Closure on the MMR fraud?

Andrew Wakefield and his colleague John Walker-Smith are no longer allowed to practise medicine in Britain. Their infamous Lancet paper alleging a link between childhood autism and the MMR vaccine has been discredited, and disowned by almost all of its original signatories. Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who was key to uncovering this “elaborate fraud”, has now summed up the case in a lengthy article commissioned by the British Medical Journal. For those interested in the case itself, and all those who value quality journalism, Deer’s article, together with the accompanying BMJ editorial, and also this CNN article, are worth a read.

Will these newly published summaries be enough to seal the case against Wakefield and his co-conspirators? Popular opinion has it that the anti-vaccination citizen interest groups behind the MMR scare, and which provided Wakefield and his colleagues with their research subjects, will continue to spout their nonsense, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. I have no doubt that they will, for a while at least. But even across the Pond, where Wakefield now lives, protected by a core of vocal supporters, opinion seems to be weighing against the former physician. Wakefield’s claim that his professional downfall is the result of a pharmaceutical industry “hit job” is met with widespread scepticism.

It should not be long before Wakefield’s remaining supporters desert their hero. Not that it will matter much to him, mind you. Wakefield has no shame, and has made enough money from the MMR scare to secure a comfy retirement far away from the scene of his scientific transgressions. Brian Deer would like to see Wakefield face criminal charges, but I cannot see this happening. There is little precedent for such action.