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Sabotaging public engagement with science: Missing scientific principles in newspaper stories about the Wakefield MMR-Autism controversy

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Author Info

  • Judith MCINTOSH WHITE

    ()
    (University of New Mexico)

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    Abstract

    This study examines numbers of stories published about the MMR-autism controversy – and frames those stories employed — by The Times of London and The Daily Mail from 1998-2011. Statistically significant correlations were found between total numbers of related stories published by all newspapers indexed by LexisNexis (1998-2011) and numbers of measles cases. During the timeframe examined, The Times of London published 134 stories on the controversy; The Daily Mail, 209. The two newspapers emphasized different frames. The Times stressed, among others, scientific support for vaccine safety; danger of leaving children unvaccinated; media irres - ponsibility; parents’ poor science literacy, irrationality and emotionalism; debunking vaccine danger claims; and failures in the peer review process by the scholarly journal publishing Wakefield’s research. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, featured frames including competing views of scientific issues; government greed, power mongering, and untrustworthiness; arrogance and lack of approachability of most physicians; and Wakefield as responsive and caring victim of a government witch hunt. Neither paper explained scientific principles sufficiently to make informed decisions about MMR safety or to facilitate public engagement with the debate.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication Studies – Universitatea din Bucuresti, Facultatea de Jurnalism si Stiintele Comunicarii in its journal Romanian Journal of Journalism and Communication.

    Volume (Year): (2012)
    Issue (Month): 3-4 ()
    Pages: 79-93

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    Handle: RePEc:foj:journl:y:2012:i:3-4:p:79-93

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    Postal: Bdul Iuliu Maniu 1-3, Corp A, etajul 6, sector 6, Bucuresti, cod 061071, Romania

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    Related research

    Keywords: Autism; immunization; MMR; science literacy; Wakefield;

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