Journal Retracts Autism Research

In 1998, a landmark study was published in the medical journal The Lancet. It was the first major research that suggested a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Almost immediately following publication, the rates of vaccination plummeted and the incidence of measles escalated among children. Since then, the subject has been the source of much controversy, and much of the science has been disproved in other research. Now, the original journal admits it may have made a mistake in publishing the research in the first place.

Recently, the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council (GMC) determined that several elements of the original publication “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children,” authored by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, are incorrect. Specifically, the GMC found evidence that the authors did not receive the necessary ethical approval for the investigation and they misrepresented the children’s diseases. The GMC issued a startling reprimand that asserted Dr. Wakefield and colleagues showed a “callous disregard” for children and acted “dishonestly” when conducting the research. It turns out that Dr. Wakefield was being paid by a group of parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR vaccine. Dr. Wakefield insists that he was motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of the children.

The original research involved 12 children ranging in age from 3 to 10 years. Eleven of them were boys. Parents of 8 of the children linked the MMR vaccine to the onset of behavioral symptoms associated with autism, psychosis, or encephalitis. The authors concluded that the exposure to the MMR vaccine could not be ruled out as a cause for developmental regression in previously normal children. In 2004, The Lancet issued a partial retraction of the research, but argued they were right to publish the research to promote new ideas and new ways of thinking. In doing so, they sparked a decade of intense controversy and a decline in vaccination rates around the developed world. Now, The Lancet goes further and fully retracts the paper from its published record. Hindsight has led them to rethink their original motives.

No one yet knows exactly what causes autism, or any of the related spectrum of disorders. There is strong evidence for a genetic link, but environmental exposure to toxins cannot be ruled out. New reports of exposure to known mutagens and environmental risk factors before conception appear to be related to an increased risk for autism. A new hypothesis claims that living in urban areas, at higher altitudes, or with high levels of precipitation may decrease sun exposure, increase risk for Vitamin D deficiency, and, therefore, increase the risk for autism. Until large-scale, ethically-compliant, scientifically-sound research in confirmed, the causes and implications of autism will never be known. Until then, everyone should take heed not to believe everything they read — even in prestigious medical journals.


Herbert MR (2010). Contributions of the environment and environmentally vulnerable physiology to autism spectrum disorders. Current opinion in neurology PMID: 20087183

Kinney, D., Barch, D., Chayka, B., Napoleon, S., & Munir, K. (2010). Environmental risk factors for autism: Do they help cause de novo genetic mutations that contribute to the disorder? Medical Hypotheses, 74 (1), 102-106 DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.07.052

WAKEFIELD, A., MURCH, S., ANTHONY, A., LINNELL, J., CASSON, D., MALIK, M., BERELOWITZ, M., DHILLON, A., THOMSON, M., & HARVEY, P. (1998). Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children The Lancet, 351 (9103), 637-641 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(97)11096-0

Retraction – Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet.

WAKEFIELD, A., MURCH, S., ANTHONY, A., LINNELL, J., CASSON, D., MALIK, M., BERELOWITZ, M., DHILLON, A., THOMSON, M., & HARVEY, P. (1998). Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children The Lancet, 351 (9103), 637-641 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(97)11096-0

  • Ramesh Phillips

    It is a pity that very little coverage of this issue names the journalist who is responsible for exposing this scandal: Brian Deer of the London Sunday Times.

  • For those unfamiliar with Dr. John Cannell’s Vitamin D Theory of Autism see the following link: or simply go to the Vitamin D Council web site and click on the tab for” Autism”. Dr. Cannell has done his research and has considerable evidence to support his theory. And in the end it does no harm for mothers to be to maintain healthy, natural levels of activated vitamin D, at least 50 ng/ml in the blood- year round.

  • Johnny

    Great job. I’ve posted a link to here from the Faster Times.

  • Having worked with developmentally disabled persons for 17 years, I see many parents trying to find the “great cure.” While I love their persistence, I’ve also seen children die unnessarilly due to not obtaining vaccinations. This new study can have damaging effects even though it was retracted.

  • shafaq

    12 children were taken as subjects for a very controversial research , the results of which could have been very drastic; especially if the research were known to some of the developing countries,… where vaccination results have been poor since decades.
    the responsibility of publishing a research is more than doing one, considering the power of media these days, which has grown so fast and so strong that people think media n live media!

