Every year, the James Randi Educational Foundation picks the people or organizations who have done the most to promote antireality nonsense and get the public to believe in provably untrue silliness. This dubious honor is called the Pigasus Award after Randi’s official mascot, the flying pig, as in "XXX will be true when pigs fly" — values of XXX include homeopathy, faith healing, dowsing, etc. The awards are appropriately given out every April 1.
This year’s crop has just been announced. I was not surprised to see Richard Hoover listed there for his extremely shaky announcement of life in a meteorite. Hoover published his claims in the Journal of Cosmology, and while I was pretty clear in my posts about the extremely shaky nature of this journal, the JREF simply calls them "crackpot". Heh.
I do have a quibble with the awards this year though. Our old friend Andrew Wakefield — the defrocked, debunked, and discredited founder of the modern antivax movement — was given the "Refusal to Face Reality Award" for his ongoing (and wrong) claims that vaccines cause all sorts of health problems from gastric distress to autism. But it’s not clear he’s refusing to face reality at all. In fact, the point could be made that he may be simply cashing in on parents’ fears, in which case he is facing reality quite squarely.
But that’s merely a quibble. The important thing is that Wakefield’s ignominy is highlighted. And he’s just one of the five, so head over to the JREF site and read about the others who topped this year’s list of this year’s bottom of the barrel.
Image of flying pig is actually of a necklace pendant created by Skepchick Surly Amy, who has tons of great sciencey and skeptical accessories for sale.
Last week, I wrote about how the martyr of the modern antivax movement, Andrew Wakefield, is being openly accused of fraud by journalist Brian Deer and the British Medical Journal — with tons of evidence, I’ll add. Seeing as how Wakefield has been promoting the outright dangerous and potentially deadly antireality antivax idea for years, this news was welcomed by the skeptic community.
But that was only Part 1. The BMJ has just published Part 2: how Wakefield stood to make not just millions, not just tens of millions, but actually hundreds of millions of dollars by promoting the false link between the MMR vaccine with autism and Crohn’s disease.
He was paid quite a large sum of money by a lawyer, Richard Barr, to find that connection. We’ve known this for a long time, in fact; Deer wrote about this a while ago (as well as Wakefield’s vast conflict of interest involving developing his own version of the vaccine to replace the one being used). But this new article is important because it goes into a lot of detail — and, like his first article, is meticulously referenced and footnoted — providing an ironclad link between the money and Wakefield’s actions.
As Orac points out, antivaxxers love to accuse those of us who defend reality of being in the pay of Big Pharma (or whatever Big Nebulous Organization they can tenuously link us to), and many of them are outspoken about following the money. Will they do that here, and realize that by their own logic they have to abandon and even repudiate and censure Wakefield?
So with Jenny McCarthy still spouting dangerous nonsense, Meryl Dorey saying stuff so obviously wrong that a radio interviewer shut her down, and so many other antivax organizations willing to expose babies and the population at large to potentially fatal but preventable diseases, what can you do?
Please, please, please: if you know anyone at risk of being affected by antivax propaganda, send them to Immunize for Good. There is a wealth of factual information there, especially in their Fact or Fiction section.
That simple act can save lives. It’s that simple.
This is HUGE: The BMJ, an online medical journal, has accused Andrew Wakefield — the hero of the modern antivaccination movement — of being "a fraud".
The skeptic and medical community have been hammering Wakefield for years; his study linking vaccines and autism was shaky from the start, and he suffered a series of humiliating defeats last year: the Lancet medical journal withdrew his paper, he was struck off the UK General Medical Council’s register, and was found to have acted unethically.
Of course, the word "fraud" implies intent; when writing about Wakefield I had my suspicions, but always wrote as if he were just wrong, and not deliberately lying to vulnerable parents.
But deliberate fraud is what he’s now accused of. Brian Deer, an investigative journalist, has written a multi-part series on the BMJ site which slams Wakefield. Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, also writes about this… and just to be clear, she uses the word "fraud" nine times in her editorial. Not surprisingly, it’s been picked up by several news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and ABC.
Deer has been on Wakefield’s case a long time, and has been critical in exposing Wakefield’s shenanigans. Wakefield and the antivaxxers have attacked Deer many times, but their accusations are as hollow as the claims of links of autism to vaccinations. And let’s be clear: vaccines don’t cause autism.
Deer has long shown that Wakefield had a lot of financial incentive to create a fear of vaccines, including lawyers paying him to find a link to autism, as well as Wakefield developing his own version of a measles vaccine. From CNN:
According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR [measles-mumps-rubella] vaccine and three never had autism.
"It’s always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science," Godlee said. "But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues."
The original study has been shown by several investigations to have been terrible; as the quoted part above mentions several of the children never had autism, and many showed signs of it before they were vaccinated. Despite this, Wakefield became a hero to the antivax movement.
Brian Deer’s article on BMJ is nothing short of a tour-de-force, and is a horrifying tale of how Wakefield allegedly falsified medical research deliberately while operating under a huge conflict of interest. Deer’s article is meticulously referenced and footnoted… but still, I know this won’t stop the antivaxxers. The large movements aren’t based on good evidence, and no matter how much solid evidence you show them, they’ll reject it.
What I do hope is that parents out there will see this and pause. I am a parent, and I went through all the usual fears you get when you have a child. I can only imagine the suffering so many parents out there have undergone, and with tremendous heartache I’ve read many, many accounts of their feeling of desperation and hopelessness. But we cannot let our fear override what’s best for our children.
