Is the Toronto Star the New Voice for Anti-Vaccinationists?
Late last week, as a Toronto measles outbreak was taking hold, The Toronto Star, Canada’s most widely-read newspaper, published a very problematic article about “The dark side” of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. The story was riddled with tear-jerking anecdotes about young women experiencing horrible tragedies inaccurately attributed to them having received the HPV vaccine.
Dr. Jen Gunter, a California-based obstetrician, wrote a scathing, yet sensible and evidence-supported rebuttal not only pointing out the article’s many fatal flaws, but also raising the question of why the Star and/or its employees would stoop to such a shamefully low level of journalism.
In response, The Star’s Heather Mallick wrote an op-ed in which she accomplished little more than hurling childish insults at Dr. Gunter. Gunter quickly responded with another round of sound scientific evidence and level-headed reason.
Enter Ben Goldacre, a physician, science writer, epidemiologist, and world champion of improved health science research ethics. Mallick reached out to Goldacre on twitter in an attempt to bring him on side with her. Goldacre responded with a series of tweets that could only be described as a complete and utter public slaughter of the original story and Mallick’s follow-up piece.
Meanwhile, Julia Belluz, a health reporter for vox.com, initiated correspondence with the Toronto Star to express concerns about the original story as well as Mallick’s public comportment as a journalist. According to Belluz, The Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke, responded by saying “You should stop gargling our bathwater and take the energy to run yourself your own, fresh tub.”
The Star’s public editor, Kathy English, also responded to Belluz’s inquiry by saying “The story was not intended to be either anti-vaccine nor pro-vaccine” suggesting, it seems, that when it comes to vaccine safety there is a legitimate debate.
But there is no debate. Science has demonstrated clearly, repeatedly, sufficiently, compellingly, and with virtually no doubt that currently approved vaccines are extremely safe and effective. Claims to the contrary are unfounded.
So I wonder … by presenting this nontroversy as a controversy, and with its senior reporters and high-level executives apparently defending the story so vehemently, can it be that we are witnessing the Toronto Star establishing itself, alongside the likes of Andrew Wakefield, Bob Sears, and Jenny MacCarthy, as the latest public supporter of the anti-vaccinationists?
Hopefully not. But unless the Star steps up and issues a retraction, formally apologizes, or at the very least, acknowledges the article’s problems and potential for harm, then I wonder if there can be any other interpretation.