Christ I need a haircut

March 11th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, MMR | 77 Comments »

Here’s a fun piece I did with Nick Wallis for ITV London on Monday. Bad hair, ridiculous venue changes, and tiggerish over-excitablility aside, I think it’s actually quite good, and the wholesome outro at the end made me want to give Alastair Stewart a great big cuddle.

So there you go. They took out some of the sciencier details, like the “Afzal and D’Souza ignored / Krigsman lauded” story, but that’s a bit more longwinded, so fair enough I guess. If you want to read about the strengths and weaknesses of the Danish study you can find that in the book or in the Cochrane review which concludes that there is no credible evidence for MMR being involved in causing autism.

Psychogeographers will be pleased to discover that the concluding ramble about evidence based medicine is filmed on Broad Street outside a pub called the John Snow, where they still have the cholera pump handle behind the bar.

And nerds will be pleased to discover that epidemiologists hold an annual lecture in this very pub, including a fabulous little ceremony involving the metalwork, and the audio archive is available online. Sweet!

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

77 Responses

  1. vertigo93 said,

    March 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    @ Nel:

    “It’s a well known scientific FACT that scientific brilliance is directly related to size of hair (Einstein, Darwin, Egon out of Ghostbusters, the one out of Back to the Future…I could go on)”

    Does Newton count? I’m pretty sure that was a wig.

  2. lasker said,

    March 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Great piece.
    Great hair.

  3. Bogusman said,

    March 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Just watched the piece. Excellent of course.

    I thought that Al Stewart’s line at the end about personal opinions was aimed at Ben’s view of how the media works rather than at the science of vaccination.

  4. cee said,

    March 12, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    it seemed to me that tiggerishness is the best presenting style: when talking a little more softly and slowly at the start it could come across as a little… patronising? but then as the excitability kicks in it becomes much more charming and the viewer starts to care more.

  5. rasanki said,

    March 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    More cuts than cheap barber. Nice content though. And those eyebrows are a bit…wriggly.

  6. The Biologista said,

    March 12, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    The hair is good branding, as are the eyebrows. Excellent piece overall, though there was a down point. Could the male presenter possibly have bookended you with more caveats and squirmy hand-washing? I can’t imagine how. Spineless.

    Good show Ben.

  7. misterjohn said,

    March 12, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    The tank top reminds me of the old Open University science programme presenters.
    But who am I to criticise, when my wife says I look like an Open University programme presenter, even when not wearing a tank top.
    What’s worse is that I do work for the Open University….

  8. EleanorC said,

    March 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    a propos Chris S at post 50 – however, Barnett has a current blog post entitled ‘Intolerance’ which is pretty hilarious.

  9. office_tramp said,

    March 12, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I came home the other day to find a leaflet from Lewisham NHS Trust basically begging people to have their children immunised. I can’t believe this is where we are now. Against all the evidence the myth seems to be winning. By the time I’m in my 40s we’ll be seeing rubella damaged babies again. It’s unbelievably sad.

    On a lighter note I loved the hair and tank top combo. Nerd chic!

  10. Dr Jim said,

    March 12, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with your hair, or your tank top for that matter!

    I was approached in the street the other day by a gentleman who asked me, “What do you do for a living?”

    Rather bemused, I told him I was a research scientist. “I KNEW IT! Fantastic!”, he exclaimed. I should probably add that I have hair not unlike yours, and rather furry jowls to boot.

    Rather than feeling like I had reinforced one member of the public’s opinion that we are all ‘mad scientists’ (which is a professional stereotype that doesn’t especially serve our best interests), it rather made my day.

  11. emen said,

    March 12, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Good work, Ben!

    Don’t worry about your hair, it’s fine! I also like the “white-shirt-with-turned-up-sleeves” that you seem to like wearing.

    I agree with biggerpills #29, such an excited, passionate presentation is much more plausible (and memorable) than an Aric Sigman.

    And I can see your point about the outro: good! 🙂

  12. rogerhyam said,

    March 13, 2009 at 1:53 am

    I like the way it takes two television presenters to introduce you but you can say all those words all by yourself – and whilst walking along. Gosh aren’t scientists clever.

    I am a little worried you are becoming a media package but I guess you wouldn’t get on the telly otherwise and some one has to do it. The new Magnus Pyke?

    Did some one really say ‘Nerd chic!’ – about the tank-top!

  13. caffeineaddict said,

    March 13, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I wonder whether there’s a correlation between thinking the MMR is a pharmaceutical conspiracy and taking daily vitamin supplements. Someone should explore that inconsistency. Plus, statistics should be a required course for journalism students.

  14. T.J. Crowder said,

    March 13, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Great stuff! And surely you didn’t just use “tiggerish” in a negative sense? Tiggerish = Good!

    I’m curious: On Nick Wallis’ blog, he says that you told him that LBC have invited you on Jeni Barnett’s programme to discuss MMR, but (so far) you’ve refused. Why? I mean, it would be a seriously unpleasant thing to do, and that’s certainly reason enough. Time-consuming, too. But on the other hand, it would be a counterpoint in the same timeslot, which is one thing you’ve lobbied LBC to do…

  15. Dr Jim said,

    March 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    p.s. saw this and thought of you:

    (p.p.s. In a statement the like of which big pharma would be loathe to make, I have no commercial involvement with the above website)

  16. Psychedelia Smith said,

    March 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Bravo Ben, about as succinct a summation of the whole sorry saga as is possible to do. And could have thought Alistair Stewart could be so contrite?! Gawd bless yer, guvnor.

