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Andrew Wakefield: 17 years of disputed research, and now a book

Andrew Wakefield: famous in some circles and infamous in others. In February, the Lancet retracted his 1998 article that linked autism to the MMR vaccine and set off the modern anti-vaccine movement. Last week, the U.K. medical register revoked his license to practice medicine. But there’s more to the ex-surgeon’s story than just autism and the MMR vaccine.

According to an article on Slate.com, Wakefield has an almost 20-year history of disputed research practices, beginning with a 1993 paper in which he asserted that the measles virus causes Crohn’s disease:

He conducted biotechnology studies, liver studies, and even looked at the effects of smoking and the contraceptive pill on Crohn’s disease; an unusual array of work for one researcher. Wakefield was desperately trying to make his name in research, and it didn’t seem to matter what field it was in.

When three separate scientific reviews panned his Crohn’s research, he went on to develop the MMR vaccine-autism theory that made his name.

Despite the retraction, his revoked medical license, and a bevy of scientific evidence against him, Wakefield maintains that his vaccine-autism theory is sound. He recently published a book in which he defends himself and his theory against naysayers. And according to the Slate article, he has relocated to the U.S., where he still has a fan base.

Previously: How the false MMR vaccine-autism connection was perpetuated and It’s over: no MMR vaccine-autism connection

2 Responses to “ Andrew Wakefield: 17 years of disputed research, and now a book ”

  1. Hand Gel G Says:

    Whilst there may be much to question in Dr. Wakefield’s research, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with Dr. William McBride who was instrumental in stopping the nightmare that was – and (arguably) is Thalidomide; and was struck-off for questionable research; and subsequently reinstated.
    One of the advantages that a corporation has over an individual is that any unfortunate research is viewed as a flaw in the individual rather than the organisation.
    The British government did not need to ban the use of the separate inoculations, thus forcing every parent in the UK to either give their child the MMR jab or not inoculate at all; nobody likes to feel forced into giving their child something they have misgivings about.
    It’s useful to remember that the governments first reaction to human form vCJD in the 80′s was to cut all research.
    I’m not saying Dr. Wakefield is right; it’s just important to put his ‘disputed research practices’ in context.

  2. patienz Says:

    As the Slate article points out, Wakefield was repeatedly wrong. It happens that he was continually let down both by false-positive reactions in his work and by his belief that false-positives should be believed and true negative results disbelieved so long as he stayed true to his beliefs–regardless of the results.

    This is hubris, but the tragedy is that so many misguided people continue to believe him.

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