And now, the antivax failure is complete: The Lancet withdraws Wakefield's paper

By Phil Plait | February 2, 2010 12:30 pm

Oh, this is wonderful to hear: The Lancet — a leading UK professional medical research journal — is retracting the paper published by Andrew Wakefield back in 1998 that linked vaccines with autism.

The paper has been found to be multiply and fatally flawed, with Wakefield and his work being thoroughly discredited. As the Lancet editorial itself states:

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.

That’s great news, especially after Wakefield had his head handed to him last week by the GMC over his unethical and irresponsible behavior that led to this horrible paper being published in the first place.

The Lancet statement is a bit bloodless… but they are a professional research journal and not a blog, so it’s not appropriate for them to call out Wakefield in more emotional — and utterly deserved — terms. It’s up to the blogs to call out Wakefield for his tireless efforts in creating of the modern antivaccination movement, which is becoming so successful that measles, mumps, pertussis, and other preventable diseases are on the rise again. And to note that not only was his research wrong, but that he may have faked his data. And to say that he has a huge conflict of interest here, since at the time he was involved in creating an alternative to vaccination that would make him very, very rich if people became scared to vaccinate their kids. And to inform people that Wakefield was in the pocket of lawyers trying to sue the vaccine industry. And to basically call out the entire antivax movement for the incredible damage they have done and continue to do to public health.

All that’s left now is for the GMC to officially sanction Wakefield, disbar him, essentially, to finish this all up officially.

Of course, that won’t even slow Wakefield or the antivaxxers. They don’t care for the real world, based on evidence and fact. They are, for all intents and purposes, religious zealots now, believing in Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, and the rest with such fervor that there is literally no amount of evidence that can ever sway them. And they will continue to spin, fold, and mutilate the truth, while we watch as diseases rise back from the dead, infecting hundreds of thousands of people, and killing many of them.

Never forget what’s at stake here. Never.

My thanks to the many, many BABloggees who sent me email or tweeted about this.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind

Comments (84)

  1. Lawrence

    The CNN comments are depressing – so many people believe this is some huge “conspiracy” to silence Wakefield.

    I always find it so hard to believe there that many delusional people out there.

  2. Mapnut

    If I understand what the Lancet link says, the 2004 statement by Hodgson is the “earlier investigation”, and it supported Wakefield et al.?

  3. Stonegiant

    Er… What does “The paper has been found to be multiply” mean? I can’t figure out what word you meant to say.

  4. Multiply flawed and fatally flawed.

  5. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    We’ll always have the Anti-Vax True Believers™ with us. We just have to keep more people from falling into their hands using reason, evidence, and compassion.

    As for Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, though, there is not enough derision in the world to adequately describe their idiocy in all of this.

  6. Ryan

    Oh, the timing on this is absolutely perfect! I’m just debating some antivaxxers online right now. This should completely behead their argument :D

  7. Got a link to the Lancet retraction on antiantivax.flurf.net, along with a link to the GMC’s ruling. Both can be found under the MMR section.

  8. Gary Eller

    A Twitter search for “Jenny McCarthy” nicely found a lot of tweets like this: “And this is why you don’t let Jenny McCarthy (of all people) scare you out of vaccinating your kid” “You mean Jenny McCarthy isn’t a scientist?” and some realists: “I’m afraid you may be right… I doubt Jenny McCarthy will issue a retraction anytime soon”

  9. ND

    Are 12 kids statistically large enough to base a study on?

  10. Stonegiant: multiply the adverb (pronounced MUHL-ti-plee)

  11. Bill Roberts

    So Jim Carrey has been talking out of his #@$%@# in more ways than one. I wonder whether being born to a woman made out of silicone and botox has any effect on the risk of autism.

  12. BoBo

    I’m very happy this particular piece of idiocy was finally revealed to the world for the nonsense that it so clearly was. Of course, as others have pointed out before me, this will (sadly) in no way stop the antivaxxers. Truly stupid and delusional people, who believe that an invisible cadre of “ELITES” controls the world and that everything is just a huge conspiracy against them will *never* give up their insane delusions, regardless of the objective reality that surrounds them. Stepping away from the Antivaxxers for a second, the “Tax Protesting” cult is another excellent example of this. Regardless of how many times the Supreme Court disproves and strikes down tax protesters and their arguments as “frivolous” or “ridiculous”, they just keep on comin’. Their sick brains simply make them unable to accept physical reality for what it is (for an excellent discussion of this phenomenon, see: http://evans-legal.com/dan/tpfaq.html#why ) and they instead become convinced everything is a giant conspiracy against them and that everyone who thinks otherwise is a “slave” or “sheeple”. I would suspect that the same will happen within the ranks of the Antivaxxers; probably within the next hour or so. Sad… :-(

  13. Wesley Struebing

    Was gonna tweet you with that, but figured you’d already seen it! I completely agree with your assessment of the Jenny McCarthys and Andrew Wakefields. They’ll only become louder and more strident – and the acolytes will just become more slavishly devoted to them. The only difference I see between the anti-vaxers and the creationists is that the creationsts haven’t killed anyone by bad science – at least, yet, that I know of.

