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Embattled autism study author sues medical journal for defamation
Dr. Andrew Wakefield authored a 1998 study that was retracted by the journal The Lancet.
January 6th, 2012
07:22 PM ET

Embattled autism study author sues medical journal for defamation

A doctor whose research on autism has been discredited by many medical authorities is launching a lawsuit against the British Medical Journal, as well as a freelance journalist and one of the journal's editors.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield is the author of a controversial 1998 autism study and has linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to causing autism. In his lawsuit, he alleges that the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and specifically writer Brian Deer and editor Dr. Fiona Godlee, defamed him. They have made "unfair, incorrect, inaccurate and unjust criticisms of findings previously reported by Dr. Wakefield and 12 other co-authors," a petition filed in Travis County, Texas, states.

Wakefield's medical license was taken away in Britain in 2010 after a lengthy investigation into his research on children with autism.

One year ago this week, the British Medical Journal published the first of a series of articles calling Wakefield's controversial research fraudulent. They accused Wakefield of misrepresenting or altering the medical histories of all 12 of the patients involved in the 1998 study. Deer, the author of the articles, said last year he thought Wakefield should face criminal charges.

Wakefield's petition denies that Wakefield fraudulently and intentionally manipulated or falsified data or diagnoses in the study published in the journal Lancet in 1998. Twelve years later, in February 2010, three months before Wakefield lost his licence, the Lancet retracted the 1998 study because they said it became clear parts of the paper were "incorrect."

The petition states that this "malicious publication of the false statements about Dr. Wakefield" continue to cause damages such as "injury to character and reputation, humiliation, injury to feelings, and loss of earning capacity."

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta questioned Wakefield in 2011 - watch here.

Deer told CNN Friday he has not received the petition, although he is aware of its existence. A statement on behalf of Deer and the British Medical Journal defended what had appeared in the journal previously: "While we await formal service, unsurprisingly the BMJ and Mr. Deer stand by the material published in the BMJ and their other statements and confirm that they have instructed lawyers to defend the claim vigorously."

The petition cites interviews Deer did with CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and CNN's American Morning in 2011 among examples of defamatory statements made by Deer. CNN is not implicated in the petition. It also takes issue with an editorial written by Godlee calling Wakefield's paper "an elaborate fraud."

Wakefield has brought claims and made complaints against Deer, as well as other news outlets, in relation to the Lancet study, but none of these have been successful, the British Medical Journal statement said.

A call to Wakefield's lawyer was not immediately returned.

Wakefield now lives in Austin, Texas, the petition said.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin finds it surprising that Wakefield would launch this lawsuit in the United States instead of Great Britain, because with the freedom of the press, it's harder to win a libel suit of this nature in the U.S.

Related coverage:

Vaccine study's author held related patent, medical journal reports

Probe of early autism-vaccine complaints was limited, report says

Autism Day in the shadow of Wakefield


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.