A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE
The letter Dr. King wrote from the jail, in my opinion, is one of the greatest pieces of prose in the English language, a call for all to do what is right. The whole letter is summed up in its most famous sentence:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Those were the first words that came to me when I heard of the decision by the GMC in the ethics case against Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch.
Their wrong was simply to tell the truth. There were others who joined in the Lancet case study that found a potential connection between the MMR vaccine and autistic enterocolitis. The others were pressured to repudiate the article – or to say it more accurately, to repudiate a finding that was not made by the study. Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues never stated that the vaccine caused autism, but merely that there was a need for further study.
Even the recommendation for further study was a threat to a lot of powerful influences in the public health establishment and its allies in the pharmaceutical industry. And the Wakefield findings have been replicated on more than one occasion, so merely throwing competing studies out there would not kill the controversy.
Enter Brian Deer, a British “journalist” looking to make a bigger name for himself. By mangling together two different studies and reports Dr. Wakefield participated in, Deer presented ethics charges that objectively do not hold water. But the charges were not to be heard objectively.
For an excellent and dispassionate look at the charges and their fallacy, see the article by William Long (originally printed in The Autism File), which can be found here in pdf format.
Now, after years of proceedings, wasting God-knows-how-much money and resources, the General Medical Council found that there were violations. As a result, Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues will likely lose their professional licenses. Ironically, the evidence presented to the GMC against the three was primarily testimony by witnesses with far more-extensive conflicts of interest than those ascribed to Dr. Wakefield (see here).
Of course, there will be many who will say that this outcome proves the fallacy of the case study’s conclusions. It is a further piece of irony, that those who will most loudly deliver that collateral attack include many of the same people who would defend epidemiological studies performed by those with fatal conflicts of interest.
I listened to live coverage of the verdict on the Linderman Live program on Autism One Radio. I heard that Brian Deer made a statement that, “it’s a great day for children, a great day for medicine, and – dare I say – a great day for journalism.”
No Mr. Deer, in fact it is a tragic day for children, a tragic day for medicine and science, and – dare I say – a tragic day for journalism. We’ve already seen over on this side of the pond the kind of yellow journalism practiced by Deer. The once mighty Chicago Tribune has sold itself to the powerful interests who are more interested in the status quo than they are the truth.
Even if we were to take the provincial position that today’s announcement was an injustice only in the UK, there is a serious threat to justice here in the US. Without doubt, there will be moves made against many of the physicians and scientists who are helping our children. And the truth may not be a strong enough defense for them.
The truth will only be strong enough to defend us all when the emerging science progresses to the irrefutable point, at which time the Paul Offits, Julie Gerberdings, and Brian Deers of the world will not be able to deny what has happened to our children. Unfortunately, the research needed to bring out that truth is not being funded.
The attacks on Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues are also attacks on us and on our children. We stand with them.