A UBC study linking vaccines and autism has been retracted from the academic journal that first published it over a month ago. Now, concerns are being raised on a number of fronts about academic freedom and funding sources for scientific research.
News broke earlier this month about a study that looked for a potential connection between aluminum components found in vaccines and gene expression in the brain samples of mice. The study concluded that the aluminum had an effect on immune activation, promoted brain inflammation and could thus be potentially linked to neurological disorders like autism.
But the study was retracted after receiving a wave of criticism on the website PubPeer, which features discussions and reviews of scientific research. Readers reported finding image duplications in the paper, the removal of control results and duplication of research samples, all of which was enough for some to not merely question the rigour of the research but the motives of the scientists behind it. One blog post on the paper called it “anti-vaccine pseudoscience,” according to a website which tracks journal retractions, called Retraction Watch.
The criticism led to the paper’s retraction, said to be a mutually agreed-upon move by both the editors of the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry and the study’s authors, two of whom are professors at the University of British Columbia: Dr. Christopher Shaw in the department of ophthalmology and Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic, a postdoctoral fellow in the same department.
UBC vice-president of research and innovation, Gail Murphy, responded to the controversy by saying that the university supports the value of academic freedom and therefore does not endorse particular research from its members but rather leaves it up to the scientific community to correctly evaluate.
But suspicions have been raised, as this is not the first time that Shaw and Tomljenovic have had a paper retracted. In 2016, they were two of eight authors of a paper in the journal Vaccince that was withdrawn over concerns about the soundness of the research.
And in 2011, Shaw and Tomljenovic published two studies on the same topic of a purported association between aluminum in vaccines and autism, both of which were discredited by the World Health Organization which called them “seriously flawed.”
At that time, UBC Associate Vice-President Helen Burt responded similarly, defending the concept of academic integrity and saying that while Shaw’s work on aluminum’s effect on the nervous system is “not without controversy,” the university had “no questions” about Shaw’s academic integrity and that UBC is a “place that accommodates a wide range of ideas and beliefs.”
But others have been less sanguine about Shaw’s motives, some essentially calling him a shill for the anti-vaccine movement. Dr. Shaw’s vaccine project is reportedly funded by the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, a group in the United States created and funded by the Dwoskin Family Foundation.
The CMSRI claims to be focused on “filling in gaps in our knowledge” on vaccines and promoting safety in vaccinations, but the bulk of the work it funds ends up as fodder for the anti-vaccination movement (and board member Claire Dwoskin, for one, has been documented as pronouncing that “Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems.”)
Shaw has said he called for the retraction after seeing the online reaction to the paper and that subsequently he realized that there were figures in the study that had been altered, although he is reported to have said that he has no explanation for how the altering occurred.
Below: What Aluminium in Your Vaccines Does to Mice, This Will Shock YOU!