This goes under the rubrics of “science is G-d’s gift to humanity, but…” and “trust, but verify.”
Much has been written about the good Dr. Wakefield and his fraudulent link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Suffice it to say that Dr. Wakefield faked the study and the much-vaunted peer review process had somehow failed to peer – nay, nor even peek! – into the gigantic holes in the data and the study design.
The Last Psychiatrist makes a few additional points that I didn’t know about, such as that Dr. Wakefield got a cool half million from prosecutors of huge lawsuits against Big Pharma to “prove” the MMR-autism link. Wow. Throw me in that briar patch and, in a trice, I’ll gin up any number of well-documented studies which prove that, for instance, conservatives’ paranoia rises geometrically when they detect moles tunneling under their manicured lawns, and exponentially when moles appear and their gardeners are black. And we’re not even talking about gardeners with dreadlocks! (Interestingly, this holds true whether the troublesome animalcules are voles instead of moles, but that’s a topic for another day.)
In the legal cases, none of the lawyers ever dug into the evidence. Instead, they simply trusted their expert witnesses, who apparently never dug into the evidence either.
It took years for the fraud to be detected and taken seriously, and apparently only because Wakefield had stupidly published more “studies” on the subject, citing his original study. Then and only then did anyone bother to read the original study.
To end with a bang:
“Fortunately enough good science gets done, loudly, powerfully, that medicine moves forward. But the amazement shouldn’t be that Wakefield’s study was a fraud, the amazement should be why we haven’t discovered hundreds of studies that are frauds.”
So, trust but verify everyone and everything. Those who work for Big Pharma are not the only ones who purportedly invent data. Those who work for government or “non-profits” are just as crooked, and nowadays peer review does not suffice to catch them. This applies to all scientific disciplines.