I was going to write about beta-carotene and sunburn but…

It’s the summer, though in London where I was over the weekend the summer was not doing what summer’s are supposed to do: it was grey and wet all weekend long. And a good thing too, seeing as I decided to spend much of the weekend refuting the notion that MMR is vindicated with regard to autism. It is not, in my opinion. To my eye the evidence is simply not fit for purpose, in that the methods used are not adequate for the purposes of assessing whether or not MMR and cause autism. If you want to get the right answer in science, you do at least have to ask the right question. It doesn’t seem to have happened here.

I am not claiming MMR can cause autism. I say this because I’ve had that accusation levelled at me a few times now, even though I’ve stated that is not my position many times. It occurs to that the accusers would like to force me into an indefensible position. Yet, to my mind it is their position that is indefensible, though you wouldn’t know it from their hubris and the way they talk.

Just to give you a some indication of the sorts of ‘discussions’ I’ve been having over the weekend, you may like to peruse the exchange between me and Anthony Cox, who is a pharmacovigilance pharmacist in the UK, and whose job it partly is to ensure that things like drugs and vaccines are not harming or killing too many people (sorry, but sometimes it’s best not to sugar-coat things). You can find it here.

Anthony comes in at comment 35. If have the patience to read through the posts you will see what looks to me like a quite bewildering example of someone who purports to take a scientific approach, but then resorts to insults, misrepresentation and evasion, not to mention some distinctly unscientific and illogical thinking. Please try and remember as you read this exchange this is not an intellectual exercise (well, not for me), it’s about the safety of MMR as it relates to autism which I take to be of grave importance (and I know there are plenty who share this view).

If you want to cut to the chase, just read posts 52 and 54, where Anthony Cox launches a quite desperate attack, to which my response was to critique his position and the evidence he cites for it. I’ll warn you, post number 54 is a bit lengthy, and it goes into excruciating detail regarding why I think that the assertion that MMR has been proven safe with regard to autism is baseless. It’s long, but I do think it’s a worthwhile read for seekers of the truth and those who are of balanced, rational and relatively objective mind.

Anthony Cox refused to engage further, but he has his own site, so I went to put some questions to him there. You can see the debate continue at his own site here.

Now, I say ‘debate’, but it’s not really a debate, because it basically consists of me asking utterly reasonable and actually very important questions and Anthony Cox, err, refusing to answer them. It culminates in him insulting me (again).

My experiences over the weekend have reminded me of just how unscientific scientists can be. The exchanges here, on Anthony Cox’s site, and elsewhere have taught me that there are common (but lacking in substance) tactics that are used to discredit and refute my assertion that we don’t know if MMR causes autism or not.

Here, I think, are the main ones:

1. Claim that I should provide the evidence that MMR can cause autism (even when that it’s not my position that MMR causes autism).

2. Argue that because we don’t have evidence definitive evidence that MMR causes autism, then that MUST mean it doesn’t (this is illogical, but you’d be surprised how many times this card is played scientists who really ought to know better).

3. Misrepresent the strength of the science (this is actually the most common one, and my assertion is that the evidence used to vindicate MMR with respect to autism, from a scientific perspective, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans)

4. Insult me (e.g. call me ‘wilfully ignorant’)

5. Say nothing

The last two are easily spotted, the first three less so. The third is actually the hardest to spot of all. I highlight them just in case any of you come against this sort of thing, and would like to be somewhat forewarned. Do not think for a moment, by the way, that using any logical, scientific arguments in this issue means for sure that you’re going to get anywhere: far from it, those involved in this battle (on both sides) are usually quite firmly entrenched.

Would you believe, and this is the honest truth, that when I woke up this morning I had no intention of writing about MMR and autism? In fact, a mere week ago, I didn’t have any plans to dip my toe into this most charged and contentious of arenas either. What I had planned to devote this blog to was some evidence that relates to its capacity to protect the skin from sunburn.

But, I honestly got sidetracked. Some of that has to do with the fact that the weekend has been spent with my head relatively full of the arguments and scientific evidence as it relates to the MMR/autism issue. And also as those who are regular readers of this site will know, my stated aim is for it to be a portal of balanced and trustworthy advice about a wide range of health issues. And to this end, my thoughts on this debate fit that brief, although I know that many individuals disagree with my views. I am only too aware that my views on certain matters are unpalatable to some, but thinking about that and not expressing them would, I believe, not be the right thing for me, or for you. Actually, I believe it would not be the right thing ” period.

I am well aware that, at this rate, this site risks becoming a single issue one. But I have made a mental note to myself not to let this happen. However, I do think this subject should get the attention it deserves. It deserves it, I think because, I maintain that with the state of the evidence as it is that we don’t know beyond reasonable doubt that MMR does not cause autism. And we have quite a lot of people who believe that too and are asking for the appropriate scientific work be done. When the stakes are this high, is that really too much to ask?

Normal service will be resumed ” with piece about sunburn (probably) ” on Wednesday.

163 Responses to I was going to write about beta-carotene and sunburn but…

  1. jdc 2 June 2008 at 3:31 pm #

    “1. Claim that I should provide the evidence that MMR can cause autism (even when that it’s not my position that MMR causes autism).”
    That’s the really interesting thing about your actual position though John – it may be technically accurate (re: lack of definitive proof that MMR vaccination does not cause autism), but it is meaningless. You are claiming that there is no definitive proof that MMR vaccination doesn’t cause autism, yet there is nothing that does fit that description – there is no definitive proof that rain does not cause autism (and the same could equally be said for television, teddy bears or pacifiers). Given that the same thing could be said of just about any substance, not to mention your quotations from Popper about falsification, how is it in any way meaningful to state that there is no definitive proof that MMR vaccination does not cause autism?

    You have previously written that “there’s a huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism”
    This appears to be scaremongering – a huge pile of anecdotal evidence, supported by experimental evidence? That will sound to a layperson as if there is some genuine cause for concern over the MMR vaccination. Apparently, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence – which you refer to without pointing out that the nature of anecdotal evidence means it is not reliable. Apparently, this [unreliable] anecdotal evidence is supported by experimental evidence – which you refer to without pointing out that the experimental evidence basically boils down to a discredited paper published in the Lancet, that was later retracted (I think by 10 of the 12 authors). You have completely overstated the unreliable anecdotes and poor-quality evidence in order to postulate a potential link between the MMR vaccination and autism, while ignoring epidemiological evidence simply because it is epidemiological. It seems that on the Briffa Scale of evidence, anecdote comes before data and discredited papers may be used as corroboration. Oh dear.

    If your actual position was that the MMR vaccine caused autism, then your position would no longer be meaningless – it would be inaccurate.

    My original thoughts on reading your MMR post are here: http://jdc325.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/briffa-as-bad-as-holford/ and I have included links in my post to other blogs that have looked at some of your work.

  2. Anthony 2 June 2008 at 3:48 pm #

    “I maintain that with the state of the evidence as it is that we know beyond reasonable doubt that MMR does not cause autism.”

    Fantastic news.

  3. Anna 2 June 2008 at 4:19 pm #

    Looking forward to the sunburn post – beta carotene post :-).

  4. Dr John Briffa 2 June 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    Anthony
    I tell you what would be better news – that you actually answered my questions to you posed to you here:
    http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2008/05/23/the-limited-value-of-statistical-significance-in-the-real-world/
    where I demonstrate the evidence you use to support your stance that MMR does not cause autism amounts to no more than a hill of beans from a scientific perspective, and where I present what looks on the face of it to be quite compelling evidence of an MMR/autism that I think requires urgent attention but which you steadfastly choose to ignore.

    Your right when you mention of your site that I haven’t won the argument, because it’s not really winning is it when your opponent offers no resistance. You’re right, I haven’t won, you’ve conceded.

  5. Dr John Briffa 2 June 2008 at 5:19 pm #

    JDC

    Back again JDC, striding in like an intellectual colossus…

    Tell me what the rules are here? (I had to go through this with Anthony earlier today…)

    I answered the points you made in two comments here: http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2008/05/23/the-limited-value-of-statistical-significance-in-the-real-world/
    and you’ve said, err, nothing. Am I assume you simply accepted the points I made? And what about answering here the questions that I posed?

    Before I start dismantling the fundamental flaws in your thinking (again) would you do me the courtesy of actually answering my questions and saying whether or not you accept the points I made (one-by-one, if possible)?

  6. Chainey 2 June 2008 at 9:00 pm #

    I think Anthony’s comment in this post is referring to the fact that you seem to have a typo in the second-to-last paragraph that has you stating the opposite to your position as outlined in the previous paragraphs.

    I guess Anthony knows that and is just point-scoring.

  7. Dr John Briffa 2 June 2008 at 9:06 pm #

    Thank you kindly Chainey – I’m typo-prone, but that was a howler even by my standards. I’ll correct it now…

    “I guess Anthony knows that and is just point-scoring.”

    Yes, and heaven knows, Anthony needs all the points he can get ;-)

  8. PJ 3 June 2008 at 12:32 am #

    JDC wrote: “You are claiming that there is no definitive proof that MMR vaccination doesn’t cause autism, yet there is nothing that does fit that description – there is no definitive proof that rain does not cause autism (and the same could equally be said for television, teddy bears or pacifiers).”

    I would just like to point out that if thousands of people gave their perfectly healthy 3 year old a teddy bear which resulted, in a week or few weeks, in the child being autistic, sometimes even multiple children in the same family becoming so following the same event, that there would also be questions about the ‘safety’ of that particular brand of teddy bear, too. However since it’s the MMR shot that is actually bringing about this situation, and we’re talking about human lives here, it seems reasonable that a more robust body of evidence should be presented.

    It is not like people are asking that MMR be proved to not cause cancer, make the sky blue, or make the Yankees lose after all; it is specifically “empirically” related to so many cases of autism that the correlation begs a little more looking for causation.

    Acting as if it’s completely inexplicable why anybody would suspect MMR needs more research into whether it might relate to autism–or why they would expect we need to prove that rain and teddy bears “don’t cause autism”, since not doing so puts MMR in some unfair position apparently–is disingenious, to say the least.

