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.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.