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Medicine Science

The Lancet Recants Study Linking Autism To Vaccine 590

JamJam writes "The Lancet, a major British medical journal, has retracted a flawed study linking the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism and bowel disease. British surgeon and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues originally released their study in 1998. Since then 10 of Wakefield's 13 co-authors have renounced the study's conclusions and The Lancet has said it should never have published the research. Wakefield now faces being stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain. The vaccine-autism debate should now end."
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The Lancet Recants Study Linking Autism To Vaccine

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  • Re:For our sake (Score:4, Interesting)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @07:51PM (#31002986)

    Maybe you want to just understand why, and when you find a common denominator possibility, you jump on it, wanting to be a simple answer.

    Like Mencken said, complex problems have easy and understandable answers, and they're wrong.

    I wanted to find why a relative of mine has autism. Sure would be nice if we could blame it on the vaccine he got in 1963. But it wasn't. Like the retractions, many many things have been bandied about and none of them appear to be the cause. Was it his mother's smoking? Bad diet? He was a normal toddler, then it all went away. Years later, he can't live on his own. Do I want to know why?? Sure. But the Lancet published bad research that lots of people latched onto as a probable reason without knowing how low the sample size was, and so on. We still don't know. I wish we did.

  • by ThinkOfaNumber ( 836424 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @07:53PM (#31003018)

    Nope, it doesn't work like that.

    It only takes one exception to disprove a rule, but to prove a rule you need to prove it for all cases.

    Friends of ours have a daughter who started descending into autism one week after the MMR vaccine.

    However I think the larger issue here is the weakening of the human race - as we continue to vaccinate, use antibiotics, and fix defects with surgery, we're allowing weak genetic traits to propagate that would otherwise be bred out. Nevertheless I still get my kids vaccinated.

  • by Knara ( 9377 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @08:06PM (#31003150)
    Oh, and it's "Autism Spectrum Disorder" now, which includes everything from very slight Aspergers to the very profoundly autistic. This is a good measure of the increase, if not most of it.
  • Re:But (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stumblingblock ( 409645 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @08:17PM (#31003280)

    I remember from my course in Medical Literature Evaluation in college, The Lancet has rather more loose standards than, say British Medical Journal, and as a result, everybody loved to read it cuz it always had provocative and often amusing articles.

  • by pipedwho ( 1174327 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @08:27PM (#31003392)

    The problem is that most people don't understand statistics, numerical significance or even the scientific method. This leads the unwashed masses to jump to conclusions that are based on anecdotal evidence, un-normalised data comparisons and non-causal correlations which sound quite reasonable on the surface.

    When a study is properly performed and analysed to remove various biases and incorrect assumptions, it usually involves counter-intuitive statistical analyses.

    Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding of the scientific method, and despite the fact that a denouncement has been widely reported, many people will still be given media time to promote their ignorant contrarian claims.

    When discussing high profile scientific studies like this one, I keep hearing people argue with reasoning like 'well that is just another point of view'. I intentionally used the word 'claims' and not 'view point' in the above paragraph. A view point implies that a contradictory, but valid alternative explanation exists. In the case of scientific study, a falsifiable hypothesis can be shown to be true or false. If it is deemed false it may still be correct in some of it's underlying elements. In that case it would be revised and a more accurate hypothesis developed.

    Some people seem to think that if they personally don't understand the complex reasoning process behind a peer reviewed scientific conclusion, then they should feel free to jump to their own. Because of this, many kids have not been immunised over the last ten years, and now we are seeing the fall out of what happens when too many people decide against the recommendations of the medical establishment.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @08:50PM (#31003650) Journal

    One side used a con artists absolutely moronic and quickly debunked study. The other side, well, they're the ones that debunked this quack's nonsense. They did it years ago. WTF was wrong with Lancet? They should have withdrawn it as soon as the extent of Wakefield's incompetence and dishonesty came to light. What it's done has generated several years worth nuisance lawsuits, parents tricked into believing there was someone out there to blame for their children's problems and posed a substantial risk to public health. Wakefield should be publicly drawn-and-quartered and Lancet owes the world an apology.

  • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @08:59PM (#31003732)

    Still when your child starts acting weird, and stops talking within days after getting a shot it is easy to draw a conclusion. Then when going on line there is lots of others who seem to have had the same thing happen it seems like more evidence.
    At the time there also seemed to be quite a few incomplete studies found at various .edu sites which agreed with the autism MMR link. Generally along the lines that some people just couldn't handle being injected with 3 live vaccines at once, which caused intestinal problems and also seemed to lead to autism.
    Some of the studies were pretty simple, graphing autism rates compared to when the MMR vaccine was introduced. These should be easy to redo if the data is still available.
    I know the meme that correlation is not causation but in my experience there often is a correlation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:00PM (#31003748)

    Your analogy isn't clear.
    Are you saying this is like climate change because they cherry picked data and thus both man made global warming and vaccines causing autism are crap?
    Or are you saying this is like climate change because the science is in and 92.5% of all climatologists agree man made global warming is real and vaccines are safe?

