The Pathological Optimist, a documentary that chronicles the downfall of discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield, hits theaters on September 29. Wakefield famously lost his license after publishing a bunk study that single-handedly led to the creation of the anti-vaxxers movement. The new documentary follows Wakefield over the course of 6 years and promises a “delicate portrait” of the man.
In 1998, Wakefield co-authored a study with 13 other doctors that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. The work led to the creation of the anti-vaxxers movement, in which parents refuse to inoculate their children against preventable diseases. This movement puts children and society as a whole at risk.
Wakefield’s study was later discredited and his medical license revoked after a rare hearing by the General Medical Council in the United Kingdom. The council cited various reasons, including unethical financing and the fact his study was downright fraudulent. It was also concluded that Wakefield subjected children to undue procedures and didn’t request ethical approval. There was also concern regarding fraud following the reveal by reporter Brian Deer that Wakefield had applied for a patent on a single-jab measles vaccine before he began his public campaign against the MMR shot.
Despite all this, Wakefield’s study has been given an inordinate amount of attention over the years, partially because his work directly led to the re-emergence of avoidable but potentially fatal diseases like measles.
Wakefield has been busy in the years following the loss of his medical license and his credibility. He filed several lawsuits against those who had discredited him, including Brian Deer. And, despite having his work retracted from various medical journals, Wakefield published several books several books. In one, the “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines — The Truth Behind a Tragedy,” he rails against the accusations against him. He also co-founded the “Autism Media Channel,” in Austin, Texas, where he now lives and was behind the pseudo-scientific film “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe.”
In the trailer for The Pathological Optimist, Wakefield claims “he has nothing left to lose.” In a sense, that appears to be false. Because although he’s lost his medical license, and is professionally dead in the medical sphere, he still peddles his theories far and wide and makes quite a bit of money off of an incredibly vulnerable population of parents. He has quite a bit to gain from continued relevance. And it’s not as though his career is dead. He made a lot of money from his “findings.”
While it’s unclear, so far, what the tone of this film is, it will likely be infuriating — and incredibly dangerous.