Health News Review

I’m late on this because I was traveling when the latest events in question occurred, but Paul Raeburn on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker has a nice wrapup – “British newspaper gives disgraced vaccine critic forum to attack government for measles epidemic” – with background and links.

The British paper, The Independent, published a statement by discredited vaccine critic Andrew Wakefield on its front page under this headline:

Full statement by MMR scare doctor Andrew Wakefield: ‘The Government has tried to cover up putting price before children’s health’

Then it had its health editor publish elsewhere in the paper under this headline:

‘Balderdash’ – expert’s damning verdict on the latest claims of discredited MMR scaremonger Andrew Wakefield

Raeburn wrote:

“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.”

Mark Henderson on The Geek Manifesto blog wrote that “if you absolutely must write up his press release, here are five things you would certainly want to avoid:

1. Don’t splash on it. Or put it on the front page for that matter. Prominence matters, and rather suggests that you, the editor, think that the person you’re writing about is making a point that deserves to be heard, even if you disagree with it. The proper place for a story like this is inside the book.

2. Don’t pick the headline he’d have picked. “MMR scare doctor Andrew Wakefield breaks his silence: Measles outbreak in Wales proves I was right” doesn’t cut it. “Outrage over struck-off MMR scare doctor’s latest bizarre and dangerous claim” just might.

3. Don’t wait until paragraph 15 — paragraph 15! — before introducing a critic who can explain why Wakefield is wrong. Yes, the quotes to that effect are there. But most readers won’t get to them, and for those who do, the placement suggests a lack of importance.

4. Don’t run the whole Wakefield press release as if it were a commissioned op-ed. How to give the guy’s scaremongering the imprimatur of a respectable newspaper.

5. Don’t forget that the story is about the chutzpah of the man, not about the substance of his claim. Write the whole thing as a critique. This has to start in the intro, and continue to thread through the piece. Don’t even allow the slightest possibility that the odd paragraph could be quoted out of context. If you do, it will be.”

Journalist Martin Robbins wrote: “Giving space to Andrew Wakefield on MMR isn’t balance, it’s lunacy.”

On, Phil Plaitt wrote, “Andrew Wakefield Tries to Shift Blame for UK Measles Epidemic.”

MD-author Ben Goldacre tweeted: “how on earth can the Independent justify running 12 paragraphs today on MMR by Wakefield himself?”

Science writer Ed Yong tweeted: “The Indy are a joke.”

Oh, if we only had that kind of media criticism in the US.


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Marc Beishon posted on April 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

“Oh, if we only had that kind of media criticism in the US.”

I take it you mean ‘science media criticism’? I’m in the UK but from what I see of US media in mainstream news at least even small factual details can be mercilessly pilloried if wrong.