the gmc’s pyrrhic victory over wakefield

May 25, 2010 — Leave a comment

After a long, drawn out process, the British General Medical Council finally took away Andy Wakefield’s right to practice medicine in the UK. Technically, we should be closing the book on vaccine scares considering that a central figure behind them was found to have performed unethical research for a trial lawyer looking for a way to start a novel series of lawsuits, collected blood from children without following the strict rules governing the matter, and created such a self-serving, irreproducible study, most of his co-authors retracted their signatures from it. But if anything, the GMC scored a meaningless victory over a greedy crank who will use it to bolster his claims of being martyred by a Big Pharma conspiracy. His horde of supporters is used to protecting him from the skeptical public, and in its veneration, simply can’t allow its members to realize that they’ve been taken for a ride when it comes to the subject of vaccines and the only beneficiary of their crusade is Wakefield’s wallet.

I very rarely say this about anyone, but when it comes to Wakefield and his endless stream of lies in the press and to his supporters, I feel I have to. He’s not just a crank or a denialist, he’s also a terrible human being. We can look at J.B. Handley’s inane outbursts against doctors and scientists, or the anti-vaccinationists’ hate and fear of vaccines even in the face of volumes of clinical rebuttals, or even Jenny McCarthy’s dangerous ignorance, and find at least some element which redeems their efforts from a human perspective. They might be a thousand times wrong in selecting vaccines as the culprit for today’s pressing pediatric problems, but at least they actually do care about kids. Wakefield and greedy, thoughtless quacks like him are just doing it for the money. Here are some numbers to consider. For his work in trying to find some sort of justification for a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers, Wakefield was paid over £439,000 in fees and expenses. Add to this the application for £55,000 in research grants, and his own version of the MMR vaccine for which he had a patent. Now isn’t it a little suspicious that someone with his own version of an MMR vaccine which could’ve made him millions writes a study trying to paint the existing shot as autism in a syringe for a lawyer itching to sue pharmaceutical companies for billions, then doesn’t mention any of this when submitting his work?

And that’s far from all for Andy. When he moved to Texas and opened a clinic bilking parents for quack autism cures to the tune of thousands of dollars and torturing kids with pseudoscientific procedures, he was paid as much as $270,000 a year. Now, he’s also finishing a book about his supposed martyrdom, speaking at anti- vaccination activists’ rallies, and will most certainly be using his public disgrace as a doctor in the UK to drive his speaking fees way, way up. By the standards of the anti-vaccination movement, which thinks that having a cousin who had an interview with a pharmaceutical company invalidates anything you say about vaccines due to a conflict of interest, Andy’s greed should earn him nothing but permanent scorn. Of course Big Pharma are no angels and they do manipulate medical studies to suit their needs, but, ironically enough, while the anti- vaxers at Age of Autism skewer pharmaceutical companies for tainting science in the name of profit, they just can’t even bring themselves to consider that Wakefield did the exact same thing. Andy doesn’t care about the damage he causes and how many kids will suffer because of him, his cronies, and opportunistic quacks. His primary concern is his bank account, and as long as he takes care of his needs, he’s happy, even if he has to manufacture his results and conduct a study invalid and unethical at every conceivable level for it.

This is why in his latest media appearance, he blatantly lied about supposed under-the-table payouts for kids who developed autism after vaccinations (only a single, very complex case like this actually exists), and that his work with the MMR vaccines was being reproduced. Though on the last point, he neglected to mention the little disclaimer that the only person who reproduced his research was working at Thoughtful House and had some very substantial financial incentives to reproduce them. Where’s AoA and other anti-vaxers to point out a major conflict of interest? Oh, right. We’re talking about their demigod, the man who can do no wrong while he lines his pockets with children’s misery and parents’ fears, playing the medical Luddites’ fear for his gain. For the anti-vax deity that is Wakefield to err would lead people to question the anti-vax mantras and they just can’t allow that to happen. And that’s what makes Wakefield’s actions so low and worthy of contempt. As long as he makes a sad face and cries a few crocodile tears, the money keeps coming in and should anyone try to tackle his attempts at manipulating science, there’s an army of devotees who know and care nothing about medical matters to rise to his defense. From celebrity bobbleheads, alt med woo meisters and snake oil salespeople, dimwitted political pundits, and incompetent reporters, they’ll fight for him to their last breath.

We could throw any judgment we want at Wakefield and it won’t matter. He already set loose his lie, built up a devoted cult, and got the martyr act down to an art. His followers couldn’t care less about reason or evidence; they function on raw emotion, primarily fear of authority, fear of medicine, and fear of disease. Wakefield gave them a convenient scapegoat which combines all the things these people hate into a one, neat package. The science of the matter is totally irrelevant to them, it’s just “one of The Man’s tools to bring them down.” Maybe a better way to counter them would be to keep exposing Wakefield for the lying, greedy fraud he is just to open a dialogue about the science at hand rather than trying to teach medicine to scared and angry zealots.