What if a clinical study that touched off an entire political movement was "an elaborate fraud"? That's what the British Medical Journal concludes in a new article: The infamous vaccines-cause-autism study was based mostly on fake data, the journal reports. In the first of a three-part series, the article shows how investigator Andrew Wakefield molded his data to fit his ideas, rather than the other way around.
The 1998 study had already been discredited by The Lancet, in which it was originally published; that journal withdrew the article last January, noting that parts of it were incorrect. Thanks to information recently made public, the BMJ was able to uncover those false findings. According to the journal, Wakefield mangled the study children's medical histories to make his claims of a vaccine-autism link more convincing. Ten of his 12 co-authors retracted their conclusions, the BMJ said, but Wakefield refuses to do so.
It goes without saying that Wakefield's work spawned international fears. Eager to find a cause for their children's autism, many parents latched onto Wakefield's conclusions--and many of them started vocal efforts to curtail childhood vaccines. Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.K. alone have gone unvaccinated, at least in part because of the supposed autism link, the journal said in an editorial.
Will the new revelations deflate the anti-vaccine movement? They haven't appeared to deflate Wakefield himself, who told CNN that his findings had been replicated in other research. "The study is not a lie," he said (as quoted by the Wall Street Journal). And so far they haven't deterred one parent-leader: "This is just another sad installment of the continued public lynching of Dr. Wakefield by the vaccine establishment and their lackeys in the public health community," MIND Institute founder Rick Rollens told the Los Angeles Times, adding that "professional assaults" on Wakefield will never "alter what we as parents of vaccine-induced autistic children already know: that is, vaccines can and do cause autism."