Despite being thoroughly debunked, there is a small but passionate group who stake their children’s lives on research of Andrew Wakefield. Now the price is being paid with an eruption of measles cases that scientists believe could put an entire generation at risk.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the medical journal Lancet in which he claimed to have found a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and the occurrence of autism. The paranoia and public fear led many parents to forego vaccines for their children all together. Yet even today, after years of investigation into the research called “elaborate fraud” by the medical journal BMJ, some still stand behind Wakefield’s work. One of the loudest supporting groups is the paranoid, libertarian-leaning faction.
“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”
Yes, a deliberate attempt to create an impression. That’s because Wakefield accepted $674,000 from a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers. When the co-authors of the study discovered this, they withdrew their names from the research. Then, of course, it was shown that Wakefield had blatantly falsified the subjects’ medical records to support his (or the law firm’s?) premise. Lancet retracted the article in 2010, and BMJ has since published a multi-part series entitled “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed.” As if Wakefield’s reputation has not been ruined enough, another study came out in March in the Journal of Pediatrics. The findings? “No association between autism and the number of vaccines a child gets in one day or during the first two years of the current vaccine schedule.” The British medical council revoked Wakefield’s medical license in 2010.
What’s truly ironic about this case is mindless libertarian following. The most paranoid group of political ideologues has latched onto Wakefield like a magnet despite his proven corporate interests. After reading a few ranting blogs, these people think themselves well-trained scientists with decades of research in epidemiology.
And that’s not to say vaccines should never be questioned. Science thrives on a series of rigorous challenges to its theories, not blind faith. Certainly large pharmaceutical companies would have a lot to lose if vaccines were proven unsafe or even mildly unnecessary. The pharmaceutical industry does have its corruption issues. However, any legitimate questions can and should be directed through proper scientific channels. That is where the anti-vaccination movement fails: it is content to ramble like an obnoxious, know-it-all drunk while not doing anything productive to solve the world-dooming threats it perceives. All the while, it hedges its bets on a global conspiracy in favor of admitting Andrew Wakefield is simply a lying fraudster.