“Try Me, Sh*thead” – the strange case of Carol Stott, Wakefield, and the Observer – including bizarre update

July 8th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, MMR, scare stories | 40 Comments »

Update 10:30pm Sunday 8/7/07:

Just got this reply from Dr Scott, in response to my email below: she seems to say the Observer have concocted something, but it’s certainly vague. Have asked her for clarification, but no response (still none as of 17:15 9/7/07 despite various emails and phone call). [i should clarify that sincec then its become clear that scott is definitely one of the good people]

NOTE: It’s worth following up this story, it turned out Fiona Scott was indeed grotesquely and repeatedly misrepresented by the Observer

www.badscience.net/?p=458

I can respond to your question in terms of the following which will be the
formal press release available from the National Autistic Society:

The Cambridge University Autism Research Centre have not yet released the
findings from their prevalence study, as the study is not yet complete. The
Cambridge researchers are surprised that an unpublished report of their work
was described out of context by the Observer. They are investigating how
this report was made available to the Observer. They are equally surprised
that the Observer fabricated comments attributed to their team. They do not
believe there is any link between rising prevalence and the MMR, or chemical
toxins. It is untrue that Prof Baron-Cohen “was so concerned by the 1 in 58
figure that he proposed informing public health officials in the county “.
Such journalism raises anxiety unnecessarily and is irresponsible

Original Post:

Just a quicky really: interesting pair of articles about MMR and autism in the Observer today by their health correspondent Denis Campbell. The first suggests that MMR is responsible (again) for the rise in the prevalence of autism, and reports on a study – which is not yet published, so nobody can read it – but which has found that diagnoses of autism continue to rise, and that is all. No new data is apparently presented which says anything about the MMR vaccine whatsoever, but this becomes a story about MMR.

Why?

“Two of the academics, leaders in their field [my itals, they're clearly not leaders in their field], privately believe that the surprisingly high figure may be linked to the use of the controversial MMR vaccine. That view is rejected by the rest of the team, including its leader, the renowned autism expert, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen… Although the new research is purely statistical and does not examine possible explanations for the rise, two of the authors believe that the MMR jab, which babies receive at 12 to 15 months, might be partly to blame. Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott both say it could be a factor in small numbers of children.”

And so on. It even manages to crowbar in a reference to a new book by some doctor you’ve never heard of who makes a tidy living giving vaccine single jabs in his private practice.

It doesn’t mention that Stott was a well paid advisers to the failed litigation over MMR who took in £100,000.

But even excepting that, I find it odd that this research should become the hook for another story about MMR. Most anti-vaccine campaigners have developed an interesting and conflicted position on MMR and autism: on the one hand, they want it to be responsible for the massive increase in prevalence of autism; on the other, they say, oh, it doesnt cause all autism, just some of it, in fact a very small amount, in susceptible children, but the numbers are too small to pick up with population level stuff (so they must be veeery small numbers).

They have to say this because the research simply doesn’t show a relative increase in autism among children who have had MMR in comparison with children who have not had MMR. They also have to say this because, say, in Japan, they stopped giving MMR triple jabs and gave single jabs instead – exactly what the anti-vax campaigners want us to do in the UK – and rates of autism continued to rise in Japan all the same.

In fact, that last snippet of information is such a simple piece of data to explain that I’m amazed journalists don’t put it in their articles, instead of ominous uninformative statements about experts from the medical establishment coldly rejecting the claims of parents, but there you go.

Anyway, this research becomes a massive front page splash story about MMR because of Carol Stott raising her concerns, and the point of posting on a Sunday – since this is no time for seriousness – is her fascinating background, comlpetely brushed over by the Observer, and her extremely entertaining sweary outburst at Brian Deer.

Brian is a hero of investigative journalism, and it was he who uncovered the bulk of the material against Wakefield in the MMR scandal. He also showed along the way, in passing, that Stott received £100,000 as an expert saying that MMMR causes autism.

