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In recent news the Lancet article by Andrew Wakefield that, in part, lay behind the MMR vaccination scare in the UK and elsewhere was retracted subsequent to a ruling by the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel. (‘In part’ because mainstream media reportage and Wakefield’s statements to the media and public also played a role–arguably the larger role–in creating the scare.)

(Source: wikipedia)

(Source: wikipedia)

The latest news is that Neurotoxicity has withdrawn a recent paper titled Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing Hepatitis B vaccine: Influence of gestational age and birth weight in which Andrew Wakefield is the senior author.

Details as to the reason behind the withdrawal are not yet available to the best of my knowledge.

Withdrawal, as opposed to retraction (like the earlier Lancet paper), is for papers that have only been released in preliminary form, what is referred to as “articles in press”. (Many journals now release these on-line in advance of formal publication release, in the form of ’advance publication in press’ papers.)

While details as to the withdrawal are not known, Elsevier’s withdrawal policy states:

Article Withdrawal: Only used for Articles in Press which represent early versions of articles and sometimes contain errors, or may have been accidentally submitted twice. Occasionally, but less frequently, the articles may represent infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like.

and further elaborate:

Article Withdrawal

Articles in Press (articles that have been accepted for publication but which have not been formally published and will not yet have the complete volume/issue/page information) that include errors, or are discovered to be accidental duplicates of other published article(s), or are determined to violate our journal publishing ethics guidelines in the view of the editors, may be ’Withdrawn’ from ScienceDirect. Withdrawn means that the article content (HTML and PDF) is removed and replaced with a HTML page and PDF simply stating that the article has been withdrawn according to the Elsevier Policy on Article in Press Withdrawal with a link to the current policy document.

Considering that this article has previously been criticised on-line (see Footnote, below), one would likely suspect that objections to the work have been raised with the editors of the journal, possibly in the light of the recent General Medical Council’s ruling and Lancet paper withdrawal, or possibly to the institutions associated with the work.

Given that this study apparently–I have to go on the word of others here–was to examine a putative (to Wakefield) link between thimerosal and autism(-like) symptoms, I’m not surprised. I’ve written previously about the putative autism–vaccine (or thimerosal) link; there are now a good number of large studies disproving such a link.

Furthermore, I’m curious as to how these researchers obtained permission to use the Macaque monkeys in their research. Surely a decent ethics committee would have ruled against the study on the basis that a proposed thimerosal–autism link has insufficient plausibility to justify the use of the animals? (But then, being a computational biologist as opposed to an experimental biologist, I never get to face these committees myself so I don’t have first-hand experience of them.)

Footnote: Since writing the above, it’s come to my attention that Orac has, as always, beaten me to it (sigh). In particular, note that he has written a series of articles examining this study. I would suggest those interested in what might lie behind this withdrawal to head over his way and read his take on this and the series of articles he has previously written about this study. It‘s interesting that he suspects that Wakefield to have been the source of the withdrawal.

Another informal criticism is in this blog article, whose author is also the author of the up-coming The Complete Idiot’s Guide to College Biology. You’ll need to look for the passages in the middle of the article, as the article refers to other studies, too. My impression is that this criticism isn’t of the body of the paper, but abstracts for the same study that appeared on the SafeMinds website, who have since pulled that article off their website.

Update: For those not up with the state of play, it would seem that Wakefield has resigned from Thoughtful House.


Other articles on Code for life:

Lancet formally retracts Wakesfield paper

Autistic children and blood mercury levels

Genetic tests and personalised medicine

Monday potpourri: maps, malaria in the USA, cholera in Dunedin and vaccines

Map shows New Zealand with lowest death rate on earth in 1856, over 11 in 1000 dying

Deleting a gene can turn an ovary into a testis in adult mammals