A recent study that found a direct link between vaccines and autism in mice will soon be retracted after scientists reviewed the research and found errors in the design, methodology, analysis and results…so pretty much everything.
The study examined the role of aluminum adjuvants in vaccines, which are sometimes used to create a stronger immune response. Despite the fact that these aluminum adjuvants have been used safely for some 70 years, the new study claims to have found their presence impairs emotional and social functions that trigger autism.
The study was met with a slurry of condemnation from the scientific community, with criticism ranging from the use of inappropriate statistical tests to "clear and deliberate" removal of control data.
In one particular article, David Gorski, an oncology professor and surgeon who blogs under the name Orac, argues that while mouse models can be useful for a lot of things, "for the most part autism is not really one of them."
"Not only do we have a poorly done and analyzed experiments, but we also have self-plagiarism and, quite possibly, scientific fraud," he concludes.
In the past, there have been dozens of studies that have shown no significant link between aluminum adjuvants and autism. Federal Drug Advisory (FDA) analysis indicates that the burden of injecting aluminum-containing vaccines "never exceeds safe US regulatory thresholds."
In reality, the amount of aluminum in these vaccines is so small that the FDA reminds the public on their website that "the most common source of exposure to aluminum is from eating food or drinking water."
Yet despite the robust evidence that suggests otherwise, the lead researchers of the study, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, are determined to prove a link between autism and vaccines.
This isn't the first time that these two have tried to find a link between aluminum use and neurotoxicity, and it certainly isn't the first time their work has been openly criticized by the scientific community at large.
In fact, in 2012 the lead authors of the study were denounced by the World Health Organization (WHO), who called two of their publications "seriously flawed."
In response, Shaw said that the WHO is "entitled to its opinion."
Just last year, another study by the two researchers, which claimed that aluminum adjuvants in the HPV vaccine caused behavioral changes in mice, was fully retracted from the journal Vaccine due to "serious concerns regarding the scientific soundness of the article."
Evaluation by the Editor-in-Chief of Vaccine and several outside experts "confirmed that the methodology is seriously flawed, and the claims that the article makes are unjustified."
Instead of remedying these mistakes, Shaw and Tomljenovic have simply repeated them in their newest study.
In an email sent to Ars Technica, Shaw defends their current research while claiming ignorance about the faked data.
"We don't know how some images in the manuscript came to be altered," Shaw said in the e-mail.
"We investigated when the first suggestions came out in Pubpeer and confirmed that some of the images had indeed been manipulated. We don't know by whom or why. The first author, Dr. Dan Li, denies doing anything wrong, but has not provided any information about this in spite of repeated questions from us. We are continuing to pursue these questions, but as she is now at another institution, we can't force her to comply."
The study was published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry and is set to be retracted.