More MMR: blogs to the defense

Last week I blogged about Jeni Barnett, the LBC radio presenter profiled on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog as an example of all that’s incorrect and uninformed about anti-vaccinationist positions. The audio of her show was shocking as it displayed willful ignorance.

A lot of bloggers, including me, blogged about the story. A lot of Ben’s readers, including me, wrote to LBC and complained about Barnett’s show; the response we got was that LBC had given Barnett a talking to.

LBC lawyers soon swooped down on Ben and threatened him with copyright violation for hosting that audio clip of the show. Ben, being a regular guy with little means to fight, took down the clip.

Bloggers came to the rescue and started producing and hosting transcripts of Barnett’s show.

There’s a good summary of all this in The Times today, including the weekend revelation that Andrew Wakefield’s MMR-scare-producing “study” was even more flawed than originally thought.

Boo Wakefield, boo LBC, boo Barnett.

Extremely bad science

Bad Science’s Ben Goldacre has posted a lengthy radio segment from presenter Jeni Barnett’s LBC radio show. In it, Barnett rails against immunisation, repeats every pseudo-scientific thing she’s been told, uses anecdotes as proof, makes innumerable leaps of false logic, and takes calls from homeopaths to support her view.

I’m halfway through the segment and feeling ill.

EDIT: there are some much saner callers later in the show.

Measles still rising in the UK

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Remember when I grumbled about how the stupid autism scaremongerers scared some British parents into not immunising their children for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)?

Rates of measles continue to rise. From the BBC:

Data from the Health Protection Agency showed there were 1,217 cases of measles from January to November 2008.

And 75% of the 115 cases diagnosed in November were outside the traditional hotspot of London – in the north west, west midlands and south east.

The HPA’s Dr Mary Ramsay said the rise in cases was due to “relatively low” MMR uptake over the past decade.

Here’s a graph showing yearly cases of measles in the UK, with numbers from the Health Protection Agency:


Antivaccination journalist to address UK parliament: why?

UK readers will know about the damage done to the temporary damage done to childhood vaccinations by Andrew Wakefield: he claimed a link between the MMR jab and autism. It’s since been shown that he never had any good evidence of such a link, and was charged with professional misconduct. My sense is that public perception is recovering to the fact that vaccines are safe and a good idea for your children.

There’s a vocal (but equally misguided) antivaccination group in the US, however. It’s become more high-profile than ever with a supporting book and media appearances from a journalist named David Kirby.

Kirby – emboldened, I think, by recent government settlements that don’t prove anything – is coming to the UK next week to do a bunch of media appearances. The Telegraph has amazingly granted him anough credibility to write an article that claims the debate about vaccine safety rages on. Fine, whatever. He has the right to be wrong in public.

What really bugs me is that Kirby has secured (via Lord Robin Hodgson, aka Baron Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who obviously puts some credence in this crap) a briefing to Parliament! I don’t want a crank who doesn’t have the support of the science community and whose book was lambasted by the British Medical Journal to be addressing Parliament as some kind of expert.

I’ve written to my MP to say that I’m not happy about this. I hope no one shows up to his briefing.

Spotty results

In 1998 UK doctor Andrew Wakefield had a study published that claimed there was a link between autism, a new type of bowel disease, and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination jab given to children. This scary proposition – that something that almost all children were getting might cause autism – led to a massive amount of media coverage of the study. And that, of course, led to massive dropoffs in the rates of MMR immunisation of children in the UK.

It quickly became clear, even back in 1998, that Wakefield’s results were suspect. Ten of the thirteen authors of the paper summarizing the studyremoved their names from the conclusions drawn. It’s been a sordid saga since then. Newspapers have re-ignited the scare. Wakefield has beencharged with professional misconduct. The publication that carried the original study has since denounced the study as flawed. Although Wakefield continues his work, there are very few medical professionals who believe there is a connection.

The MMR scare is a key focus for Bad Science’s Ben Goldacre; you can read his history of columns referencing it here.

What is absolutely certain is that large areas of the UK now have a generation of kids that have levels of measles, mumps, and rubella immunity that are lower than they need to be to prevent the spread of those diseases.

Surprise, surprise: areas of London are having measles problems.