By Dan Olmsted
Mainstream medical and media types have decided to kick Andy Wakefield in the terminal ilium again. As John Stone outlined in an AOA post on Monday, CNN (home of Anderson Cooper’s famously vile grilling) weighed in with a column by Frank Y. Yong titled, “Blind Eye to Scientific Fraud is Dangerous.”
Yong wrote: “Episodes like the 1998 fabrication of data indicating a connection between childhood vaccines and autism risk have clear public health and policy repercussions.” (Yong is a junior fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, a virtual assisted living facility for emeriti CDC vaccine officials like Walt Orenstein and Robert Chen. I’m sure they cabled their approval.)
No need for Yong to elaborate on the “fabrication of data” before moving on to Michele Bachmann and Jenny McCarthy. (Bernadine Healy? Never heard of her.) “Everybody knows” by now that Wakefield committed fraud by changing the 12 case histories to falsely implicate the MMR in regressive autism and a novel bowel disease.
“Everybody knows” this solely because of the work of British slimester Brian Deer, who first filled the Sunday Times of London with his accusations. Nobody paid any attention, so he recycled them under the imprimatur of the British Medical Journal and its editor, Fiona Godlee. In an editorial accompanying Deer’s articles in 2011, she wrote:
“Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.
“Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield.”
Nobody in England paid attention to the BMJ’s claims either, but the “fraud” then traveled across the Atlantic to our fair shores and became “truth,” a la the current Wikipedia entry for Wakefield: “Andrew Jeremy Wakefield (born 1957) is a British former surgeon and medical researcher, known for his fraudulent 1998 research paper in support of the now-discredited claim that there is a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and the appearance of autism and bowel disease.”
Now, as his libel case against Deer twists in the jurisdictional wind in Texas, where an appeals court is taking a suspiciously long time to make up its mind on this simple issue, the vaccine injury denialists want us to think Wakefield is history, in every sense – no longer relevant except as a cautionary tale of scientific fraud run to ground.
“Andrew Wakefield has been discussed here and elsewhere a great deal,” Matt Carey, a member of the loathsome Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee, wrote on his blog.
“Thankfully his presence in the autism communities seems to have retreated to a small core of supporters and the occasional parent convention where he can, yet again, defend himself. Yes, his supporters are vocal. And, yes, he continues to cause harm. But his heyday is long past.”
The reason Andy isn’t going anywhere is because, like Bernard Rimland – his only equal in the pantheon of autism science -- he, too, was right. Parents in England in the late 1990s did report autistic regression and the onset of bowel disease, and 8 of the 12 said they suspected the MMR shot, which occurred in eerie proximity.
As Carl Sagan said, and Paul Offit likes to parrot, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that the Lancet paper is a fraud, and that Andy alone perpetrated it, is extraordinary. But here’s the truth: There is no evidence that any – let alone all – of the Lancet case histories were manipulated to suggest a link to the MMR. Not a one.
And that, folks, is the real fraud, one that the journalism establishment is at grievous fault for repeating as fact rather than ferreting out. Despite that failure, Andy Wakefield is not history. He’s historic.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.