Andrew Wakefield, martyr

By Phil Plait | May 24, 2010 10:56 am

[Note: I expect antivaxxers to flood the comments below with their typical spin and distortions. I urge everyone to read my comments policy. I also note that the article here is extensively linked to other sources backing up my claims about Wakefield and the antivax movement. The debunking of the vast majority of antivax claims can be found in those links.]

Andrew_WakefieldAndrew Wakefield, the man who more than anyone started the modern antivaccination movement that has led to the rise of measles, pertussis, and other preventable diseases, has been struck off the UK General Medical Council’s register. The GMC registers doctors in the UK, and oversees their conduct. To be struck off is essentially the same as being disbarred.

This is indeed good news, but forgive me if I don’t dance in the streets. It hardly makes any difference, and is years too late.

In 1998, Wakefield published a paper which led to people thinking vaccines caused autism. His research was shoddy, poorly done, unethical, and, frankly, wrong. Eventually the original paper was withdrawn by the medical journal in which it was published.

Syringe, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/8499561@N02/2756332192/That’s all great, in that eventually truth won out. But has it, really? Sure, he’s disbarred, and reality-based people understand he’s totally wrong. But the antivax movement still rolls on. Wakefield moved to Texas where he still spreads his antivax propaganda; he was on NBC’s TODAY show just this morning — what a coincidence! — still proclaiming his innocence, and still spreading falsehoods about vaccines.

And falsehoods they are. From the NBC page:

When [host Matt] Lauer asked Wakefield whether it’s dangerous to continue promoting an MMR-autism link when it causes many families to shy away from vaccinating their children, Wakefield answered, "Matt, you’re missing the point.

"The point is that despite denying it, in the public relations campaign they’ve used against me and against the parents, they are conceding these in vaccine court."

Actually, that’s completely wrong, and he should know better. For one thing, courts have ruled over and again that there is no evidence to link vaccines and autism. What Wakefield is most likely referring to is the Hannah Poling case, which can be twisted and spun into making it sound like it connects vaccines and autism, but it doesn’t. Read Steve Novella’s entry on that case to see how once again the truth eludes Wakefield.

For another, Lauer was not missing the point at all. Wakefield was dodging the point. Lauer was precisely correct; it is dangerous to promote a link that doesn’t exist between autism and vaccines, for exactly the reason Lauer stated.

It would’ve been interesting indeed to see Matt Lauer following up that question with asking Wakefield about his huge financial conflict of interest in all this, since Wakefield was developing an alternative to vaccines when he wrote that paper. Or if he had anything to say about investigative journalist Brian Deer — a man who has been at the forefront of exposing Wakefield all along — and the evidence he found that alleges Wakefield was paid by lawyers to start a vaccine scare?

Anyway, for years Wakefield has been claiming he’s the victim here. This news won’t change that, and will in fact make him a martyr to his reality-impaired followers.

He’s not the victim here. The real victims are people who get measles, people who get rubella, people who get pertussis. Most of the time these folks recover and are fine, though miserable. But sometimes it’s not such a happy ending. Dana McCaffery, a four week old girl in Australia, died last year because the herd immunity was too low where she lived. Because people chose not to vaccinate — and the antivax movement was strong there — that little girl died.

We’re seeing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases all over the world, and in many of those regions the voices of Wakefield and the antivaxxers are strong. I’m glad the GMC finally took action and did the right thing, but this does not mean we must rest in our fight against those zealots who believe — without any evidence, and plenty of evidence against them — that vaccines cause autism.

They don’t. But how many kids will get sick before everyone finally realizes that?

Syringe picture from ZaldyImg’s Flickr photostream, used under the Creative Commons license.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Skepticism

Comments (87)

  1. Chip

    Nothing more than a cheap plastic martyr at best

  2. I was just talking to an OB/GYN doctor in Newport Beach who said one of the children he delivered just died from the chicken pox and it could have been prevented if the parent would have not thought vaccinations were bad. It’s really sad children die because parents have been fooled.

  3. alHiboux

    Why does he keep going on about that? What is there to gain? Why was he being paid by lawyers to start a vaccine scare?

    People need to start questioning EVERYTHING, not just take things for granted. Not only is there no proof supporting the antivax movement, but their very own “leader” has been shown to be a fraud!

    We as a species sometimes make no sense at all

  4. Well my mommy instinct tells these doctors at the GMC do not know what they are talking about. Ok autism usually shows up at the same age my son usually gets his vaccines, so that means it must be vaccines. It can’t be because it is faulty genes or something else in the environment, or the diagnoses of autism changed. All those metals in the vaccine must be doing something. right? Death is a lot better than autism because if he does not get vaccines he might die but he won’t get autism.

  5. I have a friend that just posted this on Facebook today:

    “Abby didn’t display any Asberger symptoms until she got the MMR shot. Within minutes she slipped into her own world. if it wasn’t for early intervention, she would probably have no social skills and be lost to giving and receiving love… which she was like for a long while. I recommend that NO ONE gives their child the MMR shot, given between 11 and 12 months of age.”

    I’ve posted links to your blog in the past, but to no avail. She insists the vaccine gave her daughter Asberger’s. What do you say to someone like that? Could it be that the vaccine trigger something in her daughter that was already preexisting but underlying? She’s very adamant about the timing of it all.

