The MMR sceptic who just doesn’t understand science

November 2nd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, mail, media, MMR, references, scare stories, statistics | 136 Comments »

Comment: Research is all about error. Either learn how to interpret data yourself, or trust those who can do it for you

Ben Goldacre
Wednesday November 2, 2005
The Guardian

Whatever you have been told, science is not about certainty. And this creates problems for those health professionals who are charged with interpreting and relating data to the general public. We are expected to refute wholesale misunderstandings, in a popular forum, to people who may well be intelligent but who know nothing of evidence-based medicine, in soundbite format.

Health scares are like toothpaste: they’re easy to squeeze out, but very difficult to get back in the tube. On Monday, for example, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail wrote yet another attack on the MMR vaccine. She suggested that the journalists who trusted the new Cochrane review, which shows that MMR is probably safe and not linked to autism, were lazy stooges who took the press release at face value.

The problem is that Phillips seems to misunderstand basic epidemiology. She cites “research data” of highly dubious status and misrepresents what data there is. Her response is a microcosm of the problems that can arise when journalists engage with science.

The Cochrane Collaboration is an independent, international non-profit organisation that produces systematic reviews of the literature, written by and for scientists who understand critical appraisal. It would be a happier world if journalists who write about health issues were also au fait with the intricacies of evidence-based medicine, and were trained to read academic papers. But because the majority of them can’t, the report is converted into a more easily digested press release for journalists.

This creates its own problems. Science is all about the error bar, a graphic representation of the uncertainties in the data. I look forward to the day when every politician’s speech has an error bar next to it, fluctuating in response to the margin of certainty around their claims.

This is how science works: you do a piece of research, you get some results and you write them up, in full, so that everyone can see what you’ve done, replicate it and critique it. You say: here are our results, they are this statistically accurate (error bar), and on the basis of this finding, and many other findings from other labs (which are clearly referenced) we come to the following verdict on a particular hypothesis.

The process is transparent, but relies on people being able to critically appraise a paper, pull apart its methodology, understand the statistics, in order to come to their own verdict. It follows that all scientific papers are flawed, to a greater or lesser extent, and each in its own unique way, because of the different ways of working around the practical problems of doing research: imperfect follow-up, imperfect measurements and so on. Scientists all know that.

A Cochrane review is a systematic review of the literature, which critiques each paper it encounters in exactly this manner. So the press release for this particular Cochrane review said, overall, that this overview of the evidence suggests that MMR is pretty safe.

But Phillips has read the full report, and is outraged by what she thinks she’s found: “It said that no fewer than nine of the most celebrated studies that have been used against [Andrew Wakefield, who first claimed in 1998 that there was a link between the vaccine and autism] were unreliable in the way they were constructed”. Of course it did. Cochrane reviews are intended to criticise papers.

She seems surprised that the report doesn’t walk the reader through the reasons why Wakefield’s speculative 12-subject case-series report is less worrying when considered alongside the many large epidemiological surveys of up to half a million people that the Cochrane review focuses on. But the reasons are clear to anyone who understands biomedical research.

Phillips presents material as experimental scientific research when it has never been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and is not indexed in PubMed, the standard search tool for finding medical academic papers.

One piece of scientific research she refers to has been published only in the in-house magazine of a rightwing US pressure group well known for polemics on homosexuality, abortion and vaccines. She says “autistic enterocolitis” is a “disease” and a “new syndrome” that has been “replicated in studies around the world”. As a rough guide, the phrase “autistic enterocolitis” appears in only five PubMed-indexed academic papers, one by Wakefield and four others mostly doubting its status.

What’s more, she seems to misunderstand basic epidemiology. Large population surveys have greater power to detect a small increase in a given condition. Apparently not for Phillips: “Only a very small proportion are said to have been badly affected … ” she says.”But population-wide studies are considered too large and insensitive to pick up small numbers such as this.”

It is self-evident to anybody who understands biomedical research, and if you don’t get it then you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust. Choose wisely.

· Ben Goldacre is a doctor and writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian bad.science@guardian.co.uk

Comments below, personal anecdotes will be deleted as people get easily upset by the subsequent responses, childish personal attacks on anyone will be deleted unless they are funny. If your post is more than one thousand words long you are officially a loser.


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136 Responses



  1. Kieran said,

    November 2, 2005 at 11:22 am

    From the article:
    “Only a very small proportion are said to have been badly affected … ” she says.”But population-wide studies are considered too large and insensitive to pick up small numbers such as this.”

    I wonder if this statement could be used in teaching (elementary) statistics? “What is wrong with the following statement?”

  2. John A said,

    November 2, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    I think the key phrase is “such like this”. Clearly the best way to pick up small numbers “such like this” is to advertise for patients who have recently had the vaccine and subsequently developed autism. (For example by approaching some campaign group run by MMR sceptics). Then see if the rate of autism in these children is higher than in a population of children who haven’t had the vaccine.

    Then rub your hands together, say “mwahaha” and await the sweet shower of adoration from the Daily Mail…

  3. Stephen said,

    November 2, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Perhaps an column on how to decide who to trust would be good.

  4. Ashish said,

    November 2, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    Ms. Phillips quite clearly doesn’t get it, but a lot of “scientists” don’t either. Maybe your colleagues in Britain are wiser than mine in America, Ben, but I know at least a few physicians who couldn’t fluently describe the meaning of a p-value or the importance of variance relative to a mean. Without those concepts it’s hard to interpret a research paper, and maybe that’s why those physicians don’t bother.

    You might find the same lack of rigor when you ask scientists about politics, though. History provides ample evidence that can be used to analyze political theories, but I’ve rarely found a scientist willing to use their critical skills in that way. Most of us have the same anecdotal, knee-jerk decision-making process as everyone else.

    Lastly, and this is just an overall impression, the way that Ms. Phillips reads evidence bears a striking resemblance to the interpretations of evidence used in the build-up to the war in the Middle East. Critical thinking and careful interpretation should NOT be considered the domain of science — they’re basic skills for navigation in a social world.

  5. Ray said,

    November 2, 2005 at 2:50 pm

    You can read the article, MMR: the unanswered questions, at melaniephillips.com.

  6. Roger said,

    November 2, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    Is there any chance of legal action against the likes of Melanie Phillips and the Daily Mail?

    Surely by encouraging people not to have vaccinations, they are directly contributing to the spread of dangerous disease?

  7. amoebic vodka said,

    November 2, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    Aaah, but could you trust it?

  8. Charles said,

    November 2, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    “Science is all about the error bar, a graphic representation of the uncertainties in the data. I look forward to the day when every politician’s speech has an error bar next to it, fluctuating in response to the margin of certainty around their claims.”

    Bravo, good sir… Bravo!

  9. stu said,

    November 2, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    I have a politics degree, she has an english degree. What gives either of us the right to think that our own interpretation of the report of a group of health professionals can be better than their own. That’s like interpreting shakespeare with minimal understanding of english.

    “Yes, it also said the evidence it looked at did not support any association between MMR and autism. But that does not mean it said the vaccine was safe. It was rather that it didn’t find anything to suggest that it was not.”

    Ha ha ha!!

  10. Natalie said,

    November 2, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    Ah the return of Melanie Phillips and her wonderful science reporting. I fondly remember the hour spent dissecting one of her previous articles in a module “Communicating Science”. From what I remember there wasn’t alot of valid science in that one either.

    I have to agree with stu, is it such an abstract idea that journalists who write about science in order to inform the general public should have science qualifications?

    But The Daily Mail has to publish at least one science scare story a week or its readership wouldn’t know to be scared of those dangerous, evil and misleading scientists…or am I being a little harsh in my condemnation?

  11. Maury Markowitz said,

    November 2, 2005 at 11:04 pm

    I can’t be sure, but I’m also pretty sure she’s deliberately distorting evidence. For instance, she claims in the article that the American Institude of Medicine accepted a causal link between

    Really? Well let me quote from the paper in question: “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship at the population level between MMR vaccine and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).”

    Now I actually _don’t_ have the complete paper handy, but I find it difficult to believe that her appraisal is anything but an outright lie.

    Maury

  12. Lorna McCrystal said,

    November 3, 2005 at 12:23 am

    So if incidence of diagnosed autism drops as the same time as the ‘take up’ of MMR vaccination could this be described as correlation? Perhaps parents themselves are conducting the biggest study yet?

  13. Ian said,

    November 3, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Parents are indeed doing that – and we’ve already seen difficulties in this country with a re-emergance of these problems. The evidence does not seem to support a causal link, but the standard response is often “but you can’t prove it, can you?”. To be fair, I would reply, you can’t disprove the theory that there exists somewhere in the universe a planet made up entirely of Lego, but it’s unlikely. Who said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

    I always understood that wide-scale immunisation had a double benefit:

    Firstly, an immunised individual is safe from a harmful disease (in most cases, I know there are occasional exceptions)

    Secondly, for a disease to reoccur in a population there must be a certain percentage who can carry it. A disease cannot spread too far or gain epidemic status if most people cannot be carriers.

    I seem to remember a demonstration of this with a 10×10 grid. Colour in any 10 at random – there are still many long routes from square to square (the non-immunised individuals). Colour in any 20 – still many routes. There comes a stage when suddenly a disease cannot spread very far at all, and so even those who *are* at risk never come into contact with a potentially infected person.

    Hmm… wonder if I can find a software demo of this for my classes…

  14. Santiago said,

    November 3, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    I shall only say that your page is wonderful.
    Thaks a lot for it.
    Saludos desde Valencia(España)

  15. John A said,

    November 3, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Lorna: Yes if the incidence dropped at the same time as take up dropped it would be a correlation (but not necessarily causation). Since the rate of autism increased when the rate of MMR take up was constant (tinyurl.com/cxrfr), I doubt there’d be a “dip”. So you’d be looking for the number of cases to not increase as much as it did previously and to be certain this wasn’t just due to chance. Also other possible factors contributing to this slowdown would have to be factored out. Tough to be certain about.
    If parents are “conducting the biggest study yet” its a pretty weak one that needlessly exposes a huge proportion of the population to a greatly increased risk. It would never get past an ethics comittee.

    As an aside, what I find interesting about this (and other similar issues) is I think that people aren’t convinced by the evidence that MMR is safe (www.mmrthefacts.nhs.uk/library/research.php) because they WANT the opposite to be true. It suits their predjudices. Perhaps something of a “the modern world is evil and poisonous” philosphy?

    John.

  16. John L said,

    November 3, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    I would also point out that Melanie Phillips is a creationist. So of course she doesn’t believe in medical science or any biology.

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 3, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    There’s a thin line between procrastinating and working, but I’ve been thinking, if you’re going to be a campaigning journalist I reckon you need to have some slogan t-shirts for sale too:

    www.spreadshirt.net/shop.php?op=article&ac=details&article_id=2037682#top

    This one is already available, but I’m up for suggestions, so there’s a free packet of placebos for the best t-shirt slogan…

  18. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 3, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Okay I’ve gone crazy now. You can buy “MMR is safe tell your friends” t-shirts in mens and womens sizes and designs. Ideal for parents’ evenings, barbecues, dinner parties and street fighting. Also available in childrens sizes for extra impact.

    Since christmas is rushing up on us, for the ardent rationalist among your friends you might also want to consider an “MMR is safe tell your friends” mug – all the reassurance of an effective public health program and a nice cup of tea – or an “MMR is safe tell your friends” teddy bear. Is it funny or sinister? Only you can decide.

    badscience.spreadshirt.net

  19. Tristan said,

    November 3, 2005 at 7:17 pm

    Nice idea with the T-shirts. I still think you should take up that idea of the “Make Bullshit History” wristbands – now that I definitely would buy!

    Glad you put all your columns online by the way, particularly since it moved to saturdays. The advantage of working on a campus is that I can get the Grauniad for 20p during the week. I’m too tight to buy it every saturday!

  20. Tessa K said,

    November 3, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    Not sure I’d want to be seen wearing something so utterly lacking in punctuation…

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 3, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    The “Make Bullshit History” wristbands weren’t me, they were from the guy who ripped off the idea for Bad Science to write The Sceptic in the health pages, surprisingly, of the very same newspaper, on Thursdays. It’s identical except I’m funnier and better looking. And had the idea first.

  22. Tristan said,

    November 3, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    I know – I told you about him!

