Michael Fitzpatrick is a UK physician in general practice and the father of a child with autism, and the author of of Defeating Autism: A Dangerous Delusion Routledge, 2004 (available from Amazon(UK) or Amazon (USA), MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, Routledge, 2004 (available from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA); and The Tyranny of Health: Doctors and the Regulation of Lifestyle, Routledge, 2000 (available from Amazon UK or Amazon USA).
He also writes regularly for Spiked! "an online publication with the modest ambition of making history as well as reporting it. spiked stands for liberty, enlightenment, experimentation and excellence. Its priorities are content, content and content."
What US readers are only vaguely aware of is how the UK media trumpeted Wakefield's assertion that the measles vaccine was implicated in autism. The following index to Fitzpatrick's articles at Spiked! illustrate the development.Each link is followed by a brief quote from the article.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, November 2002 Mumps Campaign: Swollen concerns The government’s latest response to the scare over the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is to launch a counter-scare - over the safety of one of the single mumps vaccines that have been imported to meet the demand from anxious parents who have chosen this alternative to the triple jab. But experience shows that counter-scares are likely to be counterproductive.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, May 2003 Immune to the Facts There have been two phases in the media treatment of the MMR-autism link. In the three years following the appearance of Dr Wakefield’s paper that first suggested the link in February 1998, the issue was largely the preserve of specialist health reporters in the broadsheet newspapers. They reported Dr Wakefield’s case against MMR and the mainstream response in a balanced way. The tone was sceptical towards Dr Wakefield and tended to affirm the benefits of the mass immunisation programme. After January 2001, MMR became a major political issue: Dr Wakefield questioned the safety of the national immunisation campaign, and the integrity of those running it, and the Chief Medical Officer launched a campaign of reassurance.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, December 2003 Hear the Silence "Viewers of Hear the Silence should know that the pro-MMR experts have refused to participate in the debate because they are outraged that such an utterly groundless scare is being given still more publicity. I would like to make it clear that I have decided to participate in this discussion as a parent of an autistic child and as a GP - not as a specialist in this area.">
- Michael Fitzpatric, December 2003 MMR: Fact and Fiction On Monday 15 December, Channel 5 is due to screen Hear the Silence, a drama featuring Juliet Stevenson as the campaigning mother of an autistic child, and Hugh Bonneville as Dr Andrew Wakefield, leading advocate of the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The drama will be followed by a debate - pre-recorded last week - in which Dr Wakefield and his supporters face critics of the anti-MMR campaign, including myself. Although this debate was boycotted by all the leading experts in the fields of child and public health, immunisation and autism, Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat MP), Gini Bartlett (from the rubella charity Sense) and Tammy Spears (co-author of the Cardiff journalism school study on MMR) helped to ensure that the Wakefield case was not conceded by default....Being the parent of autistic child - as I am - qualifies you to speak authoritatively on the experience of being the parent of an autistic child. It does not give you any privileged insight into the aetiology, epidemiology or any other aspect of the condition. Yet Mrs Kessick and other parents are ready to make public statements on matters that are well beyond their sphere of competence in a way that is likely to undermine public confidence in immunisation policy. As I commented in the studio discussion, the fact that as parents, we have experienced the tragedy of autism in our families, does not give us a license to promote a scare that may have the consequence of visiting similar tragedies on other families.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, December 2003: Medicine on Trial The enormous waste of public funds on the abortive MMR litigation is a scandal with a number of dimensions. Before considering the consequences of the collapse of the case, it is worth surveying the legal background and the nature of the scientific research that was carried out under the direction of a team of solicitors.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, February 2004: MMR: Investigating the Interests Dr Andrew Wakefield is not the only person with questions to answer following The Sunday Times’ revelations that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest in his February 1998 Lancet paper that launched the MMR-autism scare. According to a major investigative feature by Brian Deer, in 1996 Dr Wakefield was retained by the solicitor Richard Barr to carry out investigations on a number of children with autism and bowel problems (1). The object of these investigations was to confirm parents’ claims that their children’s behavioural and digestive symptoms had been caused by the MMR vaccine, so that they could claim compensation from the vaccine manufacturers.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, March 2004 MMR: The Controversy Continues It is true that Dr Wakefield’s career in mainstream medical research has been effectively destroyed by his anti-MMR campaign. But this is more the result of his refusal to follow the rules of scientific research by persistently promoting a hypothesis that neither he nor anybody else has been able to substantiate (at least to the satisfaction of any reputable scientific authority), than the consequence of some arbitrary persecution. It is not the medical establishment that has suppressed debate about MMR, but Dr Wakefield who has avoided it.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, September 2004 Anti-Vaccination Nation? UK Anti-vaccination campaigns, past and present
- Michael Fitzpatrick, September 2004 MMR a reparation of sorts Review of MMR: Science and Fiction: Exploring the Vaccine Crisis, Richard Horton, Granta, 2004. ‘The Wakefield affair reveals a society undone and unable to come to terms with dissent, uncertainty, the meaning of evidence, the inescapable human need for trust, and our wider global responsibilities.’
