Andrew Wakefield Lives On Through Bisphenol-A Schlock Science

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  • 10/28/2011
In 1998 Andrew Wakefield followed 12 children who he and his colleagues claimed were autistic and concluded that the emergence of the behavioral disorder was closely associated with being vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.   Panic, aided by Wakefield’s skillful manipulation of medical journals, clinical data and the media spread and caused millions of parents to stop vaccinating their kids.  Over a decade later the United States and Europe are still struggling to keep immunization levels in children from declining to a point that full-blown outbreaks of infectious diseases are the norm as they were before vaccines were available. 

Today, the media is skeptical of claims that vaccines cause autism or any change in mental or physical status not supported by a testable hypothesis as well as plausible biological cause.   But it still swallows Wakefieldism in large doses without reading the fine print or learning from experience.  

This week the authors of  “Impact of Early Life Exposure to BPA” the journal Pediatrics concluded that exposure to bisphenol-A (the most common chemical used in everything from cash register receipts to computers to condoms) was associated with “worse behavior, especially among girls” at age 3.   In doing so, they relied on nanoparticle of science and a significant amount of Wakefieldism, kept alive once again by a pliant media.


The easiest way to know if a so-called scientist is scamming you is to look at how rigorously they are actually testing the hypothesis they claim to prove.    Wakefield never tested a hypothesis, he claimed to find an association between bowel inflammation in kids, autism and MMR vaccination.    In the case of the BPA paper the authors claim there’s an association between BPA exposure and bad behavior in three-year-old girls.   Our intrepid scientists should have been “testing this hypothesis directly in a cohort of pregnant women by daily monitoring of serum total BPA and BPA over an extended period of time would seem to be a logical next step.”    In plain English: they should have been taking urine samples from women every day during their pregnancy. 

So what did the researchers who claim at BPA- developmental damage link do?  Three maternal spot urine samples were collected between March 2003 and January 2006, twice during pregnancy, at _16 and _26 weeks of gestation, and within 24 hours after birth.  Children’s spot urine samples were collected at 1, 2, and 3 years of age. “ 

I am not a real scientist but even I can tell you that does not add up to having women pee into a cup every day. 


Second, a hallmark of Wakefieldism is to divert attention from pesky issues such as how MMR actually caused autism by hyping the association and not explaining how the probable cause came into being.


Similarly, the authors never tell us where the BPA comes from.  I can tell you that: Most BPA comes from what we eat.  So one way of establishing whether BPA has any effect on anything at all is to directly compare “urinary concentrations, dietary exposure, and internal exposures to inactive and bioactive BPA.”  Oh yes, there are two forms of BPA too.  But you won’t find a reference to that distinction in “Impact of Early Life BPA Exposure”.     That’s because the bioactive form of BPA can only be detected through blood tests of which the total number taken by the researchers is zero. 


Because this is the first study to actually look at BPA exposure in utero and in early life these are precisely the questions you would want answers to.  You would also want to know if the fetal/neonatal blood concentrations of BPA of mothers and little girls in the study are much higher than studies of adult men. 


Then there is the determination that the girls who had been exposed to higher levels of BPA were more likely to be anxious, have ADHD, be emotionally disruptive, etc.  They too were only measured once. At age three.   Let’s set aside the fact that diagnosing ADHD in preschoolers is best left to experts.   The most important factor predicting ADHD and other disorders is the parent’s own emotional background and behavior. 


The authors of the paper have overstated their conclusion by hyping the dangers and avoiding real science.   And the media has failed once again to dig deeper to help us determine whether we should worry more about the kind of parents we are then what kind of lunchbox our kids bring to school.     Wakefield was discredited but his methods live on.




Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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