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Andrew Wakefield: Faking His Data? 11 Feb 2009

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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Even if you might not know Andrew Wakefield by name, chances are you have heard of his work. He is the man who almost single-handedly started the current anti-vaccination scare.

A brief history: In 1998, he published a paper in the British medical journal The Lancet that claimed to have discovered a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. The study caused a sensation among parents of autistic children, and has led to a dramatic decrease in childhood vaccination in England:

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

The “herd immunity” is the important part.  In any population, there are some individuals who cannot be vaccinated for a variety of reasons.  These people rely on high vaccination rates among their neighbors to keep the disease from spreading among a population and ultimately to them.  When vaccination rates fall too low, this “herd immunity” disappears, and the disease reappears.  Unfortunately, such an outcome has occurred:

Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.

The worst part about this is that Andrew Wakefield may have faked his data:

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

If this is true, it’s unconscionable and horrifying.

For a more detailed description of events, go here.

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