    I also told you that one idea rip off deserves another – go on, you know you want to!

  23. amoebic vodka said,

    November 3, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    Bad Science thongs, eh? Who’s going to see the slogan? We always liked the Brass Eye quote and think there’s a Bad Science t-shirt in there somewhere:

    “There’s no scientific evidence for it, but it’s still a fact.”

    And we thought the sceptic column was some kind of antidote to label watch. We didn’t realise it was supposed to be funny?

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 3, 2005 at 11:24 pm

    how about this for a t-shirt:

    I will fight you over homeopathy
    right here
    right now
    and win

  25. amoebic vodka said,

    November 3, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    We’re thinking that it will read something like this when worn:

    …will fight you…
    right here
    right now
    and win

    Not a good thing to wear on a saturday night, surely?

  26. Richard said,

    November 4, 2005 at 12:52 am

    For your t-shirts, how about: “I’ve got MRSA in my nose”.

  27. janey said,

    November 4, 2005 at 12:56 am

    “Gillian McKeith… is not a doctor. Tell your friends.”

  28. Ian said,

    November 4, 2005 at 8:50 am

    “If it can’t be expressed in numbers then it’s not science, it’s opinion.”

    I’d suggest “Science is about questions not answers.” but it sounds like it belongs on an advert for the Alpha Course…

  29. Roger said,

    November 4, 2005 at 11:08 am

    I wrote the following e-mail to Melaine, and she replied to it. Sadly I didn’t know I was dealing with a creationist when I wrote the e-mail, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered.

    ***

    Dear Melaine Philips,

    I’m sure your intentions are good, but by encouraging people to doubt a safe vaccine, you are [indirectly] going to harm a lot of British children, and cause their parents distress.

    Please read the article below [I included Ben's article about Mel]

    Please find the courage to apologise and explain that you misunderstood the research paper you read. Please publish your apology and explanation in the Daily Mail.

    Nobody will think any the worse of you, and even your sternest critics will be impressed by your honesty.

    Thanks for reading.

    Yours sincerely,

    Roger

    [And Melaine replied]

    It is interesting that you assume Goldacre is right and I am wrong. I happen to disagree.

    Melanie Phillips

    ***

    - Roger

  30. BorisTheChemist said,

    November 4, 2005 at 11:23 am

    I think “MMR is safe, tell your friends” is going a little to far. Dismissing scare-stories is one thing, but make statements without the error bars to go with them is another!

    I suggest:

    “In the balance of probabilities and in light of all available evidence, MMR is most likely safe to use – tell your friends”

    But you’d need XXL T-shirts and it isn’t quite as catchy, but it is right – maybe we’re getting to the heart of journalism here?

  31. Roger said,

    November 4, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    And here she is again. I wrote back:

    Hello again Melaine,

    This isn’t a matter for disagreement and discussion like a political argument. This is about you fundamentally misunderstanding scientific research and methodology.

    Please try and take this point on board, and then apologise and try and set the record straight.

    Thanks.

    - Roger

    And Mel wrote back:

    I do not misunderstand it. On the contrary, it is people like yourself who appear not to understand the limitations of epidemiology. Goldacre’s article was simply wrong.

  32. Dave M said,

    November 4, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    I’d love to wear one of the MMR t-shirts but I fear I would be lynched by the Crouch End, Daily Mail reading, buggy brigade. They would probably bludgeon me to death with organic fennel.

    T-Shirt suggestion: “My Placebos aren’t working”

  33. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 4, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    “Simply wrong”? I’d have hoped at the very least for complicatedly wrong.

  34. Tessa K said,

    November 4, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    How about: ‘Prove It’.

    I did wonder about The Sceptic column. Is Druin Birch a doctor? He certainly has a sillier name than you. As to whether you’re better looking, we await the evidence.

  35. Andrew Clegg said,

    November 4, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    Re. t-shirt designs — how about “statistically insignificant” ?

    Maybe with “the plural of anecdote isn’t data” on the back.

    Andrew.

  36. Steffan said,

    November 4, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    How about something blunter?

    ‘Science or Witchcraft – you choose’

  37. Bug said,

    November 4, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    This article on spiked online is quite interesting -
    www.spiked-online.co.uk/Articles/0000000CAE25.htm, it brings together the mercury in vaccines and autism stuff with the poor quality of scientific reporting. I’ll refrain from commenting on it’s scientific accuracy as I’m a humanities graduate and know my place.

    Actually would “I’m a humanities graduate and know my place.” be good for t-shirts?

  38. Dave M said,

    November 4, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    How about: Trust me I’m a doctor*

    *non-accredited correspondence course

  39. Lorna McCrystal said,

    November 4, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    For the T -shirt

    AUTISM

    A SMALL BUT UNACCEPTABLE NUMBER

    The Wakefield fiasco for me is the equivalent to the guy who lost the trail for the Yorkshire Ripper just distracts from looking for the real cause.

  40. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 4, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. There are important public health issues to be considered, on all kinds of topics including MMR, MRSA, and completely unrelated subjects. Important useful work is done on all of them, but in the meantime the media get their knickers in a twist about one tiny thing and think that’s where the action is, believing their own myths.

    The real disaster is when funding priorities and patient behaviour start to change in response to the hysteria.

  41. M said,

    November 4, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    “MMR is safe”
    SHOCK AS GUARDIAN HACK CLAIMS THAT MEASLES, MUMPS AND RUBELLA ARE ALL ‘SAFE’!!!
    (More on pages 4-9, interspersed with pictures of celebrities, and fourteen other medical scare stories)

  42. Lorna McCrystal said,

    November 4, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Autism is not a ‘tiny thing’ for all those affected by it but it does only affect a small part of the population. Maybe measles, mumps, rubella do play a part in the cocktail of what causes autism, scientific research so far believes this not to be case so therefore it can be suggested that we trust those who do it on our behalf, but lets not because of one man’s theory (Wakefield) stop looking for any causal links because patient behaviour may change. The real tradegy is that those who fund research may not want to be asscoiated with anything autism related because they fear the media response and the subsequent panic, Autism is a fact, the cause isn’t let’s not through any analysis stop any progressive moves.

  43. janey said,

    November 4, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    NOBODY SAID AUTISM IS A TINY THING.

  44. Bug said,

    November 4, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    Back to Melanie Phillips I doubt if she could change her mind, whenever I’ve heard her she is scarily certain of her rightness, even when in ‘The Moral Maze’ the other week when she was being told the science she refused to change her mind.

    As the French would say: Il n’ya que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis

  45. Natalie said,

    November 4, 2005 at 6:48 pm

    So your article was “simply wrong”. Oh Ben, I bet you are crying into your white coat at that damnation from Melanie “I have no science qualifications” Phillips. Would it be too much of a waste of my (not so valuable time) to e-mail her all the journal articles on PubMed on this topic and ask her to read them and review them and see what more pearls of wisdom we can glean from her?

  46. Tessa K said,

    November 4, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    Dave M – nice one!

    Or, for men with vasectomies: ‘Trust me – I’ve been doctored’. (Sorry).

    (How do you copy and paste from someone else’s posts here? I tried but the text just won’t copy. Is this a Mac thing?)

  47. stevo said,

    November 4, 2005 at 9:43 pm

    Maybe someone should alert Melanie to the perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide!
    www.dhmo.org/

  48. Dr* T said,

    November 5, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Bug,

    I didn’t get any further than the first line in the Spiked Health article because it is incorrect – Batheaston is not in Devon (and never has been) it’s in Bath & NE Wiltshire.

    First line, first fact – switch off.

    * fully accredited :)

  49. Gary said,

    November 5, 2005 at 11:04 am

    I would suggest:

    ‘Viral marketing doesn’t work – tell all your friends’

    Except someone already makes those.

  50. Miss Prism said,

    November 5, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    How about “Epidemics are not safe“?
    Your column is great, keep it up!

  51. Bob O'H said,

    November 6, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    If you replace population-wide by cohort in this:

    ”But population-wide studies are considered too large and insensitive to pick up small numbers such as this.”

    it sort of makes sense (because if a disease is rare, you to sample a huge number of people to find enough cases).

    This is why they invented case control studies: you get a bunch of people with the condition you’re interested in (the cases, e.g. autism): and then sample a similar number of people who’s profiles are matched to the cases (the controls, e.g. you make sure the controls have the same sex ratio). Then you ask about the factor you’re interested in, here it would be receiving the MMR vaccine, and see if the frequencies are the same in the case and control groups. If it’s different in the cases, then this suggests that the actor has a causal effect on the condition (i.e. here if MMR vaccination was higher in the cases, it would suggest that it increases the risk of autism).

    I can’t get access to the Cochran Collaboration report, so I can’t check to see if any of the studies examined were case control studies. It appears you have free access if you’re in England, Wales or Ireland (both parts), but not Scotland. And here in Finland you have to be registered.

    Bob

    P.S. re: placbos as prizes. What colour are they? This seems to be important
    ().

  52. Richard said,

    November 6, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    Bob O’H, I’ve just downloaded a copy of the Cochran Collaboration report. It says that

    “The studies included in the review were as follows: five randomised controlled trials; fourteen cohort studies; five case-control studies; three time-series trials; one case-crossover trial; one ecological trial; one self-controlled case series trial.”

  53. Richard said,

    November 6, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    For reference, the Cochran report is available here in pdf format:

    www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004407/pdf_fs.html

    Or here in html:

    www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD004407/frame.html

  54. Alex B said,

    November 6, 2005 at 10:58 pm

    people seem to be missing one point

    melanie phillips is not a figure of hatred /ridicule because she has no science qualifications and writes about science. she is a figure of ridicule because she has an inability to understand science, and write about it in a truthful or sensible manner.

    i have an inside view to the mmr debacle due to a member of my family, and the entire thing is a horrendous exercise in misunderstanding and misinformation.

    and i would like to see a tshirt on probiotics. “my mum went to asda and all i got was this stupid yogurt-bacteria-drinky-thing”

  55. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 7, 2005 at 9:30 am

    Letters
    Dangerous assumptions over MMR vaccine

    Monday November 7, 2005
    The Guardian

    The latest victim of Ben Goldacre’s diatribes is Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail (The MMR sceptic who just doesn’t understand science, November 2). Though many recipients of Goldacre’s vitriol are deserving of his scorn, Melanie Phillips is not one of them. She, rightly, criticises the majority of her fellow journalists for writing a story based on a spun press release rather than a critical reading of the review paper itself.

    Article continues
    The Cochrane collaboration report in question sets out its stall by asserting “measles, mumps and rubella are three very dangerous diseases”. They are not. Measles has the potential to be serious, but to even suggest that mumps falls into the “very dangerous” category is laughable. As for safety, the closest the paper got to declaring the MMR vaccine safe was to state “exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism … ” The report was highly critical of the safety trials on the MMR and commented on the “limited observation periods” of the studies which followed up children for no more than three weeks, apart from a single piece of research which extended to six weeks; this is totally inadequate to detect possible uncommon side-effects, such as autism.

    Most of the studies claimed by the government to demonstrate the safety of the MMR were criticised as being of poor methodology. Conclusions of the full report included: “We found only limited evidence of safety of the MMR compared to [single vaccines]” and “we could not find studies assessing the effectiveness of the MMR that fulfilled our inclusion criteria”.

    Goldacre extols the ability of epidemiological studies to “detect a small increase in a given condition”. Maybe, but only if they test the correct hypothesis, namely that the MMR vaccine triggers autism and bowel disease in a small subgroup of susceptible children. That requires a study with sufficient power to detect this possibility, something none of studies reviewed in the report has. Remarkably, the paper concluded that the safety studies into MMR were so poor that “the safety record of MMR is probably best attested by almost universal use”. In other words, because the vaccine is so widely used it must be safe – a dangerous and decidedly unscientific assumption. The safety of the MMR vaccine remains on trial.
    Dr Richard Halvorsen
    The Holborn Medical Centre

    Ben Goldacre has been prominent in attacking those who have raised questions over the MMR vaccine, implying that such questions are scare stories. However, there are legitimate questions about the MMR vaccine that are not being raised.

    First of all, there were three brands of the vaccine introduced in the UK in 1988. Two of those were withdrawn from use in September 1992. At the time the government announced that this was merely a “change in supply”, although subsequently the government has admitted that these vaccines were causing, in some instances, encephalitis – a serious brain condition. There were many children affected by this and this problem should be accepted and recognised.

