I certainly don’t even try to keep secret my opinion of Andrew Wakefield, the British gastroenterologist who is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the measles back to the UK, thanks to his bad science, for which he was well-paid by trial lawyers and his falsification of data and scientific fraud. Since 1998, when Wakefield first published his fraudulent (and now retracted) little case series in The Lancet, his work and his personality have dominated the antivaccine movement in the UK. After he moved to Texas to ply his antivaccine quackery here in the US, he soon became a dominant voice in the US antivaccine movement as well, teaming up with antivaccine groups like Generation Rescue and antivaccine propaganda blogs like Age of Autism.
Finally, he has been rewarded for his efforts:
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh.
Runners-up for the award were Prince Charles and David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth and member of the Commons health select committee. The Good Thinking Society, a campaign group led by Singh, set up the annual Golden Duck award to recognise those “who have supported or practiced pseudoscience in the most ludicrous, dangerous, irrational or irresponsible manner”.
In 1998, Wakefield was the lead author of a paper in the Lancet medical journal that suggested a link between the measles virus and inflammatory bowel disease. The paper also suggested the virus played a role in the development of autism. Wakefield later said that his research led him to believe that, instead of the MMR triple vaccine, children should be given a series of single vaccines. His statements led to alarm around the world, a drop in the rate of MMR vaccination and, in the UK, a rise in cases of measles cases.
In 2010, the Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s paper and he was struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Subsequent studies have found no credible link between MMR and either autism or Crohn’s disease.
I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this “honor.” I can think of people who might be as “deserving” as Wakefield, but the committee already considered them. After all, Prince Charles has been promoting homeopathy and all manner of quackery, using and abusing his position as Prince to promote pseudoscience. Sadly, thanks to Wakefield’s efforts in promoting antivaccine quackery, thousands of children in the UK have suffered from the measles who didn’t have to, while the fear of vaccine stoked by Wakefield and his sycophants, toadies, and lackeys threatens herd immunity, allowing other diseases an opening to come roaring back.
I must admit, the timing of this “award” is rather amusingly fortuitous, because it was just on Friday that Andrew Wakefield published a tirade on the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism that is just as misguided, wrong-headed, and inept as anything that Mike Adams, or Teresa Conrick has written entitled Patterns In Chaos: Child Psychiatry, Violence and Autism. In fact, it sounds very much like the anti-psychiatry rants recently written in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, CT by a deranged gunman named Adam Lanza that I deconstructed last week.
Like Conrick, Wakefield begins by correctly countering the misinformation rampant in the media in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome and correctly asserting that there is no good evidence of a link between autism or autism spectrum disorders and an increased propensity for violence and mass murder. Unfortunately, Wakefield then does what antivaccinationists do so well and proposes an alternate explanation that involves the same confusion of correlation with causation that Mike Adams and Teresa Conrick fell for, tying them to vaccines:
And for those at risk – young people receiving off-license mind-bending drugs, an urgent overview of individual indication, efficacy, compliance, and adverse effects must be undertaken, funded by the relevant players in the pharmaceutical industry and conducted independently of any other input from them.
Tragically, predictably, there will be more events like that at Sandy Hook Elementary. The vast number of individuals with developmental disorders presages such events. This is not because of their diagnosis, per se, but rather I would suggest, because they may be at increased risk for adverse reactions (due to pre-existing conditions) and are being inappropriately medicated with drugs for which violence is a recognized adverse reaction. These drugs are being prescribed by a “mainstream” medical system that, through clinical neglect, has run dry on alternative treatments for autism spectrum disorders while enjoying Parma’s inducements way too much to look for any.
My opinion is neither mine alone, nor is it new. In attempting to make sense of the “senseless” it offers both tangible reasons and approaches to prevention. It is not enough that our hearts break for those affected; we are compelled to act. Perhaps inevitably, I am left with a mental image of Pharma lobbyists scaling Capitol Hill like an army of Orcs closing on Helm’s Deep. It’s a hideous sight.
One wonders if Andy’s heart “breaks” for the victims of a serial killer like Israel Keyes, who methodically slaughtered many people and was on no psychotropic medications, killing because he enjoyed it.
No, the hideous sight is someone like Wakefield, who has arguably done more than any single person in the world to endanger public health than any living person through his dubious, trial lawyer-funded research that sparked the anti-MMR scare that spread from the U.K. to the world, lecturing anyone on anything having to do with vaccines or drug safety. It’s seeing Andrew Wakefield, a vile little human being who has done real harm through spreading antivaccine pseudoscience and quackery, try to claim the moral high ground on any medical issue. It’s seeing Andrew Wakefield, disgraced and struck off (and rightfully so) physician latching onto a tragedy like the Sandy Hook shootings and using it to try to bolster his own disgraced image and exonerate himself in the eyes of the world of scientific fraud. Fortunately, it’s such a transparent ploy that only his deluded followers (such as the bloggers and readers at AoA) believe it. Anyone with some background knowledge of what Wakefield has done and his utter pseudoscience will laugh contemptuously; that is, if they don’t weep at such cynicism that exploits the violent deaths of 20 six- and seven-year-olds for his own personal agenda.
Wakefield then goes on, like Adams and Conrick before him, to list violent crimes and mass murders in which the perpetrator was alleged to have been taking psychotropic medications, thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt his complete “worthiness” to receive the being awarded the Golden Duck Award for lifetime achievement in quackery. Truly, Wakefield is in the good company of quacks when one of his articles is indistinguishable in anything other than tone from an anti-psychiatry rant by Mike Adams, Gary Null, or the Church of Scientology about psychiatry. Seriously, does Andy realize how far he’s fallen? Sometimes I wonder.
Here’s a hint, Andy: When your writings become indistinguishable from that of Scientology anti-psychiatry broadsides, the pure paranoid ravings that are Mike Adams, or the cynical alt-med promotion of Gary Null, you have completely left any realm of science, medicine, or reason. Of course, we knew that Wakefield did that years ago, but his latest self-humiliation underlines it more than ever. Truly, he deserves a lifetime achievement award in quackery. Well, done, Good Thinking Society! Well done!
Oh, and Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoyed your Christmas present from the Good Thinking Society.