Irresponsible and Dishonest

February 2, 2010 · 2 comments

Lancet clippings

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about Andrew Wakefield’s falsification of data linking vaccines and autism, calling his behavior “irresponsible and criminal.” Last week the General Medical Council, the British medical licensing body, arrived at the same conclusion:

In reaching its decision, the Panel notes that the project reported in the Lancet paper was established with the purpose to investigate a postulated new syndrome and yet the Lancet paper did not describe this fact at all. Because you drafted and wrote the final version of the paper, and omitted correct information about the purpose of the study or the patient population, the Panel is satisfied that your conduct was irresponsible and dishonest.

The Panel is satisfied that your conduct at paragraph 32.a would be considered by ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people to be dishonest.

Though it may be couched in classic British understatement, this is a vicious condemnation, albeit richly deserved.

Following the report’s publication, a retraction notice was posted in The Lancet today:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, 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.

I love it when a plan comes together this nicely. Unfortunately, this won’t put much of a dent in the anti-vax supporters. Wakefield may lose his license to practice in the UK, but he has already relocated to Texas, where he runs Thoughtful House and supervises questionable procedures on autistic children. Fortunately, watchdog journalists are still on the case, in particular the Science Based Medicine blog which published a much more thorough analysis of the GMC ruling, and Brian Deer, whom I will leave with the last word:

On American television in August he was asked what effect being struck off [having his license revoked] would have on him. Wakefield replied: “Well, I think my credibility among the people who I believe count — that is the children who are affected, the parents of the children who are affected — will probably remain completely unchanged.”

He may be right. “We are a very welcoming, somewhat renegade, community,” said a paediatrician who works in Austin but is no fan of Wakefield. “Even the lynching he’s had in our local paper is probably not enough to turn parents away. But hopefully it will turn away the financial backers. Only time will tell.”

The town’s motto, she said, is “Keep Austin Weird”. Its citizens should have come to the GMC last week.

2 comments

Ryan February 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm

This son of a bitch is in my town? Dammit, Texas. I love you, but some times…

David February 3, 2010 at 11:07 am

He probably picked your town for purely mercenary reasons. Austin’s large urban professional population would provide him with a decent sampling of autistic children, and Texas’ now-infamous judicial system would afford him protection he wouldn’t find in the northeast or west coast.

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