    A pox on both their houses!

  14. rob

    well.

    now wakefield has only one option left to solidfy his reputation as an expert vaccines and autism.

    he has to pose nude in playboy.

  15. Over at AoA, someone commented that the editors of the NY Times blog (not sure which) was not allowing comments through that supported McCarthy or Wakefield. I responded with the following, which may or may not be approved by the AoA editors:

    @lisa

    Sounds kinda the opposite of Age of Autism. I posted a comment on Mark Blaxill’s article “Naked Intimidation” pointing out some mistakes he made regarding the GMC ruling. My post still is not through.

    Do you have a link to the NYT blog in question?

  16. This does little in the eyes of the antivaxxers but it does a lot for those on the fence. It gives skeptics and medical practitioners a whole new arsenal to take from. This is a big win.

    @Bill Roberts:
    HAAHAHAhahahahah!!!

  17. ScottW

    When typing the headline “the antivax failure is complete”, did you say it out loud to yourself in an Emperor Palpatine voice? :)

  18. I’m curious: if – and I know this would be the best-case scenario and probably won’t happen – Wakefield is stricken from the medical record in the UK, does that mean he can still practice medicine in the US? How about elsewhere? It’s clear that his career as a doctor in the UK is over, but of course he’s long since moved Stateside, probably because he knew this was bound to happen (though I’m sure his people spin that as “so he could reach more patients in need” or some such tripe). If the GMC really does come down with the banhammer, though, does that mean he also can’t continue practicing in the US or will he be able to just keep moving from country to country every decade or so and wait until the differences between their health care systems catches up with him?

  19. Dawn

    @Jon F (#17) Wakefield is not licensed to practice in the US. He is not practicing (supposedly) at TH, he is simply the “executive director”. But somehow I sincerely doubt he’s never seeing patients and making recommendations. However, since the Texas board of docs hasn’t looked at him, he can keep on his merry way. However, I wonder if getting his license removed in the UK, if it happens, will encourage Texas to look at TH?

  20. Dan I.

    @ 17 ScottW.

    I’m sure Phil let the Dark Side consume him while he typed it out.

  21. the bug guy

    Jon F,
    As I understand it, Wakefield does not have a license to practice medicine in the US and is listed by Thoughtful house as a “researcher”.

  22. the bug guy

    Ah, Dawn beat me to it with a fuller explanation.

  23. Chris A.

    @Rob (#14):
    “to solidify his reputation as an expert on vaccines and autism…(Wakefield) has to pose nude in playboy.”

    Thanks a lot. I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  24. Katharine

    Score another one for smart people.

  25. It is about damn time! It just sad it took so long and so many people have become victims of anti-reality.

  26. @Dawn, @the bug guy:
    Great, thanks for the info. I suppose only time will tell if this will lead authorities in Texas to take a closer look at what goes on with TH and just how involved he is in medical decisions. Still, score one more for the good guys! Next up, Project Distract Jenny McCarthy with Something Shiny!

  27. Does anyone know whether this information is seeping through? It’s too soon to know how it will affect vaccination rates, but how about AOA’s attendance or membership?

  28. Frank.E.

    Wakefield is like a semi retarded Dr. Frankenstein that unleashed a real monster. Between the antivaxxers and the unscrubbed masses that are too lazy to vaccinate, taking a bus now is like going to a viral zoo.

  29. Robert E

    @Rob
    There’s a mental image I didn’t need.

  30. @Jon F

    What I’m wondering is if the Office for Human Research Protections might take a look into him after the GMC ruling.

    @Kathy Orlinsky

    The comments at AoA are very supportive of Wakefield. My comment still has not been let through, but I did see this gem from JB Handley:

    I would like to thank the Lancet for forcing this issue back on the front page. Parents are not stupid. When they see the headline, they do their own research, and our community grows. Well done.

  31. Charlie Young

    Unfortunately, it takes time to undo the mistakes of science. The real disappointment is that the thing can never truly be undone.

  32. Timkatt

    Oh if only this were truly the end of the anti-vax movement.

