We have been following the rise and fall of Andrew Wakefield – the UK doctor who first started the vaccines-cause-autism scare with his 1998 Lancet paper about the MMR vaccine. Wakefield’s conversion from dubious researcher to notorious crank is pretty much complete, but the medical community is still shaking him off, like a lingering bad cold.
2010 has not been a good year for Wakefield. His 1998 Lancet paper was officially retracted by the Lancet – expunged from the medical literature (better late than never). In addition, another paper of Wakefield’s, a terrible and highly questionable study involving monkeys, was also withdrawn from press.
Over the last couple of years he has been investigated by the general medical counsel of the UK, who decided earlier this year that he was guilty of unethical practices. This recently lead to the decision that Wakefield be “struck off” the list of registered MDs.
So pathetic has Wakefield become that his fall has been rendered in cartoon.
Now, to continue the process (I am not sure it’s entirely over yet) of collapsing the dubious edifice erected by Wakefield, a third of his papers has been retracted: Enterocolitis in Children with Developmental Disorders.
Whatever the opposite of the Midas touch is, Wakefield has it.
Of course, there are two ways to view these events. The perspective that I feel is most warranted by the evidence is that Wakefield is a poor researcher with dubious motivations and conflicts of interest who tried to build a case that MMR and vaccines in general are associated with developmental disorders. Brian Deer put together a convincing case that Wakefield had considerable conflicts of interest – he was working on an alternate vaccine, and he was receiving large amounts of money form lawyers to prove just such a connection. Eventually his bad ethics and worse science were uncovered, and the whole mess is rapidly unraveling.
Then there is the conspiracy-mongering pseudoscientific antivaccine perspective – that Wakefield is a courageous researcher who uncovered some “inconvenient truths” and is now being persecuted by an establishments intent on hiding the truth.
Guess which one Wakefield is going with. No longer respected as a doctor and researcher, Wakefield seems content to fill the role of martyr to the antivaccine lunatic fringe.