IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

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



    () (University of New Mexico)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Judith MCINTOSH WHITE, 2012. "Sabotaging public engagement with science: Missing scientific principles in newspaper stories about the Wakefield MMR-Autism controversy," Revista Romana de Jurnalism si Comunicare - Romanian Journal of Journalism and Communication, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication Studies – Universitatea din Bucuresti, Facultatea de Jurnalism si Stiintele Comunicarii, issue 3-4, pages 79-93.
  • Handle: RePEc:foj:journl:y:2012:i:3-4:p:79-93

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Download is limited to active subscribers. Subscription information available at:

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    Autism; immunization; MMR; science literacy; Wakefield;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • M31 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Marketing


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:foj:journl:y:2012:i:3-4:p:79-93. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Raluca Radu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.