From Abracadabra to Zombies
26 Jan 2011. About ten days ago a new website called Vaccine Safety First was set up in support of Andrew Wakefield. The site purports to be about vaccine safety, but it is obvious that it is mostly about supporting Wakefield. The front page of the site has a photo of Wakefield and his wife Carmel with 17-year-old Josh Edwards, who is autistic, outside the General Medical Council (GMC) on January 28, 2010, as they awaited word on a hearing regarding Wakefield's unethical MMR vaccine research. The photo is used for the cover of Wakefield's book Callous Disregard, in which he portrays himself as a maverick who has identified some sort of disease that involves both irritable bowels (IBS) and autism, and whose troubles are due to being persecuted for going against the medical and pharmaceutical establishments. Wakefield was struck off the medical register (banned from practicing medicine in the UK) in May 2010 after he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct over “unethical” research that sparked unfounded fears that the vaccine was linked to bowel disease and autism.
Another indication that Vaccine Safety First is more about Wakefield than about vaccine safety is that on the front page there is list of links to sites that purportedly present evidence that Wakefield did not commit fraud. The links have the following header:
NO FRAUD, NO HOAX. Here's Proof.
Studies That Support Wakefield
BMJ Must Retract
The last line in the header is a reference to the British Medical Journal's (BMJ) recently published piece entitled Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent.
There is a line of five tinted photos of a baby getting a shot at the top of the front page of the Vaccine Safety First website. Some of the articles listed as supporting Wakefield are about vaccine safety, but the site is clearly all about (1) defending Wakefield against the charges of fraud that have been established (albeit outside a court of law) against him and (2) supporting Wakefield's self-serving Callous Disregard with a foreword by Jenny McCarthy.
There are only three pages to the Vaccine Safety First website: Home, Experts, and Contact Us. The Experts link goes to the promo for Callous Disregard. The only "expert" is Andrew Wakefield and there is nothing on the page about vaccine safety. Rather, the Expert page is your standard persecution ploy with the transparent heading: How the vaccine apparatchiks and medical self-interest groups deal with dissent. As most readers probably already know, Andrew Wakefield stands alone against "the medical system that ...[is]... leaving millions of children to suffer and a world at risk." He alone is the true warrior, fighting against "the dystopian science and medicine that panders to commercial interest at the expense of your children." The only link on the so-called Experts page is a link to the promo site for Callous Disregard where we can "Learn more about Dr. Wakefield and his fight against autism, vaccines, and the truth behind a tragedy." In case you are wondering, there is nothing about vaccine safety on the callous-disregard.com site: it's all about the persecution of the martyr and maverick scientist who alone knows what causes the combo disease of IBS and autism.
Although Jeff Neugebauer is listed as the website registrant, the contact number listed on the Contact page is that of Elizabeth Horn of Horn Productions Inc., a filmmaking company. (Neugebauer is an artist who used to run a web design company. He told me that he was recruited to do the website by his wife, who does some PR work for Horn.) The email address that appears on screen reads firstname.lastname@example.org, but the link is to email@example.com and the phone number, 650-685-0435, is that of Horn Productions. Why would a filmmaker be supporting Wakefield? Google to the rescue: the answer is on the blog Click from Investor's Business Daily: Wife Of Netsuite CEO Backs Discredited Autism Doctor By J. Bonasia.
Elizabeth Horn, the wife of NetSuite (N) CEO Zach Nelson, is the mother of an autistic child who produced “Finding the Words,” a documentary about autism that highlighted Wakefield’s work. Her film company, Horn Productions, is based in Hillsborough, Calif., where she lives with Nelson. In 2009, Horn’s film was shown at an autism symposium in Berkeley, Calif., where Wakefield was the keynote speaker.
Wakefield was the guest speaker at two autism fundraisers hosted by Horn in her home on July 28 and Nov. 18. In the November talk, Wakefield claimed Big Pharma was funding efforts to discredit his research on vaccines....
Horn contends that the BMJ investigation misrepresented Wakefield’s work as a definitive medical study, when it fact is was only a case series that suggested the need for further research.
She says Wakefield’s supporters are merely searching for all potential causes of autism, a mysterious neural disorder that affects social and communication functions in young people.
“The claims being made about Andy Wakefield are just false,” Horn told IBD.
Horn has a daughter who was diagnosed with autism. Horn has also been entranced by "Andy." She's not the only one. I was alerted to the Vaccine Safety First website by one of the posters on The Skeptic's Dictionary Facebook page. The poster wrote of the website: "...here is the PROOF that Dr. Wakefield did not falsify documents or lie. Please feel free to post your apologies here or perhaps you can do the right thing and start a new thread with your apology."
