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Famous British Autism Study an 'Elaborate Fraud' 813

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the someone-alert-jenny-mccarthy dept.
Charliemopps writes "An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was 'no doubt' Wakefield was responsible."
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Famous British Autism Study an 'Elaborate Fraud'

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  • The Source Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:11AM (#34776388) Journal
    Here's Brian Deer's publication at the British Medical Journal [bmj.com]. Although lengthy (and apparently the first of a series to come), it has a lot of critical details about how this was fixed. It also has 124 citations through the article -- now that's journalism!

    This guy tracked down subjects all the way over in the United States:

    Child 11 was among the eight whose parents apparently blamed MMR. The interval between his vaccination and the first "behavioural symptom" was reported as 1 week. This symptom was said to have appeared at age 15 months. But his father, whom I had tracked down, said this was wrong.

    "From the information you provided me on our son, who I was shocked to hear had been included in their published study," he wrote to me, after we met again in California, "the data clearly appeared to be distorted."

    He backed his concerns with medical records, including a Royal Free discharge summary. Although the family lived 5000 miles from the hospital, in February 1997 the boy (then aged 5) had been flown to London and admitted for Wakefield’s project, the undisclosed goal of which was to help sue the vaccine's manufacturers.

    Sadly, CNN couldn't even bother to have a single citation to the actual source text that is uncovering this. Of course they have all sorts of links internal to their site ... gotta keep those page clicks up, don't want eyeballs over at the BMJ.

    • by commandermonkey (1667879) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:23AM (#34776572)
      Lazy journalism from CNN? I'm shocked!!11!!

      What I am really shocked about is that CNN is breaking form with this article in only presenting a person with a well researched position. Normally they would have the comments about the study being a fraud in the first paragraph, followed by several paragraphs from celebrities talking about how they know more than any doctor and MMR definitely causes autism. And since the piece also mentions that the guy did this for financial gain I expect several paragraphs from a Big Pharma rep(no disclosure that this is who he represents) about tort reform.

      Plus, where is the part of how this relates to Michael Jackson? (Seriously though, can CNN go one day without reporting something on MJ?)
      • by queequeg1 (180099) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:45AM (#34776934)

        You have just perfectly described the CNN special I saw last night on TV about this. Anderson Cooper was using Jenny McCarthy as the counterpoint to the claims of fraud.

        • by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:37PM (#34777750) Homepage

          Actually, it was a pretty good piece for television journalism, and certainly a step in the right direction. Anderson emphasized the importance of peer reviewed data; the guest speaker explained the difference between correlation and causation; and Gupta pointed out how people are prone to latch on to any convenient explanation, especially in the absence of a known explanation. The guest speaker pointed out how finding one flat earther and putting him in a national debate against a round earther created a false equivalence, and Gupta agreed. Jenny McCarthy was cited as the flat earther, more or less, and that her propaganda in the absence of evidence was potentially putting lives at risk by convincing parents not to vaccinate. They pointed out the consequences of a lack of herd immunity, such as the quarantine in San Diego due to a whooping cough infection. All in all, it was one of the better pieces they've done, so either you didn't watch it through, or you weren't paying attention.

          That said, the piece was followed by what appeared to be a personal plea by Anderson Cooper to keep Camille Grammer on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so we haven't quite exited the Twilight Zone just yet.

        • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @02:06PM (#34779596) Journal

          You have just perfectly described the CNN special I saw last night on TV about this. Anderson Cooper was using Jenny McCarthy as the counterpoint to the claims of fraud.

          The "equal time for nutjobs" doctrine is killing journalism.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nopainogain (1091795)
      My Chiropractor's been blaming vaccinations for 10 years. Somehow, it took two generations to work. My mom and her cohorts got these vaccines in the 50s. None of them got Autism. It requires more research than I have the patience to do.
  • by Officer Friendly (1002686) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:17AM (#34776484)
    Sadly, there's a lot of money in junk science.
  • by scoser (780371) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:18AM (#34776496) Journal
    People are still going to ignore all the retractions from the real medical and scientific community in favor of Jenny McCarthy saying on TV that "Vaccines gave my baby autism!"
    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:31AM (#34776702)
      Current Wikipedia article text on her:

      "... is an American adult model, comedian, actress, author, and activist/murderer whose ardent anti-vaccine quackery has doomed an unknown number of children to painful deaths by otherwise controllable diseases." [Emphasis mine]

      Lovely.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:08PM (#34777292)

        http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/ [jennymccar...ycount.com]

        • by tobiah (308208)

          That's a particularly misleading website. They are essentially trying to claim that Jenny McCarthy's criticism of the MMR vaccine makes her responsible for infant death due to influenza (which is what most of the deaths listed are attributed to). The flu vaccine rarely works, there is little evidence that vaccines are effective on infants, and there is no evidence that the parents of these children refused any vaccines for them.

