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Medicine The Almighty Buck

Autism-Vax Doc Scandal Was Pharma Business Scam 541

Sockatume writes "In his second report, Brian Deer exposes how MMR-autism prophet Andrew Wakefield aimed to profit from the vaccine scare. Two years before the research that 'discovered' the MMR-autism link, Wakefield began courting interest in a hundred-million-dollar diagnostics firm. The doctor hoped to seed the company with government legal aid money and profit by charging 'premium prices' for new diagnostic tests to be used in vaccine injury lawsuits. By the time Wakefield published, the proposals had expanded into producing new 'safe' vaccines, two businesses to gather legal aid funding, and interest from partners including Wakefield's own hospital. The scheme ultimately disintegrated with the arrival of new leadership at Wakefield's hospital and ongoing scrutiny into his research."
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Autism-Vax Doc Scandal Was Pharma Business Scam

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  • This is a Big Deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by microTodd ( 240390 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @09:53AM (#34847420) Homepage Journal

    Being a new parent right around the height of the Autism/Vaccination scare, this is a Big Deal. This was huge! We had lots of talking heads on TV telling people not to vaccinate their kids. Famously, Jenny McCarthy went on Oprah and told parents not to vaccinate their kids. Many doctors and parents LISTENED! If you read the articles, you'll see that as a result children died of easily preventable childhood diseases because parents were too scared to get the proper vaccinations.

    I am frankly amazed that this turned out to be a scam and not just sloppy science research. I just cannot fathom the depths of this man's conscience.

    The sad part is, the repercussions will continue to last for years and years. Even after this has all been revealed as malicious, willful fraud, I bet dollars to doughnuts that many parents will still believe it, and won't get their kids vaccinations, putting them at risk.

    I'm normally a laid back guy but this one just makes me fired up.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @09:54AM (#34847442)

    There are so many parents who believed (the media interpretation of) the first study that they kept their kids from getting vaccinated. As a result, it has been more common to see childhood illnesses which had been virtual eradicated with the help of vaccination, particularly measles, as well as some other more dangerous diseases. Lives have been put at risk because this guy gambled (correctly) that new parents are easy to freak out and take advantage of. Now there is the daunting task of convincing those same parents, who aren't going to want to admit they were basically taken in a huge scam and put their kids at risk because they were dumb, which means a large number of people are going to convince themselves the retraction is a scam/conspiracy/etc and that the original study was right.

    Is there a degree of felony high enough to cover this?

  • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @09:54AM (#34847444)

    The problem here is, Wakefield's scam has actually caused the death of hundreds of kids and caused thousands of others to get sick with completely preventable illnesses.

    He's personally responsible for causing outbreaks of diseases which were all but eradicated to spring back up as enough stupid parents followed the lead of batshit-insane people [] to break down what we call "herd immunity" [], which is also what we rely on to protect the small number of people in society who don't get vaccinations for "religious" reasons or because they have a demonstrable allergy [] to one of the vaccine components.

    Further, the "debate" over this has increased distrust of doctors, which isn't helpful. We already have enough problems with hypochondriacs who should have their WebMD access taken away because they are constantly convinced they are "special" people with some rare, exotic illness rather than a garden-variety head cold.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:04AM (#34847530)

    This "researcher" is the total blame. Anyone who believed some soft-core porn chick with fake boobs over their physicians kind of had it coming - it's a tragedy that their children paid the price for their stupidity.

  • by gomiam ( 587421 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:06AM (#34847548)
    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc [], nice fallacy.
  • by Neil Boekend ( 1854906 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:08AM (#34847568)
    There is one issue I have had since the beginning.
    Assume it were true.
    Assume all the autism is caused by vaccination (it can't be worse than that).
    The autism percentage in the US in 2007 was 0.7%.
    The chance a kid dies from diseases he could have been vaccinated against is higher, dunno the exact number and am to lazy to look'em up.
    So these people think it's worse to have a kid with autism than to lose your child to a disease? Are these people insane?
  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:09AM (#34847574)

    I submit your son's troubles are directly causally related to exposure to you. After all, his condition declines with exposure to you.

    Facetious? Yes. At the same time, people are very good at convincing themselves that they understand the "cause" of something even when they don't. This is how superstitions are born. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is called a logical fallacy for a reason, yet for some reason there's a sizable, possibly majority, portion of the population that simply cannot grasp the difference between correlation, causation, and just plain coincidence.

  • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:10AM (#34847582) Homepage Journal
    The worst problem is that it don't ends now. For years (centuries?) from now people will refuse to vaccine kids because "i hear somewhere that it causes autism", that kind of lies, misunderstandings and myths are documented that remain for very long, no matter what science says loudy all around (like some few examples [] that came to light recently)
  • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MogNuts ( 97512 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:22AM (#34847696)

    No. Thank Jenny McCarthy for that. And Oprah.

    Oprah has done a lot of good, so she gets a pass. But again a reason that celebrities should just shut up and do their job, because almost 100% in any other aspect of life, they're idiots.

  • by Myopic ( 18616 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:28AM (#34847746)

    But... but.. but... she has "mommy intuition"! How could "medical science" ever trump that?

  • by redemtionboy ( 890616 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:30AM (#34847764)
    My problem with this sir, is that even it did cause your son to get autism, which it didn't, it would still be worth it. Should we not spare 40% of children from DYING so that 1% doesn't get autism. That is easily worth the trade off.
  • by thijsh ( 910751 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:33AM (#34847808) Journal
    People who have been misled by false information are just that: 'misled'. People who choose to endanger their children (and others secondarily) after they know the facts are provably negligent.

    While it may be hard to prosecute for this because it is not that black-and-white (and people can always play the religion wildcard) it is possible to prosecute negligent parents when it does go wrong and their children die of a preventable disease... It is not pretty since they already lost their child, but other people might learn from their mistakes... If people don't see the consequence and learn from it we all are at risk of infection so there is a reasonable incentive to prosecute and shame these willfully neglectful parents as much as legally possible so people will say 'they would never mistreat their children like that'.
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:35AM (#34847832) Journal

    It should make you fired up, but in a different way.

    Look at what you said: Jenny McCarthy went on Oprah and told parents not to vaccinate their kids.
    So...Jenny McCarthy (famous for her diagnostic research?) went on Oprah (famous for its rigorous, investigative journalism?) and told people not to get a procedure that had been not just recommended but nearly mandatory for what, 40 years?
    And on THAT basis, they didn't?

    Sorry, but dude, if people are THAT gullible and witless that they trust their child's LIFE to the pronouncements of Jenny McCarthy and Oprah....well, they probably were going to have trouble making it across the street alive too.

    I'm sorry to sound so cynical, but at what point are people required to perform a little due diligence on their own lives? I mean, sure, we're not all epidemiologists or vaccine researchers, we can't all parse the raw data for results. But there are experts you CAN turn to (your family doctor, for one) for advice, and I don't know many of them basing their counsel on Oprah. And if you as a self-aware actor make the choice to disregard experts, that IS your choice. And the results - good or bad - are your fault. Sometimes, I'm sure, you'll be right. That would make your choice evolutionarily right, congrats.

    Usually, however, I'd guess that you'd be wrong.

    Looking at it objectively, one could say it was a 2nd-order Darwin effect. It's a bitch when it happens to be you though.

  • by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @10:55AM (#34848068) Homepage

    This is the part of the whole thing I never understood. Even if we accept that vaccines increase the risk of Autism (which they don't), the problem they solve is much more serious. People die or get permanent life altering disabilities from the diseases we vaccinate against. To employ the very over the top rhetoric of the movement itself: "Don't these people understand that they're killing babies?!?!" Sure we don't have a lot of experience with most of these diseases, but that's precisely because we are nearly immune to them as a society. Remove the herd immunity and they go right back to killing people.

  • by thijsh ( 910751 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @11:31AM (#34848598) Journal
    Yeah, but even then there are different conclusions possible. If you assume autism or death was caused by a vaccine based on this fallacy why jump to the conclusion the vaccine is bad. It could just as well have been any other problem like contamination. This can of course be accidental but I would not even expect mayor manufacturers to destroy entire batches when a few are known to be polluted (after all they even shipped AIDS infected products knowingly [] so I don't really have their general code of ethics in high regard). So if and when jumping to conclusions based on incomplete evidence and a logical fallacy I would claim a polluted vaccine probably caused it instead of boycotting all vaccines...
  • by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @11:31AM (#34848606) Homepage

    Trying saying that to the mother of a son who died from whooping cough because she listened to 'experts' in the media and didn't get her children vaccinated.

  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @11:39AM (#34848708)
    As much as you would think this would be the last word on the issue, this is not the end. Just after this news came out a friend of mine was was posting on Facebook that just because Wwakefield is discredited it doesn't mean that vaccinations are safe. -- he then put up a bunch of links to studies alleging things about Thimerosal etc and asked rhetorically "why don't you think you've ever heard of these studies?". The belief in the conspiracy has become self-confirming, and these people have since started websites, support groups, and they have elaborate FAQa and monographs to explain the "problem" to a new generation of parents.

