Investigation of autism researcher’s conduct sparks controversy

    News that a prominent autism researcher is suspected of embezzling funds is providing fodder for the long-standing controversy over autism and vaccines.

    News that a prominent autism researcher is suspected of embezzling funds is providing fodder for the long-standing controversy over autism and vaccines.

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    Danish researcher Poul Thorsen contributed to several much-quoted studies that discounted any link between autism and mercury in vaccines. Now he’s being investigated for allegations he misappropriated $2 million of U.S. grant money at Aarhus University in Denmark.

    Autism blogs are abuzz with posts claiming that Thorsen’s research is as questionable as his alleged conduct. Dan Olmsted is editor of the Age of Autism blog:

    Olmsted: We have had concerns. We have expressed them. Now we find out that this very important researcher may be a fraudulent operator – that’s worth thinking about

    Dr. Michelle Rowe heads St. Joseph University’s Kinney Center for Autism Education. She says misconduct among scientists has a chilling effect on relationships between doctors and families:

    Rowe:
    This trust is very critical in health care, and when the trust is violated it becomes difficult for families to believe others in positions of power, so it gets generalized to everybody in that regard.

    Dr. David Mandell of the Center for Autism Research agrees the studies Thorsen worked on should be reviewed. But he doesn’t believe the research has been compromised. He noted that Thorsen was not a lead researcher, the studies used government data, and they were peer-reviewed. This view is echoed in a statement from the Centers for Disease Control, which partly funded the vaccine research.

    Thorsen was briefly associated with Drexel University’s school of public health, where he served on a thesis committee for a doctoral student. He resigned from this post on March 9th.

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