Let the conspiracy theorists rage

Well, now the Lancet done did it.

One of the world’s leading medical journals, the Lancet waaay back in 1998 touched off a controversy that pops up too frequently: namely that vaccines are to blame for various childhood afflictions, including autism.

This week the Lancet has finally and unequivocally  rebuked the entire article and the “deeply flawed” study that got it all started.

From NPR:

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the lead investigator, brought international attention to the paper by saying he thought the MMR vaccinations were to blame. The assertions chipped away at confidence in vaccination.

It later emerged that Wakefield had been taking money from a lawyer suing vaccine makers. The results of his study couldn’t be replicated. Most of Wakefield’s co-authors later retracted the paper’s interpretation of the data.

In the retraction today, the Lancet editors wrote that it became clear parts of the paper are “incorrect.”

NPR goes on.

What was the last straw for the Lancet? An investigation by the U.K.’s General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, found that Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly.

What’s the big deal? Well, the report encouraged parents to refuse allowing doctors to vaccinate children against certain fully preventable diseases, in particular the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. To play into the irrational fears of parents and cloak it as bona fide “research” is unconscionable. Some of these diseases can cause permanent damage and take lives.

If you don’t know anyone who had polio as a child, you can thank the polio vaccine for that. If paranoid rantings of a few ignorant nonbelievers had been honored, there would be thousands, if not millions, of people crippled by that awful disease.

This from the World Health Organization:  “Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 1997 reported cases in 2006. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.”

The WHO says roughly 5 percent of all polio (poliomyelitis is the infection’s term) cases result in paralysis, usually meaning loss of ability to walk. It typically affects children under age 5, although adults (I know some personally) can be affected by postpolio syndrome, even some who appear to have fully recovered from the initial infection.

Imagine if there was no smallpox vaccine. No polio vaccine. No measles or German measles vaccine.

The Lancet says it has engaged safeguard to prevent now-discredited claims from seeing the light of day, further realizing that Lancet doesn’t exist in a vacuum, if it ever did, in this era of viral (hmmm, interesting term given the subject) distribution of information.

To me, it illustrates how important real journalism is, the type that sniffs around to see if somebody’s assertion passes the BS test. It took some time, but eventually the truth came out: Dr. Wakefield was on the take from the very lawyers seeking to profit by suing the maker of the vaccine.


Somebody besides the fox (and Fox) needs to be watching the henhouse.

Of course this will not silence the stubborn conspiracists who see evil plots in every storefront. They’ll whisper that the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex pressured Lancet into retracting the original 1998 article.

They’ll shout that socialized medicine wants to control us and keep us docile (Docile? Really? Been to a “football” (soccer) match in the U.K., where this all got started?).

I used to subscribe to the “Give ’em enough rope, they’ll hang themselves” school of tolerating loudmouthed know-nothings. But they keep getting louder and shriller.

I’m starting to think duct tape might be a better choice.


3 thoughts on “Let the conspiracy theorists rage

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