Week 11- Megan Geske

November 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Responses | 3 Comments

In chapter 3 “The Implosion”, Offitt explores the backlash that came after the discovery of Wakefield’s fraudulent research. In 2004, six years after Wakefield first published his paper in the Lancet, an investigative reporter (Brian Deer) discovered problems with Wakefield’s research. After Wakefield’s paper claiming an association between autism and the MMR vaccine, the rates of immunization with MMR in the UK declined. As a result of this, a measles outbreak occurred in the UK and Ireland, putting hundreds of kids in the hospital and killing 4 children.

While there is risk of not receiving the MMR vaccine, as stated above, parents remain hesitant about a possible link between autism and MMR. In “Parents’ Perspective on MMR Immunisation”, Evans et al conducted focus groups to unravel parents’ thoughts and feelings on the MMR vaccine and whether or not to immunize their children. 3 of the 6 focus groups performed contained parents who had given MMR vaccine to their youngest child, whereas the other 3 groups comprised of parents who refused the MMR vaccine. Results of the focus groups showed that while parents who immunized their child stressed benefits of vaccines and the perils of disease more than the “non-immunizers”, they still were unhappy about MMR and its possible association with autism. Overall, the “non-immunizers” were less fearful of possible diseases compared to “immunizers”. Evans et al concluded that there were four factors that strongly influence parents’ decisions :
1. Beliefs about risks and benefits of the MMR compared with contracting the diseases
2. information from media and other sources about the safety of MMR
3. confidence and trust in advice from the media and other sources about safety of MMR
4. Views on importance of individual choice within government policy on immunization “

It is clear that Wakefield’s fraudulent study has had major consequences on the public’s perception of the MMR vaccine. The immediate media fanfare about autism and MMR created doubt in parents minds about the safety of vaccines. Despite the retraction of Wakefield’s paper, the public remains skeptical. My question is after a scientific study has been retracted, is there a way to convince the public to abandon a hypothesis?


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  1. There is certainly no easy way to convince the public to a abandon a hypothesis that has already been presented. You would think that the retraction of a scientific article would lead people to reject the proposed science behind it, however, this is often not the case. Once an issue is presented in the media, it is a thought in people’s minds. That thought, regardless of how legitimate is it, still factors into how people make decisions and choose to act in certain circumstances. Despite the retraction of Wakefield’s article, a parent who is deciding whether or not to vaccinate their child will still have that ‘thought’ in their mind and will still hold initial doubts. I am not sure there really is a way to convince people to abandon a hypothesis once it has been brought up. I think the only way to even begin convincing them would be to conduct legitimate research which discounts the hypothesis and which holds more visible truth than Wakefield’s argument.

  2. I think that even after a hypothesis is abandoned, it will still resonate in people’s minds as well as in the media. It kind of goes along with the cognitive biases reading that when people consider something a possibility then they will look for reasons to prove that possibility right instead of accepting reasons that it is most likely wrong. People may not want to abandon a hypothesis that would directly affect them/their children if all of a sudden scientists were to find out it is true. Even though in this case, Wakefield’s study is clearly inaccurate, the thought has still been pushed by the media, and so it would take time and convincing evidence for it to be dismissed by concerned parents.

  3. I feel like it is hard in this case for the public to abandon the hypothesis about MMR vaccine causing autism. Even if it was retracted…it was out there for years! People will associate MMR with autism, and it is hard for them not to.

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