Wakefield Struck Off
By Keir Liddle
Andrew Wakefield, one of the key players in the MMR-autism debacle, has been struck off today, after the GMC found him guilty of serious professional misconduct over the way he carried out his controversial research. The research involved Wakefield unethically carrying out invasive procedures on children to collect blood samples.
At the same time, he was being paid to carry out a study on behalf of solicitor Richard Barr acting for parents concerned that their children had been “vaccine damaged”. He failed to reveal this conflict of interests at the time, and in February of this year, the Lancet retracted his 1998 paper, noting that elements of the manuscript had been falsified. The exceptional digging of journalist Brian Deer also uncovered that Wakefield had patented a single vaccine for measles before the media-stoked MMR panic began in earnest.
However, while we may be glad that Wakefield has been appropriately sanctioned for his unethical research, we should consider that many people, such as Jenny McCarthy in California, have taken up the baton against MMR, and bought into the discredited link between the triple jab vaccine and autism. Other anti-vax supporters like journalist Jane Burgermeister also fly the flag for fear and paranoia about vaccines, as do people like Mike Adams of naturalnews.com.
We should also consider how the media is characterising today’s events and Wakefield’s role in the MMR farrago. The media has in effect absolved itself from any blame. Ben Goldacre has vocally pointed out the media’s responsibility in reporting health and seemingly being more concerned with making science and medicine “interesting” to the public, by reducing health matters to either miracle cures or scare mongering.
The media’s attempt to absolve itself from blame is worrying, as what the media need to do is reflect on how they report health and related matters, considering how to do this responsibly. Ignoring the problem and adopting the narrative of “but an expert told us” simply will not cut it, particularly if you ignore all the experts who then point out that you were wrong.
The media’s involvement in the MMR story helped persuade people that there was a link between MMR and autism, despite the vast swathes of evidence to the contrary. As a result, vaccine rates dip below those necessary for herd immunity, and outbreaks of measles were seen in areas where vaccination rates were low. Unfortunatley we can’t have the journalists and editors who promoted bad science on MMR (or any other issue) struck off and nor is the PCC a particularly robust method of industry regulation.
So while we may be glad that this particular battle against anti-vax nonsense has been (eventually) won, the war for reason and evidence in health care, and public reporting thereof, is far from over.