    Second, I note that it has been reported that the government says the vaccine is “perfectly safe”. Many people might assume “perfectly safe” to mean that the vaccine is not capable of causing serious injury. However, in the leaflet I was given which came with the MMR vaccine given to my son, the manufacturers state that it is capable of causing meningitis/encephalitis; profound deafness; chronic arthritis; gradual mental deterioration; Guillam Barre Syndrome; idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura; sub-acute sclerosing panencephalitis; fits/epilepsy. How can a product capable of causing such conditions be stated to be “perfectly safe”?

    Lastly, it is commonly thought that the MMR vaccine litigation had legal aid funding withdrawn. However, although funding was withdrawn for autism/bowel inflammation cases, funding was restored for some claimants with some of the conditions mentioned above. Three of the clients that my legal firm continue to represent suffer from severe intractable epilepsy and brain damage which began within seven days of vaccination with MMR. One suffers from profound bilateral deafness. I would hope the great vaccine debate will eventually lead to an enlightened understanding that vaccination can, in rare cases, cause serious injury. To describe it therefore as “perfectly safe” is being somewhat economic with the truth. On a risk/benefit analysis, the evidence points strongly towards vaccination. However, those unfortunate enough to suffer serious injury at a very young age deserve support and decent compensation.
    Peter Todd
    Hodge Jones & Allen

    Ben Goldacre is right to say there are no certainties in science. Yet authority after authority has been quick to conclude the MMR is safe and not linked to autism and bowel disease. Authors and reviewers of epidemiological papers have claimed repeatedly that their scientific findings are conclusive. The government declares the issue closed and refuses to finance replication studies to settle whether or not the measles virus is found in the bodies of autistic children but rarely in controls. Instead, it relies, as does Goldacre, on the spurious power of numbers to suggest that the population-wide studies are far more capable of detecting pathological abnormalities in a population than a clinical study of 12 children, such as Wakefield’s 1998 “early report” in the Lancet – let alone his subsequent studies of larger groups of children in peer-reviewed journals Goldacre doesn’t mention. Doubt about MMR safety will continue for as long as research funding supports epidemiological and not clinical research.
    Dr Martin Hewitt
    London

  56. Kev said,

    November 7, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Thank you for this piece. I am parent to an autisitic daughter and am growing increasingly concerned about where journalism’s priorities lie in reporting on autism. Its become clear to me over time that there is no causative link between any vaccine and autism and I swapped emails with Phillips on this theme when she published her article last week. She closed with the line that she was sorry I’d bought into the propaganda which I think tells people all they need to know about her.

    I regularly debate some of the ‘quackier’ vaccine believers on my blog and their beliefs range from the interesting to the downright bizarre. A lot of the Americans believe that the thiomersal that used to be in vacines caused autism – despite no evidence of it in any way. They also believe that the MMR jab causes autism. When one points out that MMR never contained thiomersal they concoct a theory in which thiomersal damages the brain then MMR causes the autism.

    When one asks for them to provide the science to back up their claims then the root of it all becomes clear: they don’t need science, just the ‘evidence’ of their own two eyes.

    Autism is suffering due to this continued bad science. The dignity of autistic people is also suffering. Research money is dwindling and sensationalists like Phillips carry on building their careers on the disenfranchised future of autistic people all over the world. Thankfully people such as yourself and Brian Deer exist to keep the flag for truth flying.

  57. janey said,

    November 7, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    So that’s:

    853 words by Ben attacking MMR pseudoscientists who don’t understand evidence, followed by

    916 words of letters printed making the same mistakes as the original Phillips piece.

    Why do you bother? After all, The Guardian was wrong about MMR from the very beginning, and as much of a scaremonger as anyone else.

  58. janey said,

    November 7, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    Both Hewitt and Halvorsen are anti-MMR favourites:

    www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=%22Martin+Hewitt%22+mmr

    www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=%22richard+halvorsen%22+mmr

    Many of those hits are Guardian scaremongering pieces about MMR.

  59. BorisTheChemist said,

    November 7, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    They all have a point. but they all miss the point don’t they? Ben’s piece was an attack on the quality of journalism in Melanie Phillips’ piece. It was a thorough critique stating specific examples on how Ms Phillips came to her conclusions.

    Not to say that I agree with this ‘MMR is so safe I’ll inject it into my eye’ milarky that has gone on in the comments section.

  60. Alex B said,

    November 7, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    I am sure Dr Halvorsen staunchly believes the single jabs are safer for patients than the triple vaccine, but isnt charging private patients £140 for each single jab somewhat excessive, and perhaps a little proposterous? i also feel that it places him in murky waters in terms of commenting on whether triple or single jabs are safer.

  61. Lorna McCrystal said,

    November 7, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    ‘A small but unacceptable number’, a quote from mmrthteam@doh.gsi.gov.uk, I had three of my kids vaccinated in October, 1989 a daughter aged 6 and twin boys aged 14months, one of whom went on to develop atypical behaviour and a subsequent diagnosis of autism and severe learning difficulties. On investigation my daughter and the one unaffected twin shared the same batch of vaccine, the affected twin a different batch number. The above website in it’s reply to me in 2003 regarding the withdrawal of Immravax and Pluserix states ‘As your children were immunised with MMR in 1989, it is possible that they received either of the vaccines which were subsequently withdrawn. On 27th October, 1994 I personally wrote to Dr. Calman, the then Chief Medical Officer about my concerns of a possible link between autism and immunisation, believing it to be a cocktail of genetic prediposition, virus induced/vaccination and got the response from Dr D Salisbury’ one of the particular problems with the interpretation of vaccine related adverse events is the temptation to make causal connections between events that have only a temporal association’, no change there then eleven years on! I returned to education in 1997, access course, graduated in 2000 and I am currntely doing MA Autism Sheffield Hallam University. My son is now seventeen I have read much research, (spent many a happy day in the stacks) have theories of my own as to possible causes, for me the jury is ‘still out’ regarding MMR but an instinct tells me that herin lies the cause.

  62. drblake said,

    November 7, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    That first letter in particular is just somebody making exactly the same mistakes as Phillips. What a funny thing to publish.

  63. Ray said,

    November 7, 2005 at 9:21 pm

    one of the particular problems with the interpretation of vaccine related adverse events is the temptation to make causal connections between events that have only a temporal association’, no change there then eleven years on!

    No change because it’s true. It’s the human condition to make “after this, therefore because of this” connections. It works pretty well, but with a major downside of sometimes seeing a connection when there isn’t one. Check out cognitive bias.

  64. Pablo McB said,

    November 7, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    On the subject of t-shirts, how about “This T-shirt is what happens when you allow scientists to dictate fashion. The MMR Scare is what happens when you allow journalists to dictate science.” Preferably, the T-shirt should be badly fitting, and in some nasty colour. ..

  65. Richard said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:07 am

    No link to this article on the Bad Science page on the Guardian website. Was it not a Guardian scanctioned story or has it been removed to save face for Phillips?

  66. Rafiq said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:27 am

    The anti-MMR wordcount increases…

    Comment
    The case against me boils down to smear and evasion

    Scrutiny of evidence on the MMR vaccine is being stifled by the government and a reckless medical establishment

    Melanie Phillips
    Tuesday November 8, 2005
    The Guardian

    At the heart of the MMR vaccine controversy is an attempt to blind people with science. Proponents of the vaccine say science has proved it is safe and that those who deny this are scientifically illiterate. This argument has been used to tell parents that the evidence of their own eyes is not true. While the vast majority of children have had no problem with the MMR vaccine, a small proportion of parents found that after vaccination their children developed bowel problems, an allergic reaction to various foods, and a halt to their behavioural development that produced the symptoms of autism.

    Article continues
    Their concerns were dismissed by the medical profession. One doctor who did take them seriously was a gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield. In a Lancet paper he said the children were suffering from a new disease, autistic enterocolitis; at a press conference he suggested that to be safe children should have single jabs instead of the triple MMR.

    Since then the government has pointed to a succession of epidemiological studies that, it says, prove that MMR is safe. A recent meta-study by the Cochrane Library was likewise reported to have said that fears about the vaccine were based on “unreliable evidence”.

    But the study itself did not say this. On the contrary, it found that nine of the most prominent epidemiology studies that are employed to attack Wakefield’s research were unreliable. Since it did not look at Wakefield’s research, it did not address the questions raised over the vaccine in the first place. The report therefore could not bear the conclusion attributed to it that MMR was safe.

    When I pointed this out in the Daily Mail last week, I was attacked in these pages by Dr Ben Goldacre, who said I did not understand how science worked. On the contrary, it is Goldacre who is ignoring the evidence, and his errors go to the essence of the MMR controversy.

    Like the government, Goldacre believes clinical findings are trumped by epidemiology, which he says is “evidence-based” medicine. But the attempt to refute Wakefield by epidemiology is a category confusion. Epidemiology looks at patterns of disease in a population. It cannot prove or disprove cause and effect in individual patients.

    A paper published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons says epidemiology “cannot establish a causal association unless other biological evidence backs it up”, and does not meet a scientific standard of proof since it is prone to bias – the very criticism that the Cochrane report made of the epidemiological studies of MMR and autism.

    Having accused me of misunderstanding “real” science, Goldacre then claims that I have fallen for pseudoscience by believing evidence that has never been peer-reviewed. Bizarrely, he asserts that I have relied upon research that has been published only in the “in-house magazine of a rightwing US pressure group well known for polemics on homosexuality, abortion and vaccines”.

    What on earth is he talking about? The devastating finding of measles virus in the cerebro-spinal fluid of some autistic children who had been given the MMR vaccine has been peer-reviewed in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

    He claims that Wakefield’s term “autistic enterocolitis” has appeared in no other studies that have endorsed it. But Wakefield’s core finding of a unique gut-brain disease has been replicated in peer-reviewed papers in the Journal of Paediatric Neurology, Neuropsychobiology, the Journal of Paediatrics, the Journal of Clinical Immunology and the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

    So what is this sinister “rightwing” organisation upon which I am supposed to have relied? Alas, Goldacre does not tell us. So let us guess. Might it be, perhaps, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which published the evidence of measles virus in cerebro-spinal fluid? Or might it be the American Institute of Medicine, which said that any evidence that symptoms worsen after booster jabs (as has been claimed with MMR) was real evidence of a link between a vaccine and a disorder?

    Goldacre’s case boils down to evasiveness, ignorance, misrepresentation and smear. Are these really the attributes of a scientific vocabulary? Is this really “evidence-based medicine”? Of course, it is important to vaccinate children against dangerous diseases. But if even a small subsection of children is badly affected – which is all that is being claimed over MMR – the balance of risk dramatically changes.

    The government and the medical establishment deny the evidence of any such effect. They claim that science has shown there is no case to answer. But it depends on which type of science, and whether it is being used appropriately. The fact is that scientists are making progress in deciphering the mysterious relationship, which Wakefield first identified, between a new type of bowel disease and brain disorder. The connection between this relationship and the MMR vaccine is far from proven. But legitimate scrutiny of the real questions that have been raised are being stifled by the government and a medical establishment that have behaved recklessly and spinelessly, and are busy suppressing all attempts to hold this up to the light.

    · Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist

  67. Rafiq said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:40 am

    The Journal of Paediatric Neurology that she quotes doesn’t even exist. Should I carry on reading her article?

  68. DaveGodfrey said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:51 am

    I wouldn’t she seems to be developing a persecution complex.

    I can find European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, Paediatric Neurology, and the Journal of Pediatric Neurology. Regardless of normal “Guardian style” conventions, they should spell the Journal correctly.

  69. Rafiq said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:59 am

    Here’s a good article on Phillips’ “Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons” peer reviewed journal:

    conwebwatch.tripod.com/stories/2005/medicine.html

  70. Aidan said,

    November 8, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    My respect for Melanie Phillips collapsed when I heard her on the Moral Maze discussing climate change. Her argument was broadly as follows:

    X, who is a qualified climatologist doesn’t think there is global warming. If you as a member of the public think there is, then you are pitting your lowly ignorance against X’s mighty knowledge and are clearly wrong.

