Why the controversial—and retracted—paper linking vaccines and autism is one of the most cited papers of all time

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Image: BSIP/UIG

Six librarians from institutions in Wisconsin had a question: “What are the characteristics of citations of the retracted 1998 article by Wakefield et al that purported to show an association between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism?” A paper describing their findings was published on [November 15].

[Retraction Watch:] What role do continued citations of this paper play in public perceptions of vaccine safety?

[Author Elizabeth Suelzer:] For those unfamiliar with the research such as students, those from other disciplines, and the public, the number of citations this retracted study receives can be misleading.

While most of the references to the Wakefield article are negative, each new citation is noted in databases like Google Scholar, Web of Science and Scopus. As citation counts continue to play a role in determining the significance or importance of an article (for better or worse), even negative citations will ensure that an article gets a higher rank in databases when the results are sorted by citation count. We accept the irony of conducting a study on Wakefield’s paper and adding yet another count to its cited-by number.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Using robots to treat autistic children has potential pitfalls

Read full, original post: Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent paper on vaccines and autism has been cited more than a thousand times. These researchers tried to figure out why.

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