We recently discussed here on LeftBrainRightBrain some sections of the transcripts from the GMC fitness to practice hearing that was held for Andrew Wakefield. I’ve recently added Mr. Wakefield’s book, Callous Disregard to my reading mix. Frequent visitors to LeftBreainRightBrain may have noticed that my blogging output has dropped. There is just so much, so much, to respond to in that book that it has become difficult to find good and somewhat brief examples of the misinformation that Mr. Wakefield is attempting.
As you can see, even this example isn’t so brief. But it does show a clear example of Mr. Wakefield’s methods, past and present.
Mr. Wakefield likes to use citations. They look good and, if you don’t look closely, they make it seem like he has data to back up his claims. Catherina at JustTheVax blogged that Andrew Wakefield uses references to support his ideas, but if you follow those references you get a very different story. Catherina’s example showed that Mr. Wakefield claimed that his work has been replicated by others when, in fact, his references showed nothing of the sort. No surprise: he does this again in his book. The citations don’t prove his point. Much to the contrary, in fact.
Following that sleight of hand, as I followed some of his references and checked with the GMC hearing transcirpts I kept finding more and more examples of exactly why he lost his license to practice medicine.
1) Mr. Wakefield knew full well that many of the parents of the children being seen at the Royal Free were on the road to litigation. Not only that, but Mr. Wakefield’s stated goal was “...to make sure that their legal cases are presented in the best possible light”.
2) Mr. Wakefield did not make his activities with the legal aid board public. He informed one of his authors, but there isn’t evidence he informed the other 11. If he knew it was important to inform one author, why leave the rest in the dark about his activities?
3) Mr. Wakefield claims that a news story made his activities public. The news story never mentions his name. In fact, it tends to prove just what Mr. Wakefield denies. The news article states that the study at the Royal Free was being organised by silicitors.
Orac over at Respectful Insolence would call “Callous Disregard” a “target rich environment”. At some point, when every page, every sentence, every reference has a high probability of being false, it becomes something worse. I have to pull in a popular culture reference—the Princess Bride—as this is what comes to mind as I read “Callous Disregard”: it is a land war in Asia.
This comes to mind because I am bogged down and it is only chapter 1.
Chapter 1 of his book is entitled “That Paper” and focuses on the 1998 article in the Lancet. Mr. Wakefield published essentially the same discussion of “That Paper” in the magazine The Autism File.
Let’s just pick a couple of the so-called “myths”, shall we? From Callous Disregard:
My involvement as a medical expert was kept “secret”.
He informed his “senior” coathors? Why not everyone? Let’s take a look at citation 15, shall we?
 Correspondence between Dr. Wakefield and Professor Waker-Smith, February 3, 1997 and February 20, 1997.
Do you know based on that what letters he is talking about? They are in the transcripts for the GMC hearing, and they are in the press complaints commission (PCC) complaint that Mr. Wakefield filed (is he actually moving on that at all, by the way? It seems to be hanging for a long time with no activity).
The letters are reproduced below.
Note a few things here. This is in February 1997. That’s a year before the Lancet study was published. Mr. Wakefield’s letter is not to his “senior coauthors”, plural, but to one coauthor. He had 13 authors. So were eleven co-authors left in the dark? Why only let one author know?
Also note that the children in the Lancet study had already been seen at the Royal Free. Child 1 was admitted in July 1996. Mr. Wakefield had seen the children and he knew that many were pursuing claims. Mr. Wakefield felt it his duty to “...make sure their legal cases are presented in the best possible light”.
That is a very clear conflict of interest.
Here is the letter:
Here is Prof. Walker-Smith’s response. Note this sentence (with emphasis added): “It is clear that the legal involvement by nearly all the parents will have an effect on the study as they have a vested interest.”
Prof. Walker-Smith made a very good comment here: I would have been less concerned by legal involvement if our work were complete and we had a firm view. Never before in my career have I been confronted by litigant parents of research work in progress. I think this makes our work difficult, especially publication and presentation.
Another “myth” which Mr. Wakefield chose to address:
Children were litigants.
I don’t know what definition of “litigant” Mr. Wakefield is using, but “nearly all” of the parents were involved in preparing legal action, according to Dr. Walker-Smith. Also, Mr. Wakefield was working to “...make sure their legal cases are presented in the best possible light”.
Mr. Wakefield can define terms and redefine the English language however he wishes. I deserved to hear that the parents were pursuing legal action and I deserved to hear that Mr. Wakefield was working to help those families in their cause.
Let’s go back to another statement by Mr. Wakefield.
This fact [Mr. Wakefield’s involvement as a medical expert] was also reported in the national press 15 months prior to publication.
As evidence of this He cites this article in the Independent . The article doesn’t mention Andrew Wakefield at all, much less mention his side job as a paid expert for the MMR litigation:
The article  can be found on Brian Deer’s website. I copy it here, but will replace it with a link should he make that request.
Law: A shot in the dark; The complications from vaccine damage seem to multiply in the courtroom, writes Grania Langdon-Down
There is no reference to Andrew Wakefield in the above article. The reference to the study at the Royal Free is this paragraph:
William is one of 10 children taking part in a pilot study at the Royal Free Hospital in London, which is investigating possible links between the measles vaccine with the bowel disorder Crohn’s Disease, and with autism. The study is being organised by Norfolk solicitors Dawbarns, one of two firms awarded a contract in 1994 to co-ordinate claims resulting from the MMR vaccine.
“The study is being organised by Norfolk solicitors Dawbarns….”
So, an article which Mr. Wakefield cites in his defense states that there is a study ongoing, organised by solicitors, on the link between mealses vaccine, bowel disorder and autism.
Keep that in mind when you read this other so-called “myth”:
I’ve only covered some of the “myths”, and that is only part of chapter 1 of “Callous Disregard”. There are 13 chapters, an afterword and an epilogue. There are hundreds upon hundreds of pages of GMC testimony.
It is a land war in Asia. I don’t plan to drag myself or LBRB through it all. My hat is off to the people who sat through the entire GMC hearing, read and reread the transcripts and boiled it down to a decision, only to have Mr. Wakefield attempt to rewrite history, complete with citations.