Scientific Fraud: A Disgraceful Phenomenon

The theory that autism is caused by vaccinations has been propagated by celebrities and seized on by desperate parents, but it is a fraud and a hoax. The sad story has been laid out in a British medical journal:

A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.
“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”
Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May.

There is a lot of blame to go around here; the media deserve some of it for repeating fraudulent claims uncritically. But the genesis of the hoax had a straightforward motive: money. Plaintiffs’ lawyers who hoped to make a fortune by suing the manufacturers of vaccines funded the fraudulent research:

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. …
“It’s always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science,” Godlee said. “But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues.”

Most people don’t realize it, but many of the scientific “studies” that have given rise to consumer hysteria and product liability litigation have been funded by plaintiffs’ lawyers. The strategy has worked, I believe, more often than not. It is disturbing to understand that scientists can be bought; that, in fact, it is often not particularly difficult to buy them.
The global warming hoax is the biggest scientific fraud of our time. It has proceeded differently from the autism/vaccination hoax, and on a much larger scale. Here, it is not plaintiffs’ lawyers but rather governments that have shelled out cash, amounting to billions of dollars, to scientists who would produce pseudo-data that those governments could rely on to expand their powers over private enterprises. The stakes are much higher, but the principle is the same: all too often, scientific “data” is for sale.

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