Over at Autism.change.org, there's a lively debate about vaccines going on. As usual, there are a lot of people who don't know much about science but who appear to know everything about vaccines and autism. It's the usual. Nothing has changed. When will it? I don't know.
In the midst of the debate, I mentioned Andrew Wakefield's violation of scientific research ethics in taking blood at a children's birthday party. Utter creep factor aside, the practice of science is supposed to follow specific ethical rules. Touching a child--even asking a child a question--requires submission of your research protocol to your institute's ethical review board, approval from that board, written informed consent from the parent, and appropriate conditions under which the intervention, interview, or extraction of bodily fluids takes place.
Those consent forms also should--must--cover known risks of said intervention. And that takes me to the boy whose intestines were perforated a dozen times in what was an apparently unnecessary procedure that led to multiple, long-standing, serious health problems for the child. Guess who was involved? Yep, same fella.
I brought up these ethical lapses in the midst of that vaccine debate, and you know what? The folks who believe with almost reverent faith in the involvement of vaccines in autism etiology...dismissed these ethical defalcations out of hand. No. Big. Deal. One of them even said that she'd never had to learn about that kind of ethics or the ethics in the practice of science in her science classes. I think that was supposed to be an argument to support her point, but in my mind, it's just one more example of how science education in this country has, in many cases, been a dismal failure.
Yes, the same people who would point the finger at doctors/Big Pharma/WHO/CDC in a huge conspiracy that, according to the finger pointers, ends in the a priori expected deaths and permanent disability of millions of children just for the sake of money--the same people will shrug off as insignificant the established, known violations of scientific research ethics on the part of one of the deities of the MMR = Autism cult, violations that ended in harm. I won't even get into the incalculable harm that the initial MMR = autism paper has since caused, in spite of retractions of most of its authors, in spite of subsequent evidence--see above--of either willful ignorance or blind narcissism or both driving these ethical lapses.
Ethics matter. It matters that people who have anything to do with children have the appropriate protocols in place and approved, have the appropriate, fully informational consents, are in the right place at the right time for the intervention. No peer-reviewed journal will publish results of any work unless the authors guarantee institutional ethics approval and provide a signed statement to that effect with their submitted paper. That's how important ethics are. That's how important the appropriate conduct of scientific research is.
And I think it's telling that a certain group is completely willing to overlook such gross ethical oversights, such apparent willingness to dismiss ethics in the name of ambition, as something that is "OK" as long as it's in pursuit of the alleged "demons" that cause autism, or, better yet, in pursuit of a "cure," preferably while screaming out "mercury! toxins! heavy metals!" and dancing backwards around a fire in a hallucinogenic haze during the "treatment." From a DAN! practitioner who chelates a child to death to someone who countenances the perforation of a preschooler's intestines a dozen times in the name of science, this kind of harm is just A-OK because it's on the "right" side of the debate.
I don't know about you, but I have kind of an ethical problem with that.