History repeats itself for Andrew Wakefield

June 2, 2010

Earlier this year, The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s 1998 “study,” something that almost never happens. Around that same time his 2009 “monkey study” was withdrawn by the journal Neurotoxicology. And now his 2000 American Journal of Gastroenterology paper is being retracted as well:

On 28 January 2010, the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel raised concerns about a paper published in the Lancet by Dr Wakefield et al. (1). The main issues were that the patient sample collected was likely to be biased and that the statement in the paper, that the study had local ethics committee approval, was false. There was also the possibility of a serious conflict of interest in the interpretation of the data. The Lancet has now retracted this paper (1). This paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (AJG) (2) also includes the 12 patients in the original Lancet article and therefore we retract this AJG paper from the public record.

Wow. I wonder when was the last time a researcher had not one but two studies retracted only a few months apart. The last five months have been disastrous for Wakefield. Seriously, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, put this guy on suicide watch.

Andrew Wakefield teaches a lesson in how to make disciples and influence people

May 27, 2010

Wakefield gets a wake up call

May 24, 2010

It’s done. Andrew Wakefield has been officially stuck off the UK’s medical registry. The General Medical Council has stripped him of the medical license, which he used as a license to kill. The GMC has called Wakefield “dishonest”, “misleading” and “irresponsible” in his research into the MMR vaccine and its purported links to autism.

Of course, Wakefield was proud to tell Matt Lauer on The Today Show this morning that he can still  technically be called “doctor” because the GMC can’t take away his degree. So in that case, from now on I’m to be called “Master” because that’s what my degree says.

And speaking of The Today Show, I’m damned proud of Lauer for coming through. Sure, he’s no Anderson Cooper or Mike Wallace, but he really laid into Wakefield. It wasn’t as good as the infamous Tom Cruise segment but it was still pretty good.

My one big criticism was that I’d wished Matt had responded to Wakefield’s baseless claims that the government has conceded that vaccines cause autism. I assume this is Wakefield’s spin on the the Hannah Poling or Bailey Banks cases. I wish Matt has explained that court settlements do not mean that one party has conceded fault. If it did, then why would the opposing party accept the settlement? In other words, if the other party is losing, wouldn’t you rather win the whole case than accept some compromise? And given that a settlement is a compromise, couldn’t you just as easily argue that it’s the other side that conceded? No, settling a case does not mean one party has admitted fault. It’s usually just a mutually agreed upon compromise to avoid a lengthy trial, which nobody wants. It just shows that Wakefield is about as ignorant or delusional of the legal system as he is about medicine.

Of course it isn’t likely to change many people’s minds. The vaccine denial community has already gone overdrive into spin mode to inexplicably portray the GMC hearings as a “kangaroo court” and a “witch hunt” even though Wakefield never backed up his claims with substantive evidence during the whole two years the hearings were going on. So he’ll still somehow continue to be a leader in their movement despite the fact that at least publicly, he’s in favor of most vaccines. Some people will simply never been convinced that vaccines are safe and effective no matter what the evidence says. And sadly, I fear we haven’t heard the last of Mr. Wakefield.

Andrew Wakefield: Dead man walking

May 22, 2010

Matt...Matt! You don't know the history of vaccines. I do. Matt...Matt...Matt.

On Monday there’s an excellent chance that Andrew Wakefield, the man most responsible for the modern incarnation of the anti-vaccine movement, will no longer have a medical license. I wish I could say it’s been a fun ride but it hasn’t. Wakefield abused his medical position by accepting money from lawyers trying to build a case against the MMR vaccine, performed serious medical procedures on twelve children at a birthday party instead of in a medical facility as part of a “study” (or a non-study–Wakefield can never seem to make up his mind about this) designed to implicate MMR in autism, and then used the very public hysteria he created without proper cause to try to patent his own rival vaccine.

The man has done great harm to public safety and now it’s time for him to go:

The inquiry has finally drawn to its conclusion, and Andrew Wakefield — known as “the MMR doctor” — is likely to be struck off the medical register for what the five-member tribunal has already labelled “dishonest”, “unethical” and “callous” research.

In withdrawing his licence to practise, the council will be laying to rest a huge scare that spread rapidly among parents, causing a massive slump in the number of children who were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella in Britain. Two children subsequently died of measles and many others became seriously ill.

Though constant showman that he is, Andy isn’t going without using up the last of his fifteen minutes of infamy. He’s going to be interviewed by Matt Lauer on Monday morning’s Today Show. His loyal followers over at Age of Autism are already trying to rally supporters to be outside the studio at 30 Rock as the interview is taking place at 8am.

