Several posts have dealt with "false balance" in media coverage of autism and vaccines. Brendan Nyhan writes at The Columbia Journalism Review:
ABC’s announcement yesterday that actress/comedian Jenny McCarthy will become a co-host of The View brought forth a torrent of condemnation from doctors, science journalists, opinion writers, and even entertainment commentators who oppose giving the anti-vaccine activist a high-profile platform to spread misinformation.
Unfortunately, however, the early coverage has generally failed to follow best practices for covering false or unsupported claims, giving greater reach to discredited claims that have potentially dangerous consequences for public health.
One problem was that McCarthy’s hiring was initially categorized as an entertainment story under the journalistic beat system and thus covered by reporters who don’t specialize in science or health. Predictably, some of them resorted to “he said,” “she said” style coverage that failed to make clear just how extreme and scientifically discredited McCarthy’s views are.At The National Geographic, Susan Brink writes:
Maybe, just maybe, Jenny McCarthy won't even mention autism and vaccines from her new perch on The View. That's the hope of Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "In a more rational world, this discussion would be un-reopenable," Offit says. "The answerable questions have all been answered." It's not the vaccine, or anything in the vaccine. It's not the number or timing of vaccinations. Scientifically, he says, we know that.
So what is causing an increase in autism? We don't know for sure, says Offit, but the best data are genetic, involving several genes required for brain development that may generate abnormalities even in the womb. Some researchers have found a connection between older fathers and an increased risk of autism in their children. Or the increase could be due to more awareness of autism and a broader definition of the disorder.One quibble: it is far from certain that there even has been a true increase in the prevalence of autism. Serious analysts agree that changes in diagnostic criteria and public attitudes account for much of the apparent change.