    For the record, my son is just about to turn 2 years old in 2 weeks and has had every single shot his doctor recommended – and is perfectly fine.

  6. Pi-needles

    That slimeball doesn’t deserve to be called “martyr.” BA you forgot to “airquote” that last word in your title for this.

    If anyone in the antivax debate deserves the martyr tag (which is problematic anyhow) it would be Dana McCaffery and the other young victims of this literally sickening antivax nonsense.

    Good to hear Mr Wakefield has been struck off the roll of physicians – about time too.

  7. RMcbride

    The sad thing is that even if Wakefield came clean now the others in this movement wouldn’t be swayed.

  8. Brian Monson

    The BBC web article about his removal has a great graph at the bottom showing how a small decline in the percentage of kids immunized led to a large increase in cases

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8695267.stm

  9. What

    Really? Completely ignoring the fact that there is no link between Vaccinations and Autism. You would rather your son die than have autism? that is truly the most absurd thing I have read this month.

  10. Pi-needles

    @3. alHiboux Says:

    We as a species sometimes make no sense at all

    Only sometimes? ;-)

  11. Pieter Kok

    It is worth noting that the GMC struck him from the register because of his methods, not because of the falsity of his research (see the BBC article). This is an important distinction, and bad methods are much harder to prove. I think this explains why it took such a long time between retraction from the article in the Lancet in 2004 and the news today. Seems to me that the GMC were being thorough.

  12. Keith (the first one)

    Interview on BBC London with Ben Goldache just as I read this. He was keen to point out that there’s as much blame on the media for promoting this scare story as with Mr Wakefield himself. Wow it’s really tough typing this out on my mobile (cell phone for those across the pond)

  13. This is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Wakefield will continue to push his nonsense and his followers will hail him as a martyr to the cause and rally even more strongly. We must continue to dismantle these people’s arguments each and every time with cool heads and most importantly; the evidence. The evidence which not only shows them to be wrong, but also that their blind credulity kills children from preventable diseases! This has me riled all over again…

  14. Wakefield seems to be saying that the government is secretly settling MMR-autism cases. So now the MMR/Autism claims enter the “Secret Government Coverup” territory. It gets more loony each day. Before long they’ll be claiming that the moon landing sound stages were converted to offices to secretly settle vaccine cases. (It’s heavily covered up, but Dr. Wakefield – a complete nobody with no access to secret information at all – was able to pierce their veil of secrecy using his leet skillz in bovine excrementation.)

  15. Greg L

    Wakefield stands immune (!) from official sanction and authoritative criticism, because his antivaccine movement (led, like a cult, under his charismatic leadership) is predicated solely on faith. And to the faithful, Wakefield’s being struck-off will only go to confirm the existence of the dread big-pharma conspiracy he claims to battle against.

    I don’t think that the damage Wakefield has done can even be measured via the data: like the people at the Discovery Institute pushing “intelligent design” and litigating (like him) their trumped-up cause in the courts, he’s helped to make solid, useful, valuable scientific knowledge look hubristic, reckless, and absolutely cynical to the layman. The B-movie stereotype of the God-spurning mad scientist, the Frankenstein paradigm, continues to live on and spook the “villagers,” thanks to charlatans like the would-be-iconoclast Wakefield.

  16. @Lisa May

    What do you say to someone like that? Could it be that the vaccine trigger something in her daughter that was already preexisting but underlying? She’s very adamant about the timing of it all.

    Well, you could try explaining how memory is fallible and that, while she may feel quite certain that she is remembering correctly, her memories may have changed without her realizing it due to other information she has read or heard.

    Unfortunately, that probably won’t go over very well with her, as it seems from your account that she is a true believer. So, perhaps a better way to go about it would be to ask what would convince her that she might be mistaken. If she makes any claims, you can present evidence that refutes them. If you don’t have anything right to hand, don’t answer, but say that you will look into it, then go about researching the question to find out what the evidence suggests.

    Another tack to try is just providing information. I highly recommend the Topic-Based Reference on Vaccines and Autism at Science-Based Medicine. For a somewhat briefer intro to the issues, antiantivax.flurf.net has a lot of information and links to additional sources.

  17. Vaccines bad, blah, blah, blah. They are so predictable…

    Please read this before making stupid and baseless comments: http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.php (or Todd’s link above).

  18. Doug Little

    Wakefield moved to Texas

    And I’m sure they are very glad to have him. Since Texas is in a massive reality vacuum at the moment maybe other wackaloons will follow, and once they are all in the one place they can secede from the union.

  19. SteveG

    As noted on the Wall Street Journals web page:

    Britain’s General Medical Council found Andrew Wakefield guilty of “serious professional misconduct”

    The same body in January concluded that Dr. Wakefield’s research was flawed, saying that he had presented his work in an “irresponsible and dishonest” way and shown “callous disregard” for the children in his study.

    see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704113504575263994195318772.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories

  20. @ToddW. – Yeah, that’s what I try to do, but still she persists. It’s frustrating. Sadly, she also believes that Obama is a Muslim non-American working to destroy the country from the inside. *sigh*

    @Doug Little – Oh, if only they’d secede. I doubt the rest of the country would try to stop them. I know I wouldn’t.

  21. @Pi-needles,

    Maybe “self-martyr” is a better term. As in something bad happened to him and so he holds himself up as a martyr rather than admitting that the bad thing was the result of his own bad behavior.

