Chinese Whispers – MMR and the Press

Just a few days before Andrew Wakefield appears before the GMC disciplinary body on charges of misconduct, a front page article in the Observer makes fresh claims of links between the MMR vaccine and autism. In a separate interview in the same newspaper, Dr Wakefield says that he ‘told the truth all along’.

He rather remarkably compares himself with Vaclav Havel,

‘As Vaclav Havel once said: “Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.” I can’t tell you that we know that the MMR vaccine causes autism. But the Department of Health can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that it doesn’t, and they believe that, and that concerns me greatly.’

Rather ironic really as the vast majority of scientists working on the causes of autism would quite readily admit that they have not really got a good grasp at all on the truth behind the causes of autism. It is Wakefield, who nearly alone in the scientific community, appears to have the answer in the face of a ‘reluctant’ medical community and ‘political establishment’.

He predicts that ‘the truth’ about MMR will eventually come from America, not the UK.

The truth is apparently out there, just waiting for the vested interests and the government conspiracies to fold.

The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence to support that MMR may have anything to do with autism, despite a lot of work having now been done in this area. The newspaper article reports a new study that may show a link. But this is unpublished and so we have no idea at all what it will say. It supposedly shows that 1 in 58 kids now show signs of the condition. The papers says that,

Two of the academics, leaders in their field, privately believe that the surprisingly high figure may be linked to the use of the controversial MMR vaccine.

But even these two controversial doctors freely admit that MMR cannot explain the huge rise in reported numbers.

Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott both say it could be a factor in small numbers of children.

So, even if there was a link then it must be a minor player in the overall story.

So, why am I bothering with this? It is not quackery as such, but anti-MMR campaigners get a lot of support from quack corners. The anti-vaccination brigade are more than welcomed and supported by homeopaths and other quacks as this whole story adds to their delusions that the medical ‘establishment’ is blind to their own failings and tries to suppress dissenting voices. Their own perceived persecution is made real by the perceived persecution of other dissenters. Andrew Wakefield is being judged by the GMC not in an attempt to silence to him but to see if he has acted with misconduct and unprofessionalism in making his claims, exposing children to unnecessary procedures and not declaring his interests.

This newspaper article appears to have done its trick though. The story has been picked up by many other newspapers now, e.g.

New fear over MMR link with rising autism – The Telegraph, UK
One in 58 British children is autistic, new figures reveal – the Daily Mail, UK
One in 58 British children is autistic, new figures reveal – China Daily, China

So quickly this story has got to China! But like Chinese whispers, these stories get passed around, confused and their sources forgotten. We have MMR being something to do with measels virus, or is it mercury in vaccines? It accounts for the huge rise, or is it just a ‘small number if children’? It is an incoherent mess, but the large number of stories, albeit not independent, give the impression that ‘there must be something in it’. There is no smoke without fire.

More stories will follow, I am sure. Dr Wakefield will be going into his hearing with a background of ‘fresh revelations’ when in reality there is absolutely nothing new to report. The Observer, normally a fairly sensible paper, has been duped into a PR campaign for Wakefield. I doubt the GMC will be swayed by this, but the press will be in there reporting the trial in the next few weeks, and will undoubtedly be putting the story in the context of these new revelations. All good grist to the quackery mill.

Well done, Dr Wakefield, on a very impressive PR campaign.

2 Comments on Chinese Whispers – MMR and the Press

  1. PR is right. Wakefield uses a PR agent, Abel Hadden, to advise on how to make the most of his falsehoods. There’s big money hanging on all this, and Wakefield wants to make sure that as much as possible of it is in his pocket.

  2. Andy is looking oh so dreamy and heroic in that photo.

    The quacks are deep into all this bull, and Andy sucks up the adulation. Like he said in the Observer piece;
    “‘America is like the UK in that many children are affected by autism, but over there there’s a powerful drive to get to the truth, an inherent mistrust of the healthcare bureaucracy, and a can-do attitude among intelligent and articulate parents,’ says Wakefield. He predicts that ‘the truth’ about MMR will eventually come from America, not the UK.”

    That line about ‘intelligent and articulate parents’ mistrusting the establishment, and ignoring all that pesky science to just know that they mustn’t vaccinate their kids, is the kind of thing they love him for.

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