Okay, here’s a problem. I got the email below from a reader last week, laying out
his her concerns about irresponsible pseudoscience in Judge John Deed on BBC One. Apparently they do things like link phone masts to brain tumours and motor neurone disease, and promote some childish and destructive ideas about MMR.
Obviously I’ve not seen the show, because, you know, TV drama serials aren’t really my oeuvre. So I wrote to the BBC press office, asking for a confirmation, and asking if there was a way of getting the tapes, to see for myself, giving Wednesday as my deadline, if i remember correctly.
Nothing since. Not a whisper. Not: “no, if you can’t find the tapes yourself we’re not going to help you say horrible things about us”. Not: “no, you’re wrong, the shows were balanced”.
Anyway, now, obviously, instead of being a bit interested, I’m a bit irritated, and could be on a bit of a mission. I realise this is a cheek: has anyone got tapes – or bit torrents – of Judge John Deed? Did anyone see the show, and should I bother? And do the BBC press office just hate me, or is it everyone?
“Dear Ben Goldacre
“I wonder whether it is worth starting some sort of debate around the
responsibility of popular drama when highlighting issues of public
health. Judge John Deed on BBC One seems particularly bad about this.
One of the episodes specifically linked tetra phone masts to brain
tumours and motor neurone disease. While the implications of this may
not be particularly serious apart from increasing the costs of such
systems, their subsequent treatment of MMR raised more important
“In the last two episodes, as well as the usual assertions about
autism, MMR was blamed for causing the symptoms of shaken baby
syndrome, vitamin deficiency, physical and mental deterioration in a
third of vaccinated children, and mental health difficulties
including anorexia. These arguments were given at length by broadly
sympathetic characters. The opposing case, that vaccination saves
lives by providing general immunity to disease, was put briefly by
government ministers and scientists, whose only discernable motive
was the maximisation of profit by ensuring a steady market for the
vaccines, and who resorted to murder to silence criticism. Parents
watching this would certainly be left worried about the safety of
childhood vaccination and suspicious of the motives of those who
wished to reassure them.
“Given the decline in the figures in vaccination , a fact welcomed by
one of the more attractive characters, who claimed to have headed the
WHO vaccination programme in Africa, the question must be asked what
is the responsibility here, given that unfounded worries about
vaccination may cost some children their health and their lives.
Does the fact this is entertainment and fiction mean anything goes?
“I have of course complained to the BBC. I have also written to the
Observer as their third leader was about the importance of the
government and scientists getting the vaccination message across to
worried parents. But I also think this may be something that Bad
Science could take up.