A journalist who questioned a now discredited research paper linking autism to use of a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine says the study's author wrote it with financial gains in mind.

Brian Deer told CBC News on Thursday that he became suspicious when the group of patients studied all came from the same hospital. He wondered why the members of an anti-vaccine campaign were also involved in Dr. Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study. 


A new report says Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues altered facts about patients in their study linking autism to the MMR vaccine. ((Luke MacGregor/Reuters))

The paper was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and retracted in February 2010 by the medical journal The Lancet that published it.

Deer's analysis last year showed despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems.

None of the medical records matched the study's assertion, the British Medical Journal confirmed in Thursday's online issue.

"He did it for the money for his research and he did it money for himself," Deer said of Wakefield. "He made hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself after this." 

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Whenever the research contradicted his idea, he put those conclusions aside and gambled to further his profits, Deer alleged.

In an accompanying editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and colleagues called Wakefield's study "an elaborate fraud."

"Who perpetrated this fraud?" the editorial asks.

"There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross."

Autism research diverted

The fallout on public health continues as vaccination rates in the UK declined, the editorial said. The scare effect in diverting energy, emotion and money away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families live with it continues, the editors said.

Peer review never caught the fraud partly because the process isn't designed to just advise journal editors on whether the findings appear plausible, Deer said.

In this case, the main peer reviewer happened to be a close friend of the authors of the study, Deer said.

The editorial writers said Wakefield's work in other journals should be examined to see if it should be retracted.

Deer's BMJ article was paid for by the Sunday Times of London and Britain's Channel 4 television network.

Wakefield denied the allegations.

"The study is not a lie. The findings that we have made have been replicated in five countries around the world," Wakefield told CNN television on Wednesday.

Disciplinary hearings at the General Medical Council in London last month which ruled he acted dishonestly and irresponsibly over the 1998 paper.

With files from The Associated Press