    She completely ignored the fact this argument could be reversed and could be used against her, a scientifically ignorant journalist who was telling the vast majority of scientists in that field that they were wrong.

    The obnoxiousness and self-righteousness that she put this fairly ridiculous point forward made me grateful for all the years that I have spent not bothering to read either her column, or the paper that thinks her opinion is worth column inches.

    Is she really a creationist?

  71. Charles said,

    November 8, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    No idea if she is a creationist or not. But taking a gander through her website it seems she thinks that the reason France is burning is the fact that Muslims are the problem…

    “We must end the ruinous doctrine of multiculturalism and reassert British identity and British values — and insist that although Muslims are a valued minority, they must abide by majority rules.”

    I’m speechless.

  72. Richard Lindley said,

    November 8, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    I sent this to Ms Phillips – will let you know if I get any reply…

    On 11/8/05, Richard Lindley wrote:
    > Dear Melanie,
    >
    > I am writing to correct a number of assertions that you made in your
    > recent article attempting to rebut Dr Goldacre’s criticisms.
    >
    > I’m afraid he has the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (aka
    > “Medical Sentinel” bang to rights. Did you check the credentials of
    > this journal before publishing your article?
    >
    > I tried using PubMed
    > (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed) , the free
    > resource which will list articles from all peer reviewed medical
    > journals – no Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons there.
    >
    > So, I tried ISI’s Web of Knowledge (wok.mimas.ac.uk/), which
    > lists scientific journals from a much wider background and also
    > indexes presentations given at scientific meetings – again, no joy. I
    > could also find no listing of the impact factor for this particular journal.
    >
    > It is, therefore, hard to claim this is a legitimate medical journal
    > in the mould of the Lancet or BMJ. I note that you make much of the “Journal”
    > being peer reviewed. Who are these peers? Where are they listed?
    > What qualifications do they have in the field of vaccine research?
    >
    > Had you done some more internet-based research, there are many sites
    > that will detail problems with the AAPS. Perhaps most disturbing, at
    > least to an NHS professional such as myself, is the dedication of the
    > AAPS to promoting gun use and private practice!
    >
    > I was then intrigued to look up another source of evidence you quoted,
    > the American Institute of Medicine. Not something I had heard of
    > before, but then perhaps I am not familiar with the University of Seychelles!
    > www.usaim.edu/ What peer reviewed journal listed in Index
    > Medicus do they publish?
    >
    > Your misunderstandings about epidemiology are common and there are
    > numerous good textbooks that will help to correct them. I would
    > suggest An Introduction to Medical Statistics
    > www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192632698/qid=1131459600/sr=
    > 8-2/re
    > f=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl/202-5940585-4428649 which I found very good at
    > medical school. I would be happy to discuss this further if you wish.
    >
    > Good luck with your research for your next article,
    >
    > Richard

  73. Steve said,

    November 8, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Just read Melanie Phillips’ apparant rebuttal. The article she quotes in the “Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons” (apart from Rafiq’s find about JAPS) was submitted by two members of Medical Veritas (with their “Journal of Truth”), just so happens that the Journal of Truth has an authorship so small and of such quality they have their photos on their webpage….oh, and they all edit the journal as well as write for it. Similarly the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons can be found on the QuackWatch site, highlighting those with dubious and conflicting ideals and/or funding.

  74. Daniel R said,

    November 8, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    Richard, perhaps she means the Institute of Medicine but then again they consider that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship at the population level between MMR vaccine and autistic spectrum disorders” so who knows

    www.iom.edu/Object.File/Master/4/132/0.pdf

  75. Bug said,

    November 8, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Ah but she switched tack to boosters when she mentioned the American Institute. Did she mean the American Institute of Medicine (www.aiom.org) rather than the Institute of medicine? This place seems to be a teaching organisation based in Texas, but does not display its research on its site or much else for that matter.

  76. RS said,

    November 8, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    I believe she means the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in Washington. Melanie Phillips is great, she manages to demonstrate why people who don’t understand science shouldn’t be arguing it. One minute she’s going on about the great establishment cover-up, the next she’s slyly appealing to the authority of the Institute of Medicine while trying her hardest to make it look like they’ve said something different to what they did say. Never a reference, just journal titles thrown out into the mix, she is an excellent case study.

    In an earlier article she says: “The American Institute of Medicine said that evidence from a booster would constitute a strong case that the vaccine and the symptoms ascribed to it were linked.”

    I believe she is referring to: “In particular, case reports in VAERS or elsewhere of “rechallenge” should be identified, documented, and followed up. In the context of MMR vaccine and ASD, rechallenge refers to children who appeared to have experienced some form of neurologic regression after a first dose of MMR or other measles-containing vaccine and who appeared to have experienced another regression following a second dose of MMR or other measles-containing vaccine. The committee is aware that there might be some cases of rechallenge that could be assessed (Wakefield, 2001). If well-documented and reviewed by appropriate clinicians, these reports and similar data could provide evidence in favor, but not necessarily prove causality, of the hypothesized relationship in a small number of children. It is not clear, however, that such evidence would necessarily shift the balance of evidence away from a causality determination favoring rejection of the relationship at the population level with ASD. (See IOM, 1994a, for a discussion of the contribution of rechallenge cases in causality determinations.)” Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism (2001) IoM p57.

    Funnily enough, they don’t mention this hypothesis in their more recent Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism (2004) Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Institute of Medicine, so i presume it has not been substantiated.

    But I’d like to draw attention to the difference between the IoM “these reports and similar data could provide evidence in favor, but not necessarily prove causality, of the hypothesized relationship in a small number of children.” and MP “such booster jab evidence has been accepted by the American Institute of Medicine, at least, as an indication of cause and effect.”

  77. Daniel R said,

    November 8, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    it must be the Institute of Medicine because she refers to the American Institute of Medicine in connection with boosters in another article: www.melaniephillips.com/articles/archives/000678.html and Dr Kathleen Stratton is the study director of the IOM report my quote came from: (www.nap.edu/books/030909237X/html/)

  78. Daniel R said,

    November 8, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    www.nap.edu/books/030909237X/html/

  79. Stuart Abercrombie said,

    November 8, 2005 at 6:50 pm

    In case anyone’s interested, I wrote to Mel P about her attempted refutation. Tragically I’ve been accused of “ignorance and prejudice” (see her reply at the bottom). Although she evidently already spends her life in a state of roiling dyspepsia, it’s nice to have caused her just a little more irritation.

    > Dear Ms Phillips,
    >
    > Have you ever considered that your unwillingness to back down over MMR
    > might seem slightly hypocritical to the disinterested reader, let alone
    > one suicidally bored by your screaming tirades? Your recent article
    > headings included “the death-dealing culture of lies”, “the lethal
    > ideology” (of education policy, strangely) and “Britain’s lethal trance” –
    > all of which, if we believe the best available evidence from the experts,
    > could be applied to your output and its effect on parental opinion
    > regarding a potentially life-saving vaccine.
    >
    > Considering this, it seems worth rehearsing your attitude towards those
    > with whom you disagree. Previously you’ve accused the government of
    > betraying schoolchildren through “a toxic cocktail of political naivety,
    > arrogance and ideology” and of “arrogance, not to say ignorance” with
    > regard to Lords reform. The plan to abolish the Lord Chancellor was a
    > demonstration of, in your words of June 2003, “this government’s lethal
    > combination of arrogance and ignorance”. You’ve described bishops led by
    > Richard Harries as “arrogant” and “morally obtuse”, and vice-chancellors
    > as “arrogant” and “detached from reality”. Sadly even Israeli
    > propagandists and the Americans have earned the term on occasion.
    >
    > Alongside this you’ve accused at least the following of “ignorance” over
    > the past three years: “the decadent West”, Britain (repeatedly), the
    > world, the BBC (repeatedly), the Archbishop of Wales, Caroline Lucas MEP,
    > British society, the Left, the middle classes, Lord Phillips, Anatole
    > Kalestsky, Max Hastings, Andreas Whittam-Smith, the British media
    > (repeatedly), 52 ex-diplomats, Paul Oestreicher, Germany, “most people”,
    > the Church of Scotland, Lauren Booth, academics (repeatedly), Caroline
    > Holliday, London, the Church of England, Muslims, “majority opinion” and
    > “today’s climate”. Since you apparently don’t include yourself in any of
    > those categories, it seems just about the only person who isn’t ignorant
    > is you.
    >
    > Perhaps the basis for this fervent self-belief can be found in the 20th
    > April comment where you joined Islamists in accusing the West of “the
    > arrogance of reason” which “excluded the spiritual and worships instead
    > the false gods of ego”. This attitude stretches back to a March 2002
    > article in favour of Creationist teaching.
    >
    > Is this emphasis on irrational spirituality why you feel qualified, with
    > your English degree and a background in repetitive jeremiads, to debate
    > epidemiology with those medically qualified, acquainted with the
    > scientific method, and most crucially, numerate? Is the pretence of
    > reason in your MMR articles a cover for medical views rooted in
    > “spirituality”? You cannot take refuge in relativism because you have
    > repeatedly criticized that position. Therefore you must have the gall to
    > assert that you are better qualified than the consensus of scientifically
    > trained experts to pronounce on the safety of the MMR vaccine. Reason
    > would suggest that you are not correct, as does your attempted rebuttal of
    > Ben Goldacre’s column.
    >
    > You say that proponents of the MMR vaccine have been telling “parents that
    > the evidence of their own eyes is not true”. If by “evidence” you mean
    > “the causal relationship that they have been encouraged to accept by
    > irresponsible journalists like Melanie Phillips” then yes. But that isn’t
    > evidence; that’s a theory.
    >
    > The “evidence” these parents have is a limited number of cases where
    > various illnesses coincided with the MMR vaccine. In order to reasonably
    > suppose causation of these illnesses by the vaccine a large scale
    > epidemiological study is needed. And such studies have not, as the
    > Cochrane Review said, been found to support such a link even if some were
    > imperfect. Anecdotal samplings of heartbroken parents are simply
    > irrelevant to this, as they would be to any other empirical question.
    >
    > In an outlandish and pretentious turnabout you then dismiss the entire
    > philosophical basis of the scientific method as “category confusion” – a
    > mistake only a member of the arts-trained Oxbridge elite would make. It
    > is indeed correct that epidemiology “cannot establish a causal association
    > unless other biological evidence backs it up”. However what it can
    > establish, and which is a prerequisite for any posited causal relation, is
    > a correlation. Since no statistically significant correlation was found
    > there is nothing to be explained by secondary biological evidence. Until
    > there is, the limited findings of Wakefield and others regarding the
    > measles virus are not enough to suggest the vaccine is dangerous.
    >
    > But far more astonishing for one who bandies philosophical terms is your
    > inversion of the burden of scientific proof – that is, if your words have
    > any meaning at all. You appear to be claiming that for epidemiological
    > findings to counteract the pet theories of Andrew Wakefield et al. there
    > must also be a rival biological theory supporting those empirical results.
    > This would be, then, a theory that proves why two things aren’t related.
    > You might as well demand the “medical establishment” produce a theory for
    > why masturbation doesn’t cause blindness.
    >
    > Set against your faith-based insistence on a link between MMR vaccine and
    > autism, etc. is the real and well-documented problem of the diseases that
    > it protects against. You have, indirectly, contributed to serious illness
    > and possibly death via your ignorant, arrogant scaremongering. And yet
    > you still will not accept that you did anything wrong, continuing instead,
    > without pause, to fling out these same accusations at pretty much
    > everybody else, including those experts who have shown you to be wrong.
    > If anybody is worshipping “the false gods of ego” it must surely be you.
    >
    > Stuart Abercrombie

    I’m afraid you merely betray your own ignorance end prejudice. You
    adduce no arguments againt my own, but ludicrously refer to what you
    suppose is my ‘faith-based insistence on a link’. It is not based on
    faith, there is no insistence and I do not even claim a link, merely
    that there are disturbing questions that have never been answered.
    Please do not waste my time again when you cannot even understand what I
    have written.

  80. Daniel R said,

    November 8, 2005 at 6:56 pm

    damn, I didn’t refresh the page before posting!

