Last week I blogged about a few articles in the British Medical Journal dealing with the fraud perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield in his now retracted “case study” that purported to find a new syndrome called “autistic enterocolitis”. This week, the BMJ has another article by Brian Deer in which he shows how Wakefield intended to profit from the false MMR-Autism link. Next week will see more revelations.
The response from the MMR-Vaccine-causes-Autism true believers to last week’s articles was predictably rabid. Wakefield himself appeared on CNN and accused Deer of being a “hitman” brought in to destroy his reputation. Interviewer Anderson Cooper did not stand for Wakefield’s guff, and when Wakefield tried to plug his book “Callous Disregard”, Cooper replied “Sir, if you’re a liar, your book’s a lie.” Priceless. A day later, Deer was interviewed about Wakefield’s claims and replied that Wakefield could sue if he felt he’d been defamed.
Other anti-vaxx groups have weighed in with claims that I will now deal with.
Deer was the complainant in the fitness-to-practice hearing of Andrew Wakefield.
A very old lie. The GMC was the complainant. As a professional body, it can bring complaints against its members.
Andrew Wakefield could not have altered the children’s medical records.
A nice bit of misdirection. Wakefield misrepresented (read: lied about) what the children’s records said in the Lancet paper.
Deer gained access to the children’s medical records illegally.
Not merely false but libellous. As part of Wakefield’s lawsuit against Brian Deer, Deer was given the children’s medical records but couldn’t initially reveal them. After the records became public in the GMC hearing, Deer was able to publish what he’d found about the discrepancies between the records and Wakefield’s Lancet paper.
This week’s article by Deer looks at Wakefield’s business plans after he was hired to investigate the MMR vaccine by solicitor Richard Barr. Firstly and most obviously was the money paid to Wakefield for his research – a sum of over 435 000 pounds. Then there was the fact that Wakefield wanted to set up a company to make diagnostic kits for “autistic enterocolitis”. This company, named “Carmen Healthcare Ltd.” after Wakefield’s wife, would have earned, according to an estimate by Wakefield, 28 000 000 pounds by its third year. Wakefield also set up Unigenetics with John O’Leary. Unigenetics was the company used in testing the children’s biopsies for Measles, and whose processes were torn to pieces by Stephen Bustin during the Omnibus Autism Proceedings in front of the US Vaccine Court.
The Royal Free Children’s Hospital (Wakefield’s employer) merged with the University College London. Then in October 1999, Mark Pepys was appointed the Head of Medicine at the Royal Free. Worried about Wakefield’s behaviour, Pepys issued Wakefield with a two-page letter outlining concerns with Wakefield’s conflicts of interest and pointing out that his results were not very rigourous. UCL offered to help him with a study of 150 children to replicate his findings. “Good scientific practice now demands that you and others seek to confirm or refute robustly, reliably, and above all reproducibly, the possible causal relationships between MMR vaccination and autism/“autistic enterocolitis”/inflammatory bowel disease that you have postulated.” Wakefield accepted, and then kept on stalling. Eventually, the Royal Free got fed up and in October 2001, dismissed Wakefield.
Defenders of Wakefield claim that Wakefield acted as he did for the good of the children. As the article makes clear, it was all about the money. Wakefield tried to set up businesses to profit from his “autistic enterocolitis”. Given the opportunity to perform a larger study to confirm or disprove what he claimed he found, he stalled for almost two years. This was because he knew his claims were false and would be exposed as such with a larger study. Had his plans succeeded, he would have been a very rich man. Thanks to the diligence of individuals like Mark Pepys, Chris Llewellyn-Smith (UCL’s then-Provost) and Brian Deer, they failed.