    My friend has four children, all with some form of autism -- even the girls. Many of the "leaders"of this movement are desperate, angry people who have suffered much at the hands of a little understood mental disease, and grasp at any shred of evidence to link autism to something in the environment, something the can control. I don't think well hear the last of anti-vaccination until autism's cured or becomes genetically screenable.
  • by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <> on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @11:47AM (#34848842)

    I'd completely agree with you, but these idiots aren't hurting themselves. They're hurting their (very young, infant) children. The kids aren't the ones saying "but I heard oprah", it's the parents.

    It's the same thing as the homeopathy nonsense. My mother has a friend whose kid had Lyme disease, but she thought the treatment was too harsh and turned to homeopathic treatment (saline and sugar pills). He got better! He only a few neurologic defecits that held him back a year in school and changed his personality. So, heretic me looks up what the symptoms of not treating Lyme disease... and sees something familiar. The poor kid suffered for years and is damaged for life because his mom is a dumb bitch - is that "her" problem, or his?

    I would fully support those people getting prosecuted for child abuse. People are allowed to be as stupid about their own health as they want, but not about their kids. Otherwise, they should be removed and placed in the care of people who will treat them properly - same as we do with other neglect.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @11:55AM (#34848986)

    Should we not spare 40% of children from DYING so that 1% doesn't get autism. That is easily worth the trade off.

    Try saying that when it's your child, asshole.

    Ok. Saving the lives of 40% of children is worth the risk of giving 1% of them autism including my own child. Easily worth the trade off. Your child isn't any more special than anyone else. Neither are any children of mine.

    Some people are just going to be unlucky. Taking stupid risks like not vaccinating because someone hypothesizes (fraudulently as it turns out) that there might be a link between a particular vaccine and autism merely trades a theoretical risk for another well established risk. Don't get vaccinated and you might not get measles or mumps but some percentage of the population absolutely will. It's a roll of the dice. Taking a hypothetical risk over a well proven one is retarded.

    Vaccines save lives. This is not in dispute. EVERY vaccine has side effects in at least some portion of the population. So does every medicine and medical treatment known to man. Unproven side effects in a few are not sufficient reason to not use a medication and certainly not reason to not be vaccinated.

  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @12:22PM (#34849400)

    You can't discuss the death rate due to measles in the USA because its only single digits yearly for the entire developed western world.

    One might think vaccination had something to do with that.

  • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @12:26PM (#34849468)

    How did Josh get Autism? I don't know. Did he have Autism? Don't know that either. Did he have heavy metal poisoning? If you look up the symptoms you'll see they are quite similar.

    As a parent of a kid who was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have to say that there is a huge problem right now with overdiagnosing Autism. I can't really say I blame the behavioral health people--it's just that a lot of different issues tend to present like Autism in little kids.

    At around age 1, my son was a mess. He had these routines that he'd do over and over and over again, and if you interrupted him, he'd scream for 2 hours. He couldn't talk, wouldn't make eye contact, didn't interact at all with anyone. He was developmentally delayed in every area that they measure. We brought him to a behavioral specialist who said that he was too young to know for sure, but that in a few years, we should plan on him being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She said that there was definitely evidence to support that diagnosis at the time, but that she prefers not to label kids that young.

    My wife and I did a ton of research on Autism and anything else we could find. I was reading some stupid article on curing Autism by changing the kid's diet when it hit me: as an infant, my son was allergic to dairy. He was shitting blood, vomiting, etc., but he got over it at about age 6mos. Anyway, we called his pediatrician and asked if we'd be nuts to take him off of dairy, and he said that taking him off of dairy for a few months would actually be a great idea.

    So we took him off of dairy, and lo and behold, he was cured. He was a different kid. Engaging, charismatic. The routines disappeared. He started to develop. Obviously, he wasn't Autistic at all. He was just still allergic to dairy, and he was in excruciating pain, which inhibited his development.

    So I think there are a lot of "Autistic" kids out there who are suffering needlessly due to their actual condition remaining undiagnosed. I really wish doctors just send every developmentally-delayed kid to a behavioral specialist. An allergist should always be consulted, IMHO.

  • Re:Heh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tophermeyer ( 1573841 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @12:27PM (#34849488)

    To think it has some cause effect relationship with dead bits of virii or proteins is asinine. people that are educated enough to understand what autism is and how vaccines work. There are a lot of people that have not had the benefit of such an education, and lack some critical tools for pursuing their own research.

