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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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  • 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!"
  • 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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:23AM (#34776566)

    NPR reported on it this morning as well: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/05/132692497/journal-study-linking-vaccine-to-autism-was-fraud

    Sadly, CNN couldn't even bother to have a single citation to the actual source text that is uncovering this.

    Of course not. The major news services want to present the illusion that they did some kind of investigation to get this info, as opposed to reprinting the AP wire stories or watching what the other networks are playing.

    click, click, ka-ching!

  • 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 Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:36AM (#34776768) Homepage

    Parents are worse. I know several otherwise very reasonable people who gets absolutely shitbrained whenever they are evaluating fictional threats to their child.

  • by __aapspi39 ( 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.

  • 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 Tim C ( 15259 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:52AM (#34777040)

    No, some parents are worse; some of us manage to maintain reason even in the face of reports of possible danger. For instance my daughter was due to be vaccinated in 2000, pretty-much at the height of the reports of possible links between the MMR vaccine and autism. We still had her vaccinated, and a great many other parents had their children vaccinated too.

    That's not to say that parenthood doesn't change you to some degree, of course it does. However suggesting that we all become shitbrained morons where our kids are concerned simply isn't fair.

  • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:53AM (#34777046)
    The mortality of measles is about 0.3% - 3 kids in 1000 that contract it will die. Your sample size simply means nothing. That's why you leave epidemiology to the experts and don't recklessly endanger not only your kids but everyone they come in contact with by refusing vaccination. In my opinion, it should simply be mandated by law. Parents refusing to vaccinate are clearly unfit for their role, their kids are better off if their asshat parents get thrown into the slammer and the kids set up for adoption.
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:53AM (#34777052) Homepage Journal
    Thimerosal is not mercury. It is a compound with mercury in it with low bioavailabity.
    That's like not eating salt because you're afraid of the chlorine molecule it contains.

    There are countless pages out there discussing the dangers of chlorine, that doesn't make salt a hyper-deadly toxin.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:55AM (#34777076) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but she keeps going on and saying vaccines hurt her baby.

    That bitch can rot.

  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @11:58AM (#34777118) Homepage

    Any of them ever eat any fish, such as tuna?

    My kids don't inject tuna into their bloodstream.

    The earlier point was made that there's more mercury in a can of tuna than there used to be in a vaccine. You do realize that anything you eat eventually makes its way into your bloodstream...right?

    You actually bred???? Sheesh.

  • 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 Cwix ( 1671282 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:00PM (#34777152)

    Emphasis mine.

    Vaccination acts as a sort of firebreak or firewall in the spread of the disease, slowing or preventing further transmission of the disease to others.[3] Unvaccinated individuals are indirectly protected by vaccinated individuals, as the latter will not contract and transmit the disease between infected and susceptible individuals.[2] Hence, a public health policy of herd immunity may be used to reduce spread of an illness and provide a level of protection to a vulnerable, unvaccinated subgroup. Since only a small fraction of the population (or herd) can be left unvaccinated for this method to be effective, it is considered best left for those who cannot safely receive vaccines because of a medical condition such as an immune disorder or for organ transplant recipients.

    The more people who opt out of vaccines, the greater the likelihood of these diseases making a comeback. That's why you've never seen the measles or the mumps.

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Herd_immunity [wikimedia.org]

  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:19PM (#34777468) Homepage Journal

    How about I piss in your cornflakes? What's the problem it's not piss it just has a small amount of piss in it.

    If you were to bind the piss with the cornflakes and create a new, safe and tasty molecule then I would try it.

    They drink recycled urine on the space station, btw.
  • by MrNiceguy_KS ( 800771 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:22PM (#34777518)

    Sadly, there's a lot of money in junk science.

    Sadly, there's even bigger money in Big Pharma.

    Why is this sad? Big Pharma at least provides benefits for the money they make. Junk science is more than happy to take your money, and give you placebos and ignorance in return. I think it's good that there's more money in Big Pharma than Junk Science.

    Ideally, there would be more money in almost anything than in Junk Science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:23PM (#34777534)

    Sadly, there's a lot of money in junk science.

    Sadly, there's even bigger money in Big Pharma.

    But the big money in Big Pharma has a by product of curing people. See MMR Vaccine. The big money in junk science has a by product of leaving people vulnerable to easily cured diseases. See MMR linked to autism.

  • by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... m ['eve' in gap]> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:38PM (#34777762) Homepage

    The sample size of 'non-immunized kids' based on their original claim is 100%.

    Why? because they originally claimed it was the mercury preservatives in vaccines, and, what's more, they claimed they could cure some of the autism that way by using heavy-metal-poisoning treatment.

    As such, vaccine companies stopped almost entirely using mercury-based preservatives in 1999.

    Autism has not gone down, and the quackery has moved on to claiming the vaccines themselves are causing the problem, despite no one even vaguely knowing how this could work. (The mercury theory was based on bad science, the current theory doesn't appear to be based on anything at all.)

