Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Feature Medicine and the Media

The Daily Mail’s U turn on MMR vaccination

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 20 November 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6487

Rapid Response:

Re: The Daily Mail’s U turn on MMR vaccination

Torjesen's recent article summarising the Daily Mail's, and other media outlets', coverage of the MMR vaccine is informative and insightful, with some faint hope offered by the Mail's U-turn on the issue.

However, we do have one important concern about the bar chart. The use of the term 'balanced coverage' implies the existence of other conflicting, but equally valid, viewpoints, which warrant equivalent credibility and attention. This is clearly not the case with the MMR vaccination. This term is not synonymous with 'accurate coverage', and legitimises the false narrative by the ‘anti-vax lobby’ that there remains debate and uncertainty in the medical profession on the safety of the MMR.

Indeed, the strategy of ‘manufacturing doubt’ is a recognised technique used in many industries to undermine scientific evidence and credibility e.g. fossil fuels, tobacco.1 One tobacco executive famously advised in a memo, ‘it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the minds of the general public and establishing controversy.’2

We must be conscious of this approach which can undoubtedly be utilised by the ‘anti-vax lobby’, and guard against it as attempts at impartial, ‘balanced’ media coverage of these issues can inadvertently facilitate the anti-vax message.

1. ‘Doubt is our product’: David Michaels (ed.) Doubt is their product: How industry’s assault on science threatens your health. Oxford University Press (2008).
2. Goldacre B. Bad Science. Harper Collins Publishers (2008).

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 November 2019
Rhys Morris
SpR Trauma and Orthopaedics
Dena Pitrola
Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital