Saturday, May 15, 2010

The MMR Scandal & Denial

The whole MMR/Autism thing is not something I've blogged about - however I had recently read a few things about it, which I thought I'd share. This is not an area I know a huge amount about, but it does show how the bullshit detector can kick in...

So what does it tell me? It tells me that there is something very fishy about Andrew Wakefield and his claims to a link between the MMR jab and Autism. Why? 'cos he was paid to find a link. Not paid to find out what was going on (as per proper science) but paid to find evidence for a pre-existing position:
Unlike expert witnesses, who give professional advice and opinions, Wakefield negotiated a lucrative contract with Barr, then aged 48, to conduct clinical and scientific research. The goal was to find evidence of what the two men called "a new syndrome", intended to be the centrepiece of (later failed) litigation on behalf of an eventual 1,600 families, mostly recruited through media stories. This, publicly undisclosed, role for Wakefield created the grossest conflict of interest, and the exposure of it by Deer, in February 2004, led to public uproar in Britain, the retraction of the Lancet report's conclusions section, and, from July 2007, the longest-ever professional misconduct hearing by the UK's General Medical Council.

Barr paid the doctor with money from the UK legal aid fund: run by the government to give poorer people access to justice. Wakefield charged at the extraordinary rate of £150 an hour - billed through a company of his wife's - eventually totalling, for generic work alone, what the UK Legal Services Commission, pressed under the freedom of information act, said was £435,643 (about $750,000 US), plus expenses. These hourly fees - revealed in The Sunday Times in December 2006 - gave the doctor a direct, personal, but undeclared, financial interest in the results of his research: totalling more than eight times his reported annual salary, and creating an incentive not only for him to launch the alarm, but to keep it going for as long as possible.

So that, from the star, add bias to the outcome of any evidence. The second thing that kicks off my bullshit detector is the reaction of Wakefield's supporters. In a long statement after he was found guilty of misconduct and unethical behaviour, they state:
We declare that:
1. Dr. Wakefield is a man of honesty, integrity, courage, and proven commitment to children and the public health.

2. Dr. Wakefield’s research is rigorous, replicated, biologically valid, clinically evidenced, corroborated by published, peer-reviewed research in an abundance of scientific disciplines, and consistent with children’s medical problems.


7. We condemn the censorship of science. There are more than enough facts and evidence to support the case of vaccine injury, but the politicization of these issues has made it impossible to publish important and valid science. The debate is rigged in favor of the vaccine industry.


10. We demand recognition of the global autism emergency. We call for investigation into the most likely environmental causes (including vaccines). We cry out for the application of proven treatment practices and for the investigation of other treatment options to help suffering children and families immediately.

So point 2 states that Wakefield’s research is correct and has been proven and verified - so the link between Autism and MMR is established, so they say. Yet in point 7 they say the science is censored - yet the managed to prove the link with peer reviewed studies (point 2)? Then point 10 calls for an investigation into what causes autism - but point 2 has established that - why look for what you have proven? Simply logic fails. This reminds me of the same sort of logic-fail in global warming denial.

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