Day 6

A UBC prof, his anti-vaccine backers and studies slammed by the WHO

Day 6 talks to University of British Columbia professor Chris Shaw who says his university supports his continued research into vaccine safety, and Steven Salzberg of Johns Hopkins University who says it's irresponsible.
Clinician Demonstrates Use of Bifurcated Needle (Getty Images/Science Faction)

Cases of measles continue to rise in Ontario, Quebec and in the US. 

University of British Columbia professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences Chris Shaw conducts controversial research into vaccine safety. In 2011, Shaw co-wrote two research papers that suggested vaccines containing aluminum​ could induce conditions such as autism. The World Health Organization has discredited both studies, calling them "seriously flawed". 

Day 6 speaks with Shaw, and Steven Salzberg of Johns Hopkins University who says his research is irresponsible.

Here is the statement provided by Helen Burt, UBC's Associate Vice President, Research and International about how Shaw's area of research is in line with the university's policies on academic integrity and conflict of interest.

"UBC is a research institution with a faculty committed to asking questions -- all types of questions, sometimes even unorthodox questions -- and attempting to answer those questions in a rigorous, responsible manner. It's also a place that accommodates a wide range of ideas and beliefs. Those are the bases of the academic freedom that we hold dear. It is incumbent on us to probe controversial areas through sound research.

Christopher Shaw's research into aluminum's effect on the nervous system -- and its potential implication for vaccines -- is not without controversy. He has many colleagues at UBC who take issue with some of his conclusions; that is the nature of a university. Indeed, it is exceedingly rare to find unanimity in any research field. It won’t be long before another researcher, perhaps a UBC faculty member, presents findings that may run counter to Dr. Shaw’s.

But the university has no questions about Dr. Shaw's academic integrity. His research has been compliant with university research policy and procedures. He publishes his findings in peer-reviewed journals and collaborates with scientists around the world, including the University of Paris, Tel Aviv University and Keele University in the U.K. His results, and the results of those who may dispute his findings, are subject to rigorous challenges. Again, that is the nature of academic freedom, just as it is the nature of a free press.

Thus, UBC had no reason to decline a donation to support his work. Like most other research institutions, the university routinely receives gifts from individuals, foundations and organizations with a specific interest in a particular research area. In fact, most research-oriented donations are intended to support a specific cause that reflects the donor's interests and motivations. The philanthropy from the Dwoskin Family Foundation, which is interested in vaccine safety, enabled Dr. Shaw to pursue his investigations of aluminum, regardless of the findings. The results of research done at the university should be fully publishable, and accordingly, the foundation did not place limits on his freedom to disseminate and publish his work. Moreover, Dr. Shaw, like all of our researchers, routinely discloses his sources of funding when publishing or presenting his work.

Dr. Shaw and UBC were grateful to the Dwoskin Family Foundation for its support, because it will help Dr. Shaw contribute to the growing body of knowledge about aluminum's effect on health."