Julia Belluz in Vox:
Exactly 20 years ago this month, an esteemed medical journal published a small study that has become one of the most notorious and damaging pieces of research in medicine.
The study, led by the now discredited physician-researcher Andrew Wakefield, involved 12 children and suggested there’s a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — which is administered to millions of children around the world each year — and autism.
The study was subsequently thoroughly debunked. The Lancet retracted the paper and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Autism researchers have shown decisively again and again that the developmental disorder is not caused by vaccines.
Still, public health experts say the false data and erroneous conclusions in that paper, while rejected in the scientific world, helped fuel a dangerous movement of vaccine skepticism and refusal around the world.
Since its publication, measles outbreaks have erupted in Europe, Australia, and the US in communities where people refuse or fear vaccines. Vaccine refusal has become such a problem that some countries in Europe are now cracking down, making vaccines mandatory for children and fining parents who reject them.
But there’s more to the story.