Dr. Kiki's Science Hour 33

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Dr. Kiki's Science Hour
Episode 33

Retracting The Needle From Autism

Is one retraction enough? Dr. Kiki's Science Hour talks about a recent reversal regarding vaccines and autism with Dr. Steven Novella from Yale University School of Medicine.


Steven Novella, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Novella is an academic neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. In addition to being the host of The Skeptics’ Guide podcast, he is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. He is also the author of NeuroLogicaBlog, a popular science blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also contributes every Sunday to The Rogues Gallery, the official blog of the SGU, every Monday to SkepticBlog, and every Wednesday to Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to issues of science and medicine.


This week the Lancet, a respected British medical journal, retracted a study that was originally published in 1998. The study, authored by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, concluded that there was a correlation between autism, gastrointestinal disease, and the MMR vaccine. However, after revisiting the facts of the paper, the Lancet's editorial board has found that Wakefield neglected to reveal daming conflicts of interest, used a flawed methodology, and violated medical research ethics concerning the involvement of children. Additionally, since the publication of the now retracted paper, evidence supporting Wakefield's claims is lacking. Regardless, public perception of vaccines has been tarnished with increasing numbers of parents around the world choosing not to vaccinate their children. Will this retraction be enough to change people's minds?

Facts about measles: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/

Measles is one of the top 5 killers of children worldwide.

The reproduction number, or number people an infected person will infect in a fully susceptible population, that's a population in which no one is immunized, for measles is between 12 and 18. Compare this to 5 - 7 for smallpox virus.

Viral spread is reduced or can be stopped when the probability of infection drops below a critical threshold - herd immunity - generally begins when around 80 - 95% of the population has acquired immunity. For measles this number needs to be around 93 - 95%, while for smallpox it's only 80 - 85%. However, due to variation in effectiveness, when 80% of the population is immunized for measles, only 76% is actually immune. So, we need more people to be vaccinated for herd immunity to take hold.


Notable Quotes

Production Information

  • Edited by: Erik
  • Notes:
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