Overcoming false causal attribution: Debunking the MMR- Autism association

Nan Li, Natalie Jomini Stroud, Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In a study published in 1998 in The Lancet, British researchers Wakefield and colleagues described an association between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the onset of autism. Although the MMR- autism association failed to replicate and the lead author was discredited, the purported relationship decreased public confidence in vaccine safety. Parents continue to cite the MMR controversy as a factor complicating their decisions about vaccinating their children. This chapter focuses on misinformation involving false causality and discusses how it might exert persistent influence on individuals’ memory and inference even after being retracted. Additionally, using the MMR controversy as a case study, the chapter identifies some of the boundary situations that render a false causal attribution difficult to dispatch. Several communication strategies for overcoming false causality are recommended and directions for future research discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780190497620
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Autism
  • Causality
  • False causal attribution
  • Misinformation
  • Mmr vaccine


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