Sigh. Do not abuse Jeni Barnett personally

February 11th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 108 Comments »

Hi there, very briefly as I’m busy, I’ve been contacted by the Programme Director of LBC. He says that Jeni is upset by emails she has received. Do not send Jeni abusive emails, it’s not nice or helpful. I shall not post Jonathan’s email on this occasion, although I do feel – like everything I’ve had from him – it was rather intemperate and unkindly written, but I must be clear again: I do not think you should be abusive personally in emails to Jeni. Please address the arguments and the actions, not the person, as the overwhelming majority of you have. I would want nobody to be disproportionately unpleasant, but I also wouldn’t want anybody to use this to cloud the more important issue, which is the media’s gross irresponsibility with regards to MMR, of which the actions by Jeni Barnett – and more importantly LBC/Global Radio – were highly representative illustrations. I am sorry to see that LBC have failed to address everybody’s wider concerns, and I am sorry to hear that Jeni has been upset by emails she has received. But I also do wish these people would address the issues.

Hi Jonathan,

this makes me very sad. As you know I have been entirely straightforward throughout, am clear that people should not be abusive towards Jeni, and that this is about more than one individual or even one station. I think that almost all of the commentary on over 120 blogs has been impressively polite and temperate, people have provided transcripts (at personal risk of litigation from you) to enable people to make informed commentary on these tragic and irresponsible misrepresentations over MMR, and provided links to rebuttals and papers to use in reasoned argument. I would have no part in people abusing Jeni and will post immediately to tell people off.

As I have said to you before when you have accused me of “bullying a a 60 year old woman” I think it is important to be able to discuss ideas and to criticise arguments and stances where people have been irresponsible. As I have written so many times before, I believe that individuals have a very different set of responsibilities to organisations, and it is LBC who are largely at fault here, and more widely the media as a whole for their repeated crimes on MMR, to the extent that they now pose a significant and very serious danger to public health.

Jeni is specifically employed by you at LBC because she is a combative and challenging broadcaster who will frustrate and therefore engage many listeners. I think it is unacceptable that people should be abusive towards her, and will post immediately to say so, but I also think that you and Jeni must accept ownership of your reasons for employing her as a broadcaster, and her broadcasting style.

In this unfortunate episode I am sorry to say that Jeni herself has also been deeply unpleasant to and about individual people with less money and voice than herself, such as the courteous and informative NHS nurse Yasmin who rang into the programme, characterised by Jeni on her website, incomprehensibly, as “vicious”, on no grounds, with access to the relevant clip denied by lawyers, and with the right to reply on Jeni’s site refused and deleted.

I am sorry if people have sent unpleasant emails. I would want no part in that, and I can assure you that I have been subjected to far more unpleasant, intemperate abuse and childish, unfounded defamation than Jeni or anyone else, by the vicious and extremely well co-ordinated anti-MMR movement in the UK.

It is true that Jeni was foolish and wrong on this issue, that the clip was horrific listening, and that she has done the same thing on MMR and other issues many times before, but more importantly than that, you were irresponsible to broadcast it, and I feel very sad that you have demonstrated no insight on this, nor have you done anything significant to make amends.

I also think it is unfortunate and, I’m afraid, slightly unprofessional that the only contact you have made over this was to call “urgently” to shout accusations at me while I was at work on Friday, and equally intemperate emails.

It is for this reason that I no longer consider our further discussions to be off the record, and I encourage you to do the right thing: issue a clear apology for the show, prominently and in the same slot; make some public acknowledgement of the harm that can come from such irresponsible broadcasting; and give a clear undertaking that Jeni will not broadcast on the topic again, or any medical stories, without getting a basic understanding of the issues.

As you know we had a mumps outbreak in 2005, and we are now seeing a rapid and exponential rise in measles cases, resulting, so far mercifully rarely, in death. This is because of the actions of huge numbers of people in the media like Jeni – she was just one instructive and representative example – and those like you who give her a platform, and who have failed to demonstrate insight into the damage they have done, and the simple amends they can make.

I would also encourage you, in all seriousness, to contact your MP through, ask them to sign EDM #754, and encourage your listeners to do the same.

Best wishes,


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108 Responses

  1. Alfster said,

    February 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    We must remember that it hurts when someone is hit over the head with the frying-pan of logical rationalism.

    I also tried to listen to the youtube clips but after the first 10minutes of her rabbiting on about nothing I had to switch off.

    Kudos to the people who transcribed it!

  2. Dr Aust said,

    February 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I can’t see Jeni B “retracting” what she said, as I would bet she will be thinking it was her opinion, and she is paid to be opinionated.

    It is LBC that take my breath away. AS I see it, they are the ones with apologising to do, which makes the resounding on-the-record silence from them all the more pathetic. I have written a bit about this (in the “Update” bit) here.

  3. kantata said,

    February 17, 2009 at 9:42 am

    When I downloaded the Bad Science podcast and heard for the first time this nutty lady broadcaster – I honestly thought it was a joke.

    A good letter Ben – we can’t let ’em get away with this nonsense even if she is a frail 60 yr old lady.

  4. Butlins said,

    February 18, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    This just seems somehow relevant to the whole debate – – it’s art imitating life, I think.

  5. EleanorC said,

    February 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    DrAust – you’re right; she’s back on her blog still whinging about having been “bullied”.

  6. joemyerscough said,

    February 20, 2009 at 12:11 am

    If anybody is interested, here is a piece that I produced for Roundhouse Radio’s ‘Art Attack’ on the now infamous Jeni Barnett broadcast…

  7. mattygroves said,

    February 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Rec’d from Vincent Cable (my MP)

    Thank you for your e-mail.

    You will be pleased to know that I have signed EDM 754.

    The re-emergence of measles and the loss of life and long term health
    which will afflict children as a result of the decline in the
    vaccination rate is grave cause for concern. This followed Dr Andrew
    Wakefiled’s now discredited research paper suggesting a link between MMR
    vaccine and autism.

    Irresponsible and ill informed comments in the media is causing
    unfounded anxieties for parents and will have the effect of discouraging
    some parents from choosing to take up the MMR vaccine. It is very
    important therefore, that reporting surrounding the issue of MMR is less
    sensationalist and more evidence based.

    Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns and
    please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further


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