Jeni Barnett, MMR and Bad Science

by David on February 7, 2009

Not so long ago I worked with a woman who, returning to work after maternity leave, declared her baby would not be receiving the MMR jab because she knew it caused autism.

This pernicious and oddly British myth has been persisted by an ill-informed  LBC Presenter, Jeni Barnett and when Ben Goldacre of the Bad Science blog published a 20 44 minutes excerpt from the 3-hr show to illustrate the stupidity and ignrance of the anti-vaccination crowd he was hit with a legal threat from LBC’s lawyers.

The story’s gone viral and now the Streisand effect kicks in. Full transcripts are appearing all over the web and Wikileaks has the mp3.

Goldacre says,

It is my view that Jeni Barnett torpedoes her reputation in that audio excerpt so effectively that little explanation is needed

and I can’t disagree.


[…] David of Cloud Soup ponders on a peculiarly british myth of MMR and autism: Jeni Barnett, MMR and Bad Science […]

by Jeni Barnett and the LBC Radio MMR Vaccine Segment: Updated with links of blog coverage « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science on February 7, 2009 at 11:36 am. #

Late to the party again, and I’m not sure if I’ve posted a similar comment to this in the past, but I thoroughly recommend reading ‘Tricks Of The Mind’ by Derren Brown, he of Channel 4 illusionary. Apart from being entertaining in the same way as (I at least) find his shows, he also goes into detail about how his own personal beliefs have changed over the years, and does this with much humility.

In one section penned by the good Mr. Brown, he mentions the impact caused by ‘The Silent Spring’ published by Rachel Carson in 1962, at least as he (and I after a very little additional background reading) see it. At the risk of breaking copyright, I’ll quote the relevant section (taken out of context of the argument for/against GM crops):

“Rachel Carson famously wrote The Silent Spring in 1962, and in it ‘exposed’ the environmental dangers of the pesticide DDT. She claimed it caused cancer of the liver, and offered anecdotal evidence of other damage to health. For many years in Bristol I was informally lectured by an organic-obsessed neighbour on the evils of pesticides. Clearly DDT was the great, moustachioed, cat-stroking, chair-swivelling Evil One of them all, compared to which all other bad pesticides were mere shabby-coated, fingerless-gloved villains sat on upturned whiskey crates playing gin-rummy in an episode of The Red Hand Gang. I was amazed to read in Taverne’s book that no tests have ever been replicated to show that DDT damages the health of human beings. However, DDT is a fantastically effective way of preventing the spread of malaria. Between the 1940s and 1970, DDT prevented around fifty million human deaths from the fever. In 1963 there were 17 cases of malaria in Sri Lanka, and in 1968, after DDT was banned, there were over a million.”

Now I know that is only one side of the story, and I did go on to read Taverne’s book which he quotes (The March Of Unreason), along with a couple of others recommended by Brown, which again would inevitably show some bias such is the want of the hidden human psyche, but at least backed up by some(?) science, and I was left with pretty much the same conclusion.

To me, with my little knowledge (a dangerous thing?), Carson is worse than Hitler, or at the very least responsible for more deaths. As I write this, last Friday was Comic Relief 2009, and one of the main focuses was the heartbreaking effects of malaria. The situations shown had me close to tears on several occasions, but also made me angry that this is an necessary situation in the first place.

Science does indeed get things wrong, but peer review is a great thing and eventually the wrongs are righted with the net result that our life gets better, however the mass hysteria perpetuated by the press is shameful, and the MMR debacle is just another example of this. My son turned one last week, and as soon as he is offered it he will be having the MMR vaccine to protect not only himself, but those around him (I think we all know how the spread of the insidious disease measles has rocked since this shambolic MMR episode began). As has been repeatedly proven, MMR is safer than the individual injections!

In the meantime I will also be keeping my Low energy light-bulbs with their mercury poison, the plastic bottles with their various other nasty chemicals (where does the list stop on this one?), and if it’s all right with you I’ll also leave my mobile phone charger plugged in, but turn my central heating and hot water on 30 minutes later. Of course, that means I’ll save more energy on the heating in one day than turning the charger off for many, many years would achieve, but it’s hardly worthy of press attention is it?

by Stu on March 16, 2009 at 11:12 am. #

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