No Accounting For Accountability

Not so long ago, there was a time when medical experts thought that they were close to eliminating measles permanently. Now, the World Health Organisation has had to push that target date back to 2015, at the earliest. Many people, particularly those of a more skeptical nature, will attribute this to the infamous Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was responsible for the publishing of a paper which irresponsibly linked the MMR vaccine to Autism (a link which has been subsequently disproved, and a paper which has been so thoroughly debunked that Wakefield has been struck off the medical register in the UK). However, Andrew Wakefield is not the only person responsible for the spread of these baseless lies. He may have originally authored and published the paper, but what of those who are responsible for ensuring that its contents spread far and wide?

Well, now they’re publishing articles warning us of the dangers of measles, a disease that was once close to complete eradication, and reminding us, in the smallest of bullet points, that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. One such article, published just the other day, is by the BBC – Measles outbreak warning as cases rise in Europe and UK. In this article, we’re told about the epidemic of measles in France, and warned that, particularly for families travelling with young children, the risk is high. They also helpfully remind us that the only way to definitely prevent measles is to receive the vaccine. The fact that there is no link to Autism is mentioned as a small bullet point under a column entitled “Measles Facts”. The presence of such a bullet point is extremely annoying, for two main reasons; firstly, the continued linking of the terms measles, MMR, and Autism only serves to reinforce the notion that there ever was a legitimate link between those terms, and secondly, and most importnatly, the only reason that such a bullet point is needed is because of the irresponsible and lazy reporting by organisations such as the BBC in the first place.

You need only look in the archives of the BBC to find numerous articles about the MMR vaccine and its purported link with Autism. In 2004, they invited readers to comment on the idea that the vaccine had been declared “safe”, and while they make sure to tell us that the comments shown reflect the balance of opinion they have received, the inclusion of the word safe in inverted commas belies their alleged balanced view. Indeed, the BBC, like most other news sources at the time, reported extensively on the “discovery” that the vaccine was linked to Autism, and was neither cautious nor balanced in the headlines they published – “Child Vaccine Linked To Autism”.

The finger has been pointed at Wakefield, but the journalists, news channels, newspapers, and other pundits shouldn’t also escape blame. The media furore was what caused the spread of the story, about a paper which otherwise would likely not have been read by many, and this furore was caused by the media themselves. It is very easy for the BBC to report on the GMCs rulings about Wakefield, and to casually remind us all that the link has not been proved, but while the Lancet has issued a retraction, and admitted that the paper should never have been published, no news organisation has apologised for the part that they played in it, or issued a retraction for the irresponsible scaremongering that they engaged in. Every time an article like this is published, we are reminded of two things; one, irresponsible research and publication is damaging, and two, when it comes to reporting, there is simply no accounting for accountability.