  81. Tony Jackson said,

    November 8, 2005 at 7:03 pm

    Is Melanie Phillips a creationist? Members of the jury, I offer you the following in evidence:

    www.melaniephillips.com/articles/archives/000756.html

  82. Miss Prism said,

    November 8, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    University of Seychelles?
    The republic of Seychelles has a population of only 80,000. There is a business school, Seychelles Institute of Manangement, but the nearest univeristy is in Mauritius (and is now, I think, part of the University of the Indian Ocean).
    The SUAIM website gives a PO Box address in Victoria and claims teaching began in 2000. I last visited Seychelles in 1999, must have walked every street in Victoria, and talked to a few local scientists at the excellent botanic gardens.
    I’m sure a new medical school would have been the talk of a town in which the supermarket’s rejection of a substandard cabbage consignment was, literally, headline news. But I heard nothing whatsoever about it.
    There is also no mention of this “university” on the Republic of Seychelles’ official website (www.virtualseychelles.sc/). Looks to me like it doesn’t exist. What a surprise, eh?

  83. RS said,

    November 8, 2005 at 7:48 pm

    The University of Seychelles jibe is fun, but I think we have to accept that she is referring to the Institute of Medicine www.iom.edu. She has misrepresented what they’ve said mind you.

  84. Miss Prism said,

    November 8, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Ah well. Never mind. I just wanted to show off about having gone there…

    Still, she should take care to get the names right, even if the more difficult aspects of science journalism are beyond her.

  85. DaveGodfrey said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    From Melanie Phillips’ website.
    “And evolution certainly does not have all the answers. It does not explain human self-consciousness; it does not explain altruism; it does not explain how existence began.”

    I’m sure Stephen Pinker would have something to say about the evolution of consciousness. To my regret I’ve not yet read his books. I know I should.

    Altruism is very well explained thank-you so very much. Perhaps she should read “The Selfish Gene” (Dawkins) and “The Origins of Virtue” by Matt Ridley. It explains altruism very well.

    Evolution doesn’t seek to explain how life began, that’s a question for abiogenesis research. Which has several theories that make sense.

  86. BarryG said,

    November 8, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    “disturbing questions that have never been answered”, sounds like “Sir Humphrey” speak…

    That’s what I like about journalists, such defenders of the public good ;) They always fail to realise that their real agenda is the same as everyone else’s, keep their job…

    Of course, “the death-dealing culture of lies” sounds so much better than “MMR vaccine study indicates minimal to no chance of nasty side-effects but may save your child’s life”… You’re gonna sell many more papers with the first (and keep your job) because science is now so complicated that scientists have now become “high priests” who hold the “sacred knowledge”… In short science is now a religion that no one can really get their head around and a lot of stuff has to be taken on faith (quantum theory anyone ;)) and this then leads to fear amongst the masses who are too busy worrying about feeding their kids to try and understand the potential complications around any particular science based issue…

    I think the real problem is that the separate vaccines have also been tainted as a result of the media’s hype, from a lay-person/parent’s point of view giving their child any of those vaccines now is going to raise “doubts” in their mind… Rather than it being the combination that “could!” be at fault, the lay-person will (fairly reasonably) think that maybe one of the individual vaccines is at fault and so not give ANY…

  87. DaveR said,

    November 9, 2005 at 9:34 am

    My daughter has a doctor’s appointment to have her MMR jab on Monday. A few weeks age she went to have it but was full of cold, so it was postponed. However, at that appointment the doctor said all sorts of things to my wife about how controversial it all was and was she really sure that we wanted her to have the triple vaccine. We are not scientists (I’m a maths teacher and understand the statistical arguments), but Ben’s articles had convinced us that, on balance, it is much better to have the vaccine than not. And now Melanie Philips appears and the doubts ever so slightly return. This debate is not just an intellectual exercise – there are many parents facing agonising decisions right now.
    Keep fighting Ben, you are doing a great job.

  88. Kevin Mannerings said,

    November 9, 2005 at 9:56 am

    So lets stay with the science, and the evaluation of it by Ben Goldacre shall we?

    Melanie Phillips wrote:

    “The devastating finding of measles virus in the cerebro-spinal fluid of some autistic children who had been given the MMR vaccine has been peer-reviewed in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.”

    This is the paper in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons:

    www.jpands.org/vol9no2/bradstreet.pdf .

    They have granted copyright permission for it to be reproduced.

    Ben dismisses this research as speculative:

    Her response is to provide references to various speculative research findings
    on the bowels of people with autism…

    He gives no reasons for this, speculative is his favourite word for research, which does not support his views, it seems.

    He then asks readers to verify the allegations he made in his original article:

    “I also encourage any readers who are interested in what Phillips considers to be an appropriate source for ground-breaking, peer-reviewed scientific research to look up the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons on Google and read about this strange esoteric political organisation for themselves. ….”

    Been there, done that Ben. As far as I can see, it is a right-wing professional association of doctors.

    Nothing unusual about that. The resolution on abortion I disagree with, but I have seen much worse, try the Irish Medical Council for size down the years.

    Couldn’t find anything on gays, could anyone help there?

    There is an execrable article on aliens grabbing medical care, but it is within the bounds of free speech as practiced in the USA, as far as I can see.

    Notwithstanding all that, I note the qualifications of the authors of the study mentioned above. They are all reputable scientists. One, A.J. Wakefield, is the subject of controversial allegations, I am not aware of anything pending against the rest of them. The abstract confirms what Melanie Phillips is saying. MV (measles virus) F gene was present in the CSF from all three cases, but not in controls.
    Papers in the Journal are subjected to peer review, as Melanie Phillips stated.

    What I am seeing here is one journalist, Melanie Phillips, drawing attention to scientific evidence relating to MMR, and another journalist Ben Goldacre, trying to smear this evidence as speculative, by making irrelevant comments about a strange esoteric political organisation. Are you suggesting that the scientists Bradstreet, El Dahr, Anthony, Kartzinel, and Wakefield are not to be trusted, because of their political views? Are you suggesting that MV F gene was not present in the CSF of the children examined?

    As things stand, Ben, I am not inclined to review my suspicion that you are engaging in tendentious bad science journalism.

    The interesting question is, is the finding of MV F gene in the CSF of the children significant or not? Does it imply a risk for vaccines?

    Could you provide us with informed debate on this, rather than t-shirts and smear?

    Thanks,

    Kevin Mannerings
    Pforzheim, Germany

  89. philip jones said,

    November 9, 2005 at 10:13 am

    Not a doctor, just checking out the details.

    Melanie Phillips posted the following on her website yesterday: “All those who so kindly suggested that I did not know my epidemiology from my elbow might also care to reflect on this, from the American Institute of Medicine’s report on the MMR controversy: ‘The evidence favours rejection of a causal relationship at the population level between MMR vaccine and ASDs [Autism Spectrum Disorder]…However, the committee notes that its conclusion does not exclude the possibility that MMR vaccine could contribute to ASD in a small number of children because the epidemiological evidence lacks the precision to assess rare occurrences of a response to MMR vaccine leading to ASD and the proposed biological models linking MMR vaccine to ASD, although far from established, are nevertheless not disproved.’ The IoM recommended the issue should receive ‘continued attention’ — which it never has, except from those who wish to bury it.”

    It is the Institute of Medicine (www.iom.edu) she is referring to, the American Institute of Medicine is something very different.

    Phillips is quoting from Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism, released in May 2004, and available for viewing on the IoM website. Phillip’s quote is from the beginning of the report, where it looks back at its previous 2001 review. The quote in full is as follows: “In the committee’s first report, which reviewed the hypothesized causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism (IOM, 2001a), the committee concluded that the evidence at the time favored rejection of a causal relationship at the population level between MMR vaccine and autism. The committee’s conclusion did not exclude the possibility that MMR could contribute to autism in a small number of children because the epidemiological studies lacked sufficient precision to assess rare occurrences; it was possible, for example, that epidemiological studies would not detect a relationship between autism and MMR vaccination in a subset of the population with a genetic predisposition to autism. The biological models for an association between MMR and autism were not established but nevertheless not disproved.”
    It no longer takes this position. The new report states: “Based on this body of evidence, the committee concludes that the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism. This conclusion is consistent with the finding in the committee’s previous report on MMR and autism (IOM, 2001a).” And more importantly: “The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The committee further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are theoretical only.”
    These are from the executive summary, there is more detail in the report.

    Phillips says that the the IoM recommended the issue should receive ‘continued attention’. It did. The IoM reviewed it again, thus the later report. This is no longer the IoM position, though Phillips seems unaware of this. The IoM now says: “At this time, the committee does not recommend a policy review of the current schedule and recommendations for the administration of routine childhood vaccines based on hypotheses regarding thimerosal and autism. Given the lack of direct evidence for a biological mechanism and the fact that all well-designed epidemiological studies provide evidence of no association between thimerosal and autism, the committee recommends that cost-benefit assessments regarding the use of thimerosal-containing versus thimerosal-free vaccines and other biological or pharmaceutical products, whether in the United States or other countries, should not include autism as a potential risk.”

    Make of this what you will. But I know who I trust. Phillips is either ignorant of this updated review or just plain ignorant. Odd for someone who claims on her website to have “written extensively about MMR in the past, have read most of the literature and interviewed a large number of parents of affected children as well as government officials”.

  90. Alex B said,

    November 9, 2005 at 11:05 am

    LOL

    melanie philips is fantastic.

    she has made it quite clear she does not understand the difference between evolution and natural selection. darwin proposed natural selection as a mechanism of evolution, but there are other mechanisms operating.

    altruism could occur in a population via certain alleles with that effect on a population either:
    being neutral (nearly neutral hypothesis, therefore selection does not act against it)
    drift (random increase in certain alleles, therefore counteracting selection)
    linkage to more important alleles or traits that leads to altruism occuring but also occuring with another, more important, behaviour.

    what i found amazing is that she rambles on about ignorance so much, and how she knows the science, yet she agrees with the teaching of religious doctrine that has been scientifically proven to be wrong.

    and another thing, since when has dawkins been a distinguished scientist? he writes popular science books. if you want to talk about an evolutionary biologist, go for mayer or kimuru, etc.

    this woman is satan in disguise

  91. CaptainT said,

    November 9, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Letters
    When medicine, science and the public collide

    Wednesday November 9, 2005
    The Guardian

    The difficult relationships between science, medicine and public policy are well illustrated by your reports on Iraqi mortality (The media are minimising US and British war crimes in Iraq, November 8) and MMR (The case against me boils down to smear and evasion, November 8). The triggers for these controversies were research papers published in the Lancet. In a lost age, these studies would have been privately discussed in academic circles, their conclusions confirmed, refined or refuted. This environment of intellectual freedom has served science and society well for 400 years. But such freedoms are now under threat from errors made by both science and society.

    Article continues
    The mistake scientists have made – and I include myself in this criticism – is to blur their roles as independent investigators and public advocates. It is entirely right that scientists and doctors play a prominent part in social and political debate. But we lose credibility, justifiably, when we go beyond the evidence.

    Here, the comparison between Iraq and MMR is instructive. On Iraq, the authors of the Lancet report used their results to call for the genuine uncertainty over civilian deaths to be clarified urgently by drawing on further data that only government could provide – indeed, which government had a duty to provide under the Geneva conventions. This was responsible advocacy in the face of scientific uncertainty. By contrast, Andrew Wakefield used a press conference to subvert the conclusions of his Lancet study by casting doubt on the safety of the MMR vaccine, a doubt that the research paper specifically denied.

    One could argue that neither study should have seen the light of day. This would be a capitulation to those who would prefer censorship to serious public discussion about controversial ideas. While it is impossible to turn the clock back to a time when science was hidden from the public sphere, there is a need to find better ways to conduct complex debates openly and accountably. An independent body to provide a neutral public space to mediate, investigate and make recommendations about scientific and health controversies, akin to the Food Standards Agency, deserves serious consideration.
    Dr Richard Horton
    Editor, The Lancet

    It is a microcosm of the difficulties in dealing with health scares that I can write 850 words on an anti-MMR diatribe by Melanie Phillips, generate 900 words of letters in return as well as an article by Phillips – all reinforcing her original misconceptions, and raising some new ones. For every unit of energy you put in, you get twice as much back, and so you can never win.

