So many times we see and hear people saying Dr. Andrew Wakefield is a fraud. They even say he “made up his whole paper” and has “been in jail”!
These statements are far from the truth, and I hope the information on this page is useful for anyone wanting to understand what has happened.
Below is an infographic about the fraud claim—please share either the graphic or this post. Under it is sources and explanations.
In 2010 the General Medical Council in Britain found Dr. Andrew Wakefield guilty of a range of allegations, mostly about a 1998 paper that suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. He lost his medical license as a result.
This is a statement of established fact. The paper in question was published by the Lancet medical journal in 1998 and retracted in 2010. Find it on the Lancet website here:
Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children
Wakefield was never charged with fraud, or altering test results, let alone found guilty of it. He has never faced charges in a court of law, so could never have been in jail.
Please see the list of General Medical Council (GMC) allegations and their findings here:
GMC charge sheet
You will see there is no charge of fraud or manipulating data.
The idea Wakefield has been in jail is totally fanciful. To anyone who believes this, I ask you to provide evidence of a trial in a court of law.
The 1998 paper was retracted from the Lancet in 2010, but not because the study’s findings were questioned.
The findings of this study were observations of an unusual bowel disease in 12 autistic children. It was also reported that parents of 8 of the 12 children claimed their child’s decline into autism started soon after receiving the MMR vaccine. If you would like to read the paper to confirm this, please find the link under item 1.
When the editor of the Lancet retracted the paper on Feb 2 2010, he gave his reasons – you will find a link to the retraction statement on the right hand side of the paper. It reads:
Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.
Source: Retraction notice
You will notice the editor only listed two specific concerns, neither of which were about the paper’s findings being altered. He had adequate opportunity to list more concerns, but mysteriously referred to “incorrect” elements instead, which suggests he believed these were not substantial enough to mention.
The paper concerned, about 12 autistic children with bowel problems, was not written by one person, but by 13 doctors altogether, who stand behind the paper.
Please look at the paper (find link in item 1), and see there are 13 authors, all doctors at the Royal Free hospital. In 2004 the editor of the Lancet asked the authors to retract the suggestion the MMR possibly caused autism. Ten agreed, out of fear for their careers. Paragraph two of their statement supports the paper, saying:
The main thrust of this paper was the first description of an unexpected intestinal lesion in the children reported. Further evidence has been forthcoming in studies from the Royal Free Centre for Paediatric Gastroenterology and other groups to support and extend these findings. While much uncertainty remains about the nature of these changes, we believe it important that such work continues, as autistic children can potentially be helped by recognition and treatment of gastrointestinal problems.
Read the statement:
Retraction of an interpretation
Allegations of “fixing results” were first made by a journalist, in the pages of the Sunday Times newspaper, in early 2009. At this time the Times was managed by James Murdoch, who was on the board of GlaxoSmithKline, maker of the MMR vaccine in Britain.
These articles were written while the GMC hearing was in progress, but shortly after closing testimony from witnesses. Deer’s allegations were not included in the charges.
The fact that James Murdoch was on the board of GlaxoSmithKline at that time is on the public record.
The journalist raised the allegations again in early 2011, in 3 articles in the BMJ, a British medical journal. The journal’s editor wrote that Wakefield’s paper was “an elaborate fraud”. This was the first time the word “fraud” was used, and 7 months after Wakefield had lost his license.
Here is the editorial written by the BMJ’s editor Fiona Godlee:
Editorial – Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent
These articles, which held more weight than the 2009 articles because they were published in a medical journal and endorsed by the editor, were published January 2011. Wakefield lost his license on May 24 2010, so the BMJ articles and editorial were published over 7 months after he lost his license, and nearly 12 months after the GMC findings were announced January 2010. This timing, combined with the fact Wakefield was not charged with fraud or “fixing”, means Wakefield could not have lost his license to practise medicine “because he was a fraud”, as many people claim.
The main fraud allegation was that Wakefield had altered pathology results. This has been refuted by esteemed pathologists and the BMJ’s editor has backed down from saying fraud had been committed here.
Brian Deer first raised these allegations in April 2010, in an article in the BMJ:
Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” under the microscope
This was 3 months after the GMC had announced their guilty verdicts of the 3 men accused, in January that year.
Deer had gone through a lot of paperwork and found there were different versions of pathology reports on the children’s bowel biopsies.
The reason for this was that biopsies were examined first by a duty pathologist, whose expertise may not be bowel disease in children. Then the biopsies were examined again by doctors expert in children’s bowel disease, including Professor John Walker-Smith who was a co-author of the paper and the world’s leading paediatric gastroenterologist at the time. Results were updated where necessary.
Read more about this here:
How Brian Deer and the BMJ Fixed the Record Over Wakefield Part 3
In November 2011 the Scientific American published an article about the pathology tests:
Discredited Vaccine-Autism Researcher Defended by Whistleblower Group
The article discusses views by various pathologists, and it reports on the response by Fiona Godlee—the BMJ editor who claimed “fraud”—to the discussion. They say:
Fiona Godlee, author of the BMJ editorial, says that the journal’s conclusion of fraud was not based on the pathology but on a number of discrepancies between the children’s records and the claims in the Lancet paper.
