This is the first of no doubt many occasions that I will utter my husband’s new perfect curse

Specifically aimed at fuck-knuckles above A Certain Age: “may Karma gift him with a disfiguring allergy to Viagra.”

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.

So many studies done that couldn’t replicate Wakefield’s results, so many people who were frightened away from vaccinations that we actually had measles epidemics for the first time in generations (and deaths), so many people who watched their children from a family with a history of autism still develop it anyway despite not being vaccinated – and now it is revealed that there was a damned good reason – those startling results were fudged right from the start.

Read the whole article from Brian Deer at the Sunday Times.

And then read one reaction from Dallas, who describes this fraudulent research with the soft euphemism of “tweaking his data”:

If this doctor did in fact tweak his data, it is very bad news for parents of children with autism who fight a lonely battle against mainstream medicine to seek additional research.

Why is it bad news? It’s not because autism parents hate vaccines. Most autism parents that I’ve met see the need for vaccinations. What they don’t want is a one-size-fits all vaccination schedule for all children. Autism parents generally just want more research into how vaccines can be administered to make sure they don’t harm an immune system.

That’s still raising a huge and now-looking-even-more-baseless assumption that autism has anything to do with the immune system in the first place.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to people who are sceptical of the corporate business side of vaccinations, being wary to accept what appears to be boilerplate marketing hype from Big Pharma, but latching on to dubious research just because it says what they want it to say will only lead to valid concerns being swept aside as just more noise from the loony flakes.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, health, media, Science

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25 replies

  1. Very. Angry. Now. Parents are besieged by snake oil merchants – the Noni juice floggers, the Ambrotose pushers, the chelators, the mega vitamin people and it seems, cynical medical researchers whose baseless and fraudulent speculations can be published in the Lancet. Grrr.

  2. That is indeed a wonderful curse, and perfectly applied here.

    I wonder what motivated him? Is he anti-vaccination in general, or is he just one of those people who likes to point the finger and lay blame in lieu of actually doing something to help?

  3. I’m pretty angry about this too. We rely on scientists and researchers being honest. Not necessarily getting it right – they’re not omniscient after all, and that’s why we have peer review systems. But deliberating distorting the data makes a mockery of the hard work that scientists do.
    My kids are vaccinated to the hilt – MMR, HIB, whatever is in the schedule. Not chicken pox, and not the cervical cancer vaccine. But in the case of the latter, that’s not vaccinated “yet.” Vaccination is an extraordinary wonder of modern medicine, and I feel so discouraged when it is undermined by malicious behaviour like this.
    “may Karma gift him with a disfiguring allergy to Viagra.”
    LOLed. Very, very loudly. So much so that I scared the cat.
    Deborah’s last blog post..Kudos

  4. My eldest hasn’t had the chickenpox vax but he has had everything else, including a couple of extras courtesy of living in Alice Springs. The youngest has had chickenpox vax because it was added to the schedule in time for her to get it. As far as I can tell, autism causes autism.

  5. For those that know, are vaccinations less effective after 2 years of age? I know that autism often starts to become visible around this age, so if you are worried about vax causing it, can you wait until two then have your child fully vaccinated? Of course hoping that they haven’t contracted something horrible in the meantime.

  6. Beppie asks: ”I wonder what motivated him? Is he anti-vaccination in general, or is he just one of those people who likes to point the finger and lay blame in lieu of actually doing something to help?”
    No, much simpler than that: Money. For one thing, the year before he published his fraudulant criticism of the triple vaccine, he patented his own single vaccine. For another, he was paid thousands of dollars to collect data by law firms trying to sue vaccine companies.
    There’s been lots of criticism of The Lancet for publishing this study (they’ve since caused it to be retracted) — but I don’t agree with most of that criticism. Scientific journals should try to catch fraud, but this kind of fraud, wholesale fakery, is ironically hard to catch than the simpler forms where, say, a single part of one figure is changed. It’s not possible for a journal to go back and re-scrutinize all the primary data in all the papers it publishes, for example. It’s necessary to rely on the scientific process as a self-correcting mechanism. Of course, that’s pretty much what happened in this case — Wakefield’s work was rapidly and thoroughly refuted in the scientific literature — but the mainstream press has lagged far behind the scientific consensus. If it wasn’t for ambulance chasers, scandal-seeking newspapers, ignorant and naive reporters, and greedy lawyers, this would have diappeared within a year of Wakefield’s first article, as happens with almost all the mistaken, careless, and misinterpreted scientific papers that are published by the dozen every day.

  7. I’ve been in more than one argument about the necessity of vaccination in my time, and I sincerely fear the loss of herd immunity; he can fucking choke on his forged study data, the bastard. I’m sure people have died because of him.

  8. I’m quite sure people have died because of him. And the herd immunity is an important thing to remember. There are some people who really can’t have immunisations for medical reasons. Having enough of everyone else immunised effectively protects them as well – they are unlikely to catch a disease that just is not kicking around in the community. Reduced immunisation takes that protection away, and they haven’t been able to make the choice. I guess that’s kind of an answer to Mindy’s question, too. If everyone is immunised, then waiting a bit longer might not matter so much. But if the diseases are around (because of low levels of immunisation in the community) then your under-two would be at great risk of catching a serious illness with risk of death or long-term health consequences.
    There are enough bloody risks to children that can’t be prevented whatever a person does. I can’t understand why you’d want to run the gauntlet of a whole bunch that can be prevented.

