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The Shame of the Lancet's Shoddy Autism Study Retraction

The Lancet has published a retraction of a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield that purported to show a link between vaccines and autism in children. The retraction is a full-scale reversal and denial of a key study that for years has been used as evidence by parents who believe (wrongly, as it turns out) that vaccines cause autism. But as Matthew Herper of Forbes points out, the wording of the Lancet's retraction is virtually impossible to understand, and could muddy rather than clarify a debate which many parents of autistic children have tragically misunderstood. Herper:

... the Lancet uses language that is likely to be impenetrable to anyone not versed in the scientific literature. The retraction, as published, reads:
Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council's Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al* are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were "consecutively referred" and that investigations were "approved" by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.
(I'm quoting Herper's version of the retraction because the Lancet has hidden its version in part behind a pay wall!)

That retraction gives you no idea of how bad Wakefield's study actually was. Among its flaws, the kids were not picked at random. Wakefield (pictured) gathered them from parents who already believed vaccines may have triggered their autism. He also took £55,000 in fees from a legal aid society connected to a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers. And, as The Guardian notes:

He was also found to have unethically arranged for his son's friends to have blood samples taken from them during his birthday party â€" for which he paid them £5 each.
Even if you throw out the stuff about paying study participants and gathering data from a self-selecting population, and the financial conflict, the fact that there were only twelve children in the study ought to have indicated that its data was virtually worthless. (Gold-standard studies have hundreds or thousands of patients.)

Yet because it was published in the Lancet and concluded with a "link" between autism and vaccines, parents with autistic children have been searching and advocating a link between the two ever since.

No such link exists. Even Wakefield admits that. He now practices at "Thoughtful House" in Texas, which has this statement published on its web site:

Have Thoughtful House researchers found any link between the MMR vaccine and autism?
No such link has been established, but research into a possible connection is ongoing.
Despite that, TH continues its mendacious promotion of the idea that vaccines -- which save lives by preventing children from contracting fatal or disabling diseases -- are somehow questionable and should be the subject of careful "choice." Here's TH's current advice on vaccines:
What is Thoughtful House's stance on MMR vaccines?

Thoughtful House supports a safety-first vaccination policy, and upholds the right of parents to choose what's best for their children. We recommend that parents with questions or concerns about a particular vaccination should discuss it with their child's doctor.

Should parents continue to give their children MMR vaccines?

That is a decision that parents should make after consulting with their doctors.

The "choice" to not vaccinate your kids should be regarded as a "choice" to let them go around infecting the neighborhood with measles. Or as a "choice" not to send them to school. Or as a "choice" not to take them to the emergency room when they are injured.

What are the results of TH's research into the autism-vaccine link? As Bad Science's Ben Goldacre points out, TH's Dr. Arthur Krigsman has published zero papers based on his results.

Vaccines don't cause autism. Move on. There's nothing to see here.

Hat tip to Internet Drug News.

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