At long last, the highly regarded British medical journal The Lancet has officially retracted “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitic, and pervasive developmental disorder in children,” by Wakefield et al., aka the famous study “linked” autism (“pervasive developmental disorder”) with receipt of a MMR
(Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine in children. The retraction was prompted by Britain’s General Medical Council’s admonishment of Wakefield for unprofessional and unethical practices in regard to the recruitment (he apparently paid children at his son’s birthday party $8 to donate blood) and study procedures (the study involved performing highly invasive techniques such as sedation, MRI scanning, colonoscopy on developmentally-challenged children) involved in the Lancet paper.
Upon actually reading the study, I was incredibly surprised that the Lancet ever allowed it to be published in the first place. Only 12 participants (an absurdly low number for a scientific study) were studied, and all of them had the digestive ailments that Wakefield was looking at. Inconceivably, there was no control group. And out of 12 participants, only 8 had symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders, which were ever-reliably self-reported by parents (or physician-reported; we don’t know the breakdown) as having first become symptomatic within a few months of receiving an MMR vaccine (what a controlled, tight window!). None of the actual science that Wakefield actually presents in the paper has anything to do with a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism – his “results” section is all about the findings of the colonoscopies, MRIs, and other tests, without any scientific or statistical analysis of the presence of autism symptoms in his (selection-biased, small, and uncontrolled) population. Yet this did not prevent Wakefield, or the editors of Lancet, from boldly claiming the the final graf of the paper that “in most cases, onset of [chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction] was after measles, mumps, and rubella
immunisation,” even though the lack of any sort of scientific evidence for this made him admit that “we did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described” several earlier in the paper. So essentially, Wakefield opens with a titillating hypothesis about vaccines and autism, is forced to admit that his shitty study design cannot possibly shed any light on whether the hypothesis is correct or not, and then closes by restating his hypothesis as if he’s done some actual science to advance it, which he has not.
And somehow the Lancet published that crap, and only took 12 years and an independent inquiry for them to decide that it was, indeed, crap. So thumbs down to the Lancet. And although I already have mad thumbs down to Jenny McCarthy and the unreasonable crew of idiots blabbing on anti-vaccine messageboards, I’m throwing even more their way for the reckless ignorance of using this terrible study as a touchstone. These people have put thousands and thousands of children at risk for serious morbidity and mortality from measles, mumps and rubella for absolutely no good reason.
P.P.S. This article goes into how much of a creep this dude is, e.g. getting a patent on a singular measles vaccine right when he was trumpeting the danger of the MMR vaccine.