In other words, Godlee was now backing down from the strongest tenet of her fraud claim. Since then she has continued to support her claims in public, but without giving any justification.
Another fraud allegation was that some of the children had developmental concerns before the MMR jab. Nonsensical reasoning was given, such as saying a child’s ear infection before the jab was evidence of autism.
Deer claimed in his article that
Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns.
Deer deduced this from seeing the children’s private National Health Service records, to which he was given access. Wakefield’s team did not have access to these records. Deer has drawn many conclusions from the information, despite having no medical training whatsoever.
In an article by Martin Hewitt, Deer’s claims are systematically debunked, with information gathered from the GMC hearing transcripts, which describe each child. The transcripts are available here, if you would like to check these discussions for accuracy.
See Hewitt’s article here:
How the BMJ and Brian Deer Fixed the Record to Destroy Andrew Wakefield Part 2
Briefly, the concerns Deer raised were:
Child 4 had wide bridging of his nose and concerns about his development.
Child 8 had a faulty aorta and concerns about her development.
Child 1 had hearing issues, found to be related to ear wax or infection.
Child 5 had febrile convulsions and high fever before the MMR.
In his conclusion, Martin Hewitt says of Deer:
He selects those parts of the transcripts that support the case for Wakefield fixing the data and ignores other parts that undermine the case. He ignores letters, reports and witness statements that show the children developing normally before the MMR. For example, he ignores accounts of child 4’s normal development at nine months (apart from the coarctation), and child 8’s normal development at 11 months. He does not mention child 4’s measles vaccination several years before his MMR. He misses the significance of child 8’s convulsions and gastroenteritis immediately after MMR. He sets down false trails that lead nowhere, such as child 4’s fragile X gene or child 1’s hearing before MMR. He confuses a syndrome associating autism and bowel disease ‒ presented as part of the case series paper ‒ with the ‘MMR syndrome’. He oversimplifies the everyday complexities and uncertainties doctors and parents grapple with in reaching an autism diagnosis.
Deer also said Child 11 had symptoms before the MMR, which was recorded on a hospital discharge sheet (but other documents had a different date for symptoms). This child lives in the USA, so was not discussed in the GMC hearing. Deer’s claims about this child are debunked here:
An Elaborate Fraud Series Part 7: In Which the BMJ’s Prime Example of Wakefield’s Alleged Misconduct Proves Flagrantly False
Deer replies to this article on his blog by saying “who can say, years later?”, in an extraordinary backdown—see below:
Brian Deer’s blog article
A third fraud allegation was that the 12 children did not all have autism. This claim came about due to difficulties in diagnosing autism, and varying terminology used in the 1990s. For example, the journalist said Asperger’s is not autism.
But only one—child 2—clearly had regressive autism. Three of nine so described clearly did not. None of these three (children 6, 7 & 12) even had autism diagnoses, either at admission or on discharge from the Royal Free.
See this discussion, about the autism diagnoses of children 6, 7 and 12:
How the British Medical Journal and Brian Deer Fixed the Historical Record to Destroy Andrew Wakefield’s Reputation
From the article:
We see clearly how Deer works. First he selects extracts from the transcripts to build up his case, ignoring other extracts that might cast doubt on his case such as the above extracts. Secondly he applies his reasoning rigidly to the evidence as though medical diagnosis is about 100% certainty, for example that there is a clear indisputable difference between autism and Asperger’s. On this basis no doctor’s practice would survive this standard of certainty.
If Wakefield did not commit fraud, what does it say about the observations reported in the 1998 paper?
The allegations of fraud have never been examined in any kind of court, by any judge or jury. They are fanciful, and made solely by a part-time, freelance journalist, and supported by the editor of the BMJ medical journal, who has provided no justification for her support (she said sub-editors had fact-checked Deer’s articles, but this turned out to be false).
As the fraud allegations are false, it follows the 1998 paper’s findings are valid, that is, that the 12 autistic children examined had an unusual bowel disease, and that the parents of 8 of them reported their child’s decline into autism started soon after the MMR jab.
A very strange thing about Deer’s articles is he constantly suggests Wakefield manipulated the study results to provide evidence he could use in litigation, for which he was being paid. This is ludicrous, as this type of observational study, with no research protocol or conclusion, could never provide evidence for litigation.
Deer’s claim “the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation” is not true, by the way. The Legal Aid Board funding was for a viral detection study, which Wakefield undertook after the 1998 Lancet study, completing a pilot study for it in 1999 (with the LAB funding declared on it). The funds for this work were not even made available to Wakefield until 7 months after the last child in the 1998 Lancet paper had been seen, and after the paper had been submitted to publishers, so could not have been used for this study.
About Brian Deer
Meet the man behind the fraud claim, Brian Deer. He is a journalist, but has very little work to his name, apart from his Wakefield articles.
Watch this film released in May 2009, towards the end of the GMC hearings. It is about Brian Deer and children from the 1998 Lancet paper, and their parents.