Panel finds MMR scare doctor 'acted unethically'
January 28, 2010 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited. The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.
[...] The panel said Dr Wakefield, who was working at London's Royal Free Hospital as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or relevant qualifications for such tests.

The GMC also took exception with the way he gathered blood samples. Dr Wakefield paid children £5 for the samples at his son's birthday party.
posted by mdpatrick (25 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Doh. Should've made the headline a part of the short description. sorry. Still getting used to mefi! <3
posted by mdpatrick at 5:33 PM on January 28, 2010

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:34 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

When my son was a toddler, I struggled over whether to give him a MMR vaccination, and 22 years later, he died in a car accident. I should have known better. :(
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 5:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I was always so excited to see strange men at birthday parties offering pocket money for blood samples when I was a kid. It's so sad to see that this was actually a bad sign.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:39 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I wish there were a mercury-free vaccination against gullibility and poor critical thinking skills.
posted by DU at 5:41 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Scientists of the original study renouncing their conclusions:

"We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between (the) vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raised," the scientists said in the retraction.

"Hey, man, we're not saying that the vaccines cause autism per se... but it makes you think, don't it..."

These guys are really bad at science.
posted by Consonants Without Vowels at 6:01 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

So this GMC is a gang of paid lackeys for Big Pharma. That's the subtext here, right?
posted by klanawa at 6:02 PM on January 28, 2010

You don't say.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:15 PM on January 28, 2010

In other news, CIA agent who claimed torture works was talking completely out of his ass.

It must be "duh" day on the blue.
posted by fatbird at 6:23 PM on January 28, 2010

Ben Goldacre in The Guardian wishes to remind that this should not let the media off the hook.

Dr Andrew Wakefield and the other authors called for a suspension of the MMR vaccine, so any excuse that they never meant to cause a plunge in vaccinations is a little thin. They pretty much said it shouldn't be used, even though they never said there was a causal link.
posted by Sova at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2010

In other news, CIA agent who claimed torture works was talking completely out of his ass.

It must be "duh" day on the blue.

You know...I'm against capital punishment...still...I think. But good god, metafilter comes up with with some EXCELLENT arguments to institute public executions.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:23 PM on January 28, 2010

Dr Wakefield paid children £5 for the samples at his son's birthday party.
...Whist dressed as a clown...?
posted by Webbster at 8:19 PM on January 28, 2010

Ben Goldacre in The Guardian wishes to remind that this should not let the media off the hook.

Which is funny, because you know where I first heard about this study? A banner headline on the front page of The Guardian.

Remind me, has The Guardian printed a retraction of that story yet?
posted by dw at 9:14 PM on January 28, 2010

dw: I think the Guardian is doing penance by publishing Ben Goldacre on a regular basis.
posted by pharm at 1:19 AM on January 29, 2010

dw: I think you must be referring to the Observer's lead story on 8 July 2007, 'New health fears over big surge in autism'. Ben Goldacre demolished it in the Guardian (the Observer's sister paper) ten days later, on 18 July, and the Observer subsequently removed the piece from its website, citing 'concerns about its accuracy', even though they never printed a formal retraction.

It seems unfair to single out the Observer for criticism when other papers did so much more to support Wakefield's claims, particularly the Daily Mail and, disgracefully, Private Eye, which went on defending Wakefield long after it became clear that there were serious problems with his research. As far as I know, neither the Mail nor the Eye has ever published any retraction of their MMR coverage.

On the other hand, full marks to the Sunday Times for publishing Brian Deer's articles exposing Wakefield's misbehaviour -- investigative journalism at its best. It was Deer who also revealed the bizarre behaviour of Wakefield's sidekick, Carol 'Try me, shithead' Stott.
posted by verstegan at 2:58 AM on January 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Does paying for blood samples mean the results might be wrong?
posted by caddis at 4:06 AM on January 29, 2010

Wakefield and his co-authors in the paper (those who didn't retract) are, essentially, a medical version of Glenn Beck. What they did completely fits the Beck-ian paradigm:

"Important/good thing X, to me, appears to cause/to be linked to/to be the same as horrible/evil thing Y. Now there's no proof of this, but I'm just sayin' ... it's something to think about."

Beck launches his crap-bombs of guilt-by-fanciful association on a rabid wing of the public hungry for someone to blame, and then disclaims himself of any responsiblity for the unintended consequences.

Wakefield and his ilk (see Paul Offit's wonderful book for a full exposition) did the same thing. I'm not saying, in any way, that all parents of children with autism are the parental/medical equivalent of Tea Partyists. But for any tragedy - autism, unemployment, recession - there's a group of people who are looking for someone to lash out at and blame.

As far as I'm concerned, by using the voice of authority that comes (deserved or not) with having a medical degree and access to publishing in the Lancet, to falsely discredit vaccines, he's bears a large share of the responsiblity for the deaths of children whose parents opted not to vaccinate them against the diseases they died from.

Wakefield should be stripped of his professional privileges, in both the US and UK, to the fullest extent possible, and as far as I'm concerned, prosecuted for fraud in the UK. The damage he caused to pediatrician/patient relationships and to our public health system is enormous.
posted by scblackman at 7:04 AM on January 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

Does paying for blood samples mean the results might be wrong?

No, but it means his sampling methods were woefully inadequate. The £5 part is an ethical problem, not a scientific one. The scientific problem is the birthday party. It means he's using a very, very small and very nonrandom sample, which could be very misleading.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2010

Well, that will certainly convince the Jenny McCarthyites.
posted by Legomancer at 7:36 AM on January 29, 2010

I'm sure they are taking note of this in Ravelli County
posted by warbaby at 8:14 AM on January 29, 2010

"but it makes you think, don't it..."

If by "makes" you mean "actively encourages you not to" then yes, I would agree.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2010

Late to the thread, but I can't help but comment, since I just read the actual text of the GMC's report, which chronicles in exhaustive detail Wakefield's complete disregard for ethics in his treatment of the patients. The birthday party thing was the least of it, in my opinion. Far worse: he convinced twelve parents that their kids should undergo invasive procedures that were not clinically indicated simply to further his research, which was designed to prove the dubious need for a product that he had a financial stake in: "...a new vaccine for the elimination of MMR and measles virus and to a pharmaceutical or therapeutic composition for the treatment of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease); particularly Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis and regressive behavioural disease (RBD)..."
posted by gubenuj at 12:57 PM on February 2, 2010

The tragedy here is not just vaccinations not given.

Children on the autism spectrum need as much behavioral intervention as possible, as early as possible. When given it, they can improve substantially and sometimes reach normal functioning. Or at least get to the point where they can give Mom a hug, tell someone when they're hungry...but it's a constant race against time.

This sociopath caused so much time to be wasted. Truly a tragedy.
posted by kathrineg at 1:51 PM on February 2, 2010

According to CNN, The Lancet just retracted the study:
"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.

Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said he reviewed the General Medical Council report regarding Wakefield's conduct.

"It's the most appalling catalog and litany of some the most terrible behavior in any research and is therefore very clear that it has to be retracted," he said."
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:35 PM on February 2, 2010

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