(I’m not saying that changed her mind about anything, but it’s a relevant and interesting background snippet, and I am consistently amazed at how much money gets thrown around in anything to do with law. It would take a doctor in the NHS at my level slightly over three years of solid full time work to earn that much money. It would take a junior research associate in academia even longer.)

To save extra typing, Deer’s background on Stott, written some time ago, is as follows:

Credited in 2006 in a fringe magazine as “Hon Senior Research Associate to Dr Wakefield”. Carol Stott is increasingly the person in whose name Wakefield’s journal and website articles attacking MMR are jointly written. His business, Thoughtful House, in Texas, bestowed upon her the title of “visiting professor”. Stott is a former junior research associate at the Cambridge autism research institute, where her temporary post was funded by a trust. She was suspended, and in 2005 censured by the British Psychological Society, for sending obscene, threatening emails. Launched her own consultancy business off the back of the MMR lawsuit, for which she was hired by Barr in September 2002. At the time, she was a local health service information manager. LSC reports fees: £94,916. Plus expenses: £5,198.

Which all in all makes her a textbook source for an MMR story in the media. Here are the sweary emails, enjoy:

briandeer.com/mmr/carol-stott.htm

03.54am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
Subject: game on
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 03:54:26

Try me, shit head.

Beleive me, you will lose.

04.05am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
Subject: RE: game on
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 04:05:28

and tell Fitzpatrick whilst you’re at it.

[This is probably a reference to Dr Mike Fitzpatrick, author of an outstanding book on MMR]

04.08am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
Subject: RE: game on
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 04:08:35

and terence. of course.

[Who or what "terence" might be is a mystery]

04.18am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
Subject:
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 04:18:16

so go fuck yourself.

Or ring….0447446 8502

Got it yet shit head.

Try me

[The phone number, checked next day, was unobtainable]

04.52am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
To: “Twathead” <>
Subject:
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 04:52:20

waiting

[The addressee "Twathead" is new to this correspondence]

04.56am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
To: “Twathead” <>
Subject: FW: game on
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 04:56:44

oh yes. Forgot to say. Currently talking to the Press Complaints Commission,several MPs and the CU Press Office. Stick that where it feels good.

shit head

["CU" must mean Cambridge University, but why we should care is unclear]

09.34am

From: “Dr Carol Stott”
To: “Twathead” <>
Subject:
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004 09:34:22

well, ur a bit slow on the uptake. Give it time I s’pose. twat.

There’s plenty more at Brian’s excellent website, including a very funny telephone call, and the British Psychological Society letter back to Deer.

I’m not sure I want to get into a discussion with Stott, but in any case her contact details aren’t available on the Autism Research Centre website, nor does she appear on their list of staff.

www.autismresearchcentre.com/arc/staff.asp

Dr Fiona Scott does, however, and I’ve pinged her a quick polite email just now.

Re: your comments on MMR and autism

Dr Scott,

I see from the Observer today that you draw a link between the increased prevalence of autism identified in the unpublished data from a recent unpublished ARC study, and the MMR vaccine.

Can I ask what are your reasons for making this link?

To be absolutely clear, I should say I am writing to you as a journalist,

Ben

Meanwhile The Observer also mentions Wakefield’s disciplinary hearing at the GMC this month.

The doctors’ disciplinary body claims that Wakefield acted ‘dishonestly and ‘irresponsibly’ in dealings with the Lancet, was ‘misleading’ in the way he sought research funding from the Legal Aid Board, and ‘acted unethically and abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner’ by taking blood from children after offering them money.

Just because I wasn’t sure I could trust my own memory on a Sunday, here is what the hearing is on, from the GMC’s own documents:

The following is a summary only of the allegations which will be made before the Panel at the forthcoming hearing.

The Panel will inquire into allegations of serious professional misconduct by Dr Wakefield, Professor Walker-Smith and Professor Murch, in relation to the conduct of a research study involving young children from 1996-98.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that the three practitioners undertook research during the period 1996-98 without proper ethical approval, failed to conduct the research in accordance with the application submitted to the ethics committee, and failed to treat the children admitted into the study in accordance with the terms of the approval given by the ethics committee. For example, it will be alleged that some of the children did not qualify for the study on the basis of their behavioural symptoms.

