Frankie Thomas at New York Magazine:
One of the most famous flawed studies ever conducted, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s now-retracted 1998 paper that linked vaccines to autism has been found to be not a scientific error, but a deliberate lie. BMJ, a British medical journal, has just published its investigation of the matter and concluded that Dr. Wakefield purposely falsified his data. They report that he was contracted by lawyers determined to sue the vaccine manufacturers, regardless of scientific truth.
A report by journalist Brian Deer in the British Journal of Medicine, the first in a series, reveals that the Wakefield study relied upon “bogus data” that was “manufactured” by those who conducted the study. Specifically, Deer found that the study’s authors misrepresented medical and other information about the children in the study, including the timing and appearance of relevant symptoms, creating a false impression of a vaccine-autism link that was not there.
An accompanying editorial in the BMJ pulls no punches.
The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.
Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross. Moreover, although the scale of the [General Medical Council’s] 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards. . . .
Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession. Although vaccination rates in the United Kingdom have recovered slightly from their 80% low in 2003–4, they are still below the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure herd immunity. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales. Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing.
Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers and was paid a total of £435 643, plus expenses. He “discovered” the autism-MMR link after being put on the payroll, but before doing any research at all.
Nick Gillespie at Reason
The punchline, of course, is that parents panicked over Wakefield’s results and lots of them decided not to get their kids vaccinated. As a result:
Measles has surged since Wakefield’s paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.
The vaccine-autism quackery that Jenny McCarthy and her ilk continue to promote isn’t just harmless fun and games. It’s damaged untold children and might well have killed a few. It’s long past time for it to stop.
What psychological suffering this man caused in so many vulnerable parents of little children! For a scientist to subvert science — why don’t we have a much more intense feeling of horror about that? How dare those trained in science to misuse it and undermine the enterprise of science? Our shared interest in science is so strong – our need to rely on experts so great — that we should severely punish those who betray it. But we can’t, really, can we? If we tried, we might only exacerbate the pressures on scientists to toe the line and give us the answers we want, lest we target them for destruction.
Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money
Max Read at Gawker:
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely it’ll do much to convince the conspiracy-minded, who are positive the pharmaceutical industry is covering up the real evidence that autism is caused by vaccines; like birtherism and other nutty beliefs, fear of vaccination is about strong feelings and not really about evidence. Which is too bad. Babies are dying of vaccine-preventable diseases, and people like Andrew Wakefield need to be held responsible.