BBC Judge John Deed, Anyone?

February 24th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, media, MMR, scare stories | 54 Comments »

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
ethical concerns.

“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.

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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

54 Responses

  1. Thimerosal said,

    May 28, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Dear Mr. Goldacre,

    There are two points here,

    1. You mention, the MMR litigants “collapsed legal case”.
    Sir Nigel Davis and his brother Sir Crispin could both have had vested interests in “collapsing” this particular case.
    So come on, get into the spirit of the thing, on a scale of 1-10, for fishiness, how do you rate Nigel and Crispin’s involvement.

    2. You must be aware that everyone in the MMR litigation had to surrender samples.
    Are you saying that litigants could hand over samples but withhold consent for analysis by researchers ? If so there would be no reason to submit the samples in the first place.
    However, as far as I am aware, no attempt was made to replicate the study methods of Dr.John O’Leary, PhD, here is a reminder of his involvement with MMR:

    [Media UK, 16 June 2002] Revealed: more evidence to challenge the safety of MMR
    “John O’Leary, PhD, a world-class researcher and molecular biologist from Ireland, using state-of-the-art sequencing technology, showed how he had found the measles virus in the gut of 96% of autistic children, compared to 6.6% in normal children. This virus did not come from the natural disease, but from the measles vaccine. Dr. O’Leary found measles virus present in 75% of children with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s has traditionally been an intestinal disease of adults, following years of dietary abuse. Its appearance in children is a new event, and Dr. O’Leary’s work points to the measles virus from vaccines as the likely cause.”—Tim O’Shea, DC.

    Do you think that the labs ignoring Dr.O’Leary’s techniques could be termed, Bad Science?

    You could answer yes or no to this or the above 1-10 fishy scale might be more revealing

  2. Brian Richard Allen said,

    June 8, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Poor old Judge John’s show jumped the shark at about the very first time his character did the Deed with one or another of the show’s dreadfully dullard damsels, played by one or another of the indistinguishable from one another butt ugly and but for the BBC deservedly unemployed “actresses” with which the series is replete.

    But – while we’re on the subject – as bad as has been (pun?) the acting, the writers’ seething hatred of all those aspects of once great Britain that once made it a place worth stopping over for a feed of fish and chips and/or a pint of best bitter when on the way to somewhere else worth visiting — Iraq, say — and the writers’ total immersion in socialism’s sinister sophistries, solipsism and silliness — and bad science — at least distracted one from the mindless vapidity of the rest of every episode’s storyline. For the odd five minutes.

    Too damned bad, though. I enjoyed the fellow who played the judge, his character’s relationship with his clerk — and even some of his cobbers on the bench. But bad-BBC-bred totalitarianism — and Bad Science — posing as “entertainment?”


    Brian Richard Allen
    Los Angeles – Califobambicated 90028
    And the Far Abroad

  3. asc_musician said,

    August 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Well, first of all its up to the relevant authority in the UK to decide if the BBC have crossed the lines of acceptability of media content and broadcast. So i dont agree that they obliged to justify themselves to anyone who has a disagreement with the way fiction is portrayed. For example, I like watching top gear, but dislike the condescening comments to vegetarians made by the presenters. I reconigse it as entertainment andviews of the presenters, its up to the intelligence of the individual to make up their own mind; although i do recognise perhaps there is a percentage of our society that may be influenced more easily.

    Incidently if anyone wants to buy judge john deed seasons 1 – 4 for what ever reason you can legally buy the dvd’s from amazon forexample.

    There is clear bias towards specific subjects and this is most probably because the author/writer feels strongly about these subjects he is expressing his views in a dramatic format giving the best argument for his views as any good advocat for a given argument would do. (Try watching the DAVE program argumental, its good fun).

    Question is asked whether it is suitable/appropriate or even right to give possible influence through this medium. Well you open up a big can of worms here, because this is effectively an argument over CENSORSHIP. Restriction of material from the government is a very dangerous road and the same time we in my personal opinion can’t let anything pass for acceptable due to the implications.

    The recent film inglorious basterds for example. I am sure many will not have seen this but without spoiling it, it does not correspond to historic events however entertaining it might be. Does this offend as it paints an inaccurate picture of a serious part of modern history? Entertainment is what it is and documentary’s are what they are. The BBC and any media broadcaster can show what they like as long as it doesnt cross recognised boundaries. And there has been programmes such as brass eye which have been scrutinised for taste and decency.

    There is also the question of who will be watching a programme such as this and the likely impact on the viewer. This may well be an assumption and or stereotype but it will tend to be people of atleast medium intelligence watching this programmeand I think we should treat people with the intelligence to think for themselves after watching a DRAMA. If i was a parent i would probably want to look at the research for vaccines anyway, drugs and vaccines CAN have implications of a long term nature, i.e. side effects, it is always intelligent to examine these.

    I do believe in science as a positive way forward for humanity even if I do not seem as if i do, how ever exploring ideas and theories through an artistic format is a beautiful attribute to be celebrated by humanity and there are regulartary authorities to check that lines are not crossed (which can easily be subjective). In our democracy (ies) if you want to change the system you need to get elected and get it passed. I must say i have been ENTERTAINED by the show and my views remain the same before and after.

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