This Stereotype Affects You, Too

I recently agreed to blog on, a large progressive activism site, as one of their regular Race in America contributors. Here’s my first post over there:

This Stereotype Affects You, Too

We all intuitively know that stereotyping based on race is harmful. But surprisingly, there are comparatively few studies that examine how stereotyping occurs — and what is indirect effects might look like.

A new study, though, suggests that stereotyping is a psychological process that actually promotes a broader “stereotyping” attitude that affects all minority communities, not just the ones being actively stereotyped. In other words, my stereotype is your stereotype, too.

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Study linking autism to vaccination retracted

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the study's primary author

I just caught this on CNN: a 1998 study “showing” a link between measles vaccinations and autism has been retracted by The Lancet. The 1998 Wakefield et al. paper reported that in a study of 12 children, GI abnormalities and onset of autism was associated with a measles vaccination were found in 8 of the patients, leading the authors of the paper to conclude that the measles vaccination led to failure of the GI tract, causing waste to enter the blood and producing autism.

As you can see from the Pubmed abstract, the 1998 Wakefield et al. paper attracted heavy criticism and comment, sparking a heated debate in the published literature. Walker-Smith’s lab (out of which the original 1998 paper was published) issued a partial retraction in 2004, clarifying that the original paper was not intended to demonstrate a causal link between measles vaccine and autism. Furthermore, many papers published by other investigators subsequent to Wakefield et al. demonstrated findings contradicting Wakefield’s initial causal conclusion — yet, in the popular media, Wakefield et al’s paper became a fundamental piece of “evidence” in the growing anti-vaccination hysteria that has taken the country by storm over the last decade.

Well, score one for the scientists: this morning, The Lancet issued a historic retraction of the entire Wakefield et al. 1998 paper. The retraction read only three sentences long, yet I think it’s implications are profound: 

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 al1 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.

Basically, here’s what happened — recently, the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel met to discuss and review the investigative and ethical practices of the original 1998 Wakefield et al. paper. The panel found that, contrary to earlier reports, the study used shady and unethical practices for recruiting patients and collecting data, including Wakefield paying children for their blood samples at his son’s birthday party.

For those of you who don’t know, all human studies (like all animal studies) undergo a rigorous review prior to implementation to ensure that patient safety and scientific rigor are maintained. Very rarely does an investigator implement such poor scientific method that they invalidate their own findings, yet it turns out that Wakefield was one of these scientists.

Hopefully, this full retraction will begin to dismantle the rampant anti-vaccination hysteria we’ve seen in association with flu vaccines, chicken pox vaccines, and the latest H1N1 vaccine. I find parents’ fear of vaccination to be anti-intellectual at its core; they fear what they don’t understand.

But let’s get it straight: vaccines don’t hurt you, they help you. Vaccines can save your child’s life, and they sure as heck won’t give your kid autism. Go get your kid vaccinated already; when your kid gets sick, it’s already too late.