Dad, do academics just make stuff up?


One of the remarkable things about academics is that they still have public respect.  If “research shows”, people will generally believe this comes from rigorous and property executed science.   Politicians and media have already destroyed the trust with the public, but academics and scientists have some way to go.

16 years ago, a doctor published a study. It was completely made up, and it made us all sicker.

The entire study was fabricated.

Once upon a time, a scientist named Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in the medical journal The Lancet that he had discovered a link between autism and vaccines.

After years of controversy and making parents mistrust vaccines, along with collecting $674,000 from lawyers who would benefit from suing vaccine makers, it was discovered he had made the whole thing up. The Lancet publicly apologized and reported that further investigation led to the discovery that he had fabricated everything.

We trust doctors.  We trust “Dr” someone, even if they aren’t medical doctors.  We trust them to play fair.  But the truth is that many are hopelessly compromised.

None of this would ever happen in New Zealand of course.  Everything our academics and scientists say is gold plated blue chip bet your bottom dollar true.



I hope you find the irony comforting.


– Star Tribune, Upworthy


  • Metricman

    Like a crazy little thing called Climate Change (AGM).

    (With apologies to Queen)

  • andrewo

    Just now reading a book on this topic. I recommend it highly:
    Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

    • fecnde

      I haven’t read the book – but am regular reader of his column (which I think the book is a collection of). He is very good!

  • oldmanNZ

    How many doctors or Dr do you trust?

    Like Dr Russel Norman.

    One must ask.. A doctor of what?

    Many scientists will tell you a theory, which should not be confused with fact.
    Even a proven theory is not, a fact.

    Global warming is still a theory.

    • Ruahine

      Dr Michael Cullen?

    • johcar

      A doctor of Political “Science” according to his Wikipedia page…

  • EpochNZ

    I’m always highly skeptical when hearing the phrase “New research shows”….Someone had to pay for that research and you can bet that if it didnt follow the narrative they were trying to present it wouldnt have seen the light of day.

    • Seriously?

      And when it come to health issues the research is normally only reporting a correlation reveled by one study. Not cause and effect, and not something outside the norms of randomness. At most they usually signpost something worth of further study.

      • Rebecca

        The most visible public research involves surveys and “meta-analysis” of reports from other studies packaged into easily digested form. Most of the local academic positions in obesity and smoking fall into this category. The epidemiologists don’t usually do any testing themselves or even come into contact with actual patients.

      • Rebecca

        This sort of “research” is great click bait in the MSM but provides no useful call to action (“don’t smoke” is obvious – but “don’t drive your car because you’re more likely to snore?!”) And I wonder whether there was any correlation with obesity, alcohol or other known causes of snoring.
        I’d also observe that a PhD epidemiologist can perform this sort of research herself, but researching treatments will be led by the medical doctor/team who provides the treatment and takes the responsibility.

  • Im currently having conversations with Dr Alexander Gillespie around firearms and potential legislation in light of the current select committee review.

    Some of his thinking he has formed around firearms and capability is a bit…well….silly, and to think they people like this are the ones that NZ Government are listening to as supposed experts.

    Thinking like

    – Semi autos are similar to machine guns
    – We need to ban 50 cal ammo because they can pierce police vests
    – Guns are way more advanced today than 1982 and have more “firepower”

    I’ve got some great material :)

    • Spiker

      When I read this the first thing that came to mind was this Gillespie person and his submissions to the select committee. Mostly demonstrable tosh, yet he has the ear of politicians over and above far more qualified persons.

  • Woody

    Another paragon of twisting science is a Dr Keyes, the man behind a couple of generations of cholesterol misinformation happily pushed by your own trustworthy GP.

  • shykiwibloke

    Research shows that MSM research is lightweight or absent on some party press releases. There – people might believe us all now!

  • Seriously?

    Son, only very few scientists make stuff up, and they usually get caught out pretty quickly. Some get stuff wrong, and that too is normally pick up by peer review or confirmation testing, but that is just a part of science.

    On the other hand, non-scientific academics – well their opinions are just that. Worth listening to, especially if a lot of them agree on something, but opinions all the same.

    Bottom line son, when you read stuff about science on the internet you don’t know whether it has later been discredited. Be careful whose advice you take.

  • Second time around

    Dr Wakefield also had significant business interests in a competing vaccine. It might have been helpful if the potential conflict had been declared when he first submitted the paper Reputable journals are a lot stricter now and some even require the source data to be made available. It is actually quite difficult to produce falsified research records that can withstand expert scrutiny.

  • Rebecca

    We can only speculate on what Wakefield was thinking when he told these whoppers. He can’t have expected to get away with it: for a research physician, lying for fame or money is a dead end since it trashes your reputation and career when you’re caught out. And you are always caught out, since falsified results about nature cannot be

    That’s one of the positives in healthcare and science: people in law and business can lie and scheme for personal advantage, but scientific results must survive validation by others and the animal is always right.

    • fecnde

      I’d like to think they are. Of course – we only know about the ones that ARE caught out. Not all of those that aren’t. Could that number be nil? I’m skeptical.

    • BigNose

      Same as that evil witch Marietta Higgs. She had a theory and changed the facts to fit it. As a result children suffered. But her smugness and self-righteousness remained. Every bit the same as socialism and warmists – I have a theory that is correct and damn the truth.

    • Phenandra

      Narcissistic attention seeker. (him, not you)

  • Legallysane

    This one is a classic. I remember watching a documentary about it years ago. Absolutely fascinating story.

  • 10cents

    I have had two mothers in the South Island tell me there was a link between autism and vaccinations in the last year. The ripples from this whopper are still in circulation….

    • sarahmw

      Never have a debate with the non vacciners, they turn very nasty when you explain it was all made up. They have sites you can go to that tell you the poor doctor was vilified by the drug companies. It really is sad the ignorance that is out there and the agendas those pushing the anti vaccine have.

  • Tiger

    I’m glad you highlighted this issue. Like most things those who seek the limelight are usually light on substance. There are many good Drs out there in all manner of disciplines doing good work. They are probably known in their field and regarded with the seriousness they deserve. However, just because a Dr (or Prof) seeks to bang on in the media about some “sexy” subject, in order to improve their public profile, elicit donations, seek funding, protect their patch and so on, does not mean all academics are just as flaky.
    The academics doing meaningful work in areas that matter are usually well funded as a result of this work being meaningful and constructive. They seldom have need to run to the media (or have the media turn to them for clickbait) for furthering their cause. In your article above, there was clearly a motivation (with associated risk) to use compliant media outlets to increase wealth or influence. Again, lack of substance, and so the party folded. There is plenty of research going on out there that is not publically apparent, yet is meaningful, and is often the reason dodgy academics are uncovered.

  • fecnde

    Any “appeal to authority” should be a klaxon alarm for a dodgy statement. I have worked as an academic. Trust me – research shows that you can get any outcome you want – with greater ease the further you go from physical to social “sciences”.

    • Phenandra

      Or they mistook someone from a less academic discipline for a neurologist. Possibly a counsellor.

      And I agree, the first thing anyone doing a science degree learns is how to get the outcome you want in lab/research results. Research needs to be independently confirmed before it is looked at with anything like respect.