My friend Tim Farley of whatstheharm.net let me know about their plans and suggested NYC-based skeptics mount a science-based response outside 30 Rock. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can make it there at that time but maybe others can.

Then again, it might not even be necessary. I don’t think AoA has the power to raise an army for a Monday morning protest that quickly and even if they can, I think there’s a good chance they’ll only end up hanging themselves (as well as Wakefield) by looking even more nuts.

While I expect a fairly softball interview from Lauer, that didn’t help Tom Cruise. The media seems to have grown tired of the anti-vaccine movement and now that Wakefield’s moments away from complete disgrace, Lauer’s going to want to use this opportunity to look like he’s a hard-hitting journalist. He’s not going to want to appear like he’s in any way supporting the guy who’s on his way to the firing squad. And if we’re lucky, this will be Wakefield’s “You don’t know the history of psyciatry; I do” moment. All Lauer needs is to get off two or three good questions and I expect this will not end well for the Wakefield.

The future of the anti-vaccine movement is in your hands, Matt. Don’t let us down.

Age of Autism takes a sledge hammer to all decency

April 14, 2010

You know, last Thanksgiving when Age of Autism posted that incredibly disgusting picture that angered so many even in their own base that they later removed it from their site, I thought they couldn’t go any lower.

I was so fuckin’ wrong!

This isn’t like when we all thought they were exploiting Desiree Jennings (who as it turned out was exploiting them). To call this piece of garbage website sick, shameless, deplorable, disgusting, or an affront to human decency would be an insult to anyone guilty of any of that behavior.

If anyone holds any doubts that these people are psychotic and deranged, from now on I’ll send them to that page.

Do these assholes really give a shit about children? Do they?

Where was their outrage over all the children injured from NOT vaccinating?

“Measles Outbreak Triggered by Unvaccinated Child” by By Serena Gordon
danamccaffery.com Website dedicated to Dana Elizabeth McCaffery who died at the age of 4 weeks from Whooping cough (Pertussis), a totally vaccine preventable disease
USA Today – Missed vaccines weaken ‘herd immunity’ in children By Liz Szabo
“The Worst Ideas of the Decade: Vaccine scares” by Clive Thompson
“A Pox on You: My son has cancer. He can’t go into day care because of unvaccinated children.” By Stephanie Tatel
“The price of anti-vaccine fanaticism: Case histories” by David Gorski
What’s the harm in vaccine denial?
“Herd Immunity” by Mark Crislip
“Where’s the outrage?” by John Snyder
“The price of anti-vaccine fanaticism, part 3” by Orac
“Pockets of Vaccine Noncompliance in California” by Steve Novella
http://getbetterhealth.com/warning-influenza-can-be-fatal-to-children/2008.10.20#more-2211 http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/anti_vaccination_anti_feminist/
California schools’ risks rise as vaccinations drop
Jenny McCarthy calls millions of potential measles casualties acceptable losses in her crusade
“Who Doesn’t Vaccinate?” by Chris Mooney
In Wales: “Measles outbreak ‘worst in years’
Study: “Parental Refusal of Pertussis Vaccination Is Associated With an Increased Risk of Pertussis Infection in Children”
Guardian: “MMR jab should be compulsory for all children starting school, expert says” by Jessica Shepherd
“MEASLES: A dangerous illness” by Roald Dahl (Yes, that Roald Dahl)
“Rare Hib disease increases in Minnesota: Is the anti-vaccine movement to blame?” by Erin Carlyle
“The Power of Words: A Commentary on the Delayed Vaccine Schedule” by Steve Perry
New Zealand measles rate 7-times higher in 2009 because of low immunization rates
“Refusing vaccines puts kids at risk: autism expert”
The Guardian – “Half of all pregnant women will refuse swine flu jab, poll reveals” by Sarah Boseley
What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations?
“CDC: 76 children dead of swine flu as cases rise” By MIKE STOBBE
“U. researchers discover another genetic link to autism”
“Measles outbreak in Dublin, 2000”
“Pertussis returns in states with lax vaccination laws” by Orac
“Blood Mercury Concentrations in CHARGE Study Children with and without Autism”
Wired Magazine – “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All” By Amy Wallace
“Old-fashioned mumps make comeback in Borough Park; 57 confirmed cases” BY Helen Kennedy
“Autism proceedings: End of Story” By Jonathan Rabinovitz
Science News – “From the infectious diseases meeting: What’s with the vaccine-o-phobia?” By Nathan Seppa
“IACC Statement on Autism Research” By Steven Novella
“Measles” by Mark Crislip
“Mumps cases reach 152 in Monsey area as part of large U.S. outbreak” By Jane Lerner
“More evidence that anti-vaccine beliefs kill” By Orac
How Anti-Vaccine ‘Science’ Holds Back Credible Research
Chicago Tribune – “OSR#1: Industrial chemical or autism treatment?” By Trine Tsouderos
“Measles outbreak in German caused by anti-vaccinationists” by Kristjan Wager
“Measles Resurgence Tied To Parents’ Vaccine Fears” by Richard Knox
“Religious antivax sect implicated in deaths of 100 children” by Phil Plait
“British Boy Dies After Chelation Therapy for Autism” By Katrina Woznicki
“Outbreaks” by Mark Crislip

