Amicus Plato…

A few weeks ago, I took the Pro-Truth pledge. (By the way, I encourage others to take it as well, and also follow one of the founders, Professor Gleb Tsipursky).

It took me a while to commit to it, because I was afraid of being constrained. As I thought about the implications, I realized it is actually quite liberating. And it is only fitting that on this July 4th I will finally post something that I’ve been thinking about.

It has to do with — wait for it — fake news. Or, to put it a different way, so Jim Acosta does not get offended… Well, actually I am not sure how to put it in a different way…

Is there a term for something that everyone knows to be true, but it is not, really? There ought to be. Especially as you can get away with it by just claiming that “we know X because Y reports it”, and link to Y, which just links to Z, which links to A — and it’s turtles all the way down

I’ve been a fan of quoting Crichton’s concept of Gell-Mann amnesia here and there, and occasionally referencing his entire speech, but today… Well, today Michael settles all family business, that is, sorry, today I would like to talk about Andrew Wakefield.

Or, rather, the way he has been referred to in the media.

Nota bene (trigger warning): The words used below may cause some Chinese-room-like response from some readers. Don’t be one of those readers. Please consider not just the words, but their arrangement into sentences, and the arrangement of sentences into paragraphs, which in turn have been arranged to make a point.

Everyone knows that Wakefield fraudulently claimed the link between vaccines and autism, for which he was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the UK. Right? Right?

For example, Kashmira Gander in The Independent:

Parents against vaccinating their children fear that the jabs will cause side-effects, and are frightened by the now discredited findings of Andrew Wakefield who published a study concluding that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism.

Julia Belluz at Vox:

One of the most noteworthy fearmongerers is Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor who introduced the bogus idea that vaccines and autism are linked in a paper in a 1998 The Lancet study.

Jaqueline Howard at CNN:

While trying to make sense of the autism rates, the parents discovered the work of discredited British researcher Andrew Wakefield, who first suggested a link between vaccines and autism in a study later found to be fraudulent.

Some writers, like one Andrew M. Seaman in Huffington Post, skip Wakefield’s name, and just lazily assert:

The 1998 study that claimed to find a connection between the MMR vaccine and ASD was later debunked. The Lancet, the medical journal that originally published it, withdrew it.

Now, what does it all refer to? What sort of hardcore investigative journalism went into this?

None, really. The retracted study is very prominently featured on Lancet’s website.

Right here:

One doesn’t really need a secret meeting in the middle of the night with an equivalent of a Deep Throat (or with a Russian Crown Prosecutor!) to break the story. It’s just a Google search away — and it reads, in part:

We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.

Regardless of any other issues with the study (which are extensively documented elsewhere), poor Dr. Andrew Wakefield explicitly stated that he did not prove the association that, nonetheless, is continuing to be attributed to him. Why is he being repeatedly misidentified as someone who claimed that there was one? What is actually going on?

And why are people that are copy-pasting this still gainfully employed? Shouldn’t they have deleted their accounts by now (or had them deleted) — literally and figuratively

Jayson Blair? Please. He was but a little barnacle stuck to that ship of fools.

It’s past time to ask whether these people have any sense of decency. They don’t.


Other people working for better outlets did a better job. Consider Susan Dominus (if you are a journalist — be like Susan, at least!) for the Old Grey Lady:

Although Wakefield did not claim to have proved that the M.M.R. vaccine (typically given to children at 12 to 15 months) caused autism, his concerns, not his caveats, ricocheted around the world.

No kidding, Susan. No kidding, Ms. Dominus.

Throw shit against the wall and see what sticks? Is that the current state of discourse?

P.S. An entity known as Andrew M. Seaman, apparently, claims on its Twitter account that it has something to do with “ethics” and “medical journalism”. Just in case further proof of utter incompetency was needed. Seaman, delete your account. And that goes for the rest of “journalists” mentioned here, and those who are just another google search away.