Saturday November 19, 2005
I realise this is starting to look like some kind of dirty protest, but here is a window on to how the media sees itself in relation to scientific expertise, and how it copes with criticism, which just happens – entirely by coincidence – to involve the MRSA scandal.
To recap: bloke with no microbiology qualifications in unaccredited garden shed “laboratory” finds MRSA on swabs given to him by undercover tabloid journalists for their “dirty hospital scandal” stories, but proper labs cannot find MRSA in the same places that this “leading MRSA expert Dr Chris Malyszewicz” (with his unaccredited American correspondence course PhD) has, and proper microbiologists have very good reasons for believing that the methods of this “expert” (who incidentally sells a range of anti-MRSA products) could not distinguish between harmless skin bacteria and MRSA.
After the Evening Standard published an article starring Malyszewicz, “Killer bugs widespread in horrifying hospital study”, in which it claimed to have found MRSA in some very unlikely places in UCL hospital, two senior consultant microbiologists from UCL, Dr Geoff Ridgway and Dr Peter Wilson, wrote to the paper pointing out the problems with its methods. Not only did the Evening Standard not bother to reply, it ran another story, two months later, using the same flawed methods.
That time Dr Vanya Gant, another UCL consultant microbiologist, wrote to the paper. And the Standard did deign to reply: “We stand by the accuracy and integrity of our articles. The research was carried out by a competent person using current testing media. Chris Malyszewicz … is a fully trained microbiologist with eighteen years’ experience … We believe the test media used … were sufficient to detect the presence of pathogenic type MRSA.” What you are being told here is that tabloid journalists know more about microbiology than microbiologists.
Newspapers often like to believe that they have blown the lid on a huge scandal in which the entire medical establishment has joined hands to suppress the awful truth. This was the structure of the MMR story and the MRSA swab story, and many others. If it’s true, then the evil architects of medical lies haven’t sent me the circular. In fact, send me one example of a story where there was a unanimous medical conspiracy, and I will send you by return of email one video of me eating a copy of this article.
Now I only mention this because on Monday, Radio 4 did a slot on Chris Malyszewicz, chasing up this story (hear it here). The really interesting bit comes at the end. The Evening Standard gives a statement saying: “We were not aware of any official advice that undermined our investigations.” My question to them, in the form of a thought experiment, straight from Karl Popper, is this: what piece of information could we imagine, even hypothetically, that would be sufficient to shake your belief in your MRSA results?
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