No one wishes to dampen the enthusiasm that arises with hoped-for breakthroughs in Parkinson’s Disease or any other disorders but, however tantalizing some of these reports may be, if they are false or unsubstantiated by scientific evidence they can be cruel and dispiriting. Picture a man dying of thirst in a desert who comes upon an oasis with hopes soaring for a drink of water, only to find that the life-giving well is dry. Of course, this analogy misses one conspicuous component, and that is that the absence of water in that well is inadvertent and an act of nature while, regrettably, some medical research is characterized by willful misconduct and marked by fraud. An illustration of such follows.
One of the most honored and reputable medical magazines in the world is a British publication, the Lancet. It’s a peer-reviewed journal, which basically means that all the research articles appearing in every weekly issue have been gone over, presumably meticulously, by medical personnel covering submitted articles in their field of expertise. In 1998, the Lancet, in spite of their record of adhering to the very highest of standards, fouled-up. Really a big boo-boo on their part. They published an article by a guy named Andrew Wakefield and a bunch of his cronies, which said in effect that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) was linked to autism. Subsequently, many epidemiological studies were conducted relating to Wakefield’s claims, and all of them have totally refuted his bogus research. And no research has ever been done that replicates Wakefield’s findings, either. There is, in fact, no link relating vaccines with thimerosal to autism, and the debunked article was retracted by the Lancet. (Note: Both the FDA and the CDC state categorically, that there is “no known harm from thimerosal preservative-containing vaccines.” JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, correspondingly states: “…in the largest-ever study of its kind, researchers again found that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine did not increase risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).” )
Here is some information about this case which should make your head spin. First, there were only 12 kids involved in the study, no controls (i.e., a group of similar subjects without the variable being tested – e.g., in an experimental design, one group takes vitamins, one group does not), and their medical histories and diagnoses were altered and misstated. These errors, it turns out, were not accidents. They were deliberate and purposeful, related to Wakefield’s involvement in a lawsuit in which his team of upright barristers were engaged in representing parents suing some companies which produced vaccines. How’s that for a conflict of interest! He and his buddies had falsified the facts and they had a financial motive.
Now let’s bring this story closer to home, because it has ramifications leading to our own door steps. Do you remember a few months ago when there was an outbreak of measles in Rockland County and Brooklyn? This eruption wasn’t by chance. It wasn’t a fluke. The Orthodox Jewish communities in the New York area where these measles cases mostly occurred, were found to be undervaccinated. And, wouldn’t you know, but autism and thimerosal, the culprits erroneously unleashed by Wakefield et al over 20 years ago, were cited, as well as religious rationales for not getting vaccinated. Relating to the latter, vaccines are not against Jewish law. Moses didn’t say the Israelites shouldn’t get vaccinated, and I’m pretty sure he never said anything bad about thimerosal, either. (Editor: That sounds sacrilegious and even anti-Semitic.) (Lao Du: No, no, I can say it – I’m circumcised. At least I think I’m circumcised. Hold on a second while I have a look….. Yep, they got me.)
Well, they stripped ol’ Wakefield of some of his credentials, but he reportedly never said that he did anything wrong. And, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people – innocents listening to pseudoscience – failed to get their shots in the ensuing years. And many have suffered the consequences, including death (you can die of measles). Sadly, the misinformation about vaccines persists. And if you listen to the radio or watch TV, you’re sure to confront an array of quacks delivering similar fallacious info on a whole host of health products and services. In the next edition of Focus on Bogus, we’ll attempt to decipher the quacking sounds (quackery) and distinctive waddling walking style of these dishonest ducks. Lao Du