Saturday November 5, 2005
There are times when it’s just great to be alive: you’re running through the archives, the wind’s in your hair, suddenly you stumble on a gem from last year’s Sunday Mirror and it just makes you bless the day you decided to become a sarcastic and hateful campaigning science journalist.
If this is going to make any sense we’ll need a quick recap. For the last three weeks we have been following the sorry affair of MRSA in the tabloids. Every major tabloid newspaper in Britain – Sun, Mirror, Mail, Evening Standard and more – has sent undercover journalists in to take swabs from hospitals which were proven to be positive for the “deadly superbug MRSA” in laboratory testing by an expert.
These results all came from Dr Chris Malyszewicz, and his Northamptonshire-based Chemsol Consulting. He is not a microbiologist; in fact, he is not a doctor, and has only a “correspondence course” PhD from a non-accredited distance learning institution in the US.
His laboratory, a shed in his garden, is not accredited, unheard of for any lab doing NHS work; he makes his living producing disinfectant and other products targeted at people worried about MRSA; his methods were unable to distinguish MRSA from other bacteria; and this was proven when he finally released slides that he believed contained MRSA, and it turned out six out of eight did not contain even the smallest trace.
Not one paper has retracted its story. But how did the papers respond to the concerns, raised by senior microbiologists all over the country at the time, that this man was providing bogus results? Two days after Malyszewicz allowed a couple of real microbiologists in to examine the Chemsol “shedquarters” in his garden, the Sunday Mirror wrote a long, vitriolic piece about them.
“Health secretary John Reid was accused last night of trying to gag Britain’s leading expert on the killer bug MRSA.” That’s Britain’s leading expert who has no microbiology qualifications, and runs his operation from a shed in the garden. “Dr Chris Malyszewicz has pioneered a new method of testing for levels of MRSA and other bacteria,” they go on. Clearly he has. Malyszewicz adds: “They asked me a lot of questions about my procedures and academic background.”
By now you can picture them in the newsroom, shouting: “This story is dynamite! It’s a government cover-up!” And yes: “Tony Field, chairman of the national MRSA support group, said: ‘It was an outrageous attempt to discredit and silence him’.”
Now I’m going to put my chips on the table: I believe there has not been a single positive swab for MRSA found in any hospital by any undercover journalist to date that did not come from Chemsol. I believe this so strongly I will give a free “MMR is safe: tell your friends” T-shirt to the first person who can send me a clipping demonstrating otherwise.
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