          Personal attacks and deliberate misrepresentation of data are the exact opposite

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ponyegg (866243)

      Unbelievably the Daily Mail has published this today as well:

      Mercury in flu vaccine is linked to autism.
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-153722/Mercury-flu-vaccine-linked-autism.html [dailymail.co.uk]

      You couldn't make it up.... unless you were the Daily Mail.

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Sad but true. CNN had some guy on last night who was an autism-vaccination believer, they asked him if this changed his opinion, his answer, predictably enough "not one bit". Seriously, WTF, do you really care about what might have caused your child's autism or not? I think people have some much time, effort and rage involved in blaming vaccines that they can't allow the cognitive dissonance of accepting the idea that it may have all been a waste of time. Time that could have been spent actually helping the
      • by arb phd slp (1144717) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:43PM (#34777864) Homepage Journal

        ...Seriously, WTF, do you really care about what might have caused your child's autism or not? I think people have some much time, effort and rage involved in blaming vaccines that they can't allow the cognitive dissonance of accepting the idea that it may have all been a waste of time. Time that could have been spent actually helping their children and looking for the real cause and a cure.

        I've got a close friend with a son with autism and this is his take on the subject. He is, perhaps, on some level curious if something environmental caused his autism, but it's not productive in any way for him as a parent to waste a lot of time or attention on it or on chasing some elusive "cure" the likes of which isn't even hinted at thus far. A better use of his time and attention is making sure his kid has the best therapies and education available right now. Even if a stranger had jumped out of the bushes and injected autism into your kid? So what? It's done. Now that he has it, what are you going to do now?

        As a researcher myself, this whole thing has pissed me off because of all of the manhours/years and research dollars spent chasing this red herring was wasted and would have been better-spent following more promising, actual leads.

    • People are still going to ignore all the retractions from the real medical and scientific community in favor of Jenny McCarthy saying on TV that "Vaccines gave my baby autism!"

      Fortunately, those people's children will have a greater than average probability of dying young, which will improve average human intelligence in the long run.

  • It doesn't matter. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:20AM (#34776520)
    This has grown beyond Wakefield now. It's become a self-sustaining conspiracy theory, independant of it's source, and no mere facts are going to even slow it down. Parents want to worry, it's in their instincts to protect their children - if they can find no real dangers, they'll inflate anything that looks remotely threatening regardless of true risk.
  • by afidel (530433) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:20AM (#34776522)
    Thanks to Jenny McCarthy and others of her ilk some large percentage of the unwashed masses now have it fixed in their brain that vaccination=autism.
  • by whoda (569082) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:21AM (#34776536) Homepage

    http://www.generationrescure.org/ [generationrescure.org] already has it's rebuttal, including a NEW study which shows a link between Hepatitis-B shots and a 3 times higher risk of autism.

    When will they stop?

    • by grub (11606)

      When will they stop?

      They won't stop.

      The anti-vax kooks have been in this game for so long and have so much time and energy invested in it they cannot back out now.

      Even if Wakefield came clean and admitted it was all bogus data, the Age of Autism/Generation Rescue quacks won't believe it.

      This is their business!
    • by pjabardo (977600) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:59AM (#34777138)
      So a completely different vaccine has the same effect: autism! I have another explanation that is much more plausible: people who tend to believe in wild conspiracy theories have a 3 times higher risk of having children with autism.
      • by DavidTC (10147)

        It's the same reason they moved from 'mercury poisoning' when vaccine companies stopped using it and autism didn't go down.

        This is exactly the same sort of 'science' as 'intelligent design'...it's 'invent a position and desperately scrabble around for any possible reason it could be true, and latch onto it until someone disproves it, and then latch onto something else that proves the same thing.

        That is not anywhere near how science works.

  • by dragonhunter21 (1815102) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:23AM (#34776560) Journal

    It's a sad world when some money-grubbing fool can publish a fudged article claiming that a vital, lifesaving tool can cause horrible, debilitating disease, get international attention, and when he's finally disproven all the "concerned parents" of the world ignore him because The Man wants to keep their kids autistic, without sparing a thought to the possiblity that maybe The Other Man just wanted a quick buck.

  • Conspiracies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schmidt349 (690948) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:24AM (#34776582)

    Everyone knows how conspiracy theories work. All the wingnuts will just claim this is a political chop job designed to cover up Big Brother/Big Pharma's Big Evil plan. The BBC could play video next week of Wakefield snorting coke and doing an underage hooker, all the while shouting that he had falsified his results, and it wouldn't matter. At some point they'd probably decide that Wakefield was a deep-cover government plant intended to discredit the movement.

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:26AM (#34776610) Homepage

    People do realize the number of increased cases of autism has proportionally risen to the acceleration of our population growth...right?

    Generally, when the numbers are bigger...

    • by Spad (470073) <slashdotNO@SPAMspad.co.uk> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:38AM (#34776816) Homepage

      Generally, when the numbers are bigger...

