Research tying vaccine to autism an "elaborate fraud"

The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues were renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children's parents.

Bonus: For a two line lesson on how "mainstream media" reacts when they realize they sensationalized the wrong side of a story, just look at MSN's headline versus subhead.

Google needs to ensure its book scanning is good enough for scholars

It's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.

That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement —about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?

Subliminal flag shifts political views and voting choices

In a shocking testament to the power of subliminal imagery - a quick flash in a laboratory can prime a person's behaviour some time later. It can even affect the most important political action of all - voting.

Do symbols affect the weight we give to different views or do they affect our innate biases? ... For now, the study serves to reiterate how important a simple symbol can be.

We're so good at medical studies that most of them are wrong

This isn't a failure of medical research; it's a failure of statistics, and one that is becoming more common in fields ranging from genomics to astronomy. The problem is that our statistical tools for evaluating the probability of error haven't kept pace with our own successes, in the form of our ability to obtain massive data sets and perform multiple tests on them. Even given a low tolerance for error, the sheer number of tests performed ensures that some of them will produce erroneous results at random.

Don't leap to health conclusions each time a new study gets published.