- Michael Fitzpatrick, November 2004 How did the doctor get away with it Brian Deer’s documentary MMR: What the Doctor Didn’t Tell You - shown as part of the Dispatches series on the UK’s Channel 4 last night - exposed the sleaze and quackery surrounding the campaign claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Dr Andrew Wakefield, the gastroenterologist who first suggested this link in a now-discredited article in the Lancet in 1998, presents himself as a serious scientist committed to the welfare of children with autism. Yet Deer revealed Dr Wakefield’s commercial interests in discrediting the MMR vaccine (through a patent for a rival vaccine for measles) and the extent of his collaboration with charlatans who exploit vulnerable parents with offers of unproven treatments, even ‘cures’, for autism. Many viewers will have been shocked to discover the extent of Dr Wakefield’s links with religious fundamentalists and alternative health crackpots in the USA.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, May 2005 Mercury and autism: a dangerous delusion Review of Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, by David Kirby, St Martin’s Press, New York, April 2005. As the parent of an autistic child, and as a doctor distrustful of government and corporate involvement in healthcare, I might be expected to respond positively to this book. If there was convincing evidence that vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal cause autism, perhaps I would join those currently applauding David Kirby’s book on his coast-to-coast US promotional tour. But since there is no such evidence, I fear that his misguided endorsement of the anti-mercury cause can only compound the damage that this campaign has already done, both to families affected by autism and, by undermining public confidence in the childhood immunisation programme, to the welfare of children in general.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, November 2005 The death agony of the anti-MMR campaign A recent Cochrane systematic review concluded that there was ‘no credible evidence’ of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and either inflammatory bowel disease or autism (1). The virtually unanimous verdict of the media was that this review, following a series of studies coming to the same conclusion, meant that the scare launched by Andrew Wakefield’s now notorious Lancet paper in 1998 was finally over. Not quite. The publication of the Cochrane review provoked demands that the Daily Mail and Private Eye acknowledge their past mistakes and apologise for their role in promoting the MMR-autism scare. Instead the Mail published a feature by leading columnist Melanie Phillips insisting that claims that MMR was safe were ‘a load of old baloney’ (2). Phillips proclaimed that, far from having received the ‘all-clear’, the ‘MMR scandal’ was ‘getting worse’. When Guardian science writer Ben Goldacre observed that Phillips seemed ‘to misunderstand basic epidemiology’ (3), she accused him of ‘smear and evasion’ (4). The hapless Eye stumbled between pleading that it had always been pro-immunisation and insisting that Wakefield had been unjustly ‘completely vilified’ for claiming a link between MMR and autism (though neither he nor anybody else has substantiated this since it was first suggested, nearly 10 years ago) (5)
- Michael Fitzpatrick, May 2006 MMR is safe -- so why are so many people afraid of it? Now the notion that MMR causes lingering measles infection in children with autism has been authoritatively refuted. In a study published in the current Journal of Medical Virology, a team led by London-based virologist Muhammad Afzal, and including the Edinburgh autism specialist Anne O’Hare, set out to replicate the methods used by Professor O’Leary (QRT-PCR TaqMan) and also used a more sensitive test (RT-PCR-nested PCR assay) (1). These methods have the potential to detect measles virus RNA transcripts down to single figure copy numbers. Considering it unethical to inflict colonoscopy or lumbar puncture on autistic children for research purposes, the