Briffa – as bad as Holford

May 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Big Pharma, Bloggers, Briffa, Nutritionism, Patrick Holford, Supplements) (, , , , , , )

I always thought that Dr John Briffa was like a more grown-up version of Patrick Holford. He was just a doctor writing diet books and a magazine column – as far as I knew, he was not employed by supplement companies, recommended no inappropriate allergy tests and generally sounded fairly sensible. He’s blown it now though.

Now, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that those of the pro-vaccine lobby will want to claim that this blog is scaremongering by making out that MMR vaccination causes autism. So, just to be clear, I’m not saying that at all. 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

Uh, John – that is scaremongering. You have claimed there is experimental evidence which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism. Are you talking about the discredited paper, published in the Lancet and written by discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield? So, a discredited paper (retracted by most of its authors) and some anecdotes from parents justify a claim that MMR vaccination might cause autism. You know how that will be taken by readers of your blog – and please don’t pretend that you don’t. Suggesting that MMR vaccination might cause autism is reckless and stupid. I expected better from you Dr Briffa.

I might blog this properly later on today. I didn’t want to waste time on another daft, hypocritical and scaremongering nutritionist who casts doubt on the significance of scientific findings (except when they suit his purpose), pontificates on MMR-autism and uses different standards for evaluating scientific evidence depending on whether it is a product he already approves of or not. But I think he needs to be challenged. In case you are interested in reading a bit more about Briffa, I have included some handy links below:

Holford Watch

Dr Crippen

Away From The Bench

Away From The Bench #2

Apathy Sketchpad

Apathy Sketchpad 2

Apathy Sketchpad 3

Dr Aust

Dr Aust 2

Left Brain/Right brain

PJ

Black Triangle

HolfordWatch guest on Black Triangle

Me on aspartame! (Heh – nearly forgot to include this one. It’s an early, primitive example of my work – please don’t laugh).

AP Gaylard on living with uncertainty.

Coracle on Briffa and Arnica.

Me on Dr John Briffa’s Alternative Mindset.

15 Comments

  1. coracle said,

    :) Nice work. I hope you do blog it fully later.

  2. draust said,

    Gosh. They do all seem to be coming out of the woodwork, don’t they? I guess the anti-vaxoids must feel they are getting through with their evidence free narrative… maybe it has something to do with the Poling case, and the imminent UK visit of David Kirby.

    I love that bit about “misusing science” to “silence debate”. Shouldn’t that be “USING science” to “refute nonsensical and fallacious arguments?”

    I see he also uses the “Skeptics have no compassion” line that Orac has been blogging about. I think this is the latest re-framing of that old favourite “Won’t somebody think of the CHILDREN?”

    As I said on Orac’s blog: bullshitting people, especially for money, does not equal compassion.

    On the plus side, you do seem to have got under the man’s skin! Which considering how thick his skin is (not to mention ego-armoured), is quite an achievement

  3. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comment Dr Aust. Thanks for the link too – I don’t always get round to reading Orac, but I think Respectful Insolence is an excellent blog.

  4. dvnutrix said,

    But this w/end, let’s hope we are not subjected to a Denis Campbell interview of David Kirby that is as insightful as last year’s interview of Andrew Wakefield.

    Having looked at the Briffa piece, it is extraordinary that he is actually accusing Horton of lying.

    it appears Richard Horton is lying (or has a very bad memory indeed). Jim Moody suggests there’s a case for Richard Horton himself to be up in front of the GMC, on a charge of giving false testimony.

    …Hands up now, how many of you out there knew about the fact that the editor of the Lancet medical journal (one of the most ‘respected’ medical journals in the World) appears to have committed perjury?

    I’m very surprised that Briffa is even mentioning the Hewitson research, given the information that Kev Leitch posted about the conflicts of interest and the fine discussions of the primate research by both Orace and Steve Novella. And as for this:

    The evidence used to persuade us of the safety with regard to autism is simply inadequate.

    – gah. I would disagree, but I would find that easier to accept if Briffa had given a summary of the reasons that he has for dismissing the IOM report, the Cochrane review etc. What’s the aphorism about being unable to reason someone out of a position that they didn’t ever reason themselves into?

