Bad Science Bingo, with Jeni Barnett… NOW with added legal chill

February 3rd, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, jeni barnett, LBC, MMR | 138 Comments »

Sorry I had no column in the paper this week, there’s some very good fun stuff coming in the next month if I can pull it together safely. Meanwhile, in case any of you are feeling complacent, I offer you this truly magnificent performance on MMR by Jeni Barnett from LBC Radio on the 7th January 2009. I hope you enjoy this clip as much as I do.


LBC’s lawyers have contacted me to say that posting this clip for discussion here is infringement of copyright. Make of that what you will. Blog post to follow here.

It is my view that in this extended broadcast Jeni exemplifies every single canard ever uttered by the antivaccination movement. “It’s a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry.” “Science always changes so you can believe what you like.” “It’s a debate and a controversy.” “Measles was never that bad anyway.” “Immune systems are damaged by being understimulated.” “Immune systems are damaged by being overstimulated.” And so on.

I invite you to document the rest below (the bit about empirical experience is particularly enjoyable) and maybe we can get the full list of canards together for the definitive numbers set of Bad Science Bingo. In fact, if there is an anti-vaxxer canard in existence which is not in this broadcast, I want to know about it, signed copy of some book for the best one.

This scare, as you can see, will never end. Bravo Jeni.

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

138 Responses

  1. Jeesh42 said,

    February 4, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Ha! And the second caller is brilliant and lucid. She doesn’t answer any of his questions and goes of on bizzare tangents. First she wants to hear from the experts. The caller tells her what all the experts on her radio station say, and she ain’t having none of it.

  2. rasanki said,

    February 4, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    This is now getting ridiculous – why was this even a topic for a 1 hour long radio show? This was less even-handed than the debates between homeopathy and ‘medicine’, and they were pretty shocking. Now that I’ve heard the broadcast (all in one go – check me out!), I think I might just complain about the appalling information that was given out. I’ve never heard hypocrisy spouted so blatantly on air before.

  3. Blaise Pascal said,

    February 5, 2009 at 2:12 am

    Yesterday I listened to a podcast from in which the hosts were willing to be accepting of Moon Hoax claims (they were willing to accept it as probably true that we landed on the moon) and were OK with the claim by an emailler that he had been possessed by the Egyptian god Horus. I unsubscribed from that podcast as soon as I was able.

    Today I had to check and double-check how Jeni Barnett’s crazy rantings got on my iPod. Who is this person? How did I get this recording? This is on Ben Goldacre’s podcast? And when is this going to be interrupted by Ben tearing her rant apart into tiny little pieces? I couldn’t listen to more than 5 minutes. “Most people are not the 1 in 15” indeed.

    Next time, could you add an intro to the podcast explaining what we are about to hear?

  4. kerledan said,

    February 5, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Over at young Jeni has come out of her corner fighting. What we need here is a debate, you see. Here is here challenge:

    “Posted by Jeni in | 5 February 2009

    Dear All,

    The reaction to the interview about the MMR jab is growing like a fungus.

    I am not a scientist, I would not claim to be a scientist. When tested on the contents of the MMR vaccine I told the truth. I did not have the facts to hand. Was I ill informed? Yes.As a responsible broadcaster I should have been better prepared as a parent, however, I can fight my corner. I don’t know everything that goes into cigarettes but I do know they are harmful.

    As a professional should I have been better prepared – YES – but the discussion took off in a direction I hadn’t expected when I received a vicious phone call from a Nurse I was utterly thrown. I won’t get thrown again.

    I find it interesting that the vitriol that comes out of the pro MMR lobby is precisely why Allopathic medicine is struggling. Most of us who seek alternatives allow others their position but often the ‘others’ have a real problem allowing us ours.

    Doesn’t change my mind though. The fact that I decided not to have my child jabbed was my decision alone. And it is a lonely decision. To be singled out and held totally responsible for a measles, mumps or rubella ‘epidemic’ is clearly ludicrous.

    Single jabs on demand? Why is that a problem?

    Injecting tiny babies with substances that may compromise their immune system needs to be looked at not shouted down.