No, they don’t care about any of that. No, they don’t care. They don’t care about children. They don’t care about suffering or injury.

All they care about is promoting fear, doubt, and confusing about vaccines. And as the website linked to above illustrates, there are no depths they won’t sink to in order to in order to demonize vaccines.

News From Around The Blogosphere 3.30.10

March 30, 2010

1. Single unvaccinated kid source of 2008 California measles outbreak

The family’s 7-year-old boy, who was intentionally unvaccinated against measles, was exposed to the virus while traveling in Europe. When he returned home to San Diego, he unknowingly exposed a total of 839 people, and an additional 11 unvaccinated children contracted the disease.

Three of those infected were babies, too young to have yet received the measles vaccines, and one of the babies was hospitalized for three days with a 106-degree fever, according to a report to be published in the April issue of Pediatrics.

Wow, that’s one hell of a path of destruction caused by a single anti-vax family. Thanks Jenny McCarthy.

2. Magnets can almost instantly change a person’s moral judgment – This would seem to pretty definitively debunk the notion of dualism and fairly conclusively show that the mind is, contrary to Deepak Chopra’s claims,  purely a localized phenomenon. It also further illustrates how absurd the evangelical notion of “objective morality” from “God” is.

3. Critical thinking and skepticism begins at childhood – Here’s a great story of a kid scientifically investigating the Tooth Fairy and successfully debunking it

But not all kids are brought up to be such critical thinkers.

4. New Harris poll confirms most Americans are dummies

The poll involved 2,320 adults responding to true or false questions. Among many other disturbing facts, 14% of respondents said they believed Obama could be the Antichrist.

. . .

When broken into partisan results, it seems 24% of all Republican respondents hold this view, while only 6% of Democrats are that batshit crazy. But taken as a whole, the numbers in this poll are depressing. 32% think Obama is a Muslim. 23% think Obama is a racist. And 20% say Obama is “doing many of the things Hitler did.”

But I’m pretty sure Hitler didn’t hold a Passover seder in the White House…or cut out the middleman in student loans…or sleep with Michelle Obama.

5. Bill Donohue continues shameless campaign defending child rapists – Now he’s taken out an ad in the NY Times defending the man most responsible for ensuring the child rapists could continue to prey on more children, The Pope. Oh, and he’s moved on from blaming the families of the victims to blaming the gays. It won’t be long now before he blames everyone on Earth except for The Pope.

And he’s not the only one defending child rapists. . .

6. The Vatican has selflessly thought up 3 reasons why they feel The Vatican is not liable – The first is that the Pope, as head of state, is immune from prosecution (aka Joey Ratz does whatever Joey Ratz wants and if you get in the way, he’ll whack you or have your children horribly raped). The second excuse is that the American priests were not Vatican employees  (This should go over really well with the American Catholics). And the third excuse is that they’ve declared by fiat that the smoking gun evidence that has been confirmed by high ranking church officials is really not smoking gun evidence at all (I call this the Jedi Mind Trick defense – these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Now move along):

McMurry insisted Tuesday that Crimen is a smoking gun.

“The fact is, this document and its predecessors make it an excommunicable offense to reveal any knowledge of allegations that a priest has sexually abused,” he said in an e-mail.

The existence of Crimen did not become publicly known until 2003, when a lawyer noticed a reference to the document while reading a 2001 letter written by Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. McMurry is seeking to subpoena Ratzinger’s letter, which instructed all bishops to send cases of clerical sex abuse to him and to keep the proceedings secret.

As for that first excuse that a head of state can’t be sued, fine, let’s call it an act of war then. I hope the Vatican has a strong military.