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:29PM (#31003966)

    How about instead we just determine risk vs reward. Creating a couple autistics vs kids dieing of Measles, Mumps or Rubella. Worry about this is like worry about dieing in a terrorist attack, a stupid thing to waste your time on since the odds are far on your side.

  • by Faerunner ( 1077423 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:30PM (#31003980)
    This should be old news. Wakefield's hypothesis has long since been jumped on, ground into the dirt, ignored, badmouthed and laughed at by a lot of autism caregivers (unfortunately, not all... and the new big thing in autism care is "alternative" treatments, which is a whole other can of worms). The argument's not going to end, though. As another poster said: people need something to blame, and this is one thing that everyone's "heard" from someone, reputable or not.

    As someone who works with autism on a daily basis (I am a behavioral therapist in early intervention wraparound services), it frustrates me endlessly that we're focusing on something so trivial as finding a single cause for autism when it's beginning to look more and more like there are a constellation of causes, each one probably dependent on the presence of several others and a genetic predisposition toward autistic behaviors. I'd rather see funding go toward long-term care; more and more of these kids are growing up without the right care and intervention, and those kids when they reach adulthood will be the ones you'll see on the news: vagrants because the state won't provide care any more, filling our jails because of misunderstandings caused by a lack of socially appropriate behavior, or worse - violent and hospitalized because their caregivers can't or won't take care of them any more. What happens when that cute kid with autism grows up to be that 6' tall, 250lb adult with autism? I know one of those kids. He's in and out of the hospital because he can't take care of himself and abuses his spineless mother. When she dies, he'll be a constant drain on the system. And here we are debating the vaccine link.

    Waiting for the news that more states are approving funding for Autism care and proven wraparound services under mental health/disability guidelines...
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @09:59PM (#31004222) Homepage

    as someone who has done research in this problem, there are tons of things in vax's that don't need to be there.. Aluminum? Did you know that was in your vax?

    Oh noes! Not the metal that is present in all the food you eat and the water you drink! That's obviously what's causing this problem with vaccines!

    There are tons of preservatives that in small doses are fine, but when your kids get 3 - 8 vaccines in one visit, that starts to add up. Where does it stop? When do we let the human body do what it does?

    When does it stop? It stops when our children are safe from measels, mumps, and rubella. It stops when we are assured that the diseases that ravaged our ancestors -- who would look on you with HORROR that you think you're better off risking getting these diseases -- will no longer plague us.

    And hello? Letting the human body do what it does is what vaccines are all about. Let the immune system train itself to fight off the disease naturally. Oh, but you meant "let the body do what it does" without the influence of modern medicine. Well, in that case "what the body does" is maybe go blind, become sterile, or catch pneumonia and die.

    And I'd say "you go on ahead and do that", but the problem is that your stupid choice affects me and my children. It affects everyone. You've done the research, eh? Ever come across the term "herd immunity"?

    What about the kids who GET the vaccine and the infect other children (because the vaccine itself is contagious)????

    Thankfully not much of a problem when everyone is getting vaccinated. Since rises in increases in incidents of measles and other disease can be directly associated with falling vaccination rates, I'm thinking maybe getting vaccinated is the better idea!

  • by ehrichweiss ( 706417 ) * on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:16PM (#31004356)
    Don't even give it a second thought. I've got a friend who didn't give her kid any vaccines and yet he's still placed on the autistic spectrum. Anyone who thinks it's due to the vaccines is, quite simply, wrong.
  • Re:Except that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:35PM (#31004562) Homepage Journal

    There is nothing more scary to a parent than the possibility of something as debilitating as autism being inflicted on their child when they could have done something about it

    I actually have an autistic child. I would say that its not the end of the world and actually has its own blessings. My bigger beef, actually, is with a society that has so little tolerance for neurodiversity. If my little boy were a hunter gatherer, or a farmer, he'd be fine.

  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @10:52PM (#31004730) Homepage

    Studies have pretty convincingly shown that people who work with children with autistic spectrum disorders (such as my wife) are about 95% accurate at diagnosing the disease based upon video of their 1st birthday parties. In other words, they where showing symptoms before the vaccines in question were given. Parent may not recognize the symptoms until their child hit 30 months, but the symptoms where there all along. Parents often will deny the diagnosis (and get mad at the diagnosing physician) after it is made. It's understandable why they do so. It's also understandable why the need to find someone or something apart from their own genome to blame for the disease.

    One study is at this site []. It is by no means the only one, but just the first one that showed up in a Google search.

  • by 1729 ( 581437 ) <slashdot1729&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:09PM (#31004902)

    If your children are vaccinated, how exactly are they at risk?

    Vaccines are not 100% effective. Parents who refuse to vaccinate threaten herd immunity, which puts my children at greater risk.

    But you see that is one of the great things about this country...we have the freedom to believe in what we will, and to act accordingly. What YOU do with YOUR kids is YOUR business, and what I do with MY kids is mine.

    Actually, that's not how it works. Try withholding medical treatment (or food, for that matter) from your kids and see what happens.

  • Re:Except that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pipedwho ( 1174327 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2010 @11:22PM (#31005062)

    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that it's 'the end of world'. I was referring to the characterisations that seem popular in today's media where the effect is extreme. There are different degrees (and types) of autism that go from 'slightly eccentric' to 'sits all day in a corner drooling'.

    The fear of causing a perceived defect by ignoring some advice will more than likely be visualised in the worst possible light. ie. Being the parent of the kid drooling in the corner - all because of something that supposedly could have been avoided.

    Imagine how the mothers of the thalidomide children would have felt when they found out it was directly caused by a pill they took for a headache. No it's not the end of the world, but if you had some advance information, it's a condition that any parent would want to avoid.

    (BTW I'm not saying that any of these were the parent's faults in any way. But I'm sure many of them would have felt like it was anyway, at least for a time.)

    And I have to say I also have very little time for people who are intolerant of others with perceived neurological differences. Your little boy will turn out just fine.

  • Not a vaccine at all (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:57AM (#31006674)

    I remember hearing a bit of research a few weeks (months?) ago. It showed that Autism is related to the time it takes the brain to analyse signals. Someone with Autism hears differently than other people. They found that someone without autism can hear the entire word "Acceptance". Someone with autism only hears "Ac". The brain truncates the rest. Its one of the first clinical tests to determine another symptom of autism, apart from the classical. If signals are being lost, it could be related to a structural difference in the brain, leading to a genetic difference, possibly caused by disease or virus. I'm reminded about research into artificial hearing done by berger-liaw: see where they found that computers that have clock cycles (like yours and mine) make crappy neural networks even if there are 10,000 nodes, when it comes to speech recognition, but when you can maintain an analogue time base, you only need a neural net of 6-10 nodes to achieve superhuman speech recognition, even in extremely noisy environments, and even pick out 3-4 different speakers simultaneously. The noisy environment was so noisy that human listeners could not understand (jack hammer in the background, aircraft overhead, busy freeway nearby, etc.) yet the speech recognition software could understand perfectly, and unlike crappy software where you have to say each word separately, with theirs, you would ramble your words together (normal speech), and it would understand no problem. If timing is such a vital factor, the autistic problem is a real big problem.

  • Re:Oh, the naivete. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by squizzar ( 1031726 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:13AM (#31007490)

    Gullible media? I think you give them too much credit. I recall a lot of stories that said that the Wakefield study had been refuted (to put it kindly), but they still managed to mention that there was a possible link between MMR and autism, presumably just to keep fanning the flames. There was a constant call for single jabs, which sounds great, but it was fairly well proven that people missed single jabs, so they weren't as effective.

    Personally I'd like to know if the statistics show that a child was more likely to die (or suffer the permanent effects of serious measles) due to single jabs (assuming the percentage that miss jabs, overall immunity in the population etc.) than to 'catch' autism from the MMR jab. Sadly there has been an increase in deaths due to measles (in areas of the UK that have now dropped below the percentage that provides immunity for the non vaccinated).

  • Re:But (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VShael ( 62735 ) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:31AM (#31007580) Journal

    I know it's WAY off topic, in that it has nothing to do with vaccines or autism, but I really wanted to focus on this point you made:

    "Peer review, like the market, only works with honorable actors. Scientists are presumed to be honorable, so the way peer review is structured doesn't attempt to look for deliberate forgeries or falsehoods."

    This is SO important, it bears repeating. It bears framing, and should be put on the inside cover of every peer review journal.

    I wasn't the only person who fell into that trap, when Michael Drosnin published "The Bible Code". Having a mathematics background, I read through the paper by Eli Rips and genuinely could not find fault with it. And the results were so conclusive, I gave serious consideration to becoming Jewish based on the results of what appeared to be an air-tight mathematical proof. (I still use this example now, as an atheist, to say that if someone ever shows me convincing evidence of gods existence, i'll accept it. Atheists follow the evidence, we don't "hate" god.)

    Anyway, it later transpired that Rabbi / Professor Eli Rips was a lying son of a bitch, who clearly thought that lying was okay if it spread the word of his god. There was nothing wrong with the maths paper. Only the assumptions it relied on were false, and my assumption (that a maths paper wouldn't be submitted based on deliberate false precepts) was wrong.

    (For those interested, it had to do with multiplying the probabilities of 50 independent events, thereby getting an extraordinarily low probability. Only the events were not independent at all, so multiplying the probabilities doesn't work.)

  • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:25PM (#31012880) Homepage

    Science isn't about debating, its about evidence and data. And the evidence that vaccines cause autism just isn't there, on the other side there is plenty of evidence that vaccines are extremely beneficial and that the current vaccination scare actually kills people.

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