It is further alleged that the three practitioners permitted a programme of investigations to be carried out on a number of children as part of the research study, some of which were not clinically indicated when the Ethics Committee had been assured that they were all clinically indicated. These investigations included colonoscopies and lumbar punctures. It is alleged that the performance of these investigations was contrary to the clinical interests of the children.

The research undertaken by the three practitioners was subsequently written up in a paper published in the Lancet in February 1998 entitled “Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children” (“the Lancet paper”).
It is alleged that the three practitioners inaccurately stated in the Lancet paper that the investigations reported in it were approved by the ethics committee.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield and Professor Walker-Smith acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in failing to disclose in the Lancet paper the method by which they recruited patients for inclusion in the research which resulted in a misleading description of the patient population in the Lancet paper. It is further alleged that Dr Wakefield gave a dishonest description of the patient population to the Medical Research Council.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield and Professor Walker-Smith administered a purportedly therapeutic substance to a child for experimental reasons prior to obtaining information about the safety of the substance. It is alleged that such actions were irresponsible and contrary to the clinical interests of the child.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield was involved in advising solicitors acting for persons alleged to have suffered harm by the administration of the MMR vaccine. It is alleged that Dr Wakefield’s conduct in relation to research funds obtained from the Legal Aid Board (“LAB”) was dishonest and misleading. It will be alleged that Dr Wakefield ought to have disclosed his funding from the LAB to the Ethics Committee but did not.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield ordered investigations on some children as part of the research carried out at the Royal Free Hospital from 1996-98 without the requisite paediatric qualifications to do so and in contravention of his Honorary Consultant appointment.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield failed to disclose his involvement in the MMR litigation, his receipt of funding from the LAB and his involvement in a Patent relating to a new vaccine to the Editor of the Lancet which was contrary to his duties as a senior author of the Lancet paper.

The Panel will inquire into allegations that Dr Wakefield acted unethically and abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner by taking blood from children at a birthday party to use for research purposes without ethics committee approval, in an inappropriate social setting, and whilst offering financial inducement.

And let’s not forget the more astonishing revelations of the Autism Omnibus trial (ignored by the UK media, well covered here and here) including Dr Chadwick’s allegation that Wakers simlpy suppressed the measles lab data which didn’t agree with his hypothesis, or any number of other interesting background snippets.

Which all makes for an interesting context in which to read Denis Campbell’s interview with Wakefield, in the week before his GMC hearing.

Challenging stuff?

Update

Here is an absolutely cracking comment from Brian Deer on Kev Leitch’s site:

www.kevinleitch.co.uk/wp/?p=580#comments

My personal take on this is that somebody with a more legitimate claim to an interest than myself (as a mere journalist with no kids, developmentally-challenged or otherwise), should write to The Observer about this piece, and make it politely pretty damn clear that a correction or clarification is in order. To source a splash of that nature to Carol Stott, £100,000 claimant in the MMR litigation, without making this clear, is certainly worthy of an investigation by the Press Complaints Commission. To describe them as “leaders in their field” was little more than a trick by Mr Campbell, or possibly the Observer newsdesk, to justify their inflammatory and baseless opinions. It’s quite obvious from what little we know about this (unpublished) alleged study that it would be entirely uninformative about MMR.

We could all probably spend the rest of our lives trying to deal with this constant barrage of untruth that surrounds MMR, but I think there is a prima facie argument for the PCC to be brought in, on the basis that these deceitful stories – whether about Krigsman, or Aitken, or Halvosen, of Bradstreet, or Yazbak, or any of the other paid critics of MMR – need to be brought to an end.

To be honest, I can’t think, off the top of my head, of a single person cited in media reports attacking MMR who wasn’t a litigant, a paid advisor, or some other person with an undisclosed axe to grind.

