I realise I’m late to the party, and that Orac and Sullivan have already beaten me to it, but the only reasons that would stop me blogging about this would be me being in ICU or a coffin. The British Medical Journal has a series of articles on no-longer-a-Doctor Andrew Wakefield. In it, the BMJ reveals that Wakefield’s fraud was even worse than hitherto believed. For those of you who are new to the controversy, in 1998 Andrew Wakefield, then a Gastroenterologist working at the Royal Free Children’s Hospital, had a study published in The Lancet, which is a journal for medical professionals. In the study, he said that 12 autistic children that he had examined had measles virus in the colon. At a press conference to follow up his study, he expressed concerns that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) Vaccination had caused their condition. The result was a drop in the number of people who had their children vaccinated against MMR, and a number of groups springing up around the MMR-causes-autism lie.
In 2004, a journalist named Brian Deer revealed that in 1996, Wakefield had been hired by Richard Barr, a solicitor involved in a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR Vaccine, to find evidence of harm. For this, Wakefield had been paid a sum in excess of 435 000 pounds. To give you some idea of how much money that is, I work as a Software Test Analyst and my yearly salary is quite good. Yet at my current salary I would have to work for over twenty years to make the sum of money Wakefield made. Furthermore, the twelve children in the study had been picked from families in the suit, and not randomly seen by Wakefield. In addition, Wakefield had patented a transfer that could be used as a Measles vaccine. If confidence in the MMR was damaged, then his vaccine would have had an increased chance of being accepted. Wakefield responded by suing Deer for libel. He eventually dropped the case and paid Deer’s legal fees.
In 2009, Deer revealed that there were significant discrepancies between the medical records of the 12 children in Wakefield’s study and what was reported in the study. Wakefield had been unable to find evidence of harm, so he’d simply cooked the data.
In 2007, the General Medical Council began investigating charges of misconduct against Wakefield. This culminated in a verdict on January 28th, 2010. It found that Wakefield, amongst other things, had: subjected vulnerable children to unnecessary tests without seeking, let alone getting, the proper approval from the relevant ethics committee;and that he had failed to mention the conflicts of interest he had. Five days later, The Lancet completely retracted Wakefield’s study. This is something that should have happened a year before it did, but better late than never. In May, the GMC hearing found that Wakefield had committed serious misconduct, and sentenced him to be struck off the Medical Register.
You’d think all this was bad enough. Wakefield: took money from a solicitor to find defects with the MMR; used children from the class action in his research; patented a Measles Vaccine; witheld these facts from the editors on The Lancet; subjected the children in the study to uncalled-for and invasive tests without seeking, let alone getting, Ethics Committee approval; and finally, cooked the data when the results didn’t show evidence of harm. Now, it turns out that the data was even more faked than first thought.
According to the study, Wakefield lied about the patients’ prior histories. Three of the nine children reported as having regressive autism did not have autism, and only one child had regressive autism. Five of the children had documented pre-existing concerns about their development and the paper claimed that all of the children had been developing normally. Finally, the records showed that some the children started developing problems only a few months after vaccination, but in Wakefield’s paper this was changed to a few days.
I knew about Wakefield changing the results in the tests. This shows that the study was fraudulent from beginning to end. Some people have defended Wakefield, claiming that he was well-meaning but misguided. He wasn’t. He was hired to find problems with the MMR Vaccination and paid a fortune, and when he couldn’t he faked the data. He is nothing but a liar.