The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines

Brian Deer. Johns Hopkins Univ., $28 (408p) ISBN 978-1-4214-3800-9
This riveting history of Andrew Wakefield’s career as an advocate for the discredited link between the measles vaccine and autism serves as a stirring demonstration of the process and power of investigative journalism. Deer, a Sunday Times of London reporter, presents Wakefield as a charismatic but mediocre doctor and research head, “untroubled by conscience,” as he conducted extensive, invasive testing of 12 children to create “bespoke evidence” for a lawyer ally’s planned civil action against the vaccine’s developers, and then misrepresented the data in his now-infamous 1998 paper in the British medical journal Lancet. Deer recounts uncovering Wakefield’s deceptions thanks to testimony from disillusioned parents of study participants and guidance from more meticulous scientists. In large part due to Deer’s articles, Wakefield lost a university position, saw his article retracted, and was accused by the British Medical Journal of fraud. However, Deer’s final tone is less than triumphal, as Wakefield, despite his professional disgrace, found new celebrity with the nascent American antivaccine movement, presenting himself as an intellectual martyr on behalf of unpopular ideas. Readers who love a good debunking will find Deer’s narrative logical, exciting, and enraging. Agent: Becky Sweren, Aevitas Creative. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 03/03/2020
Release date: 05/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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