    @RMcbride,

    I agree. They’ve reached the “Self Sustaining Conspiracy Theory” stage now. Vaccine-Autism Linkage isn’t a theory to be tested and discarded if proved wrong in their minds. It is The Truth and as such is True no matter what. Anything that proves it wrong is a lie propagated by Big Pharma and others who want to bury The Truth or (at most) a reason to slightly tweak The Truth. (For example, shifting from mercury claims to number of shots given claims.) If Mr. Wakefield were to go on the air tomorrow and tell everyone that he was wrong about vaccine-autism linkage, his followers would just assume that Big Pharma was somehow forcing him to say that.

  22. I think the reason Wakefield is still prattling on with his antivax rubbish is clear… in a word, money. Same reason certain ex-governors from Alaska, birthers, and teabag-types are still in the news. There’s money to made by courting the reality-impaired and playing on their fears. Books, seminars, the lecture circuit, TV shows, personal appearances. All equal cash in the bank.

  23. @Lisa May,

    Given her anti-vax theories and “Obama is a Muslim” theories, I think I’d give up on any hope of reasoning with her. Any evidence you give to prove her theories wrong will just get filed under “Conspiracy to hide The Truth” in her mind. I’m a big fan of fighting ignorance with knowledge, but some people shut their minds off so completely that presenting them with the facts is a waste of time.

  24. @Mark,

    It’s sad that my first reaction upon reading your comment is the same one I have with regards to how spammers operate/make money: I could make a lot of money doing this if it wasn’t for my pesky conscience!!!

  25. @TechyDad – I know, yet I just feel compelled to try, you know? It’s a tough fight, too. But I just found other comments on her post from another of her friends, and that friend is fighting it like I am. Maybe we’ll sway her yet…

    I know…I’m being way too optimistic. I should just walk away before my head explodes from frustration.

  26. Jennifer

    And how many children die from receiving their vaccinations? Many children die and are injured for life. If you have a child who is immunocompromised, like children with autism are, when you vaccinate using the MMR you are injecting a LIVE VIRUS into them. They do not fight it off like healthy children. They acquire a new illness via injection DIRECTLY into their bloodstream.

    There is something wrong with the fact that there are 1 in91 children diagnosed with autism today. Someone needs to find out fast what environmental variable is causing this and fast. The public cannot afford to pay for the huge influx of sick children who need assistance.

  27. flip

    This may be too late, but at least it’s one more nail in the coffin to show those sitting on the fence (er, mixed metaphors anyone?). If you can keep showing people on the fence that the science was incredibly wrong, and that the doctor has been de-licenced, then that would be a pretty good argument to convince people that he’s wrong overall. Combine it with all the info behind the ‘research’, and it’s even more convincing.

    If I were somebody new to this whole debacle, and heard that the main proponent had been stricken off, then I’d not want to trust that ‘doctor’ at all. (If only this were true of everyone and not just the fence-sitters and science-based medicine folks) In fact, if – and I can’t recall if this is correct or not – Wakefield is not certified and practicing medicine in the US, then all the better. Who would trust someone with their health after finding out he’s not licenced anywhere, *and* that his original licence had been revoked? (Er, excepting of course, those who can’t see past conspiracy theories)

  28. Andrew Wakefield, baby murderer, would be a more apt title.

  29. @Lisa May

    Has she told you where she got information supporting her position (other than her personal experience)? Frankly, I think the others have it right, that no matter what you present to her, she will just discount it. So I think the best approach may be asking “What evidence would convince you that you might be wrong?”

  30. Greg L

    @flip:

    >Who would trust someone with their health after finding out he’s not licenced anywhere? (Er, excepting of course, those who can’t see past conspiracy theories)

    But the conspiracy theories are sufficient – they’re foreground and horizon, both–that’s the problem. These people are so far gone that they probably even see professional licensure and credentials and such as another sinister aspect of the “powers that be” (how else can one explain a movement represented publicly by Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy?). Maybe Wakefield will seem even more in-the-vanguard to them, now that he’s been professionally discredited…

  31. Don’t make me go with the rest of the Texans when they seccccceeeedddeee! I only live here ’cause Texas is great…. not all Texans are (Great) however. But then again all Texans are also not Republitards / Conservitards.

    Proud Anti-AntiVaxxxxxer !

  32. Hakan

    He was on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme as well. I had to stop myself from bashing my little radio to the wall.

  33. Adam_Y

    “And how many children die from receiving their vaccinations? Many children die and are injured for life. If you have a child who is immunocompromised, like children with autism are, when you vaccinate using the MMR you are injecting a LIVE VIRUS into them. They do not fight it off like healthy children. They acquire a new illness via injection DIRECTLY into their bloodstream.”

    Sigh…. It actually took me a year to realize that this is a moot point. Remember there are three major ways infection can enter the body not two. The third way is through open wounds in the skin. If your argument had any merrit then people would be getting autism regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated because most people probably shrug off most cuts as long as they don’t get disgustingly infected. Your body fights the live viruses and bacteria just like any other source of infection.

  34. Chris

    Jennifer:

    And how many children die from receiving their vaccinations?

    Why don’t you tell us? Though be sure that it is well documented with real verifiable evidence.

