Read the journalism that exposed MMR vaccine/autism fraud

Last week, editors of the medical journal BMJ declared Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine to be not just incorrect, but actively fraudulent.

The research that led many parents to avoid MMR vaccination for their children (and, subsequently, led to the resurgence of measles, mumps, and rubella outbreaks, including several deaths) turned out to include information falsified to support a result chosen before the study began, by a researcher who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that desired result. The scam was exposed by journalist Brian Deer, and now, you can read the full text of Deer's expose online in BMJ. This story has been covered extensively—including here at BoingBoing, in a great post by Andrea—but it's really worth reading Deer's original work, which is deeply researched, well sourced, and horrifying in its revelations.

The BMJ editors' opinion came after Deer's work was put through the same peer-review process usually reserved for scientific research, and after Britain's General Medical Council published the full report that led them to ban Wakefield from practicing medicine in the UK last year.

It's worth noting that, despite all of this, Wakefield continues to push the idea that MMR vaccine causes autism. His latest targets: Minnesota's community of Somali immigrants. This group has higher diagnosed autism rates than the general population and, because they come from a country with little or no health care system, there's no way to compare this to Somalis living in Somalia. (In fact, many Somalis believe there is no autism in Somalia at all, although researchers call that conclusion unlikely and unfounded.) This is clearly a community that needs help and needs research. (In fact, the CDC and NIH are already studying the situation). But Wakefield is not the guy who should be doing it. Unfortunately, as long as there are parents looking for answers, it seems that Wakefield will be there, spreading misinformation.


  1. For so long as people spend money to solve problems, he will be there scaring them.

    Christ, What An ASSHOLE.

  2. Maggie, thank you so much for linking this wonderful thing.

    In the past, bOINGbOING has featured many incontinent screeds targeting people who have chosen not to vaccinate; they have mostly read as “YOU PEOPLES ARE STOOPID LOL IM SO SMART YOO SUCK” or “Think of the children sob sob sob” and have done little or nothing to convince anyone to change their views or actions.

    I believe that when people are well informed, the majority of them make appropriate choices, and that the ones who do not will serve a valuable role as a self-selecting control group (c.f. the Old-Order Amish, in the case of vaccination). The best way to help people make wise choices is to give them good solid information in a way that they can follow it. The worst way is to berate them.

    1. Why limit his punishment to just one preventable disease? How about throwing in the other M and the R in the vaccine he’s been paid to lie about as a bare minimum? Toss in some pertussis or chicken pox for good measure.

  3. The anti-vaccine nonsense is beyond stupid – it’s dangerous. I had to completely shun the Huffington Post because of all the anti-vaccine hysteria that gets posted there by “celebrities” and pseudo-scientists.

  4. Its devastating when parents lose a child to a completely preventable disease. What a shame that parents are still not getting their children vaccinated when this theory was discredited years ago.

    The next one to go for is the overdiagnosis of Autism. Children who would have been diagnosed with developmental delays are incorrectly being diagnosed with “Autism Spectrum” because that’s where the funding is.

  5. oh man. this is a loaded topic.

    interestingly enough, google shows us that in 2010, a court..based upon a preponderance of evidence…awarded a wad of dough to a family…whose child’s underlying genetic condition…was worsened (dare I say immanentized?) by vaccines.

    frankly, with the proven, googleable/wikipediable list of toxins they put in vaccines, I would choose to not give them to my child, either (if I had children).

    granted, I practice Chinese Medicine – so I have a substantially different outlook on health & healing than do the BioMed adherents…whose corpus of knowledge is a mere 4000+ years junior to the body of knowledge whose well I draw from.

    1. “For nature (as the physicians allege) having intended the superior anterior orifice only for the intromission of solids and liquids, and the inferior posterior for ejection, these artists ingeniously considering that in all diseases nature is forced out of her seat, therefore, to replace her in it, the body must be treated in a manner directly contrary, by interchanging the use of each orifice; forcing solids and liquids in at the anus, and making evacuations at the mouth.”

      It’s been almost three hundred years and people still believe the worst crap about “rebalancing the organism”.

    2. Are the toxins (mercury etc) in vaccines at levels higher than those in our drinking water and food supply? Are they higher than those the child might be exposed it in say, a tuna sandwich?

      1. Thimerosal has been absent from scheduled childhood vaccines since 2001. If the ethyl-mercury based preservative caused autism, we would expect to see a precipitous decline in autism among today’s 3-5 year olds. But no such decline has been detected, and would be nearly impossible to miss.

    3. I’ve often heard new-agers and alternative medicine adherents justify their practices by pointing out that “the Chinese have been doing it for thousands of years”. I’ve never understood that logic. The age of a practice does not correlate with its effectiveness or offer justification. Modern, evidence-based medicine has allowed humans to live longer lives than ever before, so why use an ancient system that doesn’t hold up to scientific examination?

    4. Age does not, by itself, bring wisdom or knowledge. Scientific testing of hypotheses does.
      TCM is largely empirical but not scientific. It’s also rooted in a belief system (or at least a vocabulary) that doesn’t translate well into modern physics- five elements, qi, meridians, and so on.

