Letter from the Editor: Wakefield’s MMR rant was read out of context

Over the 15 years since Wakefield published his infamous Lancet paper which triggered the MMR controversy, this paper has published many stories highlighting the harm he was causing

Share
Related Topics

Last Saturday, The Independent re-entered a medical minefield.

Our splash story was the claim by Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor who sparked the MMR scare 15 years ago, that the Government was to blame for the Swansea measles outbreak. By sticking to the three-in-one MMR programme rather than promote a single measles vaccine, the authorities, he said, allowed the disease to take hold. The report provoked a storm on Twitter and elsewhere.

We asked Jeremy Laurance, our Health Editor, if he could get an interview with Wakefield. Jeremy said it was unlikely but he would look to see if Wakefield had said anything. Sure enough, on a website, the doctor, now living in the US, had let rip.

Over the 15 years since Wakefield published his infamous Lancet paper which triggered the MMR controversy, this paper has published many stories highlighting the harm he was causing. Jeremy has been an avowed opponent of Wakefield, consistently criticising his stance and backing the MMR jab. So it was on Saturday – we reported Wakefield’s allegations but made plain our reservations, both in Jeremy’s news article and in an editorial.

For some in the scientific community that was not enough: for them, our headline, “MMR scare doctor: this outbreak proves I was right”, should have made clear our contempt for him (many chose to ignore the lines underneath that said, prominently in red type, that “experts condemn Wakefield’s outburst”). And, by printing his statement from the website in full, they said we’d given him a platform to air his noxious views.

I got the feeling that no matter how much we’d made it clear we disagreed with him, it would not have sufficed: they want Wakefield silenced. That was one lesson – that by quoting him at all, we were triggering an explosion that admittedly caught us unawares (we thought we were protected by making plain our reservations about him).

Another was that much of the fury came from those who’d read our coverage online – specifically they’d clicked on his statement without taking in our accompanying criticism. All they saw were his words presented in isolation and assumed we somehow approved of them. Here, we can draw a lesson (as can all newspapers): that when you’re presenting something on the printed page, the reader can absorb everything around it; on the web, they may only receive one link to the one piece and miss the counterbalancing parts.

The launch of Independent+

This week sees the launch of an exciting development at The Independent, as we seek to marry the power of old and new technology. Called Independent+ it enables you to access extra material for free online. All you have to do is download the Blippar app on to your mobile or tablet. With some articles or photos in the paper you will see a yellow logo. Hover over it and you will be taken to related pictures, videos, stories, via our website. You will get masses of coverage we can’t get into our limited print pages. What’s more, it won’t cost you anything. Visit independent.co.uk/indyplus to install the app.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'