Study linking autism to vaccination found to be fraudulent

Back in 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield did a study on twelve children, and wrote a paper claiming that a link existed between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Naturally, this freaked out a lot of parents, and lots of folks stopped having their kids vaccinated. Consequently, infection rates of diseases that are totally preventable with vaccines—like measles and whooping cough—went up.

Then, other scientists were unable to reproduce Wakefield's experiment, which kind of made it seem like it was wasn't accurate to begin with. Wakefield couldn't even reproduce his experiment. Nonetheless, lots of people stuck to the idea that autism is caused by vaccines, or by ingredients in vaccines. When these ingredients were removed because of the concern, people picked other ingredients to blame. Still scientists could find no link between any of the components of vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, most of the other scientists involved with Wakefield's research removed their names from the published results. And then The Lancet, the respected medical journal that originally published Wakefield's research, actually retracted the study, because it was so inaccurate. And then Wakefield had his medical license, because his poor research was so irresponsible. Still Wakefield and his supporters insisted that the link existed, and that he was the target of a global conspiracy.

Now, there's another nail in a coffin that just won't stay shut: a journalist (who has signed a statement saying that he has no financial interest in the debate) has found that Wakefield's original research on the twelve children was fraudulent. Wakefield misrepresented the medical histories of his subjects to make it appear that they had developed autism after receiving the vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella, when, in fact, some of the subjects had shown signs of autism before receiving the vaccine, and some had not developed autism at all.

During all this, Wakefield accepted $674,000 from lawyers preparing a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Eh... whoops.

The new information suggests that not only was Wakefield's research inaccurate, he deliberately falsified it.

It's an interesting story, but as Dr. Max Wiznitzer points out in the article linked to above, the medical and scientific communities already knew Wakefield was a fraud, and Wakefield's followers aren't likely to change their positions now, so it's a little bit of a moot point.

Wakefield himself says that the truth is in his book, which he wants you to buy.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Science Friday covered this story a bit today, too.

"Infectious disease researcher Paul Offit discusses vaccine research and the anti-vaccine movement, the topic of his new book, "Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All." Offit has been at the center of a storm of debate from anti-vaccination activists for his outspoken defense of vaccines, and his constant refutation of claims from activists of a link between childhood vaccines and autism.

posted on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 4:41pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Australian radio commentator Tracey Spicer takes off the gloves (and puts on the brass knuckles) in this scathing interview with anti-vaxxer Meryl Dorey, president of the Australian Vaccination Network Inc.

Via Pharyngula.

posted on Sat, 01/08/2011 - 10:16am
cuiewidddahbootie's picture
cuiewidddahbootie says:

Dr. Wakefeild was subjected to smear campaign by big pharma....Read the research and comments for yourself and read Dr. /wakefields books.

posted on Wed, 01/12/2011 - 4:56pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I'm going to skip Wakefield's books, but I have read a lot of the research for myself. And it all shows that there's no proof that vaccines are connected to autism.

The thing about the "big pharma smear campaign"... I dunno. It seems way more likely that hundreds of ethical scientists have actually found real problems with Wakefield's research than that there's been a global conspiracy waged against him. I mean, his country stripped him of his medical license. No other studies have been able to replicate his findings, which makes sense, because it looks like his methods were questionable at best (or simply unethical, according to the new report.)

posted on Wed, 01/12/2011 - 5:49pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

The second part of Brian Deer's article is out now, which claims that Wakefield was working to establish a company based on his research, even as the first subject of his research was still in the middle of tests. According to the article's sources, Wakefield expected to earn about $40 million dollars a year from the company's sales of "safer" vaccines and diagnostic kits.

Here's a brief summary of the article.

And here's the full article, as published in the British Medical Journal.

Of course, if you make a major scientific or medical discovery, it's probably not totally unreasonable to think that it would make you some money eventually, but setting yourself up to make millions while your research is just getting started would really be a conflict of interest. If the claims in the article are true, they don't speak well for the motivations behind Wakefield's shaky research.

posted on Thu, 01/13/2011 - 1:08pm
Snick's picture
Snick says:

Oh snap, JGordon dropping truth bombs

posted on Fri, 02/21/2014 - 3:53pm
Heather's picture
Heather says:

What about Gluten, is there a coorelation between Wheat allergies and Autism in children?

posted on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 1:53pm

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