Great Science Frauds: Andrew Wakefield
Do vaccines cause autism? Medical experts say no, but we can thank Wakefield for introducing the doubt that won’t die in many parents’ minds. In 1998, the gastroenterologist at Royal Free Hospital in London published a study describing a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, after he found evidence of these viruses, presumably from the shot, in the guts of a dozen autistic children, eight of whom developed autism-like symptoms days after receiving their vaccination.
Other scientists could not replicate Wakefield’s findings, nor verify a link between the vaccine and autism. In 2010, the journal that published his paper retracted it, and its editors noted that “it was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false.” Later that year, the General Medical Council in the U.K. revoked Wakefield’s medical license, citing ethical concerns over how he recruited the patients in the study as well as his failure to disclose that he was a paid consultant to attorneys representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by vaccines.
The final shoe dropped a year later, when another prestigious medical journal concluded that his research was also fraudulent, after evidence that some of the timelines of the children’s symptoms were misrepresented.
Wakefield maintains his innocence, and penned a book defending his work and his continued belief in a connection between vaccines and autism. Infectious disease experts and pediatricians, meanwhile, routinely confront conflicted parents who question the safety of vaccines, despite immunization’s long-standing record of successfully controlling childhood diseases with relatively few side effects.