Questions about a link between the administration of the pediatric measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine and subsequent diagnoses of autism have diffused widely through both the professional medical literature as well as through mass-market media publications in recent years.

A 1998 study in Lancet (Wakefield et al.) proposed the initial MMR-autism link, and as of this writing, has received over 600 citations per ISI's Web of Science database. The publication of this study, and the controversy and criticism that followed it, coincides with the rapid growth in the scope of Internet information resources and the number of Internet users (Madden, 2006), and represents a unique opportunity to explore the intersection of expert and non-expert conversations about an issue of health, science, and public policy, mediated, in part, by a digital information environment.

While there is no shortage of bibliometric study examining some of the media dimensions of this issue (Hilton, Hunt, Langan, Hamilton, & Petticrew, 2009; Lewis & Speers, 2003; Smith, Ellenberg, Bell, & Rubin, 2008), this study proposes a novel view by choosing an information-based unit of analysis that qualitatively identifies the invocation of published scientific research and governmental policy as “boundary objects” in published discourse, and as possible evidence of assertions of authority in a controversial arena. This present study represents the first part of this effort – a content analysis of the expert literature domain of a controversial topic in an effort to identify themes and patterns that may be applied to a larger (and more diverse) corpus of non-expert literature, and to ultimately help create a more informed theoretical framework for boundary-spanning digital collections.