Andrew Wakefield, the gastroenterologist infamous for making a now-discredited link between vaccines and autism, is suing the British Medical Journal for libel, reports ScienceInsider's Sara Reardon. In 1998, Wakefield published an article in the Lancet (it has since been retracted) linking the MMR vaccine to autism and bowel disease. That article was immediately challenged and discredited, Reardon says. In 2010, Wakefield was convicted in the UK for being dishonest and endangering children, and last year, in a series of articles, the British Medical Journal accused him of fraud. In the meantime, Reardon adds, Wakefield also lost his license to practice medicine in the UK, retracted several articles he'd published, and lost his job in Texas.
But now, Wakefield has filed a defamation lawsuit against BMJ, naming three defendants — the author, Brian Deer, of the series of articles, the editor, Fiona Godlee, and BMJ itself, Reardon says. "The suit claims that the journal, bolstered by a series of subsequent media appearances by Deer, 'acted with malice' and damaged Wakefield's character, reputation, and earning potential by accusing him of 'misreporting and [data] alteration' and 'deliberate fraud,'" she adds. The suit also claims BMJ has ties to vaccine-makers like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline. There is no word yet on the specific amount of money that Wakefield is asking for.
But it may be hard-going for Wakefield, Reardon says. A new Texas law, where the suit was filed, is designed to limit frivolous libel suits by putting the burden on the plaintiff to prove his allegations. And Wakefield has tried to sue Deer for libel before, and was forced to drop the suit when he couldn't prove his accusations. BMJ and Deer say they stand by the articles they published, Reardon adds.