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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wake Up To Wakefield.

I've been reading some blog posts on the recent Autism One conference in the US. Most of the posts have centred around two skeptics, Ken Reibel and Jamie Bernstein, being removed by armed police officers after being identified by conference organisers. Orac over at Respectful Insolence(
has all the goss on what went down and links to the blogs of those evicted which are well worth a read. See Expelled, Anti Vaccine Style. 2011 Edition. post.

There are many aspects to both what occured with Ken and Jamie, and the presentations on offer as outlined by Orac that are concerning. But what really jumped out at me was the address by Andrew Wakefield on the topic of Munchausens by Proxy, and the actual case of five children being removed from their parents care. Firstly let me state I am not familiar with the case in question. In fact a google search takes you to several alternative medicine type sites and Age of Autism. None of which I am prepared to link to. According to these sites the five children have been removed by authorities on the grounds of suspicion of Munchausen by Proxy in one or both parents,(MbP is a complex and disturbing psychological disorder). Apparently the parents have maintained their children all have Autism. Obviously medical authorities do not agree with the parents and feel the children's wellbeing is jeopardised by remaining in their care. Yet there are supporters of the parents such as Age of Autism, and evidently Andrew Wakefield who seem to be suggesting the removal of the children is part of some grand conspiracy. Anyway the complexities of this case are not the point of this post.

Iv'e been to my fair share of conferences over the years. And have even presented at a couple. It is customary in my experience when attending seminars or conferences that those who speak on a given topic are recognised as having some level of expertise in said topic. Whether through direct experience, work, or research. So what puzzled me about Wakefield giving this talk was how he could possibly be qualified to present a paper on the topic of Autism and Muchausens by Proxy. As someone trained in Gastroenterology he would  be well versed in topics related to the relevant body parts and their illnesses , which does not include the brain. Despite having his medical license revoked in the UK, I am sure he could still come up with a topical address at an event like AutismOne within his field of experience. Instead he has wandered into territory that is far outside his knowledge base. That in itself isnt really a great surprise if youve followed the rise and fall of Andrew. But what it does suggest to me is an incredibly arrogant assumption that those people attending the conference would not question his capacity to present on such a complex issue. ( I am assuming of course he is not friends with this family so has no intimate knowledge of the case.)

Maybe it's just me, but when I read a conference programme I always check the credentials of those presenting as part of determining what I might attend. I mean why would I want to see an address on Autism research being presented by a plumber? So it occurs to me that it shows a real lack of respect for the intelligence of the parents attending this conference by Wakefield. This should serve as a wake up call to people that this man feels entitled to talk on any subject he chooses, even those outside his area of expertise, and that they will buy it. Furthermore it seems that in his presentation there was a wilful attempt to create distrust of government authorities by referring to a conspiracy. This is not just arrogance but manipulation. Those who support and admire Wakefield should be aware they are possibly being indoctrinated into a way of thinking that is neither healthy or helpful.

It seems to me that Wakefield is desperate to maintain relevance within certain sections of the Autism community any way he can. Now he cannot practice medicine, Autism, and more specifically desperate parents, are his new gravy train. Perhaps this analysis seems overly harsh and there is a genuinely good explanation for why he is talking on a topic he knows next to nothing about? If there is I am happy to hear it and stand corrected.


  1. Oh but he *is* an expert on a topic directly and intimately related to the case: Conspiracy theories that the government and medical authorities are out to get you, and particularly that they are determined to make you look crazy when really you just care about the kids.

    Wakefield knows about that intimately, and at a "professional" level.

    I am very reluctant to speak one way or the other about the family at issue (so I won't), but they should know that having Wakefield go in to bat for them is not going to help their cause. They need respected medical professionals on their side; Wakefield is not one of those people.

  2. Thats very true A&O, if the family do indeed have a case, the last person they need on their side is Andy.

  3. Hi Sharon, thank you for this thoughtful post.

    For anybody interested in the complete "Expelled from AutismOne 2011" saga, I have a list of responses. The comments to many of the posts are ... interesting.

    As far as Wakefield's presentation goes, and the "Arizona 5" (or whatever they are being called now), the cause was meant to be a big fundraiser, which flopped. Jamie Bernstein's report on Wakefield's talk is here.

    More concerning than Wakefield's appearance to me is that AutismOne kept Mark and David Geier on the program. Mark Geier is the physician who was "treating" autism with Lupron, a drug whose primary use is chemical castration. Mark Geier's medical license has been suspended in two of the ten states where he holds a license; his son David Geier has been charged with practicing medicine without a license. (full list of Geier coverage here

  4. Liz thanks so much for those great links. I agree that the Geiers being there does nothing more than compoud the idea that this is a conference for charlatans and bad science. I also negelected to mention how disturbed I was by Jenny McCarthy's guru :)

  5. I agree that having Andrew on board for these many ridiculous msbp cases (& there are many) would do more harm than good due to his reputation being assasinated, however to consider him invalid is ignorant. Why would anyone profit from his dis-creditation? Could it be that in fact he is VERY right in what he says & that ultimately one's economy could not cope with this information being recognised? Consider the effects on one's brain if one's 2nd brain (the gut) was functioning improperly & the myriad of toxins released and the effect that would have on one's 1st brain. To dispel his extensive work is in my opinion very dangerous, which by the way is agreed by many many professionals. Hooray I say for his integrity and courage to "stand up and be counted" even at great cost personally. Please do not post such purile asspertions without thorough research.

  6. Integrity? Andrew? Ive undertaken enough reading about him to know integrity is not his strong point Anon. I think the topic about which I post above is some evidence of this. I see you are buying into the conspiracy that big pharma are out to discredit Andrew to protect their interests. Then you accuse me of "purile asspertions" That really is priceless.
    Andrew stands up to be counted every opportunity he gets. It's narcissism not integrity from what I can tell.
    Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment.