Gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield has been defeated at nearly every round in a legal battle over his claims about autism, but he's coming back for another. An article Wakefield published in 1998 linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism and bowel disease was immediately challenged and discredited. Wakefield, formerly based at a U.K. hospital, was convicted in 2010 by the British General Medical Council of four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts of endangering children; he lost his license to practice medicine, retracted multiple articles, and lost his job at his Texas enterprise Thoughtful House. But on 3 January, he filed a defamation lawsuit in Austin, Texas, against the authors of a series of articles appearing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) exactly 1 year ago that accused him of fraud.
The brief names three defendants: investigative journalist Brian Deer, who analyzed Wakefield's data in a BMJ article and accused him of fraud, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee, who threw the journal's support behind the fraud accusation in an editorial, and BMJ as a whole. 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." It also cites as evidence of a conflict of interest the fact that BMJ receives money from vaccine makers GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. The brief does not specify how much money Wakefield wants for damages. As bloggers have noted , this case will be one of the first tests of a new Texas law designed to discourage capricious libel suits by putting the burden on the plaintiff (Wakefield in this case) to prove that the defendants' speech has caused damage before the suit can go forward.