Universal access and MMR

The controversy about the MMR vaccine surfaced again in the news last week – it occured to me that this is related to universal access, in that a considerable volume of medical writing is now available to anybody with a web browser, including papers that were initially written for a specialist audience.  Dr Andrew Wakefield’s original paper in the Lancet (whatever the ethical issues surrounding the data) was cautious in making any claims, and simply highlighted a possible area for further research.   It was seized upon by campaigners, some of them opposed to any sort of vaccination, in a way that illustrates the danger of reading a scientific document out of context.  Perhaps this should be an element of information literacy: if you are proficient at handling information from the Internet, you need to understand your own limitations, and to recognise when you would benefit from somebody with specific expertise who could help to interpret this information.  Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, has written about the subject at some length ( he was interviewed by the Times in 2004 and this gives some insight into his views) and raised some significant issues about the public understanding of science.

I should point out that personally I’m strongly in favour of vaccination, although that isn’t the point of this blog post.

At the end of the BBC piece there’s a suggestion that the controversy might now disappear.  This piece from the British Medical Journal is a reminder that opponents to vaccination have been around for a long time and that in some ways the issues haven’t changed.


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