Wakefield’s “monkey business” hepatitis B vaccine study withdrawn?

Kim Wombles over at Countering Age of Autism pointed this out:

Why, you ask, is this whole 13 monkeys, 14 monkeys irrelevant? Well, see, here’s where it gets really interesting. If you want to read this study, you go here: the 14 studies site by Handley. Thoughtful House has a press release on how it was published online in Septermber 2009. I went to the journal itself, though, straight to Neurotoxicology to look for the article since it’s getting all this attention from the anti-vaxers as proof that it is proof of mercury causing autism. Guess what? It isn’t there! Don’t believe me? It’s been withdrawn.

And so it has.

The SciencdDirect link to Wakefield’s monkey study (blogged about by me here, here, and here, and by Prometheus here) has this notice appended to it:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the editor. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.

A further note reads:

Note to users: Withdrawn Articles in Press are proofs of articles which have been peer reviewed and initially accepted, but have since been withdrawn before being published in this journal. Reasons for withdrawal may be due to a decision by the author and/or editor, accidental duplication of an article elsewhere, or because the content contravenes the Elsevier publishing policy in some way. Withdrawn Articles in Press are only visible to users when following an external link, e.g., an end user following a PubMed or DOI link. Such Withdrawn Articles in Press are not searchable or otherwise available in ScienceDirect.

Elsevier’s policy on article withdrawal states:

Articles in Press (articles that have been accepted for publication but which have not been formally published and will not yet have the complete volume/issue/page information) that include errors, or are discovered to be accidental duplicates of other published article(s), or are determined to violate our journal publishing ethics guidelines in the view of the editors, may be “Withdrawn” from ScienceDirect. Withdrawn means that the article content (HTML and PDF) is removed and replaced with a HTML page and PDF simply stating that the article has been withdrawn according to the Elsevier Policy on Article in Press Withdrawal with a link to the current policy document.

I don’t know enough to be able to comment on what may have happened here. It may be that the editors decided to withdraw the paper, or it may be that Laura Hewitson and Andrew Wakefield asked the editors to withdraw it. In fact, I rather suspect the latter. My guess is that Wakefield and Hewitson will now try to “fix” all the problems with the paper pointed out here and on other blogs and then submit a “new and improved” or “complete” manuscript, either to NeuroToxicology or another journal, most likely something like JPANDS, an alt-med journal, or the new autism “biomed” journal Autism Insights. Perhaps that was what Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey were referring to when they said, in essence, wait until the complete study is published. In any case, even though I’m having a schadenfreude moment, I had nothing at all to do with this. As I pointed out, I didn’t even approve of the letter sent by David Brown to the editors of NeuroToxicology asking them to withdraw Wakefield’s article because of scientific fraud. I realize my saying this won’t stop AoA from insinuating (hell, forget about insinuating, they’ll just accuse me of it!) that I somehow got Wakefield’s crappy and unethical study pulled from the medical literature, but I’d like to be clear about this anyway.

I’ll keep an eye out for new developments. No doubt Age of Autism and Thoughtful House will soon post cranktastic statements whining about “suppression of research” and “censorship” or disingenuously explaining that we mean bloggers gave Wakefield no choice but to withdraw the manuscript. In them, Wakefield will likely metaphorically shake his fist and rant, “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all!” and say he will publish the “complete” study somewhere else. Indeed, I can hear Mark Blaxill’s and Andrew Wakefield’s keyboards clattering away as I type.

Time will tell.

If I had to guess, I’d speculate that either the University of Pittsburgh IACUC had second thoughts or that there was a major deviation from the protocol approved by UPitt’s IACUC. Maybe that’s why Hewitson left UPitt and headed for Austin to work at Thoughtful House. Who knows? I don’t, but I wish I did. If anyone knows the scoop, I’d appreciate hearing from you.