    Now, let us take the MMR vaccine that Wakefield was paid to malign. It was introduced in the USA in 1971. Can you tell us the data that shows it started to cause autism in 1971? Or even in 1978 when there was a campaign started to rid the country of measles, mumps and rubella?

    Come on, you can do it… support your contentions.

    Now, if a child is immuno-compromised, how would they fair if they get the actual disease? With all of the worshipers of St. Andy, that is becoming more and more likely. Remember even one out of a thousand healthy children who get measles have some kind of bad outcome (from deafness, blindness, permanent mental retardation to what happened to Roald Dahl’s oldest child, Olivia).

    Oh, and, Jennifer, vaccines are not injected into the bloodstream. Anyone who says that reveals they do not know what they are talking about. It is about as bad as saying that the MMR once contained thimerosal. Be sure to avoid any websites that make that major gaff.

  35. @Jennifer,

    1) How many children die due to vaccines? According to the CDC, “Most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. These can often be controlled by taking acetaminophen before or after vaccination. More serious adverse events occur rarely (on the order of one per thousands to one per millions of doses), and some are so rare that risk cannot be accurately assessed. As for vaccines causing death, again so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically. Of all deaths reported to VAERS between 1990 and 1992, only one is believed to be even possibly associated with a vaccine.” (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/6mishome.htm#Vaccinescause )

    2) If you have a compromised immune system, you wouldn’t be vaccinated. The whole purpose of vaccines is to get the immune system to respond and thus know what to do if/when the real virus shows up. The immune-compromised (and others with medical reasons for avoiding vaccines) need to rely on herd immunity to protect them.

    3) Though the viruses might be live, they aren’t live in the “in the wild infectious” sense. There’s just enough virus to elicit an immune system response but not so much as to make the person come down with the disease. The children are definitely not “acquiring a new illness via injection directly into their bloodstream.”

    4) Yes, the high autism rates warrant research into the cause(s) behind the increase as well as treatments/cures. However, fighting vaccines as “the cause” when it has been proven time and again to not be “the cause” just saps resources from figuring out the real cause(s) behind autism. Ironically, the AntiVax folks are hurting the important cause that they seek to support.

    By the way, the CDC page I linked to above has risk rates for the various diseases that vaccines protect against as well as the risk rates for the vaccines. I’ll take a 1 in 1,000,000 risk of encephalitis or severe allergic reaction from the MMR vaccine over a 1 in 1,000 risk of encephalitis, 6 in 100 risk of pneumonia or 2 in 1,000 risk of death from measles. For every child made sick from the MMR, between 999 and 62,999 (depending how the risks overlap) are saved from illness.

  36. @flip makes a really good point. I could care less if a “true believer” still defends and believes Wakefield. New parents or future parents coming into this debate need to see that Wakefield is a fraud, and being stricken from the register like this is a great way to do this.

    @Jennifer “There is something wrong with the fact that there are 1 in91 children diagnosed with autism today. Someone needs to find out fast what environmental variable is causing this and fast.”

    That’s a great point and why we should stop chasing down a well-researched dead end like vaccines.

  37. JohnV

    @ Jennifer:

    “They acquire a new illness via injection DIRECTLY into their bloodstream.”

    Even CAPSLOCK won’t change the reality of how a vaccination is injected. They’re IM and not IV.

  38. Is there a way to bring criminal charges against Wakefield for creating a world wide crisis that leads to death. Negligence, or criminal mischief, or accessory to murder or something.

    If he had made an honest mistake back then and was actively trying to clean up his mistake, it wouldn’t be criminal. But he deliberately and in my opinion criminally falsified the data, then actively and wantonly publicized it to his benefit. There must be some law that he can be tried under.

    I mean where is the point of kicking him out of the medical profession. It has practically no impact on his income of his influence.

    Jail would feel like justice.

  39. Utakata

    That guy got his behiney handed to him. Perhaps Sylvia Browne, Glenn Beck and the Pope maybe next…though I think that’s wishful thinking…

    …and of coarse I agree with BA; a little too late. :(

  40. drow

    hypothesis: when a species nears an unsustainably large population, it begins producing individuals capable of limiting further growth in order to avoid ecological collapse. these individuals are typically dangerous sociopaths, although in cases where the species proves capable of cooperating against these, individuals possessing a more subtle capacity to turn the agencies of an agressive civilization against itself may arise.

    see also “Wakefield, Andew 21st C-CR” (encyclopaedia galactica//civ/h/i/w/48sx9.sd8z) and “Autoimmunity, Gaia” (principia univ//bio/i/x/a/29kxz9.zziw)

  41. Someone needs to find out fast what environmental variable is causing this and fast.

    You’re assuming an environmental factor without first determing how much of the change can be attributed to improved detection and more refined diagnostic criteria. Also, does your “1 in 91″ figure include those with high functionality levels, like mild Asperger syndrome? How are you seperating the variables?

  42. Realisticmom

    @jennifer – I have never heard of a doctor who would give an immune compromised child a live vaccine. That is one reason why it’s so important for healthy children to get the chicken pox and MMR vaccines, because those vaccines are not given to immune compromised children – so making sure the rest of the population has passive immunity created by vaccines is crucial for the health of immune compromised children.

