It is if you're Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the by now discredited charlatan "researcher" who authored the just retracted 1998 Lancet study responsible for the vaccines-cause-autism scare. The autism quack actually trolled for subjects at his son's birthday party. A factoid almost too incredible to believe brought to us by MSNBC (Medical Journal Retracts Flawed Autism Study):
For the study, Wakefield took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party, paying them 5 pounds each ($8) for their contributions and later joking about the incident.
Let's leave aside the blood donors' parents and the disturbing issue of whether they were present and agreed or weren't present and would never have agreed to such an invasion of their children's privacy not to mention an effrontery to science and I'm quite sure, Miss Manners.
If only the lack of ethics (and of course, science) ended with the blood draws. It got much, much worse. Eleven of the 12 children in the study were subjected to unnecessary, painful, and risky invasive procedures like lumbar punctures and colonoscopies - without the necessary approval of an ethical review board established to prevent such atrocities. Wakefield bypassed the ethics review that might have prevented this study from proceeding.
Of all the financial, ethical, and of course scientific transgressions Wakefield committed in the name of autism, and there have been many just in this one piece of so-called research, this one's got me the most steaming mad. There's the children, of course. The needless fear, anxiety, perhaps pain done to them.
And how did it happen?
These new revelations show Wakefield knowingly, openly disregarded, flaunted well-established international regulations in place to protect people and by the way, animals, from unethical research practices just like these. Everyone, and I mean everyone, from lowly undergraduate lab assistants to esteemed Nobel-prize winning scientists, must follow these rules and get approval from a review board before conducting any kind of investigation. And they all know it.
I couldn't so much as place an ad to recruit subjects before being cleared by my institution's review board. Nor could I ever ask a question, let well enough alone stick any child with a needle before obtaining what is officially known as "informed consent" - usually a signature following a detailed document outlining the risks of participation and a brief overview of the study. A nod from a parent does not suffice. A quick yes over birthday cake is not informed consent.
And that Wakefield took blood, paid for it, then laughed. Laughed. Joked about it.
Then went on to unleash one of the most flawed, doctored, unethically-procured explosive and significant sets of data, perhaps ever, in the parenting sphere. It was the perfect storm.
Too bad people like Jim Moody, the director of SafeMinds, the autism group still spreading the vaccines-cause-autism nonsense, can't seem to see the writing on the wall:
“Attacking scientists and attacking doctors is dangerous,” he said. “This is about suppressing research, and it will fuel the controversy by bringing it all up again.” (New York Times, Journal Retracts 1998 Paper Linking Autism to Vaccines)
No, Mr. Moody. Wakefield is not a hero. He is not a scientist. This was never science. Not even close. And yet those of us who respect the scientific method and scientific integrity - not to mention the privacy and rights of young children - must contend with people like you who use controversy and fear and chicanery to promote your debunked and I might add, cumbersome, to those unvaccinated children harmful, even disastrous theories. When I hear a parent complain about the latest study, who can they trust, next week it'll be something different - I blame Wakefield and his fraudulent cronies, and in part you, and others like you, who willingly and with some authority push false information. The consequence reach beyond the realm of autism. Peddlers of false claims are a public health nuisance, nightmare even. A burden placed on parents who now feel they can't trust any doctor or health authority.
Of course I'm also wondering why Wakefield's colleagues, and certainly there were more than a few, didn't stop this man. People knew he was a loose cannon, we read as much in that Newsweek article last year (Anatomy of a Scare). You deserve some of the blame too. And The Lancet too, you knew this was bogus data long before yesterday. Shame on you for not acting sooner.
I'm still angry and you should be too.