Twelve years after it was published, the Lancet has finally retracted Andrew Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccine with autism. Not soon enough; certainly not before tremendous damage was done to public health. Following the study’s publication, vaccination rates in Britain plummeted – no small thanks to Tony Blair, who refused to say whether he’d had his own child vaccinated. Meanwhile, measles cases continue to explode, and the WHO – which was on track to eradicate the disease in Europe this year – has conceded that it isn’t going to happen, because vaccination rates are just too low.
Will the study’s retraction change that? Not a chance. Partly because the autism industry has too much invested in the vaccine linkage, not to mention idiot celebrity supporters like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.
But the bigger problem is that Europe and North America are becoming increasingly enamoured of all sorts of magical thinking. It isn’t just the hysteria over vaccines, there’s also the inane fetish for all things “organic,” and the growing market for homeopathic remedies and other “alternative” medicines.
I explore the moral and political forces that are driving this rejection of science and the return to pre-modern worldviews in The Authenticity Hoax, out in a couple of months (yoiks!). But an excellent new book cataloguing this mentality in all its sordidness is Denialism, by NYT writer Michael Specter. The chapter on vaccines is very good, as is the one on racial profiling in medicine.