In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism..
“What Italy is seeing is not a vague sentiment, or parents' response to some abstract concern about vaccines. It's the product of real people and specific facts,” says British journalist Brian Deer.
“This is principally the achievement of the disgraced former British doctor Andrew Wakefield, and a group of enablers who work with him, aiming to destabilise public confidence in vaccines.
“Embittered after he was caught falsifying vaccine research, he can do this because of the opportunities provided by social media.”
Mr Deer has become the unofficial debunker of the claims of anti-vaxxers. Twenty years ago, Wakefield published a study in The Lancet suggesting an association between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism and gastrointestinal diseases.
This paper is at the origins of parents’ growing scepticism towards vaccination – but Mr Deer showed that Wakefield had manipulated evidence and had a conflict of interest. As The Lancet itself had to admit, the study was “fake news” long before the term was popular.
Nevertheless, the fake news continues to be spread online, and public confidence in vaccinations continues to drop, and, as Mr Deer points out, the result is polarisation.As was the case with Donald Trump – who tweeted and claimed that vaccines and autism are linked – at first Italian populists rode the wave of anti-vaccine sentiment in their election campaigns.