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Medicine Science

Famous British Autism Study an 'Elaborate Fraud' 813

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 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:11AM (#34776388) Journal
    Here's Brian Deer's publication at the British Medical Journal []. 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 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. []

    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 Ponyegg ( 866243 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:35AM (#34776762)

    Unbelievably the Daily Mail has published this today as well:

    Mercury in flu vaccine is linked to autism. []

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

  • 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.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:44AM (#34776916)

    Well that all depends. How much is relieving your vague sense of unease over a scary-sounding chemical worth?

    Is it worth 622 dead children? []

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:08PM (#34777292) []

  • by Cwix ( 1671282 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:11PM (#34777326)

    From the article you link to...

    The WHO says the outbreak occurred when some of those who had received the oral polio vaccine excreted a mutated form of the virus which infected those who were not immunised.

    Emphasis mine.

  • by UdoKeir ( 239957 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:18PM (#34777458)
    Sadly that isn't the case. Their kids become petri dishes for the viruses to grow and mutate in. Eventually, a virus that could have been prevented with a vaccine, has now evolved into one that can't.
  • by wjousts ( 1529427 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:20PM (#34777488)

    You do realize that the rate of autism, i.e. the number of cases per 1,000 people, is also increasing? In other words, when accounting for increasing in population, there is a rise in the rate of autism.

    That is the question people are trying to answer. Personally, I think a large chunk of it is probably explained by higher rates of diagnosis. More kids who wouldn't have been label autistic back in the day are now being labeled. Whether it's really justified or not, is another question.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:29PM (#34777612) Journal
    Measles deaths worldwide [] fell by 74% between 2000 and 2007, from an estimated 750,000 to 197,000. Do you know anyone who died from malaria (1,000,000/yr), yellow fever (200,000/yr), aids (1,800,000/yr), lukemia (600,000/yr), flu (500,000), rabies (55,000)?

    I threw away a few mod points to reply so I hope it sinks in that after a 74% drop in measles deaths it is now as harmless as yellow fever, if it drops by a further 74% it will be as harmless as rabies.
  • 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 DavidTC ( 10147 ) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... m ['eve' in gap]> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:41PM (#34777838) Homepage

    Hey, look,it's a moron who's out of date and hence peddling the old junk science.

    Mercury has not been used in vaccine preservation since 1999, you moron. Because of idiots like you claiming the mercury was causing autism (Mercury does not cause autism, it causes quite recognizable mercury poisoning, which is much closer to insanity than autism), the companies stopped using it.

    And yet, hey, look, autism? Not gone down.

  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:42PM (#34777848) Homepage

    The small pox vaccine was an unusually aggressive vaccine giving severe complication to 1 out of 1.000.000 vaccinated (think hit by lightning). Very few other vaccines are anywhere as dangerous. I think the hepatitis vacinne is the most dangerous of the common vaccines now, and it just gives you joint-pain for a few days if you are unlucky.

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:43PM (#34777876)
    This is called "herd immunity" - if 90% or so are immune, the disease cannot transmit frequently enough to infect the remaining 10%.

    However, this ONLY affects diseases that spread via human-to-human contact. If the disease is able to transmit via, say, animals, or can lay dormant for some time, the herd immunity is compromised.

    There is also the fact that even with vaccination, some people will catch the disease. Even if it's only a 1% failure rate, that can exacerbate the problem of people not vaccinating enough to compromise herd immunity.
  • by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:16PM (#34778614)


    Asbestos is a very poor example. There are many, many cases where asbestos is actually safe for use. The problem with asbestos is that it become more lucrative, by far, to be anti-asbestos than the industry itself. Hell, removal of perfectly safe asbestos these days actually requires a team of hazmat workers, following hazmat procedures.

    The biggest problems with asbestos came from using it as a fibrous insulator whereby fibers and particulate are easily shed and then inhaled. This, of course, created a hazard for installers and post-construction workers and inhabitants every time the material is disturbed. On the other hand, asbestos has far, far more uses than simple insulation, which is why you find it everywhere in old products and buildings. Some are dangerous. Some are now. Law suites and mitigation procedures make absolutely no distinction.

    To be clear, I'm not saying asbestos has zero risk. I'm saying the risk has been far, far overblown because its far more lucrative to do so. Most people don't realize that common silica sand is far more hazardous to its workers - that is, if not properly mitigated. In fact, Silicosis [] is the primary reason so many quarry workers died when the first power tools were introduced to aid them. Back then, they didn't know about it and didn't use water and respirators to mitigate the silica dust. Back then, the life expectancy was 6-8 months. Thusly, the first quarry power tool was dubbed, "The Window Maker".