  • I must admit that it’s quite surprising to know that a bunch of professional doctors would receive payment to research on the MMR vaccine being related to autism in children, risking their professional credibility, if proven wrong. Hhhm….this is such a controversial issue, similar to the Aspartame research.

    We all know for a fact that certain chemicals or synthetic drugs have an adverse reaction in the body even if it’s meant to combat a certain disease or meant to boost the immune system.

    Drug companies should do further intensive research before approving a certain drug or vaccine to be safe for use, to avoid matters like these.

  • Lettyv

    There’s autism fraud all around us. Recall the case of Amanda Baggs? Or how about Donna Williams? She’s Aspergers, not autism. Amanda is a psychogenic case of autism, a real no no. Autism is a spectrum disorder, however, more and more, Severe autism is not being shown to the public. There is a great video on you tube called “severe autism when there is no answer” The video is made by a man with Aspergers (a fellow aspie) who also has an autistic son. Very enlightening. Youll be surprised.

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  • Harry

    Autism is a big money maker. And because it’s wrapped in such mystery, the charlatans and quacks are having a field day. The reality is nobody who has a moderate to severe to profound autistic child gives a rat’s ass about research. No research will help them in their daily rountine and survival of living with real autism. What’s needed is not more research, these professional researchers will research to the cow’s come home and nothing will ever be solved, what’s needed is support and help for families raising children with autism. I mean think. Think. Think. Can you imagine if you’re spouse got cancer and all the doctors did was hand you papers about cancer research? Or tell you to go to a seminar on how to prevent cancer? You’d be like, hey, screw you. My spouse has cancer and we need help now, as in what can we do NOW to make this situation better. Get it? The same goes for people living with autism. Spare them the useless research. The endless pontifications. The self-absorbed gurus of autism. The narcisstic freak shows like Jenny McCarthy, whose son, by the way, never had autism.

  • cleanymama

    Actually Donna Williams isn’t even aspergers. She has recently admitted being diagnosed with Disassociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D). Apparently, some kind of multiple personality disorder. So, what’s the scoop? She’s not autistic? Another person misdiagnosed with autism? How many others will “come out.”

  • cleanymama

    Yep it’s true. Donna Willaims, the high profile adult with “autism” has now been recently diagnosed with a mulitple personality disorder. Oh my. That must make all her publishers of her books a bit nervous. What a scam. Now don’t get us wrong, donna is a nice woman who has a gift of extreme intellect and insight into autism, but she is NOT autistic. Just like jenny mccarthy’s on was never autistic. Time to wake up folks. You’ve been mislead on what autism is.

  • whoa! i never thought vitamin D would actually contribute to the potential risks of autism. thanks for such a hypothesis. whatever factor that could contribute to such ability, we could help them through giving special attention and understanding.

  • washingtonpost

    Donna Williams, who is often pubished by jessica kingsley publishers, is NOT autistic. She is yet another example of people who claim to be autistic, who in fact, are NOT autistic. For example, Donna Williams has been recently diagnosed with dissaciotive identity disorder aka multiple personality disorder,thus she can’t possibly be truly autistic.

  • Chandler

    I think that it is about time that we look at what is best for our families by thinking for ourselves rather than just doing what is expected. More and more families are opting out of vaccines as they read more and educate themselves. What our parents did and what society says is the norm can often be destructive.

  • Gary

    Yes it’s true. Donna Williams has been diagnosed with DID (multiple personality disorder). This should set off huge ALARM bells for everyone in the autism community who has a child with actual autism. Indeed, how many other high profile cases will be investigated and exposed as not even being autistic? Jenny McCarthy for sure needs to be looked at. It’s amazing how once someone writes a book and big money is made, nobody, especially the media even cares if the child or adult is actually really autistic. Is this because journalists don’t know how to investigate if it’s true? Probably because they don’t have access to medical records. Or can’t get to the celebrity because they are protected by publishers and agents and lawyers who try and sue anyone for trying to expose their false claims.

  • caz

    Donna Williams is none of the above. What she is, is an actress and a flannel artist. I’ve seen her ‘live’ pretending to flip between personalities while attempting to impress her loyal following. Frankly its embarrassing watch her try to act out how she thinks someone with a multiple personality disorder would behave. She is just another of the many cashing in on autism and when that wasn’t looking so lucrative she needed something else. I have been around ppl with these conditions and I have one of them myself (not telling which one, that’s private business). It took only cursory reading to highlight many many things which are just so wrong only someone who has never lived a moment like this would write.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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