Charles Edison

"Economics, politics, and personalities are often inseparable." - Charles Edison

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Falsified Study Leads To Possible Financial Trouble

A report in Daily Finance discussed the recent revelation that a 1998 study conducted by Dr. Andrew Wakefield is fraudulent. His study concluded that some development of autism is linked to vaccinations for common childhood diseases. The article discusses the impacts the discovery of this lie will have on scientific research, but it has also had a significant financial impact. That aspect is further discussed in this article.

Unfortunately, this act of deception has cast a financial burden on a lot of families. A vaccination is normally far less expensive than the cost of treatment for a disease, especially if the disease is serious. A lot of parents chose to forgo the vaccine. They saved money in the short term and believed that they were actually helping their children, with an opportunity cost of a chance of avoiding other diseases for their child. Now they're finding out that they misinterpreted the value of avoiding the vaccines, and now their children may have to suffer for it.

Dr. Wakefield's study definitely affected research at the time of its publication as well. If the public thought that vaccines were causing a serious disorder, support for funding for vaccine developers was probably cut. On the other hand, if they thought that they could no longer rely on vaccines to prevent diseases such as the measles, more money may have been put into finding an alternative method of prevention.
The discovery that Wakefield's study was a lie has an impact on a lot more research than just disease control because it discredited scientific discovery as a whole. It has made the people more wary of scientific publications and developments, especially if they're groundbreaking. If people don't trust scientists, they won't give them funding. If scientists don't have as many resources, they can't work at maximum efficiency, and lack of efficiency means a lack of production of results.


James said...

One of the principles that economics relies upon to predict consumer choices is that consumers will have access to "perfect information." While this can never truly happen, in this case consumers were making choices on apparently falsified information. How might this affect their future economic decisions?

kern said...

Your last paragraph is a very powerful illustration of the chain reaction of decisions.

Your second paragraph is a great example of the power of information. The parents who choose not to vaccinate their children were demonstrating the risk reward comparison we discussed in class yesterday. They saw the even small risk he apparently fraudulently claimed to be enough of a deterrent to the benefits of the vaccination.

Do you think the fact that this study made it through the review process and was published means that tighter control needs to be placed on medical studies by the government in the future? How would those tighter regulations affect the economics of running these clinical studies?

Alison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alison said...


I definitely agree with the idea that consumers rely on perfect and accurate information. We don't tolerate much error from experts. Unfortunately, we don't tolerate delay either. If we want answers, we expect them as quickly as they can possibly be conveyed to us, and we don't leave any time to make sure that errors are avoided/eliminated. Finding out that a lot of important decisions were made on the basis of false information will probably make consumers a lot more wary of what they hear. People will probably more inclined to spend money on what has worked in the past because the risks may not outweigh the benefits. This is especially true in reference to medical research because lives are on the line. Researchers and medical journals will probably also become more wary. They don't want to ruin their reputation (and lose money) by coming up with/printing false information. I'm sure more care will be put into double and triple checking any new developments because, well, nobody wants to be "that guy."

Alison said...

I absolutely think that tighter control needs to be placed on medical studies. Wakefield's results were not at all true, and according to what I've read, he falsified them intentionally. That isn't acceptable in the slightest, and I can't believe that it took so long for the truth to come out. Influential 'discoveries' like these need to be checked multiple times by accredited individuals, ESPECIALLY if the results are being backed by the government, which a lot of people put their trust in.
If tighter regulations were put on medical studies, a couple things might happen. There might be money gained because fewer radical/risky studies would be funded. Unfortunately, that could mean something important may not be uncovered. The government may also lose money because of what they'll have to put into to enforce any new regulations. Whether it's testing methods that have been developed or hiring people to observe/regulate, they'll have to invest more to make sure their judgment is not discredited.

Cara Sheffer said...

I think this illustrates the fact that every single action that happens in this world is related to economics. Absolutely everything affects it. Your last paragraph strongly proved that and represented economics as a chain of events kind of like dominos. If one goes they all start to go.

Lindsay said...

Your last paragraph is very thought provoking, and very true. If the people do not trust the scientists, then they won't fund them. If the scientists aren't funded though, then what will happen to the world? If diseases break out, and people become more desperate for cures and treatments that they don't have the answers for then they will become dependent on science again. I feel that this will start an ongoing cycle. Even if the scientists aren't fully trusted, they know much more than we do. They are a scarcity, so we have to fund them in order to keep living healthy lives and hope to improve them.
-Nice article Alison!! I enjoyed it! :)