  9. ross 3 June 2008 at 7:25 am #

    “I am not claiming MMR can cause autism.”

    Then are you claiming that MMR cannot cause autism?

  10. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 7:31 am #

    Ross
    Are you in any way suggestion that one automatically follows from the other? I’m not supposing this is your thinking, but before we go on, I’d like you to clarify.

  11. ross 3 June 2008 at 7:35 am #

    Either it can or it can’t. What are you claiming?

  12. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 7:41 am #

    Neither.
    I had a feeling this was going to be fun…

  13. ross 3 June 2008 at 7:50 am #

    Perhaps if you had said “I am not claiming that MMR causes autism” then it would have been less confusing.

    “I am not claiming MMR can cause autism” suggests that you do not think there is a possibilty that MMR could cause autism.

  14. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Confusing to who, exactly?

  15. ross 3 June 2008 at 7:55 am #

    I’m confused. What are you not claiming? That MMR causes autism or that it can’t cause autism? Or something else?

  16. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 8:04 am #

    Ross
    Let me see if I can lead you to me answer with some rational thinking. To do this, I suspect we’re going to need to forget about MMR and autism for moment, and all the preconceived ideas and beliefs you (and I) may have about it. Imagine a world, if you can, where MMR does not exist and you therefore have no thoughts about it.

    Now imagine this scenario for a moment if you will:

    Someone puts a ball into a wooden box. He then approaches you and says: “I’ve put a ball in this box. I can assure you the ball is either red or blue. Please tell me with certainty which it is?”

    Before I tell you what I would say, can you tell me what your response would be? This is not a trick question, by the way, but an inability to think rationally could lead you to give a spectacularly stupid answer.

  17. ross 3 June 2008 at 8:07 am #

    Clarity isn’t your thing is it? What are you not claiming? That MMR causes autism or that it can’t cause autism? Or something else?

  18. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 8:33 am #

    I know it’s difficult ross, because we can all get a bit fixated on things at times, but for the 2nd time forget about MMR for a moment and please focus on that ball in the box.

    I can appreciate your hesitancy, because there is a risk of you committing a bit of a schoolboy howler, but can I urge you to answer the question because if you get the answer right, then my answer is revealed also. if you get the answer wrong, I’ll tell you my answer all the same. All you have to do is answer the question and you’ll know mine. Not just about the ball, but also about my claim regarding MMR and autism.

    So, is the ball red or blue?

    No pressure…

  19. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 8:45 am #

    Dr Briffa

    Playing pointless mindgames around coloured balls is merely a diversionary tactic to the answering of perfectly legitamate and reasonable questions Ross has asked.

    Now Dr Briffa, does MMR cause autism?

    c

  20. ross 3 June 2008 at 8:54 am #

    Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you are on Newsnight and I’m Jeremy Paxman:

    “For the 3rd time, Dr Briffa, what are you not claiming? That MMR causes autism or that it can’t cause autism? Or something else?”

  21. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 9:01 am #

    colmcq

    I beg to differ. It’s a lesson in rational thinking – something that some people including some in the scientific and academic communities appear to be largely bereft of.

    As I said, if ross answers the question about the ball, then my answer on the question regarding my stance on MMR and autism will be revealed.

    Or would you like to have a go, colmcq: Is it red? Or Blue? Again, no pressure…

  22. Spongebob 3 June 2008 at 9:06 am #

    Come on Ross – don’t do a Cox

  23. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 9:07 am #

    Ross – in response to post 20

    It’s hypothetical of course, but I think what I’d say is:

    “Jeremy, allow me to lead you to me answer with a lesson in rational thinking.” (You know the rest).

    I think Jeremy would play along too, because he seems to like rational thinking. Though admittedly, not everyone does, it seems.

  24. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 9:14 am #

    I have no desire to respond to your question because it will have no relevance or bearing to your answer for Ross’s original question.

  25. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 9:27 am #

    colmcq

    “I have no desire to respond to your question because it will have no relevance or bearing to your answer for Ross’s original question.”

    Again, I beg to differ, because the rational thinking and thought processes required for answering the question about the colour of the ball apply DIRECTLY to my stance on MMR and autism. As you will see, if only you answer the question. So is it red? Or Blue?

    Now, if you’re not willing to answer such a simple question, what does that say about our ability to fathom some of the greater complexities in life?

    Exercise just some mental control for a moment and out MMR out of your head and answer: Is the ball red? Or Blue? Red? Or Blue?

    Or have you really ‘dropped the ball?’ ;-)

  26. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 10:49 am #

    I find your game a most amusing distraction!

    “but can I urge you to answer the question because if you get the answer right, then my answer is revealed also. if you get the answer wrong, I’ll tell you my answer all the same”

    Great, now you’ve admitted that my answer would also be wholly irrelevant to your answer. Woohoo! But, lets play ball anyway…I have, through a long and tortured thought process arrived at the colour of….. RED. Yes I say RED! Is that right? No? Aw, I’m a complete tool! Aw…..never mind….

    Now give me your answer to Ross’s question.

  27. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 11:13 am #

    colmcq

    The only honest answer you can give to this question is: ‘I don’t know’ – anything else is just guessing, isn’t it?

    And this is my position on MMR and autism: in answer to the question ‘can MMR cause autism?’ my answer again is (as I have stated many times on this site and elsewhere): ‘I don’t know.’

    I suspect I won’t be the only person reading your assertion that the ball is red as an example of quite breathtaking stupidity.

    “I’m a complete tool!”

    Yes, and this comment appears to have come from an uncharacteristic moment of mental clarity for you. See, you can do rational thinking, after all.

  28. ross 3 June 2008 at 11:15 am #

    I think this a more likely hypothetical response from Paxman would be something like:

    “Coloured balls? What on earth have coloured balls got to do with anything? I don’t want you to give me a lesson in rational thinking, I asked you some simple questions and I’d like some simple answers. Will you explain what you are claiming, in simple terms for my benefit and the benefit of the watching public and without recourse to silly games or diversionary tatics? For the 4rd time, Dr Briffa, what are you not claiming? That MMR causes autism or that it can’t cause autism? Or something else?”

    So, do you have a simple answer to a simple set of questions or not? If it helps, explain the point behind your thought exercise when answering.

  29. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 11:21 am #

    Too late ross, colmcq has already blinked.
    And I’d wager a hefty sum on you being quite relieved that you didn’t.

  30. ross 3 June 2008 at 11:25 am #

    Erm, colmcq quite obviously gave you any old answer to get the whole red ball / blue ball obfuscation out of the way. I don’t think he was taking your question seriously so I wouldn’t get too hung up on your glorious victory.

    So, if you don’t know whether MMR causes autism or not, what did you mean by your statement “I am not claiming MMR can cause autism.” Can’t it? Is it not possible then?

    Or would it have been more accurate and less confusing to state “I am not claiming that MMR causes autism” as I suggested?

  31. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 11:38 am #

    ross

    “Erm, colmcq quite obviously gave you any old answer to get the whole red ball / blue ball obfuscation out of the way.”

    If colmcq is really not as bewilderingly stupid as I believe him to be, then he would have given the right answer – actually the ONLY answer one can honestly give.

    “So, if you don’t know whether MMR causes autism or not, what did you mean by your statement “I am not claiming MMR can cause autism.” Can’t it? Is it not possible then?”

    You seem to be having difficulty with plain English, Ross. Do I really need to explain this? Is something catching?!

    “Or would it have been more accurate and less confusing to state “I am not claiming that MMR causes autism” as I suggested?”

    There is a suggestion in ‘MMR causes autism’ that MMR causes autism EVERY TIME. In case anyone takes it to mean that, I prefer not to use these words.

  32. ross 3 June 2008 at 11:49 am #

    You said: “I am not claiming MMR can cause autism.”

    Then you said: “in answer to the question ‘can MMR cause autism?’ my answer again is…: ‘I don’t know.’

    Why didn’t you say that in the first place? Your first statement was confusing. Not a great example of plain English.

    But, moving on, what do you think, based on all the available evidence, is the likelihood of the ‘MMR causes autism’ hypothesis being correct? 5%? 50% 95%? Or are you happy to say that you just don’t know?

  33. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Your whole red ball/blue ball question is a lesson in irrationality and stupidity (yours).

    “If colmcq is really not as bewilderingly stupid as I believe him to be, then he would have given the right answer – actually the ONLY answer one can honestly give.”

    Um, ok, the only alternatives you gave for an answer were “red” or “blue”. Where did you say that the other alternative was ‘I don’t know’?

    When I asked my pet donkey what he thought about the whole thing, he stamped once. (I believe this is donkey for “blue”. But I ask you: what does a lowly donkey know about balls in boxes?)

    The way in which you choose to “argue” your “point” is a particularly cute example of the kind of self-referencing sophistry which gives a bad name to the good people who use steaming duck entrails to predict the future of the stock-market. It is, in short, adolescent onanism. Since you seem to have a fondness for balls I’ll use a ball-game analogy: why don’t you step up to the plate and make a concrete argument? — rather than playing tedious semantic-logic games just…um…really say something? Useful? Hello?

  34. Miss Stanstead 3 June 2008 at 1:14 pm #

    I’m sorry – its not often that I feel the need to express my opinion in such a way but as a secretary and certainly not an intellect it wasn’t difficult to come up with the correct answer to Dr Briffa’s red/blue ball scenario and to understand his reasons for asking the question in the first place. Just in case you still dont understand – Dr Briffa is clearly unsure and is calling for more evidence.

  35. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 2:30 pm #

    Dr John “I don’t delete comments” Briffa.

    You are hilarious. Keep up the good work!

  36. Anthony 3 June 2008 at 4:01 pm #

    There is a suggestion in ‘MMR causes autism’ that MMR causes autism EVERY TIME. In case anyone takes it to mean that, I prefer not to use these words.

    EVEN Wakefield didn’t suggest that the causality was “inject MMR vaccine, cause autism every time”. Who do you know is dumb enough to think this is what the debate is about?

