The BMJ (originally “British Medical Journal”) has published a report describing Andrew Wakefield’s autism research as an “elaborate fraud”.
Wakefield notoriously published a scientific paper in 1998 proclaiming a possible link between childhood vaccinations and autism. It has since been retracted by the journal that published it, and Wakefield has been struck off (i.e. had his license to practise medicine revoked). This new report goes beyond concluding that his work was unscientific, unethical, and incorrect, and suggests that it seems to have been “a deliberate attempt to create an impression… by falsifying the data”.
Part of Wakefield’s response has been to imply that the BMJ, which has been publishing scientific research and reviews since 1840 and is among the most respected and widely cited such institutions in the world, has no credibility or significance.
“BMJ? Had its day” was his conclusion on Twitter yesterday. As I observed at the time, this seems a rather grandiose claim for one discredited idiot to make against such a respected publication, but you can’t argue with a rhyme.
Working on similar principles that things which sound a bit the same must be true, I came up with: “Andrew Wakefield? Fraudulent scumbag.” Wait, I may have confused “rhyme” with “mountains of evidence” there. My mistake.
Cooper seems to know the score, and does a pretty great job. It’s clear from the outset that Wakefield has no actual facts to back himself up, and his only response to the heaps of criticism of his work and his methods is to complain about being relentlessly persecuted – a complaint which does nothing to address any of the evidence. He asks who’s paying Brian Deer (the journalist behind the report) to do what he’s doing, admitting that he doesn’t know and failing to explain why this should be remotely relevant. (He also neglects to mention his own substantial and genuine financial conflicts of interest, such as owning a patent on an alternative measles vaccine.)
Elyse over at the Skepchick blog is also all over this. In particular, she goes through the specific cases of each of the twelve children in Wakefield’s study, and highlights the discrepancies between what was claimed in the paper and what the actual facts of the cases are.
Some of the children were showing early indicators of autism before getting the MMR vaccine. Some didn’t show symptoms until several months later, also nullifying any evidence of a causal connection. The published data seems to have been repeatedly and deliberately misrepresented to make a link seem much better supported by the evidence than it is.
Steven Novella’s write-up of the latest developments is also a must-read.
And if you really want to get into this in some depth, there’s the BMJ report itself (or at least the first in a series, for now) by Brian Deer, who’s been plugging away at this thing and unweaving the facts from the bullshit for years. Mr Deer, I do not own a sufficient number of hats that would allow me to adequately take them off to you.
Edit: Brian Deer has responded in an interview to Wakefield’s continued accusations and insinuations against him, and Orac has weighed in on Wakefield’s dissembling and the inevitable manic minority rushing to his defense.