I have said for many years that contradictory studies or even the studies that are simply false, will always have supporters as long as the results are what those people want to hear.
This is never more evident than when doctors behind those studies are found guilty or accused of doing something wrong and people continue to support them, even to the point of fabricating conspiracy theories to justify their actions.
I bring this up now as new cases have hit the newswires surrounding two prominent doctors well known within the autism community.
Denmark scientist Poul Thorsen has just been indicted for fraud for allegedly embezzling a $1 million grant for autism research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Thorsen was one of the doctors involved in a well known study in Denmark that compared autism rates in children across the entire country vaccinated with the MMR vaccine versus those that did not receive the MMR. His results showed that there was no link between the vaccine and autism.
Another well-known doctor that has recently come under attack is Dr. Paul Offit, the co-founder of the rotavirus vaccine. Offit has been very outspoken in recent years in defending the safety of vaccines, as well as the current vaccination schedule. Just this week, Offit was accused by the OC Register of making unsubstantiated and/or false statements in connection with a 2008 story when responding to a CBS News report from that same year.
The reason I bring up these two stories is because they have heavily reverberated throughout the anti- and pro-vaccine communities, causing a lot of suspicion and outrage.
If the allegations in these cases are in fact true, what else are these doctors capable of? Does this also cast doubt on their studies’ findings or other past claims as well?
Perhaps your conclusions about these stories greatly depend on what you thought of these doctors and their conclusions in the first place. If you didn’t believe them before, then these stories will only further solidify your skepticism and doubt.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, another doctor involved in a recent controversy, was accused of acting fraudulently and was allegedly paid $800,000 by personal injury lawyers to produce certain results in a 1998 study. Wakefield’s conduct ultimately resulted in a retraction of his findings in the Lancet medical journal and the loss of his medical license.
However, none of his purported actions swayed his supporters in the slightest and there are now murmurings on the Internet about how Wakefield was in a position to alter information, whereas Thorsen wasn’t. Others claim that Offit is in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies and that Wakefield is their target — the stories and conspiracy theories go on and on.
The point is that these stories simply prove one thing: doctors are fallible and therefore can often be just as unreliable as the average person.
Unfortunately, however, parents and those living with autism are the ones who ultimately suffer from all of this confusion and are left trying to make sense of the contradictory information.
What you’ll often find is that the average person is most likely to listen to the results they already believed to be true in the first place. They believed it to the point where they felt they knew it as though it were fact. A study or a doctor saying it simply confirms it. And once that confirmation is in place, those people will protect their convictions, even against overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Which studies are we supposed to believe then? The one with doctor A that allegedly steals? The one with doctor B that allegedly lies? Or the one with doctor C that allegedly makes it all up?
I don’t have the answers and I won’t believe anyone who says they do. Because I have to remember that what I want to hear is coming from a fallible person that is susceptible to the same mistakes, temptations, errors and faults as everybody else.