    It’s been amusing watching you attempt to have your cake and eat it, but now you have admitted that you think MMR vaccine causes autism in a proportion of children, which is what the anti-MMR lobby have been arguing for years.

  37. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 5:28 pm #

    Anthony
    Back again. Despite proclaiming you would never post here again. The man that promises one thing, and does another. How trustworthy and reliable.

    “EVEN Wakefield didn’t suggest that the causality was “inject MMR vaccine, cause autism every time”. Who do you know is dumb enough to think this is what the debate is about?”

    Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that someone may make this interpretation? If someone says getting smashed in the face with a polo mallet causes pain, do you thin that some individuals might think it means EVERY TIME? I do. Which is why I was careful and accurate with my language. Do you see a problem with that? Really?

    It seems you have again lept to another unsubstantiated conclusion about me. What is it about my stance that I don’t know if MMR can cause autism or not that so irks you? Why do you appear to want to believe that I believe MMR can cause autism?

    I have my theories.

  38. ross 3 June 2008 at 5:29 pm #

    “I’m sorry – its not often that I feel the need to express my opinion in such a way but as a secretary and certainly not an intellect it wasn’t difficult to come up with the correct answer to Dr Briffa’s red/blue ball scenario and to understand his reasons for asking the question in the first place.”

    Don’t feel the need to apologise for the work you do, that’s irrelevant to the discussion. Just like the whole ‘ball in the box’ game. It would have been very easy for Dr B to be clear and concise about the whole issue but I get the impression that these virtues are not valued much around here.

    “Just in case you still dont understand – Dr Briffa is clearly unsure and is calling for more evidence.”

    Yes, but how unsure? What is it about the current evidence base that makes him unsure? And what level of evidence would he need to decide that on balance of probabilities there is no causal relationship between MMR (or the single measles jab if referring to Clifford Miller’s critique of the Honda et al study, see below) and autism?

    (http://pyjamasinbananas.blogspot.com/2008/06/briffas-devastating-critique.html)

  39. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 5:34 pm #

    colmcq

    Forgive me, but reading your last post caused a vision to flash through my mind. This is it:

    A little boy told did a very stupid thing and needed to be corrected severely by his father. The boy, now upset, crying, snotty, red-faced with tears running down his cheeks then shouts at his father ‘I hate you!’. Where that came from is anyone’s guess…

  40. ross 3 June 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    So Dr B, back to the point at hand. Wwhat do you think, based on all the available evidence, is the likelihood of the ‘MMR causes autism’ hypothesis being correct? 5%? 50% 95%? Or are you happy to say that you just don’t know?

  41. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 5:44 pm #

    colmcq

    “Um, ok, the only alternatives you gave for an answer were “red” or “blue”. Where did you say that the other alternative was ‘I don’t know’?”

    Did you just ask that? Really, because it must be a joke, no? But I fear not, seems there really is no end to your stupidity.

    With regard the ’3rd option’, you were supposed to work it out for yourself. And as I said, the simple answer of ‘I don’t know’ would, I expect, be what most 6-year-olds would have said when posed with the same question. Maybe you should get in touch with your inner child.

  42. ross 3 June 2008 at 6:10 pm #

    “What I am saying though is that there’s a huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism.”

    Perhaps more specifically, in light of what you say above, you’d care to give us your estimate of the likelihood of the ‘MMR vaccination causes autism’ hypothesis being correct? How good is the evidence you refer to?

  43. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 6:23 pm #

    ross

    “Wwhat do you think, based on all the available evidence, is the likelihood of the ‘MMR causes autism’ hypothesis being correct? 5%? 50% 95%? Or are you happy to say that you just don’t know?”

    Not only am I happy to say I don’t know, I’m PERFECTLY happy to say it. Why, are some so uncomfortable with the fact that life is full of uncertainties? Whether MMR can cause autism (note the wording Anthony Cox in case you’re looking in) is one of them. At least in my opinion.

    You asking my to put a figure on the likelihood of MMR having the ability to cause autism (Cox, are you listening at the back!) is asking me to predict the results of an experiment ahead of time. Now, I know there’s been a few posters on my site that claim to some mystical, clairvoyant ability to do that, but in the interests of good science, I’d prefer to leave it to the science (and keep an open mind).

  44. ross 3 June 2008 at 6:35 pm #

    “You asking my to put a figure on the likelihood of MMR having the ability to cause autism (Cox, are you listening at the back!) is asking me to predict the results of an experiment ahead of time.”

    I’m asking you to put a figure on the likelihood of MMR having the ability to cause autism based on the current evidence. You are familiar with the evidence base? (Certainly you are familiar with the ‘huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism’). Do you think it is very likely or not very likely? More than 50/50 or less than 50/50? It’s not a loaded question or a thought experiment, I’m just interested in your view of the evidence base and the relative risks of vaccinating and not vaccinating.

  45. Anthony 3 June 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    in the interests of good science, I’d prefer to leave it to the science (and keep an open mind).

    What science is this then? Science in peer-reviewed journals, or random webpages you found using Google.

    Because, in the case of MMR vaccine, you appear not to have engaged with the science at all (as has been clearly demonstrated on numerous occasions over the weekend).

    Face it John, this idiotic game you are playing about your views on MMR vaccine was a loser from the start.

    “I’m just saying….” is not a get out.

    Fairplay though, you are yet to mention an article out of JPANDS, but that’s probably because you either haven’t found it yet, or have enough remaining insight to realise what citing that rubbish would do to your argument.

  46. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 7:10 pm #

    Hi Dr Pepper

    “With regard the ‘3rd option’, you were supposed to work it out for yourself.”

    Uh, no. you can’t pulling that one, Captain Absolutist. As my mother used to say ‘ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer’. Still, at least we managed to tease what you thought of the whole MMR/autism debate when you spluttered ‘I don’t know’. Really? After dozens of high quality peer reviewed evidence show repeatedly that there is no support whatsoever for the hypothesis that MMR causes autism, you on the other hand simply ‘don’t know’?

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

    Now….where’s that red ball….DOBBIN?

  47. Spongebob 3 June 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    “EVEN Wakefield didn’t suggest that the causality was “inject MMR vaccine, cause autism every time”. Who do you know is dumb enough to think this is what the debate is about?”

    Answer – you do, Cox AR.

    You have said, epidemiology *proves* MMR cannot cause any ASDs in any circumstance what-so-ever therefore the “anti-MMR lobby” think/believe that all ASDs are caused by MMR.

    Thus the “MMR lobby” are all crackpots/loons or after the ££s, which is ironic considering how many PharmaShills are out there taking the ££s & $$s to put out propaganda- BTW not pointing a finger at you……..although others have suggested….

  48. Dr Aust 3 June 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    I still don’t get WHAT you think the “definitive” evidence that MMR doesn’t cause autism would be, John. I am genuinely intrigued to know what you have in mind.

  49. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 7:39 pm #

    Anthony

    Back again, and as bad-tempered and cantankerous as ever. A tad bitter even. Why so?

    “Because, in the case of MMR vaccine, you appear not to have engaged with the science at all (as has been clearly demonstrated on numerous occasions over the weekend).”

    Now, then, let me refresh your memory. I asked you (taunted some would say, but I prefer ‘asked’) to give it your best shot. And as is revealed for all the World to see here http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2008/05/23/the-limited-value-of-statistical-significance-in-the-real-world/ (comment 55), the evidence on which the ‘MMR is safe with respect to autism’ case is founded don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    You came in with all guns ablazin’, for us all to learn that all you had was a peashooter in your pocket.

    Now, get your emotions in check and engage brain. I asked you repeatedly to provide your evidence. Give it all you’ve got. Did you even stop to think why I could do that so confidently? Tick tock, tick tock.

    And you, the pharmacovigilance pharmacist and all, and me, so green and wet behind the ears.

    And the dismantling of your stance was done, according to you, with nothing more than my willful ignorance and google.

    On second thoughts, Anthony, there’s no need to answer why it is that you’re feeling so very bitter.

  50. Dr John Briffa 3 June 2008 at 7:48 pm #

    colmcq

    “As my mother used to say ‘ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.”

    Or, as I prefer to put it, ‘ask someone stupid a question, get a stupid answer.’

    “After dozens of high quality peer reviewed evidence show repeatedly that there is no support whatsoever for the hypothesis that MMR causes autism, you on the other hand simply ‘don’t know’”

    ALERT! ALERT! colmqc is entering the area of science and critical thinking! Please do us the service, colmcq, of citing those ‘dozens of high quality peer reviewed evidence’ here. Word of advice though, don’t ask Anthony Cox. He takes ages to cough up the evidence and when he does it’s utterly inadequate anyway. Google perhaps?

  51. Dave 3 June 2008 at 9:12 pm #

    Sorry if this point has been covered above, but there’s way too much nonsense for me to read through all of those comments. Cognitive dissonance abounds, leading to a lot of qualitative hand-waving. Bleah.

    An awful lot of scientific debates such as this are (as pointed out by Dr. Briffa) caused by asking the wrong question. As I mentioned commenting in a different post, the “confidence” number usually used to quantify evidential support only tells you the degree to which you should believe that your data would have been observed given that your hypothesis is true. It’s basically impossible to argue the relative merits of alternative hypotheses unless you can answer the opposite question: given some data (and other prior information), how much should I believe a particular hypothesis? This puts the argument on quantitative grounds, and also makes transparent how the data and other information support the various alternative hypotheses.

    Alas, too many careers have been made by p-values and subsequent obfuscation of evidence. Transparency and rational thought is not in the best interest of these people.

  52. ross 3 June 2008 at 9:24 pm #

    I asked you to put a figure on the likelihood of MMR having the ability to cause autism based on the current evidence (including the ‘huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism’).

    Once again, do you think it is very likely or not very likely? More than 50/50 or less than 50/50? What’s your view of the evidence base as it stands? Or do you just not know?

  53. ross 3 June 2008 at 9:27 pm #

    (Sorry to be repetitive but I think it’s an interesting question and a lot more productive than name calling and point scoring. And this blog will make a nice permanent record of the views of all concerned).

