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The Wakefield Propaganda Machine

23 May 2010. Tomorrow, Andrew Wakefield, the man credited with starting the MMR vaccination scare, should be "struck off the medical register" in the UK for his “dishonest”, “unethical” and “callous” research. His publicist has arranged a TV appearance with Matt Lauer tomorrow morning, not by coincidence. Wakefield's also got a book coming out, in which he plays the martyr. In his mind, he didn't do anything wrong; there's a vast conspiracy out to ruin him. Bogus health sites like Wellness Uncovered and Vaccine Safety First are even claiming that his "research" has been vindicated! Really? How?

At the 2010 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, a report was given that, according to Wellness Uncovered, "confirms unequivocally the findings of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper of an association between autism and serious gastrointestinal disease in children."

The new study was conducted by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network and covered data from 15 treatment and research centers in the United States and Canada. Of 1185 children aged 2 to18 years with an autistic condition 45% were reported to have GI symptoms. Abdominal pain was most common (59%) followed by constipation (51%), diarrhea (43%), other (40%), nausea (31%) and bloating (26%). Reports of GI symptoms increased with age. Sleep problems occurred in 70% of children with than those without GI symptoms (30%). The problems affected all children regardless of gender, ethnic background or intelligence.

Notice anything missing from this study? It hasn't been published and there are no controls. Peer review would be nice. Furthermore, without knowing what non-autistic children have to report about GI symptoms, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating, we have no idea what the data signify. Also, Wakefield's "paper" claimed to have identified "autistic enterocolitis." And he blamed the MMR jab. None of the research cited by Wellness Uncovered relate to the MMR jab. Are we to believe that Wakefield's "research" found that the MMR jab causes sleep problems? Diarrhea? Constipation? Is any kind of GI issue in an autistic child to be considered "enterocolitis"?

[new] It is because Autism Speaks has been pushing the vaccine/autism link—despite the overwhelming evidence of there being no causal connection—that Alison Singer gave up her $187,000/yr job as the organization's communication director. Singer went on to found her own organization, the Autism Science Foundation (ASF),which Scientific American describes as "a tiny New York-based charity with a relentless focus on rigorous science, a niche supporting the youngest researchers and a guiding principle that 'vaccines save lives; they do not cause autism'." [/new]

It is amazing how far people will go to defend this wicked man. Matt Lauer should be proud of himself for not giving Wakefield a bully pulpit and his friends at Age of Autism a place to rally behind their disgraced and disgraceful hero. [You can watch the interview by clicking here. Warning: this link takes you to the Age of Autism site, where one person commented that "there must be a special place in heaven for Andrew Wakefield." Spoiler alert: many of the Age of Autism commenters didn't like the interview. Lauer blindsided Wakefield with an introductory piece that laid out the history of Wakefield's fall from grace.  Apparently, the rally didn't go too well, either. Damned interviewer asked a loaded question! You can read about the interview and watch it on MSNBC by clicking here.]

Wakefield has also found friends in a group of anti-vaccinationists who call themselves Americans for Personal Rights. He'll be their keynote speaker at a rally to support the idea "that vaccination choice is a fundamental human right." Fundamental human right? Is there no end to what these folks can make up? [The rally was held in Chicago's Grant Park. Elyse at Skepchick wrote: "Women Thinking Free volunteers are heading to Grant Park to do their part to help counter the deadly communicable BS being spread to the people of Chicago. We’ll be there to get the word out to any innocent bystanders who might be pulled in by conspiracy propaganda, and do what we can to spread the message of rationality, science and not killing kids with the fucking measles."]

He's also supported by a group called The National Autism Association (New York Metro Chapter). This group claims that the charges of professional misconduct were "trumped up ... to punish them" for suggesting "a possible connection between autism, bowel disease and the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine." This group has joined Wakefield in framing the issue as involving a conspiracy to discredit anyone who says there's a connection between vaccines and autism. These folks claim that the conspiracy aims at subverting inquiry "into the issues of vaccine safety, and legal redress for vaccine damage." The Wakefield case, they say, "serves as a totalitarian warning to other researchers who might consider questioning vaccine safety." As I said: is there no end to what these folks can make up?

Some may have noticed how the Wakefield defense team has twisted things. Wakefield did not discover an association between autism and gastrointestinal disease. Anybody with half a brain working in any field where the patients are under extreme stress knows that many will suffer from gastrointestinal problems or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

No single cause of IBS has been found. It has been shown that the intestines are more sensitive to distension (e.g. by gas build up) in those with IBS. The symptoms are often triggered by stress and anxiety: the bowel (like lung and skin) develops from the same forerunner tissue in the embryo as the brain and nervous system, so a physical link between emotion and IBS is not hard to understand.*

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." All this supposedly new research in support of Wakefield is a smokescreen. Change his claim from "I found a new disease" to "I found an association between bowel problems and autism" and he seems vindicated to those who don't consider the matter carefully.

further reading

Wakefield Warriors

Brian Deer:the Wakefield Factor

All my posts (from 2002 to the present) on autism and thimerosal in vaccines

 Skeptimedia archives rarrow.gif (1048 bytes)

Timeline of the autism scare


* AmeriCares *


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