"We fully retract this paper from the published record"


Here's the story (which Kaiser forwarded to me). The English medical journal The Lancet (according to its publisher, "the world's leading independent general medical journal") published an article in 1998 in support of the much-derided fringe theory that MMR vaccination causes autism. From the BBC report:

The Lancet said it now accepted claims made by the researchers were "false".

It comes after Dr Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled last week to have broken research rules by the General Medical Council. . . . Dr Wakefield was in the pay of solicitors who were acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR. . . .

[The Lancet is now] accepting the research was fundamentally flawed because of a lack of ethical approval and the way the children's illnesses were presented.

The statement added: "We fully retract this paper from the published record." Last week, the GMC ruled that Dr Wakefield had shown a "callous disregard" for children and acted "dishonestly" while he carried out his research. It will decide later whether to strike him off the medical register.

The regulator only looked at how he acted during the research, not whether the findings were right or wrong - although they have been widely discredited by medical experts across the world in the years since publication.

They also write:

The publication caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles.

An interesting question, no? What's the causal effect of a single published article?

P.S. I love it how they refer to the vaccine as a "three-in-one jab." So English! They would never call it a "jab" in America. So much more evocative than "shot," in my opinion.

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Because "most published research findings" are inconsequential, even in their narrow fields. When there are no public policy implications, some false ones are smoked out when someone tries to build upon them.

Here, the paper was immensely consequential and the drop in herd immunity resulted in the death of children we can name (spend a little quality time with Google).

By Lina Inverse (not verified) on 08 Feb 2010 #permalink

I'm from the UK and remember this being an extremely influential paper that had (and still has) a massive impact on parental choice regarding child immunisation - was it as influential in the US? Just interested in the difference of attention and coverage it received over there.

@ Lorenzo: Here in the US, there was a minority of "health nut parents" that refused to submit their children to most vaccines. I have NOT personally met anyone (but myself & husband)that also refused vaccines for their children. Our children are all grown up now and very smart and very HEALTHY (without the shots).

Meghan, to be succinct, you are an idiot.