Vaccinating children against deadly diseases such as measles, chicken pox, rubella, and polio has been just another part of parenting for as long as most of us can remember. Generations of school children remember standing in line to get their injections at school, and no one really gave it a second thought. Suddenly vaccinations have become the subject of intense debate, spilling over into the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Much of the controversy revolves around the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and stems from a 1998 fraudulent paper that was published in the medical journal Lancet linking the MMR vaccine to colitis and autism. Parents around the world, based partly on the findings of that paper, began to distrust all vaccines and many have refused to allow their children to be vaccinated. The research paper was later debunked after the paper’s author was proven to have had a number of conflicts of interest and manipulated the data to achieve a desired result. Despite the paper’s retraction and studies that have shown no link between the MMR injection and autism, many parents remain skeptical and continue to refuse the vaccines.
As the controversy begins to grow due to a measles outbreak in western states, yet another case of fraudulent science surrounding vaccines has made the news, and this time it was a report published in the Pediatrics medical journal by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that purported to show no race-based link between vaccines and childhood diseases including autism. According to a report in the Daily Caller data was manipulated to hide results that found a link between vaccines and autism in male African-American children.
Fraudulent science on either side of an issue can do irreparable harm, whether we’re talking about medical science, climate science, or even geology. In this issue it is unclear whether the first fraudulent report caused more children to suffer from childhood diseases, or whether the second resulted in more cases of autism, or perhaps both. Fraudulent claims by climate scientists have so clouded the issue of climate change that there is little chance the debate will ever be conclusively settled, and the same could be said for studies on the effects of fracking.
When science is manipulated by those with an agenda, even if their intentions are good, people are justified in the resulting lack of trust. In issues that directly affect the health and wellbeing of children, parents need to have a certain level of trust in the science that simply isn’t there for many. This is a clear illustration of why the professional ethics which seem to be lacking are so vital to science as a whole, and especially to society. People are more than capable of engaging in enlightened and constructive debate on important issues, reaching the right conclusions, and implementing effective solutions to our problems, but only if we have unbiased facts to support our arguments.