    I have a family member and two close friends who are graduate-level educated psychologists who work in the field of autism treatment and research and I have never heard of autism being considered an autoimmune disorder or a cause of a compromised immune system. Could you please link to the scientific study that has revealed that connection (not just someone’s “I noticed it one day and decided it was so” theory)

    Hundreds of years from now historians will look back at this period in our history and say “People in rich countries sure were gullible to propaganda – to the point where they were killing themselves off!”

  43. John

    the bad thing about Texas is that they seem to control the
    school textbook market in the US

  44. Slartybartfarst

    This online poll needs our input.

    http://community.todaymoms.com/_question/2010/05/24/4342399-do-you-think-vaccines-are-related-to-autism

    The informed choice being, “No. There is no scientific evidence the two things are related.”

  45. @Slartybartfarst,

    Wow. I noticed that poll earlier today and it was something like 54% “it’s vaccines” and 20% “no scientific evidence”. Now it’s 16% anti-vax and 81.7% “no scientific evidence.” Impressive turnaround.

  46. thaneb

    Hopefully Wakefield has not been entered as some sort of hero in this latest Texas textbook go-round.

  47. Danlantic

    # 3. alHiboux Says:
    May 24th, 2010 at 11:07 am

    “Why does he keep going on about that? What is there to gain? Why was he being paid by lawyers to start a vaccine scare?”

    Reason #1: Look for the Dr.Seuss book “Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck”. The king had magicians make a new form of weather — oobleck. It was known by name but not description in ancient texts. It turned out to be globs of mucus. It would not stop unless the king admitted he had made a mistake. The king didn’t apologize until he was up to his neck in oobleck.

    Reason #2: Isaac Asimov gave this explanation about Velikovsky who wasn’t in it for the money; he made little from his books and he had a day job as a psychiatrist. Anyway, for the last 200 years we have been in the Age of Revolution (Churchill’s coining). To be a rebel is a compliment. But to be a rebel you must rebel against an establishment. That’s the problem as Asimov put it, “Real establishments are like the KGB. Real establishments kill people.” So you must rebel against an establishment that can’t hurt you. The scientific establishment is a good one. Phil Platt could be instrumental in denying a Hoerbiger Ice Theorist peer review or academic appointment but he can’t do anything else.

    Reason #3: Wakefield was a member of the scientific establishment. He indulged in pathological science. That was a coining of Irving Langmuir as “the science of things that aren’t so”. He won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. But years before that he was one of the developers of the revolutionary theory that atoms were cubical. When it was disproved he did not dig in his heels and stand four square on his embarrassing mistake but built on the same evidence to explain the covalent bonding of electron shells. He didn’t stick with it and went on to successes. He isn’t remembered for the mistake; he is remembered for promptly confessing the mistake. Anyway his mistake didn’t kill anyone. Pathological science is not about making a mistake, it’s about not admitting it.

    Wakefield has gone too long for that. If he confessed the error where is he to go? Does anyone want him as a doctor? The rest of his life he can make a tidy income as a homeopathic “doctor” does, selling stuff to the fringe.

    And the antivaxxer fringe know they are right. They are rebels against the establishment. The establishment’s oppression of them proves they are right.

  48. Jean-Denis

    I read a few of the comments over at todaymoms, and god I am depressed: so many parents deluded. Indeed this fight against non sense is never going to end.

  49. Doug Little

    Now it’s 16% anti-vax and 81.7% “no scientific evidence.

    Pharyngulation, it’s a beautiful thing!

  50. Ad Hominid

    @drow Says:

    hypothesis: when a species nears an unsustainably large population, it begins producing individuals capable of limiting further growth in order to avoid ecological collapse. these individuals are typically dangerous sociopaths, although in cases where the species proves capable of cooperating against these, individuals possessing a more subtle capacity to turn the agencies of an agressive civilization against itself may arise.

    I’ve been thinking along these lines for several years now, that the rise of mass irrationality as an organized social force is a kind of self-limiting mechanism in societies. I think it also serves to concentrate irrationality and other undesirable characteristics in ways that will lead to their elimination.
    I know this seems harsh. I am a father and grandfather, after all, but evolution is ruthless and we cannot stopping it merely by refusing to see what is going on around us.

  51. nomuse

    Drow — you mean Wakefield is an early employee of BuSab?

  52. flip

    How sad – I just logged in to my Yahoo email account and saw this as one of the headlines:

    “Britain bans doctor who linked autism to vaccine (AP)”

    Sigh… and the misinformation continues….

  53. MartyM

    People have a real skewed sense of risk assessment. For example, hypothetically speaking, if 100 people die from a H1N1 vaccine in a given year, that would be unacceptable and people will line up in droves to protest the sale and administration of this vaccine. Yet approximately 45,000 Americans die each year in automobile accidents. But because cars are more integral to our life style and identities, the risk of driving is acceptable.

    If there is a much greater chance of heart disease because of eating fast food and/or smoking daily than getting ill from a vaccine, the vaccine is somehow considered a risk not worth taking. I don’t get it.

  54. Buzz Parsec

    Lisa May and Todd W…. I have a perfect example of the fallibility of memory, but unfortunately, I can’t remember it! :-(

    I think it related to a sporting event I attended, most likely a Red Sox game. (I used to own a share in a pair of season tickets, so I went to a lot of games.) I had a very distinct memory of something that years later I discovered could not possibly have been true. (Some detail that was crystal clear in my memory was just plain wrong.) When I discovered it was wrong, I thought “Here’s a perfect example for explaining to people how their memory can play tricks on them, and it’s not their fault, and they’re not lying or evil or stupid and it can happen to very intelligent people.” If only I could remember what the example was! (This of course would only be anecdotal proof of false memories, but I think most people find that kind of example more convincing than a statistical study because they can relate to it.)