Blogs covering this so far:

Autism Diva,

Autism Vox,

Black Triangle,

LeftBrain/Right Brain,

Public Address and

Breath Spa for Kids ,

Tim Worstall,

Tony Hatfield, and

Mike Stanton.

Post your own below, I’ll try and suck them up to this list.

And so far the Observer front pager has already been picked up in the online editions of… The Telegraph and The Mail. We’ve got a convoy!


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If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

40 Responses



  1. RS said,

    July 8, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    I had the same reaction when I saw the articles. The cover article clearly implies that MMR could have caused the rise in autism whilst stating in a obfuscatory way that proponents attribute a small number of autism cases to MMR (which is their current fall-back position given the evidence against them). But combine that with uncritical references to Stott, thiomersal, the National Autistic Society rejecting the ‘medical consensus’, the Japanese withdrawal of MMR, and no reflection on the role of the media in the whole furore, you have to think that there was more than just the usual health-correspondents-know-jack-shit-about-science level of incompetence and look for something sinister.

    [is this Denis Campbell, observer.guardian.co.uk/contacts/page/0,,329231,00.html, also sports and 'social affairs' correspondent?]

  2. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 8, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Oh that’s quite interesting, I was surprised to see a health correspondent interviewing Wakefield because the word on the street is that the anti-vax movement won’t speak to specialist health or science reporters, since they get too many difficult questions. But if he’s more of a sports correspondent that makes sense, although he’s “Denis Campbell, health correspondent” on the front page here of course:

    www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,,2121542,00.html

    edit 6:15 flitting through the archive, to be fair he has done a few other health stories recently, along with the sports stuff, so not sure it’s such an issue.

    edit 6:18 ooh, this story on poor old Wakefield appears out of the blue in a sea of sports stories in 2001.

    observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,,610559,00.html

    Critic of MMR jabs ‘forced out’ of job

    Denis Campbell
    Sunday December 2, 2001
    The Observer

    The medical expert whose criticisms of the MMR vaccinations have infuriated Ministers claims he has been forced out of his job.

    Professor Andrew Wakefield, a consultant gastroenterologist who provoked controversy by criticising what he claims are the dangers of the government-backed three-in-one injections, left his post as an academic at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in London on Friday.

    ‘I have been asked to go because my research results are unpopular,’ Wakefield said last night. His work on the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination policy has proved controversial because it has linked the vaccine to children developing autism and bowel disease.

    Article continues
    ‘I did not wish to leave but I have agreed to stand down in the hope that my going will take the political pressure off my colleagues and allow them to get on with the job of looking after the many sick children we have seen.’ He intends to continue his research elsewhere.

    Wakefield has infuriated Ministers by insisting that the three elements of the vaccine should be administered separately to children.

    Personnel in the Public Health Laboratory Service have derided his work. They insist the policy of giving the MMR vaccine to children aged 13 months, and again when they reach four years, is safe.

  3. gadgeezer said,

    July 8, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Fitzpatrick wrote an excellent piece on MMR-autism – there’s nothing there.

    According to Brian Deer – didn’t Wakefield leave because he was asked to substantiate his research and he chose to go rather than do so? “After failing to honour an agreement with the Royal Free that he would mount properly organised research to verify his claims, Wakefield was ejected from his employment at the medical school in late 2001, albeit with substantial compensation.”

  4. mikestanton said,

    July 8, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    If you look at the dates it looks like there was this massive increase in autism in kids born after Wakefield made his announcement and the MMR rates went down. So according to the first law of quack quarrelation this proves that MMR protects against autism. Do I get a prize?

  5. kingcnut said,

    July 9, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    We’re putting letters up, are we? I just wish I’d read this before I wrote – the whole Stott/Scott thing would have been good to know… anyway, this is a bit overlong. I got carried away:

    Dear Letters

    Your article (New health fears over big surge in autism, 8th July) is concerning for several reasons; I will mention two. First, you attribute opinions to two of the researchers involved in the autism study, Drs Stott and Scott, without any quotes to support the attribution; you will forgive my scepticism, but finding scientists who genuinely believe in a link between MMR and autism is so rare that I would like any examples verified as firmly as possible. Second, and more significantly, you make no mention of the most compelling epidemiological reason to doubt the existence of such a link. If MMR caused autism, we could expect a step-change in the number of cases when the vaccine was introduced in 1988. There is none. As Health Watch says in its article MMR and autism: can a controversy be more one-sided?, “If MMR causes autism there would be a clear association between the date the MMR vaccine was introduced and the rise in autism. Autism is more common now than in the past, but the increase does not show a time relationship to the introduction of MMR vaccine.”