      I’m sure many TCM practices do, in fact, have beneficial effects (there are scores of possible active ingredients in any given herb, for example). I’m also sure some of them are completely ineffective or downright harmful. Which are which? I don’t know, *and neither do you.* The necessary testing has never been done, though that’s (slowly) beginning to change.

      Your adherence to TCM also suggests you may have a different definition of “toxin” than toxicologists do, but still, I’m sure you’re aware that “The dose makes the poison.” Vaccines are safe and not toxic- provably, demonstrably so. You ignore this reality at your- and potential children’s- peril.

  6. I’m glad to see this getting some attention.

    On a related note, I heard a study referenced on CNN during my drive in this morning that found that children born within a year of a sibling were 3 times more likely to develop autism, than those with siblings 3 or more years apart.

    Here’s an article, and I’m a big fan of the last sentence:

    “The advice for parents is to pay attention to the science,” Bearman said.

  7. Health reporting in this country is a disaster.
    I used to edit a health section for a daily newspaper using three wire services for stories.
    About 90 percent of what was available each week was generated from BigPharma PR departments about the latest “breakthrough,” which upon reading turned out to be the results of small-sample, unconfirmed trials.
    Much of this same crap winds up on TV, which has the ability to confuse a much-larger audience.

  8. I read the first couple lines of the story, and I actually said ‘duh’ to the screen. I guess now it’s just been completely confirmed.

    We need an angel to come along and help kick out a large PSA-style marketing campaign to get the word out that Wakefield’s results are deliberately fraudulent and therefore worthless, because the other side has a large campaign working on public opinion. I’d be willing to donate what I can, but we’re talking millions of dollars to even make a dent. Time for the most epic Kickstarter project ever?

    1. We need an angel to come along and help kick out a large PSA-style marketing campaign to get the word out that Wakefield’s results are deliberately fraudulent and therefore worthless, because the other side has a large campaign working on public opinion.

      What we really need is for every talk show host who gave people like Jenny McCarthy an audience for their anti-vaccine nonsense to dedicate an equal amount of airtime to letting the public know how wrong they were. Oprah still has a few months before she wraps up her show, right? Maybe a letter-writing campaign would help.

  9. Physicians are now complaining of the emergence of medical rarity diseases like TB and polio, as parents refuse to vaccinate toddlers.

    1. malek, there are certainly problems with the emergence of measles, mumps, rubella and pertussis as a result of low immunisation rates.

      However, TB cannot be effectively vaccinated against, and polio has been effectively eliminated in the developed world, where the low-immunisation problems are.

      1. Polio is still found in Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other undeveloped countries, and is only a plane ride away.

  10. IANAL, but court decisions are not decided purely on the basis of scientific evidence, so even if a court case awarded damages to someone who supposedly became more autistic as a result of being vaccinated, that’s not sufficient evidence to make this a “loaded topic.” Also, please cite the court case you are specifically referring to.

    Please state which materials are present in vaccines in significant quantities to cause a non-negligible toxic effect in children, referencing a peer reviewed source in the field of clinical medicine.

    While Traditional Chinese Medicine has lead to discoveries of active ingredients that can combat disease, such as Artemisinin from Chinese wormwood, the on going lack of licensing, large-scale peer review, and regulation of TCM is of great concern. For example, while there is some evidence to suggest that acupuncture can mitigate nausea, there is scant evidence that it can help with chronic back pain. You can view some info from the NIH here. As acupuncture is still being vetted by clinical trials and scientific research, it’s irresponsible for TCM practicioners to be recommending it for any kind of documented medical condition.

    Also, are there certain chinese medicines that you would not prescribe to your children, if you had some? Say, if they contained toxins of any amount?

  11. court decisions are not decided purely on the basis of scientific evidence

    Court decisions are based on the opinions of a group of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of jury duty. And those opinions are based on adversarial accusations spiced with withheld evidence.


    This really wasn’t a case of investigative journalism uncovering one fraudulent doctor. journalism as a whole has nothing to congratulate itself about here. This would have been a single case of medical malpractice, had the hype machine not built this man up with twice the fervour that they’re currently knocking him down with.

    1. Dude, agreed. So totally agreed.

      But I give credit where it is due and Deer wrote an amazing story that deserves attention.

      The world needs more journalists like Brian Deer, and fewer of the other sort.

  13. At what point does behaviour like that shown by wakefield become a crime?
    Is there no charges in his future because its simply too hard to “prove” that his “medical advice” is not just bad or misguided, but dangerous?

  14. 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 Worth reading.

  15. Ernst Gruengast, you may be new to the party. “Age of Autism” is the mouthpiece for Generation Rescue, a group of parents devoted to the belief that autism is vaccine injury, full stop. The article was written by JB Handley, Generation Rescue’s founder. For a view of JB Handley’s integrity, scientific or otherwise, I direct you to Steven Novella’s essay A personal attack by JB Handley.

Comments are closed.