In late November, a scientific publisher abruptly removed the abstract of a study from its webpage. The as-yet-unpublished research, which would have appeared in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, concluded that unvaccinated children are less likely to suffer from autism (among other ailments). The abstract was taken down after a severe Twitter backlash.
Motherboard has determined that the research in question was funded mostly by actor Jenny McCarthy’s autism awareness nonprofit, Generation Rescue. McCarthy has famously spread the dangerously inaccurate, and scientifically unsound, view that vaccines can cause autism in otherwise healthy children. (She has somewhat softened this view in recent years.)
No matter how troubling on its surface, ethicists say that having a nonprofit like Generation Rescue fund of this type of study isn’t a red flag in and of itself: plenty of private companies and nonprofits pay for science. With President-elect Donald Trump threatening to cut back on funding, researchers will likely have to rely even more on private money.
Still, National Institutes of Health bioethicist David Resnik told Motherboard that funding from a particular group with a vested interest might warrant an added degree of skepticism. “You might re-examine the data more closely than you would otherwise because you think that, maybe, there is some potential bias that is affected by the research.”