Andrew Wakefield is in disgrace.

Earlier this year, he was forced to resign from the US-located autism clinic Thoughtful House, which he established after leaving the UK in 2005. In the longest investigation in the history of the General Medical Council, surrounding his behaviour during research for his notorious “Lancet” paper he was found to be unethical, callous and irresponsible.

Following this, The Lancet made a complete retraction of the paper, six years after the majority of the authors had already disassociated themselves from it in 2004. Another paper, accepted and due to be published in NeuroToxicology, showing that thimerosal caused impaired neurological development in baby macaques, was withdrawn.

These days he can be seen hanging out with the likes of Dr. Joseph Mercola, the anti-vaxer, anti-pharmaceuticals and lover of all things woo.

Yet, because of the publicity at the time (and subsequently) surrounding the Lancet paper, it is often forgotten that what Wakefield and colleagues actually claimed was not MMR causes autism, but that autism was linked to a new form of gut pathology, dubbed “autistic enterocolitis” (essentially ulceritive colitis in autistic children).

But like much of the data in the now retracted paper, it appears the pathology results purporting to demonstrate this are under suspicion. According to a recent feature in the British Medical Journal from investigative journalist, Brian Deer;

“Two years before the paper was published he (Wakefield) was hired by a solicitor to help launch a speculative lawsuit against drug companies that manufactured MMR vaccine. And the instrument of their attack was to find what he called at the time “a new syndrome” of bowel and brain disease caused by vaccines.”

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Notably, Wakefield was also paid in excess of four hundred thousand pounds of legal aid money by the lawyers to find this link. Some pretty hefty vested interests involved there.

But, despite Wakefield being completely disgraced, his believers have clung on even tighter to his findings in the face of consistently damning evidence.

The comments on the piece from Brian Deer already contain claims that other papers have “vindicated” Wakefield’s 1998 study. What they mean is that the findings of ulceritive colitis in autistic children has since been repeated.

(Interestingly, one piece of supporting evidence they are citing is an abstract which was presented at a conference as a poster on Sunday, May 2, 2010. It’s not indicated if it has been published in the conference proceedings).

I haven’t read the studies cited in the comments, which apparently prove Wakefield was right after all, as there are many. But I have no immediate reason to doubt their validity. As a body of work, they may indeed support the hypothesis that ulceritive colitis exists in autistic children.

But why bring in the discredited and retracted (= scratched from the scientific record) Wakefield study into the mix? Why not let the new work stand on it’s own? Particularly when the pathology slides from the Wakefield study are now lost and the conclusions under suspicion.

From Brian Deer:

“The biopsy slides are no longer available, according to one of the paper’s authors, Professor Amar Dhillon, but the GMC obtained all but one of the hospital pathology reports, and for the missing case I obtained the discharge summary. I passed the summary and reports to specialists for their reaction. They concluded that most of the 11 children reported as having non-specific colitis in the Lancet paper had been reported by the Royal Free as having normal pathology.”

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So how was the diagnosis of non-specific colitis obtained in the paper if the pathology slides were normal? Well it’s not entirely clear but it is known that Wakefield apparently wrote them into the paper.

And recall;

“Two years before the paper was published he (Wakefield) was hired by a solicitor to help launch a speculative lawsuit against drug companies that manufactured MMR vaccine. And the instrument of their attack was to find what he called at the time “a new syndrome” of bowel and brain disease caused by vaccines.”

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Even the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, who withdrew the paper, was circumspect about the condition;

“I do believe there was, and remains, validity to the connection between bowel disease and autism, which does need further investigation,” Richard Horton told the BBC in February 2004.

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Wakefield has fallen, hoisted by his own petard. He will not be published in scientific journals again. His latest work is “Callous Disregard“, an account of the GMC enquiry in his own words, with a forward by the poster child of anti-vax, Jenny McCarthy. Any one not wanting to tarnish their reputation or their science, would be advised to stay well away.


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  • Chris
  • Chris

    Again for “oh, please”… why do you care?

  • Chris

    I don’t do Facebook. Why do you care?

  • oh please!

    Chris if your not a member of SAVN then I think you should join, you’d fit right in.

  • Chris

    Watch this video: http://vimeo.com/9954418
    .
    Take note of the reaction of the audience at about the 20 minute mark when Wakefield’s photo is posted on the screen.

  • Chris

    Then go to the Amazon page on the book and look at the most popular tags like I told you before. What part of that do you not understand. Also, Wakefield wrote Callous Disregard, so an opinion of his book would include an opinion of him. Do you understand?
    .
    Why should you care?

  • oh please!

    I asked your opinion of “Callous Disregard”, you seem to have read is “Wakefield”.

  • Chris

    Which comment are you referring to? And why?

  • oh please!

    Chris I know what you think of Wakefield, why the comment?

  • Chris

    If you do not know what I think of Wakefield from my comments, you are very dense. Just look at the Amazon tags, and click on the Bad Science Forum link.

  • http://thinkingisreal.blogspot.com/ AndyD

    Only 5 comments so far but very revealing
    .
    I can hear the Twilight Zone theme again….

  • oh please!

    So Chris what did you think of “Callous Disregard”?

    Yes it appears Wakefield may have placed money before science. Where have I seen that happen before?

    Only 5 comments so far but very revealing

  • Chris

    Thanks! Truth be told, I was learned about the tags at the Bad Science forum.

  • ilijasx

    Ooherr! That’s norty, Chris, and well done!

  • http://scepticsbook.com Maggie

    @Chris, hahah!!! That’s hilarious. Tweeted and Facebooked with credit to you.

  • http://thinkingisreal.blogspot.com AndyD

    Ha ha Chris! I’m not an Amazon member so hadn’t noticed tags before. Hilarious to see the collections within. Although, Offit is #9 for quackery. That might need pharyngulating.

  • Chris

    The “independent replication studies” that are being spread far and wide have been looked at, and were found to be useless:
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/2010/02/independent-wakefield-way-really.html
    .
    One of the papers is from a journal, Autism Insights, which is a new rag where Wakefield was on of the editors (just like “Medical Veritas”):
    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2010/01/autism-insights-another-journal-for-questionable-autism-research/
    .
    Brian Deer recently gave a presentation at a UK Skeptics in the Pub. There is a review with video snippets here:
    http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/research-fraud-for-dummies/
    .
    For fun, go to Amazon’s page on “Callous Disregard” and check out the tags. Vote on the tags.