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17Apr 2013

British newspaper gives disgraced vaccine critic forum to attack government for measles epidemic.

Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced vaccine critic who claimed to link vaccines to autism and helped create a worldwide anti-vaccine movement, was featured prominently on the front page of a British newspaper over the weekend.

Wakefield's paper claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism was later retracted. An investigation has accused him of fraud. And numerous studies have failed to find any evidence that vaccines cause autism. Yet a press release that he issued was reprinted by Britain's The Independent as if it were an Op-Ed comment.

In the press release, Wakefield, who may have done more than any other individual to discourage parents from vaccinating their children, blamed the government for a measles outbreak in the UK that has afflicted nearly 700 people.

The doctor and blogger Ben Goldacre helped to call attention to the article on Twitter, as did fellow blogger Ed Yong. Blogger Phil Plait nicely sums up this incident in a post on his Bad Astronomy blog.

Oddly, as Plait points out, The Independent also ran a story condemning Wakefield even as it handed him a megaphone. The article called him a "discredited MMR scaremonger," and properly identifies him as "the chief author of the now infamous and discredited 1998 Lancet paper that first linked the MMR vaccine" with autism.

This must have perplexed readers, who were at the same time being given oracular pronouncements from Wakefield and a story that describes him as a discredited scaremonger.

Did the editors of the paper read what they were publishing?

The Independent has taken down the Wakefield press release. But it still has a lot to answer for.

-Paul Raeburn



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