The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal says the Lancet’s retraction of Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 vaccine study comes “about 12 years too late.” The research paper, which purported to link vaccines with autism, launched a global vaccine scare, caused vaccination rates to plummet, and triggered waves of measles outbreaks.
Even as overwhelming scientific evidence showed vaccines to be safe, the editors say, the respected research journal turned aside questions about the credibility of Wakefield’s study. It was only after Britain’s medical regulator confirmed that Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” that the Lancet said it “fully retract[s] this paper from the published record.”
The Lancet episode shows how even reputable publications can become conduits for junk science when political causes run hot. Especially amid the scandal over politically motivated climate science, the public needs professional journals to be scrupulous about their standards and honest about the science.