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« Banks and benefits | Main | The New Party emerges »

June 22, 2008

Comments

Peter Risdon

At the risk of committing a breach of etiquette by linking to a post of my own, it isn't just newspapers who agitate against evidence-based medicine. I'm afraid the Department of Health knowingly abet such agitation. Their researchers of choice have now branded it, disparagingly, "biomedicine". Indeed, as I pointed out from one piece of DoH commissioned, taxpayer funded research, the preference for "evidence-based" medicine seen in many doctors is "problematic" according to such researchers.

Breach of etiquette here.

ortega

If you know any doctor working on a hospital where those evidence-based tests are done ask him. With the samples come also the results that are expected to come out. Come on, don't be so innocent.

tim

According to Richard Horton, its the fault of health professionals.

http://briandeer.com/mmr/horton-wakefield.htm

Anthony

Well said. This is just another example of the press reporting on a controversy without acknowledging in any way the degree to which they themselves have been the prime driving force behind it. Wakefield would have remained a deeply obscure crank were it not for the fact that several newspapers decided to latch on to what he was doing and run the usual shrill headlines. BBC News 24 was not exactly blameless on this front either.

As for Melanie Phillips, both Goldacre and Damian Thompson have noted, correctly, that whenever she gets it into her head to write about an issue relating to science it's like watching a train crash in slow motion.

Unfortunately, I think this ties in to an increasing trend on her part toward being conspiracy-minded and crankish (is that a word?). On a whole array of issues (MMR, evolution, global warming, Kenya, the Balkans, the PMOI etc) she's been churning out stuff that could charitably be described as eccentric. The situation is made worse by the fact that she now almost invariably accuses those with whom she disagrees not merely of being wrong, but of acting in deliberate bad faith. This is a shame, as she has taken stances in the past that in my view have been both correct and brave.

Nick Good

I think it comes back to poor critical thinking and science education in the population at large, and this is simply echoed in our politicians and managers. How else can it have come to pass that one can get homeopathic 'remedies' on the NHS?

Gavin

Tim, thanks for the link to another example of Richard Horton's outstanding sense of objectivity and intellectual rigour when it comes to publishing contentious research on public-health issues.

TDK

There's several issues here.

1. Health scares come and go. Often they are false or wildly overblown - Salmonella in eggs, silicon breast implants, Foot and Mouth, mobile phones, Bird flu et al.

2. We have been brought up in the age of thalidomide. People are taught from youth not to trust big pharma. Don't be surprised when activists seek to provide proof of new wickedness, however bogus, or when the public buys in quickly.

3. In the face of such scares it would be better for the media to be dispassionate rather than to increase the hysteria. However, sensationalism sells. The Guardian may be sober on science but given the right political subject, it's loonacy is clearly on display. Ben quotes the Independent, a newspaper that has consciously sought to be more hysterical in its daily "the end of the world is nigh" cover stories.

4. It would be nice if the government might be more sober in their reactions too. Two thoughts spring to mind:
a. Blair's refusal to confirm that his own children had received the MMR jab certainly gave pause for thought for many people who had otherwise decided to follow the science.
b. People who are disinclined to give their children the MMR jab are generally not opposed to giving them individual vaccinations. It's theoretically possible for GPs and health nurses offer the choice. It's possible to imagine a short term solution whereby the government offers parents the choice whilst simultaneously maintaining the scientific opinion. Re-establishing confidence takes time after all. Given the funding for homeopathy et al on the NHS, this isn't an extreme demand.

On MMR, no one comes out smelling of roses.

HolfordWatch
People who are disinclined to give their children the MMR jab are generally not opposed to giving them individual vaccinations...It's possible to imagine a short term solution whereby the government offers parents the choice whilst simultaneously maintaining the scientific opinion.
The polarisation and parental anguish on this point is regrettable but such a compromise would be a retreat from best practice. It would also allow anti-vaxers to argue that there must be something amiss with the MMR jab or 'they' wouldn't be offering a choice. Removing thiomersal/thimerosal from vaccines did not allay fears in some quarters, it lent credence to those who enjoy the 'no smoke without fire' gambit.
Mark

Good post, generating much light and little heat (for a change).
However I find it odd that Anthony's enumeration of the eccentricities of Melanie Phillips is silent on the issues where she is at her most eccentric, namely the Middle East (in general) and Israel (in particular). The good stuff she produced a decade ago ('All Must Have Prizes' et al)is very much eclipsed by her more recent output.
Personally I blame Will Self, and his televised spat with her on QT several years back on the vexed subject of 'dual loyalty'.

