Ben Goldacre is well known for his battle against Bad Science, both in his Guardian column and on his website. On Tuesday he posted a recording of a show hosted by Jeni Barnett of LBC Radio, in which she discusses the MMR vaccine. Goldacre accused Barnett of misrepresenting the dangers of the vaccine, despite the numerous scientific studies which have now shown there to be no link between MMR and autism. Many members of the British public continue to believe that there is, which is why this story has been running for over a decade. The BBC have a decent timeline.
Yesterday, Goldacre received a warning from the lawyers of LBC, instructing him that posting the audio of the show was an infringe of copyright. Goldacre makes it clear that the reason for posting the audio was so that he could not be accused of misrepresenting Barnett’s views, but in the end had no option but to remove the audio.
It was at this point that a small corner of the internet exploded.
The audio was first uploaded to WikiLeaks, which offers hosting to leaked documents in any form. With servers around the world, it’s extremely hard to get anything removed once it’s on the site. Numerous bloggers have also taken it upon themselves to host the audio, along with a transcript:
So that’s the history. What was actually said? Well, Barnett accuses pharmaceutical companies of trying to make money by forcing vaccinations on children, uses anecdotal evidence of her family to try and claim that the MMR jab is unnecessary anyway, talks about having the “courage” to turn away from the vaccinating herd, and generally spreads dangerous misinformation. Thanks to the hard work of others you can read the entire transcript for yourself, but here are some choice quotes, along with a link to the blog hosting them:
“Now back in the day (and that’s an expression I’ve learned from my [unclear] son), back in the day, children got measles, children got mumps. I’m not suggesting – I am not suggesting – that we got backwards where some children, where we have one in fifteen children die of it. And that one person in fifteen is the one we have to be looking at and wondering why and dealing with it. But if, as a human being, you decide you do not want to give your child a vaccination, you should, in a democracy, have that right to say no.”
“Stick the kids out running in air, ban cars on the road, make them have six hours a day PE at school give them an hour every single day where they’re running around playing rounders and walls and not just – a few! My daughter’s beautiful boy Nathan, he’s a footballer and he gets an infection and he falls over – he gets better, because he’s always running and jumping and doing star-jumps or whatever you do!”
“But let me put this to you – my nan, if you had an ear infection, would have put salt in a sock, heated it up, somehow (she didn’t have a microwave), put it behind your ear and good golly, Miss Molly, that ear infection would slow down in some way.
Now, there’s not a lot of science in it, but it blooming well worked!”
Obviously, it goes on and on. Jeni Barnett doesn’t have a clue what she is talking about, an in fact has freely admitted as much on her own blog.
“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.”
How does she know cigarettes are harmful, I wonder? Perhaps due to an overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrating this to be the case – in much the same way that MMR has been shown not to be linked with autism.
It’s terribly important that people like Jeni Barnett are called out, as news released today demonstrates. The Health Protection Agency has published the latest annual measles figures for last year, and the increase is shocking, with 1,348 confirmed cases in 2008 (a provisional figure), compared to 56 a decade earlier:
Dr Mary Ramsay, an immunisation expert at the Health Protection Agency, points out that the majority of these cases could have been avoided, had the children been given the MMR vaccination.
“What is so alarming is that the majority of these cases could have been prevented as most were in children who were not fully protected with MMR.
“There are still many children out there who were not vaccinated as toddlers over the past decade and remain unprotected. Unfortunately this means that measles, which is highly infectious, is spreading easily among these unvaccinated children.
Measles is not a simple childhood disease, but a serious infection that can be life threatening if it developments into complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. If you have non-vaccinated children, I urge you to take them to your local GP.