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British journal rips apart link between vaccines and autism

A now-retracted study that linked autism to childhood vaccines is ridiculed by a leading medical journal.

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 paper which linked MMR vaccines to autism, has been rubbished by the British Medical Journal.
Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 paper which linked MMR vaccines to autism, has been rubbished by the British Medical Journal.
Image: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

A BRITISH medial scientist who wrote an academic paper linking childhood vaccines to autism systematically altered or misrepresented the medical histories of the case studies which formed his paper, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Rubbishing the now-withdrawn 1998 paper written by Dr Andrew Wakefield – which resulted in many parents declining to have their children given the usual vaccines against the links of measles, mumps or polio – the BMJ declared the paper an “elaborate fraud”, adding that there was “no doubt” that Wakefield himself had deliberately manipulated facts to arrive at his conclusion.

BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee told CNN that the paper, published in The Lancet in 1998, was not merely a case of having “a bad study, a study full of error, and then for the authors to admit that they made errors”:

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.

Wakefield had his medical licence removed in May of last year, but the transcript of the General Medical Council’s hearing into his fitness to practice – which, at six million words, was published only recently – finally allowed BMJ to review reports by investigative journalist Brian Deer, who claimed that Wakefield already “knew” what his conclusion would be, and then set out to manipulate case studies to find that conclusion.

BMJ’s editors concluded with many of Deer’s findings, which found that only one of the nine children cited in Wakefield’s paper as having regressive autism actually had the condition. Three of the children, in fact, did not have autism at all.

Five of the children mentioned had pre-existing developmental problems, which had been denied by the paper.

Other criticisms included the absence of a ‘control’ group against which the case studies could be compared, as well as the citation of parental memory – a source labelled ‘notoriously unreliable’ by the Edmonton Journal – in timing when symptoms of autism had first been observed.

Wakefield, following the initial backlash against his claims, had never been able to replicate the symptoms outlined in his paper. The Lancet had withdrawn the paper last year, on the request of ten of Wakefield’s 12 co-authors.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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