Strictly Come Quacking

To most people Fiona Phillips is just a former GMTV presenter who, on Strictly Come Dancing, demonstrated to the world that she has two left feet.

On the evidence of her latest column in the Mirror, she’s also a raging crank who makes piss poor excuses for quackery…

MMR doc’s just guilty of caring

Surprise, surprise, the doctor who highlighted a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been found guilty of a series of misconduct charges.

Well, Dr Andrew Wakefield didn’t stand a chance, did he? Not up against the might of the medical profession.

Okay, here we go. It’s time for the inevitable Martyrdom of St Andy that the anti-vaccine whack-jobs and woo peddlars have been building towards since it was first announced that the General Medical Council would be investigating his conduct.

He has been branded dishonest, irresponsible and that he showed a “callous disregard” for the suffering of children.

Odd, then, that he now continues to work in the field of autism in Texas, where he set up Thoughtful House, a non-profit autism centre.

Let’s get the ‘still working in the field of autism’ crap out of the way first. shall we?

Thoughtful House is a vanity project set up by Wakefield and liberally funded by anti-vaccine cranks, one in which ‘not for profit’ is a relative term; Wakefield is pulling down a reported £145,ooo a year as the centre’s Executive Director.

As for being branded dishonest and irresponsible, the GMC’s meticulously drawn up findings use those exact terms to describe Wakefield in this passage of their report:

In reaching its decision, the Panel notes that the project reported in the Lancet paper was established with the purpose to investigate a postulated new syndrome and yet the Lancet paper did not describe this fact at all. Because you drafted and wrote the final version of the paper, and omitted correct information about the purpose of the study or the patient population, the Panel is satisfied that your conduct was irresponsible and dishonest.

Wakefield lied to the Lancet about the underlying purpose of his research when he submitted the now infamous paper that kicked off this whole farrago.

He also, as the GMC’s findings set out in detail:

– Accepted almost £440,000 in fees from lawyers seeking evidence to support litigation that parents of children with autism intended to bring against pharmaceutical companies on the basis of a claimed, and wholly unproven, causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

– Set up a company with one of the parents of the children included in his study with the intention that this would develop and promote an alternative MMR vaccine, going so far as file a patent for the product he intended to put up in competition against the existing MMR vaccine .

Wakefield failed to declare either of these clear pecuniary interests.

His financial misdemeanours, however, pale into insignificance when set against his conduct towards the children he used in his research.

As the GMC’s findings disclose, Wakefield was not, in the position he held at the Royal Free Hospital, authorised to take the case management of cases involving children nor did he seek approval from the hospital’s ethics committee for his work.

Acting in complete disregard of any established protocols or ethical standards, Wakefield subjected the children included in his study to a series of invasive medical procedures, including colonoscopies and lumbar punctures, for which there were no clinical indications.

He even went so far as pay £5 to children who attended his son’s birthday in return for blood samples for use in his ‘research’, an act that he went on to make jokes about during a presentation to the Mind Institute in 1999.

Wakefield cares so much about children that he uses them as lab rats and then makes jokes about it afterwards.

His passion for the subject, and refusal to abandon children with autism to a life of respite care and pity, earns him plaudits from parents grateful for his work.

His aim, he says, is still “to provide the best possible treatment for these children and to conduct research in order to ensure continuing improvements in the quality of treatment available”.

Of all the dishonest arguments deployed in Wakefield’s defence, easily the most disreputable has to be the suggestion that we should disregard his unethical behaviour because he has the support of the parents of these children.

Can you think of any more perverse argument than the suggestion that we should trust the judgement of people who willingly put up their children for use as guinea pigs in medical experiments conduct by a man who’s now clearly been shown to have been a total quack?

Perhaps the most bizarre vignette in the evidence against Wakefield is the evidence that one of the children included in the study – child 10 – was subjected to a ‘medical experiment’ in which they were administered with the ‘transfer factor’ that Wakefield patented as his alternative MMR ‘vaccine’. It was the father of this child that Wakefield put forward as the putative CEO of the company he set up to market this new ‘vaccine’.

For the uninitiated, Transfer Factors are a largely discredited fringe conjecture in immunology based on an unproven theory that special substances can be harvested from white blood cells. Wakefield’s ‘recipe’ for the experimental treatment given to child 10 entailed infecting mice with the measles virus and extracting and processing their white blood cells. This ‘serum’ was then injected into a pregnant goats, which were then milked after giving birth. This goats milk was then used to create the experimental ‘drug’ given to the child.

