Thursday, January 6, 2011

Autism study was an elaborate fraud

I've blogged before about the erroneous idea that vaccines cause autism, and about how many people refuse to believe that they're wrong, no matter what the evidence shows, and I'm sure this won't make much difference to the true believers. But the British Medical Journal now says that the original study, which claimed to show a link, was a deliberate fraud.

Here's how CNN puts it:
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines is an "elaborate fraud," according to a medical journal -- a charge the physician behind the study vigorously denies.

The British medical journal BMJ, which published the results of its investigation, concluded 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. The journalist who wrote the BMJ articles said Thursday he believes Wakefield should face criminal charges. ...

The medical publication says the study has done long-lasting damage to public health.

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."

Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May.

Note that the original study was based on only 12 children, a very tiny sample size. But subsequent review shows that the medical histories of all 12 were fraudulently altered. This isn't a close call, not in the slightest.

The original article, which claimed to find a link between childhood vaccines and autism, was published in the Lancet, a respected medical journal, in 1998, causing an immediate uproar. But the Lancet retracted the article in January last year, and as mentioned above, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in May.

Ten of the co-authors of the original article have since retracted their support for its conclusions, since Wakefield apparently faked the data. This wasn't a mistake on his part, but a deliberate, elaborate fraud.

Of course, the true believers don't accept that and likely never will. After all, he's such a nice man, a "man of integrity and honor" (except that he's not, according to the evidence). According to them, this is all a giant, worldwide conspiracy of vaccine manufacturers - and individuals who just want to see more children get autism, apparently.

Well, the true believer trusts in faith, not in evidence. They just believe what they believe, so there's never a mechanism by which they'll accept that they're wrong.

As Brian Deer, the author of this latest article, points out, Andrew Wakefield has an easy remedy, if this charge of fraud isn't true. Britain has one of the easiest libel laws in the world. It's been a complete embarrassment to scientists and skeptics, being widely used by frauds to censor, or just deter, criticism.

If Wakefield really has been libeled, if he's not a complete fraud, he could sue Deer and the British Medical Journal for everything they have. Heck, he could even do it in America, and our libel laws are far, far stricter. In Britain, this would be a slam-dunk,... assuming, of course, that he didn't fake the data.

Sadly, all this has scared parents and led to lower rates of childhood vaccinations worldwide. And that has led to children dying! Because of this irrational fear, according to the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, just since 2007 there have been 72,475 preventable illnesses and 622 preventable child deaths (often, in infants too young to be vaccinated, because of the loss of herd immunity). And not once has autism been scientifically linked to vaccines.

If you're interested, here's the complete text of Deer's article in the British Medical Journal, complete with 124 footnotes. (It's nothing if not well-documented.) Note that it's free, not even requiring registration to read. And apparently, this is only the first article in a series.

No comments: