Report Linking Childhood Vaccines And Autism Declared A Fraud

For many years, parents, celebrities, and medical quacks pedaled the theory that the rise in childhood autism was linked to vaccines given to children in their early years, an assertion that was based largely on one study from Great Britain. There were never any follow up study that confirmed this theory, and yet celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and other anti-vaccination activists were telling parents to refuse to have their children vaccinated. Now, that original study has been proven to be fraudulent:

The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield’s paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children’s parents.

Wakefield could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls and requests to the publisher of his recent book, which claims there is a connection between vaccines and autism that has been ignored by the medical establishment. Wakefield now lives in the U.S. where he enjoys a vocal following including celebrity supporters like Jenny McCarthy.

Deer’s article was paid for by the Sunday Times of London and Britain’s Channel 4 television network. It was published online Thursday in the medical journal, BMJ.

In an accompanying editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and colleagues called Wakefield’s study “an elaborate fraud.” They said Wakefield’s work in other journals should be examined to see if it should be retracted.

I don’t expect that this revelation is really going to deter the anti-vaccine crowd, which has grown into a mass movement with it’s own mythology (sort of like the birthers, the 9/11 truthers, and people who believe that aliens are visiting the Earth on a regular basis), but perhaps if it’s spread wide enough it will convince parents who are understandably on the fence about vaccination issues to listen to science rather than fear for once.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Andyman says:

    Listening to science is *so* 1950’s, Doug. Get with the program. Hurricanes are caused by pro-gay politicians and God Himself is micro-managing the exact level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (what else could possibly explain the rise?)

  2. Franklin says:

    9/11 truthers don’t really affect me. Birthers probably affect me slightly as the government has to defend against frivolous lawsuits, but still, don’t really affect me. People who believe in aliens don’t affect me.

    People who refuse vaccines get other people sick. That does affect me.

  3. MarkT says:

    But Jenny McCarthy says it’s true. What, you want pointy-headed intellectuals who know stuff telling us what’s safe and what’s not? That’s the problem, we already have way too many facts. We need more big-boobed blondes and fewer facts. Facts are like, sooo confusing.

    Gotta run, the Mothership’s here.

  4. john personna says:

    Wow, not just wrong but actually fraudulent. I’d hope this would be enough to break through to those unfortunate parents

  5. John Burgess says:

    If this latest report only persuades some who were indecisive, it’ll be of great value. The true believers (in anything) are not persuadable. They are susceptible only to confirmationally biased reports.

  6. Trumwill says:

    Unfortunately, the (comparatively) few antivax people I know have simply moved on to the belief that vaccination causes other, less specific ailments (and aren’t all that effective at any rate). A contributor to my site may have put her finger on a big part of the rationale: some mothers hate the idea that somebody else might know what their children need better than they do and get a high out of knowing more than the so-called professionals.

  7. Kylopod says:

    >A contributor to my site may have put her finger on a big part of the rationale: some mothers hate the idea that somebody else might know what their children need better than they do and get a high out of knowing more than the so-called professionals.

    I think there’s also a psychological component: some part of us finds the idea of willingly submitting to something potentially dangerous (and yes, all vaccines carry risks) scarier than simply letting nature take its course, even if the latter statistically leads to more deaths. And in fact some vaccines are avoided because of the risk–notably smallpox. (I should mention that my great grandmother died from a smallpox vaccine.) When I went to get my swine-flu shot last year, I was a little creeped out by all those stories of people who contracted Guillan-Barre syndrome after getting the shot, even though I knew it was statistically rare. But I was aware of the cost-benefit analysis involved in my decision to get the shot, because I was trusting the experts that swine-flu was potentially as dangerous as it’s been hyped to be, enough to expose myself to the risks of the vaccine.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that some of you are being a little too hard on the parents of children with autism. An impaired child is terribly draining to a family both emotionally and financially. Basically, the families need help and finding somebody to blame was one path to that help.

  9. Andyman says:


    By that logic we should have been sacrificing virgins after Katrina.

    I’m all for being as sympathetic as possible for a family coping with a special-needs child. By all means support them. But as they’re flailing around to find a worldview that makes them feel better they shouldn’t hurt others, and talking people out of getting vaccines does exactly that.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    My point is stop blaming the parents. The most culpable in this affair are the author of the paper, the peer review system (which is obviously broken), and the editors of The Lancet.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    Dave, I’m sorry, but the parents deserve part of the blame. Choosing to go with talk show hosts over people who spend their lives studying a subject is a high risk strategy. And it is the parents that engage in this strategy. Sometimes these risk-taking parents are also newspaper columnists or magazine editors, and then the problem is compounded.

    I can’t imagine what a drain it must be to have a child suffering from autism, and I can understand why they flail about. But that doesn’t leave them blameless when that flailing about does damage to others.

  12. John Burgess says:

    I agree that parents do deserve part of the blame, particularly for the illnesses visited upon other kids due to their choice to not vaccinate their own.

    But let’s not forget the trial lawyers, either. Wakefield’s initial study was funded–at least in part–by a trial lawyer who saw deep pockets in the pharmaceutical companies.

  13. mantis says:

    Wakefield, through his fraud, has convinced many parents to forgo vaccination for their children. Some of those children have and will contract diseases that hospitals rarely treat anymore as a result. Some have died and more will die. Measles has begun killing children again at an alarming rate not seen in decades. Wakefield, in my mind, is a murderer.

  14. wr says:

    John Burgess — May I take issue with you here? To me it is completely unfair and destructive to blame “the trial lawyers” for this. Yes, there was (at least) ONE scummy trial lawyer here. But to blame the entire profession for the sins of the one or the few is a right-wing trick to demonize people who oppose them. Thus we see that a couple of New York sanitation workers screwed off during the blizzard, and therefore all public workers are lazy and irresponsible and their pensions should be slashed. A union exec is caught embezzling, and all unions are a criminal conspiracy. And trial lawyers, well we all know about them.

    But for some reason the same logic never applies to groups the Republican party likes. You can find a hundred CEOs looting their companies’ pension plans, and each one is a solitary bad apple. Essentially every bank and credit rater conspired in the housing bubble, but to the extent that anyone is to blame, it will also be a bad apple or two.

    So no, let’s not blame “the trial lawyers.” Let’s blame THIS trial lawyer….