The news just keeps getting worse for (not-a-doctor) Andrew Wakefield.

First he got struck off the medical register in the UK, then his favourite paper was retracted from the Lancet, then the anti-vaxers favourite paper got withdrawn (which they still cite BTW*), then he was quietly removed from his job at Thoughtful House. Following his move to Texas in 2010, the phrase going around the internets was he “lost his career and his country”. Not only that, he also lost all respect from the scientific community and the chance to ever publish in the mainstream scientific literature ever again.

If you reap what you sow, then it appears Wakefield’s chickens have come home to roost – and these are not small chickens either. Imagine Brian Deer in a chicken costume, sitting aloft Wakefield’s tower, watching every move with beady eyes (well that was what I imagined anyway). Brian Deer of course being the “UK investigative journalist who exposed Wakefield’s Lancet work for not just “bad science” but for deliberate fraud. Deer has been on Wakefield’s case for some seven years now and was the first guy to blow the whistle on the now infamous paper which kicked-off the worldwide vaccines-cause-autism scare.

I’ve been following this case for a long time, so I knew the background well, but even I was shocked when I read the three part series published by the BMJ last week.

Deer provides evidence that Wakefield fabricated the clinical data for the 12 kids to make it appear they had suffered neurological disorders soon after they received their MMR. Wakefield had a business plan to set-up a company making kits to detect ulcerative colitis which was projected to make 72.5 million pounds a year. Wakefield received almost $AUD700,000 (plus expenses) from lawyers assembling a class action suit against the manufacturers of the MMR. The same lawyers had paid 50,000 pounds to fund the Lancet study. Wakefield had a patent for a single measles vaccine, which was projected to make him a very wealthy man once he had discredited the triple version.

And none of this was revealed to the journal before he published the paper. This constitutes a huge conflict of interest.

Of course, the reaction from the anti-vaxers has been predictable. Even Wakefield himself referred to Deer as hit-man sent by “them”. On Anderson Cooper in the US, Wakefield claimed it was an effort by the medical community to quash valid research into the safety of vaccines.

Which is interesting. Really interesting.

Because what was so revealing to me – out of all the revelations in the papers from the BMJ – was the fact that Wakefield was offered the chance to reproduce the results from the Lancet paper.

From “How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money

“…UCL volunteered to support his work. It offered him continuation on the staff, or a year’s paid absence, to test his MMR theories. He was promised help for a study of 150 children (to try to replicate his Lancet claims from just 12) and, in return for withdrawing from the January London conference, he would be given the intellectual property free.

“Good scientific practice,” the provost’s letter stressed, “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.”

Then this:

“At the time, Wakefield agreed. Then his employer waited. It prompted, waited longer, and prompted again. “Three months have elapsed,” Llewellyn-Smith wrote to him in March 2000, asking for “a progress report on the study proposed” and “not to make any public statements” in the meantime.

But the study did not happen. The 1998 Lancet research had been a sham. Trying to replicate it with greater numbers would have been hopeless.

So Wakefield’s claims of “trying to quash valid vaccine research” are lies. He was given the opportunity to reproduce his work – he never did. And it all becomes clear why. A complex lie based on 12 children when amplified in 150, just becomes a bigger lie.

But it didn’t stop Wakefield from spiralling further down the rabbit hole. I hoped he might have retreated into a corner somewhere, maybe to slap out some more fictional books with forwards by our favourite Mommy warrior, Jenny McCarthy. But given that the man has an ego the size of a buffet in Vegas, sadly, this has not happened.

Instead, yesterday it was revealed on Twitter by @sthmnookin and @doctorblogs that he’s back stomping the pavements trying to recruit patients for his next favourite woo autism therapy. This time, instead of parents recruited by a law firm, he’s targeting the Somalian population of Minnesota who reportedly have a higher than usual occurrence of autism.

