School & District Management

Autism Study Debunked, Again

By Liana Loewus — January 06, 2011 1 min read

The 1998 British study linking autism to childhood vaccines—a finding that caused a wave of panic among parents and led to a sharp drop in vaccination rates—has been declared a fraud, reported CNN.

An investigation by the British medical journal BMJ found that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the study’s author, “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients” in the study. Five of those patients demonstrated developmental delays before getting the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and three never had autism, said BMJ’s editor-in-chief, Fiona Godlee.

This is not the first time the study has been discredited. In 2004, according to the CNN report, Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their names from the paper after discovering that he had received compensation—BMJ stated more than $674,000—from a law firm intending to sue vaccine manufacturers. And neither Wakefield nor other researchers have been able to reproduce the study’s results. In May, Wakefield lost his medical license, said CNN.

Wakefield told CNN that he is the target of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.” The paper had nothing to do with the litigation, he said.

Many claim Wakefield’s research has been a menace to public health. Six years after the study’s initial publication, vaccination rates in Britain fell to 80%. In the U.S., “more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997,” said CNN.

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” stated a BMJ editorial.

Many parents who blame vaccines for their children’s autism are likely to continue holding up the argument. USA Today reported that model and actress Jenny McCarthy, an avid supporter of the autism vaccine link, is “taking a beating on Twitter today” for her beliefs.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.