    This suggests that there is no link between the two, and is based on several large-scale trials across Europe and America, a Cochrane Library meta-analysis, and a major literature review by the American Association of Physicians. I suggest that, in failing to make this extremely convincing evidence clear in your article, you are guilty of misleading the public – you are creating the image of a controversy in the press where there is none of note among the scientists. In March 2006, as you noted in your article on Wakefield, a 13-year-old boy became the first person to die of measles in Britain for fourteen years. I suggest that some of the blame for that has to lie at the feet of journalists who continue to present MMR as a controversy, which has surely contributed to the drop in vaccination uptake rates. If and when there are new deaths, I fear this article must shoulder some small part of the responsibility.

    Yours sorrowfully

  6. kingcnut said,

    July 9, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Oh. I thought people had put their letters to the Observer up, but they seem to have disappeared and I fear I now come across as something of an egomaniac. Heigh ho.

  7. mikep said,

    July 9, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Just googled Denis Campbell. This may be the same one.

    “Denis Campbell

    Denis Campbell is the Observer’s sports news reporter. He was formerly a rock star and writer for both Time Out and the NME before joining the Observer. He is a passionate West Ham supporter. ”

    Obviously an expert.

  8. Phage said,

    July 9, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Totally ruined my Sunday. There’s nothing better than a cup of tea, and some fluff jounalism on a donkey sanctuary or somesuch. I found the article so grossly annoying that I binned the whole thing without reading another page.

    Can anyone recommend any paper on a Sunday ?

  9. pv said,

    July 9, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Actually there’s an update to this thread that’s missing!

  10. alomas said,

    July 9, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Yes, sorry all, there were some comments (and last night’s update) that have been lost.

    Feel free to repost, otherwise Ben will copy them across this evening.

    If there are any other things amiss (look & feel, content missing, broken pages) please email Ben and it’ll get fixed up.

    Alex
    Ben’s web monkey

  11. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 9, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    That article was the last straw for me. The Observer has been going downhill for a long time, but I read that and was just gobsmacked by the transparent attempt to shoehorn a thoroughly discredited agenda into a science article. I’d rather read the News of the World than that rubbish. At least it would be amusing. I hope this does go to the PCC, but I doubt anything will come of it even if it does.

  12. jackpt said,

    July 9, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Plugged. I’m not all that bothered about a link because I haven’t added much.

  13. j said,

    July 9, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    gadgeezer – thanks for the link.

    There’s now a short post on Holford, Wakefield, Safe Harbor and Scientologists on Holford Watch, too – holfordwatch.info/2007/07/09/holford-and-wakefield-both-find-safe-harbor-for-bad-vaccination-science/#more-154

    And man is it depressing that other papers are picking this up. You wonder if the journo’s to blame have bothered to google the story – would the criticisms on blogs put them off at all?

  14. pv said,

    July 9, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Sorry, I feel like a rant!
    Would anyone go as far as to say most of the perpetrators of this journalistic tripe don’t really give a shit about whether it’s right or wrong? Is it likely any of them actually know or care about any autistic children or their guardians, or any of the real doctors and researchers who devote their lives to it with little just reward?
    As far as I can tell, the likes of Wakefield and Holford are only interested in the issue of autism as long as it puts plenty of bucks in their pockets. The only difference between them is Holford is interested in any ailment that will line his pockets – it doesn’t matter if he knows fuck all about it as long as he can persuade credulous or vulnerable individuals that it will be cured or mitigated by some of his wretched pills. The journalists and tv morons who give them the oxygen of publicity have the same unscrupulous, mercenary, whorish tendencies. As long as it makes a buck who cares?

