Not an error: a deliberate fraud.
Let that sink in a minute.
It’s not been an inconsequential fraud, either; I completely agree with the contention, voiced in the British medical journal BMJ, that Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s original study purporting to make the connection between autism and vaccinations “has done long-lasting damage to public health” (see this and this).
But it couldn’t have been done without a willing and for the most part scientifically ignorant public, clamoring for easy answers to medical mysteries. In an editorial in BMJ, editor Fiona Godlee writes that the furor against vaccines continues to be:
…fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession…
Andersen Cooper is helpfully giving Dr. Wakefield a forum in which to defend himself; the good doctor will be appearing on “Anderson Cooper 360″ tonight. Wakefield will be saying that it’s his work that’s being distorted, by ruthless people determined “to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”
Wakefield is accused of falsifying case histories in his study, whose findings have never been replicated since, either by himself or others. The lack of replication alone should have been enough to discredit it. But once the public thinks it has an explanation for something—and a “scientific” one at that—it is hard to change minds that have become set in stone.
[NOTE: Related case in point: remember Erin Brockovitch and PG&E? Well, it turns out Brockovitch was almost certainly wrong, and that the town of Hinckley has had no more cancer cases than would have been expected by chance.
Hey, but we saw the movie! How many people will get the corrected news?]
[ADDENDUM: More thoughts.]