Opinion piece: why NYT Sunday mag autism piece should not have been written

On the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Paul Raeburn offers a a thoughtful analysis of the New York Times’ decision to publish a Sunday magazine piece, “The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru.”

His conclusion:

“Here’s why not to do it: I believe that this story will prompt more parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. Some of those children will suffer or die from illnesses that the vaccines would have prevented.

Stories have consequences, and it’s often difficult to predict what those might be. I could be wrong about this. But I would have stayed far, far away from this story.”

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April 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I read the article and didn’t think that Wakefield came off particularly well. It is about a man and his followers living in fantasy land. Just read the last line:
“Before leaving for the airport with Wakefield and his son, I took in the view from the deck. The hills looked lofty, peaceful, a little bit blurred in the distance — you could believe, as Wakefield had promised, you were in Tuscany. With a little effort, you can believe almost anything.”

Abigail Keckhafer

April 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I, too,am paranoid about public-consumption articles on autism that reference Wakefield or vaccines. I read them solely to see how much harm they might cause. My observation is that people who would find hope in Wakefield’s work cannot be assumed to be reading critically and objectively in a scientific way. One of the people endorsing Wakefield’s recent meetings with the Somalli community in Minneapolis, in addition to claiming CDC and MN Dept of Health are conspiring with the vaccine producers, explained that they were open to Wakefield’s work because the Somallis in MN have a greater autism rather than other populations in MN (not just compared to Somalia). Advocates who can Overlook the lower vaccination rate AND higher autism rate at the same time in MN Somallis in comparison to other MN populations may now be citing a NYT article somehow supporting their position.


April 29, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Wakefield is villified for doing almost nothing wrong. He discovered a bowel disease in kids with autism, and said hey let’s make sure the vaccines are safe. Meanwhile Thorsen embezzled all this money from CDC to give bogus studies saying it’s not the vaccines, and the news media is not even picking up that story. So the guy who says, let’s make sure vaccines are safe, is the villain. And the guy who says, I manipulated my studies for Big Pharma, and embezzled money, is not even picked up as a story.


April 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

The everyday, institutional conflicts of interest and frauds seem vastly more harmful than Wakefield’s alleged villainies. As documented (for a start) in Marcia Angell’s Truth About the Drug Companies. The furious campaign against Wakefield in and by the corporate media has been amazing to behold–sad but instructive I guess. Bravo, Anne!