  15. jimothy said,

    July 9, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    Notwithstanding the whole MMR/autism thing its worth bringing up again here that an increased number of diagnoses do not necessarily mean that there is a higher incidence of autism. Most developmental and behavioural conditions are being diagnosed more often where before they would have been ignored or diagnosed under a much more generic category. I read the article on the guardian website on Sunday and it just left me fuming …. dreadful journalism and science on every level.

  16. RS said,

    July 9, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Ben, you say “Dr Carol Scott does, however, and I’ve pinged her a quick polite email just now”, but I think you mean “Dr Fiona Scott”, so you might want to change the text.

  17. ayupmeduck said,

    July 9, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    @Mikep – “Denis Campbell … was formerly a rock star”

    Like in famous or something? Did he have a recording contract? Where did you find that? That’s great. Britney seems to have time on her hands, maybe she could do some science reporting for The Observer. Actually, it would be entz cool if rock stars really did science articles for The Observer. Frank Black on vocals and quantum mechanics, Lemmy on bass and space travel, Bez on drugs, …

  18. andyandy said,

    July 9, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    The study that the Observer refers to can be found here

    www.autismresearchcentre.com/research/project.asp?id=7

    “Screening for Asperger Syndrome in primary and secondary schools
    Fiona Scott, Simon Baron-Cohen, Carol Brayne, Carrie Allison, Jo Williams, Bonnie Auyeung, Patrick Bolton (London), Sally Wheelwright and Rosa Hoekstra

    Currently, AS is picked up far too late. It should be possible to identify AS in children in primary school (age 5-11). We have developed a screening instrument for this purpose, called the CAST (Childhood Asperger Screening Test) and are testing it at a population level. We have also adapted the AQ (Autism Spectrum Quotient) for use with children age 4-16.”

    The survey uses the CAST method of diagnosing autism. The CAST method is a 39 question (Yes/No) survey to be filled in by parents…..

    The first 7 are here….

    1. Does s/he join in playing games with other children easily? Yes/No

    2. Does s/he come up to you spontaneously for a chat? Yes/No

    3. Was s/he speaking by 2 years old? Yes/No

    4. Does s/he enjoy sports? Yes/No

    5. Is it important to him/her to fit in with the peer group? Yes/No

    6. Does s/he appear to notice unusual details that
    others miss? Yes/No

    7. Does s/he tend to take things literally? Yes/No

    8. When s/he was 3 years old, did s/he spend a lot of time
    pretending (e.g., play-acting being a superhero, or
    holding teddy’s tea parties)? Yes/No

    You can view the rest of the survey here (after giving a name and email address)
    www.autismresearchcentre.com/tests/cast_test.asp

    The CAST answer sheet states that the “maximum score possible is 31 [due to some of the questions being controls], cut-off currently is 15 for possible ASD or related social-communication difficulties”

    It seems pretty amazing that the results from this survey are being touted as headline in autism….This survey questionaire is intended as a diagnostic catch all, to identify children who might require further investigation. Indeed, a 2005 published report using CAST data came with the disclaimer
    “The CAST is useful as a screening test for autism spectrum conditions in epidemiological research. There is not currently enough evidence to recommend the use of the CAST as a screening test within a public health screening programme in the general population.”
    eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ689756&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=eric_accno&accno=EJ689756

    And indeed, the CAST test itself is being trialed – the current limit is set “at 15″ – but as the wording suggests this is not finalised decision.

    That such a test would be then be used to justify the lead paragraph in the Observer

    “The number of children in Britain with autism is far higher than previously thought, according to dramatic new evidence by the country’s leading experts in the field.
    A study, as yet unpublished, shows that as many as one in 58 children may have some form of the condition”

    is staggering.

  19. Andrew Clegg said,

    July 10, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Maybe it’s an entirely pragmatic way to get it past content filters.

    Andrew.

  20. andyandy said,

    July 10, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    my comment’s been eaten!