authors used blood specimens taken for other clinical investigations from 15 children who presented sequentially to an autism diagnostic service in the south east of Scotland. The sample included 12 boys and 3 girls; 10 had shown signs of regression in their second year. All had received MMR. The authors could find no measles-virus specific genetic fragments by any method in any case, using assays targeting multiple genomic regions under various experimental formats to improve detection rates. However, they found that all the patients had detectable levels of anti-measles antibodies. They observed that ‘it therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, after provoking immunity in the vaccine recipients, measles virus was eliminated from the blood by the host defence system, as expected with normal healthy children’.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, June 2006 Stop Witch-hunting Wakefield The lesson that emerges from the failures of leadership in the medical profession over MMR is that it is not enough to challenge junk science in exclusive conferences and in specialist journals (though that is an indispensable start). When public health is threatened by a researcher who promotes his theories in the mass media before they have been substantiated scientifically, it is vital that these theories are challenged in public as well as in private. It is also important that the invidious character of these methods of evading scientific scrutiny is exposed and the potential dangers pointed out. In short, instead of vindictively pursuing Dr Wakefield, the medical establishment should put its own house in order. While Dr Wakefield has now left the scene, it is only a matter of time before another self-deluded scientist on a mission comes along.
- Michael Fizpatrick, January 2007 The anti-MMR gravy-train derailed Two significant developments occurred over the Christmas period in the long-running MMR saga – both related to the activities of the investigative journalist Brian Deer. .... On 22 December 2006, in response to a request initiated by Deer under the Freedom of Information Act, the Legal Services Commission revealed for the first time details of how more than £15million of legal aid funding was spent by lawyers attempting to make a case that MMR had caused autism in more than 1,000 children (3). This case collapsed in September 2003 when the LSC finally realised that there was no possibility of the case succeeding on the basis of the research commissioned by the lawyers and refused further funding. On 2 January this year, Dr Wakefield announced his withdrawal from the libel action he had launched against Deer and Channel 4 over the ‘Dispatches’ programme, agreeing to pay costs of £500,000 (borne by Dr Wakefield’s medical insurance firm)
- Michael Fitzpatrick, April 2007 What's behind the autism epidemic? A review of Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, Roy Richard Grinker, Basic Books, 2007; Constructing Autism: Unravelling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social, Majia Holmer Nadesan, Routledge, 2005; Send in the Idiots: Stories From the Other Side of Autism, Kamran Nazeer, Bloomsbury, 2006.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, July 2007 The Dark Art of the MMR-Autism Panic Ten years after he launched the MMR-autism scare, Dr Wakefield and his supporters display the formidable PR skills that have provoked and maintained a high level of public disquiet about childhood immunisations. Unfortunately, Dr Wakefield’s scientific achievements lag far behind his successes in media manipulation: after 10 years (and the expenditure of £15million in legal aid funding), he has yet to produce credible evidence that MMR has caused autism in a single child (2).
- Michael Fitzpatrick, Feburary 2008 The rise and fall of anti-MMR mania Review of Health, Risk and News: The MMR Vaccine and the Media, by Tammy Boyce Dr Boyce asks a number of important questions, notably – why was media coverage so sympathetic to the campaigners against MMR? Why did those supporting MMR appear relatively ineffectual?