    Anyway, tell your friend that if she misremembers some details of her child’s vaccinations and first display of Asperger’s symptoms, it is nothing to be ashamed of or to cling to; it can (and does) happen to anybody.

    BTW, my 6-year-old nephew has Asperger’s and, though sometimes he is in his own world, he certainly does have lots of social skills and is one of the most loving and affectionate children there is (except sometimes when he is pulling his sister’s chain…) He didn’t learn to talk until he was 4, but at 6 is way above grade level in reading. Not just vocabulary but also understanding what parts are narrative and what parts are sound effects and what parts are quotes, and who is saying them and why. Witness his dramatic rendition of “Froggy Gets Dressed”

    Oh and he has all his shots…

  55. @Todd W. – You’re right. I give up on her after she posted this:

    “I believe that there is a link between certain people getting Autistic tendencies after the MMR shot. that is why often times Autistic tendencies run in families. Not all shots and i don’t know about all shots. BUT, i am a firm believer that the MMR shot caused my daughter’s problems. She was fine when we went into the Dr’s office and she became a totally different person within minutes of the shot. I have at least 3 other friends that report the same thing. Could be as simple as a genetic allergy of sorts. Some people are allergic to bee stings or peanut butter and others aren’t. Why is it so hard to believe that some families or certain people are or are not genetically disposed to be “allergic” to the MMR shot?

    i don’t think this guy is a crack pot. I think that the media slants things towards a certain trend. As for Dale, i don’t think the MMR shot is the only link. Something else triggered his.

    I’ve had enough brain studies done over the years to have a clue about brain wave lengths and things that reroute them or cause them to change their speed or function. I believe that Autism can be cured or controlled by certain things that balance the left and right brain and how oxygen is taken into the body. i am not a scientist so maybe i can’t explain it perfectly, but i know what i believe and on faith and the knowledge i have, I’m going with it.”

    *sigh*

  56. Mary

    @4 Davidlpf Says—Death is a lot better than autism because if he does not get vaccines he might die but he won’t get autism.
    I had to go back and read that a few times to be sure I had read it correctly. This person seems to think that not being vaccinated guarantees that a child will not be autistic. That aside, Wow! –having a child die is better than raising a child with autism?! What an incredible statement to make. That just boggles the brain.

  57. Chris in Texas

    I’m so ashamed to be a Texan today.

    First my state butchers its textbooks then it provides safe haven to Wakefield. Can anyone (other than Oprah) claim to have done more to turn the clock back on the medical field. As a veteran of the Desert Storm era Army I’ve been vacc’d in ways that would make Jenny McCarthy shriek in terror. I can hear her now…”I’m amazed you can put a sentence together.”

    Its ironic he’s in Texas. My town is about two hours from the Texas-Mexico border and they’ve increased the vaccinations requirements for my three sprouts due to the sustained trans-border migrations. Just a fact of life. At least we didn’t require everyone to have “identification papers.”

    I’m in serious need of Skeptic’s club in SATX. Any takers?!

  58. TaoMacGuy

    Visiting my physician today for a minor medical issue and to get my DTaP vaccination, the Dr. tells me Sonoma County (Phil, your old digs) is experiencing a mumps outbreak. Evidently a lot of people here in middle- to upper-middle class America are forgoing vaccinations.

    Lovely.

    john “part of the herd in Santa Rosa” nouveaux

  59. DaveH

    @57:

    Irony, mary.

  60. Cairnos

    @lisa may – before you’re last post I ws going to suggest a line of approach but I doubt it would work now.

    Still here it is. For it to have had that effect in the space of minutes of an IM injection it would have to be an incredibly potent, specific and fast acting neurotoxin capable of crossing the blood brain barrier with ease. Andrew Wakefield said it was the measles causing a gastro-intestinal illness over a much longer period of time. Both of these can’t be true.

  61. Astrofiend

    Ha! Wakefield moving to Texas! He must have read that they swallow all kinds of BS there.

    With the sheer density of dumb that exists there now, Wakefield’s significant contribution of massive stupidity will likely be enough to overcome the degeneracy pressure, and the entire region will undergo a phase transition and collapse into a black hole of negative intelligence density from which antivaxers and fundamentalist, over-patriotic morons can never escape. Science saves the day once more. Hazaah!

  62. Grant M.

    The MMR vaccine has been around for decades. Did an upswing in autism cases occur at the same time? Of course, that wouldn’t prove causality, but if there wasn’t any coincidental increase in autism cases, it would certainly suggest that vaccines didn’t cause autism.

    And even if there is a coincidental increase in autism, it could be that doctors are just getting better at diagnosis.

  63. JupiterIsBig

    #42. @Realisticmom
    “Hundreds of years from now historians will look back at this period in our history and say “People in rich countries sure were gullible to propaganda – to the point where they were killing themselves off!””
    Unfortunately Realisticmom, I think they will add the rider “It’s a pity we still haven’t overcome it …”

    The difference between most of us and the Anti-Vax mob, is if we are shown to be wrong – that there is a link, we will actually admit it it. Given the amount of epidemiological research which shows No link between Vax and Autism, it’s highly unlikely that we will need to.

    Unfortunately Channel 7 in Australia had Wakefield on the morning news – they did follow him with a Doctor, but, please help us FSM !

  64. Mary

    Having a child with a problem can be very difficult. I am now retired, but my teaching carreer was spent working with children with all types of disadvantages—physical, emotional, behavioural, and communicational. Part of my job necessitated helping parents work through the grieving process. ( That statement probably requires some explaining.)
    When parents are expecting a baby, they are also expecting that their baby will be ‘perfect’. So often we hear a pregnant woman say, “As long as my baby is healthy”? By that, she really means physically attractive, emotionally stable, intellectually average (or probably above average), and popular on his/her way to becoming a responsible, independent adult. When it is determined that their child will probably not meet all the regular developmental milestones—that life for and with their child will take a different, sometimes difficult path, parents go through the grieving process–grieving the loss of the perfect child. Some parents move through the steps quickly. Others get stuck in certain stages. One mother had many reasons why her daughter was having trouble in school—hearing problems, allergies, this, that, and everything else. It took many months for her to finally come in, sit down and, through her tears, say what she was never before able to say out loud. “My daughter has Downs Syndrome.” Once out of denial, she moved along quickly to acceptance and used her strength of character to help her child and other parents. Acceptance is easier for conditions for which there are defined causes and treatments. (The exception are ones that are caused by maternal neglect like drug and alcohol use during pregnancy. Then guilt enters the picture.) As the cause for autism is not so clearly defined, sometimes parents get ‘stuck’ trying to assess blame for their children’s difficulties. Those clinging to the vaccine-autism link do so out of emotion, not intelligence. Somehow, they believe they are championing their child’s cause and helping other parents from making the same ‘mistake’. This gives them some perceived control and sense of purpose. Unfortunately, the energy they are wasting doing this is energy not available to supporting their child. Being blinded by their anger, fear, and sometimes jealousy of other parents, they can step outside reality and ignore scientific information. It is a hard world to draw them from. Fortunately, most parents do genuinely love their children and I could use that. Some did not like to hear that using their energy to play the blame game was counter productive. My responsibility was to set in place whatever was needed to ensure their child experiences success in school and reaches his/her full potential. Not using their energy to the same end was negligent. There comes a point where it doesn’t matter why their child has a problem. Fact– there is a problem. Fact– this is not about you–the parent. (It seems pretty evident that Jenny McCarthy’s antics are not about her son; but about her–look at me, see what I did, see how I can be your spokesperson, see how I really know better than others, see me make money, etc.)
    I suspect some of these anti vax people are stuck in the anger, bargaining phases of the grieving process. While other parents are bragging about their children’s accomplishments, they get their feeling of importance by being part of the effort to proclaim the ‘truth’ about vaccines.
    That most certainly does not include all the anti vax proponants, but I do think it does explain some. Nonetheless, hopefully, there is some part of their brain that can realize they are neglecting and endangering the very ones they profess to be loving and supporting.

  65. Dean

    Lisa May, your “friend” is off the deep end. Good luck to your “friend”…

    Mary… A very interesting read, and thank you for sharing it. No doubt the AV folks will launch into full Denial Mode… Once they line up their “friends”….

  66. One thing that truck me very strongly when I heard Dr^H^H Wakefield being interviewed on the BBC ‘Today’ radio programme was his insistence that his SOLE responsibility, as a physician, was to his patient. He did not accept that he had ANY responsibility at all to the greater community in terms of herd immunity. He went so far as to say that if he had been interested in such a thing he would have become a Public Health Official rather than a Physician.

    He also chose to blame the observed increase in mumps, measles and rubella on the Public Health Service’s decision to withdraw the individual shots in favour of the triple vaccine rather than on his own unproven theories.

    He appears to have learned nothing from having his work repudiated, his licence withdrawn and his exposure as an out and out charlatan.

  67. Svlad Cjelli

    “Funny” thing is that some of the things these people say would be monstruous even if they were right. Would they really rather see their own children dead than autistic?

  68. I’ve seen them say it before, and I’ll see them say it again.

    It doesn’t matter how much evidence is presented, how thorough it is, how many hundreds-of-thousands of children participated. Nothing will convince the antivax crowd otherwise, thanks to the deceit and lies promoted by the despicable writers at AofA, and their ilk.

    I am continually amazed at the hypocrisy of the antivax brigade. If a study is funded by a Government, this somehow makes it corrupt, but the fact that Wakefield’s study was funded by half a million pounds of secret money into his wife’s bank account is irrelevant? The fact he patented a single measles vaccine then publicly promoted parents change to just that, is not a conflict of interest?

    Welcome to the alternate reality that is “Antivaxland”. A reality where eradicated diseases are making a comeback, and children are suffering and dying because of it. Welcome to Andrew Wakefield’s World.

  69. Messier Tidy Upper

    @67. jcm Says:

    There’s a poll to crash: Do you think vaccines are related to autism?

    Done . :-)

    Results so far :

    No. There is no scientific evidence the two things are related.
    16,226 votes, 82%

    Yes. So many more cases, so many more vaccinations – it can’t just be coincidence.
    3,209 votes, 16.2%

    &

    I’m not sure. There needs to be more research.

