Well, well. Another week has gone by here in the land down under and there is yet more good news to report. And plenty of it.

Where to start? Well how about with the darling of the anti-vaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield who took another mighty blow yesterday. The BMJ revealed they are to publish a series of articles by Brian Deer alleging that Wakefield was deliberately fraudulent in his 1998 research, which began a worldwide scare that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism.

An editorial in the British medical journal referred to “that paper” as it has become known, as an “elaborate fraud”. Worse still, the investigation concluded that Wakefield misrepresented or altered the medical histories of the 12 children to fit his hypothesis that MMR was associated with regressive autism. When Deer compared the reports in the paper with the medical records he found they did not match.

The editor-in-chief of BMJ said Wakefield’s work “was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud.”

And finally, the media seems to be losing their patience with the anti-vaxers (although recall they were completely complicit in spreading the fear about MMR safety, so they need to cop some of the flack here).

Anderson Cooper of 360 on CNN, interviewed Wakefield via Skype from the Vaccine Safety Conference, held in Jamaica from January 3-8 at the Tryall Club, Jamaica, West Indies. Wakefield refers to the conference in the interview as a “meeting of experts on vaccines from around the world who are extremely concerned about the safety of vaccines”. Looking at the speaker’s list I am skeptical that Barbara Loe Fisher & Russell Blaylock constitute “experts on vaccines” – certainly they constitute experts on vaccine conspiracy. Some of the other speakers had me confused, for example Beatrice Golomb (MD, PhD) is speaking on “Representation of drug benefits versus harm: the impact of conflict of interest”. (Read: Irony).

“Fears of global pandemics have been used by the World Health Organization and governments around the world to push for increasingly aggressive vaccination programs. While questions about vaccine safety continue to be raised, concerns have largely been downplayed by governments, regulatory agencies, and the pharmaceutical industry…The conference conclusions can be expected to have a profound impact on the development of health policies concerning vaccines and will serve to provide a science-based overview for the general public.”

Pre-amable for Vaccine Safety Conference.

Speaking of the media losing their patience with the antivaxers, a journalist in Australia today not only tossed away the book on false balance but tore it in half, set it on fire and stomped on it too.

In an interview about the Wakefield findings, Tracey Spicer of Radio 2UE constantly interrupted Meryl Dorey and eventually hung up on her declaring she would never be on the station again with her “dangerous, disgusting, disgraceful information”. It was one of the most refreshing interviews I’ve ever heard with Dorey, who is usually pandered to by the mainstream media in the interest of “balance”. Watch the video below for the full audio.

When the audio made it to Twitter, there was an explosion of interest and pretty soon “Tracey Spicer”, #stopAVN and Meryl Dorey were top trending topics in Australia. Very quickly the word spread globally and retweets from Simon Singh and Phil Plait appeared. Late last night, PZ Myers blogged the audio. The old adage all publicity is good publicity does not really apply to being ridiculed or pharyngulated on PZ Myers website.

Meryl has since responded with a blog post and an interview in the Northern Star entitled “Dorey backs fraud medico” where she explains why she “support(s) Andrew Wakefield 100%.…I applaud his integrity, ethics and desire to help children nobody else will.” (Which is odd because when she was asked if she still supported Wakefield as recent as July 2010, she had trouble answering that question).

From interview with the 2Murrays, 2UE, 130710. Full interview here.

2Murrays: You’d know the name of a guy called Andrew Wakefield
MD: I do know Andrew Wakefield.
2murrays: Do you guys still support him?
MD: We support any research….
2murrays: No, no, no, no, no. Do you still support him?
MD: Do I support him? I don’t give him any money of that’s what you mean
2murrays: No but verbally, aw, you support him? (his ideas) Because he was stuck off the UK medical register.
MD: We know many cases where people have been struck off because they didn’t agree with the medical community…

Prof Booy from the NCIRS described her claims that there are dozens of peer reviewed studies showing a link between vaccines and autism as “laughable”. After what the BMJ revealed this week, on top of all the other evidence against Wakefield, those who continue to cling to him succeed only in making them selves irrelevant.

So finally, there was trouble in the Power Balance camp this week as the ACCC story eventually hit international headlines, when popular magazine Gizmodo tweeted “power balance admits their wristbands are a scam”.

PB have been laying pretty love since the ACCC findings came down on December 22, quietly removing the link to the Australian store from their website. But as the news spread and people start tweeting questions about whether this news was true, they went into a kind of damage control, just not a very good one. Picking up on “power balance admits their” they tweeted a series of comments completing the sentence. For example “power balance admits their international fans are awesome” and “power balance admits their products are worn by the top athletes in every sport across the globe” (neither of which provide any evidence that they work).

