Publisher of Discredited Autism-Vaccine Study Didn't Investigate Fraud Claims

The Lancet, the medical journal that published Andrew Wakefield's now discredited 1998 study linking autism with vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, scrambled to deny allegations in 2004 that the study was a fraud, according to a new article.

The article, published Jan. 18 in the British Medical Journal, is the final part of a series written by British journalist Brian Deer. The first two parts exposed Wakefield's original study as a fraud , and showed that Wakefield had planned secret businesses to profit off the study findings.

In the new article, Deer said that two days after of his 2004 revelations of possible research fraud, unethical treatment of children and Wakefield's conflict of interest because of his involvement with a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers, the Lancet issued a series of denials.

Statements from the journal and the paper's three senior authors said that an investigation had been undertaken by the Royal Free Hospital that had "cleared Wakefield of wrongdoing," but documents and e-mails Deer obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed no formal investigation had taken place, the article said.

"What emerges is merely a scramble to discredit my claims during the 48 hours after I disclosed the information," Deer wrote in the article. In short, "the accused were investigating themselves."

Those statements and denials of wrongdoing were never retracted, he said. And it took another six years for the original 1998 article to be retracted.

Dr. Fiona Godlee, editorin-chief of the British Medical Journal, said the government of the United Kingdom should establish mandatory oversight of clinical research integrity within the National Health Service, as is the case for publicly funded research in the United States.

"This case reveals major flaws in pre- and post-publication peer review," Godlee said in a statement. "Allegations of research misconduct must be independently investigated in the public interest. But it's still too easy for institutions to avoid external scrutiny, and editors can fail to adequately distance themselves from work they have published and then defended."

Pass it on: In 2004, the Lancet failed to investigate allegations that Andrew Wakefield's 1998 autism-vaccine study was inaccurate and unethical, instead publishing statements denying the study had problems.

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Live Science Staff
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