Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh.
Runners-up for the award were Prince Charles and David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth and member of the Commons health select committee. The Good Thinking Society, a campaign group led by Singh, set up the annual Golden Duck award to recognise those “who have supported or practiced pseudoscience in the most ludicrous, dangerous, irrational or irresponsible manner”.
In 1998, Wakefield was the lead author of a paper in the Lancet medical journal that suggested a link between the measles virus and inflammatory bowel disease. The paper also suggested the virus played a role in the development of autism. Wakefield later said that his research led him to believe that, instead of the MMR triple vaccine, children should be given a series of single vaccines. His statements led to alarm around the world from parents and a drop in the rates of MMR vaccination and, in the UK, a rise in cases of measles.
In 2010, the Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s paper and he was struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Subsequent studies have found no credible link between MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at Bristol University, said that Wakefield’s legacy was “many, many thousands of unimmunised children born over the last 15 years whose parents decided MMR was too risky at the time and subsequently have forgotten all about it. Measles rates are up and they will only decline when this accumulation of susceptibles has either had the vaccine or the disease.”
The Golden Duck award was voted on by attendees of the many Skeptics in the Pub groups, which convene talks and events around rationalism. Tredinnick made the shortlist for his parliamentary motions supporting homeopathy and other unproven medical ideas. Prince Charles was on the list for his long-term support for groups that lobby for alternative, unproven therapies.