Andrew Wakefield, whose title I’ve very intentionally dropped here, was ruled to have published “misleading” research by a sensible General Medical Council today. Predictably, plenty of people are still all too happy to ignore streams of evidence and instead side with a man who accepted £50,000 from a law firm claiming compensation for parents of autistic children, and then wrote a paper suggesting a link between the illness and the MMR vaccine.
This is a study which The Lancet, the leading medical journal in which Wakefield’s research was published, has since publically apologised for printing, and completely disowned. This is the study that stands out in a sea of other research that continues to suggest absolutely no link between MMR and autism. The study whose participants Wakefield did not have the proper authority or qualifications to work with. The study whose underlying methodological logic was hopelessly flawed. The study that led to a dramatic drop in MMR vaccine uptake and a significant surge in cases of measles, mumps and rubella.
Of course, that people continue to express their concerns about the vaccine, 12 years after the research’s publication, is probably no one’s fault but the media’s. These filthy ideas have been propogated repeatedly by pretty much every news programme and paper in the known universe. But today’s hearing result has led to Wakefield continuing to claim absolute innocence, with him suggesting the GMC’s verdict is part of a “politically motivated attack”, rather than the far more obvious conclusion of it being a perfectly sensible verdict against a man who failed to disclose various information about the funding of his research, about his own qualifications in undertaking it, and about his method of data collection.
Since Wakefield’s study has been pretty much universally discredited by the medical community, it’s very fair to say there has never been a single shred of evidence to suggest a link between MMR and autism. (In fact, worth pointing out that Wakefield’s study didn’t directly suggest this itself. That was the media’s doing. It did suggest a link between MMR and a bowel disorder whose appearance seemed to coincide with that of autism.) But people still insist on believing Wakefield, standing alone in the middle of a fire of actual, scientific reasoning, is the only man who knows what he’s talking about. Protesters gathered outside today’s hearing, chanting his name, lauding him as one of the world’s greatest doctors despite not having the faintest idea what they were talking about.
One couple, the delightful Daily Mail reports, are even convinced that MMR caused their child’s sudden death, even though a coroner ruled that an underlying, previously undiagnosed and fatal condition was the cause. Despite this, Sarah and Chris Fisher think there is “no other explanation” than MMR.
Look. They’ve lost a child. That is the most horrendous thing I can imagine. But the second most horrendous thing I can imagine is Andrew Wakefield gaining any sort of support or popularity after the devious, deceptive way in which he behaved when he conducted that study. Not one piece of evidence suggests a link between MMR and autism. And every piece of evidence suggests a link between that 50 grand, Wakefield’s methodology, and his conclusions. This is very straight-forward, people. Stop being blinded by pseudo-science!