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Saturday, April 9, 2022

Grimpact and the Continued Virality of the Wakefield Article

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.  The ur-antivaxxer of our time is the disgraced Andrew Wakefield.

 Jacqueline Leta, Kizi Araujo & Stephanie Treiber  have an article at Scientometrics titled Citing documents of Wakefield’s retracted article: the domino effect of authors and journals."  The abstract: 

The present study aims to find out the origin of authors and the main sources in which citing documents of Wakefield’s 1998 retracted article are published in order to understand whether they act as promoters of a negative domino effect, there is, keeping alive a retracted article due to fraudulent data and analysis on the relationship between MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism. The metadata of the 1577 citing documents of Wakefield’s article were downloaded from Scopus in three files according to the year of publication: 1998–2004 (partial retraction), 2005–2010 (in between partial and full retraction) and 2011–2020 (post full retraction). The number of citing documents in each period is 329, 411 and 837, respectively. A comparison between first and last periods indicates an impressive growth of language, authors, countries as well as journals from broader field coverage. Also, recent citing articles are highly cited and, even in a negative context, they contribute to the diffusion of a fraudulent article in the science context. The findings reinforce the urgency to create internal strategies in the scientific communication process, mainly inside the editorial flow, in order to reduce the dissemination of a retracted article that, in this case, is still harmful to society. At the end, the creation of an automatic mechanism to detect retracted articles included in the reference list of accepted articles is suggested.

From the article:

 Despite the initial retraction made by most of the authors in 2004 and the full retraction made by The Lancet in 2010, which indicate ethical violations and deliberate scientific misconduct, the article signed Wakefield and collaborators in 1998 has impacted negatively different social segments, which still continue supporting and sharing the idea of vaccines causing autism. In fact, a quick look at the platform PlumX Metrics, owned by Elsevier, revealed that up to January 2021 there were more than 9200 shares, likes or comments of Wakefield’s retracted article on Facebook and almost 2000 on Twitter. Similarly, in Google Scholar, an academic search engine, there were more than 3600 documents citing it, whereas one third of these documents were published in 2015 or later.
The continuing citations in scientific literature as well the continuing shares in social media of Wakefield’s fraudulent article turns on the warning lights if we consider that measures of impact or visibility based in traditional indicators as well as in social media play a central role in science evaluation processes. This concern is the basis of the discussion conducted by Derrick et al. (2018), where the concept Grimpact is introduced. According to the authors, Wakefield’s retracted article is an example of a Grimpact, that is, a scientific work with a strong impact in society but under grim foundations, including scientific fraud and other misconduct. Derrick et al. (2018) also affirm that Grimpact may change public assessment of research and scientists. In Wakefield's case, for instance, its impact in society has led to a reduction in the vaccination rates as well as an increase in science distrust and the resurgence and strengthening of the global anti-vaccine movement (Thomas et al., 1998).