Reputation, Iago

One for the Annals of Brazen Effrontery – Andrew Wakefield sues the BMJ for claiming his MMR study was fraudulent.

In a complaint filed to a district court in Texas, lawyers acting for Wakefield claim that articles, editorials and other statements that appeared in the BMJ were “false and make defamatory allegations” about the doctor.

The lawsuit names Fiona Godlee, the BMJ’s editor-in-chief, and the British investigative journalist Brian Deer, who has covered the controversy over the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, which led to a drop in MMR vaccination rates to dangerous levels.

In a statement, the BMJ and Deer said they awaited formal service of the papers, but stood by the articles and had instructed lawyers to defend the claim vigorously.

Wakefield has taken legal action against Deer before. He sued the journalist, along with Channel 4 and 20/20 productions, over a documentary on MMR in 2004, but later dropped the action and agreed to pay legal costs.

Ah, so he’s not a newbie to the Annals of Brazen Effrontery.

Wakefield’s case before the General Medical Council lasted 217 days, making it the longest in the regulator’s history. The GMC panel found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 on several charges relating to research involving 12 autistic children published in the Lancet medical journal in February 1998.

The regulator said Wakefield abused his position, subjected children to invasive procedures that were not justified or ethically approved, and brought the profession into disrepute. The study, which linked the MMR vaccination to autism and bowel problems, was retracted by the Lancet in light of the GMC judgement.

Fears over a possible link between the MMR jab and autism led to a substantial drop in take-up of the vaccine. In 2004, only 80% of children received the triple jab, far short of the 95% required to achieve the “herd immunity” that prevents disease taking hold in a community.

Yet he is suing. People are strange.

In a statement, the BMJ said: “The BMJ is on notice that Andrew Wakefield has issued defamation proceedings, not in London as might be ordinarily expected as concerns a predominately English publication, but in Texas, USA, where he now lives.

“Following the findings of the British General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel and Mr Wakefield’s history of pursuing unfounded litigation, any action brought against the BMJ and Mr Deer in London would have been immediately vulnerable to being struck out as an abuse of process.”

The statement continued: “Despite the findings of the GMC’s Fitness to Practice Panel and his co-authors having publicly retracted the causation interpretation put forward by the Lancet Paper, it would appear from the Claim filed at court that Mr Wakefield still stands by the accuracy of the Lancet paper and his conclusion therein, thereby compounding his previously found misconduct.”

That’s interesting, isn’t it. He’s compounding his previously found misconduct. Man, people are strange.


  1. says

    As we’ve been seeing this week in particular, when people are caught in bad behavior their first and sometimes only instinct is to dig in and double-down. I guess some people figure they can just brazen their way through anything, always, in the face of all evidence to the contrary and all evidence against them.

  2. Ken Pidcock says

    Good. There are still some people who aren’t aware of the whole horrid story. Now more will be.

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I sincerely hope that not only does Wakefield lose his case but he’s ordered to pay the defendants’ legal fees.

  4. Matt Penfold says

    A result like the one when David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt would be ideal. In that case the judge ruled it was acceptable to call Irving a holocaust denier on the grounds he was one.

  5. cmv says

    Forget that filing in London “might be ordinarily expected as concerns a predominately English publication”; filing in the UK is something people go out of their way to do. He must really think he has no case if he’s going out of his way to avoid using British libel laws.

  6. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Slightly off-topic – Ophelia, can you recommend an edition of Shakespeare’s works that’s annotated and would help a beginner understand the language? Almost total lack of Shakespearean knowledge is a gaping hole in my intellectual life I aim to remedy.

  7. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Josh, I’m not Ophelia, but as a non-native English speaker I think it’s justified to presume that whatever was comprehensive enough for me will be more than comprehensive enough for you.

    Though I haven’t read any one publishing house’s entire collection of annotated Shakespeare, the Signet Classic “King Lear” and New Swan Shakespeare “Macbeth” were both very well annotated. I read “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Othello” from the Penguin Popular Classics series and found the connection between the words I failed to understand and the words that were clarified in the glossary to be tenuous.

  8. sawells says

    Josh, I’d recommend reading the language out loud to yourself – Shakespeare wrote his plays to be heard – and then resort to a good dictionary as needed. Shakespeare is actually surprisingly accessible, partly because he seems to have made up (or first used in print) quite a lot of our modern vocabulary.