  33. This is going up on Facts, not Fantasy as well! I will put this on the blog as well as in the Vaccines Page.

  34. ScottW
  35. @ScottW

    Good to see the majority of the comments on the NPR story are, so far, rational.

  36. Ad Hominid

    This would be a triumph for science and reason if it had happened ten years ago when the problems with Wakefield’s paper first came to light.
    As it is, the delay itself is a monumental scandal, having allowed a fraudulent paper to blossom into a malignant social and cultural movement that is now largely self-sustaining.

  37. John

    Why do you hate Jenny so much?

    Leave Jenny McCarthy alone!

  38. Astro_Nuke

    Rejection by the establishment is viewed as a victory to most anti-establishment movements. The anti-vaxxers are probably happy with this.

  39. Monkey Deathcar

    Good news indeed.

    And to appease those that will say, “Why don’t you post more about astronomy, isn’t this suppose to be an astronomy blog?”

    I’ll make it related to astronomy for them.

    Space is really really big with stars and matter and stuff.

  40. firemancarl

    Lets hope that the news picks this up and trashes Wakefield et.al. I would love to see Brian Williams talk about this on the news tonight!

  41. Lawrence

    The video segment by CNN was awful. They couldn’t have found someone who could have just come out and said, “The Lancet is fully retracting this article – they believe it was improperly done & the results are invalid. Oh, and there has never been a validated study that shows a single link between Autism & Vaccines – never, never, never.”

    In my opinion, the commentator & expert vaccilated a bit.

  42. Ian M. Fallon

    @ 37. John

    Because she tells people not to vaccinate their children because of the lie that they’ll cause autism. Whether she’ll admit it or not, whether she understands it or not, her advice is a real threat to public health. Even though her claims and advice are completely wrong people listen to her because she’s a celebrity who’s been on Oprah. Someone has to stand up and counter her idiocy and we, The Knights of Reason have taken up the challenge!

  43. Lawrence @ 1, Rats! They’re on to us. We were all set to sneak into Wakefield’s house tonight while he’s asleep, and stick his hands into buckets of warm water. I wonder if I can return the buckets to Costco and get my money back?

  44. Femme Fatale

    Maybe the antivaxxers will all get the measles and weed themselves out.

  45. I have posted a rebuttal to David Kirby’s anti-vaccine article on the Huffington Post, and a copy of it here on my blog:

    http://www.rationalape.com/2010/02/vaccine-wars-destroy-destroyers.html

    Phil, or any of you, might want to do the same. I have found that productive discussions often get started in the comments section, if the rebuttals come early enough. Kirby argues that this decision should mean nothing for the anti-vaccine movement.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/the-emlancetem-retraction_b_446749.html

  46. Peter B

    Femme Fatale @ #45 said: “Maybe the antivaxxers will all get the measles and weed themselves out.”

    They might. But sadly, in doing so they’d take with them innocent people who couldn’t be vaccinated for various reasons.

  47. Scottynuke

    Todd W. (#15) —

    It’s the “Motherlode” blog at NYT, and oddly enough, the “you’re screening out Wakefield supporters” post was preceded by a pro-Wakefield (and reality-deficient) post! :-)

  48. To the zealots I suppose this is only the final stage in the martyrdom of St Wakefield. A retraction by the Lancet is what passes for the piecing with lances these days after all.

  49. Josh

    All-
    Bit of an odd one up here in Portland but not only was a family basically acquitted for killing thier child which faith healing, but the parents so said family have been convicted of faith healing to death one of their own.

  50. Keith

    It’s about bloody time that piece of garbage was retracted—nearly 12 years down the line. Wakefield’s tripe has been shown to be 100% wrong over and over and over again since it was published. What took the august editors of the Lancet so long to quash such a worthless study?

  51. Chris

    John:

    Why do you hate Jenny so much?

    Possibly because she lied. Her son was about 2.5 years old when he had the horrific seizure. Trust me, I know about seizures. My son had them also, which put him in the hospital for a week (though he was a newborn and had not had any vaccine, being that he is now 21).

    The lie is that she blames that it was caused by the MMR vaccine, which her son had at least a year before! Not a day. Not a week. Not a month before. But over a year!

    She lied.

    Wakefield lied.

    And because of those lies, children have died. (two in the UK, several in Germany from measles, not to mention the several in the USA from Hib and pertussis)

    Why are we supposed to like liars? Especially when the lies lead to the death of children?

  52. Gary Ansorge

    38. John:

    I don’t hate her. I just believe she’s a blond, bimbo airhead who should keep her faulty thinking to herself.

    GAry 7
    PS: My apologies to smart blonds everywhere.