  9. I do believe that parents need to have the right to choose immunisation or not, or to alter the standard schedule. I also believe they have the right to an informed choice on immunisation. And that second part seems to get lost, as it does with so many other parenting decisions. As is very clear from the way the media has handled the MMR/autism ‘debate’.
    I also find it kinda interesting that some parts of the patriarchogovernmentomedicoindustrial complex that so heavily promotes immunisation and doesn’t hesitate to call its absence “child abuse”, don’t do the same for true global and local breastfeeding support (Not lip-service and haranguing, but support). Which calls into question, for me, exactly how much of their particular pronouncements are actually about an evidence-based, effective, and comprehensive approach to preventing deaths from infectious disease.

  10. I’m of two minds about the schedule. Mumps – for example – is harmful if you’re a boy and have it as an adult or a teenager, but for kids it’s not a problem.
    And if you have mumps as a kid, you have life-long immunity. Whereas the vaccine doesn’t give complete immunity (see for ex this study).
    The schedule is based on public health, obviously, rather than individual health. But the main reason why kids are immunised so early against these sorts of diseases (i.e. ones that aren’t generally problematic for kids) is because you get better compliance with immunisation at a younger age.
    If you could get similar compliance at, say, age 10, it would make sense to immunise against mumps then. From an individual perspective, if the vaccine was available separately (which it’s not, at least in Australia) it would make sense to do measles early and mumps/rubella later.
    Although I also see the sense in Pen’s thoughts about herd immunity.

  11. Rebekka: it’s probably also important to note (and I know you likely know this) that some immunisations are done early because the diseases kill very young children, and immunisation reduces that risk: pertussis and Hib are the obvious examples here. The invasive Hib disease stats alone debunk the “All immunisations are useless; it’s all about sanitation, and it’s all coincidence” hypothesis.
    I’d immunise my kid on schedule even if it was _only_ about herd immunity. That’s my choice. (And I note that some flavours of anti-immunisation folk who go on and on and on about immunity rarely mention booster shots.)

  12. I can’t tell you how good it feels to read an intelligent discussion of this issue! We’ve gone with all the standard vaccinations for our child, though finding a doctor who was comfortable with us altering the standard schedule was very important to us.

  13. Pen, I didn’t even know (to my shame) there was a chickenpox vacc. The routine around here is to invite kids over for a playdate once you hear they’ve got it. Both of mine are now immunised that way.
    Yeah, but not joking matter, I know. As Stephen Jay Gould said, you just have to walk through a churchyard which goes back to the Victorian or Edwardian period, and take a look at the infant / youth deaths.

  14. I too consider the herd immunity issue to be of some no small importance. My 3 were all immunised according to schedule, we missed the chicken pox vaccine though. I didn’t go out of my way to either avoid or seek out contact with chicken pox and so far we’ve not had it strike. My eldest son is about to turn 12 so I’m planning on a trip to the GP for chicken pox needles all ’round in the near future.
    mimbles’s last blog post..Chess

  15. Speaking as an ex-medical researcher, Wakefield should be subject to criminal charges.

  16. I’ve been a lurker here but had to come out of lurkdom to thank you for the new curse — I will make good use of it — and for this article. As a researcher, it saddens and angers me when researchers manipulate data, most especially data that can affect so many people’s health.
    Thanks again.

  17. I’ll add my thanks to the chorus. It is near impossible to see a balanced discussion of immunisation. If you choose to immunise you are often labelled a sheep- uniformed- a pawn of the pharmaceutical companies’ greed. But to be an informed parent who chooses to immunise is hugely underrepresented. It is great to see there are others out there.
    So, many thanks.

  18. I’m sure people have died because of him.

    We’ve had a couple of minor measles outbreaks in the last few years in the UK, which are likely due to reduced vaccination rates, but they didn’t turn into major ones. The UK is pretty prone to vaccination scares; we had one for polio a while back, which also saw a spike in cases. The trouble is, a lot of British people seem to see vaccination as a ritual, without any real significance; we’ve forgotten what these diseases are.

  19. SunlessNick : We’ve had a couple of minor measles outbreaks in the last few years in the UK, which are likely due to reduced vaccination rates, but they didn’t turn into major ones.
    Not sure what you call a major outbreak. “2007 saw the highest number of measles cases reported in England and Wales since current surveillance began in 1995, with 971 confirmed cases reported, compared with 740 reported in 2006. … There are increasing signs that the middle classes in the United Kingdom may also now be an at-risk group [7,8], due to parents’ active decisions not to immunise their children with the MMR vaccine. ” –Eurosurveillance, Volume 13, Issue 15, 10 April 2008
    Two children in the UK died of measles.
    Admittedly, that’s “minor” compared to the global death toll of measles (a mere 200,000 deaths per year — vaccination has reduced that from 750,000 deaths per year over the past decade), but in context the UK outbreaks are pretty major.
    Two children died.

  20. “Rebekka: it’s probably also important to note (and I know you likely know this) that some immunisations are done early because the diseases kill very young children, and immunisation reduces that risk: pertussis and Hib are the obvious examples here. ”
    Yes, absolutely and I didn’t mean at all to suggest that wasn’t the case.

  21. The problem with not getting the MMR vaccines or having enough of the population be vaccinated is running the risk of being sick long enough or being a carrier of them long enough for them to mutate into completely horrible illnesses that mimic degenerate diseases.
    It’s not only avoiding the original diseases themselves that is so important; it’s preventing the other and more potentially fatal diseases they may develop into.

  22. The PatriarchoGovernmentoMedicoIndustrial complex doesn’t promote immunisation enough, for the simple reason that there’s not much money in it. They’d make a lot more money selling medicines to treat the diseases than they ever would from vaccines. The PGMI complex has a bias towards expensive treatments that manage chronic diseases of the affluent, not cheap ways to prevent acute illnesses in children.
    And yes, that researher is scum. But that doesn’t excuse all the alternative medicine believers who bought it all – ignoring the massive weight of counterevidence – because it confirmed their prejudices.


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