Friday, February 22, 2019

Myth of bad science behind vaccination

NPR Radio reports:
Now we're going to look at the staying power of bad science and a group of volunteers trying to fight it. Take the infamous 1998 study by a British scientist that suggested a link between childhood vaccines and autism. It was retracted more than a decade later. And its author Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked. But the myth that vaccines cause autism persists today with serious public health consequences. It's this kind of bad science that ...
The 1998 paper was not a study, but just a note based on a few observations. Retracting it did not say anything about whether vaccines cause autism.

If you want to show that vaccines do not cause autism, you have to do a scientific study on the subject. Punishing the guy who suggested a link does not help.

There is a famous quote from a popular TV show:
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Taking away Wakefield's license did not prove that he was a liar. It proved that the authorities feared what he was saying.

I am amazed that science advocates today like to cite this Wakefield story as an example to show that some papers should be suppressed, and some non-conforming individuals must be ostracized. It would have been much better to rebut Wakefield with scientific evidence.

1 comment:

  1. A more important question is, why does the scientific mainstream believe that they are incapable of of refuting claims they believe are wrong? Their angry reactions to silence dissent mirror an angry political response more than a scientific one.

    I've noticed this a prevalent attitude in the physics community as well. When an idea is questioned, smug condescending attitude followed by insults is the result. This is NOT what a good teacher or well grounded scientist does. This is what a scared person does when they are insecure and/or believe their argument is lacking.