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January 17, 2011 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD


How much damage can one fraudulent researcher do, especially when supported by well-intentioned but misinformed celebrities? The answer it seems is quite a lot. By now most everyone is familiar with the study published in the Lancet in 1998 by no-longer Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

I say no longer "Dr." because his medical license has been revoked. This occurred as well as denunciation of the paper by his coauthors and retraction of the paper by the Lancet. It turns out as documented in the British Medical Journal and accompanying editorial that the study was an elaborate fraud committed under a major financial conflict of interest. Wakefield had received payment from a law firm undertaking legal action against vaccine manufacturers.

By now numerous expensive large-scale studies have settled the science failing to find the autism vaccine link. This is settled science; we have an answer. I will note, however, that well-intentioned celebrity champions of Wakefield remain unconvinced. It is the alliance between Wakefield and his celebrity advocates that is particularly insidious. Time and resources that could have addressed the real causes of autism instead went to refuting these fraudulent claims. The public relations initiative they led resulted in a significantly decreased rate of childhood vaccinations, an increase in children becoming sick and sometimes dying from preventable illnesses. Wakefield bears responsibility for this. His ill-advised supporters share that responsibility.

3 comments | Topics: Bioethics in the Media, Pharmaceuticals

Comments

Larry Bridgesmith

Larry Bridgesmith wrote on 01/26/11 11:04 AM

As indicated in the report released today from the Congressional committee investigating the global financial meltdown, it takes a degree of tolerant "oversight" and an audience wanting to hear what it wants to hear to allow greed to disguise its self-interest as influential insight. We would much rather endorse the easy solutions than engage in critical thinking. Thanks for the post.
Ed

Ed wrote on 06/02/11 8:54 PM

Just curious but who were these supporters and what do they have to say now? Do they defend Wakefiekd or are they moving away from any association with him?
Tahea

Tahea wrote on 12/13/11 1:46 PM

I noticed that in your comment you said that "By now numerous expensive large-scale studies have settled the science failing to find the autism vaccine link. This is settled science; we have an answer."

My question is if you have the answer then what is it? I would like to know if Autism and Vaccines are related myself; I have a seven year old son that was diagnosed with autism three years ago.

I have a foundation that I have started to bring awareness to autism in the Fulton and Montgomery Counties of NY; one of our missions is to give money to research. The other part of the mission is to put the money back into the community to help the familes and parents with a child/children with Autism. Since we have nothing in Fulton and Montgomery Counties for autism.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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