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Humanity sucks: part three of infinity
delirium pissed off
First the good news: The House of Lords votes overwhelmingly not to pander to the wishes of homophobic bigots. Yay for them.

And now the bad. And I have to say that this one actually shocked me. Give how cynical and world wear I tend to be, and how low my expectations of humanity as a whole, I have to say that's quite an achievement.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past decade, there has been somewhat of a scare that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. The original study that suggested this was very weak, and was essentially the scientific equivalent of "well I heard it from a guy down the pub who said that his friend's wife once read in the Daily Mail..." Proper, detailed studies have been carried out since on the matter, and have demonstrated beyond any reasonable level of doubt that there isn't a link between MMR and autism.

The rumour has persisted though. This is bad for a number of reasons. To summarise:

It's made parents decide not to immunise their children. This lack of immunisation means some of the have caught the diseases. As well as being unpleasant in and of themselves, they can also have serious complications such as sterility, deafness or even death (approximately 1 measles case out of 1000 leads to death in western countries).

What's more, it isn't only the children who aren't vaccinated themselves who are put at risk. No vaccine is 100% effective. There will always be a few people who are vaccinated but do not become immune. They are safe, though, because they never come into contact with the disease because everyone around them is immune. There aren't enough vulnerable people around for the disease to spread. With the large number of people unvaccinated due to this scare, that's not the case.

Then there's the problems that it causes in cases of autism. For instance, it leads to "alternative" "therapy" "cures" such as chelation being promoted to the credulous and the desperate. Not only does this alleged cure not work, it's also dangerous and can and has killed people. Not only that, it allows for parents to have false hope that their child might one day become "normal", therefore preventing them from coming to terms with their child's autism, learning to deal with it, and learning to accept their child for who they are.

And so on and so forth. Suffice is to say that rumour of a link between MMR and autism is a distinctly Bad Thing which has caused misery and suffering for too many people.

I was therefore absolutely outraged when I saw an article in the Times, linked by livredor, stating that the whole thing was fabricated by unscrupulous lawyers. Andrew Wakefield, the guy who wrote the original paper was, apparently, paid a total of £435,643. Lots of other people were also paid lots of money related to this, including a referee for one Wakefield's papers, who was paid to let deliberately shoddy science through.

This makes me furious. Not only have their selfish actions indirectly killed people, but they also endanger the whole of science. The whole point behind science is that if you have a idea, you the have to put it through all sorts of checks and balances to make sure it's legitimate and that you aren't fooling yourself. I the process, this also means that you can't deliberately fool other people.

This pulls the rug out from under that. If peer review can be bought the it becomes an entirely meaningless process, and science loses its credibility. If we say intelligent design is rubbish or that global warming is real, and we point to lots of peer-reviewed research to back up our point, then those arguing against us could now reasonably deride the whole process.

I hope that all sorts of heads roll over this.

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...There are no words for how angry I am at that. Honestly beyond fucking words.

Any references for the Wakefield thing? I can't find any mention of it in current news. I suppose I should Google.

*headdesks* I can't read - I don't even gthink lack of my glasses is an excuse ;)

I'm not entirely sure the Times article is saying Wakefield took bribes to fabricate the concept initially, but it certainly smells dodgy. I wonder why no one else has picked up on this...

I shall reread after I've found my glasses.

There was a Dispatches documentary on this over a year ago. Very damningly showed that the whole thing was faked and that Wakefield had some serious conflicts of interest.


Wakefield has since dropped the resulting lawsuit against the production company, according to a quick Google search.

Website about the 2004 Dispatches documentary:


PubMed is playing up for me right now, so I can't easily get hold of original papers. But I think this 2004 Nature editorial is probably the best starting point. Depending how much technical detail you want, this recent paper in Pediatrics is the one that directly overturns the only study that found any kind of molecular basis to support Wakefield's original claim. The retraction of Wakefield's paper was published in The Lancet in 2004, which should be enough info to find it if you want to see that; sorry for not giving you the exact link, it's not working for me.

The story with the details of who was being paid in the whole mess of corruption is a fairly recent news story (last week). I don't think any of the scientific journals have picked it up yet, and I don't know whether they'd consider it of sufficient scientific interest to be worth discussing. From a scientific angle the supposed research was absolutely dead in 2004, but I suppose that at the time it was still possible to believe that it was just innocent scientific incompetence and over-hype of a small and badly-run preliminary study.

I still can't see from the Times articles or PDFs how this turns into "Wakefield received money to write the falsified MMR causes autism " line in the original paper.

What I see is Wakefield's buddies getting money out of some legal action for being 'expert witnesses' or whatever. Yes, dodgy, but more dodgy after the fact rather than prior to the whole kick off.

Also among those named as being paid from the legal aid fund was a referee for one of Wakefield’s papers, who was allowed £40,000.

they don't actually mention which one of wakefields papers this guy reffed. science is a relatively narrow community and it wouldn't surprise me if a ref of one of wakefields earlier papers was included in the project in question.

i'm not about to pass any judgement on the ferocity of funding that bouyed this failed work, but consider this: if there was any scientific implication that a freely avaliable vaccine was unsafe to the level of causing autism, would you consider suggesting that said implication was not scrutinised to the fullest degree? of course, those funds, once supplied, would have to be disseminated wisely, and receiving an hourly rate of £1000 does seem slightly wasteful.

what is dodgy about this case is the sum of money that was used and the conflict of intrest implications, mentioned here....

Later The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s claim and apologised after a Sunday Times investigation showed that his research had been backed with £55,000 from lawyers, and that the children in the study used as evidence against the vaccine were also claimants in the lawsuit.

the study children were, essenitally, biased samples. this may not have been made clear in the origional paper (and i'd be surprised if it was).

there is, i'm afraid, no mention that the peer review process can be bought.

i'd also, in this case, target those who brought the lawsuit forward in the first place and also tabloid hysteria and inelegant reporting as a likely cause of dropping immunisation rates. remember the HRT scares? a small increase in the chances of breast cancer for women on HRT was blown up into big headlines and out of all proportion.

(by the way, ever hear about that paper that was entirely fictional that made it through the peer review process? or the reviewer who used to reject articles, only to then go on to steal them, virtually whole, and get them published under his own name elsewhere? science is just as open to folly as anything else)

Has no one ever noticed that cases of autism were around long before vaccinations were?

I know for certain that I did not get the MMR vaccine, because I got the mumps when I was give. Mumps led to my getting diabetes. So when kids do not get vaccinated, they get the virus that could lead to their getting diabetes. Monster points out that if a person has a genetic tendency towards getting diabetes they will get it anyway, but at least if they didn't get mumps or measles they have a lower chance of getting it, and they would likely get it later in life rather than when they are small children.

Okay, rant over.

Glad you took up my rant. You rant more cogently than I do.

I knew about the quack alternative therapy cures, including chelation, but I don't understand how they're connected to the MMR scare? I mean, the guy who did the original false study is currently making money peddling quack cures, but apart from that I don't see how people believing that autism is caused by the vaccine makes them more likely to be credulous?

MMR contains thiomersal. Thiomersal contains mercury. Mercury is toxic, so this must be the bit causing the autism. Mercury is a heavy metal. Chelation gets rid of heavy metals. Therefore chelation cures autism caused by MMR.

It's horrible, painful rubbish, of course, but that's the sort of "logic" I've seen used.

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