Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Autism Study Retraction Hurts All Medical Research

When we found out the girls were coming, I started reading everything I could find about the latest medical research related to children.  I mean I read everything.  I realize the research changes as new discoveries are made, but I felt like I had to understand the current thinking to have reasonable conversations with the pediatrician.

One thing I never questioned was the use of vaccines.  It's not like I had some secret knowledge about vaccines, but I believe the benefits outweigh the risks.  Of course, I don't blindly accept all vaccines.  I've written about how much I dislike the chicken pox vaccine.  And don't even get me started on the HPV vaccine.

Still, I was unhappy to learn that the Lancet retracted a controversial study linking vaccines to autism.  It's not that I'm questioning why they did it.  I think the logic is sound.  It's the fall-out that makes me unhappy.

My problem is that when this kind of stuff happens, it makes it harder for anyone else publishing ground-breaking research.  For more than a decade, an entire cottage industry cropped up denouncing vaccines with this study as the foundation.  For more than a decade, parents of autistic children thought they understood how their children's illness developed.  They had an enemy and rallied to defeat the evil vaccine empire.

What happens to these families now?  Everything they thought they knew for the past decade is now off the table.  It's the kind of thing that can turn your world upside down.

The bigger problem is it hurts all medical research studies.  Whenever something new comes out about a better way to treat an illness or a possible cure for something, we'll all question it.  We'll try to believe the researchers, but in the back of our minds we'll wonder if this won't end up being retracted some day.  The doubts will color every medical deicision we make for a long time.

I'm a big believer in replicating results.  I don't like to be the first person to try the new medication.  I want lots of follow-up research that supports the first, ground-breaking study. 

I don't want the girls to be used as test subjects for any new treatment.  I realize this might change if we're ever faced with a life-threatening medical decision, but for day-to-day stuff, I want a lot of research behind medical decisions.

The doctor involved will receive some sort of punishment from professional organizations, but it will never be enough to make up for what he has done to parents everywhere. 

1 comment:

Marketing Mommy said...

I'm not sure I agree that retracting a discredited study hurts future research. If anything, I think (hope?) it will take some of the wind out of the sails of the anti-vax crusaders.

Autism is a scary diagnosis and it definitely seems to be on the increase. But pointing fingers at vaccinations is keeping energy and dollars away from discovering the true cause or causes.