Wakefield’s collaborator and ‘co-inventor’ on this patent is Herman Hugh Fudenburg, an American doctor who, in 1995, was banned indefinitely from prescribing after he was found to have unlawfully obtained controlled drugs, including benzodiazpines (sleeping pills) and diuretics for both his own use and for a member of his office staff. Despite being effectively struck off in his home state, in 2004 Fudenburg claimed, in an interview with Brian Deer, that he’s continued to treat children with autism from his own home, allegedly ‘curing’ them using his own bone marrow.

Should we not be asking, instead, whether these people are even fit to bring up a child, given that they cling to their ridiculous faith in Wakefield in the face of overwhelming evidence of his general incompetence and utter disregard for basic ethical standards?

The General Medical Council (GMC) verdict, which ruled that Wakefield and two eminent colleagues, Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, had acted unethically, did not investigate whether Dr Wakefield’s findings regarding a possible link between MMR and autism were right or wrong.

It focused on the methods of research used, some of which were undoubtedly questionable, but which were performed in the name of finding solace for desperate parents convinced their children had changed for ever following their one-size-fits-all MMR injection.

Undoubtedly questionable?

That’s surely got to be an early contender for the understatement of the year, not to mention a pretty spectacular display of moral relativism on Phillip’s part.

The fact of the matter is that study after study, conducted in the wake of the MMR scare initiated by Wakefield and heavily promoted by the press, has shown no causal link between autism and the MMR vaccine and no reputable researcher has ever succeeded in replicating Wakefield’s original findings.

This is, to say the least, hardly surprising when one considers that the laboratory to which Wakefield sent his samples for DNA analysis was found to have been contaminated with plasmid that contained the measles virus.

Dr Wakefield has said the findings were “unfounded and unjust” – and he was backed by parents who, rather than thinking him to be dishonest and irresponsible, actually consider him to be a hero who might eventually guide them out of a long, dark tunnel of despair and disbelief.

In court after the verdicts were read, one woman shouted: “These doctors have not failed our children.

You are outrageous!” And outside another said: “They were just trying to protect our children.”

Protect these children from what, exactly?

Sadly, not from their own parents’ stupid and irresponsible beliefs, nor indeed from the anti-vaccine movement which has become increasingly vicious in its efforts to browbeat its critics.

I wonder if, in her next puff piece, Fiona would care to reflect on the treatment meted out to some of her fellow journalists who’ve dared to lift the lid on the anti-vaccine movement.

Amy Wallace wrote an article for Wired that covered a lot of bases, including the degree of abuse levelled at Paul Offit, the developer of a rotavirus vaccine that could save thousands of lives every year – rotavirus is a leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children.

By way of responses to her article, Wallace received messages via twitter in which she was called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute and a “fking lib.”.

You might think that this is just the usual crap you get from internet fucknuts but by far the most reprehensible response Wallace received was an ‘essay’ by JB Handley, the founder of the ‘Generation Rescue’ anti-vaccine organisation (which is heavily promoted by Jenny McCarthy) entitled “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.”. The first version of this essay, which Wallace was sent but which Handley did not publish on the Generation Rescue website, implied that Wallace had been date-raped by Offit, although this was altered to the clichéd ‘drinking the kool aid’ metaphor in the version that Handley did post online.

Chicago Tribune journalist, Trini Tsouderas, was extensively smeared after the Tribune published a series of exposés of anti-vaccine canard and our own Brian Deer, who’s done more to investigate and document Wakefield’s scandalous misconduct than just about anyone else, found himself on the receiving end of a homophobic attack by the UK-based anti-vaccine fucknut website, One Click Group:

By all accounts a gay man and therefore unlikely ever to have to face the multiple vaccine risk agonised over by parents from around the world in relation to their children, Brian Deer has made it his business to portray the parents of these autistic vaccine damaged children as deluded mendacious chancers.

Deluded?

Yes, although most would be better cast as the victims of mendacious chancers like Wakefield than as chancers themselves.

For hundreds of parents like these, the thought that the GMC may now strike Dr Wakefield and his colleagues off the medical register will amount to a light being switched off in what is, for them, an already bleak world.

I’m not entirely sure that there’s any ‘may’ about the next stage in the proceedings – given the severity of the charges that will stem from these findings, Wakefield is a goner as far as the UK is concerned, and not before time.

If Phillips want to sympathise with parents who’ve been royally led up the garden path by Wakefield’s unethical actions then that’s fine, but let’s not make out that he’s anything other than a unscrupulous bastard who rooked some of these parents in allowing their children to be treated as if they were laboratory animals to be prodded, poked, and subjected to a raft of unnecessary medical procedures in pursuit of a false hope.