This Just In

Bad Astronomer blogged today about a not-so-shocking discovery reported by the UK’s Sunday Times: Wakefield may have faked the data to create the appearance of a link between MMR vaccines and autism.

The Wakefield study basically started the explosion of fear and ignorance that led to, among other things, the show I discussed earlier today. Although the findings of his 1998 study were extremely weak, Wakefield drew a conclusion that 10 of the 13 authors later retracted: autism may be linked to “environmental factors” that he eventually identified as the MMR vaccine.

After the retraction, mountains of published research to the contrary, and even a replication of the original study, the “controversy” persists.

I have written about Wakefield in the text I require students to read for my experimental psychology course. It’s in the section addressing research ethics.

I believe it is one of the best and most important examples of the far-reaching consequences of academic dishonesty.

Now I have even more reason to keep it there.

Although I am surprised that it took so long to discover, I am not at all surprised that he “cheated”. I tell students that fabrication, manipulation, biased selection, or any other falsification or misrepresentation of findings add up to a fraudulent claim of knowledge — the worst crime a scientist can commit. The deaths of innocent children that have resulted from this case are evidence of that.

I agree with Phil that this discovery will not deter the “antivaxxers” from their firm beliefs. The Big Foot believers have managed to hold on as have all of the other cryers. Parents are particularly tenacious in their beliefs about these types of dangers and this will continue despite the discovery of the maliciousness of its birth.

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