Is Andrew Wakefield a fraud and a bully?

I had hoped that, after he disappeared into obscurity in the United States, I could safely ignore Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former surgeon, who lost his licence to practise medicine in the UK for his dishonest and unethical role in the MMR Hoax. He did surface last year alongside Polly Tommey, who followed her hero into exile in the USA, when they tried to sell an autism reality show. The premise was simple. Film autistic children in distress. Take them to Arthur Krigsman to be given a colonoscopy and diagnosed with autistic enterocolitis. Then cure them with special diets and supplements and film the happy outcome.

This project never came to fruition. But Wakefield and Tommey did intervene in the case of Alex Spourdalakis. They filmed this young man in distressing circumstances in hospital. They made allegations about the treatment he received, relying on the patient confidentiality enshrined in US law to prevent health authorities from responding to their claims. They had a willing accomplice in Alex’s mother and arranged for Alex to be treated by Arthur Krigsman. But refusing conventional treatment and opting for quack remedies did not have the desired effect. Alex was subsequently murdered poisoned and stabbed to death by his mother. We await the outcome of her trial. Both Wakefield and Tommey were complicit in attempts to use their film to justify her crime.

Wakefield’s most recent exploit pales in comparison to that example of sleaze. It seems that he has taken exception to being called a fraud. Actually he has been called a fraud many times, most noticeably by Brian Deer and Fiona Godlee in the British Medical Journal. He tried to sue them but a Texas court rejected his claim and the appeal has yet to be settled. Time Magazine reported that Wakefield was a fraud. So did CNN, The Daily Telegraph. David Whelan, writing for Forbes Magazine even suggested that the US authorities should deport Wakefield to face fraud charges in the UK. With the exception of his outstanding appeal with regard to the BMJ Wakefield has not responded to any of these reports until now when Emily Willingham, also writing for Forbes Magazine called him a fraud.

Actually Ms Willingham did not make a big deal about the fraud. Her main point was to highlight a recent review of gut issues and autism in Pediatrics which suggests that

It is clear that greater clinical and research scrutiny is needed to increase awareness on this topic and thus support development of the best standards of care. Previous controversy surrounding the MMR vaccine and proposed causal link between ASD and infection of the GI tract probably deterred investigators from dedicating resources to examine GI functioning in this population while fostering uncertainty in the ASD community regarding the validity of this line of inquiry.

This seems perfectly clear to me. Wakefield’s fraudulent research has tainted the investigation of potential links between autism and GI functioning. He has discouraged other investigators into this link and made it difficult for them to obtain funding. He has performed a great disservice to science. More importantly, autistic people with genuine GI dysfunction have struggled to have their symptoms taken seriously. They or their parents have had their concerns dismissed by health professional who are chary of any association with Wakefield’s ideas. It is a bitter irony that some are then welcomed by Wakefield’s acolytes into the alt-med world of untested and unproven biomedical remedies for autism.

Wakefield has written a  letter to Ms Willingham threatening her and Forbes Magazine with prosecution, “pending legal advice.”  He concludes

You are also advised that I live and work in Austin, Texas where my business is headquartered, and that my work is conducted throughout the US. Your defamatory statements about me will undoubtedly cause me to suffer significant personal and financial damage.

My lawyers are currently dealing with Deer and his co-defendants. They will be turning their attention to you well within the statute of limitations for filing a case against you and Forbes.

Three things strike me. One, this is Wakefield acting off his own bat. He has not taken legal advice. That is pending. He has written a threatening letter to a blogger to bully her into silence “pending legal advice.“  Two, he is not going to do anything unless he gets a successful outcome in Texas regarding his action against the BMJ (Deer and his co-defendants ). Three, talk of prosecution and defendants in relation to civil law is a total nonsense. There is only one criminal in this case and he can count himself lucky that nobody has seen fit to prosecute him yet.

