Science allows us to procure answers about ourselves and about the world. But if we aren't careful in consulting multiple sources of knowledge, science can be misleading and potentially lead us to an erroneous conclusion. For example, there is a lack of research regarding autism spectrum disorders. What little knowledge has been achieved was hindered by the avaricious actions of one profit-seeking researcher.
Four out of every 1,000 American children are born with autism, a disorder that affects the lives of many Americans in some capacity every day. Males are four times as likely to develop the condition as females. Recent research indicates a probable connection between an excess of testosterone present in the womb and the development of autism.
In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet, a British medical journal, offering evidence that supposedly proved that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine caused autism spectrum disorders in infants and small children. As a result, parents in countries across the world including the U.S. and U.K. chose not to have their children vaccinated against these diseases, fearing their children would be inflicted with the disorder.
Shortly after Wakefield made these claims, several large epidemiological studies were undertaken which found his results to be completely invalid and falsified. Not until 2010 was Wakefield was found guilty of dishonesty and abuse of developmentally challenged children. His study was not officially declared fraudulent until 2011, 13 years ex post facto.
Some physicians and medical professionals have argued that Wakefield's fraudulent paper can be linked to deaths, mostly as a result of children foregoing the MMR vaccine. Other victims include tormented parents who ignored Wakefield's warnings and wondered whether they indirectly caused their children's autism by vaccinating them against MMR.
Because of Wakefield's publication and the great deal of time that elapsed before it was repudiated, there are still people who believe that autism is caused by a vaccine and refuse to protect their children from diseases like measles.
Autism spectrum disorders are not to be taken lightly. They are characterized by an impaired ability to interact and communicate in social settings and the exhibition of repetitive behaviors and limited interests. The disorders are of great gravity because they impact the individual and his family for a lifetime. To publish a fraudulent study regarding such a sensitive topic is reprehensible.
Wakefield's actions resulted in death, sickness and torment. When scared, the general public has the propensity to blindly accept studies produced by science. The actual cause of autism remains unclear, and many parents and families desperately had searched for answers, causes and ways to prevent the condition only to discover that what they found was a lie.
To halt the facilitation of misconceptions like those that Wakefield perpetuated, the public should be wary of sensationalist research and the scientific and academic communities must be quicker to renounce their black sheep and provide the public with evolving information about sensitive and important topics.