The antivax movement is dangerous because when vaccination rates drop it puts everyone at risk, but especially the most defenseless among us: infants. We are seeing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease all over the world, and we’re seeing infants too young to be vaccinated dying because of lowered herd immunity. This is no joke, no exaggeration: babies are dying. There are many potential causes of lower vaccine rates, but the antivax movement is is not helping the situation.
Andrew Wakefield may not have started the antivax movement, but he certainly egged it on very strongly, along with such mouthpieces as Jenny McCarthy, and Meryl Dorey and the AVN in Australia. If the charges of fraud can be made to stick, then we might be able to make some progress toward reality once again, and lower the rate of outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and polio… and save a lot of lives in the process.
Sure, you know Penn Jillette — the larger, louder half of Penn & Teller. Penn’s an interesting character — a vocal skeptic, to say the least, in that what’s on his mind is on his lips. He and I don’t always agree, but when we do, we do.
Such is the case with antivaxxer
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the long-discredited and now disbarred guy who started the whole modern craze of getting preventable diseases to resurge. I’ve been pretty clear about what I think of Dr. Wakefield, and now you can see what Penn thinks, too, on his new online show Penn Point:
[Warning: It’s Penn, so duh, it’s NSFW.]
Penn — the father of two cute, precocious kids, I’ll note — was gracious in mentioning one of my own blog posts eviscerating Wakefield, and there are plenty of others, too. I’m glad Penn’s putting his weight behind this as well. On his show, on stage, and online, he’s been loud and clear on his stance about "alternative" medicines, and his reach is long. I hope any parents even thinking of not vaccinating watch this video. You might save your own kid’s life, and the lives of many others.
I can’t think of a better message for Father’s Day, in fact.
If you’ve read this blog for more than 8 nanoseconds, you know I have no love for Andrew Wakefield. Founder of the modern antivax movement, disgraced researcher, discredited "doctor", and at least partly to blame for the rise in preventable illnesses, his impact has made the world a worse place. The Sceptic’s Book of Pooh-Pooh totally eviscerates Wakefield, holding nothing back. If you have any question about this guy’s horrifying history, then go read that.
Of course, he claims he is being persecuted, victimized, etc. etc. Baloney. What has actually happened is that the forces of science and reality have called his bluff. The problem is, he still hasn’t folded.
But the collapse perhaps, is imminent. Skeptical Teacher has the story of a recent antivax rally to support Wakefield. Several skeptics showed up at this event, including Bruce Critelli and Jamie Bernstein. You may be amused by this picture they took:
Jamie gave Wakefield a note, which he said he’d read later. I wish I could’ve been there when he did. The note said:
[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 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.
I’ve written about the misdeeds of Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern antivax movement, in the past — the links in this post will give you an idea of this guy. But I’m smart enough to know that I can write until I’m blue in the face about him, and the poison antivaxxers spread will still be accepted by people.
That’s why I’m glad there are different ways of getting the truth out there. One of them is in the form of comics; somehow, adding art to the discussion makes it easier to understand, and easier to absorb.
On his LiveJournal page, Tallguywrites has created a comic book style deconstruction of the Wakefield affair. I urge you to read the whole thing, and keep it in mind when some mouthpiece like Jenny McCarthy praises what Wakefield has done. What they tend not to mention is what the antivax movement has really done: erode deserved confidence in the medical system, help cause outbreaks of measles and pertussis, and put us all in danger of contracting preventable diseases.
Tip o’ the syringe to sydk.
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.
Continuing a month of skeptical victories, the UK’s General Medical Council has found that Andrew Wakefield — the founder of the modern antivaccination movement — acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" when doing the research that led him to conclude that vaccinations were linked with autism. This is being reported everywhere, including the BBC, Sky News, the Yorkshire Evening Post, and more.
The GMC (the independent body of medical regulators in the UK
, rather like the AMA in the US) didn’t investigate whether his claims were correct or not — and let’s be very clear, his claims have been shown beyond any doubt to be totally wrong — only whether he acted ethically in his research. What they found is that his research (involving spinal taps of children) was against the children’s clinical interest, that Wakefield was unqualified to perform the test, and that he had no ethical approval to do them.
Wow. Again, let’s be clear: that’s a whole lot of ethical damnation from the UK’s leading medical board.
Not to pile on here, but I was rather surprised that they didn’t mention the claims — supported by a lot of evidence — that on top of all that unethical behavior, he may have faked his results, too. There’s also no mention of his grave conflict of interest– at the time he published his paper slamming vaccines and which started the antivax craze, he was developing an alternative to vaccinations, so he had a very large monetary incentive to make the public distrust vaccines.
The GMC has not announced whether he (and two of his cohorts) will be sanctioned or not. I’ll be very curious to see what they do.
Will this deter Wakefield and the antivax movement? Ha! Of course not. Note that supporters of Wakefield heckled the GMC members as they read their announcements.
Also, the evidence was already overwhelming that Wakefield was wrong, just as it’s overwhelming that vaccines are totally and completely unrelated to autism. But the antivaxxers’ world is not based on evidence. It’s more like a dogmatic religion, since many of its believers will twist and distort the truth to fit their views, even, tragically, if it means babies will die.
The antivax movement is resulting in the deaths of children from preventable diseases, many of which were all but gone in the United States. We’re seeing the return of measles, mumps, pertussis, even polio — polio, which was eradicated entirely in the US by 1994. Because vaccines are so effective, people don’t remember these diseases and how they would kill, and now the antivaxxers are paving the way for their return.
This ruling against Wakefield is a step in the right direction, but the path is long and the antivaxxers will be there at every one of these steps, trying desperately to trip up reality. It’s up to us to make sure that we keep walking.