Fear sells. Just look at the headlines of any newspaper or the opening words of any television newscast and you will see this fact confirmed. If you want to get the public’s attention, you must keep them in a constant state of fear.
Perhaps this explains how a discredited researcher can continue to pedal his fictional science about vaccines and autism – and people actually pay attention.
Andrew Wakefield, discredited British researcher, is now promoting a new film he directed and co-wrote called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe which he is trying to claim is a documentary. According to W. Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, Wakefield has not given up despite losing his medical license in Great Britain in 2010 when it was revoked by the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council.
Wakefield is responsible for the only published medical research claiming a connection between vaccination and autism. His paper, published by the British medical journal Lancet in 1998, reported intestinal biopsies on 12 children with intestinal symptoms and developmental disorders, 10 of whom were autistic, and found intestinal inflammation.
The parents of 8 of the autistic children believed their symptoms began after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The published paper clearly said, “We did not find an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”
However, despite this disclaimer in the paper, Wakefield held a press conference to say the MMR vaccine probably caused autism and he recommended stopping MMR vaccinations. Instead, he recommended giving the vaccinations separately at intervals of a year or more.
Wakefield’s analysis was thoroughly discredited later and he was found to have done questionable research on other subjects as well. The Lancet retracted his original paper. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, described the original paper as “fatally flawed” and apologized for publishing it. Ten of the original 12 co-authors published a retraction.
The movie Vaxxed will be showing this week at the Angelika Film Center in New York City after it was ousted March 26 from the Tribeca Film Festival, which is later this month. Co-founder Robert De Niro and the festival organizers pulled this faux documentary after reviewing the film and discussing it with Dr. Lipkin. De Niro, who has a son with autism, released this statement:
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
Dr. Lipkin has personal experience testing the scientific basis for Wakefield’s claims. In February, 2001, he led a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Wakefield and his colleague John O’Leary reported that 91% of children with autism and measles virus gene fragments in their intestine. Based on this information, he assembled a team of investigators from the Centers for Disease Control, Columbia University, Harvard, and Mr. O’Leary himself, to compare children who had both autism and GI disturbances with children who had GI disturbances alone.
They tested Wakefield’s two major findings. First, whether MMR vaccine preceded gastrointestinal complaints and second, whether they could find measles virus in the gut of the majority of children with autism. Neither finding held up. Two other research teams, one in the U.K. and another in Canada, were also unable to find measles virus sequences in the blood of children with autism.
Despite these scientific studies repudiating the findings of Wakefield, despite the published retraction of 10 of the original 12 authors of his study, despite losing his medical license – Wakefield continues to pedal his fiction. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, fear continues to sell. The Angelica Film Center debut performance, which included a Q & A session with the director and producer, sold out. Furthermore, an online petition circulated by Change.org has already garnered more than 30,000 signatures demanding the movie’s reinstatement at the film festival.
It seems that people would rather believe a lie that supports their primal fears than believe the truth, which doesn’t.
(For more on the subject of vaccines, see my earlier post The Vaccine Hysteria.)