More anti-vaccine news and the “Age of Wakefield”

February 9, 2010

1. Autism LINKED to vaccines? Nah, just kidding. – It’s just further evidence of autism’s genetic roots. Researchers have discovered that unsurprisingly, advanced maternal age increases the likelihood of autism:

Advanced maternal age is linked to a significantly elevated risk of having a child with autism, regardless of the father’s age, according to an exhaustive study of all births in California during the 1990s by UC Davis Health System researchers. Advanced paternal age is associated with elevated autism risk only when the father is older and the mother is under 30, the study found.

And the alleged increased rate of autism makes more sense when you consider how medical science is allowing more and more women to procreate well into their forties. Of course none of this can explain every single case of autism but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Of course J.B. Handley would rather we all stop wasting our time, money, and energy on that worthless genetic research and perpetually investigate vaccines till the end of time. Sorry J.B. but we prefer to investigate avenues that will actually result in decreasing the rate of autism.

And in a related story. . .

2. England & Wales see 36% rise in measles – That’s the largest number since the monitoring scheme was introduced in 1995.

Health Protection Agency experts said most of the cases had been in children not fully vaccinated with combined MMR and so could have been prevented.

. . .

More than 600 of the 2008 measles cases occurred in London, where uptake of the vaccine for MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – is particularly low.

Public confidence in the triple MMR vaccine dipped following research – since discredited – which raised the possibility that the jab may be linked to an increased risk of autism.

Thanks Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, J.B. Handley, et al. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

3. Age of Wakefield – As I’ve reported before, the Age of Autism blog seems to have completely transformed itself in the Andrew Wakefield Defense Campaign website. Ever since Wakefield’s disgrace has been made official, close to 100% of the blog entries on the page are about spinning Wakefield as a persecuted martyr at the hands of the evil science mafia conspiracy. This is best illustrated by visiting their page but is also very evident when looking at the I Speak of Dreams blog, which has made a mission out of collecting blogs, both positive and negative, discussing the Wakefield scandal since his disgrace had become complete.

This blog, Skepacabra, makes at least one appearance on the list. But what’s abundantly clear is that while the blogs supporting the Lancet’s decision to retract the Wakefield story come from a multitude of sources spanning many backgrounds and sites including many actual medical professionals, those found in defense of Wakefield are almost exclusively from Age of Autism or at least from authors who regularly write for Age of Autism. There’s AoA regulars Kim Stagliano and David Kirby posting on the Huffington Post, a Fox “News” interview with AoA editor Mark Blaxill, CNN’s interview with Stagliano, well-established loony and non-doctor Mike Adams blogging over at his Natural News site. Then just a handful of obscure blogs and a whole mess of posts from Age of Autism directly.

So while this does a decent job of illustrating precisely where the campaign of misinformation spread, I do have to admit that there’s one thing on the I Speak of Dreams site that bugs me. I find it somewhat disconcerting that Debbie Schlussel and I agree about something. But at least I can be slightly comforted by the fact that Schlussel’s criticisms almost exclusively involve hurling sexist insults at Jenny McCarthy instead of well reasoned arguments.

Mark Blaxill continuing to sell his emotional narrative of fear

February 4, 2010

The other day, I posted a humorous video that pocked fun at the common fallacy made by the media of promoting false balance. Now a perfect example of this has shown up and not surprisingly, it comes from Fox “News. [Due to embedding problems, I’ve simply linked to the repulsive Age of Autism blog’s page that includes the embed.]

Here, Fox “News” invited on a medical expert, Dr. Mark Siegal, in order to debate an imaginary medical controversy with a man with no real medical credentials of any kind but who simply has a loud enough voice, Mark Blaxill, editor of Age of Autism. I’m somewhat reminded of a counter protest sign mocking the Westboro Baptist Church that read: “I HAVE A SIGN.” Though it’s just kind of silly on the surface, I feel it also conveys a more insightful message than perhaps even what was intended, the idea that just because you’re loud and can hold up a sign, that automatically entitles you to have your message taken seriously by the media.

Unfortutely, in the clip linked to above, Dr. Siegel missed a great opportunity to slam Blaxill when Blaxill was asked point-blank what his evidence was that vaccines were responsible for autism. After Siegel had so superbly explained Blaxill’s tactics of appealing to emotions and scapegoating vaccines just to point the finger at something, Blaxill responded to the host’s inquiry by doing exactly what Siegel said he does. If I were Siegel, I wouldn’t have let him get away with it and when prompted to respond, would have insisted that I was still waiting for Blaxill to answer the question presented to him. Blaxill fails to present any evidence for why he believes so strongly that vaccines are responsible for autism except citing mysterious studies that agree with him that again, Siegel failed to call him on.

