When the Lancet fully retracted Andrew Wakefield’s controversial study linking autism to vaccines, most of the scientific community breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now we can move on to other topics, right? Like finding a real cure for autism?
Not quite yet. Some people stood right by Wakefield and his controversial research. And Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey came out swinging, calling the Lancet’s retraction “censorship”.
Jenny, honey, the science has left the building. Why are you still here?
When Wakefield’s autism research was first published in 1998, it was taken seriously. Doctors, scientists and government agencies all over the world launched further research into the claims. Japan and Norway suspended the MMR vaccine from their vaccine schedules for several years while investigating its safety.
They all came up empty-handed. No one other than Wakefield was able to demonstrate any link between autism and either the MMR vaccine or the trace amounts of mercury used as a preservative in vaccines. The countries with the highest autism rates, in fact, were ones that had never allowed the suspect preservative thimerisol to be used in their vaccines.
Even as study after study was debunking the potential links between autism and vaccines, a movement was gaining ground among worried parents eager to safeguard their children.
Fine. I get that. Ten years ago, reading about the ‘vaccine controversy’ in newspapers, I thought the case for a vaccine-autism link sounded pretty plausible too.
But it doesn’t now. The Lancet retraction came on the heels of Britain’s General Medical Council finding that Wakefield had acted unethically in conducting the research that led to his original 1998 paper linking vaccines with autism. These two events should be the final nails in the coffin of Wakefield’s research.
But Wakefield’s got starlets on his side. Jenny McCarthy still believes in him, and she thinks you should, too. Motherlode ran a guest post from a mom whose child suffers from autism a few weeks ago about why you shouldn’t.
One commenter likened McCarthy to a snake-oil salesmen, and the comparison is pretty apt. Like those charlatans of yesteryear, both Wakefield and McCarthy, as his very visible, vocal supporter, are offering suffering families a false hope of a fast, easy cure to a terrible illness. Most kids won’t be helped by Wakefield’s methods, and McCarthy’s antics distract from the real, slow, boring work being done by doctors and scientists, work that has a far better chance of ultimately helping kids with autism.
Some of that science has also been published this week, showing a link between advanced maternal age and autism.