  • by eltonito ( 910528 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @12:38PM (#34777770)

    Even if thimerosal were mercury, it has no relevant place in the anti-vaccine argument since there was no correlating decline in autism cases when it was removed from children's vaccines. Autism diagnoses have continued to rise in the wake of the questionable thimerosal ban and the rising numbers of the unvaccinated, which all but confirms that thimerosal was nothing more than a needless distraction.

    Anti-vaxxers still bring out the ghost of thimerosal because having an opportunity to name drop "mercury" makes them appear to be more serious and educated than they actually are. The first step in reintroducing rationality and logic to an anti-vaxxer is to nip that particular argument in the bud.

    I completely agree with you and I like the salt analogy, but I wouldn't even give them that much leeway.

  • 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.

  • by 5KVGhost ( 208137 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:01PM (#34778314)

    How about we ask the same questions about the people who stand to make huge amounts of money from "green" technologies and scams like carbon exchanges when they're mandated by governments in response to the "science" they've created. Or the "scientists" who falsify data, peddle shoddy work, or change the results to suit their own ideological biases. Or the insanely huge amount of government funding that they've appropriated by creating a regulatory environment that not only employs them, but only funds research devoted to one specific possible result?

    I don't give a damn who funds what research. If the science is solid it doesn't matter who paid for it. Science that attempts to discredit research which may be contrary to their preferred results is not science. It's religion, and a bad one.

  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:05PM (#34778376) Homepage Journal

    Chiropractors are not medical doctors. You may want to point out that fact to him.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:10PM (#34778480)


    Data show the earth isn't warming on average.
    The data that show earth to be warming on average is faulty.
    The earth is warming but greenhouses gases aren't the cause
    The earth is warming because of greenhouse gases of non human origins.
    The earth is warming because of athropological greenhouse gases but it's good news.
    It's not good news but adapting (increasing the climatization in my office) is cheaper.
    In hindsight adapting was not the best solution at the time but it's too late now to do anything.

  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:21PM (#34778696) Journal

    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 HiThere ( 15173 ) <{ten.knilhtrae} {ta} {nsxihselrahc}> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:40PM (#34779060)

    It sort of depends on what you're allergic to. And as we age, we naturally tend to become allergic to more and more things. The only real way, e.g., that I could avoid Oak Tree pollen is to move to some place where oak trees wouldn't grow. Texas, maybe. Perhaps Washington (state). (I haven't researched this, as that's a foolish approach. You move, and then it turns out that at some time of year the new environment has something you're *more* allergic to than you were to the place you left.) It's not like I'm only allergic to one thing. (And the same either is, or probably will be, true of you.)

    But allergies aren't something that anyone makes much money off of. Not if they're treated properly. (If you just take an anti-histamine, then either your allergies are minor, or you really *should* see a good allergist.)

    That said, one of the things the allergist would say is to avoid the substances you are allergic to. Which he would identify for you. (Though he might miss a few. The allergist didn't catch that I was allergic to bell peppers, but I did, and they're easy enough to avoid. But he found many that I had no way of identifying. Dust mites, e.g., are essentially invisible. Special cases around the mattress and pillows worked marvels.)

    There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of big pharma, and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to forbid others to produce a drug that they refuse to produce. But it's also true that they've done a lot of important work, and are still doing more. Still...

    I *do* think things would be improved if every firm that became so large it controlled more than 1/10th of the market was automatically dissolved. Or maybe it's tax rate should just be the same as it's share of the market. With no allowances for business expenses. So small firms would pay no tax, and as they got larger, they paid more taxes. (As stated, this is obviously impossible. Firms work in more than one market, e.g. But the basic idea seems good. The devil is in the details of how one says it.) Note that this is the kind of thing that the income tax was supposed to be, and never became. So the details are VERY important.

  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:45PM (#34779186) Homepage

    Sorry, that was not my point. Of course no one should be vaccinated against small pox (unless they research the stuff).

    My point was that small pox vaccines is a bad example because it was the most dangerous vaccine ever used generally, there was a real risk involved getting it, and even that risk was quite small. If you are using small pox as an example, you are distorting the issue with extreme examples.

    Modern vaccines are not anywhere near as dangerous and vaccinates against diseases that still are commonplace, even in majority vaccinated populations. If 85% is vaccinated, you are still taking a risk by being among the 15%, because statics shows that people are still getting the disease, which means the disease can still harm your kid more than the mostly imaginary threats associated with vaccination.

  • That's an even better example, but I didn't want to use it.

    Yeah, you can actually figure out how plausible a scientific position is the more the facts change and people (are forced to) accept the new facts, but then still argue the same conclusion.

    And it's not really even the same 'conclusion'. It's past the conclusion. It's the same 'So now that we've figured that out, the thing we should do is...'

    If I stand there and argue, on a trip, that we should drive down, say, highway 141 to get to Gainesville, and it's pointed out that highway 141 doesn't go to Gainesville, and so I argue that we should drive down 141 to get some Taco Bell, and it's pointed out that there's a Taco Bell on the actual route to Gainesville, and then I argue that Gainesville is a stupid place to go and we should go to Lawrenceville down 141 instead, and it's pointed out while that's technically possible, that's not a very good way to get to Lawrenceville...

