…that shouldn’t even BE a question.
Why? Because science.
Woooooow. Want to open up a topic for debate that will irritate both liberals AND conservatives across the board?
For those who have been living under a rock for the last twenty years, in 1998, British gastroenterologist Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and eleven of his colleagues published a study in the British medical journal The Lancet suggesting a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and the onset of autism and bowel disease in children. Questions regarding the validity of the study were raised when other doctors and scientists were unable to duplicate Wakefield’s results. Sixty-seven studies conducted between 1998 and 2010 (some of which can be found HERE; HERE; HERE; and HERE) found no correlation between the MMR (or any other) vaccine and the diagnosis of autism.
Other questions surrounding the validity of Wakefield’s claims came from investigative reporter Brian Deer of the Sunday Times, the UK’s most respected newspaper. Deer discovered that Wakefield’s entire study revolved around 12 anonymous children with “apparent brain disorders” admitted to the pediatric bowel unit at the Royal Free Hospital near London between July 1996 and February 1997.
[Please let me, The Blonde, stop right there. I’m a historian and thespian. I teach. My first idea in college, though, was to become a large animal vet, so I have a pretty solid background in science. General science, biology, honors and AP chemistry, honors Physics in high school; biology, marine biology, inorganic chem in college. Even I know that one should not publish a world-shattering study, with the potential to change lives quite literally around the world, based off less than a year’s worth of research on such a small sample. My teachers and professors would have kicked my butt for even suggesting that. But, I digress.]
Parents of eight of the 12 children blamed the MMR vaccine for their children’s diagnosis of both IBD and autism. (Many children with ASD also have GI issues. No one is exactly sure why, but it’s common. AutismSpeaks explains.) As hysteria went global thanks to the likes of Jenny McCarthy, who blamed the vaccine for her own son’s autism, Deer discovered that far from a scientific breakthrough, Wakefield had been approached in 1994 by lawyer Richard Barr, a lawyer of dubious intent looking to start a speculative class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine. What was actually planned I can’t even begin to paraphrase, so I’ll let Deer himself explain.
Unlike expert witnesses, who give professional advice and opinions, Wakefield had negotiated an unprecedented contract with Barr, then aged 48, to conduct clinical and scientific research. The goal was to find evidence of what the two men claimed to be a “new syndrome”, intended to be the centerpiece of (later failed) litigation on behalf of an eventual 1,600 British families, recruited through media stories. This publicly undisclosed role for Wakefield created the grossest conflict of interest, and the exposure of it by Deer, in February 2004, led to public uproar in Britain, the retraction of the Lancet report’s conclusions section, and, from July 2007 to May 2010, the longest-ever professional misconduct hearing by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC).
Barr [audio] paid the doctor with money from the UK legal aid fund: run by the government to give poorer people access to justice. Wakefield charged at the extraordinary rate of £150 an hour – billed through a company of his wife’s – eventually totaling, for generic work alone, what the UK Legal Services Commission, pressed by Deer under the freedom of information act, said was £435,643 (then about $750,000 US), plus expenses. These hourly fees – revealed in The Sunday Times in December 2006 – gave the doctor a direct personal, but undeclared, financial interest in his research claims: totaling more than eight times his reported annual salary and creating an incentive not only for him to launch the alarm, but to keep it going for as long as possible.” (Brian Deer’s Research)
It would be the shady deal heard ‘round the world.