Wakefield Moving into New Leadership Role in Autism Community, Leaving Thoughtful House.

By Dan Olmsted

Dr. Andrew Wakefield announced today his intention to move on to a new phase of leadership in the autism community as he also prepares a more aggressive defense of his scientific accomplishments in the wake of a ruling from the U.K.’s General Medical Council (GMC). That ruling, which charged Wakefield and two pediatric gastroenterologists with misconduct, was followed shortly by the retraction of a 1998 case series report by Wakefield and his colleagues from London’s Royal Free Hospital in The Lancet. “There has been an extraordinary outpouring of support from the autism community in response to the events of the last two weeks”, Wakefield told Age of Autism in an exclusive interview. “The most exciting part of it has been the opening up of an entirely new sort of opportunity that will allow me to continue my work on behalf of autism families.” Wakefield said he would provide more specifics on the nature of that opportunity soon. “In addition, I will now speak publicly to refute the findings that have been made against me. I know my necessary silence on these issues has troubled many parents in both the U.K. and the U.S. But I’m ready now to get back on the front foot and publicly contest the false accusations that have been made against me, my colleagues, and indirectly The Lancet children. It’s been long overdue.”

Wakefield, previously the Executive Director of Thoughtful House, had been a senior scientist in charge of an ambitious primate research program on vaccine safety. The first paper from this project was published online on October 2, 2009 by Neurotoxicology (see HERE) who then decided unexpectedly on February 12 not to proceed with publication in the print edition (like The Lancet, the journal Neurotoxicology is owned by Elsevier, a division of Reed Elsevier PLC). Many autism advocates have expressed the concern that the attack on Wakefield has been part of a broader campaign for the suppression of science, including the primate project (see HERE). Earlier this week, Jane Johnson of Thoughtful House released the following statement. “We fully support [Dr. Wakefield’s] decision to leave Thoughtful House in order to make sure that the controversy surrounding the recent findings of the General Medical Council does not interfere with the important work that our dedicated team of clinicians and researchers is doing on behalf of children with autism and their families.”

Wakefield expressed optimism that by working with the support of a larger set of autism organizations he would be able to focus attention back on the exploding population of affected children and their families, “which is where it belongs”, he emphasized. “I have always followed the principle that good medicine, and ultimately good science, begins and ends with the patient. We need to remember that the purpose of medical science is not to serve the medical industry but rather the interests of the patients the industry serves.”