  53. Chris

    Apology accepted.

    Especially since I believe she is a “bottle blond.”

  54. Travis D

    I’m pleased, both with the ruling and the lack of vile anti-vax posts in the comments so far.

  55. Mike Boston

    First the Global Warn-ers get exposed as frauds, cheats, and liars and now the Anti-vaxers get their comeuppance. REAL SCIENCE ALWAYS WINS!

  56. Katharine

    Chris, Gary, I don’t think you got the joke. :P

  57. Kim Stagliano has a post about “censorship” over at AoA. I posted this comment there and am cross-posting here in case they censor me:

    @Kim

    A couple notes. First, be careful about brandishing the “censorship” flag against those with whom you disagree. AoA censors a lot of comments that don’t agree with the party line. I have personal experience of that.

    Second, the GMC ruling, based on the findings, was justified. Wakefield performed colonoscopies, MRIs and lumbar punctures which were not clinically indicated. These procedures are not without risk, as evidenced by the child whose bowel was perforated during a colonoscopy (performed by someone other than Wakefield, I believe). He also drew blood for research from children at a birthday party, using undue influence (payment of 5 pounds), without prior ethical review board approval. These are all documented and reflect poorly on Wakefield’s ethical behavior during the study.

    Whatever sanctions the GMC imposes on Wakefield, Walker-Smith and Murch will have been brought about by their behavior, not their stand on vaccines. The GMC ruling is not censorship.

    The Lancet retraction, likewise, is not censorship. In light of details that came forth as a result of the GMC hearings, the validity of the study has come into question (e.g., method of enrolling subjects). Perhaps Wakefield could replicate the study, following proper ethical procedures and sticking to the approved protocol, and try to publish his results, but the 1998 study has too many issues with it to be a reliable source. Wakefield himself should have retracted the paper, quite frankly, but he didn’t. So the Lancet had to.

    This comment will be cross-posted to other blogs, so that if you decide to censor it, at least it will still be available to others to read.

  58. Dawn

    @Katherine (#58)…to be honest, I’d forgotten about that video until you commented (or, blocked the pain of the recall from my memory…lol).

    @Todd W: I like the way you cross-post comments, and let them KNOW you are cross-posting them. Seems to be the only way to get comments posted on AOA that are at all critical (even mildly).

  59. @Dawn

    They let some comments through, occasionally, but I haven’t been able to discern the criteria they use. Maybe they let the ones through that are not too critical or that they think will be easily beaten down?

    Oh, and I cross-posted to Respectful Insolence, too, on the “Here’s Another Slam on Andrew Wakefield” post.

  60. amphiox

    Is #38 a reference to youtube and a certain Ms. Spears?

    My irony meter fritzes whenever I even glance at anti-vax material.

    For a serious answer, I propose a compromise. If she will leave vaccines alone, we will leave her alone.

  61. TaRgEt-muffin

    in canada…the gov’t has conceeded that the push for the H1N1 vaccine was manupulated, based on poor science and heavily lobbied. thus, creating fear, near panic if you will, based on bad science and stinks of financial motivation. the gov’t has fallen short of saying it was the manufacturer of the vaccination’s doing. however, the H1N1 pandemic never hit with the force or magnitude exceeding the usual annual death rate from influenza. the real issue is that level headed people need to research first and than make an informed decision. to those that quickly dismiss the conspiracy group…go light on them for they are coming from a history based in fact; thalidimide, toxic shock, I.F., copper I.U.D’s, etc. we need people such as this to act as watch dogs…which leads me back to the level headed people.

  62. Steve in Dublin

    Dawn @ #61

    @Todd W: I like the way you cross-post comments, and let them KNOW you are cross-posting them. Seems to be the only way to get comments posted on AOA that are at all critical (even mildly).

    Well… there *is* a way to leave comments on pages that either don’t support comments, or where the author deletes unfavourable ones (like AoA). There’s a catch though: the comments you leave can only be viewed by people using a special add-on to the Google Toolbar called SideWiki. That’s the bad news. The good news is that SideWiki is available for both IE and Firefox, which covers off a good portion of the browser market.

    Just Google ‘sidewiki’, and you’ll find instructions on how to install it. To use it… well. That’s best done by example. I’ve left a nice little greeting on Ken Ham’s site (which doesn’t support commenting at all), by singling out a particularly egregious sentence in one of his blog entries. This will get held up in moderation, but it’s worth it. After installing the Google Toolbar with SideWiki, go here:

    Meaningless Atheism Hits a Touchy Spot

    Then hit the ‘Sidewiki’ button on the Google Toolbar to pop it up, and click on the ‘Read comments’ link to read my comment.