    Not that we need to coddle people that are willfully ignorant, but I think that society has an obligation to provide all of its members with the information they need to make informed choices. When charismatic people willfully spread misinformation to push some personal agenda I think society has an obligation to push back.

    Also, it doesn't help that we keep using the word 'Autism' to describe what is likely a very large spectrum of different disorders with potentially different causes.

  • by johneee ( 626549 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @12:55PM (#34849894)

    Or worse, how about the pre-vaccination age babies who died because kids around them hadn't been vaccinated. If it was just the people who didn't get the shot by choice who were dying, then I wouldn't mind this whole thing nearly as much. The problem is that once you fuck up herd immunity, you've fucked it up for everyone, including the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems. And, of course, the really horrible thing is that the people who don't get the shot, may actually survive MMR perfectly well, since by the time they or their parents have made that choice they are a bit older and more able to resist the disease, they've just made it more dangerous for everyone around them.

    And (and and and...) of course, as other people have mentioned, they're putting a chunk of the population at risk of death, simply to save themselves from the (as it turns out, rather specious) chance of getting a no doubt life-changing, but absolutely non-fatal disease.

    In short, and pardon my directness, but speaking as a parent, fuck those who don't get the shots for themselves and their kids right in their entitled, self-centred, arrogant asses. They and their spawn should be given the choice to get them, and then airdropped on a remote island with all the rest of the assholes who think that the chance of their precious little snowflake having a disability is more important than the life of other people's so they can't screw it up for the rest of us. /rant finished.

  • Re:Heh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kijori ( 897770 ) <ward,jake&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @01:11PM (#34850130)

    It takes a special type of arrogance to post a completely incorrect comment, while calling other commenters "idiots" for getting it right, when there's a link to a nice, simple explanation of the concept in the comment you're replying to.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:30PM (#34851354)

    It's like saying that a particular model of car has been recalled because of faulty brakes and then NOBODY buying a car ever again. It's that ridiculous.

    The thing is, though, that people aren't inherently scared of cars. This whole antivax manufactroversy only got traction because a large portion of the population is simply scared shitless of needles. Like, completely and unreasonably unhinged when presented with something long and pointy that's meant to go in your arm. Do not want to the max extreme sort of thing.

    Essentially, a lot of people were just looking for some excuse, any excuse, to justify to themselves why they shouldn't vaccinate their children - and Jenny McCarthy handed them one on a silver platter.

  • by wikdwarlock ( 570969 ) on Wednesday January 12, 2011 @02:32PM (#34851394) Homepage
    To your last point, while this sounds fine in theory, the application could be ghastly. Who decides that a parent is being "stupid" about their child's health? Surely not you. Perhaps a board of certified medical professionals? Are the board members (exaggerated for effect, not my personal views) crazy liberals from California, ignorant rednecks from the south, white supremacists, recently naturalized citizens with fake medical degrees from India? If not them, then the government, right? Local, state, or federal? Which lobbying interest do you want to dictate the "stupidity" of YOUR treatment of YOUR kid's health?

    What happens if the FCC's ban on Janet Jackson's nipple on broadcast television is conflated to be a psychological health risk, but you want to teach your child about the correct anatomical names of human's bodies? Or your babysitter reports your wife because your 3 year old son says he took a shower with Mommy? Or, if someone says 3D television can cause eye damage in children and you let your 5 year old watch Monsters vs Aliens on the new 3D tv you got for Christmas? Or that homemade fried chicken you brought to the company picnic is too fattening and 20 people can testify that you let your child eat it, willfully ignoring the Childhood Obesity Epidemic (TM) we've all heard about on 10 different talk shows?

    And all of this is completely based in my own attitudes toward health care. Other concerns from religious points of view are another set of problems. Maybe giving up chocolate for Lent traumatizes your child psychologically. Maybe the beef lobby convinces folks that Hindus are depleting their children's iron levels by not letting them eat cow meat. Etc...

    The bottom line is that people should (in my opinion) be allowed to be as stupid with their health, and with their children's health, as they want to be. It's a simple stance, but very complicated to work out in the real world, I know. And I DO believe that Child Protective Services should be able to remove children from situations of grossly negligent parenting, things like no access to clean food or water, inadequate shelter, abusive environment, etc, but even in those, the creeping grey areas can, and are, abused or misused in ways that reasonable, caring people don't intend.

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman