, to thank for much of what’s been revealed. He’s been unravelling Wakefield’s nasty little scheme for years now and yesterday, the British Medical Journal, published Deer’s latest exposé, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed.” He went back and interviewed the parents of the 12 kids (yeah, just 12) used in Wakefield’s original study and discovered that the “good” (former) doctor was even more underhanded and unethical than was previously thought.
Now, naturally, Wakefield is responding that Deer is some kind of Big Pharma shill. (This is a typical tactic of anti-vaccination campaigners: anyone who opposes them is either a dupe or on some kind of super-secret pharmaceutical industry payroll.) Which is funny considering what Deer has revealed about Wakefield’s likely motivations behind his 1998 study:
Wakefield was working on a lawsuit, for which he sought a bowel-brain “syndrome” as its centrepiece. Claiming an undisclosed £150 (€180, $230) an hour through a Norfolk solicitor named Richard Barr, he had been confidentially put on the payroll two years before the paper was published, eventually grossing him £435 643, plus expenses.
Yep. Wakefield was in it for the money. And the prestige, no doubt.
Sadly, the impact of his fraud goes far beyond the black eye the Lancet‘s credibility suffered (that is, until it retracted his article back in 2004). Wakefield’s study is one of the key reasons millions of parents have been scared off of vaccinating their children — not just the MMR vaccine but the entire range of immunizations. Thanks to Wakefield and all his fans and acolytes, really nasty diseases we’d almost wiped out — things like measles and whooping cough — are making a comeback.
The anti-vaccination movement — with it’s house of cards built of bad science and conspiracy theory — has made a lot of people very sick. Kids have died. Wakefield and co. have blood on their hands.
Hopefully, the next time we see him he won’t making his case on CNN or Oprah, he’ll be behind bars.
For a good summary of the whole Wakefield affair, it’s worth reading this piece over at Science-Based Medicine. Or if you want something livelier (and more ranty) check out Skepchick Elyse at Skepchick.org. There you can also watch the CNN clip where Anderson Cooper takes a verbal bat to the squirming shyster. Aw heck, I’ll save you a click and embed the clip myself.
Later, if you want to support some people who are doing good pro-vaccination work — and get your kids some nifty, post-needle threads while you’re at it — the Women Thinking Free Foundation is selling awesome “Hug Me I’m Vaccinated” onesies and t-shirts.
I’ve got a bunch on order. Me and my kids are getting jabbed next month.