As you may have heard, the British Medical Journal is publishing an investigative series looking into the 1998 study that originally connected vaccines with autism. On top of the first author Andrew Wakefield being concurrently involved in a lawsuit against vaccine companies (helloooo conflict of interest) there is also evidence of his team completely misrepresenting data in the results. Despite this and the fact that the original publisher retracted the paper last May, the National Autism Association has issued a press release stating that the BMJ investigation is “Yet Another Attempt to Thwart Vaccine Safety Research.” So there’s that.
Even though I empathize with the confused public (and worried parents), my first reaction is to point out Hey, maybe this is what happens when you listen to A PLAYBOY BUNNY ON OPRAH over SCIENTISTS. But don’t worry, my second reaction kicks in quickly enough: if it weren’t for certain scientists lying in the first place, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Ugh. Moral of the story, kids: Trust no one.
In the immortal words of Michael Crichton:
“Fraud in science is not rare, and it’s not limited to fringe players. The most respected researchers and institutions have been caught with faked data. Even Francis Collins, the head of NIH’s Human Genome Project, was listed as co-author on five faked papers that had to be withdrawn.
The ultimate lesson is that science isn’t special- at least not anymore. Maybe back when Einstein talked to Niels Bohr, and there were only a few dozen important workers in every field. But there are now three million researchers in America. It’s no longer a calling, it’s a career. Science is as corruptible a human activity as any other. Its practitioners aren’t saints, they’re human beings, and they do what human beings do- lie, cheat, steal from one another, sue, hide data, fake data, overstate their own importance, and denigrate opposing views unfairly. That’s human nature. It isn’t going to change.“
Well said, my love.
So what can we learn from this ongoing scandal? Every perspective deserves a healthy dose of skepticism. Not to say that conspiracy theories are the only answer. I still wholeheartedly believe that following the standardized procedure of the scientific method is an effective way to observe and speculate on environmental truth. But it’s not perfect and never will be.
… womp womp.
Call it a side-effect of too much academia, Wikipedia or I don’t know, the pursuit of truth, but I’m getting increasingly frustrated with all these Major. News. Outlets. not including an easy access to references (links go to relevant articles from CNN, USAToday and NPR.org, respectively). Example: How can USA Today even be allowed to write the sentence “The study has long since been debunked and dismissed by the scientific community, which points to 14 independent studies that have failed to find any link between vaccines and autism.” without actually citing these 14 studies?! Seriously? Come on, guys. You don’t even have to go through the immeasurable trouble it must take you to find a link, just give me plaintext citation–information you should already have— so that I, the eager-to-be-informed reader can look it up myself. Thanks.
[Top image from here]
[Crichton excerpt lifted from his novel Next / borrowed from an old xanga post, emphasis mine.]
[GodDAMN I rock at citations. Seriously, every one of these links is useful (except this one). Take that, NEWS]