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Monday, January 24, 2011

Autism, Vaccines, and Fraud: The Context

Joanne Richard writes in The Toronto Sun:

Seems there's a whole lot of misconduct going on in the world of science. The latest scandal showed that research linking MMR vaccines with autism is a sham, and it's not alone.

An investigation reports that one in seven scientists know colleagues who fake scientific findings, according the University of Edinburgh, while nearly half know of colleagues who engage in questionable practices. Only 2% of researchers polled own up to unethical misconduct - that number is probably higher, investigators report in the journal PLoS One.

An Acadia Institute survey states 50% of faculty and 43% of graduate students have "direct knowledge" of scientific wrongdoing, including fraud, falsification and plagiarism, in their labs.

"This was a house of cards," said Jay M. Lieberman, MD, referring to Dr. Wakefield's research. Dr. Lieberman is professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and medical director of infectious diseases at Quest Diagnostics Inc. "It just took a decade to understand what fully happened and to expose the complete lack of science behind it and, indeed, the fraud."

Physicians definitely should steer clear of chastising worried parents, said Ari Brown, MD, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year.

"Doctors need to remember that these are not bad parents -- they are scared parents, and there is a difference," Dr. Brown said. "Don't make your interactions leave the parent feeling like they are a bad parent for not vaccinating or waiting to vaccinate. ... Parents just want to feel like they are doing all they can to protect their child."

Dr. Brown said concern about vaccines seemed to peak in about 2008 in her practice, and that the tide has begun to turn since then.

"It's been a long decade," she said. "Hopefully, we can close this chapter and move on and have more parents feeling confident in vaccinating their kids."

Why did it take so long? Medical News Today reports:

The MMR autism scare went on for so long because of a series of denials and a failure to properly look into Dr. Andrew Wakefield's misconduct allegations regarding his 1998 Lancet paper, writes Dr. Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, BMJ (Brtitish Medical Journal). This third and final part of a special BMJ series "Secrets of the MMR Scare" urges the British government to "establish mandatory oversight of clinical research integrity within the NHS, as happens for publicly funded research in the USA."

The three parts of this BMJ series were written by respected investigative journalist Brian Deer. He writes that the medical establishment closed ranks to protect their fellow health care professional - Dr. Wakefield - after Deer raised concerns in 2005 regarding the Lancet paper.