Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and theMMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh.
It is truly well-deserved, this is not simply a story about a medic committing fraud, but is a rather sorry tale that has an associated body count. He wrote a paper this threw doubt upon the MMR vaccine and as a result there are many thousands of unimmunised children born over the last 15 years whose parents decided MMR was too risky at the time, and so now Measles rates are up. In 2010, the Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s paper and he was struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Subsequent studies have found no credible link between MMR and either autism or Crohn’s disease.
Does all this fuss really matter, does speaking out against nonsense make a difference? Yes it does, Simon Singh makes the observation in the article that …
…it was part of a growing attempt by sceptic groups to organise and challenge bad uses of science and evidence in public. “We see a decline in homeopathy in the NHS and we see a decline in the number of homeopathic hospitals. We see sceptics using regulatory authorities or the Advertising Standards Authority to clamp down on misleading claims.
“I think gradually people that care about evidence and science are getting their message across. All the time what we care about is the consumer or patient.
“It’s not just an intellectual battle or a battle of ideas, it’s about protecting people from misleading information.”
Now that is good news.