Monday, February 23, 2004

Vaccination-Autism Study Recanted

The Lancet, the premier British medical journal, has renounced their publication of a 1998 study apparently showing a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The author of the study, Andrew Wakefield, failed to disclose to the journal that he was being funded by lawyers hoping to demonstrate that parents of autistic children could sue vaccine manufacturers.

("But aren't pro-vaccine researchers funded by drug companies?" I hear you cry. Some of them are, yes, and they're required to disclose that when they publish scientific articles about vaccination, just as Wakefield was required to disclose his financial interest in the question.)

People who are big supporters of herbal supplements often explain to me that drug companies have a major financial interest in suppressing information about the effectiveness of herbal remedies, apparently forgetting or disregarding the fact that the multimillion-dollar herbal supplement industry has financial interests in the opposite direction. I hope that vaccine skeptics won't make the same mistake, and will evaluate Wakefield's conflicts of interest with the same scrutiny they give to members of the medical establishment.