The research that launched an enduring but apparently erroneous belief that autism is caused by a common childhood vaccination has been debunked, disclaimed — and now debunked again.
Last February, the Lancet retracted a study it published in 1998 in which British researcher Andrew Wakefield suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine triggered autism. Wakefield’s science proved shoddy and his methods questionable.
Last week, that stance was reinforced by the publication in the journal BMJ of an analysis that finds Wakefield’s research was a fraud. Journalist Brian Deer outlines a series of discrepancies and irregularities, including falsification of data, in Wakefield’s work that remained unquestioned for years.
The incidence of childhood measles rose in Britain and elsewhere after Wakefield’s study was published as worried parents declined to have their children vaccinated against the potentially deadly disease. Even so, and even after Wakefield’s work was debunked, he continues his research (now in the United States) and has his share of supporters.
Okay, can we just be done with this autism/MMR link once and for all? It’s been a huge distraction, probably diverting energy and funds from the research that could detect autism’s true causes, and has led to many kids’ needlessly coming down with a preventable disease. Let’s put this behind us and move on.