Bad Data Almost Makes a Documentary

A study had found a link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, but the article, published in 1998 in the British medical journal The Lancet, was retracted in 2010. The article caused parents not to vaccinate their children and, as a result, a rise in measles in Britain and the United States. This situation was used as an example of bad data in Chapter 9 of the text book. 

Although the study author, Andrew Wakefield, has had his medical license revoked because of financial and ethical violations, he recently directed and wrote a documentary, "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe," which was to play at the Tribeca Film Festival. 


In a New York Times article, a doctor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine discredited Wakefield's work as a documentary film: 

"It gave these fraudulent ideas a face and a position and an energy that many of us thought they didn't deserve. We're all for ongoing reasonable debate and discussion, but these are ideas that have been proven to be incorrect many, many, many times over the past 15 years."

The film has been pulled, with festival founder Robert De Niro explaining, "My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for."

Discussion Starters:

  • Did the film festival make the right decision? What are the consequences? 
  • What are the implications of this situation for business communicators researching and writing reports?