The abstract — published online in Frontiers in Public Health after being accepted November 21 — reported findings from anonymous online questionnaires completed by 415 mothers of home-schooled children 6-12 years old. Nearly 40 percent of children had not been vaccinated, and those that had were three times more likely to be diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, the study found.
After receiving criticism on Twitter, Frontiers released a public statement, noting that the study was only “provisionally accepted but not published,” and is being re-reviewed. When asked for a comment, a Frontiers spokesperson referred us to the statement.
A cached version of the abstract of “Vaccination and Health Outcomes: A Survey of 6- to 12-year-old Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children based on Mothers’ Reports,” is still available online.
According to the abstract’s results:
A total of 415 mothers provided data on 666 children, of which 261 (39%) were unvaccinated. Vaccinated children were significantly less likely than the unvaccinated to have been diagnosed with chickenpox and pertussis, but significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with pneumonia, otitis media, allergies and NDDs (defined as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and/or a learning disability).
In this study based on mothers’ reports, the vaccinated had a higher rate of allergies and NDD than the unvaccinated. Vaccination, but not preterm birth, remained significantly associated with NDD after controlling for other factors. However, preterm birth combined with vaccination was associated with an apparent synergistic increase in the odds of NDD. Further research involving larger, independent samples is needed to verify and understand these unexpected findings in order to optimize the impact of vaccines on children’s health.
The findings quickly amassed heavy criticism on Twitter:
— Tara C. Smith (@aetiology) November 27, 2016
Problem is poor design, not impossible results. Study relies of self-report of moms, inducing bias
— Jacob Jolij (@jjolij) November 28, 2016
Even the publisher’s response to the criticism didn’t entirely go over well:
It's down. Which raises questions in itself: that's not a proper retraction process
— Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) November 28, 2016
Twitter users also noted that the study appears to have asked for crowdsourced funding via the Age of Autism online newspaper. A user also linked to a site that posted a letter first author Anthony Mawson, a visiting professor at Jackson State University, allegedly wrote in support of the now-discredited work of notorious anti-vaccine researcher Andrew Wakefield.
In 2011, Mawson filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi State Department of Health, alleging that the state health officer interfered with his then-position at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (resulting in his contract not getting renewed) after he advocated the need for more studies on vaccine safety. In 2012, the suit was dismissed.
The paper was peer-reviewed by Linda Mullin Elkins, a chiropractor at Life University, and Kelly Hsieh from the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was edited by Amit Agrawal at Gandhi Medical College in India.
In July, the same Frontiers journal retracted a study on chemtrails, an age-old conspiracy theory about the dangers of cloud trails released by jet planes.
Earlier this month, another Frontiers journal retracted a paper about predicting whether people are dead or alive by looking at their photographs.
Frontiers isn’t the first publisher to pull a paper linking vaccines to problems following heavy criticism — in February, Vaccine temporarily removed — then soon retracted — a paper linking the vaccine for Human papillomavirus to behavioral problems in mice; a modified version of the paper was later republished.
In 2015, Jeffrey Beall added Frontiers to his list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory” scholarly publishers, a move that prompted some debate among academics about whether it merited such a designation.
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