    What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! In form and motion, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel – in apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals… and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me, nor woman neither. Nor woman neither. — Hamlet describing his depression to Horatio.

  9. says

            and in addition to the New Swan editions and reading aloud, I would strongly recommend seeing the plays acted. There are lots of DVDs etc. available. And for a fun look ‘behind the scenes (sort of)’ with lots of creative anachronisms see Shakespeare in Love. Tom Stoppard (who wrote it in part) has great insight into Mr. W.S.

  10. Dave says

    If only the BMJ’s press officer knew how to spell ‘predominantly’, all would be well with the world.

  11. lordshipmayhem says

    I love the BMJ’s response. Unlike the “it’s before the courts” non-responses so often suggested by legal counsel, this statement just drips with icy-cold contempt, forming stalactites of sarcasm.

  12. says

    Josh – ah now on this subject I can really pontificate. Been there. Far into adulthood suddenly wanted to get the point of Shakespeare in a way I hadn’t before.

    My favorite edition for entry is the Folger. It’s great because the play is on one page and all the notes and explanation are on the facing page, so it’s dead easy to ignore the notes when you want to and to consult them when you want to.

    I recommend starting with the BBC Hamlet with Derek Jacobi. Not any other Hamlet; not any other BBC production; just that one.

  13. says

    As I often do, I’m compiling a list of responses to this news Wakefield’s Latest Legal Action: A Roundup.

    What is curious to me is that the Wakefield faithful have been pretty much silent. Nothing at Age of Autism, a few posts to Facebook, a press release from the Autism Action Network…

    The other point I would like to make that the vast majority of autism parents and adults with autism reject the notion of “autism as vaccine injury” and perceive Wakefield as crook who has set back needed autism research by a decade.

  14. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Yay! Thanks for all the recommendations. Ophelia’s Folger suggestion sounds like exactly, precisely what I’m looking for.

  15. says

    Josh, I can bend your ear a lot more on this subject, but should probably take it to email. Also some of it will be more useful once you get into it. Once you’re bitten, it all makes sense.

    I’ll say this though – another way to get comfortable with the language (and to realize it’s not nearly as alien as it seems at first) is to read you some King James bible. That’s good fun anyway.

  16. says

    The BBC Macbeth with Patrick Stewart is pretty good – thrilling and absorbing. I’d start with Macbeth rather than Hamlet as it’s very exciting, and shorter than Hamlet.

  17. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    I recommend seeing videos or live performances of the comedies before reading them. Much of Shakespeare’s comedy is physical, not cerebral. I read Much Ado About Nothing and found it mildly amusing. I then saw a performance of the play and thought it was hilariously funny.

  18. Didaktylos says

    I think his motivation is along the lines of “it is as well to be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb”.

  19. says

    I recently perused an article in an on-line woo magazine suggesting a “Re-occupy your body” movement” in which they questioned the research results on the safety of MMR vaccines by saying that there had been “key researchers” who “doctored their data by falsifying autism statistics”. Oddly, Wakefield was the first one who came to mind when I read that.

  20. says

    Ah, Josh. Just before the Midwinter festival (ahem), I finished reading Henry VIII which was for me the last of the plays. I’ve now read the complete works(!) and am starting again from the beginning (plays, poems, sonnets to be picked at random).

    I’ll be setting up a discussion thread for each one on if you want to sign up and read along with me (for plays, I’ll be going at the pace of 1 act a week with a couple of weeks off in between more or less). On the weekend of the 21st of January I’ll be starting with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which just happens to be one of the more accessible ones to read.

  21. says

    Ibis, that’s true…Maybe I will. I think I considered doing a book talk thread once before (pre-FTB).

    I disagree a bit about MND as most accessible. I think Hamlet is much more accessible, because it’s about such…how shall I say, emotive things. Love, grief, loyalty, betrayal, revenge – all of them interwoven and interrogating each other as they re-enforce each other. Hamlet himself is hugely identifiable-with, which surely has to be one of the reasons the play has always been so popular.

    I think MND in comparison verges on boring. Still too early period – too lyrical, too dancy-flowery, too affected, too like LLL.

  22. says

    Yup. I’ve seen that on stage, too. Nearly laughed my insides out during the one-minute Hamlet run backwards.

    I went with friends. There’s a bit during Hamlet when they pick a woman to come up on stage to help them with screaming. They picked my friend Rachel; first thing they did was ask her name. Such a pity they didn’t pick me…they would have been so confused.


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