If you’re a savvy Retraction Watch reader — or if you’ve paid any attention at all to the news in the last 18 hours — you will have heard by now that the BMJ has called Andrew Wakefield’s work on autism and the MMR vaccine a “hoax.”
The February 2010 retraction of the original Wakefield paper in the Lancet was, of course, a huge deal. If there were a Canon of Scientific Retractions, it would be in it. It happened before we launched Retraction Watch, however, so we haven’t commented much on it.
We plan on writing about major retractions in history, but the frequency of fascinating timely ones hasn’t abated enough yet to let us do that. (One exception: Our Best of Retractions series.) And in any case, there have been a lot of pixels spilled on this one already, so we’re not sure we have much to add. That’s the nice thing about the web: It leaves us free to curate as well as create.
One comment we want to offer is that the investigation by Brian Deer in the BMJ is yet more proof that scientific retractions are worth watching. While most retractions don’t involve fraud, many involve misconduct. And if you peel back enough layers of the onion on many of those, you’ll uncover critically important stories. Deer has been doing this for more than a decade when it comes to Wakefield’s work, as have others. Adam did it when he broke the story of Scott Reuben’s fraud.
But as we noted, there are already a lot of pixels spilled on the most recent chapter in the Wakefield story, and we’re not sure what else we can add right now. So here are a few suggestions for smart commentary:
- Seth Mnookin, author of Panic Virus, on whether the BMJ hyped their investigation, and how much of it was really new. Mnookin — a friend of Ivan’s from college — was on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 last night, as was Andrew Wakefield. (More disclosure: Ivan’s wife works as a writer/producer at AC360.)
- Gary Schwitzer on why the story shows that one journalist can make a difference.
- The Association of Health Care Journalists’ Covering Health blog rounds up tip sheets, AHCJ award contest entries, and more on autism.
- David Gorski calls Deer’s piece “the last swing of the sword that hacks off Wakefield’s last limb,” although he thinks he’ll keep fighting.
DavidDarryl Cunningham’s cartoon version of the saga, from May.
- A look at what we can learn from the fiasco about communicating risk, from David Ropeik at Scientific American
We’ll add to that list as we come across other good stuff. (Thanks to Bora Zivkovic and EvidenceMatters for a few of these links.) And here’s what our sister blog, Embargo Watch, posted about whether a tweet — and later, CNN — broke the embargo on the BMJ articles.