Tag Archives: lancet

BMJ: Wakefield’s vaccine-autism study fraudulent

The Internet and other media are abuzz with the news, published by BMJ yesterday, that the study published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking autism to the MMR vaccine was fraudulent. The study of 12 children is frequently cited as proof that vaccines cause autism or play a part in the disorder, despite the fact that it was retracted. The BMJ calls the study “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically” in a new editorial.

Covering Health has compiled some links to interesting reading on this subject, much of it specifically for journalists.

Ivan Oransky, on Embargo Watch, looks at an entirely different facet of the news with “Does a tweet break an embargo? A case study involving the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and an alleged hoax.”

Meanwhile, Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, writes that the Wakefield MMR/autism dismantling demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Andrew Wakefield last night about the charges that his study was flawed. And Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who reported the BMJ story, was interviewed on CNN’s World Report.

Update: Seth Mnookin, who has spent two years looking into vaccine scares, has written an interesting post about the topic, including his view that BMJ over-hyped its story, which almost certainly helped drive media coverage. Mnookin also appeared on CNN.

By sending out breathless press releases and prepping the worldwide media for a series of bombshell stories, the BMJ created the impression that this was fundamentally new news – and it wasn’t. We knew that Wakefield’s work wasn’t reliable or accurate on January 3 – and we still know that today. The stories that are currently running are not really all that different in tone or content than the stories that ran almost exactly a year ago, when a UK medical panel found there was sufficient evidence to justify stripping Wakefield of his right to practice medicine.

Covering Health posts

Tip sheets

  • Background on autism from Pauline A. Filipek M.D., director of the Autism Program for OC Kids Neurodevelopmental Center and associate professor of clinical pediatrics and neurology at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.
  • Investigating alternative treatments for autism: Trish Callahan & Trine Tsouderos, of the Chicago Tribune, wrote “Dubious Medicine,” a look at the world of alternative treatments for autism, treatments that are often risky and unproven.

Contest entries

Covering Medical Research

Covering Medical Research

Learn how to analyze and write about health and medical research studies with AHCJ’s latest slim guide. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.

Journals pay for cracking down on industry funding

Paul Basken reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education that major medical journals, whose financial viability often depends heavily upon industry support, are faced with an “inherent conflict of interest” when it comes to filtering possible industry bias from their articles.

Basken’s report relies on an analysis of industry-funded studies presented at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication in Vancouver. Once the Journal of the American Medical Association introduced an independent verification requirement for industry-funded studies in 2005, Basken reported, it “saw the percentage of industry-supported studies in its pages drop 21 percent, from more than 60 percent of its published trials to 47 percent. Lancet, however, saw a growth of 17 percent, and The New England Journal of Medicine had an increase of 11 percent, the group reported.”

Lancet assesses Gates Foundation achievements

The journal Lancet tackled the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a recent issue, assessing the heavyweight’s grants and spending. The study seeks to chronicle the foundation’s grants from 1998 to 2007 (a time period in which it handed out almost $9 billion), and the accompanying editorial provides a clear-eyed, critical review of the foundation’s work, transparency and priorities.

Some of the more striking numbers from a report full of them:

  • The $1.2 billion spent by the foundation in 2007 on global health alone rivaled the World Health Organization’s entire annual budget (some of which is, not coincidentally, itself provided by the Gates foundation).
  • Three quarters of global health funding went to “HIV/AIDS, malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases, child health,
    tuberculosis, and other tropical diseases and neglected
  • The 1094 grants issued from 1998 to 2007 ranged from $3,500 to $750 billion.
  • Twenty organizations shared 65 percent of the foundation’s global health funding.
  • As a whole, NGOs and nonprofits got $3.3 billion while Universities got $1.8 billion. The rest went to other organizations and governments.
  • Administrative expenses totaled $264 million in 2007.

The report also breaks down Gates funding by geography:

In terms of the geographical location of primary recipients, $3·62 billion (40%) of all funding was awarded to supranational organisations such as global health partnerships and intergovernmental organisations. Of the remaining amount, 82% ($4·39 billion) went to recipients based in the USA, 13% ($0·70 billion) to recipients in Europe and other high-income countries (eg, Australia), and 5% ($0·24 billion) to recipients in low-income and middle-income countries.

(Hat tip to Rahul Parikh, who provides a particularly useful breakdown of the numbers involved.)