  5. Autism Blog - Dr John Briffa is wronger than wrong on vaccines and Hannah Poling | Left Brain/Right Brain said,

    […] And Briffa’s take on vaccines stands out, even among media nutritionists. JDC takes a broader look at Briffa’s take on autism, but I’m going to focus on Briffa’s claim […]

  6. John Briffa said,

    DrAust

    “I guess the anti-vaxoids must feel they are getting through with their evidence free narrative…”

    Can I ask, for the record, whether you are claiming or suggesting here that I am anti-vaccination? I’m not accusing of doing so. But if this is your meaning, please so say so.

  7. draust said,

    Dr John Briffa

    Your piece did seem to fit into an “upsurge” of anti-vaccination reporting and rhetoric in the last week or two. It caught my eye partly because it was the first thing of yours I remembered having read on vaccination.

    Do I take your query to mean you are pro-vaccination? If so, I am pleased to hear it. But I would imagine that your many readers who incline strongly to the “natural therapies good, conventional medicine bad” view (if one can caricature it that way) will surely have concluded from a read of what you wrote that you have doubts about whether the MMR vaccine is safe.

    Take your last paragraph:

    “Now, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that those of the pro-vaccine lobby will want to claim that this blog is scaremongering by making out that MMR vaccination causes autism. So, just to be clear, I’m not saying that at all. 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. The evidence used to persuade us of the safety with regard to autism is simply inadequate. The fact is, I don’t know whether MMR causes autism or not. But then again, it seems neither do those who insist it is safe.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. The evidence used to persuade us of the safety with regard to autism is simply inadequate. The fact is, I don’t know whether MMR causes autism or not. But then again, it seems neither do those who insist it is safe.”

    Aren’t most readers going to paraphrase this as:

    “I’m not going to say flat out that it can cause autism, but I don’t think MMR is safe”

    And several of the statements you make are clearly inaccurate. Post the original Wakefield furore, lots of extra research was funded and done in several countries, especially in the US, to look to see whether the idea of a thimerosal-autism link, or an MMR-autism link, stood up. The verdict from all reputable peer-reviewed studies was that it didn’t.

  8. John Briffa said,

    draust

    “Your piece did seem to fit into an “upsurge” of anti-vaccination reporting and rhetoric in the last week or two. It caught my eye partly because it was the first thing of yours I remembered having read on vaccination.”

    Are you suggesting my blog was timed? If so, I can inform you it was not. It was, actually triggered by people taking me on about the issue after I mentioned it in a blog about statistical significance. I wasn’t waiting in the wings, waiting for some upsurge. But I have been keeping a vague eye on the area for some time. How could I not? It’s part of my job as a doctor to be up on the research, I think.

    “Do I take your query to mean you are pro-vaccination?”

    I can’t answer the question because it depends on the individual. Like good medicine usually does. I have never attempted to dissuade people, say, from having their child vaccinated, though.

    I do think the doubts about the safety of MMR with regard to autism are legitimate. Why? Well partly because of the anecdotal evidence and some other evidence (e.g. the primate work) but mainly because I believe the science as it stands is simply inadequate for the purposes of proving MMR does not cause autism beyond reasonable doubt.

    “I’m not going to say flat out that it can cause autism, but I don’t think MMR is safe”

    Actually, I think that people would take my piece to mean: “I’m not going to say flat out that MMR can cause autism, but we don’t know it doesn’t, because we don’t have the evidence that answers this question.”

    I was also suggesting, of course, that in the light of this inadequate evidence, we shouldn’t ignore the anecdotal reports. And by the way, I do think those with the belief their child has been damaged by vaccines should be treated more compassionately than they generally are, though this is a side-issue here.

    “And several of the statements you make are clearly inaccurate. Post the original Wakefield furore, lots of extra research was funded and done in several countries, especially in the US, to look to see whether the idea of a thimerosal-autism link, or an MMR-autism link, stood up. The verdict from all reputable peer-reviewed studies was that it didn’t.”

    It’s obviously mpossible for me to refute this of course, because you haven’t cited any actual evidence. You’ve merely alluded to it. Can you cite the evidence to which you allude?

  9. draust said,

    Dr B:

    The information you asked about is in the US Institute of Medicine’s 2004 report Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism which you can download from here, or you can look at it page-by-page here – the relevant bit is pages 6 and 7 of the Executive Summary, the section on “Causality”.

