Highlights from the NYT Magazine profile of Andrew Wakefield

April 21st, 2011 → 9:41 am @ // 12 Comments

This morning, The New York Times Magazine posted Susan Dominus’s lengthy profile of Andrew Wakefield.

As I told Dominus, I have conflicted feelings about pieces like this. On one level, I think they run the risk of simply giving more oxygen to someone who has already taken significantly more of the media’s attention than he deserves. There’s a sort of bizarro-world nature to the correlation between the attention Wakefield receives and the total scientific bankruptcy of his notions…and in a month when an entire Virginia school had to be shut down because of a whooping cough outbreak spread by non-vaccinated students and ten (and counting) children have been hospitalized in Minnesota because of a measles outbreak started by a deliberately unvaccinated child, I’m not sure the rantings of a disgraced doctor who was caught on tape joking about drawing blood from children at his son’s birthday party needs any more attention.

I’ll (probably) discuss this more in depth later on, but right now I’m late for a doctor’s appointment…er, for my weekly meeting with my co-conspirators in the medical-pharma-academic-government establishment. For now, here are some highlights.

Wakefield’s allies offer a warning to potential critics:

Michelle Guppy, the coordinator of the Houston Autism Disability Network and the organizer of the [Wakefield rally], said she believed her own autistic son benefited greatly from one aspect of Wakefield’s work: his conviction that untreated gastrointestinal problems could be behind some of autism’s symptoms. It was Guppy, it turned out, who thought to hire the armed guards “to make the statement,” she said, “that this is neutral ground, and it’s going to be civil.” Guppy, a mother of two who was elegantly dressed for the occasion, made no pretense of neutrality herself. She narrowed her eyes when she learned that a writer from The New York Times was there to write about Wakefield.

“Be nice to him,” she said, “or we will hurt you.”

Wakefield’s New World Order conspiracy theories:

For Wakefield, the attacks have become a kind of affirmation. The more he must defend his research, the more important he seems to consider it — so important that powerful forces have conspired and aligned against him.* He said he believes that “they” — public-health officials, pharmaceutical companies — pay bloggers to plant vicious comments about him on the Web. “Because it’s always the same,” he says. “Discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield, discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield.” He also “wouldn’t be surprised” if public-health officials were inflating the number of measles mortalities, just as he thinks they inflate the risks of the flu to increase uptake of that vaccine. Having been rejected by mainstream medicine, Wakefield, the son of well-regarded doctors in Britain, has apparently rejected the integrity of mainstream medicine in return.

The co-option of modern technology by anti-Wakefield forces:

Wakefield never seemed too perturbed by my questions; if he felt any irritation, he took it out on his GPS, which he seemed to think was out to get him, just like his critics. “There’s no left turn here, you idiot,” he said to the disembodied voice. “Turn right? Why? What’s the point?”

The co-founder of Jenny McCarthy’s autism organization on Wakefield’s place in the pantheon of messiahs:

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” says J. B. Handley, co-founder of Generation Rescue, a group that disputes vaccine safety. “He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.”

Wakefield’s current existence:

Wakefield now lives in a high-end Austin neighborhood, a private enclave where most homes, including his, enjoy generous acreage and bucolic views of the hills. “You can almost believe you’re in Tuscany,” he says of the view from his back deck.

* There’s something very Dark Side of the Force-ish to Wakefield. He’s like an anti-Obi Wan, mocking actual scientists and medical professionals everywhere: “You can’t win. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”


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12 Comments → “Highlights from the NYT Magazine profile of Andrew Wakefield”

  1. René Najera

    3 years ago

    I wonder if he’s here on a visa, and what that visa is. But that’s neither here nor there. What is here and now is that he is being worshiped by a group of very vulnerable people, and that never ends well.

    How can he honestly say that “big pharma” is paying people off when he himself is living it up in the USA?

    This is all mildly disturbing.


  2. United Kingdom

    3 years ago

    Dear USA,

    Please keep Wakefield. We don’t want him back.

    Best regards,
    United Kingdom


    • Parents of the UK

      9 months ago

      As a UK parent of two thankfully healthy children, I agree with you. After all, it’s herd immunity that keeps kids healthy, not pseudo-science.


  3. Sullivan

    3 years ago

    Mr. Mnookin,

    I agree with the mixed reaction to the NYT piece. The proper press coverage for Mr. Wakefield is none. Barring that, it is good to see that his story doesn’t sell anymore.

    Note that there are 13 people hospitalized so far in the Minnesota measles outbreak.


  4. MarshallDog

    3 years ago

    My brain can’t help but edit your post:

    “On one level, I think they run the risk of simply giving more oxygen to someone who has already taken significantly more … than he deserves.”

    Is that a low blow? I’m not sorry.


  5. USA

    3 years ago

    Dear UK:

    Wakefield is currently darkening our country because our immigration laws are abstruse and involve divination using the entrails of a goat to determine whether a man like him should be allowed to stay in our country. We are currently pushing legal proceedings regarding whether or not he is made of wood. If he weighs as much as a duck, and is therefore made of wood, he will be deported forthwith, and you should prepare to receive him. We recommend preparing appropriate accomodations in the Tower of London.

    We know this will annoy you, so to sweeten the bitter pill, we promise to stop producing mediocre adaptations of your better television shows.




  6. JB Handley

    3 years ago

    “What is here and now is that he is being worshiped by a group of very vulnerable people, and that never ends well.”

    I have been called many things, but “vulnerable” is not one of them. Perhaps in your dream world all of us parents are suckers and living in an Andy cult. In the real world, many of us are highly educated professionals with very thick skin and strong spines, and we’re not going anywhere, no matter how many times Seth Mnookin calls us “assholes.”

    JB Handley


    • Howard

      3 years ago

      Probably would be good for you to review the Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heaven’s Gate stories. People who for any reason give this level of adulation to another have surrendered their future to the ravings of someone divorced from reality.

      Wakefield took hundreds of thousands of pounds from ambulance chasing lawyers who wanted to roust up new work. How can that possibly be anything less than automatic condemnation of any opinion he has?

      I’m sorry that apparently no argument will convince you to stop trying to persuade people to open the doors to illnesses that are killing defenseless infants.


  7. brian

    3 years ago

    JB Handley wrote: “Perhaps in your dream world all of us parents are suckers and living in an Andy cult.”

    JB Handley was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.”

    That’s weird.

    Sullivan noted that more than a dozen children have been hospitalized in the Minnesota measles outbreak. Rebecca Martin, who runs the European office of the WHO’s vaccine and preventable diseases program, says France has already reported 4,937 measles cases between January and March 2011. “Children have not been immunised as regularly as before and we’ve had a build-up of children over time who have not had their immunizations. At this rate, the epidemic caused by low vaccine uptake due to Wakefield’s nonsense will claim about 20,000 victims this year in France alone. Some of those diseased patients will die. The man that Handley compares to Jesus will be largely responsible for those deaths, but Handley, who has long promoted discredited anti-vaccine nonsense, shares that responsibility..

  8. [...] fraud­u­lent and dis­cred­ited by the British Med­ical Jour­nal as noted by var­i­ous other sources. Wake­field was the per­son who tried to claim, in an extremely mis­taken fash­ion, that MMR [...]

  9. [...] the modern fear of vaccines; the paper contained shoddy and subsequently disproven work in 1998 that contributed so much to the antivaccination movement of today. His work has been called fraudulent by the British Medical Journal, and the paper was so awful The [...]

  10. [...] McCarthy’s (and other celebrities’) ravings about vaccines. What followed was a growing number of parents who refused to allowed their kids to be injected with the DPT or MMR [...]


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