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Probe of Alleged Vaccine-Researcher Wire Fraud Should Look at Autism Data, Too

The media has paid little attention to the indictment of an author of a series of massive studies in Denmark that demonstrate autism is not linked to vaccines. The charges threaten to undermine confidence in one of the most important pieces of science that show rates of autism in children are not related to thimerosal, a preservative, in vaccines.

That's why the case against Poul Thorsen must be thorough and fair, and why the media ought to start paying attention to it. And there needs to be a second probe that goes beyond Thorsen's alleged wire fraud and money laundering and looks into the handling of data in the Danish studies. If that doesn't happen, people who wrongly believe that vaccines trigger autism will be continue to spread the "fact" that one of the key studies demonstrating vaccine safety was the product of alleged research fraud.

Thorsen was an author of 18 studies of vaccines and autism in Denmark funded by the CDC. The studies were huge and statistically robust: they included all children born in the country from 1971 to 2000. One of the most important of them, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that autism rates increased after thimerosal was removed from Danish vaccines in 1992. You'd expect the opposite to happen if thimerosal triggered autism.

Thorsen allegedly diverted about $1 million from the Danish universities conducting the research to his home in Atlanta, where he bought a house, a Harley Davidson an Audi and a Honda.


Sunlight as disinfectant
The indictment says nothing about whether Thorsen's actions affected the quality of the research or the data in the studies. But that hasn't stopped activists from using the Thorsen case to discredit the science behind vaccines. You can see them rejoicing over the Thorsen case here and here. They're particularly pleased because the indictment "balances" the discrediting of Andrew Wakefield, a doctor who did commit research fraud in a paper that "proved" vaccines are linked to autism.

Anti-vaccine activists have made significant inroads in their campaign to convince parents that vaccines are either not safe or not needed. In California, there are 7,800 cases and 10 infant deaths from pertussis (whooping cough), a disease that vaccines prevent. Measles, once eradicated from the U.S., is again on the increase. Not vaccinating children kills babies.

That's why it's crucial for both the science community and laypeople to know whether these studies are reliable and accurate. If an investigation of Thorsen's influence over the study data is not done, it would allow conspiracy theories to run wild and public confidence in vaccine safety could again be undermined, putting more kids at risk from preventable diseases.

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Images by Flickr users Julien Harneis and USACE, CC.
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