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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Triggering of Dr. Wakefield

There has been a lot of going ons about the hearing of Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his general misconduct in his 1998 Lancet paper. You remember, the one that claimed to have found a connection between the MMR vaccine and Autism.

Now, a decade later, his findings are thoroughly discredited, and he's been taken to task, not for his findings, but the way in which he conducted his research. It is very well likely that Wakefield will lose the official justification to put "Dr." in front of his name over this. Not that this will stop his more .... loyal followers from doing so. But in the eyes of the academic and medical community, no. He is practically stripped from the title, the respect and authority as a medical professional in the unethical and callous methods of his research.

I'm not going to cover all the findings and the commentary about this. Although, Lizditz has done an excellent job, as usual, compiling a list of the commentary, news coverage and general blog-interaction, including the Lancet officially and completely retracting Wakefield's infamous study.

And no, I'm not going to rehash what pretty much everyone who reads here already knows, that I thoroughly disagree with Wakefield. Period.

No, what I'm wondering about is the fact that Wakefield was approached, seemingly, by the lawyer of families convinced that the vaccine had caused their children's autism, and looking for medical justification to take the vaccine companies to court.

Let's just pause and think. Sure, Wakefield has a history of research targeting to slander the MMR, in the interests of promoting his own vaccine. Sure, he accepted the payment from the lawyer and conducted the research horribly. And yes, the fallout from his actions
1) decreased the vaccination rates, allowing measles, mumps and rubella to return, to sicken, to disable and even outright kill
2) poisoned a portion of the population to believe in scam treatments, costing families vast amounts of money and blindly following every charlatan in a desperate false hope to "fix" their "damaged" children , and
3) set back proper scientific research into proper accommodations and supports for autistic people

But, would Wakefield had been looking to connect the MMR to Autism if it wasn't for those families?

I know, I know, it'll be MEAN of me to blame the families for all of this. After all, they were (possibly still are) in the desperation that many families with autistic members experience today.

And in their desperation, I can imagine that they saw that what countless others have noticed, that the autism becomes apparent around the same time that the vaccine is administered. It's the whole seeing causation in correlation thing, making connections that may not (and most likely don't) exist. It's what humans do, try to make sense of the world. I don't want to count or even consider the many superstitions that humans have in place by following this try of reasoning.

However, for some reason, these families took their hunches, and decided to look for proof and decided to look for compensation. And that decision took their lawyers to Wakefield.

It could be a simple reason that there was, at that time, no information concerning a connection between vaccines and Autism. Or maybe that the information was not easily accessible, or in terms that was understandable. I remember 1998 and computers and the Internet weren't exactly the commodity it is today (well, at least it wasn't for our family).

But either case, these families felt that there was a case to be made in this, and looked for proof.

Now, I don't know who's idea it was to approach Wakefield, pay him to conduct a study with some brutal and unnecessary tests on their children, and basically manufacture favourable results. I don't know whether it was the lawyer, or one or many of the parents.

But SHAME on them.

It is that person that I personally consider to be the most responsible for the fallout that has happened from Wakefield's now-fully-retracted study. Yes, that means I consider them partially responsible for the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, for the unsafe, scientifically unproven quack treatments that cause undue suffering of autistic individuals, and for all manner of emotional and mental stresses that this causes autistic families, including those that can drive parents to murder their autistic children because of a lack of support.

With the misery that has been caused as a result of that person, the decision of the parents and lawyers, and the actions of Wakefield, who really has benefited? What good has come from all of these? Other than the resounding evidence proving Wakefield wrong, I don't think that the autistic community has gained very much. In fact, I don't think that the human population has gained at all, given the increase in completely preventable diseases.

Has those families who originally approached Wakefield really benefited from this, and has any of them even considered themselves to be partially responsible for the fallout?

In closing, while I do think that it's proper that Wakefield to bear responsibility for the part that he played, I think that he is not the only one to bear full responsibility for the crime that has been committed against the autistic community. I'm in no position to actually say who all needs to bear responsibility for this, but I think that it is something to be considered.

After all, one can only be responsible for one's own actions.

[edit: Feb 2011] There's been more breaking news about Wakefield, that he actually changed data in his study, and it's adding more flames to the fire. I have heard rumours that Wakefield approached the lawyers, not them approaching him. However, I have yet to confirm those reports, but I still have to maintain that there is a responsibility from the families for their part in Wakefield's actions, in their funding, in their interest in him producing his results, and the fallout that occurred.