Nicole Segre

Mark: Melanie Phillips's views on the Middle East and Israel are not eccentric at all. They are based on thorough reading and not on the hysterical prejudice that stands in for reporting in most of the mainstream media. In referring to her spat with Will Self, are you implying that her views are tainted because she is Jewish? On the contrary, we Jews tend to know more than most about Israel, and not to believe what we read in the papers. But I agree with Oliver, shame about her loopiness on intelligent design.

Nic Marsh

A great post. I also agree with HolfordWatch, conceding to pressure and offering three vaccines would have persuaded some people that there was some kind of danger.

Also, I don't think that we have to look as far back as thalidomide. A lot of people's trust in government handling of scientific matters was compromised during the BSE debacle.

Last, TDK, the jury is still out on Bird Flu. I have a good mate who works as a virologist, and it keeps him awake at night.

Peter

TDK's post cries out for a dispassionate response:


"1. Health scares come and go. Often they are false or wildly overblown - Salmonella in eggs, silicon breast implants, Foot and Mouth, mobile phones, Bird flu et al."


Often they are true and wildly underplayed by officials until forced to do otherwise -- thalidomide, asbestos, tobacco, BSE/nvCJD, et al. Often, they (the scares) are not yet known to be true or false, and yet still wildly underplayed by officials -- mobile phones, GM foods.


"2. We have been brought up in the age of thalidomide. People are taught from youth not to trust big pharma. Don't be surprised when activists seek to provide proof of new wickedness, however bogus, or when the public buys in quickly."


Don't be surprised when large corporations seek to hide their actual and proven wickedness -- asbestos companies, tobacco companies, car companies, fast food firms.


"3. In the face of such scares it would be better for the media to be dispassionate rather than to increase the hysteria."


In the face of such scares it would be better for the media to continue to identify and reveal the truth, regardless of the opinion of the pharma-industrial-complex, the scientific establishment, or the Governemnt.


"4. It would be nice if the government might be more sober in their reactions too."


It would be nice if the government would always and immediately tell the full truth, and not treat the public as children. Ditto for scientists.

There seems to be something about a western scientific education that leads to scientists being arrogant, and thinking of the general public as idiots. Such a view is evident in most of the debate on public health issues (eg, many of the comments above). Whatever its justification or indeed any other merits, such arrogance sure is counter-productive.

Peter T

Anthony,

You are correct to identify Melanie Philips as “conspiracy-minded” and to your list you can add the death of David Kelly as she came “increasingly to believe that [Kelly] had been killed”. Apparently “the facts in the official version of Dr Kelly’s death just don’t stack up.”

Furthermore she describes Norman Baker MP as “an exceptionally tenacious digger into things others prefer to keep hidden” and someone who “cannot easily be dismissed as a crank”. I posit that Oliver would disagree with that assertion.

http://www.melaniephillips.com/articles-new/?p=488

The strangest conspiracy theory that Melanie has advanced has to be the Global Warming “fraud”. Consider this answer to the question of why global warming is so popular politically:

“The short answer is that a doctrine which declares that industrialisation and globalisation are enemies of humanity is a wonderful stick with which weaker western economies can beat up America, and clothe anti-western self-hatred in ostensibly scientific respectability.”

Quite why Western scientists (including Americans) would want to take part in a process that will destroy Western civilisation and presumably - once everyone is back living in mud huts - leave them all jobless, is not explained. Melanie believes it’s something to do with acquiring funding but that, even if true, doesn’t explain how global warming became a “popular” idea in the first place. Unless of course you believe this:

“The longer answer is that the roots of the environmental movement go back to Thomas Malthus, the 18th century thinker whose dire predictions that the world’s population would outstrip its food supply led to the rise of eugenics, the theory of racial enhancement through selected breeding.

After the Nazis took this theory to its grotesque conclusion, eugenics went deep underground and re-emerged under the cover of the world-wide birth control and environmental movements - both of which view the third world as a threat to be contained.”

I believe this requires no further comment.

http://www.melaniephillips.com/articles-new/?m=200202

Mark

Peter T

Thanks to you for digging up that last quote from the troubled Melanie. As I give her output only a cursory glance these days I'd missed that one- but it's pretty frightening. She seems now to be at only one remove from the cranks who argue that the Bilderbergers and the WWF are working on ways of implementing a drastic reduction in global population, on crazed Malthusian grounds.

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