  54. ross 3 June 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    “You have said, epidemiology *proves* MMR cannot cause any ASDs in any circumstance what-so-ever therefore the “anti-MMR lobby” think/believe that all ASDs are caused by MMR.”

    Spongebob, if you’re going to make statements like this, could you please link to a source to support your assertions. It sounds very implausible so people will be disinclined to believe you.

  55. colmcq 3 June 2008 at 10:50 pm #

    “ALERT! ALERT! colmqc is entering the area of science and critical thinking!”

    iIrelevant. You’re still dodging ross’s and anthony’s points.

  56. Anna 4 June 2008 at 6:58 am #

    Still looking forward to the sunburn-beta carotene post. :-)

  57. ross 4 June 2008 at 9:46 am #

    Was there a problem with my comments last night? I can post them again if need be.

  58. MinorityReport 4 June 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    Anthony, Prove the MMR doubters wrong. Cite the randomized placebo-controlled trials. Failing that, noninferiority trials vs single jabs, with long-term followup. I mean, they did do them, didn’t they?

    BTW, There is a controversy round anticoagulants, and the need for placebo-controlled trials. Looking for “anticoagulants” on your blog, I got: “Sorry We Do Not Found Anything Match Your Search” [?]. But, digging around, I found this: “While the homeopathy industry avoids performing studies that may show their products won’t work, the pharmaceutical industry conduct studies and then cherry pick those that do show an effect.” http://www.blacktriangle.org/blog/?p=1729:

    Really? Cundiff shows how pharma will go to any lengths to avoid definitive explanatory trials of anticoagulants, even subverting a Cochrane review to make them look unnecessary.
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1994886

    So, back to MMR. Bring on the RCTs.

  59. Dr John Briffa 4 June 2008 at 3:41 pm #

    MinorityReport

    Talk about kicking a man when he’s down!

  60. Dr John Briffa 4 June 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    Dr Aust

    Before we go on, can you tell me what you take the word ‘definitive’ to mean. I know I shouldn’t need to ask, but Anthony Cox used a perfectly understandable phrase I wrote in an attempt to misrepresent me so you can’t be too careful!

  61. Dr John Briffa 4 June 2008 at 3:46 pm #

    colmcq

    “You’re still dodging ross’s and anthony’s points.”

    What points, and you seem to have dodged my request for the ‘dozens of high quality peer reviewed evidence’ you say there is.

    I’d ask you again, but it’s a pointless exercise. Because like your intellect, no such thing exists.

  62. Dr John Briffa 4 June 2008 at 4:04 pm #

    ross

    I’ve given you my answer.

    Your question is not even relevant to the main point which is about whether the evidence vindicates MMR with respect to autism or not.

    What I’m primarily interested in is the science, not opinion or guessing.

    I will give you one opinion though: I think there’s a very high chance indeed that you’re not as bright as you think you are.

  63. colmcq 4 June 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    when you’re in a whole it’s best to stop digging, as they say. Now John, can you at least respond to some of the points Ross and Anthony made? I also suggest you resist the temptation to hurl insults around like it’s going out of fashion – it’s making you look increasingly deranged:

    http://www.apathysketchpad.com/blog/

  64. colmcq 4 June 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    and….

    “Once again, do you think it is very likely or not very likely? More than 50/50 or less than 50/50? What’s your view of the evidence base as it stands? Or do you just not know?”

    Ross – any reasoned person would be able to reach some kind of figure quite easily. Based on current research I’d say the likely hood of MMR being responsible, implicated or otherwise involved in ASD is incredibly, diminishingly small; if you will, a big fat 0, and I am sure about that to a very high degree of probability what what! Poor John “I am a scientist” Briffa, on the other hand, simply has no clue.

  65. Dr Aust 4 June 2008 at 7:27 pm #

    Well, it was you that used the word definitive first, John, several times.

    Anyway, I was taking “definitive” here to mean “convincing”, as in “convincing to you”.

    (I put it this way because the current research clearly convinces me, and essentially all mainstream types, but obviously doesn’t convince you)

    So for instance I am curious about what kinds of studies, measuring what things and testing what parameters or outcomes, measured in what groups of kids/patients.

    Put another way, I was asking what kind of reseach are arguing needs doing that has not already been done. Simply saying “more” or “definitive” isn’t very helpful.

  66. ross 4 June 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    No, you haven’t answered my question. I asked you to put a figure on the likelihood of MMR having the ability to cause autism based on the current evidence (including the ‘huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism’).

    Once again, do you think it is very likely or not very likely? More than 50/50 or less than 50/50? What’s your view of the evidence base as it stands? Or do you just not know?

    “What I’m primarily interested in is the science, not opinion or guessing.”

    And I’m asking you to evaluate the state of science. Why are you so reluctant to do so? Although you obviously do have an opinion when you say:

    “The scientific evidence these people cite is like a two-legged stool: every time they put it up, it falls down again.”

    And:

    “I believe that the evidence used to vindicate MMR with respect to autism is ‘shoddy’ (and don’t mind saying so)”

    “I will give you one opinion though: I think there’s a very high chance indeed that you’re not as bright as you think you are.”

    Whatever. I’m still interested in your answers though.

  67. Sue 5 June 2008 at 2:16 am #

    Does MMR cause autism? Did you child change after having the MMR vaccine? How many children changed after having the MMR vaccine? Is it just speculation that the MMR vaccine was the cause? Did the changes occur just after the MMR vaccine? Was your child developing normally and then after the MMR vaccine you noticed some changes?

    We don’t know for sure that the MMR causes or doesn’t cause autism. Its quite suspicious that after having the vaccine some children display autistic symptoms – but this doesn’t prove it. Why do some children become autistic after the MMR vaccine and others don’t? Perhaps some children are more susceptible?

    If a mother asks should I vaccine my child with MMR I would say do so at your own risk because we really don’t know for sure how safe it is.

  68. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Colmcq

    “Poor John “I am a scientist” Briffa, on the other hand, simply has no clue.”

    Where did I claim to be a scientist, Colmcq? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t dare. Not only because I’m not one, but also because the word ‘scientist’ is going to end up being a pejorative term at this rate.

  69. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 11:08 am #

    ross

    I’ve given you my answer (comment 43).

    If you persist, I’ll bar your posts. Oh, I get it now, then you can go off and claim you got barred for asking ‘searching’ questions I couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

    Just to be clear, if I stop your comments over this it’s because you’re repeatedly asking a question I’ve already offered my answer to: this doe not inform the debate in any way and is not relevant to either.

    What’s important, is that the evidence does not vindicate MMR with respect to autism. Just try and focus on that fact.

  70. colmcq 5 June 2008 at 1:34 pm #

    Just answer his question John.

  71. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    colmcq

    No (and do see my comments to ross in comment 69).

  72. colmcq 5 June 2008 at 2:50 pm #

    could you answer my question about sunscreen then?

  73. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 5:20 pm #

    Dr Aust

    “Simply saying “more” or “definitive” isn’t very helpful.”

    Helpful for whom?

  74. ross 5 June 2008 at 6:05 pm #

    “If you persist, I’ll bar your posts.”

    It’s not what I’m used to but, OK, fine, your gaff, your rules.

    “Oh, I get it now, then you can go off and claim you got barred for asking ‘searching’ questions I couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.”

    I’m not that Machiavellian, honestly. I think that kind of thing is counterproductive and a waste of time and I really want to debate the state of the evidence with you.

    My understanding of your position is that based on all the available evidence you don’t know the likelihood of the ‘MMR causes autism’ hypothesis being correct.

    Moving on (and very much focusing on the fact “that the evidence does not vindicate MMR with respect to autism”) the issue is that there does not seem to be any good evidence to show a causal link between MMR and autism whereas there is a lot of good evidence that shows no correlation between MMR and autism. So the problem is evaluating the relative risks of vaccinating and not vaccinating. What is your take on this?

  75. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 6:38 pm #

    ross

    “there is a lot of good evidence that shows no correlation between MMR and autism.”

    No there isn’t (that’s my take on this).

  76. ross 5 June 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    OK, so would it be fair to say that in your opinion, and after weighing up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities you think that the risks associated with the MMR vaccination outweigh the benefits of vaccination? On that basis you would advise parents not to vaccinate?

  77. ross 5 June 2008 at 6:54 pm #

    Sorry, typo, I meant to say “On that basis would you advise parents not to vaccinate?”, which alters the tone a little.

  78. John Stone 5 June 2008 at 8:54 pm #

    At the end of the day what is most telling is the thorough bad faith of the government and the medical profession. People have a right to be listened to when they report products going wrong – in any other circumstances they would be, but here they are just subjected to ridicule and abuse, as in Dr Ben Goldacre’s ‘personal anecdotes about you MMR tragedy will be deleted for your own safety’.

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#184472

    Eventually Goldacre had to delete the remark himself, but the very fact that it was for long considered acceptable tells you there is something deeply wrong with the mentality. Vaccine damage denial is institutional, and it represents a condition of scientific bias.

    I note, as John Briffa, began by doing, just how spurious the statistical argument is. In fact, in instances where vaccine damage has been accepted it has been on a purely individual basis. Now we are being told it cannot be accepted because there is no statistical correlation (if there isn’t). The point with Wakefield – and this is germane to Bernardine Healy’s recent intervention – is that he identified a sub-group, and a sub-group is a much bigger threat to the public health policy.

    And frankly, if it is admitted in principle, that something can do serious damage, how can you legislate for how frequently?

  79. Dr John Briffa 5 June 2008 at 9:29 pm #

    ross

    No.

  80. ross 6 June 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Was that no to:

    “Would it be fair to say that in your opinion, and after weighing up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities you think that the risks associated with the MMR vaccination outweigh the benefits of vaccination?”

    Or no to: “on that basis you would advise parents not to vaccinate?”

  81. MinorityReport 6 June 2008 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks for your level-headed and morally compelling contribution, John. Your strictly factual comments about Goldacre’s derisive “your MMR tragedy will be deleted” comment were removed from the Guardian blog last Monday. As were your strictly factual comments about Goldacre’s position at the Institute of Psychiatry. Liars make bad scientists.

