Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced British doctor whose "fraudulent" study on the MMR vaccine and autism helped to spark the anti-vaccination movement. The Skeptic Magazine has awarded him with this year's “Rusty Razor” award for pseudoscience and bad critical thinking.
Wakefield’s 1998 paper has been described by scientists as “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years." In a study of just 12 children, published in the journal The Lancet, Wakefield and his team proposed a possible link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) jab. At a press conference, he went even further and suggested we should stop using the triple MMR vaccination and called for a return to three single injections. Fired up by some very careless media reporting, the study started to gain a huge amount of public attention worldwide, leading to a sudden slump in vaccination rates across the UK and beyond.
However, you might have noticed that the study now has bold red “RETRACTED” stamps all over it.
It took several years to fully sink in, by which time the damage had been done, but it eventually became clear that many of his claims were unsupported by scientific evidence. In 2004, investigative journalist Brian Deer wrote a major story for The Times about Wakefield’s undisclosed financial interests. Deer also uncovered in 2009 how Wakefield had “changed and misreported results” in the landmark study by fiddling with the patients' data.
Shit really hit the fan in 2010, when The Lancet officially retracted the paper. In the same year, the General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of “serious professional misconduct” and struck off him of the Medical Register, meaning he could no longer legally practice as a doctor in the UK. Wakefield has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. To this day, he continues to direct documentaries and publish books purporting this widely discredited idea.
So, why is Wakefield only receiving the “Rusty Razor” award now in 2018?
The anti-vaxxer movement has had an ugly resurgence in recent years, in turn prompting a notable rise of easily preventable diseases across the developed world. Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found the number of US children under the age of two who haven’t received any life-saving immunizations has quadrupled since 2001.
In the words of Skeptic Magazine, “Wakefield's legacy is long-lived.”