For years, anti-vaccination activists have used Andrew Wakefield's research to contend that vaccines cause autism. Now, Wakefield has been discredited and his original study, which was published in the Lancet in 1998, has been retracted and called a fraud by the British Medical Journal, which conducted its own investigation into Wakefield's work. The whole mess, says Robert Langreth on the Forbes Treatments blog, shows how flawed the system for publishing medical journals really is. Not only have the study's 12 cases been found to be "dubious," Langreth says, but he also wonders why it took 12 years to find the truth. Strict British libel laws may have had something to do with it, but the bigger problem is the limitations inherent in the medical journal system, he adds. "The Food and Drug Administration often examines much of the raw data when it analyzes whether to approve or restrict a drug. But medical journals rely more on the good faith of researchers and ... peer review," Langreth says. Peer review works when it comes to detecting flawed analysis and data that doesn't match up with a researcher's conclusions, but when the data itself is made up or the researcher is being deliberately deceptive, peer review doesn't make a difference, he adds.
Whose Fault is Fraud?
Jan 11, 2011