Posts Tagged ‘andrew wakefield’

Jamie Bernstein has a two-part report of her recent experience at an AutismOne conference, over at Skepchick and Friendly Atheist. Both parts are really worth a read.

The first part is mostly a write-up of the rather unsettling package of speakers and other happenings lined up for the event, including a speech from fraudulent non-doctor Andrew Wakefield about how cruel the rest of the world is to conspire against them by, y’know, pointing out they’re endangering countless lives by distorting science. There was also some pretty kooky self-help psychobabble, and some booths offering a variety of wacky stuff like homeopathy, which you might think should be wholly unrelated to either autism or vaccines, but which probably all tend to appeal to people of a certain frame of mind for the same sorts of reasons.

Part Two is sad in a whole other way. Jamie went along to this thing with a guy called Ken Reibel, who’s an active and somewhat well known part of the reality-based side of the online autism community. At some point in the day, it seems like someone on the staff organising the conference realised who he was – and things suddenly start getting tense.

In short: they were thrown out, despite not really doing anything wrong or being disruptive in any way, and it was pretty clear that the only reason for it was that they knew that Jamie and Ken were not reliable followers who could be trusted to toe the line and stick to the mandated set of beliefs.

Now, these people don’t have to be thrilled to have someone around who they know has written extremely antagonistic things about them in the past. And it seems to be within their accepted policy to be able to refund a visitor’s entrance fee and ask them to leave the premises at any time. But even if they’re legally within their rights, it displays an impressively determined closed-mindedness, to evict someone on no other grounds than that they are known to hold a contrary opinion. These visitors weren’t kicking up any kind of a fuss, and had given no indication that they would do so.

You do only tend to find this fragile, defensive, and rather pathetic attitude in isolated pockets of woo. I’m not aware of any skeptical or rationalist event where somebody has been thrown out on such tenuous grounds. In fact, when believers turn up at skeptical events, it can lead to some interesting conversation – the first instance that springs to mind is when Hayley Stevens and Rose Shapiro were questioned about homeopathy during a Q&A session following an interview. The guy was a little insistent, and eventually they had to just move the discussion on, but he was never deemed unwelcome simply for holding alternative views.

On the other hand, anti-science campaigners have something of a track record of this kind of thing, such as when a student was kicked out of the Creation “Museum”, or when PZ Myers was pulled out of the line to see a film that he was in.

It seems to say something about whose aims include open debate, and whose are more focused on self-confirmation and ignoring dissent.

There’s more on this from Orac and Ken Reibel himself.


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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.

Everyone seemed to notice this story first on CNN’s website, and of particular interest is Wakefield’s interview with Anderson Cooper.

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.

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It’s been over 11 years since Andrew Wakefield first published his paper in the Lancet that kicked off the whole media MMR hoax. So I’m not entirely sure why there’s still news coming out now about the whole palaver. But evidently the General Medical Council has just recently been investigating him for serious professional misconduct.

As I understand it, they’ve not formally ruled on the misconduct issue yet, but as far as their “finding of fact” goes, Wakefield doesn’t come off well. Accusations of doing “shoddy, litigation- and profit-driven pseudoscience”, being “misleading and irresponsible”, and having “changed and misreported results in his research” are flying thick and fast. We’re also being reminded of the conflicts of interest he failed to declare, such as the patent that he’d applied for on an alternate MMR vaccine (thus giving him a strong financial stake in seeing the current one fall out of favour).

I’m skimping on the full details and assuming that you’ll be at least partially familiar with the backstory here. If I were really going to go into detail about the MMR hoax, it’d merit a Skeptictionary entry of itself, and maybe someday it will, but I wanted to get a brief comment done tonight. For background info, this extract from Bad Science, the utterly indispensable book by Ben Goldacre, is pretty much all you need.

(Edit: Ben Goldacre just posted a new piece about Andrew Wakefield, also worth a look.)

Also, Steve Novella has a great summary, and a graph showing the upsurge of measles cases as MMR vaccine uptake slipped. Podblack Cat has links to where the mainstream media are covering the news about the GMC investigation. And jdc325 reminds us not to let the media themselves off the hook, for uncritically bellowing at the entire country about pretty much whatever they thought would be most effective in getting people to buy their newspapers, and mongering fear at the expense of journalistic integrity with disastrous results.

Speaking of the media, the Daily Mail had a poll on their site attached to their article on this earlier today, asking its readers if they thought the MMR jab was safe. They’ve since taken it down, possibly because somebody realised that Daily Mail readers’ opinions on an empirical subject solidly established by scientific fact doesn’t fucking matter. When I voted, the response percentages were 56/44 in favour of “Yes”.

Head. Meet desk. At velocity.

In lighter news, the 129th Skeptics’ Circle is up over at The SkeptVet Blog. It’s a really fun round-up of some great posts, so go have a look.

And in even lighter news, here’s a snapshot of what my inbox looked like earlier this evening. It’s amazing what coming up with a few jokes to pass the time at work and being retweeted by Dave Gorman or Marcus Brigstocke will do…

Even allowing for a few of them being spam-bots (who names their kid The Car Disco?), that’s not a bad day’s work. Go on. Follow the herd.

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