British Columbia

UBC responds after prof withdraws paper linking element of vaccines to autism

Figures in the paper were allegedly manipulated before publication.

Figures in the paper were allegedly manipulated before publication

a syringe filling up with flu vaccine
UBC researchers have retracted their paper linking aluminum in vaccines to autism in mice after post-publication analyses showed figures in the study appeared to have been manipulated. UBC said it can't confirm whether it's investigating, due to privacy law. (Radio-Canada)

The University of British Columbia has issued a statement after a scientific paper co-authored by one of its professors was retracted, amid allegations of data manipulation.

The paper, published in a scientific journal last month, linked aluminum components in vaccines to autism in mice.

It is now being withdrawn in light of accusations figures in the paper were deliberately altered .

Co-author Chris Shaw, a professor of ophthamology at UBC, said he and the lab ran their own analysis of figures in question after seeing the allegations online.

He said they concluded: "It appears as if some of the images, in mostly what were non-significant results, had been flipped."

UBC declined comment on Thursday but released a statement after CBC News published a story about the retraction on Monday.

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Gail Murphy, the university's vice president of research and innovation, said UBC "takes the responsible conduct of research very seriously."

Professor Gail Murphy is UBC's vice president of research and innovation. (UBC)

In a statement, she said she can't comment on individual accusations of scholarly misconduct but that allegations are "thoroughly investigated."

"If misconduct is determined, the university takes steps to address it," Murphy wrote.

UBC said such steps include notifying journals, funders and the federal watchdogs of the misconduct. Murphy also said that offending faculty members can be disciplined and, potentially, fired.

In an online post, one doctor called the paper "anti-vaccine pseudoscience."

Dr. Michael Gardam, who saw the paper and the accusations, said there seems to be "pretty clear evidence that data has been falsified." The associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto called the alleged manipulation "appalling."

Shaw said the lab can't confirm how the figures were allegedly altered, because he claims original data needed for comparison isn't at the UBC lab anymore — which would be a contravention of the university's policy around scientific research. 

Lucija Tomljenovic, Shaw's co-author, said she agreed to the retraction but "had nothing to do with either collecting or analyzing any of the actual data."