Some may wonder why anyone still wondered about the credibility of an infamous study conducted by Andrew Wakefield and published by The Lancet that purported to show a link between vaccinations and autism. Two years ago, the Times of London published its exposé of Wakefield’s “research,” in which Wakefield faked data and drew conclusions from a ridiculously small sample — a fact that should have warned the Lancet to refuse publication in the first place, even if Wakefield hadn’t faked the data. However, belief in Wakefield’s claims continues, even after Reason addressed the issue in May 2010 once again as anti-vaccination advocates insisted that Wakefield’s research was valid and that the Times debunking was either incorrect or a sellout to Big Pharma.
This time, it’s Wakefield’s colleagues in medicine who are calling him a fraud:
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, 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.
“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. “Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession,” BMJ states in an editorial accompanying the work.
How much will this declaration push back against the anti-vaccination industry? When this study first got published, it worried a lot of parents, who reasonably thought that a peer-reviewed study in The Lancet carried some scientific weight, an assumption we’ve learned since that time was sorely mistaken. As Sanjay Gupta says at the end, much of this has been known for almost two years, and even before the Times reported on Wakefield’s fraud, the study’s size and methodology had been considered very suspect, especially for its sweeping conclusion on a disease that’s still not well understood.
After that report, though, some continued to insist on opposing vaccinations in a movement that began to look a lot more like a religious movement than a rational response to scientific data. Take a look again at the Reason video from May (or watch the very NSFW takedown by Penn & Teller on their BS show) to see exactly who this announcement needs to convince. Will it change people’s minds about a supposed link whose connection never got substantiated in any subsequent study to have it called a fraud? It will certainly convince the rational, but those almost certainly changed their minds about vaccinations after the February 2009 exposure of Wakefield’s fraud. Having his colleagues in medical research call this “one of the greatest frauds in science” will certainly help spread the word, but don’t expect people with this much invested in their belief of eeeeeevil pharmaceutical companies to go willingly into the light.