The only agreed-upon conclusion regarding autism is that it’s on the rise. Aside from that, researchers can’t seem to agree on much. The Wall Street Journal today profiles several studies questioning autism’s origins and causes. In California, the prevalence of autistic children is greater in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills than in the rest of the state, even though those areas have just 1% of the population. So is it environmental? Is it due to a greater knowledge base and more available resources of the parents?
One theory that seems to be on the way out — officially — is that of a link to certain vaccines. In 1998, the British journal The Lancet published an article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who suggested the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot might be linked to autism and bowel disease. Today, 11 years after the original article appeared, The Lancet issued a complete retraction of Wakefield’s studies. Britain’s General Medical Council ruled that Dr. Wakefield had shown a “callous disregard” for children and acted “dishonestly” while he carried out his research. It will decide later whether to strike him off the medical register.
Here is the Lancet’s statement: “Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al 1) are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation, 2) In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”