The Doctor Who Fooled The World: An excerpt from Brian Deer’s new book about Andrew Wakefield

Retraction Watch readers are no doubt familiar with the case of Andrew Wakefield, the former gastroenterologist who led a 1998 paper in The Lancet — now retracted — that led him to claim a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It was journalist Brian Deer who revealed the true details of that work, and in this excerpt from his new book, The Doctor Who Fooled the World, released today in the U.S., Deer reports on Wakefield’s formative years.

In some imaginary universe, he might be revered as Professor Sir Andrew Wakefield. Two decades before his invitation to Donald Trump’s inauguration ball, the destination he felt beckoned, like a big bony finger, wasn’t in Washington, DC, or anywhere in America, but a concert hall in downtown Stockholm. Dressed like Fred Astaire in white tie and tails, his dream, people said, was to collect a gold medal from the hands of the King of the Swedes.

“You’d hear them in the canteen,” a former colleague of his tells me. “They’d be talking about the Nobel Prize.”

But to that, or any, universe, the gateway was the same: the portal to all his possibilities. It stood then—and stands now—on Beacon Hill: high above the city of Bath, in the county of Somerset, ninety minutes by train west of London. Here you’ll find the entrance to his childhood home, and the exit to all roads he will travel.

It’s no picket gate. This isn’t Tom Sawyer. I’d guess the frame weighs more than a ton. Embracing two ten-foot Doric columns and matching pilasters, with an ornately carved frieze across a multilayered architrave, it resembles the entrance to a Victorian mausoleum, or a side door to the Colosseum of Rome. It speaks of wealth, class, authority, and entitlement. In uppercase, the lintel is lettered:

Continue reading The Doctor Who Fooled The World: An excerpt from Brian Deer’s new book about Andrew Wakefield

Some quick thoughts and links on Andrew Wakefield, the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and fraud

If you’re a savvy Retraction Watch reader — or if you’ve paid any attention at all to the news in the last 18 hours — you will have heard by now that the BMJ has called Andrew Wakefield’s work on autism and the MMR vaccine a “hoax.”

The February 2010 retraction of the original Wakefield paper in the Lancet was, of course, a huge deal. If there were a Canon of Scientific Retractions, it would be in it. It happened before we launched Retraction Watch, however, so we haven’t commented much on it.

We plan on writing about major retractions in history, but the frequency of fascinating timely ones hasn’t abated enough yet to let us do that. (One exception: Our Best of Retractions series.) And in any case, there have been a lot of pixels spilled on this one already, so we’re not sure we have much to add. That’s the nice thing about the web: It leaves us free to curate as well as create.

One comment we want to offer is that the investigation by Brian Deer in the BMJ Continue reading Some quick thoughts and links on Andrew Wakefield, the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and fraud

Why write a blog about retractions?

Post by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus

The unfolding drama of Anil Potti — a Duke researcher who posed as a Rhodes Scholar and appears to have invented key statistical analyses in a study of how breast cancer responds to chemotherapy — has sent ripples of angst through the cancer community. Potti’s antics prompted editors of The Lancet Oncology to issue an “expression of concern” — a Britishism that might be better expressed as “Holy Shit!” — about the validity of a 2007 paper in their journal by Potti and others.

Unlike newspapers, which strive for celerity as much as accuracy, science journals have the luxury of time. Thorough vetting, through editorial boards, peer reviewers and other filters, is the coin of the realm.

And yet mistakes happen. Sometimes these slips are merely technical, requiring nothing more than an erratum notice calling attention to a backwards figure or an incorrect address for reprints. Less often but far more important are the times when the blunders require that an entire article be pulled. For a glossary of the spectrum between erratum and retraction — including expression of concern — see this piece, commissioned by one of us, Ivan, while he was at The Scientist.

Retractions are born of many mothers. Fraud is the most titillating reason, and mercifully the most rare, but when it happens the results can be devastating. Consider the case of Scott Reuben, a prodigiously dishonest anesthesiologist whose fabrications led to the retraction of more than a score of papers and deeply rattled an entire medical specialty. (One of us, Adam, broke that story.)

So why write a blog on retractions? Continue reading Why write a blog about retractions?