Atrocious Autism Study Gets The Axe, Retracted At Last: Fraud and Fear in the Name of Science

Children getting their blood drawn at a birthday party? Did the invite remind kids to wear short sleeves and skip breakfast?  Has this become an accepted party game along side the bouncy castles and treasure hunts? 

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.


Robb and Rebecca said...

As an educated mother of 3 young boys, one of whom is on the Autism Spectrum, I am disgusted by how this "research" has been spread across the information highway as fact. Many of the anti-vaccine activists accuse vaccine manufacturers of distributing toxic chemicals to our children just to make a buck. To discover that it was actually the "researcher" who authored this study who was taking money to lie is ironic at best, disturbing and alarming at worst. No More. We rely on scientific studies and research to make good decisions for our children. It is exactly this kind of fraud and dishonesty that allows for there to be two sides to parenting discussions. If we could rely on doctors and scientific journals for objective information, data, and fact, there would be no room for discussion. I so appreciate the Lancet's final retraction of this study, but wish it was sooner, and that the retracion would receive as much notoriety as the original study. Maybe what we need is a celebrity spokesperson...Thank you, Mommadata for sharing this!

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for sharing, it's so important that we hear more from parents of autistic children who don't believe vaccines are the cause. Yes, we could so use a celebrity in our corner. But all of LA probably remembers Amanda Peete(?)'s apology for calling people who don't vaccinate "parasites" so I she's off the list. So it's gonna have to be a brave soul - maybe another parent of an autistic child? Are there autism organizations you support? Just curious.

susan said...

I'm angry now!

michael0156 said...

DR Andrew Wakefield is a hero of modern medicine. Contrary to what this writer posts the 1998 study NEVER claimed or proved MMR caused autism.

Dr Wakefield has been persecuted by people under the influence of Big Pharma for threatening their livelihood by discovering a possible side effect of vaccine in a small percentage of children. That side effect appears to be part of the live virus vaccine capable of establishing itself in the gut of children that apparently have some sort of immune malfunction to begin with.

Live attenuated or killed virus vaccine is the best way to immunize. However, it works only in children with a healthy immune system. If a child is unable to fight off the live but weakened virus then it has a chance to establish itself somewhere in the child's body. While investigating the children in his study (there were only 12, too small a sample to draw any conclusions from) he discovered measles in their gut and most of the kids had gastrointestinal problems. The measles was either acquired naturally or came from the MMR shot.

Again I have to emphasizethat this, if it is happening, happens only in a small percentage of kids. Should we stop vaccinating because of this? No. but there are 2 things we can do that have been repeatedly called for but no action is yet taken.

Vaccines are loaded with toxins, mainly as a consequence of pharmaceutical companies trying to increase the per dose profit. Adjuvants, preservatives, non-self endotoxins and dna fragments, and MANY others. Doing a study with toxin-free vaccine is the primary clinical study that should be performed. That would resolve the autism/vaccine question once and for all.
The other thing we have to do is try to identify the children that would have such a serious adverse reaction BEFORE they get the shot.
Dr Wakefield's findings have been repeated in two larger studies, one in the UK and one in the USA. Again, neither of these studies shows MMR causes autism, but have shown that MMR virus, in a smallpercentage of kids, would up in their guts causing gastrointestinal problems. Dr Wakefield's only mistake wa in voicing his opinion, as a reputable well published gastroenterologist, that the gut changes MAY contribute to or cause autism by allowing toxic substances to leave the intestines and enter the bloodstream causing brain inflammation or other neurological problems. It is well established in science that gastrointestinal problems can cause neurological or other organ damage if toxic substances start crossing from the gut into the bloodstream.
So, for voicing his opinion in a news conference about the study Dr Wakefield put himself in harm's way with the assistance of the media which mis-interpreted his comments and connected them with the study as indicating the study showed MMR caused autism.

It may be that it does, but until we actually do the clinical work to find out, we will simply not know.

regulatory agencies, pharmaceutical companies and medical associations have all weighed in heavily on the side of vaccine safety without any independent clinical evidence to back them up. They instead rely on epidemiological studies, which simply review already existing records in an attempt to show vaccines don't cause autism. Unfortunately these are the easiest of all studies to manipulate and some of the more famousones have done exactly that. the 2 Fombonne studies and the Madsen studies are the most obvious manipulations. Most of the studies are industry sponsored, a damning conflict of interest.

Independent studies using a toxin-free vaccine schedule is what we have to do.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

i seriously don't know what else to say about more research on the issue... we've used a lot of moola thus far and have huge, massive samples from across the globe. i hear what you're saying about the ideal study, but the present pile of work doesn't jusify it. the vaccine hypothesis has been resoundingly refuted. door slammed shut scientifically speaking. true, thanks for the reminder the former dr. wakefield, never directly wrote in the infamous paper that the mmr caused autism - but he implied it and did so repeatedly over the years with mucho gusto. and of course he never corrected his supporters or anyone else who linked them.

as for autism and gut issues, new studies suggest something about autism itself may make kids more prone to gastro-intestinal issues related to food prefrences. i recall a recent study showing autistic children aren't prone to more gastro issues than other kids, only more constipation.

but thanks for your comments and taking the time to read and comment on something that no doubt diverges from your opinion! and thanks for not calling me a hired gun for big pharma or some such slight - see we can have thoughtful discussions on these issues!