Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, and his colleagues scared parents worldwide and spurred an anti-vaccine backlash in a study that was an "elaborate fraud," a British medical journal reported Wednesday.
Wakefield misrepresented or altered key findings about the 12 children who formed the basis of the case series, according to a piece written by a British investigative journalist in the journal.
As a result of Wakefield's study, some parents stopped immunizing their children for measles, mumps and rubella, and measles outbreaks have surged in the U.K. and the U.S.
But autism activists, including actress Jenny McCarthy's Generation Rescue, the National Autism Association and well-known autism crusader Kim Stagliano, believe Wakefield's original findings were distorted. They claim that he never said vaccines definitely caused autism but merely suggested the possibility of a link merited further examination.
The activists told AOL News that Wakefield has been crucified by the pharmaceutical industry, which makes millions off vaccines and doesn't want them scrutinized.
"No one's saying don't vaccinate your children," Rita Shreffler, executive director of the National Autism Association, told AOL News today.
"Dr. Wakefield didn't say that either. He made a simple recommendation that vaccines be examined more closely. Kids today get 36 vaccinations before kindergarten. In my day you just got a handful. What we're saying is you need to take a look at the vaccination process today."
Wakefield's work, which was originally published in The Lancet, had already been widely discredited before the article was published online in The Lancet's rival, BMJ.
The Lancet published a scathing retraction of the article last year, and Wakefield's medical license was revoked in May for "serious professional misconduct" involving the study.
Ten of the study's 13 authors renounced the study in 2004 after discovering Wakefield had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers -- a serious conflict of interest he failed to specifically disclose.
Deer writes in the BMJ that Wakefield's work was not just flawed and questionable as previously thought -- it was falsified.
McCarthy's group called the BMJ report "much ado about nothing, adding that "for years, the media has mischaracterized Wakefield's work as implicating the MMR vaccine in the autism epidemic."
Generation Rescue includes one of Wakefield's statements in his paper's conclusion on its website.
"We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described," Wakefield wrote.
Deer cross-checked hospital records with Wakefield's report and found that Wakefield, who included data from only 12 children in his study, examined at least 13 and that several showed symptoms of autism before they were vaccinated.
Deer also writes that behavioral problems that were alleged to have surfaced days after vaccinations sometimes didn't appear until months afterward.
Deer includes a comment from one of the children's fathers, whom he tracked down in California. After Deer showed the father, called "Mr. 11," data about his son from the study, the father wrote him of his concern about Wakefield.
"Please let me know if Andrew W has his doctor's license revoked," wrote Mr. 11, who said he is convinced that many vaccines and environmental pollutants may be responsible for childhood brain disorders. "His misrepresentation of my son in his research paper is inexcusable. His motives for this I may never know."
Wakefield defended his study in an often-tense interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper and said he did not believe Deer had spoken to the children's parents.
Wakefield referred to Deer as a "hit man" for what he apparently meant were powerful people with interest in the vaccine industry.
"This is a ruthless pragmatic attempt to crush any investigation into valid vaccine safety concerns," Wakefield told CNN.
Deer has signed a document saying he has not received funding from anyone in the pharmaceutical industry or anyone with special interests. In addition, Deer has taken on big drug companies in the past, including the manufacturers of Vioxx and Viagra.
"If Dr. Wakefield had any kind of agenda, he would have walked away years ago," said Stagliano, who has three daughters with autism. "This has decimated his life, but he continues to defend his work. This simply shows that when you start to look at vaccine safety, you get scrutinized. Vaccine injury is very real."
Shreffler said parents confused about the controversy over vaccines and autism "ought to do their own research. It can be dangerous to rely on the media."