  82. Dr John Briffa 6 June 2008 at 12:57 pm #

    ross

    It was a ‘no’ to “on that basis you would advise parents not to vaccinate?”

  83. John Stone 6 June 2008 at 3:13 pm #

    MinorityReport

    I posted this in response to your earlier post on “The limited value of statistics” blog but it did come up:-

    Yes, indeed, I note Ben’s latest blog in Guardian CiF, entitled ‘Determined bloggers who blew whistle’, which only has 12 of its comments left – I should guess out of about 60 in the end.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/31/sciencenews.blogging

    Attempts either to defend the treatment – about which I know nothing – or my attempt to take up the theme of determined bloggers whistleblowing have been excised. In the first case you might have thought a courteous rebuttal was in order, if possible; in the second case the key information about BG can be found here:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480

    but Guardian newspapers and BG seem somewhat defensive about it. In the case of a treatment for dyspraxia (which was the topic under discussion) there very well might be competing pharmaceutical interests (as for example with King’s College’s recent Eli Lilly Entrepreneur-in-Residence):

    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/business/news/year2005-6/eir?m=print

    BG’s faculty, the Institute of Psychiatry, being a department of King’s College, and Eli Lilly being manufacturers of such rival products as Ritalin and Strattera.

    The Institute has recently been presided over by Sir Michael Rutter:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/clifford.g.miller/hondarutter.html#who_is_Professor_Sir_Michael_Rutter

    who has just been giving perhaps not too convincing evidence in the US vaccine court:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2008/05/holland-on-th-9.html#more

    Anyhow, the CiF rubric ‘Comment is Free: facts are sacred’ is looking somewhat threadbare.

  84. ross 6 June 2008 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks. So it is fair to say that in your opinion, and after weighing up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities you think that the risks associated with the MMR vaccination outweigh the benefits of vaccination?

    And as far as vaccination goes, is your position that you would advise parents to vaccinate? Or would you not offer any form of advice?

    BTW, I think MinorityReport is either calling Ben Goldacre a liar or inferring it. I hope he has proof.

  85. superburger 6 June 2008 at 3:52 pm #

    Dr Briffa,

    What experimental result, or set of experimental results would satisfy you, personally, that there are no reasonable grounds for anyone to suggest that MMR is linked to autism.

    Or is your mind, essentially, closed on this topic, making it something of a faith/belief system rather than a testable scientific hypothesis. (which is fine, people chose to believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.)

  86. John Stone 6 June 2008 at 6:19 pm #

    MinorityReport

    With apologies, I also tried to respond to your earlier message and post some of the things which were lost in the deleted Goldacre correspondence, but Dr JB’s blog machine does not seem to be able to process it.

    Unfortunately, comment is becoming restricted on Cif, and facts dispensible. Nor does BG appear to appreciate equally all determined bloggists trying to blow the whistle.

  87. MinorityReport 6 June 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    Ross

    I implied Goldacre is a liar? LOL. John Stone and others on the Guardian blog mentioned the Bad Science groupies who consistently and vehemently denied Goldacre is a psychiatrist, all over the internet.

  88. MinorityReport 6 June 2008 at 8:35 pm #

    John Stone

    Thanks for the heads up on the ever more interestingly conflicted Institute of Psychiatry. I read the homeopaths are even taking Goldacre to the Press Complaints Commission. The infinitesimal in pursuit of the unspeakable, to paraphrase the divine Oscar.

  89. ross 6 June 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    “Attempts either to defend the treatment – about which I know nothing – or my attempt to take up the theme of determined bloggers whistleblowing have been excised.”

    Are you claiming that posts only defending Dore were censored? Do you have any evidence to back this up? It’s just that without evidence people will be disinclined to believe you.

    I don’t recall any of your attempts to “take up the theme of determined bloggers whistleblowing”. Perhaps you have copies of your posts? Or was it just that your posts had nothing to do with the topic under discussion and didn’t meet the CiF Community Standards and Participation Guidelines (viz “if you post something which is completely unrelated to the original topic then it may be removed, in order to keep the thread on track”) and were excised? (http://www.guardian.co.uk/talkpolicy/0,,210609,00.html)

  90. ross 6 June 2008 at 9:14 pm #

    MinorityReport: “I implied Goldacre is a liar? LOL. John Stone and others on the Guardian blog mentioned the Bad Science groupies who consistently and vehemently denied Goldacre is a psychiatrist, all over the internet.”

    I’m sorry but this does not make any sense. Really, it doesn’t, it’s a syntactical nightmare. What is your point?

    MinorityReport: “Your strictly factual comments about Goldacre’s derisive “your MMR tragedy will be deleted” comment were removed from the Guardian blog last Monday. As were your strictly factual comments about Goldacre’s position at the Institute of Psychiatry. Liars make bad scientists.”

    Who are you calling a liar, either outright or by inference? What evidence do you have that the person you are referring to is actually a liar?

  91. ross 6 June 2008 at 9:24 pm #

    Dr B, we’re in danger of getting sidetracked from what we both want to focus on, the science and the fact that ‘the evidence does not vindicate MMR with respect to autism.’

    When you said ‘no’ to my questions, it didn’t really clarify things. I’m sorry to repeat this but I don’t think you’ve answered it, in your opinion, and after weighing up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities do you think that the risks associated with the MMR vaccination outweigh the benefits of vaccination?

    And what is your position on vaccination? You have said that you would not advise parents not to vaccinate, would you advise them to vaccinate or would you not offer any form of advice?

  92. John Stone 6 June 2008 at 10:11 pm #

    Ross

    Just to clear this matter up, I suggested that BG might also like to commend my attempts to shed light on his activities. Can’t remember the precise words. In my memory a lengthy post which originally appeared 3 times at the beginning, defending the Dore method was removed quite early on. Obviously, I could only guess at the grounds. I have to admit even I was a bit surprised.

    You are right, I did attempt to copy the correspondence to disc, but the Guardian seemed to have some kind of block on it.

    The Guardian have now removed the entire correspondence, so may be you are right, I made the whole thing up. Shades of Winston Smith and O’Brien.

  93. John Stone 6 June 2008 at 10:18 pm #

    Incidentally, I do have copies of my posts – now that I think about it – although not the entire blog.

  94. gar 6 June 2008 at 11:07 pm #

    I don’t broadcast it because it meets such a blank reaction, but I believe that the MMR was the cause of the extreme ill health of my son as a child. All my reason and ins

  95. gar 6 June 2008 at 11:21 pm #

    (cont.) and instinct tell me this. He was healthy until the immunisation, had a strong reaction to it and then went downhill from there over the next year, ending with problems consultants could not diagnose and had nothing to offer. We took the reins and began to research and observe and yes a food diary was very helpful. Very careful and scientific nutrition gradually restored his health. I would say he was fully well by the time he was 11. People say he grew out of it of course, but believe me I had no interest in having a child with a special diet – it was essential!

  96. ross 7 June 2008 at 9:04 am #

    “The Guardian have now removed the entire correspondence, so may be you are right, I made the whole thing up. Shades of Winston Smith and O’Brien.”

    No, you didn’t make it up, I remember it. I think your comments were removed because they had nothing to do with the topic of blogs. The comments you leave on the BMJ site and elsewhere don’t constitute blogging, just monomaniacal trolling. Concentrate on the science.

  97. John Stone 7 June 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    Ross

    You cannot just leave comments on the BMJ site. They are carefully monitored and factually checked, particularly if you express anti-establishment views.

    In the case of BG he had just written an article attacking low level pharma sponsorship of journalists, affecting to be above the whole thing – the article was entitled ‘Journalists: anything to declare’, and I pointed out that he had accepted and not declared such sponsorship from GSK for an article on MMR called ‘MMR, Never Mind the Facts’ in which, indeed, all his “facts” seemed to be wrong. BG has neither answered or acknowledged this.

    Then there is the reticence over the Institute of Psychiatry dimension, which I have already dealt with. People seem to think that these things only matter when they want them to. The appropriate way for the parties to have dealt with BG’s proffessional affiliation would have been for a declaration to appear under his journalistic publications saying that BG works for the IoP, but that the views expressed are his own. It puts readers at a disadvantage if they are not informed.

    As I pointed out in one of removed posts, my reasonable request for information about BG’s professional background (presumably BG normally believes in openness) were met with resistance and anger: it was also labelled as stalking (as if I could give a stuff about his personal life). BG is an influential journalist, and people are defensive about these matters, so presumably I discovered a raw nerve.

    My point was relevant for two reason. (1) I am a persistent blogger trying to get at the truth. (2) The IoP, as I pointed, has close pharmaceutical industry ties which are potentially in conflict with Dore method.

    No amount of insults will disguise the problem.

  98. ross 7 June 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    JS – do you have a blog then?

  99. ross 7 June 2008 at 12:48 pm #

    Anyway, JS, what you have posted here is (as usual) a distraction from the point of this particular blog. I’m sure Dr B wants us all to stay on topic. I’m keen to find out:

    Whether, in Dr B’s opinion, and after weighing up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities he thinks that the risks associated with the MMR vaccination outweigh the benefits of vaccination?

    And Dr B’s position on vaccination. Would he advise parents to vaccinate or would he not offer any form of advice?

  100. John Stone 7 June 2008 at 1:04 pm #

    Ross

    No, I think it is part of the point, because the public perception that the MMR issue is settled is down in some small degree to the efforts of Ben Goldacre, and he does not seem very anxious to discuss it at the moment.

  101. ross 7 June 2008 at 3:41 pm #

    JS – you said you are a persistent blogger, do you have a blog? If you don’t, I suggest you set one up and write about your bugbears there instead of shoehorning them into CiF etc. with monotonous regularity. I’d read it.

  102. John Stone 7 June 2008 at 5:56 pm #

    Ross

    As usual, double standards rule. Ben praises “determined” bloggers, but I am a “persistent” blogger. Let me tell you I am a very determined blogger.

    The points I was making on CiF were all entirely germane. All this ad hominem stuff you are producing is because you don’t have an answer, and – as far as I can see – nor does Ben.

