On Monday, Britain’s General Medical Council revoked the medical license of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the main scientist and proponent of studies linking vaccines to autism, banning him from practicing medicine in Britain. Wakefield’s research published in 1998 in the medical journal Lancet, sparked widespread debate and prompted parents across Britain and the U.S. to refuse childhood vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella. Though subsequent studies and even some of the study’s authors rejected Wakefield’s findings, vaccination rates dropped significantly in many countries. But why do these parents continue to believe the words of one scientist over the countless studies showing no connection between vaccines and autism? How does this one man’s voice influence the masses to believe in something that’s wrong and might not even be real?
Michael Specter, author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives; he is also a contributor to the New Yorker magazine, where he writes about science, technology, and public health