    She is still amazed that a critical review of the scientific literature on MMR is critical of some of the literature it reviewed and she still thinks this is evidence of guilt or cover-up in the conclusions of the report. I criticised her for claiming that: “Wakefield’s discovery of autistic enterocolitis as a completely new syndrome has now been replicated in studies around the world as a new and so far unexplained disease in patients with autism.” Her response is to provide references to various speculative research findings on the bowels of people with autism. Such studies exist but few would claim that such early work constitutes wide replication of the discovery of a “new disease”.

    I also encourage any readers who are interested in what Phillips considers to be an appropriate source for ground-breaking, peer-reviewed scientific research to look up the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons on Google and read about this strange esoteric political organisation for themselves.

    Having said all that, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has misrepresented and attacked me personally: and so whatever the future may bring, I can die a rounded and happy human being.
    Dr Ben Goldacre
    London

    Melanie Phillip’s rebuttal of Ben Goldacre’s criticisms bears out his main points. She claims that the Cochrane report does not say that the fears about the vaccine were based on unreliable evidence. Yes it does. You need go no further than the abstract to read “No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease was found”. She goes on to say that epidemiology cannot establish a causal association, and that Goldacre is confusing epidemiology and clinical results. No, the confusion is hers. Epidemiology can produce overwhelming evidence for a causal connection. What it cannot produce is information about the mechanism of that connection. It is worth adding that clinical studies do not necessarily produce information about the causal mechanism.
    David Pavett
    Isleworth, Middx

    When a vaccine, drug or therapy is marketed as “safe,” it is done so on the basis or formally controlled, large-scale, usually blind investigations by qualified professionals. The fact that “a small proportion of parents found that after vaccination their children developed bowel problems, an allergic reaction to various foods and a halt to their behavioural development that produced the symptoms of autism” does not render an entire vaccination programme unsafe any more than it suggests a causal relationship between administration of the vaccine and onset of symptoms. Anybody with even the most basic grasp of scientific principles can understand this.

    The MMR vaccine in its current form was approved following the same extensive testing as any other clinical prophylaxis. For Melanie Phillips to suggest that the “government and [the] medical establishment … have behaved recklessly and spinelessly” in the aftermath of Wakefield’s so-called research is itself an irresponsible misrepresentation of the truth, which contributes to the unnecessary confusion in the general public domain.
    Prateek Buch
    Enfield, Middx

  92. Miss Prism said,

    November 9, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Alex B, do you mean Mayr and Kimura?
    Dawkins has been concentrating on the popular understanding of science for a while now, but it is certainly fair to call him a distinguished scientist. The work he did in the ’70s and ’80s with Hamilton and Trivers showed that altruism can evolve by natural selection. That was the point of The Selfish Gene: Darwinian, “selfish” genes can produce an altruistic organism.

  93. Alex B said,

    November 9, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    im not good with peoples names………..

  94. Alex B said,

    November 9, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    i dont think it is accurate to call him that though. look at what he has published:
    www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/biblio.shtml

    you are talking about roughly 25 actual science papers. you should not include opinion pieces or letters in published papers im sure you would agree.

    distinguished scientists publish papers, not books.

  95. Rafiq said,

    November 9, 2005 at 4:26 pm

    First:

    Melanie Phillips Daily Mail October 31, 2005
    “Most explosively of all, vaccine-strain measles virus has been found in the cerebro-spinal fluid of some autistic children — which suggests that in those cases the vaccine may have had a catastrophic effect on the brain.”

    (That is a reference to the Journal of Physicians and Surgeons paper)

    Then:

    Melanie Phillips Blog November 08 2005:
    www.melaniephillips.com/diary/archives/001477.html
    “I was entirely unaware of the existence of the Journal of Physicians and Surgeons until I wrote the Guardian article. Moreover, I have written extensively about MMR in the past, have read most of the literature.”

    So she has “read most of the literature”. But she did not read the very academic paper of the research that she referred to it in her newspaper article, because, in fact, as she says, she had never even heard of the journal it was in.

  96. Miss Prism said,

    November 9, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    That bibliography goes back only to 1968 – I doubt it’s complete, unless one could at that time become an Assistant Professor at Berkeley without any published papers, and a Lecturer in Zoology at Oxford with two. His science, if sometimes not his personality, is pretty well thought of within evolutionary biology (and besides, he’s alive, which is one up on Mayr and Kimura).

    Not that any of this is relevant to Melanie Phillips being an ill-informed, stubborn old moose with more axes to grind than a Viking munitions factory.

  97. Dean Morrison said,

    November 9, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    ..the trouble with trying to explain in a long article why Melanie Phillips is wrong is that she is simply incapable of understanding it.

    so I did my best with this e-mail to her ( not perfect I realise, but at least it has the virtue of brevity):


    To: Melanie Phillips:

    Ben Goldman is right I am afraid. Whatever your opinion of the science, you show that you simply don’t understand statistics.

    A paper published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons says epidemiology “cannot establish a causal association unless other biological evidence backs it up”, and does not meet a scientific standard of proof since it is prone to bias – the very criticism that the Cochrane report made of the epidemiological studies of MMR and autism.

    Yes epidemiology cannot be used to establish a causal relationship. A study of peoples height against weight would probably show that the taller people are the heavier they are – and establish a statistically significant correlation. It would not in itself be proof of a causal association between height and weight.

    However a study of peoples height and their star sign would be unlikely to show a statistically significant correlation. The more people that this test was conducted on the more certain the result. If this was conducted on a significantly large enough number of people, then it could be cited as proof that there is no association between height and star sign. This I understand is the result of the many pieces of epidemiological research into the MMR case.

    You are free to take sides on the subject of MMR, but if you are disputing the validity of mathematics itself then you really are showing you ignorance.

    I fully expect your next article to be “Virgos – why are they so tall?”

    Dean Morrison

  98. Anthony Cox said,

    November 9, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    Melanie Phillips should note that supression of debate is a tactic used by Wakefield.

  99. Kevin Mannerings said,

    November 10, 2005 at 8:21 am

    Anthony, you post is a bit simplistic. Wakefield has to face charges at the GMC. Having to suffer trial by television first is not easy. Brian Deer is clearly very proud of his successes in routing those who he investigates. I am not suggesting that he is trying to influence the outcome of the GMC proceedings deliberately, but if I were Wakefield, I might see it differently. In any event, it is hard to see that the libel proceedings will not influence the GMC proceedings. I have read the full ruling. The judge made his decision based on a number of reasons, you have chosen to highlight one of them, and imply a motive which is not proven. Wakefield has not personally stated why he was seeking a delay in the trial. It is in the hands of lawyers now, and lawyers have their reasons.

  100. quizzical said,

    November 10, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Presumably the Guardian think this is “heated” “close” “debate” on the “controversial” MMR vaccine.

  101. Michael P said,

    November 10, 2005 at 11:36 am

    This is not the Guardian. As for the content…

    www.badscience.net/?page_id=7

    Hmmm, maybe something should be added about the “misuse” and “overuse” of “”.

  102. quizzical said,

    November 10, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    I can rephrase it:

    Presumably the Guardian think that printing Melanie Phillips on MMR shows how “heated” and “close” the “debate” on the “controversial” MMR vaccine is.

    They should be ashamed of themselves.

  103. Stuart said,

    November 10, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Interesting to note that even Private Eye is distancing itself from the anti-MMR campaign. Of course they claim that they never said that MMR caused autism etc., but they did act as apologist for Wakefield and did a proper job of trashing anyone who dared point out that there was no evidence of a link.

    As I recall, after the Sunday Times printed Brian Deer’s piece on Wakefield’s alleged conflicts of interest they published a long diatribe by Heather Mills about how several pro-MMR scientists were compromised by links to drug companies (how many biomed researchers don’t?). The after the C4 Dispatches programme she went for Deer himself.

    Now apparently they never believed in it or something. Anyway it’s all pretty weaselly stuff from an otherwise commendably cynical organ.

  104. Richard Lindley said,

    November 10, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    With respect to the JPANDS article – the methodology seems sound at first glance (although I am not qualified to comment on the RT PCR primers) – but there seems to be a couple of big problems:

    1. Why were there only 3 controls?

    This is surely an important finding in the 3 selected cases, but why was this study set up as a pseudo case-control? I would have been much more impressed if the study had looked at 30 or 300 “normal” controls and found no evidence of MV in CSF or bowel. Note that they seem to acknowledge the results wouldn’t be worth testing for significance….

    2. Why only “normal” controls?

    Alternative hypothesis: MV causes bowel inflammation without autism(which is coincidental and only occurred as Wakefield is involved in this study and litigious parents came to him): we need to see results from children with bowel disease and no autism

    This paper is therefore fit to be filed under “looks intersting, go away and do more work”

    I therefore feel this answers the second question:

    Why publish your paper in a non-PubMed/Index Medicus journal with no impact factor if you are a serious researcher?

    I suspect it is because peer reviewers in more respected journals would have rejected the paper (see above). Of course, I would say that as I am part of the vast worldwide conspiracy paid for by Big Pharma and the Illuminati that is secretly denying anti-MMR research a proper outlet….

  105. Kev said,

    November 10, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Kevin,

    said: The judge made his decision based on a number of reasons, you have chosen to highlight one of them, and imply a motive which is not proven

    If you have read the ruling in full you will have seen Justice Eady said:

    “It thus appears that the Claimant wishes to use the existence of the libel proceedings for public relations purposes, and to deter other critics, while at the same time isolating himself from the “downside” of such litigation, in having to answer a substantial defence of justification.”

    Please also note how Justice Eady refers to ‘The Claimant’ who’s hands control remains, not his lawyers who are instructed.

    Melanie Phillips notwithstanding, its the Andrew Wakefields, Jeff Bradstreets and Hugh Fundbergs of this world who have done serious damage to autism research.

  106. Kevin Mannerings said,

    November 10, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    Richard, it is good that you are discussing the science in this, BUT

    >>Why publish your paper in a non-PubMed/Index Medicus journal with no impact >>factor if you are a serious researcher?

    MP says that the JPANDS applied for pubmed indexing some time ago, and when Pubmed get around to it, it will be indexed there. I have no reason to doubt this, do you?

    I would not in the main with points of 2 and 3, not least because I don’t have the specialist knowlege to evaluate the research. It would be the task of good science journalists to seek out the experts and give us a balanced view.

    You write:

    “I suspect it is because peer reviewers in more respected journals would have rejected the paper (see above). Of course, I would say that as I am part of the vast worldwide conspiracy paid for by Big Pharma and the Illuminati that is secretly denying anti-MMR research a proper outlet…. ”

    Can you provide any evidence about the standards of peer review applied by JPANDS ? If you can, please do share it, if not, you get points for irrationality. Suspicion is not enough. Science, and rational thought, is based on fact. And no, I wouldn’t dream of applying the Mandy Rice Davies “he would say that, wouldn’t he” line. I am quite open to argument about the quality of JPANDS, but it has to be solid, not irrelevant guff about abortion, gay rights, and vaccines. it seems like an unusual organisation founded during WW2. The campain it has led against mercury in vaccines must have been a pain in the butt for both industry and government, but interestingly, mercury is being phased out, and the WHO has endorsed this. It is over the top to see them as a medical version of the John Birch Society, what we need is a qualified history of their politics and origins.

  107. RS said,

    November 10, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Richard, what I think is even more worrying, and evidence that the paper is fundamentally flawed, is that they selected subjects they already knew had tested positive for measles virus in the gut: “All three children had concomitant onset of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and had already had MV genomic RNA detected in
    biopsies of ileal lymphoid nodular hyperplasia (LNH).” So what do their findings tell us? If we take it at face value it says that in three subjects with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms, who tested positive for measles virus in the gut (and were presumably selected for this reason), that these three subjects also showed measles virus in CSF. Whether the controls did or didn’t show measles virus in CSF seems pretty irrelevant here. Therefore it is not even the hideously underpowered case-control study it purports to be. Just saying something is a control does not make it so.

    The problem is that people like Melanie Phillips are unable (or in her case, quite probably unwilling) to recognise the different strengths of entirely uncontrolled case reports like this one and Wakefield’s Lancet paper, and large-scale epidemiological or case-control studies.

  108. Ray said,

    November 10, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    “but interestingly, mercury is being phased out”

    Interestingly, Procter & Gamble phased out the moon-and-stars logo that was alleged to be a Satanic symbol. Doesn’t mean it was Satanic, just that discontinuing it was easier than ongoing hassle from those who mistakenly thought it was.

