Note: Delays continued, apparently. This post was drafted in March of 2015, it’s now mid-February of 2016 before something else came along to inspire me to get back to work.
Last September I called my doctor’s office to ask about getting a flu shot. I was told that they no longer gave them, that I should just go to the pharmacy instead, but that I should wait because a reformulated vaccine would be available in October. But that was a time during which radiation had sent my brain somewhere else, and I thought no more about it until this past Sunday when a scratchy throat and sore eyes suggested that perhaps I should have been paying more attention last fall.
I think I have a good excuse. The national news tells me, however, that there are a great many people who skip vaccinations for their children without having any such excuse. I can think of numerous words to describe these people, moronic and selfish come to mind.
It seems that in 1998 one Andrew Wakefield wrote a story in the Lancet, a British medical Journal, in which he discussed several cases of children in whom autism first became apparent immediately after receiving the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine. Many of the recent news stories have mentioned this article, calling it either “discredited” or “debunked” – which I consider appalling.
In science, and we certainly hope that medicine is a subset thereof, an investigator or experimenter observes physical events, conjures up a hypothesis to explain those events, and then devises an experiment or plan of research that will prove or disprove his hypothesis. It has long been noted that it is easy for the experimenter to see the results he seeks even when no clear indication actually exists in the data. This was demonstrated last March by the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) project, a group of astronomers seeking signs of the gravity waves left echoing through the universe from the first microseconds following the big bang. They may have, in fact, seen some such result, but it’s also quite possible that what they saw was the result of cosmic dust and this has been modeled by others and additional work is planned. That’s what “discredited” means. The case of the Wakefield article is nothing like this at all.
Wakefield had a history of attacking vaccination programs, he had a business plan laid out to take it advantage of public fears about the MMR vaccine,and his work was funded by private tort lawyers who would have been able to generate significant fees as a result of any public concern generated. The article suggested that the 12 cases he found were the random result of vaccination, when in fact they had been very carefully chosen. In short, the article was not discredited, it was fraudulent from the start. Wakefield lied. Most of Wakefield’s co-authors asked that their names be removed from the article almost immediately, and after a distressingly long interval, the Lancet formally retracted the entire article. On top of that, the British medical establishment withdrew Wakefield’s credentials as a physician.
Wakefield has subsequently moved to the US where he can stir the pot as the head of his own foundation, and seems to have found favor with some idiots who are willing to help spread his bogus word. I’m sure he continues to present himself as a doctor, but he has never had the privilege of practicing medicine in the US. His history of prevarication probably means that he never will, but the nonsense he has spewed about vaccinations continues to damage the public.
If I were King, journalists who insisted on referring to his articles as discredited rather than fraudulent would be called to the throne room for a good talking to, and “Dr” Wakefield would be banished.