    Having remarked on this before, I think the tank top should definitely become a BG trademark. It’ll aid public recognition.

    Oh, and where can I get a “Talk Nerdy To Me” sticker?!

  17. jeffrey.warren said,

    March 13, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    This Yank was quite mystified about how he could have missed the tank top in the video, since a tank top looks like this in the States. I didn’t know this Briticism before.

    The piece was engaging. You will have really caught some thinking peoples’ ears with your claim that pharma companies have done crooked things, but this isn’t one of them. An uninformed thinking person will accept help from a proclaimed authority who shows such nuance and, thus, who appears to be honest. That gets them started in the right direction in their pursuit of the facts and their interpretation. We need such people in the realist camp.

  18. biggerpills said,

    March 13, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    @emen 61: I’m guessing that the rolled-up sleeves are MRSA chic.

    @ Dr Jim 60: I’m jealous. People are always surprised to learn I have a science degree. Maybe I should go for the Gail Trimble look.

  19. Tony Sidaway said,

    March 16, 2009 at 9:15 am

    It’s great that you got air time to make that personal view.

    It’s still an absolute disgrace that the news reporters are still captioning this as “a personal view” while still spreading ridiculous scare stories with no such caveats.

  20. baratron said,

    March 17, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Your hair and waggly eyebrows are awesome. I love geek boys 😀

  21. chascoppard said,

    March 18, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Extraordinary. I’d always considered Alastair Stewart to be a kind of ambulatory Daily Mail, but it appears he can be contrite when faced with a convincing enough argument couched in nice simple terms.

  22. Runnett said,

    March 23, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Hey Ben,

    A very compelling presentation. I’m impressed with your passionate arguement about media “scaremongers”. This included rolling out the MP to support this.

    I’m more concerned you are becoming the media you personally regulate on health matters. For example, you missed broadcasting information about Merck, who are replacing the single MMR with indiviudal doses. This is monumental decision in attempt to kerb falling sales and to increase vaccinations. It’s important this message gets through to families who need to make the decision about MMR.

    I’ve researched Autism and links with MMR over a period of two years. I agree the Denmark research holds, as you conclude no direct link. Although, there are a number of organisations conducting smaller studies. A good resource for Autism is the Autism research insitute.

    Autism is growing at an alarming rate (perhaps detection is better 1:150)on a global scale. Parents are latching onto hearsay trying to establish what happend to their son or daughter. Most Medical practitioners pursue chronic desease management for Autism, leaving parents to their own devices. This is not acceptable as this leads to what you presented in your report, scaremongering and attempting alternative primary care with little or no knowledge or support. Parents are naturally looking for scapegoats, in this case MMR vaccinations.

    For the record, I have two sons (3yr, 4yr), one with autism and one without. I have researched:

    Autism/ASD as a chronic desease
    Early intervention
    Biomedical intervention
    Aleternative interventions

    I would advise readers to consult their GP and ask the awkward questions. Any GP worth his or her salt will be able to produce information about MMR and safety aspects. Make informed decision.

    My own conclusion,the MMR is an important vaccination and parents need understand the risks of taking or avoiding. I have not been convinced either way about links with Autism. My concentration is working with my son, on his future learning and development.

  23. calvin said,

    April 6, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    The Danish report is a study of around 500,000 children born between 1991 and 1998. Approximately 400,000 were vaccinated and 100,000 were unvaccinated. The MMR vaccine was introduced in Denmark in 1987. The most straightforward way to establish any temporal correlation between MMR and autism would be to compare the incidence of autism in the period preceding the introduction of MMR with the incidence of autism after the introduction of the MMR vaccine. If you read the BMJ report on the Danish study by J H Tanne it states quite clearly that autism had definitively risen by 1995, eight years after the introduction of MMR. Autism is typically diagnosed at around four years and three months, and autistic spectrum disorders at five years and three months. If the rise in autism was connected to MMR vaccination the full impact would not become apparent until a high enough percentage of the vaccinated population had reached an age where diagnosis was possible. It seems to me that he tipping point for statistically relevant impact would occur around 1995, which is, funnily enough, exactly when the rise autism did become apparent.

  24. mark g said,

    April 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Calvin : Surely simply comparing the incidence pre and post MMR would ignore environmental causes, increase in diagnosis rates etc as other potential causes for the increase?

  25. rustum said,

    April 21, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Now, who said:

    “There is a great deal of evidence to prove that immunisation of children does more harm than good.”

    Dr. J. Anthony Morris, former chief Vaccine Control Officer, US Food and Drug Administration, FDA

    and who said:

    The only wholly safe vaccine is a vaccine that is never used?”

    Dr. James A. Shannon, National Institute of Health(NIH)

    Look for Dr. Archie Kalokerinos on the web, look for scientists and doctors against vaccine and you will be surprised at what you may find.

    look up John Rappaport and vaccines, and you will be astounded.

  26. ter2000 said,

    April 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Ben
    I really like your column in the Guardian and have only recently discovered your blog. I thought you might be interested in this article by Jim Carrey that appears in The Huffington Post –

    You might also find this episode of the podcast “This American Life” interesting –
    (you don’t have to listen to the whole thing – just the first bit).

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