Book choice: The Doctor Who Fooled the World

Review by Dr Greg Dollman

  • Date: 04 August 2021

So, here is how MMR was meant to cause autism. Persistent measles virus led to bowel inflammation. Then an “excess” of peptides from food escaped into the bloodstream, travelled to the brain, and caused damage.

This is how the investigative journalist Brian Deer, in his new book The Doctor Who Fooled the World, summarises Dr Andrew Wakefield’s ‘opioid excess’ hypothesis. Wakefield considered that this hypothesis gave a “coherent explanation for a link between the gut, persistent measles virus infection, autoimmunity and autism”.

Deer’s powerful summary comes midway through the book that is layered with apparent truths and lies of “the scientific deception of our time”. It is apt, therefore, that early on Deer describes the uncovering of the truth as “peeling the rancid onion from which the Wakefield story tumbled out”.

After 217 days of a fitness to practise hearing, during which 93 pages of allegations were considered, Wakefield was removed from the General Medical Council register on 24 May 2010. The tribunal found Wakefield impaired on a number of grounds, including “findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health”.

Concern about the safety of MMR vaccines in the 1990s and 2000s resulted in a significant decrease worldwide in the number of parents immunising their children. There have been a number of measles outbreaks across the globe in recent years.

The Doctor Who Fooled the World chronicles Deer’s decades-long investigation into Wakefield’s research, neatly condensed into under 400 pages. It is easy to read, and Deer explains eloquently the complex science and the even more complex background story. Deer does not hide his opinions, yet there is opportunity for the reader to ponder the content.

Deer writes: “Rules didn’t apply to [Wakefield]. Not even rules to protect the integrity of potentially life-impacting medical research.” He concludes: ”The way I saw it, it was never about the science, the children, or the mothers. It had always been about himself.”

Every doctor should read this book.

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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