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How campaigners and the media push bad science

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d236
  1. Andy Alaszewski, editor, Health, Risk and Society, and emeritus professor, University of Kent
  1. A.M.Alaszewski{at}

Brian Deer’s three articles in the BMJ series provide a compelling account of bad science and bad scientists.1 2 3 He documents how Andrew Wakefield and his scientific colleagues “discovered” a new disease or syndrome (autistic enterocolitis) “caused” by the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and tried to convince others of the existence of this disease. Wakefield and colleagues’ Lancet article, published in February 1998,4 was based on weak evidence and the selective presentation of data from a limited number of preselected cases. Despite this the article was sympathetically received by reviewers and editors of the Lancet, journalists hostile to public health, many parents of autistic children, and some parents who were considering the MMR vaccine.

Deer’s story of the Lancet article can be seen as a modern tragedy, about the hubris of a group of scientists that results in a medical disaster. The scientists suffered some of the consequences; for example, Wakefield lost his job, reputation, and medical licence in the United Kingdom. There were other victims. The children involved in …

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