On January 18th it was announced that the CDC, the NIH and Autism Speaks National would begin a study to investigate this anomoly among Somali-Americans in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Department of Health released a report in 2009 confirming higher rates of Somali-American kids participating in special education classes for children with autism in Minneapolis. But it’s still unclear whether these data are real or artificially inflated because Somali parents prefer to enroll their children in school-based programs, as opposed to seeking help from autism specialists in the medical community. You can read more about it here.

So Wakefield, given that he is incapable of understanding he is a danger to children, has jumped on the bandwagon, sticking his fraudulent nose where it doesn’t belong and addressing a group of parents at a local restaurant in an effort to recruit patients for his own study.

This screen cap was published on Twitter by @doctorblogs and retweeted by @sethmnookin

So essentially Wakefield wants to use the Somali kids as more guinea pigs – as he did in his Lancet study – with the unproven and potentially dangerous therapy of hyperbaric chamber treatment for autism. According to the newspaper clipping, many parents have already signed up. And why wouldn’t they. There is no cure for autism, we don’t even know yet what combination of factors cause it. So of course desperate and vulnerable parents are only willing to agree to participate, even if it potentially puts their kids’ health at risk and in the knowledge that Wakefield is a fraud.

How much more harm can Wakefield do? Sadly, it seems a lot.

Click to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the Lancet’s investigations.

*when a paper is withdrawn or retracted it can be for a number of reasons, including the work has been published elsewhere, something fundamentally wrong with the data has been detected or the data is deemed to be fraudulent. Only under exceptional circumstances will a paper be retracted or withdrawn. When it happens, it means you can no longer refer to it or “cite” it – it has essentially been scratched from the scientific record (even if it is cached on InfoWarriors).

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  • Chris

    Lynne Gordon: “There is nothing ‘unproven’ about hyperbaric therapy. It is a well-proven method of combating autism (and many other diseases) by introducing more oxygen into the human body.”
    Provide a cite to the scientific literature supporting this statement, or it will be assumed you made it up out of thin air. You made a claim, therefore you must support it with actual documentation.

  • I was following along until you said,

    “So essentially Wakefield wants to use the Somali kids as more guinea pigs – as he did in his Lancet study – with the unproven and potentially dangerous therapy of hyperbaric chamber treatment for autism.”

    There is nothing ‘unproven’ about hyperbaric therapy. It is a well-proven method of combating autism (and many other diseases) by introducing more oxygen into the human body.

    I also think that if hyperbaric therapy (also known as oxg=ygen therapy) were ‘potentially dangerous’ as you say, it would never have been approved by ALL of the world’s insurance companies. We all know insurance companies will never voluntarily pay for any treatment they can get out of paying for.

    I do not know the entire story behind Mr. Wakefield, but yours is entirely too one-sided to be valid. It appears to simply be a witch hunt.

    I think I will use other resources to research my interest in Mr. Wakefield and his connection to autism.

  • Jonathan Dade

    I’ve actually gone and contacted the daily mail over this, hopefully they bother getting back in touch. although my hopes aren’t high on this one…

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  • jeset

    Wakefield is still a fraud and still lying to protect his ASSets. Not to mention, his supporter’s blind trust and willful ignorance serves him well.

    You could have 10,000,000 reputable studies that find no link between vaccines and autism and his anti-vax people would still cry for more studies and research. They won’t and will never take NO LINK for an answer. That is, Unless there’s a mass die-off caused by low vaccination rates, perhaps there’s a remote chance they’ll wake from their self-induced stupor.

  • Adam C.

    I’m afraid you made a minor (but important) mistake: At the end, you say the links are for the Lancet‘s investigation. It’s Brian Deer’s investigation of the Lancet and Wakefield, published in the BMJ. =)

  • Michael Kingsford Gray

    Wakefield is a dangerous fraud.
    Those strangely believe, against all the evidence, that he is some kind of angel, are criminally mistaken, and remarkably ignorant.
    His acolytes and he, share the burden of countless infant death & agony.

