The spread of measles - and of lies on the Internet

A bottle containing a measles vaccine, photographed at the Miami Children's Hospital on January 28, 2015.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After a 1998 report in a prestigious British medical journal linking autism to vaccinations, who could blame a parent for questioning whether to have a child vaccinated? Not me.

Measles vaccine debate becomes hot issue heading into 2016 campaign

But here's the hook:


Scientists questioned the conclusions from the start; the study was debunked in 2004, and in 2010 redacted and called utterly false by the journal's editor.

The doctor who wrote the study was barred from practicing medicine, and it was learned he had taken $670,000 from a lawyer who hoped to sue vaccine makers.

But as Mark Twain once remarked, "A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting its boots on."

Underline that in the age of the Internet, as vaccination rates dropped in some places, and measles came back.

With an election coming, no surprise that the "right not to vaccinate" became an issue. One wag said, "Some of these candidates were afraid of losing the anti-science vote."

But there is more than a science lesson here. It's a reminder that the Internet is the first medium to deliver news on a worldwide scale that has no editor.

The worst newspaper has someone who knows where the stuff comes from, but not the Internet. Information -- true, false and in-between -- just appears from who-knows-where and, once out, it's as hard to kill as crab grass.

And sometimes more dangerous.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.