    I have been challenging him over the science in the ‘Never mind the facts’ article for well over a year – even, actually, in less detailed terms, going right back to December 2003. Let him speak. We are all ears.

  103. ross 8 June 2008 at 7:47 am #

    JS, you didn’t answer me.

    You said you are a persistent blogger, do you have a blog?

    If you don’t, I suggest you set one up and write about your bugbears there instead of shoehorning them into CiF etc. with monotonous regularity. I’d read it.

  104. John Stone 8 June 2008 at 8:33 am #

    Ross

    I am not shoe-horning in anywhere. CiF is supposed to be open and my comments were relevant. You keep on introducing the same red-herring in an attempt to distract from the uncomfortably point that BG does not disclose his professional ties in his column, and got the science on MMR wrong. Of course, there are any number psychophants to say “great article, Ben” every week, but that is not having a discussion, and if Guardian prune adverse comments it is not free discussion either. The “shoe-horning” accusation is ridiculous. Perhaps you are “shoe-horning” here.

    But:-

    1) John Briffa has made an important point about epidemiology not refuting the Wakefield hypothesis

    2) Cochrane points that the autism studies have too many biases, confounders etc to demonstrate there is no population effect

    3) BG did not disclose GSK patronage in journalistic articles, and IoP to which he is professionally affiliated seems to be committed to a genetic hypothesis for autism, come what may, and he does not mention that either

    4) The IoP has its finger in many other pies too

    These are all legitimate areas of concern. You have no answer.

  105. ross 8 June 2008 at 10:23 am #

    You claim to be a blogger. Do you have a blog?

  106. John Stone 8 June 2008 at 10:53 am #

    Do, I have my own blog site? No, but I have initiated many threads in JABS Forum.

    You seem to be splitting hairs.

  107. ross 8 June 2008 at 11:01 am #

    Not splitting hairs, just looking for a simple answer to a simple question, and, finally, after 4 attempts, you have admitted you are not a blogger.

    Why did you say you were in the first place?

    Why don’t you start one?

  108. John Stone 8 June 2008 at 11:32 am #

    Yes, splitting hairs. Couldn’t see the point you were trying to make.

  109. ross 8 June 2008 at 11:40 am #

    JS, see comment 99. I said

    “JS – do you have a blog then?”

    That was your opportunity to say “No”.

    Why did you say you did and why did it take you so long to answer?

  110. John Stone 8 June 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    No, for instance, articles in CiF are blogs. So are pieces in JABS Forum. Contributing to blogs is blogging in a general sense in my book. I was in no way trying to be evasive. What has this got to do with the safety of MMR? You were complaining about me not being on topic. Well, BG has a lot to do with the topic, whereas whether I have my own blog has nothing do with it.

    Rather than split hairs why don’t you address the problem that BG – who is very influential – cited flawed evidence in a GSK award winning article? Indeed, why does he not address it?

  111. ross 8 June 2008 at 5:47 pm #

    “Rather than split hairs why don’t you address the problem that BG – who is very influential – cited flawed evidence in a GSK award winning article? Indeed, why does he not address it?”

    Here’s an idea – you are the one making these claims so provide some evidence for them. Here’s another idea – why not start your own blog and write about it there? That would make you a blogger, rather than someone who leaves comments on other people’s blogs or forums.

  112. John Stone 8 June 2008 at 7:44 pm #

    Ross

    You seem to be repeating yourself, making an abstruse point relating to the recent Goldacre blog in which I referred to myself as a blogger – you dispute the definition, but it makes no difference of substance. You are an unidentified troll leaving remarks on other people’s websites, so I am not clear on what basis you have the moral authority to lecture me. I put my name to the things I write, and I have placed the evidence in the public domain, for instance here:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480

    You will find other references above.

  113. ross 8 June 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    JS – what you cite isn’t evidence, it’s conjecture. And you have to talk up your ‘research’ to make the conjecture sound sinsiter, for example in comment 105 you refer to Goldacre winning the Association of British Science Writer’s award as “GSK patronage”. And you seem to think he should disclose this in each article he writes. Really? s this is the best you can do?

    The point I was making was that comment 79 was a re-hashing of your frequent accusations of Goldacre having a conflict of interest. It was barely relevant and I think a blog of your own would be the best place for you to do this.

  114. John Stone 9 June 2008 at 8:05 am #

    Ross

    If the documentation is wrong, please say where. What have I said which is conjectural? Please be specific.

    BG should certainly disclose the GSK award when writing about matters which bear on GSK’s interests, like MMR. He said so: “Journalists: anything to declare?”

  115. John Stone 9 June 2008 at 8:40 am #

    PS The point is not primarily whether BG is biased, though he might be, but transparency, for which there are conventions. BG can trample on Alasdair Philips for selling radiation detectors:

    http://www.badscience.net/?p=418

    but IoP has financial interests too, and are funded indirectly by the mobile phone industry.

    http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/departments/?locator=364&context=975

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/rapidpdf/bmj.38765.519850.55v1

    This demonstrates the problem clearly. In the name of transparency we should be told that BG works for the IoP, which has an industry funded unit.

  116. John Stone 9 June 2008 at 9:27 am #

    PPS

    If BG wants to defend the science in “Never mind the facts” it is up to him – I did not make up the Cochrane quotes, and they are not conjecture.

    There is a fundamental problem which BG needs to address in article after article he has written on MMR. Given that the autism trend is rising, how can he tell whether MMR has contributed to it or not. Setting aside the problem that some of the key studies might inadvertently supply striking evidence the other way (Madsen, Honda/Rutter), which ought to be openly debated, how can he come to any certain view on this kind of evidence.

    His case is that epidemiology has settled the matter, when it has come nowhere near.

  117. ross 9 June 2008 at 11:12 am #

    “BG should certainly disclose the GSK award when writing about matters which bear on GSK’s interests, like MMR. He said so: “Journalists: anything to declare?”””

    You really mean this don’t you? So should Dr B disclose in all his blog posts and journalism that he has done work for GSK?

  118. John Stone 9 June 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    Ross

    Dr B has put this information on his website, and he is critical of MMR. I can’t find anything on Dr G’s. A different situation.

  119. wilsontown 10 June 2008 at 9:27 am #

    This all seems very strange. Ben Goldacre is at the Institute of Psychiatry under a “NIHR BRC [National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre] Preparatory Clinician Scientist Fellowship”. In other words, he works for the NHS.

    Ben Goldacre’s blog: “Ben is 33 and works full time for the NHS”.

    What’s the problem? The Institute of Psychiatry is an academic institution, and it’s no surprise that some of its work is funded by industry. But there is no evidence that Dr. Goldacre receives any industry funding. This seems to be a storm in a teacup.

    I work at an academic institution (the University of Manchester). For the sake of transparency, should I list all the organisations that fund research at the university? That would be ridiculous.

  120. John Stone 10 June 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    Here identified as King’s College, IoP staff member:

    http://www.iop.kcl.ac.uk/staff/profile/default.aspx?go=11920

    The issue of who exactly pays is not perhaps paramount, since BG obviously owes his employment to the institution. And presumably if he was challenging views held within the institution week after week he might not be tremendously popular.

  121. John Stone 11 June 2008 at 8:05 am #

    wilsontown

    Incidentally, can you tell “a hawk from handsaw”? On your website you quite rightly mention:

    “I am a research associate in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental sciences at the University of Manchester, where I work on the tectonostratigraphy of rift systems.”

    Obviously, if you were commenting on any of those topics, both the faculty and funding conflicts might be come relevant.

    Ben G, on the other hand, only gets as far as:

    “Ben is 33 and works full time for the NHS in London, England, on the third planet of solarsystem 0×0230B0 in the Milky Way.”

    http://www.badscience.net/about-dr-ben-goldacre/

    Perhaps he should update it?

  122. John Stone 13 June 2008 at 7:20 am #

    I should have thought it was obvious that while Ben Goldacre does not need to say that he is employed in the Milky Way he ought to say he is on the staff of the Institute of Psychiatry. If it is not a big deal, why has he not done it?

  123. Dr John Briffa 14 June 2008 at 9:07 am #

    John

    “I should have thought it was obvious that while Ben Goldacre does not need to say that he is employed in the Milky Way he ought to say he is on the staff of the Institute of Psychiatry. If it is not a big deal, why has he not done it?”

    You raise a good point I think. It’s tragic that some do not see this as an issue, including Ben Goldacre himself, it seems. Quite tragic, really.

  124. ross 14 June 2008 at 10:10 am #

    Why is it an issue? What are the specific conflicts? (Try not to conflate winning an award with ‘patronage’ and ‘sponsorship’ like John Stone has already done). Do you have any evidence that these conflicts have affected his journalism?

  125. John Stone 14 June 2008 at 10:33 am #

    John B

    I am more impressed by the silence which has descended – I think they can see the issue.

  126. Dr John Briffa 14 June 2008 at 11:08 am #

    John Stone

    Yes, think you’re right: far too many uncomfortable home truths revealed by you here as well as here: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480

    And as you say, Ben Goldacre remains silent on these very important subjects. Perhaps he’s hoping ross will help get him out of a tight spot. I don’t think so.

  127. ross 14 June 2008 at 12:18 pm #

    What tight spot? Why is it an issue? What are the specific conflicts? (Try not to conflate winning an award with ‘patronage’ and ‘sponsorship’ like John Stone has already done). Do you have any evidence that these conflicts have affected his journalism?

  128. John Stone 14 June 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    Ross

    There is no distinction between GSK sponsoring ABSW awards or any other junket – quite apart from doling out sweeties – and I note the web-page has substantially toned down GSK’s involvement in the event recently. My guess, indeed, is that under present PMCPA rules, though probably not in 2004, this would not be allowed. So good try, but utter rubbish.

    And, of course, the facts were wrong in Ben’s article, which he has still failed to address.