    The conclusions of this (no causal relationship between MMR or thimerosal exposure and autism) can be contrasted with their earlier reports from 2001. They make clear that they have firmed up the “no link between MMR or thimerosal and autism” conclusion specifically on the basis of the newer epidemiology, and also due to the discrediting and retraction of Wakefield’s work. All the citations are there, though the references are elsewhere in the report.

    Since the IoM put this report out in 2004 I would say the most salient further development has been the ongoing revelations of just how incredibly shoddy Andrew Wakefield’s, and Unigenetics’ laboratory methods were, e.g. in the US Cedillo autism Proceedings.

    Re. the anecdotal reporting, the problem is that “vaccines caused the autism” has now become a kind of propagating meme within a section of the ASD (parents) community. Faced with something truly awful, and largely inexplicable cause-wise, parents can now adopt a whole belief system that says “there is a reason why this happened and it is because THEY lied to you and poisoned your child”. Adopting the belief has become, by a kind of bizarre inversion, a way for parents to feel empowered, as an autism parent discusses here.

  10. Apathy Sketchpad » Blog Archive » A Briffa’s Wrong said,

    […] I agree with jdc about that quote. And while the reason that the debate rages on is usually put down to the likes of Dr Wakefield and the parents who believe their children were damaged by MMR, the real guilty parties here have been our Governments whose intransigence regarding proper, definitive research in the area has inevitably left a huge question-mark hanging over MMR. […]

  11. DT said,

    Thanks, Dr A. Just for those who can’t be bothered to find the IOM report summary (and for Dr Briffa) here is the relevant section:

    Studies examining the association between MMR and autism, including nine controlled observational studies (DeStefano et al., 2004; DeWilde et al., 2001; Farrington et al., 2001; Fombonne and Chakrabarti, 2001; Madsen et al., 2002; Makela et al., 2002; Takahashi et al., 2003; Taylor et al., 1999, 2002), three ecological studies (Dales et al., 2001; Gillberg and Heijbel, 1998; Kaye et al., 2001), and two studies based on passive reporting system in Finland (Patja et al., 2000; Peltola et al., 1998), consistently showed evidence of no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Two studies reported findings of a positive association between MMR and autism. The first was an ecological study (Geier and Geier, 2004a) that reported a potential positive correlation between the number of doses of measles-containing vaccine and the cases of autism reported to the special education system in the 1980s. The second was a study of passive reporting data by the same authors (Geier and Geier, 2003c) that reported a positive correlation between autism reports in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) and estimated administered doses of MMR. However, these two studies are characterized by serious methodological flaws and their analytic methods were nontransparent, making their results uninterpretable, and therefore noncontributory with respect to causality (see text for full discussion). The case series study by Wakefield and colleagues (Wakefield et al., 1998), which originally raised the hypothesis linking MMR and autism, is uninformative with respect to causality. Based on this body of evidence, the committee concludes that the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism. This conclusion is consistent with the finding in the committee’s previous report on MMR and autism (IOM, 2001a).

    Now Dr Briffa may feel this amounts to nothing, but I don’t. I wonder if he is familiar with the Geiers’ work and the way in which they manipulate data? Dr Briffa is dipping his toe into a large pond here, and he admits he has no track record of being able to swim in these waters.

  12. Dr Aust said,

    Careful, jdc. As I recall Dr B considers himself a real expert on aspartame. If he ever finishes re-writing the book on MMR he may be back…

  13. Dr John Briffa on testing for food sensitivity: applied kinesiology, dowsing and IgG tests « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    […] 8, 2008 · No Comments JDC reports that he “always thought that Dr John Briffa was like a more grown-up version of Patrick […]

  14. Dyson said,

    Just a note to say that the debate continues about MMR on Briffa’s blog. He now has John Stone, Cybertiger and Clifford Miller for support. Whack-a-mole is a poor description of what is going on at the moment – at least whack-a-mole is fun.
    http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2008/06/23/bmj-article-explores-the-cosy-relationship-that-drug-companies-often-have-with-doctors-considered-%e2%80%98key-opinion-leaders%e2%80%99/#comment-101840

  15. AltMed Support for Wakefield Continues « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] also indulged in some MMR scaremongering of his own (Briffa’s original post), which I covered here, here, and here [note: the first of my blog posts includes links to many other blogs covering […]

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