  109. aphasia said,

    November 11, 2005 at 1:05 am

    How about the following Bill Hicks quote for a T-shirt:

    “Have you ever noticed that

    most creationists look very unevolved”

  110. Kevin Mannerings said,

    November 11, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    Ray (109) That is a fair point, but as there is a lot of litigation about this going on stateside, it is not reasonable to expect that the motives will be put on display by those being sued.

    I have an open mind on the question, but one argument went a long way with me: it is claimed that the mercury levels do not reach dangerous levels because the mercury is spread throughout the body and rapidly excreted. This is the same argument that was used by those ‘scientists’ who used to assure us that there is NO EVIDENCE THAT SMOKING CAUSES CANCER. That is an assumption, possibly an assumption too far.

  111. Stephen said,

    November 11, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Kevin
    Your last point about smoking and cancer is a weird incongruous tangent.

    The pertinent point in regards to this discussion is to remember that the link between smoking and cancer was most convincingly demonstrated by a large epidemiological study (of GPs I believe)– not a laboratory or clinical study.

  112. RS said,

    November 11, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    “First, this totally ignores the various research papers* — which have been published in a range of distinguished journals — to which I referred in my article, along with the American Institute of Medicine, also all but totally ignored….*Some papers endorsing or replicating the Wakefield research:”

    So let us just quickly skim the abstracts of these papers to see if these papers truly replicate or support Wakefield’s work:

    “1) Evaluation of an association between gastrointestinal symptoms and cytokine production against common dietary proteins in children with autism spectrum disorders;
    Harumi Jyonouchi MD, Lee Geng PhD, Agnes Ruby BS, Chitra Reddy MD and Barbie Zimmerman-Bier, MD

    Journal of Pediatrics, May 2005, p 610″

    Young children with autism spectrum disorders and gastrointestinal symptoms produced more tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)/interleukin-12 (IL-12) than control subjects, when provoked with cow’s milk protein and its components.

    “2) Dysregulated Innate Immune Responses in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Their Relationship to Gastrointestinal Symptoms
    and Dietary Intervention;
    Harumi Jyonouchi Lee Geng Agnes Ruby Barbie Zimmerman-Bier Department of Pediatrics, New Jersey Medical School, UMDNJ, Newark, N.J. , USA

    Neuropsychobiology 2005;51:77–85″

    Pretty similar to the last one, TNF-alpha levels produced with endotoxin and cow’s milk protein.

    “3) Some aspects about the clinical and pathogenetic characteristics of the presumed persistent measles infections: SSPE and MINE;
    Paul Richard Dyken, Institute for Research in Childhood Neurodegenerative Diseases, Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A.

    Journal of Pediatric Neurology 2004; 2(3): 121-124″

    This is an editorial (so I actually skimmed the whole thing) discussing parallels between Subacute Sclerosing PanEncephalitis (SSPE) and what he calls MINE (Measles Induced Neuroautistic Encephalopathy), which is essentially Wakefield’s autistic enterocolitis. The author was involved in the class action of the parents and the article is actually describing the supposed syndrome, and refers only to the original 12 Wakefield patients. The author claims that “In each patient, regardless of type, measles virus genes were found in the tissues studied, such as blood, gut and spinal fluid. In those with enough antigen identified, the genes were found to arise from the vaccine-related live-attenuated measles virus and not from the usual wild measles virus which is associated with measles exanthema.”, he does not give a reference for this. While the paper may be called supportive of Wakefield, it is not a scientific study, it is an opinion piece.

    “4) Spontaneous Mucosal Lymphocyte Cytokine Profiles in Children
    with Autism and Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Mucosal Immune
    Activation and Reduced Counter Regulatory Interleukin-10
    Paul Ashwood, Andrew Anthony, Franco Torrente and Andrew Wakefield

    Journal of Clinical Immunology, Vol. 24, No. 6, November 2004 ( C_ 2004)”

    Duodenal and colonic biopsies were obtained from 21 ASD children, and 65 developmentally normal paediatric controls, of which 38 had signs of histological inflammation. Basically ASD children had more inflammatory markers than non-inflamed controls, but not more than inflamed controls. I don’t think I have access to this journal, but obviously it would be interesting to know how and why they got the biopsies of the ASD children (i.e. did they already have an inflammatory bowel complaint or not).

    “5) Panenteric IBD-Like Disease in a Patient with Regressive Autism Shown for the First Time by the Wireless Capsule Enteroscopy: Another Piece in the Jigsaw of this Gut-Brain Syndrome?
    Federico Balzola , Valeria Barbon , Alessandro Repici , Mario Rizzetto , Daniela Clauser , Marina Gandione , Anna Sapino.

    American Journal of Gastroenterology, April 2005″

    This is a letter to the editor, it reports as single case of a 28yr old male with regressive autism that had aenemia, apparently due to some kind of bowel inflammation. Um, that’s it.

    “6) Gastrointestinal abnormalities in children with
    autistic disorder
    Karoly Horvath, MD, PhD, John C. Papadimitriou, MD, PhD, Anna Rabsztyn, Cinthia Drachenberg, MD.

    Journal of Pediatrics, Vol 125, no 5″

    Thirty-six children with autistic disorder and GI symptoms underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with biopsies, intestinal and pancreatic enzyme analyses, and bacterial and fungal cultures. Histologic examination in these 36 children revealed grade I or II reflux esophagitis in 25 (69.4%), chronic gastritis in 15, and chronic duodenitis in 24.

    “7) Autistic disorder and gastrointestinal disease
    Karoly Horvath, MD, PhD, and Jay A. Perman, MD

    Pediatrics 2002, 14:583–587″

    This reference is wrong, I think she means Curr Opin Pediatr. 2002 Oct;14(5):583-7. It appears to be a review or editorial, i don’t have access – here’s the abstract:

    “Autistic disorder is a pervasive developmental disorder manifested in the first 3 years of life by dysfunction in social interaction and communication. Many efforts have been made to explore the biologic basis of this disorder, but the etiology remains unknown. Recent publications describing upper gastrointestinal abnormalities and ileocolitis have focused attention on gastrointestinal function and morphology in these children. High prevalence of histologic abnormalities in the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon, and dysfunction of liver conjugation capacity and intestinal permeability were reported. Three surveys conducted in the United States described high prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autistic disorder. Treatment of the digestive problems may have positive effects on their behavior.”

  113. Ari said,

    November 11, 2005 at 7:32 pm

    And let’s not forget that the National Academies Institute of Medicine do not in fact come out against vaccines. They say: “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship at the population level between MMR vaccine and autistic spectrum disorders”

  114. RS said,

    November 11, 2005 at 7:40 pm

    So what do we have then? Two scientific studies (#1,2) that looked at sensitivity to food in autistic patients with gastrintestinal symptoms, and suggesting some kind of inflammatory response to challenge. The only mention of Wakefield is a reference to study #4 in the first paper, no mention is made of measles, and MMR is only mentioned in passing in the second paper. These appear to add no credibility to Wakefield’s MMR hypothesis.

    We have an editorial by someone involved in the MMR-autism class action, adding no new evidence to the table (#3). We have a scientific study by Wakefield and colleagues that might suggest greater inflammatory markers in autistic patients than patients without GI symptoms – but it isn’t clear at this point how many of the autistic patients did actually have GI symptoms [anyone got access to this paper?] (#4). I can’t see at present how this supports the MMR-autism link.

    We have a single case of an autistic man with IBS (#5), which adds precisely nothing to the MMR-autism debate. Evidence that autistic patients with GI symptoms mostly have non-intestinal problems (#6), which would seem inconsistent with Wakefield’s original hypothesis, but is certainly not evidence for it. Finally a wrongly referenced review article which appears to have high prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autistic disorder as its main point (#7), which isn’t adding anything to the question of whether MMR and autism are linked.

    No wonder Melanie Phillips isn’t convinced by those pesky epidemiological studies.

  115. RS said,

    November 11, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    Shit, are these the studies she meant when she said:

    “He claims that Wakefield’s term “autistic enterocolitis” has appeared in no other studies that have endorsed it. But Wakefield’s core finding of a unique gut-brain disease has been replicated in peer-reviewed papers in the Journal of Paediatric Neurology, Neuropsychobiology, the Journal of Paediatrics, the Journal of Clinical Immunology and the American Journal of Gastroenterology.”

    In that case I have discovered my own unique lung-brain disease, ‘schizotuberculosis’, on the basis that a considerable proportion of people with schizophrenia also have lung disease, and I’ve already narrowed down the cause to M. tuberculosis. Nobel prize please.

  116. CaptainT said,

    November 12, 2005 at 11:54 am

    Great article on this from Spiked yesterday, worth following the link to the original because there you can follow the links in the references (dontcha love teh internets):

    www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CAE57.htm

    11 November 2005

    The death agony of the anti-MMR campaign
    Even after a Cochrane review found ‘no credible evidence’ of a link between MMR and autism, sections of the British media just won’t let it lie.
    by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick

    A recent Cochrane systematic review concluded that there was ‘no credible evidence’ of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and either inflammatory bowel disease or autism (1). The virtually unanimous verdict of the media was that this review, following a series of studies coming to the same conclusion, meant that the scare launched by Andrew Wakefield’s now notorious Lancet paper in 1998 was finally over. Not quite.

    The publication of the Cochrane review provoked demands that the Daily Mail and Private Eye acknowledge their past mistakes and apologise for their role in promoting the MMR-autism scare. Instead the Mail published a feature by leading columnist Melanie Phillips insisting that claims that MMR was safe were ‘a load of old baloney’ (2). Phillips proclaimed that, far from having received the ‘all-clear’, the ‘MMR scandal’ was ‘getting worse’. When Guardian science writer Ben Goldacre observed that Phillips seemed ‘to misunderstand basic epidemiology’ (3), she accused him of ‘smear and evasion’ (4). The hapless Eye stumbled between pleading that it had always been pro-immunisation and insisting that Wakefield had been unjustly ‘completely vilified’ for claiming a link between MMR and autism (though neither he nor anybody else has substantiated this since it was first suggested, nearly 10 years ago) (5).

    Phillips’ defiant articles and the Eye’s apologia for Wakefield stand as symbols of the woeful role of the media in the course of the MMR controversy. It is true that the MMR-autism scare did not start in the press. Both a reputable London teaching hospital and a prestigious medical journal failed to protect the public from junk science. Yet, once Wakefield decided to go public with his anti-MMR campaign, the media played a major part in promoting the scare. Phillips’ response to the Cochrane study follows the familiar themes of numerous anti-MMR articles over the years, including several by Phillips herself.

    In her response to Goldacre, Phillips objects to his charge that she is scientifically illiterate: ‘this argument has been used to tell parents that the evidence of their own eyes is not true.’ But this statement eloquently confirms Goldacre’s point. Scientists have been contradicting the evidence of people’s senses – and of common sense – ever since Galileo advanced the heretical, and counterintuitive, view that the Earth revolved around the sun (could he not see with his own eyes that the sun rose in the east and set in the west?) (6). Parents who cite the evidence of their own eyes that their children became autistic after receiving the MMR vaccine are in the grip of one of the oldest of commonsensical fallacies – that association proves causation. Even though parents may cling passionately to the belief that MMR caused their children’s autism, it is the responsibility of scientists to tell them that intensive scientific research in a number of disciplines indicates that the evidence of their own eyes is not true. While acknowledging the provisional character of all scientific truth and the difficulties in determining it, the Cochrane review concludes that the truth about MMR is that it does not cause autism (though it does protect children against three potentially serious diseases).

    It is important that scientists do not shirk the onerous responsibility of telling parents the truth about the MMR-autism link, because the costs of denying this truth are high. The false belief in the MMR-autism link has led thousands of families of autistic children into a doomed quest for compensation from vaccine manufactures and has caused thousands more parents to feel anger, anxiety and guilt over giving their children the vaccine. The scare has led to a significant decline in vaccine uptake that may yet lead to new epidemics of measles and other diseases. For a scientist to promote the notion of a link between MMR and autism for which he cannot produce compelling evidence is socially irresponsible. It is also irresponsible for journalists to endorse the anti-MMR campaign without critically examining the claims of its promoters and providing an accurate account of the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence against the autism link.

