In an editorial under the headline “Bad science gets its due,” the editors of the Boston (MA) Globe lament the consequences of Andrew Wakefield’s promotion of a connection between vaccines and Autism. At the end of the piece, the editorialist makes an important point:
But sadder still is the possibility that, in the minds of thousands of parents desperately clinging to hopes of finding a cure for autism, Wakefield’s legend might survive untarnished, possibly even exalted. In reality, his work on autism offers an unfortunate example of poor research trumping the scientific method.
Too bad the writer overlooked some of the other consequences. Here are a few nominees for a list repercussions:
- The upsurge in cases of preventable diseases that is at least possibly, if not likely, associated with resistance to vaccination;
- The extraordinary expenditure of resources required to debunk the misleading hypothesis, which resources could have been devoted to developing early identification measures and increasingly effective treatment regimes;
- The creation of a group or class of people who have been backed into a corner by their allegiance to a mistaken hypothesis;
- The creation of a host of hucksters who market sham intervenitons to those in that class or group;
- And more…. Throw others into the comments dear readers.
I suspect that, as with some other popular hypotheses, this one will not die. It may decline for a while, but resurface in 10-20 years in a slightly different guise. Like facilitated communication reveals the hidden brilliance of individuals with severe communication problems; creeping, crawling, and doing angels in the snow (or sand) organizes the brain for learning academics; a special diet reduces hyperactivity; and others, we probably haven’t seen the last of this one.