    And I do not accept that my position, as a radio broadcaster, is irresponsible if I should choose to share my own personal dilemma. I would like some of my critics to try and run a three hour programme.

    I am interested in the debate not a witch hunt.

    Should anybody from BAD SCIENCE read this I urge you to continue the debate, and if it gets too heated there is always the option of turning me off.”

  5. madcyclist said,

    February 5, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Hmm informed decision my arse, refusing to have children immunised is just plain wrong. Just as it’s wrong to withhold life saving treatment from a child.

  6. EleanorC said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

    It’s a really weird kind of backwardthink, isn’t it – you see exactly the same with creationists – the belief that not only is their ignorance as valid as anyone else’s information (“Was I ill informed? Yes … however, I can fight my corner”), they think it’s actually MORE valid because it’s untainted by knowledge.

  7. thepoisongarden said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

    She’s obviously never heard the old saying about stopping digging.

    If she’d put on her blog just ‘As a professional should I have been better prepared – YES’ I’d be happy to leave LBC to decide how to make sure she’s does her job right in future.

    But she just keeps on digging.

    Suggesting that everything was fine until she received ‘a vicious phone call from a Nurse’ doesn’t wash because long before then she’d made her position completely clear, not least by inviting people to phone in as long as they were on her side.

    But, of course, we get to the core of the matter when she posts ‘I would like some of my critics to try and run a three hour programme’.

    It’s very simple. If you can’t do the job, don’t do the job.

  8. RTomsett said,

    February 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “In any case, I think everyone will need to be quite gentle and not too shouty.”

    Yes. She’s obviously very sympathetic with the anti-vaccine camp (even if she does claim to try to be impartial) and so far the more vigorous attempts at explaining why MMR isn’t evil just seem to push her further that way.

  9. njd said,

    February 5, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    That final caller (the GP, or was she in fact a nurse?) really got to her, didn’t she?
    The caller made a serious point about people with weak immune systems (on chemotherapy, for instance) being jeopardised by children whose parents chose not to immunise them, but was pretty much ignored (drowned out) by JB.

    That’s her trouble: she talks too much and doesn’t listen enough.

    She’s an ignorant, rude and stupid woman, because she doesn’t listen.

  10. DS said,

    February 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Jeni Barnett: to steal the immortal words of Mike Myers form the Wayne’s World film poster, “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl”.

    Pretty much the reaction her vapid rambling idiocy provoked in me.

    The worst part is that here audience share in London will be appreciable and that oe people might actually swallow this arschgnoddle (look it up!).

  11. A full time unpaid carer said,

    February 5, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Oh good grief, I often read the comments from you guys before listening to audio clips so I can get a feel for what I’m going into.
    Reading all this feedback = I’m frightened! Someone hold my hand please…and if I fail to return….call…

  12. The Biologista said,

    February 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    “That’s her trouble: she talks too much and doesn’t listen enough.

    She’s an ignorant, rude and stupid woman, because she doesn’t listen.”

    She sort of reminds me of Bill O’Reilly. I once watched him interview Dawkins on his show. He quite literally spoke for 75% of the interview, not counting the scoffing interruptions that Dawkins managed to ignore.

  13. gimpyblog said,

    February 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I posted this on her blog, wonder if it will get through
    If you truly want to present a balanced view of the MMR issues then you have to base that view on the best available scientific evidence. Like this Cochrane review that argues:

    1. There is no credible link between the MMR vaccine and any long-term disability, including Crohn’s disease and autism.

    2. MMR is an important vaccine that has prevented diseases that still carry a heavy burden of death and complications where the vaccine is not used consistently.

    3. The lack of confidence in MMR has caused great damage to public health.

    4. People arguing for or against the use of any therapy need to make sure that they base their conclusions on carefully collected evidence, not just on biased opinion, speculation or suspicion.

  14. ammckie said,

    February 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    This matter was dealt with at the time. It is an old broadcast.