    At some point, people really should realize I obviously have a motive to drive down 141, because every single plan I invent involves driving down 141.

    Likewise, at some point people need to realize the climate change deniers have some sort of motive to not do anything about climate change. (What that motive is is rather obvious if you look at the funding sources.)

    But even if you knew nothing who was funding that, it's clear there is some motive, because every. single. one. of their conclusions is 'We shouldn't do anything', no matter what facts they've decided to finally accept. It might exist, it might not, it might be us, might be the sun or volcanoes, it might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing, whatever it is, we sure as heck shouldn't demand people change their behavior, ever.

    Same with the anti-vaccine crowd. First it was mercury in vaccines, then it was this study, now I'm sure some other bogus thing will come up. But every single solution is 'less vaccines'. Actually, if you look real close, you'll see every single solution is 'traditional medicine bad, alternative medicine good'.

    People who sit and argue the same 'problem solution' despite the problem constantly changing are dishonest, and not scientists, and people need to stop listening and call them out on it the very first time they do that.

  • by Chibi Merrow ( 226057 ) <mrmerrow&monkeyinfinity,net> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:57PM (#34779424) Homepage Journal

    By that argument, you should stop wearing your seat belt. After all, you haven't been in a car accident lately, right? So they're pointless!

    Honestly, I wish you would. You'd be doing us all a favor.

  • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <omestesNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday January 06, 2011 @01:58PM (#34779432) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Bingo. Not a very popular stance, but I'm guessing it is the closest to the actual truth of the matter. We've expanded the diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum "diseases" to the point of being utterly meaningless. Around 90% of the people I was friends with in the early 90's (before the autism craze) would probably be placed somewhere in the autism spectrum if they were youths today. I, too, would have probably been autistic, or at least "suffering" aspergers. Luckily this was the early 90's and we all just got ADD/ADHD instead.

    I am happy that the APA (organizers of the DSM) are planning on removing aspergers from the new addition, in order to force mental health professionals to either diagnose autism or nothing, which might cut down over-diagnosis levels a bit.

    When I was first venturing into psychology as a field of study, one of my early professors was very quick to point out that everyone has symptoms of a very large array of listed mental illnesses, but what keeps you from being actually mentally ill is the ability to function normally. If you are capable of having long terms friends, a wife, a steady job, etc.. you probably are not "mentally ill". As "illness" generally (used to be) taken as "an impediment to normal functioning". This isn't saying such modern vogue diseases don't exist, but are VERY overdiagnosed. There are people running around proclaiming aspergers or adult-ADD who have large happy families, well paying jobs with long-term stability, and an active social life, these people are not sick, since they are functioning at a high level.

    I'm not sure of all the causes of this largely purely social phenomena; but part of it is the huge pressure pharma exerts on doctors, and the fact that parents want results. If parents, or teachers, aren't happy with little Billy's performance or personality, then they will shop around until someone agrees with them. As a doctor, you might as well diagnose, because if you don't someone else will. My dad this this when I was young (mostly as a political maneuver in a divorce, with a bit of influence from some overworked teachers), he took me to around five doctors until one of them decided I must have ADD, and perhaps some flavor of clinical depression. (without ever actually talking to me).

    Another thing is that parents ignore natural variation. Someone I know is trying to get their kid diagnosed with autism because she hasn't spoken by the time she turned 3 years old. While this might be unusual, it isn't unheard of, or even that problematic. It is well within the natural variation of human development.

  • 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.

  • by Mister Whirly ( 964219 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @02:17PM (#34779828) Homepage
    Because basing all of your ideas on shoddy research that has been proven to be falsified is never a good strategy, regardless of how much money you have. McCarthy is convinced she knows the cause of her child's autism, and all the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) in the world are not going to convince her to change her opinions. Her mind is pretty closed on this subject I would say. When you have ex-playboy models claiming to have better scientific knowledge of a disease than actual doctors in the field do themselves, it is time to take anything she says with a rather large grain of salt.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @03:33PM (#34781146) Homepage

    Sadly, there's even bigger money in Big Pharma.

    Okay. Let's look at this clearly: Big Pharma is a mixed bag of positive and negative. They have undeniably provided products of great benefit to human health. And there is also undeniably many cases of them providing unnecessary vanity products, unintentionally harmful products, and products they knew were harmful or useless which they skewed data to get approved. I have lots of problems with Big Pfizer^H^H^H^H^Hharma.

    Junk science is not a mixed bag. At best it causes people to get ripped off buying placebos, and at worst causes significant harm by making people not seek real medical treatment when they need it, or not vaccinate their kids so you get outbreaks of measels or whooping cough that affect not just their children, but the children of people who didn't buy into the junk science.

    Please let us not talk about these things as if they are equal. There should be lots of money in legitimate pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, but we should also push to solve the problems with it. The problem with junk science, homeopathy, anti-vaccination movements, etc is the junk science itself.

  • by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Thursday January 06, 2011 @04:37PM (#34782168) Homepage

    Children are introduced to hundreds of pathogens a *day* naturally. And you're concerned about 3 dead or disabled viruses (nobody gives vaccines with fully live viruses)???

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva