A 1998 study in the Lancet medical journal claiming a link between vaccines and autism was retracted last year for being scientifically unsound. But a new investigation claims the study wasn't just wrong—it was also an "elaborate fraud."

The background: In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, then a licensed surgeon and researcher, published a paper in the highly-regarded British medical journal Lancet. The paper, written with 12 co-authors, alleged a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, autism, and inflammatory bowel disease; despite the fact that no other doctors were able to reproduce the finding, the alleged connection received widespread media attention, and more or less helped kickstart the anti-vaccination craze later championed by actress Jenny McCarthy (pictured) and various other nincompoops.

Since then, Wakefield's been stricken from the United Kingdom's medical rolls and Lancet has retracted the study. And now, in a several-part investigation by reporter Brian Deer in the medical journal BMJ, Wakefield is being accused of fraud—that is, a deliberate attempt to mislead people, and just plain old "being wrong." From CNN:

The series of articles launched Wednesday are investigative journalism, not results of a clinical study. The writer, Brian Deer, said Wakefield "chiseled" the data before him, "falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare."

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.

"It's always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science," Godlee said. "But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues."

It's worth reading the whole BMJ article, as it's about as thorough a (non-scientific) takedown as you'll get of Wakefield and his study, which is still championed by scary idiots like McCarthy.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely it'll do much to convince the conspiracy-minded, who are positive the pharmaceutical industry is covering up the real evidence that autism is caused by vaccines; like birtherism and other nutty beliefs, fear of vaccination is about strong feelings and not really about evidence. Which is too bad. Babies are dying of vaccine-preventable diseases, and people like Andrew Wakefield need to be held responsible.

[BMJ; CNN; image via Getty]