Fraudulent Vaccine-Autism Study Is News?

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Tanya Kovacs of Iselin holds her 20 month old son Caleb as they take part in a rally in front of the State House opposing new vaccine mandates by the state for children. TONY KURDZUK/THE STAR-LEDGER

As reported by the Associated Press and in The New York Times this evening {“filed 7:50 pm}:

The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The following is an article I published on Feb. 4, 2010 that describes the retraction of the original study by the prestigious medical journal Lancet - a rare event for any scientific journal.

Any family faced with the challenges of a child with autism is a tragedy, as they grapple with communication, without which an autistic child can become increasingly isolated. Searching for a cause and ultimately a cure for such a disorder can motivate scientists and physicians in a deeply personal way that is far more profound than intellectual curiosity. Such journeys of discovery have been portrayed in films such as ?Extraordinary Measures? (2010), or the compelling story chronicled in ?Lorenzo?s Oil? (1992).

The suggestion that there could be a link between vaccines and autism emerged in 1998 with the publication of a study of 12 children in the prestigious medical journal Lancet. In contrast to the inspirational Hollywood films, this story is one of greed, conflicts of interest, poor science and a lack of regulatory oversight of medical publications.

After years of extensive investigations by journalists such as Brian Deer, the 1998 Lancet paper was formally retracted by the publishers, sending a clear message that the preliminary data pointing to a supposed link between vaccines and autism was at best unreliable and irreproducible and possibly fraudulent. The lead author of this study, Dr. A. J. Wakefield, is reported to have been paid in part by lawyers representing families in litigation against vaccine manufacturers, and held his own patent for a measles vaccine that could become profitable if the previously used vaccines were deemed to be unsafe.

Scientific research has many checks and balances, with rigorous peer-review and a demand for reproducibility. In this case, this process took far too long. The public was misled about potential risks of a vaccine that can prevent serious childhood illness. Not surprisingly, the number of vaccinations in children decreased significantly after 1998, and worse, confirmed cases of measles skyrocketed in the UK, from less than 100 cases in 1998 to almost 1,000 cases in 2007.

Such a cost to public health could have been avoided by medical and scientific publishers requiring disclosure of conflicts of interests by all authors, including the use of ?ghostwriters?. ?Ghostwriting? is a practice in which ?university scientists sign their names to research articles that secretly originated with writers paid by such companies as pharmaceutical makers?.

In 2008, it was reported that almost 8% of articles published in top-tier medical journals included at least one ?ghost author?. Such a practice is contrary to the scientific tradition and casts doubt on the integrity of the study. While some scholarly journals have instituted policies requiring financial disclosures of each author, overall little progress has been made. Indeed, as reported in The New York Times (Aug. 4, 2009):

?As medical journals learn more about ghostwriting through documents released in lawsuits and in Congress, some editors have started asking authors harder questions. A few leading journals, like The Journal of the American Medical Association, have instituted authorship forms that require contributors to detail their role in an article and to disclose conflicts of interest.
But many journals have yet to take such steps.?

Autism remains an unsolved mystery. I sincerely hope that this sordid tale of putting personal gain ahead of public health can serve as a lesson for the future.

A version of this article was originally published on NJ Voices.

Comments

  1. #1 nickspm
    January 6, 2011

    Is this a paid endorsement of vaccines?

  2. #2 p90x
    January 8, 2011

    But some still contain thimerasol and that’s not good.A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.Wakefield could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls and requests to the publisher of his recent book.

  3. #3 dean
    January 10, 2011

    pt, no, this is a simple post about facts: wakefield did not do any research, he made things up and lied about what he found, just to make a buck. as a result of his fear-mongering people began the “omg there’s a link between vaccines and autism” crap. drops in vaccination rates put children and others at risk, for no reason at all (well, there is a reason: lots of people are stupid and will be influenced by former playboy bunnies or wives of shock-jocks spreading misinformation to, again, make a buck).

    Since numerous studies have failed to find any relationship between vaccines and autism, it would be nice to see that notion fall quickly away. But, since psuedo-science and quakery are so strongly entrenched in modern times, I won’t hold my breath waiting.

    But some still contain thimerasol and that’s not good

    It’s thimerosal, and it’s never been in the MMR vaccine. Neither has that vaccine contained mercury or aluminum. Second, there has never been a single scientific study that demonstrates thimeresol (mercury) causes autism or any other disease in babies or anyone else. It has become just another strawman used by folks opposed to vaccination for any purpose.

  4. #4 algo
    March 19, 2011

    how about this issue?

    CDC to Study Vaccines and Autism

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/cdc-to-study-vaccines-and_b_837360.html

    thx

  5. #5 Ross Coe
    Canada
    October 12, 2012

    No incident has been so inaccurately if not fraudulently reported as the Wakefield medical intervention that has somehow been labelled a study . Its the tip of the iceburg, as Wakefield was villified and personally and professionally castrated for being a scientist who reported what he found and that was that these children became ill after an MMR vaccination. How that makes him a leader of a worldwide anti-vaccine movement and its messiah is beyond understanding. He’ was accused of so many things and surprisingly wasn’t accused of shooting John F Kennedy too. A kangarro court with a preconceived verdict got rid of a whistle blower who by doing his job made many higher ups and vaccines makers nervous and cost them money. Out of this fiasco it was concluded, but don’t ask me how, that vaccines don’t cause autism. Whats bizarre is Wakefield wasn’t studying vaccines or autism and made only a reccomendation to study the connection as the parents described it. But over and over the story has become one of a nasty scientist who purposedly set up a fraudulent study to undermine vaccination programs. Its all absurd. So here we have another instance where a writer does his monkey see monkey do Brian Deer impersonation. Its obvious he has merely mimicked others and does not define the issue properly and objectively. Like most he is mentally lazy and a follower of status quo. Its the easiest way to appear right and there are plenty about who agree with you, AKA the flock.