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Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c7452 (Published 06 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7452

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief,
  2. Jane Smith, deputy editor,
  3. Harvey Marcovitch, associate editor
  1. 1BMJ, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: F Godlee fgodlee{at}bmj.com

Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare

“Science is at once the most questioning and . . . sceptical of activities and also the most trusting,” said Arnold Relman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, in 1989. “It is intensely sceptical about the possibility of error, but totally trusting about the possibility of fraud.”1 Never has this been truer than of the 1998 Lancet paper that implied a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and a “new syndrome” of autism and bowel disease.

Authored by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others, the paper’s scientific limitations were clear when it appeared in 1998.2 3 As the ensuing vaccine scare took off, critics quickly pointed out that the paper was a small case series with no controls, linked three common conditions, and relied on parental recall and beliefs.4 Over the following decade, epidemiological studies consistently found no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.5 6 7 8 By the time the paper was finally retracted 12 years later,9 after forensic dissection at the General Medical Council’s (GMC) longest ever fitness to practise hearing,10 few people could deny that it was fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically. But it has taken the diligent scepticism of one man, standing outside medicine and science, to show that the paper was in fact an elaborate fraud.

In a series of articles starting this week, and seven years after first looking into the MMR scare, journalist Brian Deer now shows the extent of Wakefield’s fraud and how it was perpetrated (doi:10.1136/bmj.c5347). Drawing on interviews, documents, and data made public at the GMC hearings, Deer shows how Wakefield altered …

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