Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Andrew Wakefield: The book launch

Less than two months after Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked by the UK General Medical Council (GMC), the British gastroenterologist was back on the stump for his discounted theory that vaccines trigger autism.

And this time, he had an autobiographical book in tow.

Last night, dressed in light blue jeans, a starched white shirt rolled up to his elbows and a baby blue tie, Wakefield told a roomful of adoring parents at the New York Metro Chapter of the National Autism Association how he considered the forced retraction of his now-infamous (and retracted) 1998 Lancet paper “editorial genocide” because it was “an effort to erase these children’s histories from the public record,” referring to the 12 autistic children he described with bowel syndromes whose condition he attempted to link to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. (A hospital report questioned the diagnosis of bowel disorders, though parents have come to Wakefield’s defense.)


Wakefield explained how he wrote the book chronicling his experiences in the UK during the proceedings of the 197-day inquiry into his conduct. In tongue-in-cheek deference to his detractors, he called the book ‘Callous Disregard’ — a reference to the GMC’s ruling on Wakefield’s attitude toward the suffering of children involved in his controversial research. (Although not yet available in the UK, the book can be found on Amazon.com, complete with a foreword by former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy. Wakefield also alluded to a planned sequel based on his time in the US.)

Wakefield summed up his attitude not as ‘anti-vaccine’ but as an advocate of a ‘safety first’ vaccine policy, likening his approach to that of Toyota’s recent recall of cars with faulty accelerator pedals, which he noted was not ‘anti-automobile’. His comments come at a time when public health officials are warning that falling vaccination rates might be contributing to a quadrupling of whooping cough rates in California in comparison with last year.

Besides giving a passionate defense of his scientific and medical work, Wakefield also offered a brief update on what he’s been up to since his fall from grace earlier this year. He said that his study comparing vaccinated primates with unvaccinated controls — first published online last year in the Elsevier publication NeuroToxicology but later retracted by the journal’s editor-in-chief — has been accepted in another journal (not one published by Elsevier, he noted). A second paper that uses neuroimaging to look for changes in the amygdala following vaccination is also in preparation, he said. He also mentioned a follow-up study, planned in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, that plans to examine the effect of thimerosol on 80 macaque mothers to see if the vaccine preservative influences offspring development.

After the talk, which earned Wakefield a standing ovation from the crowd of around 80, I had the opportunity to pose the last questions of the Q&A session. I asked Wakefield if he had any regrets or saw any flaws in his work. No, he said, except being “a bit brash sometimes” to authorities such as the GMC.

I also invited his thoughts on what to say to the parents of children who die from preventable diseases such as measles because their classmates do not get vaccinated. Over jeers of “big pharma shill,” I was chided for even insinuating that anyone was ‘anti-vaccine’ or that there was somehow a larger public health responsibility. That was it; the question session was over.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Sullivan said:

    So Dr. Wakefield let his audience block your last question for him? What courage that man has!

  2. Report this comment

    Jake Crosby said:

    Let’s put this into perspective: Elsevier retracts Dr. Wakefield’s peer-reviewed work. Meanwhile, the editorial board of your own journal – Nature – rejects the work of another scientist, Professor Richard Deth, which provides further evidence of dairy/gluten intolerance in people with autism, blocking it from being able to enter the peer-review process.

    In sharp contrast, you were able to attend a meeting where Dr. Wakefield gives his side to what often gets reported as a very one-sided story by “science journalists” like you, and ask a totally inappropriate question. You could have even phrased it in such a way that you might have gotten a response, but instead you appealed to emotion and knowingly asked a question that no self-respecting person would dignify with an answer and would provoke outrage. Then you get upset that your totally loaded question did not get an answer, complaining about it here on your blog for Nature, a journal that stifles autism research.

    Mr. Dolgin, if anyone in attendance at that NAA meeting in New York is part of a censorship process, it would be you, not Dr. Wakefield or any of his supporters.

  3. Report this comment

    Chris said:

    Young Master Crosby:

    In sharp contrast, you were able to attend a meeting where Dr. Wakefield gives his side to what often gets reported as a very one-sided story by “science journalists” like you, and ask a totally inappropriate question.

    And the audience blocked the answer to her second question by being loud! How exactly is that different from the extreme moderation exercised by the Age of Autism blog you write for?

    I do know one question I would ask Dr. Wakefield if he has a talk near where I live. It would be “Which version of the MMR was the Lancet study supposed to be concerned with? The on approved in the UK before or after 1992?”. Do you have that answer Mr. Crosby?

  4. Report this comment

    Stop Jenny said:

    Oh Jake, you never change. After many months, I’ve yet to see you write a single piece over at Age of Autism that ever addressed the science behind your ideology. In fact every single piece has had the same exact message: Everyone who disagrees with you is a “big pharma shill” with a conflict of interest. And after Dr. Gorski explained to you at length why your libelous accusations were off the mark, you’ve yet to retract even one word of your one-sided hit piece.

    And for someone who wasn’t even at this lecture, you seem to know an awful lot about what went on there. Well I was there and personally heard members of your cult start muttering to themselves that Mr. Dolgin was a big pharma shill the moment he said even the slightest thing that deviated from your dogma. Don’t pretend that your community is full of rational people who aren’t anti-vaccine when they can’t handle even the slightest dissent and, in the case of Ms. Stagliano, will flat-out admit to Mr. Dolgin that she doesn’t care about logic or reason.

    BTW Elie, I appreciated briefly meeting you the other night. I was the only other guy in the room who wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. I’m planning on writing up my own account of the proceedings, which will hopefully appear on the Gotham Skeptic website in a few days. And Jake, if you see this, I’d be happy to hear your feedback provided it does not include libel.

  5. Report this comment

    J Eastwood said:

    Let’s remind ourselves about Dr Wakefield: erased from the UK medical register on four counts of dishonesty (including financial fraud and research fraud) and 12 of abusing autistic children. His research has been retracted by three journals, and he was fired from his job in Texas.

    For an excellent summary of what he did:

    http://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-summary.htm

    Of course, his book is marked “not for sale in England”. I wonder why?

  6. Report this comment

    Kim said:

    The Q&A was ended for one reason only – because the NAA only had the space until approximately 8:30pm. It was well after 8pm and NAA needed to leave enough time for book signing, as had been promised to attendees (pre-event notices were clear as to the time frame for the event, the same time frame for all NAA events held in that space). In fact, the author of this article was able to ask more than one question and Dr. Wakefield politely answered each question posed to him – he did not “let the audience block” any question.

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    marco said:

    One day we will be eating hydrocarbons plastic, and there will be a “black sheep” scientist, very controversial, out of the chorus, trying to publish an article which states that, in the end, plastic is not that good for the human body…

    And there will be a bunch of “dull white sheep” scientists saying no, that plastic is very good for the human body, and there are many studies which prove that; and there will be “scientific” journalists ready to support and sustain that : “If you don’t eat your plastic, the rest of the classroom can die, because there would be non plastic contamination!” – “But i let you eat your plastic! Don’t force me, though, i don’t digest plastic!”

    For the outrage the journalist stands up, turns down, and bites his chair! Made of succulent red hydrocarbon plastic…

    Some people were young enough to ever have seen a real cow…but just plastic cows…and the story goes on…