  21. SteveNaive said,

    July 10, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    I see that the Mail yesterday just picked up the Observer story almost word for word. Of course, they couldn’t resist adding their own little extra vague and useless paragraph:

    “Their [Stott & Scott] fears follow claims from experts that injecting children with the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine – rather than three separate jabs – can cause autism”

    No names are provided for the other ‘experts’ of course. Is it just sheer laziness?

  22. le canard noir said,

    July 10, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    more autism stuff and how the blame is now moving to Wi-Fi

    Magic.

    www.quackometer.net/blog/2007/07/autism-if-you-cant-blame-mmr-lets-try.html

  23. peningda said,

    July 11, 2007 at 5:30 am

    I’d love to know who the source of the article is. I see four suspects:
    – Wakeford and associates trying to affect his GMC hearing
    – Richard Halvorsen trying to pre-publicise his book “to be published this month”
    – Carol Stott or
    – Fiona Scott
    The only direct quotes in the article are good science pro-MMR vaccine from Professor Baron-Cohen and Dr David Salisbury. It only describes Stott & Scott’s position. That makes me suspect it was triggered by Wakeford or Halvorsen providing a story to Denis Campbell.

  24. Kovich said,

    July 11, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Hi Ben, loving the site – it’s such a breath of fresh air. One question though:

    Re: the update on the 8/7: Surely the press release says exactly what would be hoped…could you clarify what you consider ‘vauge’ about it, and what clarifications you are hoping to get though your ‘various emails and phone call’?

    I’m all for putting quacks through the wringer, but their response seemed fairly sensibly-worded to me…

  25. simongates said,

    July 11, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    More on this in the Torygraph:
    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/09/nmedic109.xml#form

    … with response from Dr Scott and a bunch of totally barking comments (are these a representative cross-section of telegraph readers?).

    Interesting to speculate on how Denis Campbell got hold of information on this unpublished study. Most likely from someone involved in it, but it could also have been from somebody who heard a presentation about it, maybe at a conference or a departmental research seminar.

  26. mch said,

    July 11, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I can’t help thinking Brian Deer comes out of looking it a bit slimy. He (quite rightly) castigates those who are misleading the public, including some unnecessary but entertaining abuse. But when he gets some hassle in return (abusive? Nothing special. Threatening? Hardly) he goes whining to the teachers.

  27. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 11, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    I think a Fiona Scott appeared in tonight’s [Paul Temple and The Margo Mystery] on BBC 7, but I’m not dead sure. Paul Temple is confusing. I think she was up to no good, may even have been “Margo”.

    Of course both names are fairly common. I expect there are several Robert Scotts.

  28. SteveNaive said,

    July 11, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    “a bunch of totally barking comments (are these a representative cross-section of telegraph readers?”
    I feel that the comments there fairly represent the range of views of all middle class parents in this country (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent readers – any really). For people who work and socialise primarily within medical or scientific worlds, that may be hard to stomach, but its true!

  29. igb said,

    July 12, 2007 at 7:09 am

    “I’d love to know who the source of the article is. I see four suspects:
    – Wakeford and associates trying to affect his GMC hearing
    – Richard Halvorsen trying to pre-publicise his book “to be published this month”
    – Carol Stott or
    – Fiona Scott”

    The first two, of course, would have no direct access to the draft report and therefore require an intermediary to leak it.

  30. simongates said,

    July 12, 2007 at 10:51 am

    SteveNaive: you’re probably right. Maybe “barking” was a bit harsh for some of them, misguided or desperately misinformed (by Wakefield and his ilk) would be nearer the mark.

  31. Dubby said,

    July 12, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Seen Today’s Times?

    A long article by Anjana Ahuja shows that some journalists have higher standards than Campbell.
    He/she? makes some effort to interpret the numbers and implicitly warns that a)”crunching” is difficult and b)it’s easy but wrong to grab at one relationship and puff it up as important.

    In the article the journalist points the finger at Stott and Scott as the cause of the renewed interest. (Scott denies that she believes in a link between MMR and autism.)

