Bronze-level articleAndrew Wakefield

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Andrew Wakefield is a British former physician and medical researcher and is one of the originators of the modern anti-vaccine movement. He is best known for his fraudulent study alleging a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.


The Lancet study

In 1998, Wakefield wrote a research paper (co-authored by 12 other scientists) on a dozen children with autistic spectrum disorders who had been admitted for bowel problems. According to the paper, eight of the children developed both irritable bowel syndrome and behavioral regression within 14 days of receiving the MMR shot. This suggested a link between the vaccination and the regression.[1] Although he never specifically claimed that MMR caused autism in these cases, he did campaign for the triple-dose to be discontinued until it could be further studied, saying "I can't support the continued use of these three vaccines given in combination until this issue has been resolved."[2] His stance at the time was similar to the "Too Many, Too Soon" refrain currently popular among anti-vaccine advocates.[3]

Conflicts of interest

By 2004, new allegations were surfacing that called Wakefield's objectivity into question. Investigative journalist Brian Deer uncovered evidence that suggested that Wakefield was receiving money from trial lawyers while he was writing his study. Given that the study set off several lawsuits, this indicated a serious (and undisclosed) conflict of interest.[4]

The study collapses

Of course, just because Wakefield behaved unethically doesn't necessarily mean that the study was false. While the study was always suspect due to its tiny sample size and lack of good follow-up studies, evidence that it was outright false did not surface until 2009. An investigation into the study revealed that some of the information that Wakefield used was different than the information found in the medical records of the subjects. While Wakefield had claimed that the behavioral regression had started within 14 days of vaccination, the actual records indicated that this was not true for most of the children, and some of them had already shown signs of regression before receiving the shot.[5]

As a result of the growing concern over Wakefield's ethical lapses and possibly fraudulent behavior, the Lancet formally retracted the study in February 2010.[6]

The GMC strikes Wakefield off

In 2007, the General Medical Council began investigations into Wakefield's conduct. Among the charges against Wakefield were allegations that he paid for subjects and lab specimens (notably an incident where he obtained blood samples from children at his son's birthday party) and that he ordered unnecessary and painful procedures for children whose symptoms did not warrant them.[7] In 2010, the disciplinary committee ruled that Wakefield had deliberately misled his patients and ignored their personal interests in favor of his own.[8]

Wakefield still commonly claims the title "Dr" (his degree has not been withdrawn by Imperial College) and the initials "FRCS"[9] (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons). The latter is something he is not entitled to[10] — he stopped paying his membership dues in July 1996 (before the famous paper) and so has not been a FRCS since that date.

Post Lancet

Wakefield moved to Texas and in 2005 started Thoughtful House, which claims to be able to treat autism spectrum disorder. After Wakefield's highly public defrocking he stepped down from the head of Thoughtful House and moved on to start the Strategic Autism Initiative, which at the moment appears to be little more than a fund raising shell.


In early 2011, the BMJ (the direct competitor to the Lancet, it should be noted) published an article in which it was proved that Wakefield's findings weren't based on mistakes and sloppy data, but rather on fraud.[11] The paper begins with the damning sentence:

Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare

It goes on to say:

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross. Moreover, although the scale of the GMC’s 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards.

Unfortunately, even in the face of this overwhelming evidence, at least two idiots are determined to press on with their claims of a link between the vaccine and autism.[12]

Current activities

Wakefield's medical ambitions having been stifled, he is now appearing as a speaker at conspiracy crank events.[13]

In January 2012, Wakefield filed a defamation suit against Brian Deer, the British Medical Journal and the BMJ's editor Fiona Godlee personally.[9] The BMJ Group has noted that they stand by their article.[14] (And pointedly call him "Mr. Wakefield" throughout the press release to this effect.)

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