Of course by reading the comments on the Age of Autism page linked to above, it’s clear that Blaxill could have read the phone book the entire time and they’d still be declaring him the victor despite his complete failure to present evidence for his case. One commenter even celebrates the fact that Blaxill had such emotional stories while his opponent only had facts and statistics. It just goes to show how Age of Autism’s readers are impervious to evidence and reason. They just believe what they believe with a religious devotion that can’t be overcome no matter how much evidence is presented. All in all, I think Siegel did okay, a solid B or B+. He stated that Blaxill had no clear means of linking vaccines to autism and would appeal to emotion and fear, and that’s precisely what Blaxill did. If anyone watching the debate was on the fence before, I think they’d be more persuaded by Siegel, who answered all his questions, than by Blaxill, who clearly dodged them.

Sadly though, CNN is just as  guilty as Fox of promoting the manufactured debate between an expert and someone whose only credentials are that she’s a mom of autistic kids. Alison Singer’s a mom with an autistic kid. Why isn’t she on the show? It’s flat-out absurd. And ironically, the fact that Kim Stagliano’s got multiple autistic kids, undeniably suggesting the genetic component to the disorder, went unmentioned. Kim’s mantra “trust the parents” is no more legitimate an argument than Stephen Colbert’s parody, “truthiness.” But again, it’s all just fear-mongering and appeals to “we’re just asking questions.” There’s nothing presented that legitimately points to vaccines.

MMR Vaccine: Who’s to Blame? – CBS News Video

February 3, 2010

Dr. Paul Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets,” spoke to Maggie Rodriguez about the retraction of the study linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism and the science between the reversal.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “MMR Vaccine: Who’s to Blame? – CBS Ne…“, posted with vodpod

Lancet retracts Wakefield’s 1998 study

February 3, 2010

After twelve years of solid debunking, the Lancet, a leading UK professional medical research journal, has finally decided to officially retract Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous fake study that is almost single-handedly responsible for the modern anti-vaccination movement and for a massive decline in MMR vaccinations as well as all other vaccinations.

From the BBC:

The medical journal which originally published the discredited research linking autism and MMR has now issued a full retraction of the paper.

The Lancet said it now accepted claims made by the researchers were “false”. It comes after Dr Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled last week to have broken research rules by the General Medical Council.

The publication caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles.

…Last week, the GMC ruled Dr Wakefield had shown a “callous disregard” for children and acted “dishonestly” while he carried out his research. It will decide later whether to strike him off the medical register.

And from the Lancet editorial itself:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

Of course the anti-vaccinationists over at Age of Autism such as David Kirby, are insisting the retraction means nothing as they continue to focus their efforts EXCLUSIVELY on defending their messiah. Apparently, news that’s actually related to autism isn’t important enough to warrant coverage during The Martyrdom of St. Andy, as Orac put it. Kirby even uses the George W. Bush mantra of declaring that while disgraced now, Wakefield will be more warmly received by future generations. Yeah, keep dreaming, David.

You know, at the very beginning of January, in light of Barbara Loe Fisher’s horribly ill-conceived libel suit against Amy Wallace, Paul Offit, and Conde Nast, I expressed my feelings that it was beginning to look like the anti-vaccine movement has peeked and is finally going to begin a decline as they’ve continued to make bad decisions and the media has begun to catch onto just how crazy they are. January has been a devastating month for them and now February has already proven far worse. Now I’m not about to say it’s all over yet, but like with $cientology, lately all the relevant news has been squarely against them. So yeah, I think they’re in trouble. As much as they want to continue to preach Wakefield’s innocence, the fact is that he’s in so deep that he’ll never clear his name. And while he should be able to make a decent living out of giving lectures to fellow anti-vaccinationists and maybe even a few organizations that failed to do the proper research before agreeing to let him speak, let’s face it. No real hospital would hire someone with his reputation. His medical career (at least as far as real medicine is concerned) is officially over.

Add that to our continuing understanding of the genetic nature of autism, the possible collapse of the Australian Vaccination Network,   and the almost inevitable Dover-like outcome of Barbara Loe Fisher’s libel suit (too bad she couldn’t sue in the UK), and we’ve got a critical mass of negative publicity coming their way.So yeah, I think there’s good reason for critics of the anti-vaccine movement to look forward to the coming year.