    We just *have* to get all skeptics using this new tool. If a web page refuses to present a rational position, we can leave some ‘rationality droppings’ there :-)

  63. ND

    TaRgEt-muffin,

    Can you point us to the articles discussing what the Canadian gov has said? You’ve summarized it in your own words. Let’s see what was said.

  64. Katharine

    “to those that quickly dismiss the conspiracy group…go light on them for they are coming from a history based in fact; thalidimide, toxic shock, I.F., copper I.U.D’s, etc. we need people such as this to act as watch dogs…which leads me back to the level headed people.”

    1) We still use copper IUDs.

    2) They are not coming from a history based in fact, per se. They are remembering some of our biggest screwups. They are rightfully aware that we can and do rarely make egregious mistakes; they just forget that we also learn from them. The path of least harm is not the one where nothing is done. They reveal a great deal of fear and ignorance, and the best way to counter that is education.

    Unfortunately, that is a different bowl of worms.

  65. TaRgEt-muffin

    Hi ND,
    Lets start with W.H.O.
    http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/2010/01/h1n1-a-false-pandemic.html

    The following link is included because the closing statement is relevant
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/721063–house-to-debate-h1n1-again
    Over purchasing a product shows the midset of Canadian Feds; ignorance on how many people are actually in Canada, a large amount was “dumped” on to Canada (bulk purchasing), or the “hell it ain’t my money” attitude that prevails in our Parliment and Legislature. Regardless, the surplus vaccines will become spoiled (short shelf life).
    I am continuing to look in to the CPAC sites to get an actual link to the debate. I understand from your comments ND you clearly want links and not quotes from Ignatiff (Libs) , that Talk Show (Layton- NPD). Harper has been typically mute (safety in silence). I’m also checking all news papers within Canada for cross ref for you as well. Quite a task you have sent me on but none the less determined to cite my sources.

  66. TaRgEt-muffin

    Hi Katherine,
    “Screw ups” remain fact. Semantics do not change the reality of which I speak. Please do not wax pros or “soft sell”. I thought that copper i.u.d.s were removed from the shelves after some complainants had suffered injury. I stand corrected. Thank you for that.
    Why do you speak in terms of “we”???? Are you of the medical field???
    I’ve already laid witness to medical papers that have implimented bad science,manupulated facts, false hypothesis, poor positive/ negative testing, etc. thats what created this blog to begin with. so, if you defending science, Wakefield has sullied that image.

  67. TaRgEt-muffin

    Katerine,
    In hind sight…who cares if the conspiratory group reveal fear? i would not be so bold as to state that they are ignorant (to dismiss so quickly and callously shows ego) and as I stated before…educate oneself further and make informed decisions based on that. What was your point othen than to aggitate or bafflegab with disingenious comments??? Now, taunt me not a second time…I am sticking with facts and have to gather those for ND in regards to the debate (validity of H1N1 scare- fact or fiction?) in the Canadian Parliment.

  68. I sometimes write a post that collates blog responses, both positive and negative, to a given issue.

    I’m keeping one now on responses to the Lancet retraction of the Wakefield’s paper.

    I’ve added this post to the list.

    The post is at

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2010/02/on-the-lancets-retraction-of-wakefields-1998-paper-alleging-a-connection-between-the-mmr-vaccine-and.html

  69. TaRgEt-muffin

    there is a very large warming yellow thing in the sky! my plants seem to like it and my spirits have been lifted. anyone know what this celestial body is???

  70. I still find it really hard to believe it took The Lancet as long as it did to remove Wakefield’s findings. When all other authors of a study recant their statements, it would just seem fair to at least review the study. And that could have been done many years ago…

  71. Jim Galasyn

    Mike Boston #57: “First the Global Warn-ers get exposed as frauds, cheats, and liars and now the Anti-vaxers get their comeuppance. REAL SCIENCE ALWAYS WINS!”

    In what way does this situation resemble the good work of climate scientists?

  72. A pediatrician writes about the effects of Wakefield’s fraud and the anti-vax movement on his patients (link below). An interesting read. He also covers the media’s complicity including that of Salon.com. Also, Wakefield has safely relocated to Texas, where he runs his own anti-vax outfit, so if the British revoke his medical license it will not hurt him much or at all.

    http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2010/02/04/autism_debunked/index.html

  73. So, in response to numerous of my recent posts being censored by AoA, I’ve started the blog Silenced by Age of Autism.

    If you post a comment there and fear that it will not be approved, copy it in the comments on my new place. There’s one post on the blog that lays out the rules.

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