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BMJ. 2007 August 4; 335(7613): 222.
PMCID: PMC1939801
MMR scare stories

Some things are just too attractive to the media

Neville W Goodman, consultant anaesthetist

The Independent on Sunday in its take on the Andrew Wakefield General Medical Council (GMC) hearings fell back on finding a family wrecked by autism.1 2 The headline was a quote from a mother of two autistic children: “I wish the GMC could live a day in my life and see what I have seen.” This is presumably a plea that the GMC should exonerate Wakefield.

Although the story made all the right noises about the lack of evidence for a link between MMR and autism, and listed the charges against Wakefield, all the emotion in the story was biased. In the centre of the page was a picture of Wakefield, and under it a quote from the story, “My motivation is the suffering of children I've seen and the determination of parents to find out why part of them has been destroyed.” The best of motives do not excuse unethical behaviour, which is what the hearings are exploring. In the text but missing from the quote is the phrase “devoted, articulate, rational” parents. I cannot doubt the first two descriptions, but many of these parents are not rational in the sense of to weigh evidence dispassionately. One parent says, “If Wakefield is struck off it will discourage any doctor from asking questions about the safety of vaccines.” This is an emotional, not a rational, response.

Meanwhile, on the previous page to Ben Goldacre's column on this story in the Guardian was a story headed “Ban new homes near power lines, say MPs.”3 And, sure enough, someone had died from brain damage, and a relative is convinced the power lines were the cause.

Some things, MMR-autism and power lines-cancer being examples, are just too much of a draw for the media for them to be bothered about getting things right.

Notes

Competing interests: None declared.

References

1. Goldacre B. MMR: the scare stories are back. BMJ 2007;335:126-7. (21 July.) [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. I wish the GMC could live a day in my life and see what I have seen. Independent on Sunday 2007. Jul 15:50.
3. Ban new homes near power lines, say MPs. Guardian 2007 Jul 18:10.

Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group