"If you can't trust the integrity of the researcher, you can't trust the research," Dr. Max Wiznitzer told a standing- room only crowd in Marietta College's McDonough Center auditorium Monday night.
An expert on autism spectrum disorder, Wiznitzer was a key witness against claims in a study led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that trace amounts of mercury in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was linked to autism.
The study, originally published in the British medical journal Lancet, was retracted by the magazine a year ago after Great Britain's General Medical Council ruled Wakefield had acted unethically.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Dr. Max Wiznitzer, right, discusses issues related to autism spectrum disorder with some members of the audience after his presentation on “Autism: Myth and Reality” at Marietta College Monday.
"His science on autism was not good-it's mythology," Wiznitzer told his audience on Monday.
He said the mercury-containing substance Wakefield linked to autism was basically the same as Mercurochrome, an antiseptic substance that was popular for treating minor wounds in the 50s and 60s.
"Many of us used it, but we didn't develop autism," Wiznitzer said.
At a glance
The Autism Center of Southeast Ohio seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families.
For more information, visit AutismASCO.org
The Autism Center sponsors a parent support group: "Washington County Autism Support Hour" (WASH).
The group meets the second Thursday of every month from 6 to 8 p.m. at Ewing School, 1701 Colegate Drive, Marietta. Educational speakers are presented each month.
Parents needing child care must R.S.V.P. prior to the meeting.
Contact Melissa Nething at (740) 373-3781, extension 54, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
He recommended reading a three-part series by British investigative reporter Brian Deer ,available online at briandeer.com, that exposes the fraud in Wakefield's research.
"You can read how the numbers and data were manipulated in the (Wakefield) study," Wiznitzer said. "And Wakefield had financial conflicts of interest."
He noted that Wakefield's study suggested splitting the vaccine into single doses.
"And he had a patent out for a single-dose measles vaccine at that time, but it's not mentioned in his book," Wiznitzer said.
He said Wakefield's hypothesis was fueled by media attention and peoples' willingness to believe an unscientific study because it was published in a journal.
"But in this age virtually anything can be published," Wiznitzer said, adding that there's a general lack of understanding of the true scientific process by the public.
"Preventable deaths have occurred because parents were afraid to give vaccines to their children," he said of the controversy stirred by Wakefield's study.
"Vaccines do work, and there may be some valid concerns but his science on autism was not good." he said.
Pam Rost, of Parkersburg attended Monday's lecture with her sister.
"She has a grandchild with autism," Rost said. "I think we need more education about this issue and more facilities in this area. My sister had to take her son to Morgantown to have him diagnosed."
She said when the Wakefield claims first came out she believed them but later changed her mind.
"I've kept up on the latest about autism but I can understand why people believed that study," Rost said. "People want answers, and if they have children with autism, answers are hard to find, so they're ready to believe anything."
Mary Walker of Marietta, a nurse, has an 11-year-old son with autism.
"I never bought into that vaccine issue," she said but agreed with Rost that more local facilities are needed for autistic children.
"There's such limited resources for autistic kids here," she said. "We're back in the area now, but we had moved to Columbus so we could put my son in a school designed for kids with autism."
A pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, Wiznitzer graduated from Northwestern University Medical School.
He's an associate professor of pediatric neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and is a liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities.
Monday's presentation was part of the Marietta College Krause lecture series, which began in 2002, and is supported by gifts from Dr. Richard M. Krause '47, the son of E.L. and Jennie Mae Krause. Dr. Krause served on the College's Board of Trustees for 22 years.