But then PB did something very strange. They tweeted

# The existing reports out there r fundamentally incorrect. We did not make claims that r product doesnt perform. We stand behind r products

# Power Balance works, we guarantee it.

Which simply opened the flood gates for satire as people began to suggest ideas as to why the magic hologram only didn’t work in Australia. Perhaps it didn’t like being upside down, some suggested. Maybe we’re just too smart for it.

But then overnight news came down that a class action suit has been filed in the US. According to TMZ, the class action lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in L.A., alleges consumers were duped into believing the hologram-embedded band was scientifically proven to enhance balance, flexibility and strength. Now on the back of the admission to ACCC that they had “no credible scientific evidence that supported the representations” the suit alleges unfair business practices and false advertising.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Power Balance have apparently sold around 3 million units since 2007. Will this be the end of a hugely successful marketing campaign? Only time will tell. Despite this, people are still tweeting asking where they can buy a PB bracelet. As the old saying goes “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

@lizDitz is compiling a list of news articles reporting on Wakefield’s fraud.

You can find a pdf with 41 studies showing no link to vaccines and autism here

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  • Wow…is Tracey Spicer married? I just got a massive crush on her.

  • Chris

    Here is where the “studies replicating Wakefield” are torn apart:
    and one more
    There is another longer list, but many of them have Wakefield or friend as an author, so they are not independent. Many have nothing to do with autism, or measles.

  • Hi Lorne, the problem with picking this up from the beginning was that there were no errors in the reporting. Reviewers looking at the paper would not have spotted any anomalies because the data was fabricated to look real.


    I review papers all the time and I can spot dodgy statistics and bad science but if it is completely fabricated (like completely photoshopped or medical records are faked) there is no way for me to tell that it is wrong.

  • The relevant organizations should carry out some scientific investigation to define the reason of the whole problem and how to correct it because the drug companies will never examine it objectively since they are in high risk of losing a lot of money.

  • For those of you who missed Tracey Spicer’s classic response to accusations of being a Big Pharma shill, this is really worth a listen. Pithy and to the point: http://mp3twit.com/7gf

  • @AndyD and @jose, whoops! I read this comment when I woke up this morning. I see my eyes must have been half shut and I missed the point. My fail! Weird how I misconstrued it to the be the opposite. Sorry Jose!

  • AndyD

    Maggie, I assume Jose wasn’t supporting the anti-vaxxers so much as dismissing their simplistic and formulaic approach to “debate”. At least, that’s how I read it.

  • I’m keeping a list of positive responses to the BMJ (Yes Wakefield is a fraud, and here are the implications…) and negative responses (Wakefield’s research IS TOO valid and vaccines cause autism anyway) at A roundup of responses to the BJM & Wakefield’s research was motivated by fraud.

    Some observations
    1. The positive responses come from a broad range of sites — politically left and right; people who are skeptics/ people who have heretofore (to my knowledge) never commented on vaccines or autism before, and so on. The negative responses are from a predictable set of sites and people.
    2. The news coverage in the US has (perhaps inadvertently) perpetrated the idea that all parents of children with autism believe in the vaccine causation myth. It is a complete falsehood. Many parents of children with autism and adults with autism robustly reject the myth.
    3. Kev Leitch, whose daughter has intense autism, has a moving post on how Wakefield’s actions have damaged everyone affected by autism

  • @Jose, I have read the book, but you don’t need to read it to have an opinion on this issue. As Anderson Cooper pointed out, if the study is a lie then the book is also a lie.
    How do you suppose this “worldwide conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of people” is maintained? Are they all being paid off to keep quiet? That involves an extraordinary amount of hush money and relies on many people never saying anything. Do you really believe this is possible to maintain?
    When you look at the facts of the matter it’s pretty clear – Wakefield made stuff up for personal gain. The evidence is quite clear and goes back as far as 2004 when 10 of the authors removed their names from the paper.
    There is no reason to support Wakefield anymore. If you support kids with autism then the best thing you can do is realise that he used them (well most of them weren’t autistic as it turns out) and caused some of them harm. This is not something a good person would do. So much time and money was wasted when Wakefield send science on a wild goose chase – which could have been spent looking for the true causes of ASD. And it is not vaccines.

  • There’s always a “they” in these discussions that are promoting vaccines. There is always worldwide conspiracy involving hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who are intentionaly giving autism to childrens in order to make 1 million dollars.

    And there’s always the “read this book” argument. If you haven’t read *that* book then you aren’t entitled to an opinion on the subject.