    Jonathan Richards
    Programme Director LBC News 1152 & LBC 97.3
    Group Head of News Global Radio

    reply i received from my complaint. i had to read it twice for a typo of broadcast with broadcaster

  15. michael said,

    February 5, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I actually made it through the entire thing yesterday – it really has to be heard to be believed, her tone and attitude is appalling and she’s unbelievably biased – overtly sympathetic to those that share her view, hostile to those who don’t. I think it’s a major editorial failing that she (and her production team) planned to have this discussion without not just getting an informed, balanced opinion from a media-savvy ‘pro-MMR’ representative; worse still, she doesn’t really manage to back her own story up with anything but anecdote and garbage. Not only that but her blog response shows that she clearly doesn’t believe she really did anything wrong.

    Does anyone know the exact broadcast date and time of the show? I strongly believe this show warrants an official Ofcom complaint.

  16. RoyFFP said,

    February 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that she also didn’t know the difference between influenza and a cold!

    I just can’t remember when I have been so angry as I was when listening to this programme (via Ben’s podcast)!! And what about the denouement!

  17. j said,

    February 5, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Have blogged Jeni’s very sincere acknowledgement of what she got wrong –

  18. oldbearchris said,

    February 5, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    I just looked her up on wiki:

    “As part of a new Sunday schedule Jeni was given a new 2 hour programme talking about her passion – Food. A further change on 7 January 2008 saw Jeni move to weekday afternoons, 1-4pm, as part of the new weekday line up. The programme is a topical debate featuring aspects of news and views, in which the public are encouraged to call in with their “thoughts”, and on which Jeni causes much hilarity by displaying her ignorance on a range of subjects from the “dangers” of MMR vaccination[2] to pretty much everything.”

    It also has a link to this blog article.

    Excellent piece here, Ben, and I loved your book.

  19. Moganero said,

    February 5, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I presume that some people still have a recording of the program for their own use. I couldn’t find the podcast of it: what date was it broadcast?
    I’m sure Ben’s publicising it has improved LBC’s ratings.

  20. michael said,

    February 5, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    she’s responded:

    “I thank those of you who have sent me information about sites that may be of use to me.

    I thank the Bad Scientist for being just that. Sarcasm doesn’t shift peoples opinions. Making another person feel small because they don’t have a Bad Science degree and then nit-picking over semantics is not the answer either.

    I care about humanity my way, and you Bad Scientist yours.

    To all of you Bad scientists, who are SO angry with me, good luck with your research. Should you fall ill I will attend you as best I can with my motherly love. Should I fall ill, as a non paid up member of your club, will you administer to me? And should I refuse your drugs then what?”

    Which kind of speaks for itself.

    Interesting to note that Andrew Wakefield appears to have commented to her previous article, offering to send her information. At least this might actually result in her doing (some) research.

  21. zeno said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Damn! I wish I had a crystal ball and had downloaded her show before they forced you to remove it.

  22. EleanorC said,

    February 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Oh dear. Not only dim and shrill, litigious too. I expect she’ll go far.

  23. kerledan said,

    February 6, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Rise in measles:

    There’s been a considerable increase in measles cases.


    Oh dear.

    (still trying to be gentle, but firm, and non-shouty…..trying…lol)

  24. Cathryn said,

    February 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Complaints to LBC and Ofcom. It’s quite dangerous, perhaps close to child abuse, to advocate taking unimmunised children to visit ones who’ve got diseases like mumps or measles.

    The reply from LBC says they think its a pity there is so much focus on this debate. That’ll teach them to mess with my favourite Doctor / columnist!

  25. gildedtumbril said,

    February 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    If only 50% takeup of MMR in London how come all the wee kiddiewinkies are no dropping deed?
    I have long believed that the FLU Jab is a handy way of ‘assisting’
    the dispatch of around 40,000
    pensioners a year from ‘Cold related illnesses’ Thus facilitating a huge annual cull of pensions.
    Of course the FLU jab might need some assistance from the water supply via stratopheric climate tampering. It is happening on a daily, and secret basis.

  26. pseudomonas said,

    February 8, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    gildedtumbril: it’s the lizard people organizing it, right? If you’ve long believed it, it must be true 🙂

  27. mikewhit said,

    February 9, 2009 at 12:17 am

    I think a confusing factor lending credibility to the anti-vaccine anecdotes is the possibility of vaccine side-effects, as mentioned e.g. here:

    I’m sure Ben can come up with some data on PubMed on this.

