Don’t let Wakefield go unchallengedPublished: April 15, 2011
Andrew Wakefield has caused great harm through his research, which is filled with fraud and unethical conduct far more than it is with facts. Wakefield has every right to free speech and students at Brandeis have every right to invite him to speak here, regardless of how controversial and discredited his work has become.
But this university also has an obligation to present the opinions of those who refute Wakefield and his work. Yes, many stood up to ask questions after his talk about the connection between MMR vaccinations and autism, but had a Brandeis science or health policy professor sat on the stage to debate him, it would have fostered true knowledge and a dedication to Brandeis’ highest values.
Wakefield is undoubtedly a compelling speaker and he presented a formal PowerPoint filled with scientific language. For those who know little about autism, vaccinations or the controversy surrounding Wakefield’s work, they would have little reason to know that he lost his license to practice medicine in Britain or that the very article he wrote in 1998 was later retracted.
Universities must be a forum for promoting education and knowledge, and this means that when an individual who wishes to speak is essentially rejected by the entire community in which he or she works, we have a responsibility to explain the other side.
The problem with allowing Wakefield to speak without any opposing view is that it makes him seem far more credible than he is. He has already caused enough harm in the world. We hope that all Brandeis students recognize the errors and flaws in his work.