Autism Uproar Fomented With a Fraud? (Updated)

by Dave Schuler on February 8, 2009

The Times of London is reporting that the original study some twenty years ago which has fomented an uproar over whether autism is caused by vaccinations or preservatives used in vaccines was based on falsified data:

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.

There are a lot of tragedies in this story. Kids have been injured or even killed because their parents were afraid of vaccinating them. Money that could have been spent productively on something else was wasted in studying the relationship between vaccines and autism. And, also deeply tragic, this revelation won’t make a bit of difference. The belief that vaccines cause autism will persist, regardless of what the science says.

Let’s not forget in this discussion the greatest tragedy of all: autism can destroy families. Parents desperately look for support and, if the support they look for comes in the form of legal settlements from the companies that produce vaccines, so be it.

For our society to deal with the challenges that autism presents will require dramatic changes in our health care and educational systems.

The educational system bears many of the costs in dealing with autism and many if not most districts are funded via the manifestly unjust real estate tax. As a consequence the difference between the support available for kids with autism varies dramatically depending on where the kid lives. That’s just wrong.

Update

PZ Myers of Pharyngula concurs:

Will this revelation matter? Not one bit. The anti-vaxers have ignored all the evidence that they are wrong so far, so one more demonstration that one of the primary promulgators of this nonsense was an outright fraud won’t change a thing, I’m afraid. This is still a clear-cut case where delusions can kill.

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The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » Court: Vaccines Not to Blame for Autism
February 13, 2009 at 9:46 am

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Liz Ditz February 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I’ve done another round-up post — who is saying what about the Deer articles on Wakefield in the London Times. I’ve included this post.

11 years on, Wakefield Manufactured Data showing MMR-Autism Link?

I agree with PZ that this will not shake the hard-core anti-vaxxers, but I do think it will move the “nervous moms” — the ones who are fearful of vaccine side-effects.

Brett February 9, 2009 at 3:12 am

What I’m hoping will happen is that it will staunch further potential supporters of the Disease-Tolerators faction (AKA the “vaccine skeptics” – we really need to think of a more negative label for these people that adequately reflects the damage they do with their lies and nonsense), so that it will ultimately turn out like the “Satanic Cult” panic back in the 1980s: a phenomena that fades out and is largely ignored and meaningless.

As it is, a law requiring specific proof of strong risk of mortality from a specific vaccination for any exemption from vaccination should be mandatory, in order to get rid of the abuse of “religious” exemptions. Unvaccinated kids and people put everyone in danger – they’re a public health hazard, like polluted water.

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