  129. John Stone 14 June 2008 at 4:39 pm #

    To quote:-

    “The ABSW Science Writers’ Awards for 2003 were presented at a ceremony on 1 July at The Royal Society, London, by Pallab Ghosh, Chairman of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and Science Correspondent, BBC News, and Dr Alastair Benbow, Vice President & European Medical Director of GlaxoSmithKline, the major sponsor of the Awards.”

    http://www.absw.org.uk/Awards/abswwinners2003.htm

    Do I see the words “major sponsor of the Awards”? Goodness me! And there Ben is at the top of the list:

    “The best feature on a science subject in a national or regional newspaper:
    Ben Goldacre for ‘Never Mind the Facts’ which was published in Guardian Life on 11
    December 2003″

  130. John Stone 14 June 2008 at 5:20 pm #

    Note that Ben is pleased to record the award but not the sponsor:

    http://www.badscience.net/about-dr-ben-goldacre

    just as he pleased to acknowledge being resident in the Milky way but not the Institute of Psychiatry:

    Here he is at the ceremony with Dr Benbow brandishing his ABSW/GSK certificate with characteristic smile:

    http://www.sciencewritersawards.co.uk/science/past/2003/gallery/cat1-L.htm

    Well done Ben, but what about the facts in your article?

  131. Dr John Briffa 15 June 2008 at 9:17 am #

    John S

    ross states: “What tight spot? Why is it an issue? What are the specific conflicts?”

    What’s the explanation for this, do you think? Has he lost the capacity to read, do you think? Or maybe he’s been struck blind? After all, there are none so blind as those who do not want to see.

  132. John Stone 15 June 2008 at 11:35 am #

    John B

    Ross has tried to make out that the ABSW award ceremony fell into a different category to the kind of patronage Ben was talking about in his ‘Journalists: anything to declare article?’ when it looks to be just the kind of junket Ben was talking about. So, now Ross is silent.

    I note the peculiar reticence of ABPI regulator, Heather Simmonds, on these issues:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/336/7634/0#187763

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#188132

  133. ross 15 June 2008 at 1:11 pm #

    JS – Is Ben G patronised or sponsored by GSK? Or did he win an award for science writers sponsored by GSK? Clearly the latter. You are attempting to conflate the two.

    Do all the other recipients of the award declare it in their writings? Have you left comments on their blogs saying that they should?

    Dr B – I’m not sure what you are getting at. I asked why Ben G is in a tight spot. I’m not sure that you have answered my question. There’s no controversy here for him to respond to. Unless an intrepid investigator (or blogger like JS) was to explain what the specific conflicts are and come up with some evidence that these conflicts have affected his journalism, then this just comes across as a bit if a cheap attempt to smear him.

  134. John Stone 15 June 2008 at 7:00 pm #

    Ross

    “JS – Is Ben G patronised or sponsored by GSK? Or did he win an award for science writers sponsored by GSK? Clearly the latter. You are attempting to conflate the two.”

    They are the same. You see Ben between Pallab Ghosh and Dr Alastair Benbow. All three looking immensely pleased with thmselves, Ben brandishing his prize certificate, complete with GSK logo.

    http://www.sciencewritersawards.co.uk/science/past/2003/gallery/cat1-L.htm

    Ben walks away with two thousand grand – don’t know whether he got expenses but he certainly got a banquet, and was made to feel good. No big commercial sponsor, no grand award ceremony.

    “Do all the other recipients of the award declare it in their writings?”

    No, of course, they don’t. But the point of Ben’s article, is that journalists pretend that they are above it all.

    “Have you left comments on their blogs saying that they should?”

    A bit like Santa Claus managing to deposit presents with every child? But Pallab Ghosh has an interesting Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallab_Ghosh

  135. John Stone 15 June 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    Sorry two grand, not two thousand grand…

    But the truth is that the award winning article – allegedly the best scientific article of the year – was nothing special except in terms of its political effect.

    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/sciences/story/0,,1104095,00.html

    Not only were the four cited studies flawed, but so was the fundamental premise either that epidemiology could demonstrate that Wakefield hypothesis was wrong in individual cases, or that the rising trend in autism – in so far as it did not correlate with the introduction of MMR – might actually mask its effect at the population level. We now have a warning about this from Bernadine Healy.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2008/05/12/couricandco/entry4090144.shtml

    Healy suggests that it is necessary to study sub-groups, which is exactly what Wakefield was doing.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2008/05/12/couricandco/entry4090144.shtml

    And what has happened is that autistic children with gut problems are being denied treatment because they have been proved not to exist on statistical grounds.

    http://adc.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/adc.2007.122937v1

    Admittedly Ben may not have been responsible for the most disgusting aspect of his article as it appeared in the newspaper: the picture of Isabella Thomas, mother of two MMR damaged children standing drenched in the rain outside No 10 Downing Street.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/vo031119/debtext/31119-43.htm

    Is there anything more nauseating than casual fascism of the newspaper photo editor? Shame!

  136. wilsontown 16 June 2008 at 10:06 am #

    I’m afraid that I think Ross is quite right here. Ben Goldacre works at the Institute of Psychiatry. So what? There seems to be an attempt to smear Goldacre by suggesting that because the IoP receives industry funding, that must influence Goldacre. As I’ve tried to point out, that is ridiculous. Any academic institution attracts funding from a large number of different bodies. It would be impossible for Goldacre to declare every entity that funds research at the IoP.

    This stuff about the science-writing prize is similar. There’s nothing to suggest any real conflict of interest, so you have to create one via a low-level conspiracy theory.

  137. ross 16 June 2008 at 11:35 am #

    JS – The site you link to states “The Awards, of £2,000 each, are supported by GlaxoSmithKline, the Medical Research Council, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust.”

    Assuming that GSK stumped up a quarter of thecosts of the awards then the price of being a big pharma stooge is £500. And you still think this is ‘sponsorship’ and ‘patronage’?

  138. John Stone 16 June 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    Wisontown

    As I have already pointed out you publish your institutional affiliation on your website and BG does not publish equivalent on his. If it is no big deal, why is it not there? It is precisely these things which are significant according to BG’s BMJ article. The stuff about third rock from the sun and the Milky Way are just whimsy – how about the hard professional details?

    Ross

    GSK are declared to be “the major sponsors of the awards” and their logo appears on the certificate BG is brandishing in the photograph, as he receives it from GSK director Dr Alastair Benbow. £500 is also very nice. And grins all round, please note.

    The logo on the awards is a mark of non-independence.

  139. ross 16 June 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    JS – don’t you think that if big pharma were trying to subvert the independence of journalists they’d do it in a slightly more discrete way than via a public awards ceremony? And that their pay scale for shills would be a bit more competitive?

  140. John Stone 16 June 2008 at 8:02 pm #

    Ross

    No, they were obviously promoting themselves, as benefactors of science and humanity, while fostering good relations with the journalistic profession. I would guess that ABPI/PMCPA code which was established following the Commons Select Health Committee report ‘The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry’ would prevent them from doing it now.

    http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhealth/42/42.pdf

    You see at first glance it looks really good and philanthropic: then you realise the prime aim is to make money, while journalists like Ben Goldacre do not think they have to declare it.

  141. ross 16 June 2008 at 9:25 pm #

    Hold on JS, I’m confused. You said “The point is not primarily whether BG is biased, though he might be, but transparency”.

    So, BG points out that he won the award here:

    http://www.badscience.net/about-dr-ben-goldacre/

    And if anyone was interested, like you, they could Google the details and find out the whole tedious non-story.

    But now that isn’t the problem. The problem is that a commercial organisation sponsors an award to promote itself.

    Well, it’s not really up there with Woodward and Bernstein.

  142. John Stone 17 June 2008 at 7:33 am #

    Ross

    Goldacre mentions that he won the award, not that the “major sponsor” was GSK. The fact that you could research it – which is what I did – is a red-herring. In the case of another award Goldacre jokes about the small amount of money. Perhaps we can afford the same “wry smile” to BG as he affords to other journalists in his article.

    The Health Committee found the pharmaceutical industry’s manipulation of journalism to be a serious matter. And yes, the point, is transparency, because it is at least a minimal gesture towards admitting there is a problem.

    As to the dodgy science in the article, Goldacre remains profoundly silent.

  143. John Stone 17 June 2008 at 8:15 am #

    Ross,

    Incidentally, I don’t think you are confused, you are just wasting everyone’s time.

  144. MinorityReport 17 June 2008 at 10:05 am #

    There are other questions than the GSK award, and Goldacre’s refusal to discuss John Stone’s points. Goldacre has always written and been presented by the Guardian as an ostensibly independent journo and NHS doctor who can be trusted on matters of science – unlike his targets, who are usually portrayed as venal or moronic. So when he attacked another journo who had problems with wi-fi for instance, were people aware Goldacre was not being entirely transparent about his own institutional background?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jun/02/badscience.comment

    John Stone mentioned here that the government and mobile phone industry research centre is based at the Institute of Psychiatry. Why not at a centre for bioelectromagnetic research, unless the aim is to distract from the biological issues around emf?
    http://www.bioinitiative.org/report/index.htm

    Goldacre’s status as a psychiatrist at the Institute is a bit like a controversial scientific discovery (such as continental drift and tectonic plates). First it’s announced
    http://homeopathy4health.wordpress.com/2008/01/02/goldacres-conflicts-of-interest-exposed/
    and immediately denied (see the combative and vehement Andrew claiming it’s a fabrication). Eventually, it’s admitted but said to be of no importance (wilsontown above). Finally, everyone will agree they knew all along, and it’s a jolly good thing. The Goldacre phenomenon is given a thorough workout in Martin Walker’s Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism: free download available at http://www.slingshotpublications.com/dwarfs.html
    Despite the conspiratorial stance, and a lengthy section on Patrick Holford which I skipped, the alleged web of conflicts of interest uncovered by Walker makes interesting reading.

  145. ross 17 June 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    “Goldacre mentions that he won the award, not that the “major sponsor” was GSK. The fact that you could research it – which is what I did – is a red-herring.”

    I don’t think you mean red-herring, but whatever. As I said originally, the award is mentioned on BG’s blog and if anyone was interested in finding out the whole tedious non-story they could do as the information is in the public domain.