- Michael Fitzpatrick, October 2008 "Crusade against autism doing more harm than good" The most damaging aspect of the crusade against autism espoused by campaigners such as Kirby, McCarthy and Wright is the attitude it expresses towards children with autism, indeed towards people with autism more broadly. In the article accompanying his London lecture, Wright described the ‘personal tragedy’, the ‘emotional burden’, the ‘devastating’ impact of having an autistic child in the family. Parents who identify with this outlook often describe their own predicament in terms of grief and loss and as one of unremitting battle against the corrosive impact of autism on their child, their marital relationship and on their wider family. This rhetorical excess implicitly disparages and dehumanises people with autism. It is not surprising that such a negative attitude towards autism sometimes seems to lead to a negative attitude towards the autistic child, who is depicted in metaphors of toxicity and disease.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, December 2008 False Prophets in the 'crusade against autism' Reviews of Aitken's Dietary Interventions in Autism Spectrum Disorders Lathe's Autism, Brain and Environment, Kirk's Hope for the Autism Spectrum: A Mother and Son Journey of Insight and Biomedical Intervention The books by Aitken, Lathe and Kirk are given legitimacy by being published by Jessica Kingsley, Britain’s leading publisher of popular autism titles. In all three, authors lacking in relevant qualifications and expertise provide pseudoscientific justifications for treatments not supported by scientific evidence. They encourage parents to implement interventions which are very unlikely to benefit their children, may cause them harm and will certainly impose a heavy burden – in dashed hopes even more than wasted money – on the whole family. In striking contrast with the above authors, Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure, is highly qualified to write on theories linking autism to vaccines and the associated ‘unorthodox biomedical’ treatments.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, February 2009 The MMR scare: From Foolishness to Fraud From the very start of this scandal, I have worked to debunk the myth of a link between MMR and autism. However, when it emerged nearly three years ago that Dr Wakefield was to be summoned to appear before the GMC on charges of professional misconduct, I argued that this was ill-advised (see Stop witch-hunting Wakefield)... Though I accepted that he had a case to answer in relation to the ethical propriety of conducting invasive investigations (ileo-colonoscopy, lumbar puncture) on autistic children, and in relation to undisclosed legal aid funding, these did not appear to me to justify such punitive proceedings. ... By contrast, Brian Deer’s allegations go the heart of the scientific basis for the claim for a link between MMR and autism, mediated by the hypothesised inflammatory bowel condition subsequently dubbed ‘autistic enterocolitis’ by Dr Wakefield.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, February 2009 MMR-Autism scare: the truth is out at last Wakefield’s tragedy is that his incapacity to acknowledge scientific error has led to his professional disgrace. The tragedy for the parents who have followed his campaign is that they have been the last to discover the truth. At least now, thanks to the grand masters of the vaccine court and their excellent expert witnesses, the truth is out.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, February 2009 It is time to stop this 'miracle cure' madness Biomedical tests and treatments impose a heavy burden on families. One recent US estimate was of an average annual cost equivalent to the median household income ($50,000) (10). Clearly such costs are far beyond the budgets of most British families who do not have private medical insurance (which may well not cover such costs). Yet, as a General Practitioner, I have come across families living on benefits who have spent a substantial proportion of their income on such interventions in the (forlorn) hope that this would help their autistic children. The opportunity costs – in terms of other expenditures of family resources that are sacrificed to biomedical interventions – may also be high, affecting siblings and the wider family.
- Michael Fitzpatrick April 2009 An Open Letter to [UK Prime Minister] Gordon Brown In response to her ‘Dear Gordon’ billboard advertising campaign (see below), you have invited the British autism campaigner Polly Tommey to discuss her campaign with you on Wednesday 15 April. However, in the interests of children and families affected by autism, I hope that you will refuse support for her key activities – upholding discredited links between vaccines and autism and recommending unproven and untested fringe treatments.
- Michael Fitzpatrick, May 2009 Asking questions is not an Inquisition There is, however, one noise from my experience in the old left that echoes loudly in the current debate. It is the sound of opponents resorting to personal abuse and smears. This was, and is, a sure sign that the other side have just lost the argument and it still puts a spring in one’s step. It is encouraging that, after some equivocation over MMR in the past, the world of autism is moving to distance itself from the unorthodox biomedical approach promoted by Mrs Tommey and her friends. When it became known that three prominent unorthodox biomedical practitioners – who featured in the recent Bournemouth conference – had been invited to speak at a mainstream autism conference in London in July, leading autism specialists indicated that they would not share the same platform. The fact that the invitations to all three were briskly withdrawn and the agenda reorganised indicates the refusal of serious scientists and clinicians to give any recognition or legitimacy to the unorthodox biomedical approach.