Last night, thousands of parents and grandparents of children with autism sat in front of their TVs, mouths agape, as Keith Olbermann declared their national hero, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Tuesday's "Worst Person in the World" on the popular Countdown show on MSNBC.
Quoting from a story in the Sunday Times of London, Olbermann said that Dr. Wakefield had fabricated data in a 1998 Lancet article about 12 children with autism and severe bowel disorders. Wakefield had written that eight of the families noted deterioration in their children within days of them receiving the triple live virus MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, and that vaccine-strain measles virus had been identified in gut biopsies in some of the patients.
The uproar has never really subsided, especially in the United Kingdom, where Wakefield and two other doctors who worked on the Lancet study are on trial at the General Medical Council on several serious charges of misconduct.
The person who brought these issues to the Medical Council was a freelance reporter named Brian Deer - the same Brian Deer who wrote the article on Wakefield in the Sunday Times. In his writing, Deer claimed that Wakefield had made up results about severe MMR reactions in the children just days after receiving the shots, had ignored signs of autism in some kids before they received their MMR vaccine, and changed lab reports on the gut biopsies - among other alleged infractions that have been covered in the two year trial in London of Wakefield et al.
The accusations printed in the Sunday Times are, frankly, outlandish. And they are false. A thorough accounting of the entire blackballing of Andrew Wakefield was published today by journalist Melanie Phillips in The Spectator, (UK): called The Witch-Hunt Against Andrew Wakefield."
It makes for some pretty interesting reading:
What the Sunday Times did not report was that the GMC investigation into Wakefield was triggered by a complaint from... Brian Deer, who furnished the allegations against him four years ago. He has thus been reporting upon the hearing into his own complaint. Since when has a reputable paper published a story by a reporter who is actually part of that story himself -- without saying so - and who uses information arising from the disciplinary hearing which he himself has instigated and which is investigating allegations he himself made in the first place.
The point is an excellent one. Imagine if a US journalist sued a doctor for libel or misconduct, and then went to the NY Times and asked to be hired as a freelancer to cover the trial that they themselves had instigated in the first place. It wouldn't happen.
Ms. Phillips also wrote:
It is remarkable how so many commentators take at face value the claims being made by Wakefield's detractors, and how many recycle the misrepresentions of easily verifiable facts - such as what the Wakefield paper actually said -- which his detractors disseminate.
Which brings us to Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
It does not matter what opinion you have about the vaccine-autism controversy (and you know you do) for you to realize that Dr. Wakefield was unduly maligned by the Sunday Times. The allegations are not true, and Andy Wakefield is not, nor has he ever been, the "worst person in the world."
What made Keith Olbermann's mistake almost deliciously ironic was that, in the same "Worst Persons" segment, he gave the Bronze Award to a Fox News Anchor for reading Republican talking points without doing any independent reporting or verification. The Silver went to Bill O'Reilly (no surprise there), another employee of Fox News -- and Rupert Murdoch.
Mr. Olbermann even got out his trademark pirate voice to imitate right-winger Murdoch, by saying, "We have never been a company that tolerates facts! Rrrrrr!"
So here was Keith Olbermann, in the same segment, slamming Fox News -- owned by a company that does not "tolerate facts" -- for promoting falsehoods and propaganda; and then slamming Dr. Wakefield for something that was reported in The Sunday Times -- owned by that same fact-intolerant company.
Countdown's producers clearly took the Sunday Times story at face value, without doing a little due diligence. After all, Wakefield had denied the allegations in the original article, he issued a formal statement of denial earlier this week, and the autism treatment group he works for in Austin, TX also issued a statement. Olbermann's people should have picked up the phone and called Austin before he blasted Wakefield for faking scientific data.
Which brings us to today's Best Person in the World -- Keith Olbermann, who is issuing an eloquent and fitting correction on tonight's show.
I contacted his office today, as did many, many people, to see if he would address the issue. And address it he will. Here is the email I got back this afternoon:
Here is Keith's script from tonight's show, where Brian Deer will receive (at least) the bronze Worst Person in the World honors... it will air tonight, barring breaking news:
The bronze to Brian Deer.
He wrote the Times of London report that Dr. Andrew Wakefield had allegedly altered key research linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella triple-vaccine to autism in children, which earned Dr. Wakefield a spot on this list yesterday.
The Times of London did not bother to mention that the British investigation into whether or not Wakefield did that was the result of a complaint by... Brian Deer.
The guy who wrote the article about the investigation never mentioned he was the complainant who precipitated the investigation.
The truth about the doctor's research may be in doubt here, but not Deer's vast conflict of interest nor the Times of London's journalistic malfeasance.
The paper is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and it's my bad for forgetting his new motto: "We have never been a company that tolerates facts."
It might have been your bad, Mr. Olbermann, but you have turned it into a good.
PS - Just to remind everyone that vaccine-autism research is neither fringe, nor a threat to civilization as we know it, I copy again this list below, which I also sent to the good people at Countdown:
I hope you will take just one moment to see that vaccine-autism research continues, because the link has not been disproven. Even the new President agrees with that statement, so Dr. Wakefield is not as far outside the mainstream as you might think. (Please see below)
MAINSTREAM VOICES FOR VACCINE RESEARCH:
President Barack Obama -- Who said last year, that: "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- Who said last year that, " I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines. We don't know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism - but we should find out."
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) -- Who told Congress in 2006 that the Combatting Autism Act should fund "environmental research examining potential links between vaccines, vaccine components and autism. In January, 2008, he called efforts to strip vaccine research from funding, "contrary to the spirit of the (CAA) bill."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- Who said last year, "It's indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what's causing it. And we go back and forth and there's strong evidence that indicates that it's got to do with a preservative in vaccines."
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) -- Who told Congress in 2006, "I want to be clear that ... no research avenue should be eliminated, including biomedical research examining potential links between vaccines, vaccine components, and autism."
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) -- Who concured on the Senate Floor with Senator Enzi's remarks.
Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks -- Who told the UK Daily Telegraph in 2008 that, "There is no question but that autism is partly genetic and partly environmental. We ought to be able to zero in on some of the environmental factors in early childhood. Vaccines are one of the variables."
CDC's Immunization Safety Office -- As part of its draft research agenda for vaccine safety, this agency last April proposed looking at several clinical outcomes from childhood vaccinations, including "Autoimmune diseases; central nervous system demyelinating disorders; encephalitis/ encephalopathy; and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism."
Former CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding -- who told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "If a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines, and if you're predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage (and) symptoms that have characteristics of autism. We have to have an open mind."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- who told US News, "If we can show that individuals of a certain genetic profile have a greater propensity for developing adverse events, we may want to screen everyone prior to vaccination (for) undetectable diseases like a subclinical mitochrondrial disorder."
Drs. Richard I. Kelley, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Margaret L. Bauman, Massachusetts General Hospital, Marvin R. Natowicz, Cleveland Clinic, etc -- "Large, population-based studies will be needed to identify a possible relationship of vaccination with autistic regression in persons with mitochondrial cytopathies."
Scientists at UC San Diego -- They wrote in the journal Autism that children given Tylenol after the MMR shot were several times more likely to develop autism. Tylenol can reduce levels of glutathione - a powerful antioxidant and detoxifier. "Tylenol and MMR was significantly associated with autistic disorder," the authors wrote. "More research needs to be completed to confirm the results of this preliminary study."
Former NIH Director and current IOM Member Dr. Bernadine Healy - She told CBS News that, "public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the (vaccine) hypothesis as 'irrational,' without sufficient studies of causation... without studying the population that got sick."
Former Chief Scientific Officer, UK Department of Health, Dr. Peter Fletcher - The former equivalent of the US FDA Adminstrator, said, "This really proves the causal role of vaccines: Somali children who are newly exposed to aggressive vaccine programmes have exceptionally high levels of autism. What more evidence is needed? The refusal by governments to evaluate the risks properly will make this one of the greatest scandals in medical history."
CURRENT VACCINE/MERCURY RELATED STUDIES:
The National CADDRE Study -- This 5-year project of the CDC's Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) Network will "help identify what might put children at risk for autism," the CDC says. Among those risk factors: "specific mercury exposures, including any vaccine use by the mother during pregnancy and the child's vaccine exposures after birth."
The Kennedy Krieger Institute -- The nation's premiere autism research outfit is sponsor of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN). Its new questionnaire deals with autism and vaccines. Thousands of families are describing their experiences with autistic regression following vaccination. Top scientists will then use this information, "to conduct additional vaccine-focused studies."
The Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Network -- CISA is a CDC-sponsored group that brings together leading autism research institutions and America's health insurance companies. Last April, the CDC proposed this research question: "Is immunization associated with increased risk for neurological deterioration in children with mitochondrial dysfunction?" To find out, "CISA has formed a working group to study methods related to mitochondrial disorders and immunization," the CDC said.
Autism Speaks -- Autism Speaks recently authorized three studies on thimerosal, vaccines and autism, and the foundation is considering funding a lot more highly significant research into the possible links between vaccines and autism.
The National Children's Study -- This is not a vaccine-autism study. But the HHS-EPA joint effort will investigate "the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the United States," including autism. As part of their work researchers will track medical records, which include vaccinations.
UC Davis MIND Institute -- Authors of a new study say that genetics alone cannot explain the rise in autism in California. "We're looking at the possible effects of metals, pesticides and infectious agents on neurodevelopment," said Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a co-author and professor at UC Davis.
The University of Texas -- Two studies led Ray Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center show increased risks for autism among kids living closest to mercury-emitting sources, such as coal-fired power plants.
California Department of Health Services/ Kaiser Permanente -- This CDC- funded, NIH-published study showed that kids born in the most polluted tracts of the SF Bay Area (mercury was a significant factor) were more likely to develop autism: "Our results suggest a potential association between autism and estimated metal concentrations."
MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION AND AUTISM:
The Hannah Poling Case - A year ago, medical personnel at HHS determined that this girl's autism was caused by, "vaccine induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves." Hannah had low cellular energy related to her underlying and mild mitochondrial dysfunction. Many children with autism claims in Vaccine Court have almost identical mitochondrial dysfunction.
Mitochondrial disorders are not rare in autism -- Research suggests that dysfunction may affect 10-to-30% of all kids with autism -- perhaps more among "regressive" cases.
Mitochondrial disorders are probably not rare in the general population -- Such disorders were thought to affect 1-in-5,000 people. But new research suggests that genetic mutations that might confer mitochondrial dysfunction might be found in 1-in-400 to 1-in-50. A study by the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF) found mitochondrial DNA mutations that might cause disease in up to 1-in-200 people.
Children with mitochondrial disorders are at greater risk of autistic regression -- A new study by researchers at Cleveland Clinic and elsewhere found that a trigger for autistic regression in kids with mito disorders could possibly come from a vaccine reaction. "There might be no difference between the inflammatory or catabolic stress of vaccinations and that of common childhood diseases," they wrote.
Children with mitochondrial disorders are at greater risk of vaccine injury -- This according to Dr. Douglas Wallace, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Director of the Center for Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine in Genetics at UC Irvine. A member of the UMDF's scientific board, he stated, "We advocate spreading vaccines out as much as possible -- each time you vaccinate, you're creating a challenge for the system, and if a child has an impaired system that could in fact trigger further clinical problems."