    Ben, you’re no longer alone! Also congrats on your new cyberhome.

    I agree with Superburger about *. I don’t know if he is a tedious c*.

  32. Dubby said,

    July 12, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Just re-read my posting. It looks nasty!
    Superburger , no insult intended: it was meant to be mildly funny. Sorry.

  33. Dr Aust said,

    July 13, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    re Dubby’s #42 – Anjana Ahuja is definitely a she.

    www.the-ba.net/the-ba/ScienceinSociety/_EventsandProgrammes/x-change/_Biography_Anjan_Ahuja.htm

    This is the same article andyandy was referring to in #39, and it’s seriously good stuff.

    I cannot believe what a bunch of tripe the original Observer article was. Anjana A nails most of the arguments that have been floating about here.

    As an Observer reader for 30+ years , this is the only article they have run that has ever made me seriously consider switching to a Murdoch paper like the Sunday Times. Even repeated doses of Christina Odone’s scientific misinformation has never done that.

    Do the Observer not employ any proper science / health correspondents these days?

    And who blagged them into running this pile of tripe?

    Any word from the inside, Ben?

  34. pv said,

    July 15, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Re Anjana Ahuja here is a nice, short opinion piece with which I wholeheartedly agree. If it were published anywhere else even Deano would agree with it – but as it’s on Spiked… :-)

    www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/surveys/2024_article/933/

  35. Deano said,

    July 16, 2007 at 8:27 am

    That wasn’t an opinion piece pv – it was a response to a survey. I’d respond to a survey by Spiked, although somehow I doubt they’d ask me in the first place.

    You’ll notice that Anjana Ahuja’s views on you know what are not those of ‘Spiked’ here she attacks their buddies in the ‘Scientific Alliance:

    tinyurl.com/2ftzj7

    Incidentally – even Spiked would find it hard to be wrong about everything all the time – although they have a bloody good go at it.

    …………

    To get back on the rails –

    they are discussing Wakefield stuff on Radio 5 this morning – and the subject of the Observer story was raised. Shelagh Fogarty actually asked whether the reported rise in Autism was down to a change in diagnosis – but their ‘expert’ replied that the rise was probably real – just not connected with MMR…

  36. RS said,

    July 16, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Anyone see Channel 4 news today? John Snow managed to get it comprehensively wrong by trying to blame the whole MMR-autism link controversy on them not testing the MMR properly (not sure where he got that from) and ended by saying something about it being far from being resolved or some such implying a sort of six of one, half a dozen of the other situation. I think that shows there is essentially no hope for sensible coverage.

  37. RS said,

    July 16, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Oh yeah, something I’ve been wondering, these autism figures from Baron-Cohen and co, are they the results from some instrument they’ve been using or recorded diagnoses? Cos otherwise we have no idea what the previous incidence of autism under their instrument was in the past, and even it it is real clinical diagnoses there is still a question of changing awareness and shifting criteria.

  38. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 17, 2007 at 2:02 am

    I think the 1 in 58 of population on autistic spectrum statistic is a test of 116 children that found 2 on autistic spectrum. If so, there’s a word for what’s wrong with multiplying up but I’ve forgotten or never knew it.

  39. pv said,

    July 18, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    RS @49
    The figures come from a questionnaire known as the “Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test” (CAST) sent out to parents. The purpose was to try to find which children are at risk of childhood developmental problems. From there I presume they go on to more specific tests for each child at risk to identify where, if anywhere, within the autism spectrum they fit in. Obviously not all those at risk fall within the spectrum so it’s easy to see where the superbrains of the Observer got it completely wrong. If they are sincere they “interpreted” their information through a fog of arrogant ignorance, probably assisted by a bath of alcohol.
    It’s a pity the Observer don’t do something more useful, difficult even, like investigate the problem parents who probably make up a significant proportion of the anti-MMR/anti-vaccine tifosi. Why are they so obsessed? It’s not unknown for some parents of difficult children to want a medical label to pin on them just so that can get some free childcare.

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