Statistical Crime

  • #1
russ_watters
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Main Question or Discussion Point

This thread is motivated by this thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=461228

(CNN) -- A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."...
The effect of this fraudulent study is relatively clear from a scientific perspective: it resulted in a markedly reduced vaccination rate in the UK with an accompanying substantial increase in disease:
Confirmed cases increased from 990 in 2007 to 1,348 last year - the highest figure since the monitoring scheme was introduced in 1995.

Health Protection Agency experts said most of the cases had been in children not fully vaccinated with combined MMR and so could have been prevented.

Immunisation expert Dr Mary Ramsay said the rise was "very worrying", adding measles "should not be taken lightly".

More than 600 of the 2008 measles cases occurred in London, where uptake of the vaccine for MMR - measles, mumps and rubella - is particularly low.

Public confidence in the triple MMR vaccine dipped following research - since discredited - which raised the possibility that the jab may be linked to an increased risk of autism.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7872541.stm

Page 4 of this pdf has a graph of vaccination rates: http://www.ic.nhs.uk/webfiles/publications/immstats2005to2006/ImmunisationStatistics280906_PDF.pdf [Broken]
I've also uploaded it to the forum. It shows drops in all of four major vaccines in the UK, with the rates of 3 not dropping much, but the rate of the MMR vaccine dropping substantially: from about 92% in 1996 to 79% in 2003. It has started to rise again.

Page 3 of this pdf shows measles infection rates in the UK rising dramatically in recent years (this is also attached for easy access):
http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsg-2581.pdf [Broken]

So from a scientific standpoint, it is pretty clear that Wakefield provided fraudulent information to people which they acted on, causing injury. From a moral standpoint, I'd like to see him jailed for reckess endangerment over this, but I suspect the justice system isn't equipped to handle crimes like this. The infection rate is never zero so it wouldn't be possible to prove an individual case of measles was his fault, only that the statistics point to an increase. I don't think crime can work that way - but in my opinion, it should.
 

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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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1
I'm not familiar with the UK court system, but I think he could get over the "reasonable doubt" hurdle for a criminal trial for murder or manslaughter in the US. However, the "preponderance of the evidence" standard in a civil trial could make him civilly liable for wrongful death.

Of course, I am not a lawyer.
 
  • #3
100
1
yuck. got to be careful here. what's it going to do to the price of research if they all have to buy pandemic insurance?
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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I don't think insurance would cover fraud.
 
  • #5
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maybe not, but even if they put this guy in jail, i imagine the lawyers would want to come after someone else who didn't directly participate in the fraud, like the hospital or university he worked with, the publisher of the journal...

plus, i'm wondering how it might affect other researchers in what they study, how they report their findings, etc., if they suddenly find that there is a significant risk to them for making mistakes that might be perceived as malicious, or at least actionable.

i'm not sure what the answer is, i'm just not sure it's straightforward.
 
  • #6
472
0
This thread is motivated by this thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=461228


The effect of this fraudulent study is relatively clear from a scientific perspective: it resulted in a markedly reduced vaccination rate in the UK with an accompanying substantial increase in disease: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7872541.stm

Page 4 of this pdf has a graph of vaccination rates: http://www.ic.nhs.uk/webfiles/publications/immstats2005to2006/ImmunisationStatistics280906_PDF.pdf [Broken]
I've also uploaded it to the forum. It shows drops in all of four major vaccines in the UK, with the rates of 3 not dropping much, but the rate of the MMR vaccine dropping substantially: from about 92% in 1996 to 79% in 2003. It has started to rise again.

Page 3 of this pdf shows measles infection rates in the UK rising dramatically in recent years (this is also attached for easy access):
http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsg-2581.pdf [Broken]

So from a scientific standpoint, it is pretty clear that Wakefield provided fraudulent information to people which they acted on, causing injury. From a moral standpoint, I'd like to see him jailed for reckess endangerment over this, but I suspect the justice system isn't equipped to handle crimes like this. The infection rate is never zero so it wouldn't be possible to prove an individual case of measles was his fault, only that the statistics point to an increase. I don't think crime can work that way - but in my opinion, it should.
I agree with you that, given the evidence, Wakefield should be prosecuted. In the same vein, given the evidence, the Bush administration and G.W. Bush himself, is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings and the unnecessary ruination of millions of lives. Should he (they) be prosecuted?
 
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  • #7
russ_watters
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Please leave Bush out of this. The actions of a head of state are completely different from this: there is no statistical component to proving it.
 
  • #8
I would love to see Wakefield prosecuted, but I can't imagine a scenario in which the real benefit of that prosecution wouldn't be less desirable than simply throwing him out with the trash. Certainly a reasonable person should conclude that if this is a deliberate fraud, he's partly responsible for many deaths and illnesses, but he's also not capable of repaying those harmed.

In the end, I think the best thing to do now is to file him away with other object lessons and frauds.
 

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