Funding Falsehood

It was widely reported a few weeks ago that it had been conclusively shown that not only was the Lancet study claiming to suggest a connection between the MMR vaccine and Autism unsupported by further research but the original study itself was actively fabricated. The doctor who wrote the fraudulent paper falsified his data in order to reach the desired result, and did so because he had received a retainer from a law firm that was seeking to file a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

Listening to an hour long interview with the investigative journalist who got to the bottom of it all, however, I was somewhat shocked to hear that the reason why the law firm in Britain was originally fishing for an expert to support their claim is that the British government provides funding to law firms who appear to have a valid case against a medicine. So the way this was all kicked off was that the law firm got government funding to find a connection between MMR vaccines and autism, they used that money to hire a doctor who fabricated research and got a journal article published, this made their case look good and so they got more money, and this allowed them to try to get more support for their claim. Eventually, the law firm realized that it didn’t have a solid enough case and dropped the whole thing, but not before a copy cat case in the US got going, where there is also public funding for lawsuits against vaccines.

To close the circle, it was the government funded journalism in the UK that started to uncover the fraud and the government funded medical review board which got all the way to the bottom and stripped the offending Dr. Andrew Wakefield of his medical license.  As the whole circus played out, hundreds of thousands of children went unvaccinated, and thus were put at significant risk, hundreds of thousands of parents worried about whether to vaccinate or not, and over a hundred million dollars worth of US and UK public money went down the drain to create and then end the controversy.

Which kind of leaves you wondering: Wouldn’t we all be better off if in both the US and the UK free money weren’t being handed over to law firm to go fish for ways to sue drug makers regardless of legitimacy?

It’s worth asking. Though I would assume the argument for the system which ran amok in this case is that there’s already a monetary incentive for drug companies to produce vaccines, and it’s not necessarily right to expect victims of a bad vaccine to put up all the up front capital to produce the evidence that a vaccine should be taken off the market.  At a minimum, this seems like a case where the instinct towards regulation has created some perverse incentives and someone now needs to clean house.

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