  • by arb phd slp ( 1144717 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:21PM (#34778714) Homepage Journal

    #1 The growth rate of autism also correlates to a decrease in diagnoses of mental retardation. Special education and allied health therapies have improved in the past few decades such that we can more accurately differentially diagnose various types of developmental disorders. #2. And the increased focus on early intervention means we can now mitigate the severity of developmental disorders so that someone born with autism may not necessarily be severely mentally retarded as they would have been in the 1970s or '80s. #3. Finally, we've become so convinced that there is an "epidemic" that there is more money and services available for autism spectrum disorders relative to other developmental disabilities, so that any kid who displays any autistic-like qualities is likely to be identified as ASD because it opens a lot of doors for getting services that might not be otherwise available.

    That's not to say it isn't increasing, but the numbers may not be saying what you think they are saying.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:33PM (#34778918)

    As a climate scientist, I thought about this comparison.

    But we're not throwing Wakefield to the wolves because he was wrong. Lots of scientists are wrong, it's okay. And it's not because he spoke with bias for a hypothesis he believed in. That's okay too. Wakefield's crimes are 1) deliberately falsifying and modifying data to fit his theory, and 2) doing so for profit without disclosing a conflict of interest.

    The East Anglia CRU emails, which I assume are the hotbuttons you're pushing at the moment, show scientists with strong opinions, possibly putting a little spin on their presentations, but there is no evidence that they falsified data or took money under the table for their activities.

  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:41PM (#34779104)

    There is a problem with letting mornic parents do there own thing. It can (and does) hurt the children of responsible parents too.

    There are two main ways for the children of a responsible parent to come down with one of these childhood diseases:

    1) The vaccine just "didn't take". It happens. They aren't perfect. However, if EVERYONE was vaccinated, this wouldn't matter, as the disease would be eradicated (or nearly so), and then you don't have to worry about catching it. Instead, kids where it didn't take pick it up from kids whose parents were morons.
    2) A child is too young to be vaccinated. These vaccines are not administered at birth, and some of them require several doses before immunity is achieved. It is quite possible to pick up the disease from the child of a vaccination-refusing parent. To top things off, the older unvaccinated child is more likely to survive the disease, while the newborn is quite vulnerable.

    Yes, it is possible for the diseases to be transmitted solely among children with failed vaccines or those that are too young to be vaccinated, but those cases are quite rare. Measles was well on the way to being eradicated in the Western World before this clown came along. Imagine what a disaster it would have been if this guy was peddling his quackery prior to the eradication of smallpox or the near-eradication of polio.

  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:47PM (#34779222)

    Thimerosol (sp?), the trace-murcury-containing preservative you are thinking of, is no longer used in US childhood disease vaccines. Hasn't been for many years. And when it was gone, whadda-know, autism rates didn't drop.

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @02:18PM (#34779846) Journal

    Is it reasonable to expect that now that there would be a sizable sample size of "non-immunized" kids, that a study to compare the rates of autism between the two groups will be done?

    Already done in 2002. There was a study done in Denmark (where there are comprehensive medical records for the whole population) that showed no link between MMR vaccination and autism rates.

    A Danish study of more than half a million children showed no link between measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism.
    In a commentary accompanying the study, which was published in the , Dr Edward Campion, senior deputy editor, wrote, “This careful and convincing study shows that there is no association between autism and MMR vaccination.”

    Lead author Dr Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen, an epidemiologist and expert on infectious diseases at the Danish Epidemiology Science Centre in Aarhus, told the BMJ that the study showed that the risk of autism was similar in children who were vaccinated and children who were not.

    The study reviewed records of 537303 children born in Denmark between January 1991 and December 1998, representing almost 100% of children born in that period. Of these children 440655 had been vaccinated.* Records were retrieved from three sources: the unique identification number assigned to each child at birth; MMR vaccination data reported to the National Board of Health by general practitioners, who give all MMR vaccinations and are reimbursed for their reports; and diagnoses of autism recorded in the Danish Psychiatric Central Registry. Only specialists in child psychiatry diagnose autism and related conditions.

    Full story... []

    *My emphasis.

    Inconvenient facts like this will not convince the Jenny McCarthys and Jim Careys of this world though.

  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @02:28PM (#34780048)

    Wow....your post is impressively bad.

    You can't build a "natural immunity" to the flu. That's why there's a new vaccine every year. And doctors already only recommend flu shots for "at risk" people, such as those with weak immune systems where the flu can be deadly.

    Also, I'm curious about your theory on how one could build an immunity on their own for, say, Smallpox or Tetanus.

    Lastly, only a relatively small number of vaccines contain a live version of the infectious agent. So the vast majority of vaccines do not actually cause an infection.

  • by BCoates ( 512464 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @02:58PM (#34780562)

    Wikipedia made it official policy that all biographies are uncritical fan-sites years ago.

  • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Thursday January 06, 2011 @04:32PM (#34782056) Homepage

    Huh? You get lowered immunity from a vaccination. I don't think you understand how vaccines work.

    Also, you're ignoring what I have said to you directly, and what others in this thread have also mentioned: herd immunity, which benefits people around you by keeping you from becoming infectious after you've been exposed to the disease.

Forty two.