The Independent this week reported on the MMR-autism scare (or, as I like to call it, The Media’s MMR Hoax) and named only one person who was to blame. Andy Wakefield. Now don’t get me wrong – I am certainly not about to defend Wakefield, or the Lancet paper, or the fact that Wakefield had been told his PCR results were false positives yet still failed to retract…
What I am going to do is look at the media’s coverage of the Media’s MMR Hoax – first by googling “MMR site:http://www.independent.co.uk/” and looking at some of the coverage that has been in the paper over the last couple of years. The article from last Saturday included this:
But confidence in the vaccine was dashed by publication of a paper in The Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues from the Royal Free Hospital, linking the jab with autism.
Controversy over the link continued for eight years but is now widely accepted to be without substance. Dr Wakefield and two of his former colleagues have been charged with serious professional misconduct over their research in a case before the General Medical Council which is expected to conclude later this year.
So… it was definitely Wakefield’s fault that public confidence was ‘dashed’ then? The press didn’t play a part? I’m not asking the Independent to put their hands up here – especially as their commentators (e.g., Johan Hari) were among the saner correspondents on the MMR front. I just wonder if the reason they are blaming only Wakefield is that it is more convenient than admitting that the media so often get things so wrong. Maybe they just don’t want to upset their mates.
A piece in the Telegraph from 14th July on autism included this gem: “Two suspects among possible environmental causes are the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and thimerosal, a vaccine preservative containing mercury.” Link.
The majority of stories I was able to read on the Indy site were pro-MMR vaccine and anti-scaremongering. There is a piece here, though, that cites the bogus 1 in 58 figure, as well as quoting the Fletchers (of the infamous JABS organisation) and being generally uncritical of Wakefield, his dicredited theory and the anecdotal evidence of parents of autistic children.
I soon got bored looking through the far-too-sane-and-rational pages of the Indy and went in for the kill. The Daily Mail. Halvorsen, Hitchens, Carling, the Kirsty Robinson Russian roulette article. I can’t believe that the almost endless publicity given to the MMR scare by the media is now being brushed under the carpet. The media cannot pretend that they didn’t publish these articles and nor can they pretend that the articles were unimportant or that they failed to influence. Particularly now that the Bad Science blog has reported on the importance of the media in reporting scientific findings:
People read newspapers. Despite everything we think we know, their contents seep in, we believe them to be true, and we act upon them.
So how might the Mail describe the Media’s MMR Hoax? Who might they think is to blame?
The doctor who sparked a worldwide health scare over the MMR jab charged £150 an hour to a law firm that planned to sue the vaccine’s manufacturer, an enquiry heard today.
Yep – it’s Wakefield’s fault. MMR Scare Doctor.