There is no proof of anything on the website, so of course there will be no apology. There is, as noted above, a list of links on the front page of the site. Let's go through them. (For those who can't wait, jump to number 16. It's unbelievable.)
- Gastrointestinal disease in autism: REPLICATION and SUPPORTIVE STUDIES.
This is a 4-page list of published articles, many with Wakefield himself as one of the authors. There is no evaluation of any of the articles, but the titles indicate that many of them are about bowel problems and autistic people. Neither Wakefield nor any of his supporters have been able to point to evidence of anything more than the fact that many autistic children suffer from bowel problems. "The American Academy of Pediatricians reports there is no evidence to support a link between vaccine and autism or IBS. IBS tends to be triggered by stress and anxiety. It’s not difficult to understand a physical link between emotion and IBS when you consider that the bowel (as with lung and skin) develops from the same forerunner tissue in the embryo as the brain and nervous system. In regard [to] children experiencing IBS, it's important to be looking at what may be causing elevated levels of stress in their day (peer/teacher stressors/changes at home or school/tests etc.) to pinpoint the IBS trigger. For older teens/adults, elevated levels of stress may be down to work-related stress, friendship/relationship difficulties, financial pressures.
Despite some reports claiming IBS is more common in females than males, in actual fact, it’s just as common in both sexes. It’s often the case that people will experience a combination of mild and more severe symptoms, with flare-ups from time to time. It’s estimated that between one and three and one in five people will suffer from IBS at some point in their life."
[The reference should be to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Its website includes a paper on vaccine safety, which says, inter alia:
“Vaccines are safe. All vaccines must be tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA will not let a vaccine be given unless it has been proven to be safe and to work well in children. The data get reviewed again by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians before a vaccine is officially recommended to be given to children. Also, the FDA monitors where and how vaccines are made. The places where vaccines are made must be licensed. They are regularly inspected and each vaccine lot is safety-tested.”]
Temple Grandin writes that about half of high-functioning autistic adults have severe anxiety and panic attacks. (Thinking in Pictures). Wakefield did not discover the association between autism (or stress) and bowel problems. What he claimed to have discovered was evidence that the measles virus in the MMR shot caused both. He claimed to have discovered something new called "autistic enterocolitis."
- BMJ MUST RETRACT. This piece of "proof" is just a statement by Wakefield that he didn't falsify the data and that he stands by The Lancet paper. Wakefield's only "evidence" is a reference to the next item on the list.
- Evidence of Professor Walker-Smith. This is a transcript of testimony by John Walker-Smith given at the Wakefield hearing conducted by the General Medical Council (GMC) on 16 July 2008. Walker-Smith states that he had data on 7 of the 12 children in the original Wakefield et al. study that found a pattern of children with both IBS and autism. Walker-Smith was also found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the GMC and struck off the medical register for his role in carrying out procedures on the children. There is nothing new here.
- Wakefield's response to BMJ. This is a six-page statement by Wakefield "to set the record straight." This is just a repeat of the persecution/martyr ploy. “My goal is to find answers for children suffering from autism. There are two sides to this issue, I realize, and we have our differences. But our first priority as physicians must be to help the children who are suffering from autism, to find ways to treat them, and to protect other children from this disease. Our children must come first -- before the medical industry and before public health policy.” True but irrelevant to the charges against him. Wakefield again blames Walker-Smith for any inaccuracies in the data on 7 of the 12 children in the study. In this "defense," Wakefield admits that he didn't even bother to verify the sequence of events in his subjects by checking with their GPs. If he didn't commit fraud by claiming that the vaccinations came before the IBS or autism diagnoses, then he was incompetent for not determining this in the first place. The rest of this statement is a response to the allegations of journalist Brian Deer. No mention is made of the charges and evidence brought forth by the GMC.
- The Lancet paper that started it all. I can't believe that this is listed as one of the "proofs" that Wakefield did not commit fraud.
- HEPATITIS B VACCINATION OF MALE NEONATES AND AUTISM DIAGNOSIS, NHIS 1997–2002 by Carolyn M. Gallagher and Melody S. Goodman. I can understand why this paper would be listed as one to consider when looking at the safety of various vaccination schedules, but I don't see how it has anything to do with proof that Wakefield isn't incompetent or didn't commit fraud.
