A now-discredited study that first suggested a link between vaccines and autism was based on falsified data that was manipulated for financial gain, a prominent medical journal charges.

In an article published in the British Medical Journal Wednesday, journalist Brian Deer dissects a since retracted 1998 study from the journal The Lancet. The research, which was conducted by Andrew Wakefield, suggested that the onset of autism was connected to the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.

Deer’s article documents the experiences of the 12 children included in the original study. Of those, Wakefield reported that eight experienced symptoms within 14 days of vaccination. However, parents of the children told Deer that was not the case, with some children regressing prior to vaccination and others failing to see symptoms until months later.

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All in all, through interviews with parents and reviews of medical histories, Deer concludes that “no case was free of misreporting or alteration.”

In the meantime, Deer reports that Wakefield had financial incentive to reach specific conclusions. He was secretly being paid by a lawyer who was pursuing a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

The ramifications of Wakefield’s study — which was retracted by The Lancet in February 2010 — continue, Deer writes, “fueling suspicion of vaccines in general” and leading to outbreaks of measles and whooping cough. Meanwhile, in 2004, ten of Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their support for the study’s conclusions.

“A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross,” the editors of the BMJ wrote in an editorial published alongside Deer’s article, which calls Wakefield’s work an “elaborate fraud.”

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” the editorial says.

Wakefield, whose British medical license was stripped in May 2010, defended his work in an interview with CNN Wednesday night.

“What I have said and what has been reported in that paper by me and my colleagues is exactly what we saw,” Wakefield said. “The study is not a lie.”

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