A study published in The Lancet by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine with autism was no more than “an elaborate fraud”, a report published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal reveals today. The 1998 study, which was later retracted by The Lancet, scared thousands of parents and is thought to have resulted in a considerable drop in vaccinations.
BMJ Editor in Chief, Dr. Fiona Godlee, said:
“The MMR scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud.. (such) clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”
Godlee compares Wakfield’s fraud with Piltdown man, a paleontological hoax that led to the belief for four decades that the missing link (between man and ape) had been discovered.
Wakefield’s other publications should be looked into for veracity, Godless added “to decide whether any others should be retracted.”
The true extent of the scam that preceded the scare is revealed in a series of three BMJ articles starting this week. The series is based on data, documents and interviews gathered over a seven-year period by Brian Deer, an award-winning investigative journalist.
In a communiqué, the BMJ wrote:
“Thanks to the recent publication of the General Medical Council’s six million word transcript, the BMJ was able to peer-review and check Deer’s findings and confirm extensive falsification in the Lancet paper.”
Dr. Godlee, Jane Smith, a BMJ editor, and Harvey Marcovitch, a leading pediatrician and associate BMJ editor, conclude that:
“(there is) no doubt.. (that it was Wakefield who perpetrated this fraud). A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.”
Despite all the evidence and retractions from The Lancet, basically washing its hands of his alleged studies, Wakefield repeatedly denies having done anything wrong.
The authors wrote:
“Instead, although now disgraced and stripped of his clinical and academic credentials, he continues to push his views. Meanwhile the damage to public health continues.”
“Science is based on trust. Such a breach of trust is deeply shocking. And even though almost certainly rare on this scale, it raises important questions about how this could happen, what could have been done to uncover it earlier, what further inquiry is now needed, and what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.”
These and other questions will be explored over the next 14 days, the BMJ informs.
BMJ 2011; 342:c5347
Brian Deer, journalist
Written by Christian Nordqvist