So why is he doing it? My best guess is that he has issued this threat and published it on Age of Autism to rally the troops and revitalize his flagging support. And why is he doing it to Ms Willingham? Perhaps he thinks she is more vulnerable than CNN or Time Magazine. Maybe he hoped that Forbes would take the corporate view and silence her to fend off a potential troublesome lawsuit. Not for the first time he has been proven wrong. Ms Willingham is an eminent scientist, an educator and an accomplished journalist. Forbes recognize her talent and show no signs of surrendering to Wakefield’s bluster.

5 thoughts on “Is Andrew Wakefield a fraud and a bully?

  1. J. Bonnar

    My opinion of Mr. Wakefield ? I believe him to be a fraud and a bully, but I would go further.
    His behavior suggests to me that he may be a sociopath. His actions caused great harm and continue to cause great harm. People have refused to immunize their children against easily prevented diseases because of fears that Mr. Wakefield started. (Mind, I also think the media needs to be held accountable, as there was a feeding frenzy of pro Wakefield publicity before his fraud was uncovered.) I also believe that a competent and committed DA could find grounds to charge him with negligent homicide (with depraved indifference thrown into the mix.)

    J. L. Bonnar

    Reply
  2. Boris Ogon

    The reason for targeting Willingham is painfully obvious: he thinks he can cause her personal economic harm, as Forbes may not cover her legal fees. The “you are also advised that I live and work in Austin, Texas” bit is also a trivial repetition of part of what he understands his own complaint against the BMJ to be: he’s aimlessly waving about the Texas long-arm statute.

    It was a hopelessly stupid approach in the BMJ case, as the articles in question weren’t paywalled. It’s equally stupid to mention here, because everybody already knows that.

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  3. lilady

    Andrew Wakefield is a fraud, who lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K., due to his fraudulent research and the egregious harm his visited on the children in his “study”.

    Rather than taking the Royal Free Hospital up on their generous offer to have replicate his “study” findings, he had already left the U.K. to come to the United States, where his wealthy patrons were waiting for him to set up an autism treatment center. Once the GMC Fitness-to-Practice Hearing decision was rendered, he left that cushy position and joined forces with another U.K. ex-pat, Polly Tommey, to promote bogus treatments and their anti-vaccine agenda.

    He’s be quiet lately, awaiting the results of the court Appeal he filed for defamation against Deer, Godlee and the BMJ. HIs faux outrage about Emily Willingham’s blog, speaks volumes about his true intent. This evil man has a need to have his huge ego massaged…and the “true believers” at Age of Autism are just the group to meet his needs. He also has a history of wanking for coins, from the credulous parents at Age of Autism. (I’m expecting to read about his new fundraiser).

    The fact that he released that letter to Age of Autism at 1 AM Eastern Daylight Time, speaks volumes. Recently, the *journalists* at AoA, have embarked on an unprecedented (even for them), campaign of harassing women, including a respected law school professor and Dr. Willingham. They have published the name and contact information of the law school professor’s immediate supervisor, the name of her husband and his place of employment…and the name of her young child. This has resulted in multiple calls to the place of her employment and three threatening phone calls to the Professor and her husband.

    Andrew Wakefield is a sociopath and a public health menace. The *journalists* who have pursued Dr. Willingham and the law school professors are harassing misogynists.

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  4. Matt Carey

    I believe Mr. Deer’s position is that he did not label Mr. Wakefield with the term “fraud” in the BMJ:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111109/full/479157a.html

    Mr. Wakefield’s argument is that he is being harmed by people calling him a fraud–Dr. Willingham in this case. Ironically, had Mr. Wakefield not sent the threatening letter, the discussion of his fraud would not be ongoing now. About 3,000 people would have read the article and it would have gone into the archives–along with a number of other statements of Mr. Wakefield’s actions as being fraudulent. Mr. Wakefield did not take action against those other statements (most notably Time Magazine).

    Mr. Wakefield gets his attention. He gets to go back to his base of support and say, “See, I’m still important. People are talking about me. I have to go up against this. Please, donate”

    Reply
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