    The CDC item includes frequency of side-effects for the various vaccines.

    However, none of the side-effects include the issues mentioned by Jeni and her supporters.

    But just because a child has an allergic reaction does not then imply a subsequent condition was a result of the vaccine.

    It does behove the ‘establishment’ to properly investigate any apparently post-vaccine conditions to correctly identify allergies and unrelated but contemporary conditions.

    Additionally it might be of benefit to better understand what contributes to side-effects in those typically 1-in-100,000 cases – for example, environmental factors, sensitisation by earlier infections, genotype, breast/bottle feeding (!) …

  28. mikewhit said,

    February 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Mention of the LBC lawyers stifling the BS website on this morning’s R4 Start The Week !

  29. mikewhit said,

    February 9, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    And as a riposte to those seeing the vx side-effects stats and saying, “Told you so” I would just add that the “side-effects” of catching one of the ‘real’ bugs such as measles occur 100% of the time and make you poorly, sometimes _very_.

    Official bloke on Today programme estimated death rate had been 1 per 1000 cases in the unimmunised, IIRC.

  30. mikewhit said,

    February 9, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Incidentally, why don’t we have people complaining about the polio vaccine, since they complain about MMR ?

    Or is it “needle – bad, sugar-lump – good” ?

  31. mikewhit said,

    February 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Homoeopaths say, “vaccinate”:

  32. mikewhit said,

    February 10, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Everyone gone next door ?

  33. mikewhit said,

    February 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    mandrill said (next door),

    February 10, 2009 at 3:01 am

    This kind of magical thinking cannot be tolerated in the media of the 21st century. Jeni Barnett should be pilloried and shown up as the ignoramus that she is.

    Don’t think that attitude is very constructive … IMHO.

  34. K-Dog said,

    February 10, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    I am so grateful Yasmin was the last caller. She made listening to the rest of that drivel (with the exception of one or two others) at least tolerable.

    Jeni is one smug, arrogant and ill-informed customer isn’t she?

  35. Bernadette Lynn said,

    February 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I don’t know why people would bother with the MMR anyway when there’s a cure for measles and every other ailment known to man – probably even autism and ignorance.

    Of course, the research hasn’t been peer-reviewed or duplicated or anything but it would have been if it weren’t for the power of the big evil corporations.

    Maybe Jeni Barnett is the perfect crusading loner to publicise this wonderful product.

  36. Pro-reason said,

    February 15, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I’ve finally actually listened to the broadcast.

    I think Ben and the rest of you are too harsh. She really isn’t that bad. She wasn’t that strident or shrill, and seemed quite open to discussion. She doesn’t know how to correctly use all the fancy technical lingo that we sciency types like, but she makes no claim to.

    A more softly-softly approach with her might have been more productive.

  37. rustum said,

    April 15, 2009 at 7:42 am

    This is for Ben Goldacre on homeopathy

    Please look up Rustum Roy PhD Penn Univ. and you will find some interesting news regarding the memory of water, and other novelties.

    he also quotes ANwhitehead British famous mathematician and philosopher as follows:

    Nothing is more curious than the self satisfied dogmatism with which manking cherishes the delusion of its existing modes of knowledge…

    Skeptics and believers are all alike. At this moment scientists and skeptics are the leading dogmatists.
    Advance in detail is admitted, fundamental novelty is banned.

    Ben, you seem agile and clever, I hope in the future ou will use it judiciously for your offspring.

    about MMR – babies in the US have been videod before and after the vaccinations and the videos showed the utter and complete diminished normal reactions after the shots. The parents sued and were paid millions, but what are millions for Merck or any other company – peanuts, you should know.

    I have seven grandchildren none but one were jabbed or orrally given any vaccinations. You should see the difference betweenthem and the jabbed kids in regard to conduct and qualifications. The one kid that was jabbed, suffered for two years from respiratory diseases, luckily treated with homeopathy only. otherwise he would have become asmathic today (he is 10 yers old) a very creative child, brainy, good footballer and a protective brother to his siblings.

    Look into Roy Rustum PhD ask him about the memory of water and let us know! Truthful Science at last!

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