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Lauer asks Wakefield: “Is that it?”

May 24th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Critical thinking

It’s been a very bad day for Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced UK gastroenterologist famous for birthing the latest wave of vaccine rejectionism. First, the General Medical Council stripped Wakefield of his license to practice medicine. Then, in an ill-advised effort to salvage his public image, Wakefield sat down for an interview with an irritable Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

“Is this the final blow to your credibility?” asked Lauer, checking off a partial list of blows: the multiple studies that disprove Wakefield’s fraudulent 1998 study, The Lancet retraction, and the twin losses of job and medical license.

“Is that it?” asked Lauer again, like he needed permission to stop booking this guy.

Wakefield was ready with two old, discredited talking points.

“The findings that we made originally have been replicated in five different countries of the world, so the bowel disease in these children exists,” said Wakefield. He’s talking about an unpublished abstract of a five-year-old meeting; two case studies of GI disease in one and two autistic adults, respectively; a Venezuelan study that specifically failed to support Wakefield’s hypothesis; and a “study” in a journal that Wakefield himself edits. Lauer, still unclear whether it’s OK to ignore Wakefield, tried to move one.

Wakefield, speaking over Lauer as he tried to ask another question, said that the US government has been “secretly” conceding a link between vaccines and autism since 1991. As Sullivan at LBRB points out today, this “bombshell” was first dropped by anti-vaccine publicist David Kirby last summer:

And, more than 1,300 vaccine court cases were already paid out for encephalopathy and seizure disorders. We will soon learn how many of those children also have an ASD, though I can confirm now that it appears to be far, far higher than the1-in-150 rate reported by CDC.

Published VICP decisions include at least nine instances in which compensation was awarded for the lifelong care of children and young adults who were diagnosed with autism or related conditions after they sustained documented, verifiable vaccine injuries.
That’s nine cases out of 2,100 where compensation was awarded, for a rate of 1:233. Even if we double the number of cases of autism, the overall rate is still less than the latest CDC prevalence of 1:100. In other words, the rate of autism among compensable VICP cases is no higher than what is expected in the population at large.
So to recap:
Is it OK for the news and entertainment media to ignore Wakefield? No, according to Wakefield. Lauer is still on the fence.
Why is Wakefield still credible? Because five studies that aren’t really studies, including one that disagrees with Wakefield, and one unpublished meeting abstract, support what Wakefield says, even though every bona fide researcher in the world disagrees.
Anything else? An anti-vaccine publicist wrote one year ago that the US government has been conceding a causal relationship between vaccines and autism, but there is no evidence for such a claim, and the vaccine court’s own website says that no instance of vaccine-induced autism has ever been compensated.
Is that it? Not if you ignore the internationally-publicized decision by US vaccine court where three judges found no association between vaccines and autism.

Wakefield was right on one important point: we haven’t heard the last of him. As long as news outlets book first and ask questions later, the public will be exposed to all manner of pseudoscience and medical quackery.



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mike stanton // May 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Interviewed in the UK he had a different talking point. He was questioned hard on the decline in uptake of MMR vaccine and his responsibility. He argued that it was the government who caused the problem by withdrawing the import licence for single vaccines and that he had a duty to his patients to speak up, regardless of the impact on public confidence. At the time Wakefield had no patients under his care. It was written into his contract that he did not treat patients. He was employed as a lecturer and researcher, not as a doctor.

  • 2 Clay // May 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I hope we haven’t heard the last of Wakefield – I hope to read of him getting some jail time. Is that even a possibility?

  • 3 Patrick // May 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I second the motion for jailtime, if practicing without authorization is a criminal offense then a number of the patients he ordered invasive examinations for probably have the right to press charges.

    BTW Clay, some part of the comment box doesn’t work for me on your Comet’s site, but in general, Keep up the good work! (Not sure what my firewall or browser dont like … for months now.)

  • 4 Ted // May 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Clay, do you have a child on the spectrum or know someone who does? I get the feeling that there is a relatve or someone you know with a Pfiser I.D. badge.

    Until you can tell me what causes autism, don’t tell me what doesn’t.

  • 5 Joseph // May 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    @Ted: Do you have anything of interest to contribute other than the incredibly paranoid and boring pharma-shill gambit?

    (BTW, Clay is autistic. In my experience, the vast majority of commenters in autism blogs are either parents or autistic people.)

  • 6 Clay // May 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    @ Patrick – Firefox is a great browser, I hope you will try it so you can comment on my blog.

    @ Ted – I’ve been autistic for 63 years, something you could have found out if you’d bothered to click on my name to visit my blog. Instead, you’re just a lazy troll.

  • 7 Prometheus // May 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Ted comments:

    “Until you can tell me what causes autism, don’t tell me what doesn’t.”

    Ah, the ever-popular “argument from ignorance” fallacy! How nice!

    Fortunately, reality doesn’t work that way, as a simple example can demonstrate:

    If Col. Mustard is murdered in the kitchen with an axe, it is not reasonable to assume that if you don’t know who did murder him that you can’t determine who didn’t commit the murder. Yet that is exactly what Ted claims.

    To extend this example, the police detectives will eliminate people as potential suspects as they check on alibis and any physical evidence at the scene. Even though they may never determine who the killer was, they will have a long list of who was not the killer.

    If the police couldn’t eliminate suspects until they knew who the killer was, we would all be under suspicion of murder. Yet, happily, we are not.

    One of the curious assymetries of logic is that while correlation does not equal causation, a lack of correlation usually does equal a lack of causation.

    In other words, if something – an exposure, a genetic mutation, a therepeutic intervention – is not associated with autism, we can safely assume that it does not cause autism.

    That’s how we know that there are things that don’t cause autism, even though we don’t yet know what does cause autism.

    I hope that Ted finds this explanation helpful.


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