Via The Globe and Mail, an opinion piece by University of Victoria neuroscientists E. Paul Zehr: Science writers can help raise knowledge. Excerpt:
Lack of effective communication about details of scientific advances and the process of science leads to some staggering issues. For example, the misinformation generated by the widely discredited “research” by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues documented in a 1998 paper published in a leading medical journal, The Lancet. The paper purported to show data that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism and bowel disease.
Other scientists were unable to repeat Mr. Wakefield’s study and reproduce the results from the Lancet paper. Further review of the methods, procedures, and data actually used in the original 1998 study showed why. In 2011, the British Medical Journal described the study as “an elaborate fraud.” The problems here are real and sundry.
The frightening (but completely fraudulent) link between vaccination and the emergence of inflammatory bowel disease and autism has contributed to declining rates of vaccination in the U.S. and Britain among other countries. Due to the lack of vaccinations, there is an increased incidence of measles, mumps and rubella. More importantly, this totally ungrounded concept has made many people distrust the concept of vaccination for other diseases and likely for future interventions.
This is a huge health problem that I think could have been moderated by a better understanding of scientific research and the process of science itself. To help avoid related problems moving forward we need better science journalism and nuanced consumption of science. This requires more journalists with science training or interest in covering science effectively and more scientists as budding journalists.