    344 votes, 1.7%

    @ 69. Svlad Cjelli Says:

    “Funny” thing is that some of the things these people say would be monstrous even if they were right. Would they really rather see their own children dead than autistic?

    That reads especially nice (NOT!) if you actually have autism or aspergers – as I do. :-(

  70. Michel

    How many kids have died since 1998 due to not vaxxing?
    If it´s a nice big number he might be prosecuted for genocide.

  71. Lawrence

    Of course, people totally forget Third World vaccination programs – where hundreds of thousands of children are saved every year from something as simple as diahrea.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – people forget how horrible it was for families to lose two or three children before the age of five to a variety of now-vaccinated against diseases. Of course, medical technology has improved to the point where we now can save a significant number of those children now, but it also means that more children get afflicted with all of the various bad side-effects from things like measles (blindness) and mumps (sterility).

  72. flip

    Rats, I keep trying to post something and it’s getting held up. No urls, nothing…
    :(

    EDIT: Typical. This goes through, but my comment doesn’t!

  73. 35. TechyDad Says:

    First, your response was excellent.

    Second, I work in mental health and a large percentage of children who get diagnosed are diagnosed because the doctor doesn’t want to get into it with the parent.

    So many kids today are on psychotropics it makes me sick to think about it.

    Autism is so over-diagnosed it’s criminal. 9 of 10 kids who get brought to my facility (mental health crisis unit) *should* be diagnosed with bad parenting. Instead they get a mental health diagnosis to please the parent or the insurance company but has no merit.

  74. Calli Arcale

    Mary @ 65:
    Awesome post. All o fit. Thank you for everything you have done. My mother is moving into the same field (was a foreign language teacher, but as there isn’t as much call for French or Russian anymore, she’s gotten K-12 special ed qualifications now) and will be facing much the same thing.

    Fact– there is a problem. Fact– this is not about you–the parent.

    That is so true. I remember the epiphany I had about a month after my eldest was born. It was a strange feeling; for nine months, it had all been about me. I had medical professionals practically doting on me, especially during the last month, as we went overdue and I needed to be checked more frequently and get prostaglandin treatments to try to get things started (before we finally gave up and induced at 12 days post, which turned into a c-section, which of course means a longer hospital stay and even more doting by the medical staff). When I took her in for her one-week well-baby check, it was all about her. Well, the doctor did check my scar and ask me questions about my well-being, but at the time, in the post-birth hormones and not having been through this before, I was thrown for a loop. Suddenly, it wasn’t about me anymore! What’s up with that? It took a few weeks before it finally all sank in. I should have known right away, of course, but the heart takes longer than the head (so to speak). Intellectually, I knew it was all about the baby, but I’d gotten so used to being doted upon that it felt very strange when that was gone. Part of me had gotten the idea that it was about *me*, which is very wrong indeed.

    I didn’ t have that problem with my youngest. I knew what it was to be a parent by that time, of course, and already knew that her well-baby visits were all about her, and that that was okay and exactly as it should be.

    So I think that’s very common. Some parents will come to the realization earlier than others; some perhaps never will. I don’t know what the answer to that is. I do know that a lot of my eldest’s special ed staff and the after-school daycare staff seem disproportionately grateful to us for being involved and helpful. I think they are more used to parents who are either disinterested or who think they know everything.

  75. sarah

    I took my daughter to the doctor THREE times before they found she had pertussis (whooping cough). They didn’t believe there was anything wrong until I videotaped her coughing with my cell phone. And she has had her vaccines. It would have been worse without them. I have barely slept for two weeks because there has been so much coughing. Going without vaccines is just crazy.

  76. DigitalAxis

    @ 56. Lisa May

    She doesn’t respond to reasoned arguments? Then give her emotional arguments. Warn her of the horrors that might befall her children if they DON’T get their shots, and that it WILL be her fault.

  77. Mike Mullen

    It’s astonishing how many of those claiming a link between MMR and autism described that near instantaneous effect, and yet when its pointed out that a decline in MMR uptake was not matched by a decline in autism rates suddenly they start claiming it can take years to show up, and not see the obvious flaw in that argument. Sad fact is that the anti-vax crowd have long since left the realm of reason for their own fantasyland where mere evidence cannot touch them,

  78. Mike Mullen

    77. CafeenMan Says:

    “Second, I work in mental health and a large percentage of children who get diagnosed are diagnosed because the doctor doesn’t want to get into it with the parent.

    So many kids today are on psychotropics it makes me sick to think about it.

    Autism is so over-diagnosed it’s criminal. 9 of 10 kids who get brought to my facility (mental health crisis unit) *should* be diagnosed with bad parenting. Instead they get a mental health diagnosis to please the parent or the insurance company but has no merit.”

    This seems to be a trend, parents can’t accept that they are just bad at raising children, or that their kid is a brat, there has to be a ‘diagnosis’.

  79. Leon

    Thanks for fighting the good fight as ever, Phil. Your actions help protect my kids as well.

  80. JMW

    @1 Chip: Nothing more than a cheap plastic martyr at best

    Hm. Does he glow in the dark?

    On a more serious note, check out http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/2010/05/facts-in-case-of-dr-andrew-wakefield.html

  81. ColonelFazackerley

    Like Goldacre, I say Melanie Phillips, the daily mail “journalist” bears more responsibility than Wakefield himself. The mail has a less skeptical readership than the lancet.

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