  • Chris

    Lolo, good you know how to use PubMed. Wakefield keeps claiming his Lancet findings were independently replicated, but the list on websites of those studies aren’t even close.
    Could you kindly list the studies that do? Just make sure they are independent (neither Wakefield nor Krigsman as authors), published (no poster presentations), how many children (no adults, and at least a dozen subjects), and which MMR vaccine (either the one used in the UK before or after 1992, not the one used in Japan or Eastern Europe). Thank you.

  • And who is Deer? God? everyone talks of him having provided evidence, only the evidence in question is nowhere to be found. If someone would be kind enough to link to it, I will be very happy to take a look.

    He didn’t provide the evidence, he simply sorted through it. Read the GMC transcript and the three BMJ publications. It’s all there.

  • lolo

    this is supposed to be a “sceptics” site? Dr. Wakefield is still a doctor, like it or not :). And the best thing is, he is not even anti-vaccination.

    And who is Deer? God? everyone talks of him having provided evidence, only the evidence in question is nowhere to be found. If someone would be kind enough to link to it,I will be very happy to take a look.

    As for research into possible links between autism and vaccines, it hasnt started with, nor does it end with Wakefield.

  • Travis Peterson

    I live in the Minneapolis area, and the way it was reported (sadly on the radio, print and t.v.) was that the Somali community invited him to come and speak to a group of concerned Parents. although they didn’t ask anyone else to come and speak.. sad day…

  • Foxy RN

    One of the geatest frustrations I faced when I worked in public and community health was dealing with the antivax proponents.
    Wakefield’s bogus “research” did a lot of damage. Of the three rubeola (measles) outbreaks I worked links to individuals from other countries occurred in two. The children were not vaccinated but were allowed in schools by virtue of an exemption which was provided by a physician.
    The advocates of woo to refer parents to physician who will provide such and exemption by skirting the vaccination laws in my state. These physicians fill out the form for medical exemption even though the children are not allergic to any of the vaccines or religious exemptions even though the family may not have heard of the particular group which is exempt. I have seen the children who have been gravely ill with vaccine preventable diseases I have seen adults who have nearly died and I have seen a community in panic mode when an outbreak occurs clammoring for vaccinations only to read some cockamamie story by some whackaloon and then panic in the other direction. It is so ridiculous.

  • Babs, I am sorry you were taken in by the MailOnline’s sloppy habit of not using a dateline on their articles.

    Two of the complainants in the US’s Omnibus Autism Proceeding, the Cedillos and Hazelhursts, relied upon the unpublished Walker et al. research. Two of the co-authors, Karin Hepner and Arthur Krigsman, testified at those hearings. Both the Special Masters in the hearings, and the presiding judge in the following Hazelhurst appeal, dismissed the evidentiary value of the Walker et al. study (excerpts from the hearings and the appeal are at the link in Maggie’s comment).

    In other words, the Walker data have been examined and found unconvincing, because the study was scientifically suspect.

    The Walker study (never published) in no way validates Wakefield’s fraud. Wakefield’s fraud stands. The MMR vaccine still does not cause autism.

  • LizM

    Thanks for this article. This guy is an absolute menace and I fail to understand why is being allowed to continue in this way in the US when he was struck off in the UK. My son is autistic and I am amazed by the number of parents on online autism communities who believe their child’s autism was caused by vaccines although there is NO evidence besides Wakefield’s nonsense. They’re eaten up with bitterness against “Big Pharma” over it and refusing to get their other kids vaccinated. Then there’s the general anti vax brigade who think it’s better to risk a fatal illness because of this guy. It makes me so mad!!! And now this hyperbaric chamber thing – what next??

  • Babs Guess you didn’t hear the new that they just PROVED that Wakefield is no fraud or that this is a hoax. Your gonna feel real stupid in week for putting out this article

  • Grrr! Now he’s stepping on my home state, likely prompted by Age of Autism, since JB Handley went storming in there several years ago telling the Somali parents that vaccines caused their kids autism, before any real data were collected. Important questions: who is funding the research? What IRB is reviewing the research? And who the f*** let Wakefield off his leash?

    Apologies. This really has me pissed off.

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