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Elle Macpherson, “anti-vaxx” nonsense, and the opportunity to engage

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3255 (Published 31 July 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3255

Re: Elle Macpherson, “anti-vaxx” nonsense, and the opportunity to engage

There is a growing literature demonstrating how engaging with anti-science arguments can actually reinforce people's anti-science views.

So we should engage with caution.

Of course, we should prefer objective, reasoned argument for decision-making. But it is very ineffective at influencing public opinion - just look at Brexit! The thing that seemed to turn opinion on MMR in the UK was not the careful lining up of all the scientific arguments and the debunking of the anti-vaccine ones. It was a documentary and serious of articles exposing Andrew Wakefield.

See eg:

Deer B. The MMR & autism crisis: part 2: the Wakefield factor. London, 2004; Updated 2004 (undated); Accessed: 2018 (01 Aug): (http://briandeer.com/wakefield-deer.htm).

General Medical Council. Dr Andrew Jeremy WAKEFIELD: Determination on Serious Professional Misconduct (SPM) and sanction. London: General Medical Council, 2010; (http://www.gmc-uk.org/Wakefield_SPM_and_SANCTION.pdf_32595267.pdf).

Poland GA, Spier R. Fear, misinformation, and innumerates: How the Wakefield paper, the press, and advocacy groups damaged the public health. Vaccine 2010;28(12):2361-2362 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X10002203).

Godlee F, Smith J, Marcovitch H. Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. BMJ 2011;342, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c7452 (http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452.short).

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 August 2018
Peter M English
Public Health Physician
This is a personal response
Kent, Surrey and Sussex PHE Centre, County Hall North, Chart Way