BBC Street Science 4: the MMR vaccine

The fourth installment of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series last week saw immunisation expert Dr. David Elliman visiting Lambeth, an area with one of the lowest rates of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccinnation following the autism scare.

I’ve blogged before about that shameful bit of anti-science and the damaging results. Although immunisation rates are now improving again it’s shocking tostill hear misinformed parents putting their own (and other) children at risk. And, because of past inaction, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science notes that measles cases are still increasing in parts of the UK, and the media’s still biased in favour of fear.

BBC Street Science 3: Genetically modified foods

In the third programme of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series, former government science advisor Sir David King meets some breakfasters at a caféthat was the centre of anti-genetic modification (GM) activism in the ’90s.

Of this science series, this is probably the one where I have the most internal conflict. I’m still mostly with the science here: GM foods have been consumed for more than 15 years in large quantities in the Americas, and they drive the cost of food production down and make it more available in places that need it. Some people might say that American food mightn’t be the best advertisment, but I think that North American problems with crap food and obesity are due to other factors. I think that European resistance to GM foods is disproportionately high.

Still, I can see where there might be long-term risks. GM should definitely proceed, but I’m glad that there’s groups keeping a close eye on it.

BBC Street Science 2: Nuclear power

In the second programme of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series this week,former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels Dr. Sue Lion tried to defend nuclear power to members of an alternative technology centre in West Yorkshire.

There’s a little more controversy with this discussion than with the previous day’s. Lion sticks to a realistic view: that we’ll never have the electrical capacity with wind, water and solar power alone. She also explains that nuclear power is much safer than it used to be. I agree with both these points, but they’re not enough to overcome the group’s concerns about safety and waste.

I’m worried that the UK is already too far behind in their nuclear power planning and it’s going to be too late to catch up before current stations need to be retired.

BBC Street Science 1: Human-animal embryos

This past week BBC Radio 4 did a daily show called Street Science. Each was a short (approximately 15 minutes) programme wherein a leading UK scientist would have a discussion on a controversial area of science with members of the public. That public would be specifically chosen to be a group that would likely have an opinion at the other end of the controversy.

The first programme had the unfortunately-named Professor Stephen Minger, an expert in stem cell research, explaining what he does to some members of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Kent. It’s a very calm, straightforward discussion, with very little controversy at all. Stem cell research is a good thing, and very strictly regulated here.

I think the lack of controversy is a symptom of a meeting of reasonable minds, one-on-one, rather than of sensationalist reporting through headlines and non-experts.

Playback is only in RealAudio, but it’s worth a listen. I’ll be blogging about the rest of the series throughout the next five days.