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The MMR quack who misled a generation

 Nick Cohen

The most ridiculous sight in London is the spectacle of the demonstrators on the Euston Road cheering on Andrew Wakefield as he faces malpractice charges at the General Medical Council. "Dr Wakefield cares," declared one banner.

"We're with Wakefield", "No, No, No to MMR," declared others.

Who is this man they hail as a victim of a sinister cover-up? His original claim that there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism in children has been comprehensively dismissed as pseudo-scientific gobbledegook.

In Japan, the authorities replaced the MMR vaccine with the single jabs that Wakefield's supporters want.

Autism rates continued to rise.

This study "should put the final nail in the coffin of the claim that the MMR vaccine is responsible for the apparent rise in autism in recent years," said an optimistic New Scientist.

It didn't, nor did the failure of one study anywhere in the world to back up Wakefield's research.

In an exemplary piece of investigative journalism, Brian Deer of The Sunday Times revealed that Wakefield had a conflict of interest.

At the time he claimed there was a link between MMR and autism he did not disclose he was being funded through solicitors seeking evidence to use against vaccine manufacturers.

The charges at the GMC this week include the accusation that he paid children 5 to give him blood samples.

He's innocent until proved guilty, but his accusers have a video of him chortling, "People said to me, 'Andrew, look, you know, you can't do this children won't come back to you.' [Laughter] I said, 'You're wrong.

Listen, we live in a market economy.

Next year they'll want 10.'"

I doubt that cynical speech will make much difference because the fears about MMR dig deep into the modern psyche.

The media won't leave it alone because it is the perfect scare story.

Most people including most journalists don't understand science.

The idea behind vaccination that you inject children with a virus to build up their bodies' defences against a virus runs counter to our common sense.

Injecting them with three viruses at once, well, that's asking for trouble, isn't it?

Meanwhile Wakefield seems a 21stcentury hero straight from central casting: the brave whistleblower, the crusading seeker of truth, persecuted by Big Government and Big Pharma.

So seductive is the image that we forget that the Establishment can be in the right and the brave whistleblower can talk dangerous tosh.

I've heard doctors saying that putting Wakefield on trial will only fuel the mania.

But the best way to stop it is for justice to be done and be seen to be done.

If it's not stopped, mumps, which cause infertility, rubella, which can damage unborn babies, and measles, which can kill, will be back. And the children of those who think that "Dr Wakefield cares" may have cause to regret their parents' blind faith in a discredited quack.