    When it is pointed out to you that the information is in the public domain, your point about ‘transparency’ seems to have changed to a point about either a) GSK or big pharma buying the influence of BG or b) a commercial organisation using an awards ceremony to advertise itself.

    If you are concerned about a) then please provide some evidence. (There isn’t a case to answer until you do so there’s really no need to provide evidence of BG’s concerns over the conduct of big pharma, the manipulation of trial data, the medicalisation of society etc, but here’s one to be going on with:)

    http://www.badscience.net/2008/03/uk-government-does-what-i-tell-them/

    JS – I’m confused as to why you think you have a smoking gun. You take every opportunity to shoehorn it into blog comments on the flimsiest of pretexts and then say that I’m a timewaster!

  146. John Stone 17 June 2008 at 5:31 pm #

    Ross

    I do not know whether John B considers that I am shoehorning by posting on his blog or whether you are. The point is just another irrelevance. I have pointed out the funding of Ben Goldacre’s 2003 ABSW award, and the institution for which he works which is apparently unwelcome in certain circles. I have also pointed BG’s expressed view on the topic of pharma and institutional patronage in his article ‘Journalists, anything to declare’ and I detect inconsistency.

  147. ross 18 June 2008 at 7:37 am #

    JS – this was a discussion about the evidence for or against the ‘MMR causes autims’ hypothesis which you derailed in comment 79 with an irreleevent aside abot Goldacre. You have detected an inconsistency, nobody else has. I note that your concern about conflicts of interest don’t seem so apparent when related to Wakefield and Stott. Or is it only an issue when big pharma is involved?

  148. John Stone 18 June 2008 at 7:42 am #

    I have just turned up a profile of Goldacre from the Telegraph earlier this year. It is interesting because it promotes BG as a cultural guru and it places his influence on the media presentation of the MMR issue as his leading achievement:

    “Public understanding of science is worse now than it was fifty years ago, says Ben Goldacre, scourge of science frauds everywhere. He spoke to Kate Stein about MMR, the “two cultures” of science and the humanities, and Brazil nuts. Additional reporting by Tom Chivers.”

    Actually, there is not very much about MMR in the article:

    “His most famous battle has, of course, been with the anti-vaccine campaigners over the MMR “controversy” of recent years. “If you look at what’s been covered, trivial and often completely unpublished alleged laboratory findings suggesting that MMR may cause autism or bowel problems have been given blanket media coverage,” he sighs.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/04/06/scigoldacre106.xml

    This really does not present the true position (straw argument?), when what we have seen is the systematic stifling in the media of contrary views:

    http://fionafox.blogspot.com/2007/07/why-we-need-best-journalism-on-public.html

    Alluding to the CP Snow controversy has no relevance in todays culture. The real problem is the dominance of PR culture in the media. Goldacre, himself, has helped to drive out informed debate with his “quack-busting” style, and most notably in relation to MMR – he prefers to ignore the criticism than answer it (which, frankly, I do not believe he can do).

    Given his media position, knowing a bit more about him than the fact that he is resident of the Milky Way is essential.

  149. John Stone 18 June 2008 at 7:55 am #

    The real problem for Ben is lack of deference to institutions:

    “He harks back to the famous lecture, given in 1959 by C P Snow, on the existence of “two cultures” in British society – science and the humanities, and how the two exist almost in contempt of each other. Goldacre believes things have only got worse since then. “At least in Snow’s era, science was just ignored – now people feel entitled to wade in and pass comment. It seems that science is being deliberately misrepresented and undermined.””

    So, if your child get maimed you should just doff you cap, and be very humble, because BG can prove by statistics that it did not happen.

  150. MinorityReport 18 June 2008 at 9:40 am #

    It might be relevant that Goldacre’s father is Professor Michael Goldacre, of The Unit of Health Care Epidemiology within Oxford University’s Department of Public Health:

    http://www.publichealth.ox.ac.uk/units/hce

    Listening to individual patients and parents is not high on the public health research agenda. “We are building a new world.”

  151. John Stone 19 June 2008 at 6:15 am #

    MinorityReport

    “It might be relevant that Goldacre’s father is Professor Michael Goldacre, of The Unit of Health Care Epidemiology within Oxford University’s Department of Public Health..”

    Is that so? I never previously had confirmation of that, although I have never heard a denial either. Wikipedia used to mention his mother (apparently an Australian pop-singer), but not his father. The entry has beeen pruned.

    You will still only read in Wikipedia that Ben is a junior doctor in London – there is a certain amount of information about his previous academic and professional career, but not about his present appointment.

  152. John Stone 19 June 2008 at 11:43 am #

    It is certainly an interesting issue as to why – if Ben Goldacre is son of Prof Michael J Goldacre – it should never have been mentioned:

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1732321

    and:

    Miller E, Goldacre M, Pugh S, Colville A, Farrington P, Flower A, Nash J, MacFarlane L, Tettmar R.

    “Cases of aseptic meningitis associated with measles/mumps/rubella vaccine were sought in thirteen UK health districts following a reported cluster in Nottingham which suggested a risk of 1 in 4000 doses, substantially higher than previous estimates based on cases reported by paediatricians (4 per million). Cases were ascertained by obtaining vaccination records of children with aseptic meningitis diagnosed from cerebrospinal fluid samples submitted to Public Health Laboratories or discharged from hospital with a diagnosis of viral meningitis. Both methods identified vaccination 15-35 days before onset as a significant risk factor and therefore indicative of a causal association. With both, half the aseptic meningitis cases identified in children aged 12-24 months were vaccine-associated with onset 15-35 days after vaccine. The study confirmed that the true risk was substantially higher than suggested by case reports from paediatricians, probably about 1 in 11,000 doses. However, the possibility that the aseptic meningitis induced by vaccination was largely asymptomatic and a chance laboratory finding in children investigated for other clinical conditions, particularly febrile convulsions, could not be excluded. Comparison of national reports of virus-positive mumps meningitis cases before and after the introduction of this vaccine indicated that the risk from wild mumps was about 4-fold higher than from vaccine. Altogether, 28 vaccine-associated cases were identified, all in recipients of vaccines containing the Urabe mumps strain. The absence of cases in recipients of vaccine containing the Jeryl Lynn strain, despite its 14% market share, suggested a higher risk from Urabe vaccine. A prospective adverse event surveillance system using the study methods is currently being established to assess the risk, if any, from the Jeryl Lynn strain which is now the only mumps vaccine used in the UK.”

  153. John Stone 19 June 2008 at 2:34 pm #

    “The government’s white paper on public health, Our Healthier Nation (published in 1999), announced the establishment of a Public Health Observatory (PHO) in each government region. The contract for the PHO for the South East Region was awarded, in 2000, to a joint bid from the Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology and the NHS’s Public Health Resource Unit (which is also part of the Oxford Institute of Health Sciences). Michael Goldacre is Co-director of the South East Public Health Observatory, with Alison Hill who is the Director of the Oxford NHS Public Health Resource Unit. The Public Health Observatory’s remit is to enhance the development and use of information about public health by drawing together data from different sources, including social, economic, environmental and health data. It is also charged with developing evidence to underpin programmes aimed at reducing health inequalities. The Observatory is intended to make its work publicly and widely available through web-publishing. It is at http://www.sepho.org.uk

    http://www.uhce.ox.ac.uk/sepho.html

  154. ross 19 June 2008 at 7:13 pm #

    Gosh, it’s like the Da Vinci code isn’t it? Do you think Michael Goldacre is an albino monk?

    “It is certainly an interesting issue as to why – if Ben Goldacre is son of Prof Michael J Goldacre – it should never have been mentioned”

    Only in your world JS, only in your world.

  155. MinorityReport 20 June 2008 at 9:56 am #

    Goldacre thinks family background is highly relevant if it can be used to smear critics of the government and industry position on wifi:

    “The Independent has put its green columnist Julia Stephenson on to Panorama’s Wi-Fi scare story: a charming beef heiress living in Chelsea on a trust fund, who believes her symptoms of tiredness and headache are caused by electromagnetic radiation from phones and Wi-Fi.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jun/02/badscience.comment

    A wonderful Bad Science spoof here:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/27/guardian_use_me_as_a_mouthpiece/

    (or is this a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ moment?)

  156. John Stone 20 June 2008 at 10:00 am #

    No, in Ben’s world too. You don’t think he would concern himslelf with such background if we were talking about a nutritionist?

  157. John Stone 20 June 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    Indeed, we have here a remarkable circumstance. For the last half dozen years Ben has had this high profile column in the Guardian every week, almost invariably with an epidemiological dimension, while his father putatively is Oxford professor of epidemiology an co-director of SEPHO. And yet this is not part of his profile and it is never remarked on in the press.

    I recall that some years back Kingsley and Martin Amis protested at the suggestion that they pose together for a joint National Portrait Gallery portrait, but they did not exactly keep it secret that they were related.

  158. John Stone 20 June 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    Prof Michael J Goldacre’s Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Oxford seems to be exclusively funded by the Department of Health:

    http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/327/7415/596

    Ben Goldacre enters into autobiography here:

    “But is colour preference cultural or genetic? The “girls preferring pink” thing is not set in stone, and there are good reasons to suspect it is culturally determined. I have always been led to believe by my father – the toughest man in the world – that pink is the correct colour for men’s shirts.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/aug/25/genderissues

  159. ross 20 June 2008 at 4:17 pm #

    JS – I really don’t know where you are going with this but your last post is clutching at the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I honestly cannot fathom what you are trying so hard to demonstrate so there’s not a lot I can add or debate with you about. Let’s talk evidence etc. on the other thread instead. I’m pushed for time at the moment so I’ll get back to you and CT over the weekend sometime.

  160. John Stone 20 June 2008 at 5:27 pm #

    Ross

    Of course you can’t, but then you won’t even say who you are. And the fact that you pretend that can’t see the relevance of that only goes to make the point. What is your interest? It is certainly not transparency.

  161. John Stone 20 June 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Sorry:

    Of course you can’t, but then you won’t even say who you are. And the fact that you pretend that you can’t see the relevance of that only goes to make the point. What is your interest? It is certainly not transparency.

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