Only a few days into 2011, and already it is clear that there will be no respite in the media disinformation campaign against Dr Andrew Wakefield. Now, however, as the drive to discredit him enters a ludicrous and even farcical phase, people may begin to realise the extent of the lies and distortions surrounding Dr Wakefield, vaccines and autism.
Last year, the UK medical journal, The Lancet, retracted the 1998 case series of 12 children written by Wakefield’s group. This paper proposed a new syndrome, which involved autistic spectrum disorder associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Now, the other big hitter in the world of UK medical journals, the British Medical Journal or BMJ, has waded into the fray with an editorial entitled “The fraud behind the MMR scare” – which tells you all you need to know about which side of the fence the author resides!
But why the sudden interest in Wakefield from the BMJ now? Wakefield and his co-author, Professor John Walker-Smith, were both struck off the General Medical Council’s register last year, thus preventing them from legally practising as doctors in the UK. Surely that’s the end of the matter? Well, no, apparently not: according to the BMJ, they have now read the entire 6-million word transcript from the GMC proceedings – and have uncovered such a level of “fraud” that they have no choice but to write this editorial and three further articles detailing the evil practices of Wakefield and his co-conspirators. Given that the entire GMC hearing was held with the express purpose of finding Dr Wakefield, and his co-accused if possible, guilty as charged, on one level this is hardly surprising.
Fortunately, on hand to help them write these vital articles is Brian Deer, the freelance journalist who was a key instigator of the media disinformation campaign against Dr Wakefield. His articles for the Sunday Times accused Wakefield of a host of offences, most pertinently of ‘fixing’ the children’s case histories to invent an association between the triple measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine and the children’s subsequent descent into autism.
It is important to note here that the Lancet paper was not a research paper, although it did call for further scientific investigation into the area. Neither did it make any conclusions regarding a possible association between the new syndrome and the MMR jab. It merely noted that some of the parents felt strongly that their children’s autistic symptoms began soon after they received the MMR injection. It is also important to remember that Wakefield is not ‘anti-vaccine’ and has never recommended that parents avoid vaccinating their children. All he has said is that he could not recommend the triple MMR vaccine – instead advising parents to use single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. The UK government thoughtfully cancelled the import licenses for single vaccines after his comment was widely reported.
This is an unprecedented situation: one of the UK’s premier medical journals has seen fit to commission a journalist, with no formal scientific background, to write a series of articles on the single most controversial topic in the fields of medicine and public health to have hit the UK in recent history. Will these articles be subject to peer review, we wonder, or will Deer have carte blanche to simply repeat the empty accusations he has made numerous times already – and even add to them? Will Dr Wakefield or any of his colleagues, particularly Professor Walker-Smith, be granted right of reply? Somehow, we doubt it. The BMJ editorial repeats almost verbatim Deer’s past allegations concerning Wakefield, but fails to mention the fact that Wakefield addressed the vast majority of these allegations in his recent book, Callous Disregard.
For us, the timing of this new onslaught is very telling. Wakefield’s book came out in June 2010. Could a new round of smears now be required, to counter any effect that “the other side of the story” is having on public opinion? Callous Disregard shows conclusively that Deer’s accounts of Wakefield’s activities, in his articles and on his website, are by no means the last word on the subject. Many times, Deer appears to work from the pre-determined position that Wakefield is guilty of scientific fraud, hardly what one would expect of an impartial investigator. And of the journalist so honoured by the august BMJ, the Sunday Times’ own lawyer commented that “relations between BD [Brian Deer] and the Sunday Times are at the best of times volatile and there wasn’t a story we published in the Sunday Times which wasn’t heavily rewritten or cut back.”
What we are witnessing with the pursuit of Dr Wakefield by the UK establishment is nothing less than a witch-hunt. The UK public are not stupid – sooner or later, they will realise that the wool is being pulled over their eyes in a huge way. We can only hope that desperate tactics like this from the BMJ will hasten that day.
Updated: 10 Jan 2011
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