Wakefield, Deer, BMJ: Facts are Stubborn Things
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. John Adams
Google the news on Autism right now and you will find hundreds of references to a report in the British Medical Journal declaring findings in a 1998 UK paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine were fraudulent. One pundit after another has declared this the final word on the subject. Andrew Wakefield, one of thirteen authors of the original peer reviewed paper published in The Lancet, has been exposed as a fraud. His paper has been retracted. Vaccines are safe. We can finally put this issue to rest. But of course we can’t. The facts remain as they were.
The BMJ article was written by free lance reporter Brian Deer, a name familiar to followers of the autism vaccine controversy as is Wakefield. Deer compared medical histories from the primary care physicians of the twelve children reported on by Wakefield et al, to the histories documented in the paper, concluding any discrepancies to be faked. It doesn’t follow. Wakefield et al didn’t have access to the primary records. Deer shouldn’t have it either. They are confidential in the UK as they are in the US. The only way to demonstrate fraud would be to show that the history provided to the authors by the parents was different from that reported in the paper. I know that. Deer knows that. The editors of the BMJ know that. But the BMJ, despite its name, isn’t a scientific journal. It is a trade magazine deriving a significant share of its revenues from pharmaceutical advertizing. Deer has no training in either medicine or science. Neither do I. He is a reporter with no more qualifications to make medical judgments than I do.
No new study has been done. No one has ever seriously refuted Wakefield’s essential findings, which were: the twelve children had autism; they were referred to him because they also had bowel disease (Wakefield is a gastroenterologist); parents of eight of the children reported onset of autism at about the time they received the MMR vaccine; the children had residual measles virus in their guts. The authors found no causal relationship between autism and MMR but concluded the issue needed more study. In a press conference later Wakefield said if it were his children he would have them vaccinated separately for measles, mumps, and rubella, an option available in the UK at the time but since withdrawn.
Wakefield’s reputation has been thoroughly trashed in the media. His UK medical license has been revoked. In the ongoing furor most of the original authors, like Galileo, recanted. But excoriating one doctor for challenging the safety of one vaccine isn’t going to do much for restoring confidence in that vaccine of for vaccines in general. It isn’t going to do much for getting at the truth either. UK public health officials made an example of Wakefield. It would take a courageous researcher to take on a project that might find fault with the childhood vaccination program. Precious few have.
The fact is incidence of autism soared about twenty years ago at about the time the number of childhood vaccinations increased dramatically. Claiming the issue has been studied to death isn’t going to work until public officials actually do the study. The truth is they haven’t. No one has looked seriously at the cumulative effect of so many vaccines during pregnancy and in very small children. It has been obvious to the autism community, though not until very recently to health officials or the medical community, that autism can’t be simply genetic. It must have environmental triggers. Until ruled out definitively vaccines remain suspect. Parents have been pleading for years for a straightforward comparison of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children. So far public officials have refused, in all appearance for fear of what they might find. They are going to have to do it though. If autism is as much more common among the vaccinated as it appears to be we need to know why. There must be something we can do to make the program safer. Autism isn’t going away by itself. Until we find out what’s causing it and do something about it, it will remain pandemic. That’s a fact.
Norm Roberts is a retired business analyst living in Plano, Texas. His 9 year old grandson has autism.
Norm Roberts, very well written! Please write more often.
Posted by: michael framson | January 16, 2011 at 06:32 PM
The same system that claims, oops, we didn't diagnose all those autism cases before...
The same system that makes "safer" vaccines, oops, implied admission that they were less safe before...
The same system that says bring back small pox vaccine, no oops, too many reactions...
The same system that says there is no vaccine damage, no oops, here's your compensation...
THAT system wants us to believe we're done investigating the cause of autism? That's like having your wallet taken and looking at the thief, asking him for your wallet back, and oh, by the way, would you please take yourself to jail, too? Wrong system.
Posted by: Cynthia Cournoyer | January 15, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Mr. Roberts .. like you .. I am also the proud grandfather of a lovable eleven year old .. nonverbal boy .. who "regressed" somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 years of age.
I greatly appreciate you .. as a grandfather .. taking the time and making the effort to post your comments on AoA.
Hopefully .. someday soon .. the voice of grandparents will become loud enough .. to make certain .. future grandparents .. will be spared what has happened to our beloved grandchildren.
Posted by: Bob Moffitt | January 13, 2011 at 05:49 PM
All the experts said the world was flat. Columbus proved them wrong. I think of Wakefield as a modern Columbus!
Posted by: Mark V. | January 13, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Fact: yesterday I needed to look up current autism prevalence (used key words) and on "wrong diagnosis" I got an old stat of autism affecting 1 child in 500 and something. Astonishing that a medical source would be so wrong. Or maybe not so astonishing!
Posted by: Jen | January 13, 2011 at 10:46 AM
To the CDC, NIH, the BMJ and all the other useless alphabet groups: IF YOU CHANGE NOTHING.....NOTHING WILL CHANGE. Just keep on promoting "autism awareness" and "know the signs." Keep patting yourselves on the back while filing away the results of the Brick study (New Jersey) and completely closing your eyes to the Somali cluster (Minnesota). HOW DID BRIAN DEER GET CONFIDENTIAL RECORDS ON THE LANCET 12? How bad does this have to get? 1 in 80....1 in 70...1 in 60? No urgency at all. If you change nothing.......
Posted by: Jill Fenech | January 13, 2011 at 10:42 AM
the hypocrisy is what bugs me..Wakefield publishes a paper they don't like so they attack him..meanwhile Dr. Poul Thorsen who embezzled $2 million from the US gov't is walking around a free man...Thorsen fraud puts into question the Thimerosal studies..
We mustn't let Thorsens story fade into obscurity so whenever the media brings up Wakefield let's throw Thorsen's fraud back in their face.
Posted by: Sarah | January 13, 2011 at 09:55 AM
As I recall, and I recall it pretty well, not one medical professional ever has questioned the validity of Andrew Wakefield's Lancet paper.
The only critical rapport has consisted of "the cohort was too small".
As Andy Cutler said [paraphrasing] "To anyone in the real world of science, the fact that the Wakefield paper has been withdrawn, something that never happens regardless of how badly the author screws up, means unfair and inappropriate pressure was brought upon the scientific publisher, there is an association and the paper reveals it, and someone doesn't want you to see it.
Posted by: kerbob1 | January 13, 2011 at 07:07 AM