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IN DEPTH Andrew Wakefield 24 CNRS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE … and social consequences of fraud are immeasurable,” he adds.2 The British psychologist Cyril Burt’s falsifications on the IQs of twins (see box, p.20) are often cited as an example. His research on the heredity of intelligence was used to justify the highly elitist education policies adopted in the UK from the 1930s. Another more recent example is the very real public health hazard caused by the publication of a study, based on fabricated data, asserting that the measles vaccine favored the onset of autism in vaccinated children (see box, left). Considering the risk incurred in case of fraud, as well as the potential discredit to science as a whole, “no researcher would consciously want to see their career ruined or reputation tarnished,” Fagot-Largeault stresses. “Consequently, either the perpetrators are not aware that they are cheating or, if they are, they believe that the advantages of the fraud significantly outweigh the chances of being caught.14 In fact, the few incidences of large-scale deliberate fraud should not overshadow the many minor misdeeds committed on a daily basis. With modern technology, altering an image, streamlining data, or finding and copying information—in short, “crossing the red line”—has become child’s play. According to Letellier, “more of concern is how researchers today, consciously or not, are increasingly adopting ethically questionable practices which, insidiously, pollute the world of research.” For this prominent senior researcher, this results from insufficient knowledge of good practice (due to inadequate ethics training for young researchers), combined with a sense of relative impunity, fostered by a code of Fabricating Doubt 16. Montreal statement on research integrity in cross-boundary research collaborations, 2013. www.wcri2013.org/doc-pdf/MontrealStatement.pdf 17. Singapore statement on research integrity, 2010. www.singaporestatement.org © ILLUSTRATIONS : J. GERNER POUR CNRS LE JOURNAL In 1998, the British surgeon Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet asserting that some children out of a test group of 12 had developed a form of autism following the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR). The publication led to a sharp drop in vaccinations in the UK—and a substantial increase in the number of measles cases. Yet no other research team was able to replicate this result. Finally, in 2004, The Sunday Times revealed that the children presumed to have developed autism were autistic before being vaccinated. Worse still, the newspaper revealed that Wakefield had been bribed by a lawyer who wanted to sue the laboratory that produced the vaccine—the results of the study had been completely fabricated for that purpose. Subsequent articles in the British Medical Journal reported that Wakefield had planned to launch a business based on an anti-vaccine propaganda campaign. In January 2010, a tribunal of the UK General Medical Council found the surgeon guilty of fabricating data and permanently revoked his right to practice medicine in the country. Still, the public continues to harbor unfounded suspicions about the MMR vaccine. And Wakefield, who has always denied any wrongdoing, now practices in the US, where he supports anti-vaccination lobbies, pursuing his career as a “merchant of doubt.”


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