Fascinating. You can’t look at a newspaper or news feed without seeing today’s AP story on the finding of fraud in Andrew Wakefield’s vaccine-autism study. CNN is into this story in a big way. Huffington Post ran the AP report. Amanda Gardner at HealthDay picked it up, which means it will go into further syndication. I can’t help wondering why it’s so important to put another nail in Wakefield’s professional coffin.
Or is it the vaccine-autism connection that’s supposedly being interred?
The BMJ opened the proceedings this week by publishing journalist Brian Deer’s investigative piece on the original Wakefield study of MMR vaccine and autism (Wakefield’s study was published in Lancet in February 1998). That report had already been repudiated by Wakefield’s coauthors, and retracted in 2010 by the Lancet‘s editors after investigation of Wakefield’s procedures. Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine in the UK. The Deer article was a parting shot.
An accompanying editorial by Fiona Godlee, Jane Smith, and Harvey Marcovitch, BMJ editors, was a well-taken and circumspect attempt at restoring confidence in measles immunization — on which, in their view, the work of Wakefield and colleagues had cast a shadow. The editors might not be right in blaming the 1998 Wakefield study for contemporary parents’ reluctance to get their kids immunized, but their aim is to make a reasonable, if arguable, public health point. To my reading, they haven’t got much of an axe to grind.
But then the whetstones began to turn. Jonathan Adler at Volokh cheers, wondering if now the “vaccine-autism charade” will end. Nick Gillespie is also celebratory, albeit more sedately, at Reason‘s blog.
At Age of Autism, John Stone tries to undermine the journalist (Deer) who wrote the fraud story. Stone is so rabid, and so ad hominem, in his attempts to destroy Deer that he manages to touch on not a single one of the reasons why it remains impossible to rule out a link between vaccines and autism. Elsewhere at AofA, the UK group CryShame’s response is published; it too focuses on Deer’s methods, not the substance.
Evidently, substance is nobody’s concern here. It’s about how news gets made. Gary Schwitzer, a really sharp observer of the journalism scene, notes that journalists made Wakefield’s reports newsworthy back in their day, and are now “playing a key role in uncovering and dismantling” the story.
The vaccine-autism connection is news because it continues to get everyone riled up.
The defenders of vaccination (to judge by their vigorous celebration every time some further insult is visited on Andrew Wakefield) keep hoping that the suspicions of such a connection will go away.
The skeptics about governments’ medical policing of private lives invoke the possibility that vaccines are associated with a really high profile Bad Thing — like autism — to further their case.
The people who are crying out for an explanation for why so many kids function autistically remain unsatisfied. (It’s not hard to see why they can’t get satisfaction: policy makers, invested in mass immunization, don’t want to do the studies that would really find out whether or not the multiple vaccinations that kids are supposed to undergo today might be related to neurological changes.)
Of course, all of that has to do with the substance of the problem. And what we’re seeing here, with Wakefield, with the revocation of his medical license last year, with this week’s fraud charge, and so on, isn’t substance at all. It’s gloating or it’s grumbling. Really, it’s not new. But it’s news.
This entry was posted on Thursday, January 6th, 2011 at 5:19 pm and is filed under autism, Ethics, Health Professions, News, Physicians. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.