    Goldacre rightly points out that Phillips misunderstands the nature of a systematic review. She misinterprets any criticism of studies of MMR safety, or any expression of uncertainty about their conclusions, as a vindication of Wakefield’s case. She echoes the mantra of anti-MMR campaigners that epidemiological methods are not suitable to discover an association between MMR and autism, when this is precisely the point of such methods. Epidemiology has successfully identified a link between MMR and the skin rash resulting from a sharp fall in blood platelets (thrombocytopenic purpura), a (generally benign) condition much rarer (around 20 cases a year in Britain) than the so-called epidemic of autism attributed to MMR.

    Indeed, this is why Wakefield explicitly invited epidemiological studies in his Lancet paper – only to repudiate this approach when one study after another failed to support his hypothesis. Having started out blaming MMR for causing an epidemic of autism, campaigners are now reduced to the absurd claim that it causes a number of cases too small to measure by epidemiological methods.

    Wakefield is depicted as a heroic victim, yet he uses his lawyers to bully critics
    Phillips endorses Wakefield’s claims. She insists that his discovery of ‘autistic enterocolitis’ has been replicated around the world and that ‘vaccine-strain’ measles virus has been found in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from autistic children, though she fails to mention that these few studies have been carried out by Wakefield or his collaborators and are universally dismissed by reputable authorities. Phillips takes exception to Goldacre’s characterisation of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which has published several articles by Wakefield and his supporters, as the ‘magazine of a right-wing US pressure group well known for polemics on homosexuality, abortion and vaccines’. But Goldacre’s description is accurate. Until two years ago the journal was known as the Medical Sentinel, when it was relaunched declaring a continuing ‘commitment to publishing scholarly articles in defense of the practice of private medicine’ (7). Recent issues include features entitled ‘Illegal aliens and American medicine’ (Spring 2005) and ‘Homosexuality: some neglected considerations’ (Fall 2005), which make the Daily Mail appear positively liberal.

    Echoing Wakefield, both the Daily Mail and Private Eye have repeatedly quoted claims that measles virus has been discovered in bowel and CSF samples obtained (by invasive investigations of dubious clinical value and ethical propriety) from autistic children. The key authorities are Professor John O’Leary from Dublin and Dr Jeffrey Bradstreet from Florida. O’Leary published two papers in 2002 which Wakefield immediately claimed supported his theory, a claim explicitly rejected by O’Leary who insisted that his work ‘in no way establishes any link between the MMR vaccine and autism’ (8). The failure of O’Leary’s subsequent investigations of children whose parents were pursuing compensation to come up with reliable evidence of measles infection was the key factor in the collapse of the litigation. After receiving very substantial legal aid fees for these studies, it seems that O’Leary has now abandoned this field.

    Dr Bradstreet has variously presented himself as a paediatrician, a Christian family physician, a professor of neuroscience and as an expert/lecturer on autism. He was formerly a radio talk show host and an evangelical preacher: according to the website of his Good News Doctor Foundation, the multi-talented Bradstreet has also conducted ‘vast research’ into the Bible, which has given him a ‘clear grasp’ of Scripture (9). His centre in Melbourne, Florida was exposed in Brian Deer’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary in November 2004 as the source of a range of quack remedies for children with developmental disorders, including Bradstreet’s personal product, ‘Sea Buddies Concentrate’, advertised as a ‘high potency formula with five ingredients that help support healthy focus and concentration in children’. While Wakefield, Phillips and Private Eye may have faith in Bradstreet, the rest of the world awaits independent replication of his results.

    It is extraordinary that, after nearly a decade of Wakefield’s empty promises that he would prove his critics wrong, sections of the British press appear to be still captivated by his self-professed status as a maverick and crusader against the establishment. His posture of martyrdom and victimhood seems to have a particular appeal for Phillips. The price of this mutual self-indulgence is borne by the real victims of the MMR-autism fiasco – parents of autistic children and parents facing decisions about immunisation.

    With a few notable exceptions – such as Brian Deer, whose work for The Sunday Times and Channel 4 helped to discredit Wakefield’s Lancet paper – British journalists have a poor record on MMR and, indeed, on autism. It is good news that Deer and Channel 4 have won a high court ruling against Wakefield’s attempt to delay the hearing of his libel claim against them (10). Mr Justice Eady took particular exception to what he described as Wakefield’s wish to ‘use the existence of the libel proceedings for public relations purposes, and to deter other critics’. Wakefield has also tried to silence the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris and has sought to restrict the Department of Health from ‘supplying the public with such information as it thought appropriate’ by providing a link to Deer’s website. Eady objected to Wakefield using libel proceedings as ‘a tool for stifling further criticism or debate’ over an important public issue and insisted that the case should go ahead in the near future. Wakefield may be depicted in the Mail and the Eye as a heroic victim, but he does not hesitate to use his lawyers to bully critics.

    While journalists have lionised Wakefield (who is now in private practice in Texas), real scandals – such as the recent death of an autistic boy from Britain undergoing mercury chelation therapy in the USA, or the inadequacy of respite services revealed by the conviction of a 67-year-old mother for killing her adult autistic son when she could no longer cope with his violent behaviour – have largely been ignored (11). If children die from measles, the MMR scandal may indeed get worse.

    Dr Michael Fitzpatrick is a GP and author of MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). An edited version of this article, Why can’t the Daily Mail eat humble pie over MMR?, appears in this week’s British Medical Journal.

    (1) Demichelli V, Jefferson T, Rivetti A, Price D, ‘Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children’, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, issue 4, 19 October 2005

    (2) MMR: the unanswered questions, Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 31 October 2005

    (3) The MMR sceptic who just doesn’t understand science, Ben Goldacre, Guardian, 2 November 2005

    (4) The case against me boils down to smear and evasion, Melanie Phillips, Guardian, 8 November 2005

    (5) ‘The lessons of Cochrane’, Private Eye 1145, 11-24 November 2005

    (6) The Unnatural Nature of Science, Lewis Wolpert, Faber, 1992

    (7) Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons

    (8) MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, Michael Fitzpatrick, Routledge, 2004, p127-8

    (9) Good News Doctor Foundation

    (10) Judgment, Hon Justice Eady, Royal Courts of Justice, 4 November 2005. Also see High Court judge criticises Andrew Wakefield for trying to silence his critics, Clare Dyer, British Medical Journal, 12 November 2005

    (11) When quackery kills, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick

  117. Ray said,

    November 12, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Good stuff. Did anyone of these studies consider the possibility of autism causing gastrointestinal symptoms for other reasons? For example, many autism sufferers live on limited idiosyncratic diets.

  118. tc said,

    November 12, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    I think the Daily mail put her up to this. She’s probably kicking herself for not sticking to a subject where refutations are harder to come by. Immigration, terrorism, or baiting a religious minorty perhaps?

  119. CaptainT said,

    November 13, 2005 at 1:48 am

    So did the Guardian “put her up to it” as well? Actually I guess in a way they probably did.

  120. Anthony said,

    November 13, 2005 at 8:03 am

    Readers may be interested in this: MMR: A pictorial guide to the reporting of science in The Daily Express

  121. Mark said,

    November 13, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    I would like to add my congratulations to Ben for his column and this website. I have a an additional small point. From the headlines and much of the discussion you would think that the Cochrane report was primarily about MMR and autism. However, I believe that only 6 out of the 31 studies assessed in the Cochrane report relate to autism. In fact the majority of the studies took place well before 1998.

    This makes Melanie’s statement:

    “it said that no fewer than nine of the most celebrated studies that have been used against him were unreliable in the way they were constructed”

    look very strange and suggests that she didn’t even read the paper properly – much less understand the science.

    Am I right – or are some of these studies more closely related to Wakefield’s work than it appears?

    Cheers

  122. Stu said,

    November 13, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    A Mel P-esque piece in The Onion: www.theonion.com/content/node/42384

  123. MikeTheGoat said,

    November 14, 2005 at 8:24 am

    Looks like she’s not just getting science offensively wrong at the moment….

    www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,,1641463,00.html

  124. MC said,

    November 14, 2005 at 11:07 am

    This could be an interesting evening…

    www.mmrthequestions.com/

    Hillingdon Autistic Care and Support

    present

    AN EVENING WITH DR. ANDREW WAKEFIELD

    Dr Wakefield will present an update on the gastrointestinal association with developmental disorders and regressive autism in particular. He will discuss the role of environmental factors in the cause of developmental disorders and examine the claims for and against a role for childhood vaccines in this process. Dr Wakefield will also describe the work in progress at Thoughtful House, a new centre for the care of children with developmental disorders in Austin, Texas.

    Wednesday 23rd November 2005
    7.30pm entry for 8.00pm start

    L .C. Theatre F
    Brunel University
    Kingston Lane
    Hillingdon
    UB8 3PH

    £15 per ticket

  125. Anthony Cox said,

    November 16, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Is he touring? The parallels with George Galloway grow.

  126. Dean Morrison said,

    November 16, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve just nominated Melanie Phillips to:

    www.crank.net

    “Cranks, Crackpots and Loons on the net” –

    I hope she gets in…..

  127. Penta_Water_UK said,

    December 4, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    T-Shirt idea!

    How about:

    “Why worry about MMR?
    Colour Nation has a relitivistic heavy ion collider out the back!…
    Tell your friends.”

    Only you will need very long slieved t-shirts or very small print…or both!

  128. Commonplace Book » Britain’s top Stupid Intellectual said,

    December 20, 2005 at 12:24 am

    [...] Instead of actually making an effort to understand the evidence presented to her in very simple (yes, patronising) language, Phillips instead attacked Goldacre and science generally, and complained that Goldacre had said she was stupid. Unfortunately if one says stupid things one must allow that other people may call you stupid as a result. [...]

  129. Jeff Took said,

    January 1, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    The real action is still in brian deer’s investigation. Its fascinating:

    briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-summary.htm

  130. Mark said,

    February 11, 2006 at 11:01 am

    You may have noticed that Melanie and The Mail on Sunday are back on the MMR theme.

    www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_article_id=376203&in_page_id=1774&in_a_source=

    Does anyone more about Dr. Peter Fletcher?

  131. Mick James said,

    February 27, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    “There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves.”

    This is unfortunately where the debate ends and veers off into conspiracy theory. Once you accept that powerful vested interests will do “almost anything” then you will see any contrary finding as the result of bribery, fakery and worse.

  132. sciencefan said,

    May 20, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    I’ve just checked out the Badscience shop and find what I consider to be a disturbingly ‘unscientific’ statement on every item, e.g. “MMR is safe …tell your friend/parent etc “.

    Is the statement “MMR is safe” actually true?

    I’d have thought that it needed at least some form of qualification, along the lines of e.g.” MMR is safe (in at least 99.99% of cases – so your child should be OK)” or “MMR is safe (usually)” or “MMR is generally regarded as safe ” or perhaps even “MMR is pretty damn safe (but not in all cases)”.
    Perhaps these (more accurate?) slogans would interfer with the bold, stark design of the T-shirts, mugs etc and reduced their impact somewhat, but surely in the interests of Goodscience … ;-)

  133. Conservative la-la land: the top seven fictions swollowed by the right « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush said,

    September 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    [...] The MMR-Autism link. An odd one I’ll admit, but it’s been a pervasive debate in the Daily Mail for donkey’s years. Why it is such a right-wing hobby horse I have no idea; I’m tempted to say that their sheer hatred of the MMR-autism link sceptics it implies a worrying mistrust of all scientists and the norms of scientific methodology. Melanie Phillips loves to froth at the mouth about it; As the ever-brilliant Ben Goldacre points out, most of what she says is absolute bobbins. [...]

  134. Apathy Sketchpad » Blog Archive » If Science Cannot Do Without Nutt… said,

    November 4, 2009 at 2:04 am

    [...] Phillips’ views on science are almost uniformly opposed to reality. Take, for example her butchering of the Cochrane report on MMR or her support for ‘intelligent design’. Incidentally, Nutt’s speech cites the [...]

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  136. Vaccinations != Autism | Obfuscated Reality said,

    July 14, 2011 at 3:35 am

    [...] Goldacre (a real doctor, unlike that quack Wakefield) www.badscience.net/2005/11/comment-the-mmr-sceptic-who-just-doesnt-understand-science/ www.badscience.net/2006/06/mmr-is-back/ [...]

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