I really appreciate Terri and Ed Arranga for inviting me to AutismOne 2014. I know they are thoroughly convinced of the role of vaccines in autism; a point of view that I, as well as a few other invitees, do not share. It is well known to everybody within the organizing committee that I was a witness for the government at the Omnibus Proceedings for Vaccination Safety. Despite this the Arranga’s have tried to foster an open dialogue calling all sides to the debate. In this regard my intent for attending AutismOne is trying to introduce science, a seed for critical thinking, one person at a time.
This year I had the opportunity to speak at the main hall opposite to the plenary presentation of the famous or infamous Andrew Wakelfield. In the end Mr, Wakefield had over a thousand people in attendance while I had only 30 or so (a turnout I call a success). My turnout rapidly decreased to about 20 or so after a few chosen words about Mr. Wakefield and some of the therapies publicized at different booths at the congress.
It may perplex you to know that I thoroughly miss not having gone to Mr. Wakefield’s lecture. It is a surreal experience watching the entranced audience and realizing that Mr. Wakefield’s success, and survival thus far, has depended on what I believe to be a cult following or the result of mass delusion.
Andrew Wakefield is a persistent anomaly within the world of autism. As I previously stated, to hear him evokes surreal feelings wherein followers willingly suspend their critical thinking. I say this because his position is not scientific at least in the way that he formulates it. You have to believe him by faith making what he says dogma, not science.
Having been paid by lawyers that carried their case against pharmaceuticals Mr. Wakefield also received their clients as patients. Just to say that his series was in this regard cherry picked and extremely biased. The British Medical Journal described him as having perpetrated an elaborate fraud. The egregious conflict of interest could have easily instilled in him the a priori belief that vaccinations were at the root cause of autism. It is easy to envision how this conflict of interest suggests that he worked backward from desired results into research design; what in logic is called motivated reasoning. Unfortunately, this major conflict of interest was disclosed by people investigating Mr. Wakefield’s actions. Mr. Wakefield’s confession after the fact makes obvious the lack of transparency in his original Lancet publication. In the end, his study was retracted by most of his co-authors and publishing journal (i.e., The Lancet).
Mr. Wakefield now pontificates about fields of medicine (i.e., autism and vaccines) that are not in his area of expertise by training. In his books he defends himself by compulsively repeating minutia that, true or not, do not alter the major flaws in his research. Still, the hand waiving tactics have been accepted by many of his followers. His studies, lectures and unrepentant public harangues are responsible for falling vaccine rates and the increase in measles prevalence in different countries (see for example http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-12258/UK-faces-measles-epidemic.html). Indeed the main result from his publication has been the erosion of public confidence, security and stability.
Measles is now a serious problem, due in part, to Mr. Andrew Wakefield. One of the major problems is that many babies are too young to get vaccinated and some adults suffer from some type of immunodeficiency that prevents vaccination. Traveling to a country where measles is endemic may be catastrophic for these individuals and the people they themselves may then get in contact. It is not surprising that many people have called for criminal charges to be levied against Mr. Wakefield.
Mr. Wakefield’s gigantic ego has prevented him learning from his own mistakes; in this regard he is a man controlled by his own biases. He now promotes explanations about how the measles virus could move retrogradely from the GI tract to the CNS via peripheral nerves, yet to my knowledge, has not designed any experiments to prove this fact. His science is by press release and publishing non-peered reviewed books. He casually dismisses (and may even appear hostile) to opposing views and research studies. He prioritizes his ego to critical thinking. He has little insight to his own emotional makeup and cognitive biases. In this regard Mr. Wakefield is truly the poster child for disastrous science. Yet, followers have fallen for the beliefs of Wakefield encouraged by a cult culture.
Some of his former academic colleagues believed that Mr. Wakefield had the premature expectation of going after a Nobel Prize. He had the need to dazzle the academic community with his own purported brilliance. Contrary to this expectation, the cumulus of academic work that he has reported is being called to question. When given the opportunity to respond to charges against him the main argument that he has constructed on his behalf has been one of conspiracy theories, all full of moving targets.
If you believe Mr. Wakefield then you also believe that there is a grand conspiracy by many people, institutions, and multiple governments who have been acting dishonestly and in partnership for many years. The vastly powerful conspirators are intelligent enough to have positioned themselves as overseers of our health policies but evidently are also stupid and careless enough to have had their nefarious plot uncovered by the brilliant Mr. Wakefield.
Evidently there are people, like Mr. Wakefield, that believe that they can see the grand conspiracy and by their determination to stand firm in their conviction that they can save the world; otherwise everybody else is uninformed, a naïve dupe. This is a paranoid delusional disorder, one that unfortunately is too common. Indeed, paranoid delusions are frequent among people who believe that they have lost control of their lives.
In The Cocktail Party, a play by TS Elliot, the following dialogue transpires between patient and psychiatrist: “I must tell you that I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me- Because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong with the world itself-and that’s much more frightening! That would be terrible. So I’d rather believe there is something wrong with me, that could be put right.” Mr. Wakefield in this regard provides the possibility of things that can be fixed, a world that can get back in track, for people that are at their wits ends. It is easy to rest your confidence on the laurels of a single individual who promises the possibility of immediate change rather than on scientific authorities that temper caution and “baby step” progress in research.
Unfortunately the paranoid delusions of the antivaccine movement forms a closed belief system; one that can’t be refuted despite available evidence. Indeed, any evidence capable of refuting their beliefs is made immediately part of the conspiracy and/or dismissed as stemming from a flawed experiment. Invariantly they fail to apply the same skepticism to their own studies. Delusional thinking is therefore meant to satisfy many of their more personal needs. Furthermore, the sense that they are in possession of this important information increases their ego. It is indeed a very empowering perspective for people who have lost control of their lives.
Mr. Wakefield has lacked humility; rather he can be portrayed as arrogant. He is not cautious and never seems to defer to the vast body of literature that has accumulated against him. He fosters the patina of legitimate science but his arguments lack the weigh of scientific evidence. His fiasco has gone well beyond making a few mistakes. Indeed, scientists make mistakes all of the time, but not so Mr. Wakefield. At the end of the day it is time to look at data objectively. Mr. Wakefield is at present a highly charismatic guru, not a scientist. The MMR theory of Mr. Wakefield enjoys the same credibility as N-rays, cold fusion and alien abductions. Fortunately the vast majority of people realize the fact.