In the real world of science-based medicine, the link between autism and vaccines (particularly, the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella) has been thoroughly debunked, quashed, and discredited. In the delusional world of the vaccine denialists, the link between autism and vaccines is based on Mr. Andy Wakefield‘s paper alleging a connection between MMR and autism that has been retracted by the Lancet medical journal.
Then why is there even a debate about this manufactroversy (a manufactured or invented controversy)? Well, researchers actually examined this false controversy in a recently published article, by Graham Dixon and Christopher Clarke of Cornell University, in Health Education Research. They investigated how the news media and journalists try to “falsely balance” their reporting about the debunked link between vaccines and autism. The journalists create this false balance, “despite a strong medical and scientific consensus backed by rigorous epidemiological studies indicating no link between autism and vaccines.” Dixon and Clarke also state that “research suggests that journalists in the United Kingdom and United States often report this controversy by presenting claims both for and against a link in a relatively ‘balanced’ fashion. In some cases, so-called ‘falsely balanced’ reporting fails to mention which claim is supported by a scientific consensus.” An overwhelming scientific consensus, by the way.
In their study, 320 undergraduate students, randomly selected from a broad background of education, were recruited to read recent (within the past year of the study) news stories about the vaccine-autism “controversy.” Immediately afterwards, “participants answered a questionnaire assessing their evaluation of how their respective article presented the autism–vaccine link (the manipulation check); how certain they are about vaccine safety and how certain they think scientists are about vaccine safety and intention to vaccinate oneself and their future children.”
Each participant was asked to read one article of four different types:
- No-link (presenting only the perspective that vaccines do not cause autism),
- Link (presenting only the perspective that vaccines could cause autism),
- Falsely balanced’ (presenting both perspectives without mention that a scientific/ medical consensus rejects a link),
- Control’ (non-health-related article).
This study suggests that falsely balanced reporting of an alleged autism–vaccine link heightens readers’ uncertainty regarding vaccine safety and lowers their intention to vaccinate their future children. Whereas similar research has found that one-sided, anti-vaccine-only website messages lower individuals’ vaccine intentions our results suggest that two-sided news messages with claims both for/against an autism–vaccine link can have a similar effect.
The authors then conclude that “results suggest that balancing conflicting views of the autism–vaccine controversy may lead readers to erroneously infer the state of expert knowledge regarding vaccine safety and negatively impact vaccine intentions.” In other words, manufacturing a controversy, where there is no controversy, does a great disservice to readers who are looking for information about vaccines.
In case there is a concern about the evidence that thoroughly dismisses any link between vaccines and autism, here it is:
- The Cochrane Reviews state that MMR vaccine does not cause autism.
- There is no scientific or medical controversy about this conclusion.
- Medical and scientific experts agree.
- It lead to a public health crisis based on a fraud.
- Well constructed epidemiological studies also showed no link between MMR vaccine and autism in Denmark, England, Japan, Japan, Japan, Poland, and the United States.
- Despite claims that Wakefield’s findings were reproduced, not one single peer-reviewed paper ever supported the Wakefield’s claims.
- Numerous studies actually invalidate his claim.
- The Autism Omnibus trials has rejected all three test cases and subsequent appeals claiming that vaccines cause autism.
- In October 2004, a meta review, financed by the European Union, was published in the October 2004 edition of Vaccine and assessed the evidence given in 120 other studies and considered unintended effects of the MMR vaccine. The authors concluded that “exposure to MMR is unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
- In February 2005, a study compared autism in Japan before and after the 1993 withdrawal of the MMR vaccine and concluded that “MMR vaccination is most unlikely to be a main cause of ASD, that it cannot explain the rise over time in the incidence of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and that withdrawal of MMR in countries where it is still being used cannot be expected to lead to a reduction in the incidence of ASD.”
- In October 2005, the Cochrane Library published a review of 31 scientific studies, and concluded that, “Exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
- A 2007 review of independent studies, performed after the publication of Wakefield’s fraudulent article, found that evidence did not support a causal association between vaccines and autism.
- A 2009 review of studies on links between vaccines and autism concludes that “twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. These studies have been performed in several countries by many different investigators who have employed a multitude of epidemiologic and statistical methods.” They also stated that the large size of these studies would have identified even minor correlations, and even then nothing was found.
- Betsch C, Renkewitz F, Betsch T, Ulshöfer C. The influence of vaccine-critical websites on perceiving vaccination risks. J Health Psychol. 2010 Apr;15(3):446-55. PubMed PMID: 20348365.
- Dixon G, Clarke C. The effect of falsely balanced reporting of the autism-vaccine controversy on vaccine safety perceptions and behavioral intentions. Health Educ Res. 2012 Nov 27. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23193194.
- Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375(9713):445. PubMed PMID: 20137807.