One of the more controversial stories over the last decade (plus a few years) has been the claims linking childhood vaccinations to autism. A study in 1998 lead by Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggested a possible link, leading many parents to start shunning vaccines (and, in turn, resulting in an increase in children getting diseases that the vaccines prevent). The study did not, specifically, claim that the vaccines caused autism -- but suggested they may have a "role" -- so it was widely interpreted as meaning that the vaccines resulted in autism. However, the study itself was quickly called into question, and over the years, almost all support for the study has fallen away. Back in 2004, it was revealed that there was a major conflict of interest with Wakefield, in that he was funded by a law firm
that was planning on suing vaccine makers, and wanted evidence to support their case. Wakefield had never disclosed that. Co-authors of the paper soon withdrew their support of the paper, and the publisher who originally published the paper finally (way too late) retracted it.
Last year, Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine
in the UK, after he was found guilty of "serious professional misconduct." That was because of serious ethical lapses in how he conducted the study. He apparently did invasive tests that were unnecessary and without the proper permission. He also tested a new vaccine -- which was going to be sold by a company Wakefield had set up -- on a child, without telling the child's doctor, or mentioning the test in the child's medical notes. And the kicker: "He was also found to have unethically arranged for his son's friends to have blood samples taken from them during his birthday party -- for which he paid them £5 each."
The latest news is that a study of the original research has concluded that the problems with the original report do not appear to have been mere mistakes
, but were almost certainly fraud
. The report states that there is clear evidence that the data was falsified
. The report does not beat around the bush:
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.
The report also notes that Wakefield has never been able to replicate his findings. However, Wakefield is still standing by the original research
, even as his co-authors have disavowed it and given all of the problems associated with it. That link goes to CNN and is a perfect example of what Jay Rosen refers to as "the view from nowhere" journalism. It seems to bend over backwards to let "both sides" weigh in on the story with some people supporting Wakefield, and others disagreeing, but appears to do nothing to help establish what is factual and what is not.