Archive for category Antivaxxers

Climate denial and another stupid anti-BBC story

UPROAR AS BBC MUZZLES CLIMATE CHANGE SCEPTICS, screams The Daily Express:

THE BBC was criticised by climate change sceptics yesterday after it emerged that their views will get less coverage because they differ from mainline scientific opinion. [...] It said coverage should not be tailored to represent a “false balance” of opinion if one side came from a minority group.

So this isn’t about the BBC muzzling anyone, it’s about making sure that the BBC isn’t giving fringe ideas disproportionate amounts of time. It doesn’t just refer to climate change, either: the BBC Trust report (PDF) also refers to the BBC’s coverage of MMR, where giving undue weight to the idea that MMR caused autism even after science had conclusively proved otherwise on caused a public health disaster, and of the safety of GM food. Climate change is just another example of an area of science where a few loud voices have drowned out the actual science.

So, who’s in uproar?

Lord Lawson, chairman of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the fact that carbon dioxide levels were rising leading to global warming was not under dispute. However, he added, its extent and effect could not be explained by majority scientific opinion alone. [...]

The foundation’s director, Dr Benny Peiser, said the report would lead to biased coverage of climate change and stifle any real debate. [...]

Dr David Whitehouse, the foundation’s editor and a former BBC science correspondent, said the corporation had “lost the plot” when it came to science journalism.*

Yes, every single “sceptic” The Express quotes is actually a member of the GWPF thinktank. The Express does not quote any independent sceptics, any actual climate scientists, any sci-comms experts – in fact, it doesn’t quote anyone else except for an anonymous BBC spokesman.

So there are two possibilities here. Either The Express has been spectacularly lazy in putting this story together, or they’ve just been fed this story by the GWPF and have published it unthinkingly.

Well, funnily enough this press release went up on the GWPF website just yesterday.** What good timing.

* Dr Whitehouse’s full comment bears quoting here:

He said the corporation was “grouping sceptics with deniers” which would result in a lack of valid scientific input to its reports.

He said: “A sceptic is not a denier, all good scientists should be sceptics. The BBC has got itself into a complete muddle.

“In seeking to get the science right it has missed the journalism which is about asking awkward questions and shaking the tree.”

I think the BBC needs to investigate whether the royal family are all shapeshifting lizard aliens from Alpha Draconis. Sure, there’s no evidence for it, and the people who believe it are an extremely fringe group, but journalism is about ASKING AWKWARD QUESTIONS and SHAKING THE TREE.

** The GWPF claim that the independent report was a “damning indictment” of the BBC. Indeed, it was so damning that the author made these caustic remarks:

One thing should be made clear: BBC science broadcasting is seen as of high quality and is much praised for its accurate and impartial approach, its breadth, and its professionalism. Comments from the submissions made to this Review show how widespread is this opinion.

and

The BBC is to be commended for the breadth, depth and professionalism of its science coverage. I was impressed by its treatment, which has shown real progress over the past decade or so.

Ouch for the BBC!

,

1 Comment

The Mail’s latest antivaccine scare

Old habits die hard, and for the Mail that means no matter how many times their stories are debunked, their antivaccination scaremongering will never end.

Today’s Mail on Sunday carries the story “Experts admit swine flu jab ‘may cause’ deadly nerve disease“. Note how the phrase “may cause” is in quotes – odd, since the experts in question didn’t use the phrase. In fact, they said the opposite.

The Mail‘s story comes from a routine newsletter from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) called Drug Safety Update, which carries news about safety tests, urgent recalls, new drugs and so on. One of the articles in this month’s update explains the infrastructure that the MHRA put in place to monitor adverse reactions to the swine flu vaccines Pandemrix and Celvapan. Not especially gripping stuff, especially since the conclusion they come to is:

It was evident from our analyses early in the vaccination programme, including similar analyses across the EU, that there was no clear indication of a large increased risk of GBS [Guillaine-Barré syndrome] similar to that seen with swine flu vaccines in the US in 1976. To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Of course, this is a scientific document, and any proper scientific document includes caveats. So, sure enough, it continues:

However, given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out. The benefits of vaccination would still outweigh any small vaccine-attributable risk of GBS.

That first sentence is what the Mail builds the article around entirely, ignoring completely the second. Just as they did with the Royal Society’s climate change advice a few weeks back, they take one statement out of context from an earlier document, in this case a leaked letter from the Health Protection Agency – “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic” – compare it to another out-of-context statement made more recently – “Given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out” – and claim this represents a U-turn in opinion.

Without the original letter itself, which the Mail curiously neglected to actually quote from when it “leaked” it, I can’t know for sure what the HPA actually said. However, going just on that one, out-of-context sentence, here’s a more accurate summary of the change in medical opinion:

2009: “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic

2010: “To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Guillaine-Barré syndrome is a terrifying condition, but for the Mail to pass that fear on to vaccines that have been proven to be safe is not just misleading but downright harmful. This article has come out in mid-Autumn, just at the time when the NHS’s seasonal flu vaccination scheme reaches its peak. If even one person decides not to get the jab because of this article, that’s one more potential infection this winter. One more potential flu death.

Shame on the Mail.

4 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 487 other followers

%d bloggers like this: