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Brian Deer Finds Andrew Wakefield Faked Data

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on February 9, 2009

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield and others published a small study of only 12 subjects in the Lancet. This small study sparked a huge controversy – Wakefield used it to claim that the MMR (mumps measles and rubella) vaccine caused autism. As a result compliance with the MMR dropped from 92% in the UK down to 85%, and measles cases soared from only 58 cases in 1998 to 1,348 cases in 2008.

Despite the fact that Wakefields paper has been thoroughly discredited, and subsequent studies showed convincingly that there is a lack of association between MMR or vaccines in general and autism, the controversy sparked by Wakefield continues. It has spread to the US as well, where measles cases are also starting to jump. The existing anti-vaccine movement latched onto Wakefield’s study and have been running with the vaccines-cause-autism fear-mongering ever since. While not letting go of MMR, they did shift over to thimerosal (which was never in the MMR vaccine), which has also been cleared from any association with autism (but was removed from vaccines in the US and most countries anyway).

The real story of MMR, thimerosal, vaccines, and autism is a scientific one, and the science has spoken. While further research is always welcome (as long as it is ethical) the question is essentially settled – vaccines do not cause autism. The scientific evidence does not care for the personal saga of Andrew Wakefield, but he has never-the-less become a central figure in this story. He has now been elevated to the status of folk-hero by the antivaccinationists. So while I consider Wakefield a footnote, his story is interesting and instructive.



4 Responses

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  1. John Fryer said, on February 22, 2009 at 8:50 AM


    If Dr Wakefield’s study is so corrupt what about the other authors or are they to be let off and continue practising medicine in the UK?
    I thought Dr Wakefield did not practise medicine anymore in the UK unlike most of the other authors.
    And if this is fraudulent research what are your thoughts on the Verstraeten Pediatrics paper that absolves mercury from anything other than improving the brain cells of one day infants? It seems one of the earlier half a dozen preliminary data sets showed that thimerosal had a dose related effect on autism or is true science not what we are about in the 21st century of UNTOUCHABLE power bases where vaccines are to be deployed in untrialled ways?

    • Skepdude said, on February 22, 2009 at 11:38 AM

      As far as thimerosal is concerned that was settled a while back. All the studies point to the direction of no link between thimerosal and autism.

  2. Skepdude said, on February 22, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    Far as I know almost all the original authors, if not all, had retracted their names from the paper already. Anyone still involved needs to be held accountable, no doubt about it.

    I am not familiar with the Verstraeten Paper so I can’t comment.

    But see this is the beauty of science and evidence based medicine. It is self correcting. Sooner or later the truth comes out. Not that anyone had any doubts about Wakefield’s original claims anyway. They were rejected by further studies. It was only the ardent anti-vacinationists that still clung to them. This is just the latest, and hopefully, final blow.

  3. Harold L Doherty said, on March 15, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    Dr. Wakefield’s formal complaint to the UK Press Complaint’s Commission against journalist Brian Deeer.

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