- Another study by Gallagher and Goodman on the Hepatitis B vaccine series. Again, what does this have to do with defending Andrew Wakefield?
- Sorting out the spinning of autism: heavy metals and the question of incidence by Mary Catherine DeSoto and Robert T. Hitlan. As far as I know, Wakefield has never claimed that heavy metals cause autism. In any case, his Lancet paper makes no mention of mercury or any other metal being a suspect in anything. So, why is this paper listed here?
- Recommended Immunization Schedule for Persons Aged 0 Through 6 Years—United States • 2010. The Center for Disease Control's recommended immunization schedule is considered evidence in support of Andrew Wakefield? I'm sorry, but this list of proofs is getting more absurd as we continue.
- An article from Autism File magazine by James A. Moody, director of SafeMinds, a group founded in 2000 to fight against "mercury-induced neurological disorders." The journal is a fringe journal and SafeMinds is not an unbiased source of information about vaccines. Moody's defense of Wakefield uses the familiar persecution gambit:
"This still ongoing trial threatens far more than The Lancet doctors, not only by denying autistic children the diagnostic tests and treatments they so desperately need but also by terrorising doctors into depriving their patients the innovative diagnostic and therapeutic interventions they deserve in favour of the relative safety of mediocrity in medicine."
Moody goes the extra mile, though, and makes blatantly false claims to support his hero:
"Clearly, vaccines can cause autism. What remains to be resolved is the body count, appropriate treatments, and reform of the vaccine schedule to prevent autism and other vaccine-caused chronic disorders. Nobody knows how much autism, or other chronic disorders, is caused by vaccines because no comprehensive scientific studies have ever been done comparing the health of unvaccinated children to those fully vaccinated."
Apparently, Moody chooses to ignore, inter alia, the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine done in Denmark that involved over 500,000 children. The study provides "strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes autism."
Of the 537,303 children in the cohort (representing 2,129,864 person-years), 440,655 (82.0 percent) had received the MMR vaccine. We identified 316 children with a diagnosis of autistic disorder and 422 with a diagnosis of other autistic-spectrum disorders. After adjustment for potential confounders, the relative risk of autistic disorder in the group of vaccinated children, as compared with the unvaccinated group, was 0.92 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.68 to 1.24), and the relative risk of another autistic-spectrum disorder was 0.83 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 1.07). There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.
The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that "the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism." The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), National Health Service (NHS), World Health Organization (WHO), European Medicines Agency (EMEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and many other national and international medical organizations have issued statements of a similar nature, finding no link between autism and vaccines based on the evidence currently available from a variety of studies.
J. B. Handley, one of the founders of Generation Rescue, has recently posted a piece on Age of Autism (the blog of the anti-vaccination group SafeMinds) saying that it is a lie to claim that vaccines don't cause autism and anyone who says otherwise is his "enemy." The editor, Dan Olmstead, has put a link to Vaccine Safety First in the upper righthand corner of the page. Jenny McCarthy has become the face of Generation Rescue. Dr. Steven Novella responded to Handley's article, calling him an "intellectual bully" and "internet thug." Age of Autism once posted a photoshopped Thanksgiving dinner with Novella and others eating children.
- Another Autism File paper, this one authored by Andrew Wakefield and, guess what, defending Andrew Wakefield.
- A paper on the "thimerosal-containing" Hepatitis B vaccine and newborn rhesus macaques. WTF?
- Another study on macaques. Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: A pilot study.
- A response to Dr. Ari Brown. For those unfamiliar with the alternative world of Wakefield, Moody, Mark Blaxill (of SafeMinds), and their allies, this is a must-read paper. One of the more interesting aspects of this worldview is how its defenders have responded to the continued increase in autism spectrum disorder diagnoses and the decrease of thimerosal in vaccines. There's something in those vaccines, we don't know what it is, but it's there and it affects some children, we don't who they are but we know there are those who are susceptible and we will continue our fight to protect the children while the evil medical establishment and the evil drug companies continue to block us and harm our children.
Here is how these authors introduce their response to Dr. Brown:
[This paper was] produced by Thoughtful House Center for Children in response to one written by Dr. Ari Brown titled “Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shots,” which attempts to deal with the vaccine-autism controversy. Brown is an official spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her document, is endorsed and published by the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), a US organization funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the vaccine manufacturers. In short, it is the public relations arm of those who are legally and ethically responsible for vaccine safety.
Thoughtful House was run by Wakefield from its beginning until he resigned during his troubles. It was funded in large part by one of the Johnson & Johnson heirs, Jane Johnson, managing director of the Autism Research Institute.
- An editorial by Vittorio Demicheli and Tom Jefferson on The First International Symposium on Vaccine Safety. In addition to its source being the discredited Elsevier, there is nothing here that remotely supports Wakefield.
- Another Elsevier paper by Tom Jefferson et al. that provides evidence against Wakefield's position. The authors found: "Exposure to MMR is unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis (mumps Jeryl–Lynn strain-containing MMR)." An abstract is available on PubMed. The whole article ("Unintended events following immunization with MMR: a systematic review") is posted on the Vaccine Safety First site for now. I imagine it will be removed once Horn realizes that this paper doesn't support her hero. When that happens try here. Or you can get it from ScienceDirect for $31.50.
- A paper by the Griers (longtime advocates of the thimerosal-autism link claim) on Thimerosal exposure in infants and neurodevelopmental disorders. How this relates to defending Wakefield from the charges of incompetence and fraud is a mystery to me. Wakefield's original paper makes no mention of thimerosal. This paper, like several of the other items of proof, is simply irrelevant to Wakefield's defense.
- Another Autism File paper, this one by William R. Long. This is a well-argued paper in defense of Wakefield. Unfortunately, its main strength is also its main weakness: the main source for his information is the self-serving Wakefield himself and is thus biased to the core. Long prides himself on having talked to Wakefield face to face. He indicates that he is unique in this regard, and he may have been until Seth Mnookin interviewed Wakefield for his book The Panic Virus. Long is obviously smitten by the charismatic Wakefield, as Mnookin is not.
One of the defense points argued by Long is that Wakefield did not stand to make millions from a patent on a single-shot vaccine to replace the triple-dose MMR vaccine. However, Long points to a copy of one patent agreement that doesn't have Wakefield's name on it, even though it is obvious from the content that Wakefield wrote the application. Long dismisses another document (see here) where Wakefield's name is prominently displayed along with that of Hugh Fudenberg, a man who once claimed he was curing autistic children with his own bone marrow. The most Long admits here is that Wakefield showed a bit of bad judgment by associating with Fudenberg. Worse, Long simply takes Wakefield's word for it that he never claimed to be developing a single-shot vaccine to replace the triple-shot MMR vaccine. I suggest Long re-examine what Wakefield said at the press conference for the Lancet paper in which he, to the shock of his co-authors and others who knew of his work, explicitly called for a halt to the public health policy of using the MMR shot.
- A paper by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on tobacco science and thimerosal. Kennedy is a thoroughly discredited source for anything having to do with vaccines.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s paper "Deadly Immunity," which has been pulled by both Rolling Stone magazine and Slate, the initial publishers of this highly distorted, erroneous, and twisted piece of journalism.
There you have it. Wakefield and his supporters remain adamant despite the evidence that there is no causal connection between vaccines and autism, mercury in vaccines and autism, or vaccines and irritable bowel syndrome and autism. There is no significant evidence that there has been a conspiracy on the part of the medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry to persecute Wakefield. He has an overblown opinion of himself and his work. His work has been rejected by his colleagues for good reason. When one reviews the list of 20 pieces of proof that Wakefield is not a fraud or incompetent, one finds the evidence consists of several types: 1. A study that show he's wrong (#16); 2. irrelevant papers (most of the above have nothing to do with Wakefield); and 3. Wakefield's own self-serving account of things.
I'm still shaking my head at #16: "Exposure to MMR is unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis (mumps Jeryl–Lynn strain-containing MMR)."
Will someone please tell me how this supports Wakefield?
Wakefield had several years to convince his colleagues of the connection between IBS and autism, and between the measles part of the MMR vaccine and IBS and autism. His failure to do so was due to his own ineptness or laziness. His colleagues gave him ample opportunity to do the work properly, but he didn't. In the end, the General Medical Council had no option but to can him for ethical violations. Now, he is taking his case to the public arena, where he can control what questions get asked, what evidence is presented, and who he will respond to. I urge all honest investigators into this quagmire Wakefield has created to read the relevant chapters in The Panic Virus. The author has no history in these debates over vaccines and autism. When he began his investigation he had no horse in this race. Now he has a child and has a vital interest in finding out the truth. Mnookin's account is as unbiased as one can expect in this maelstrom. It is quite the opposite of Vaccine Safety First, which should be called Defend Andy First.
See also The Wakefield Propaganda Machine
* AmeriCares *