Fraud Discovered In Peer-Review Paper

In attempt to go after the enormous drug companies by a particular law firm, a British study was created and financed by the law firm. It was structured in such a way so it could link autism to childhood vaccines in its conclusion. This in turn, damaged the integrity of peer-review standards which have been a concern by scientists because the standards present serious errors which need to be reformed. CNN calls the British study an “elaborate fraud”.

“An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”

Was 670,000 worth decieving the public? Wakefield seem to think so. His fraudulent paper had put the public’s health at great risk with his elaborate scheme because parents became very concerned about their children taking vaccines so they withheld their kids from taking the necessary shots. Data shows the vaccination rates dropped quite a bit when the paper was published, falling to a staggering low of 80% by 2004.

As a result of kids not taking their shots, an increase of cases followed which included measles popping up in the United States and 90 percent of the kids inflected did not get their vaccines with part of that percentage being unknown. Questions began to surface as Wakefield could not replicate his results. His peers began withdrawing their endorsements from his study in 2004 because he purposely avoided to mention his conflict of interest (being paid by a law firm).

Wakefield played the victim and then went on the offensive claiming anyone who questioned his conclusions where working for pharmaceutical interests rather than the general public.  One journalist by the name of David Kirby even defended him, “I personally find it hard to believe that he did that.” Britain has since taken away Wakefield’s medical license last May and now all this is coming to light in the mainstream media. “Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession”.

The good news is, the fraud has been exposed (just like climate gate) and kids should continue to get their vaccinations. Perhaps people will take a closer look at peer-review standards and punishments on this level should be severe when committing such fraud especially when it affects such things as the health of the public! 


3 thoughts on “Fraud Discovered In Peer-Review Paper

  1. Perhaps people will take a closer look at peer-review standards and punishments on this level should be severe when committing such fraud especially when it affects such things as the health of the public!

    The punishments are pretty severe already. Wakefield will never publish again, even though a huge amount of damage has already been done and for some no amount of evidence from studies disconfirming his original work or demonstrating his fraud will change their minds.

    The peer review system is one based on trust, relying on the integrity of all its participants. It assumes total transparency in disclosure of the methodologies used and the data obtained. If someone wants to take advantage of the system they can, but the peer review system is the way it is because it is hugely successful in producing reliable knowledge and no system is without its drawbacks.

    But the discovery of the incompetence and fraud perpetrated by Wakefield was inevitable because others would and did try to replicate the results and could not. The discovery took time and an enormous amount of damage did occur (and is still happening), but this is not the fault of the peer review system. It’s >Wakefield’s fault.

    What’s amazing are the parallels between Wakefield’s bogus assessment of the MMR vaccine and an earlier event where a study showed a connection between the pertussis component of the DTP vaccine and mental retardation. In that case (which occurred in the 80s) the first study (later disconfirmed by numerous follow-up studies) was not outright fraud, but a severe bias towards caution by the researchers. The situation was nearly a total disaster for the health care system (more so than with the Wakefield incident) as it very nearly resulted in every last manufacturer of vaccines to cease produciton. (For a very good look at this, see Paul Offit’s Dangerous Choices.)

    The system workds, but there is no way to make the self-correcting mechanism immediate. It is the way it is because it is the best way to reliable knowledge and mistakes and frauds are inevitably uncovered.

  2. The peer-review system is not designed to catch outright fraud. In the past couple years, Kathleen Verfaille, and Hwang Woo-suk, both in adult stem-cell research, perpetrated scientific frauds,[1] Peer-review is designed to catch unsupported conclusions and lacunae in citing previous work and conflicting results. Peer review assumes honesty.

    Fraud is detected when others attempt to replicate the original author’s results. This may take longer. However, the disincentive to engage in fraud in the first place is fear of the consequences. As SA notes, even a whiff of fraud is a death sentence. It’s not just getting barred from publication. The scientist will never work again in any field of science; it is grounds for firing even with tenure.[0] David Baltimore almost suffered it even when it was shown that the acts were performed by a lab assistant without his knowledge, they were acts of omission rather than commission, and the lab tech’s intent to deceive was not conclusively shown. I’d say that’s fairly stringent.

    Perhaps more common is an obsession that becomes a delusion. Pons & Fleischmann’s “cold fusion” started out as an honest mistake. Being electrochemists, they were not very familiar with nuclear physics. But (like Leon Blondlot and his N-rays), they became obsessed with their results, and refused to listen to criticism. Finally, it seemed to become a delusion.[2] But, of course, delusion is not an excuse, and will be punished as well–even when, as there, several other labs purported to obtain confirmatory results.[3]

    Finally, we don’t usually have to wait for replication to smell a fraud. Nuclear physicists dismissed cold fusion at first glance. Others doubted Andrew Wakefield’s results from the beginning. Piltdown Man, the hoax of the century, was never accepted as genuine by the majority of anthropologists, even though they could not determine exactly where the fraud lay. .


    What Michael hopes to accomplish here is to inflate the respectability of creationist “research” by showing that real science also occasionally produces fraud.. Sorry, Michael. Fraud is the rare exception in science, while creationists never hesitate to lie or mislead to serve their ends. They themselves never consider replicating previous work, or even building upon it. That’ why we call them “Liars for Jesus.”


    [0] I should mention one exception. Scientists working for tobacco companies were resistant to professional death within the industry. Fortunately, this virulent strain was stamped out when the federal government ordered the Tobacco Institute demolished in 1998. No cases have been reported since then.

    [1] Although the evidence of intent was not so clear in those cases.

    [2] The best review of this fiasco is Close, Too Hot to Handle: The Race for Cold Fusion (Princeton, 1991). Huizinga, Cold Fusion (Oxford, 1993) offers a look several years later.

    [3] Last I heard, P&F were hiding out in Switzerland. Don’t forget that Martin Fleischmann had been a world leader in his field. That didn’t save him.

  3. I’m keeping a list of positive responses to the BMJ (Yes Wakefield is a fraud, and here are the implications…) and negative responses (Wakefield’s research IS TOO valid and vaccines cause autism anyway) at A roundup of responses to the BJM & Wakefield’s research was motivated by fraud.

    Some observations
    1. The positive responses come from a broad range of sites — politically left and right; people who are skeptics/ people who have heretofore (to my knowledge) never commented on vaccines or autism before, and so on. The negative responses are from a predictable set of sites and people.
    2. The news coverage in the US has (perhaps inadvertently) perpetrated the idea that all parents of children with autism believe in the vaccine causation myth. It is a complete falsehood. Many parents of children with autism and adults with autism robustly reject the myth.
    3. Kev Leitch, whose daughter has intense autism, has a moving post on how Wakefield’s actions have damaged everyone affected by autism

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