      ...the conspiracy must be bigger?

    • by Eskarel (565631)

      I'd also say there's a whole bunch of "back in the day we just called those kid's weird". I know lots of people of varying ages who if they were kids today would have been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, it's not that these people weren't here, most of us grew up with them, hell a lot of us are them, that's just not what people like that were called back then.

    • What are you talking about? Your statement is false.

      Autism prevalence is increasing. Not just the absolute number of cases, but the rate among the general population. I've yet to see a single study that says otherwise... can you provide a cite for your oddball claim? The increase is definitely NOT proportional to our population growth.

      But looking at your post...

      proportionally risen to the acceleration of our population growth

      Are you saying that rate of growth in autism is proportion to the acceleratio

  • by Yold (473518) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:26AM (#34776614)

    Why is this making the news now? This study has been debunked for a while; I saw a PBS frontline program in May that cast substantial doubt upon the veracity of Wakefield's findings.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/vaccines/view/ [pbs.org]

    As mentioned in the above program, dozens of studies have already failed to duplicate Wakefield's findings. Essentially, he blamed autism on a mercury-base preservative that was found in vaccines administered to babies. Even though there was no proof that this preservative had anything to do with autism, manufacturers ceased to use it in vaccines, but this only caused the anti-vaccine to go hypothesis hunting once more.

    • by goodmanj (234846) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:39AM (#34776834)

      Why is this making the news now?

      Because the final in-depth analysis has been published by the journal which originally published Wakefield's findings.

      To put it in courtroom drama terms, it's the difference between a suspect being charged with a crime and a being convicted.

      • Because the final in-depth analysis has been published by the journal which originally published Wakefield's findings.

        Wakefield's original fraudulent study was published in The Lancet in 1998, and fully retracted by that journal's editors in early 2010 (after the UK's General Medical Council found that he had engaged in serious ethical lapses in the course of his research). The commentary discussing the case and referred to in the Slashdot summary appeared in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Both are very respected medical journals, but they are distinct.

    • by Tony (765) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:52AM (#34777038) Journal

      Why is this making the news now?

      Because this not only debunks the study (which has been debunked for a few years now), it proves Wakefield manufactured the entire thing. He altered data, misrepresenting each case -- for instance, while Wakefield claimed none of the subjects exhibited signs of autism, medical records show that 5 of the 12 had already been shown to have autism. Further investigation shows that all twelve cases had been misrepresented to various degrees.

      Also, Wakefield misrepresented the study to the doctors from whom he received referrals. He called it a "clinical trial," not a study.

      Basically, this investigation proves that Wakefield was not simply careless; he intentionally fictionalized the entire study.

      We can no longer attribute to incompetency that which is demonstrably malicious.

  • by shar303 (944843) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:36AM (#34776770)

    What really amazes me about this business is the behavior of the mainstream media in relation to the development of this 'story' in the first place.

    Wakefields paper was just a collection of 12 anecdotes - meaningless in any clinical sense. He's clearly an idiot and should simply have been struck off and ignored.

    You don't need to be an expert to work out that MMR and autism are both fairly common, and to find some cases of kids that have both is not that unusual - certainly not enough to start the newspaper and TV frenzy that occurred. That the media decided not to ignore him and tried instead to promote the scare, is to their great shame.

    What is also incredible is the fact that that media deliberately ignored studies that proved no connection at all between MMR and autism.

    It's appalling that this effort to boost ratings almost certainly cost the lives of infants and probably still does.

    • You can blame Oprah for that. She is directly responsible for giving a platform to this nonsense.

      She is an accomplice. Because of her platform, children are dead.

    • by grub (11606)

      Wakefields paper was just a collection of 12 anecdotes

      Yep. I could pick 12 kids without autism, verify they had been vaccinated with MMR as babies then claim "Vaccines Prevent Autism" which is basically what Wafefield did.
    • It's appalling that this effort to boost ratings almost certainly cost the lives of infants and probably still does.

      But that's the American Way. We've got legislators who want to repeal food safety laws because they're inconvenient for businesses that produce/distribute food products.

      Our post-1980 notion of Civic Responsibility is "make as much money for your shareholders as you can".

  • it is hard to quantify, but the amount of idiots of didn't get their kids vaccinated because of this guy's "research" probably resulted in many unnecessary deaths of children. and this includes children who were vaccinated: an effective vaccine relies on "herd immunity". if enough kids are resistant to say, whooping cough, whooping cough can't get a leg up into a given population. but if enough aren't immune, the disease gets a certain amount of circulation in the community, and is able to try to infect many more kids. eventually, it is able to infect kids of parents who dutifully got their kids vaccinated (since for every vaccination, many vaccines don't take), and eventually, it is able to kill many kids

    oh, and someone infect jenny mccarthy with whooping cough, that ignorant bitch. let her know what her "advocacy" really means

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