Scientific fraud is a very serious matter. From a fiscal standpoint, it is essentially stealing money. Whether the funding comes from taxpayers, charities or private sources, there is an expectation that the recipients of such largesse act in good faith and honesty. Any knowledge produced from this funding then enters the public domain via scientific journals. Thus, when a scientist fabricates data, he is not only squandering limited financial resources but is also violating the public’s trust.
Even worse, when a scientist commits fraud, he misleads his fellow colleagues for years, if not decades. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars are often wasted disproving the research, and those precious assets could have been better spent elsewhere. In this case, the scientific community has been wasting its resources on Wakefield’s theory for 13 years.
As bad as that is, wasted time and money pale in comparison to the devastating personal consequences that occurred across the globe as a direct result of Wakefield’s behavior. The marked decrease in vaccinations which occurred in the decade following his research literally cost people their lives. When parents refused to vaccinate their children, many of them contracted diseases such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough). Some of them died.