Credence to Crackpots

The anti-vaccination movement is one aspect of modern life that makes me wonder if humanity is developing gills and walking back into the sea. Conspiracy theories can be seductive, but if they put the lives of children at genuine risk, they need dismantling with violent force.

However, as indicated by last week’s Archive on 4 (R4, Saturdays, 8pm), presented by Adam Rutherford, and looking at the MMR vaccine scare 20 years on from Andrew Wakefield’s now-discredited study alleging a link with autism, those who should be challenging the crackpots sometimes lend them credence. Government scientist David Salisbury bemoaned the tendency of broadcasters to pit eloquent but ill-informed zealots against sober but dry experts, even when the zealots are demonstrably talking utter cobblers.

Broadcasters are desperate to achieve an idea of balance, which results in dodgy bookings. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard contrarianism for its
own sake on current affairs programmes. Sometimes the other viewpoint is not worth the candle. Giving airtime to ideas of dubious merit merely propagates them. It’s bad journalistic judgment.

In the case of MMR, the fear resulted in reduced vaccination numbers and avoidable deaths. Diseases that should have been eradicated have made a comeback due to paranoia. Sadly, the US Government didn’t do wonders for the global image of vaccination when it used an inoculation programme to gather DNA information that led to the capture and killing
of Osama bin Laden. It was a vital hour, especially hearing that Wakefield is now pushing his dangerous agenda in the US with some success. Of course, in an era of ‘fake news’, none of this is surprising, but it is anger-inducing.