[UPDATED 7/2/09] MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh.

February 5, 2009 at 10:55 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Dangerously Wrong) (, , , , , )

[I’ve updated this post to include more links to blogs covering this, and to add information on the serious complications of measles, mumps, and rubella. There’s also a link to Jeni’s ‘response’ to the Bad Scientists.]

I was going to post some ramblings on the dangers of homophily, but I’ve just found out that LBC have contacted Ben Goldacre (or had their lawyers contact him) to complain about a segment of Jeni’s show that appeared on the Bad Science blog along with (brief) commentary from Ben. I think this is a bad move – LBC should really be apologising to the nation for allowing Jeni to pollute the airwaves with ignorant tosh about vaccines, a subject she seems to know very little about. I don’t know why LBC chose to send in the lawyers, but Legal Chill is a pretty disgusting way of attempting to silence criticism.

What I think LBC should be doing is making the clip freely available so we can all discuss it. Here, though, is one highlight referred to by a reader of the BadScience blog:

“Is there anything wrong with having measles?”

Well, only if you consider (for example) death or subacute sclerosing panencephalitis to be serious. Other than that sort of awkward complication, Jeni is right – there’s nothing wrong with having measles. [EDIT: there’s a handy post by the Lay Scientist on the dangers of measles – here. And more at the bottom of this updated post.]

Here’s something from Jeni’s blog:

Injecting tiny babies with substances that may compromise their immune system needs to be looked at not shouted down.

Uh-huh. Actually, Jeni, multiple vaccines do not compromise the immune system. “By providing protection against a number of bacterial and viral pathogens, vaccines prevent the “weakening” of the immune system and consequent secondary bacterial infections occasionally caused by natural infection.” [Offit – PDF available.] The concept of immune overload was also referred to by Cassandra Jardine last December in the Telegraph (which I only mention because I blogged it).

Here’s a bit more:

Single jabs on demand? Why is that a problem?

Erm – because spacing out the vaccinations leaves children unprotected from serious, preventable diseases? For example, following a schedule of single measles jabs (e.g. measles one year, mumps the next, rubella the year after that) leaves children exposed to two-out-of-three of these diseases for 12 months and to one-out-of-three for 24 months. Which is clearly a recklessly stupid course of action.

Here’s something else from Jeni’s blog:

Should anybody from BAD SCIENCE read this I urge you to continue the debate, and if it gets too heated there is always the option of turning me off. [My italics.]

Clearly not a sentiment shared by LBC and their lawyers…

EDIT: More, more, more…

This has now been covered by a number of bloggers: biggerpills.com; DrRachie (who has excerpts on Youtube); and Dr* T and Holfordwatch have fuller lists of bloggers covering this story (Holfordwatch also have a transcript of part of the broadcast here, with more on layscience.net). A couple more: nontoxic.org.uk; Political Scientist; and a picture tells a thousand words.

Jeni’s blog is here [EDIT 10/2/09: the page is down – see the Quackometer blog for more.] and she has support from John Scudamore and John Stone of JABS. The only problem I have with that is that homophily breeds ignorance. EDIT: Jeni has now posted a response to the criticism of her spouting dangerously wrong bullshit about MMR: here; and rather than engage with the perfectly legitimate criticisms, has decided to complain about sarcasm and arrogance. If there’s a point, you can guarantee Jeni will miss it. People are not nitpicking over semantics, people are not unduly angry with Jeni, people are genuinely concerned about the way LBC have given Jeni a platform to misinform the public about serious public health issues such as vaccination. Jeni is ill-informed on the subject and as a result, her listeners have been exposed to misinformation – and it is a very important subject indeed. Measles is by no means trivial, and neither are mumps or rubella come to that. In fact, although one of the concerns about MMR is the mistaken belief that it causes autism, high rates of autism have been observed in children with congenital rubella infection – here is a paper on this topic. There’s also this one. Here’s a PDF showing (on page 6) the rates of complications of measles in comparison with vaccination and (on page 2) graphs showing the rates of measles, mumps, and rubella prior to and since vaccines were introduced. This PDF presents a rough overview of the evidence on MMR and autism: here (note that 25 studies show no link and of the three that do, one has been retracted). [BPSDB]

The Transcripts:

Part 1 – Science Punk
Part 2 – The Lay Scientist
Part 3 – PodBlack Cat
Part 4 – The Skeptic’s Book
Part 5 – Quackometer
Part 6 – Holford Watch


  1. Martin said,

    Show is up on my blog, get it while you can

  2. Alan Henness said,

  3. Jeni Barnett admits that she failed to act as a responsible broadcaster, following ridiculous LBC broadcast about MMR: Update « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    […] jdc of jdc325: MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh. […]

  4. pj said,

    Is it just me or is badscience.net down at the moment? That’s not a good sign.

  5. Paul said,

    Yes, it’s down but badscience.net is hosted by known good guys who are unlikely to have just caved in to legal pressure. Probably a technical fault unless Goldacre refused to remove the file (which was a copyright infringement, after all) or something.

  6. Forest Pines said,

    I was a bit worried too when I saw the site was down; but as the story’s been widely reported, including boingboing.net, the server may well just be having problems with overloading.

  7. marcdraco said,

    It’s back up now, but I can’t help thinking Ben brought some of this on himself – as unpopular as that (and the rest of this) sounds.

    You can’t just steal copyright material and then claim “fair use” even if it’s complete bollocks and needs to be exposed as such. This is a fault of copyright law (and probably needs to be challenged) but the law is on LBC’s side; not Ben’s.

    This is completely wrong of course, but there you have it.

    We also have to consider the other side of the coin. What if the roles were reversed?

    If Jeni took something, say the entire text of Bad Science (the book) and posted it to her blog with commentary about how bad and wrong it was, what would Ben do?

    Or where Bad Science is concerned, what about taking the entire text of Dianetics and slagging it off chapter by verse..?

    We can’t do it – but neither can they! The cure for a bad argument is a better one; and the cure for idiots like Jeni is to have them sanctioned by management – as it is, all that Ben’s naive bleating is doing is effectively strengthening their position.

    I’ll look at this in more detail on my own blog later.

  8. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for the comments all.

    The index at http://www.badscienceblogs.net/ looked ace when I checked it just now – tons of posts about Jeni Barnett. And one of the referrers on my blog stats is a Google search for “Jeni Barnett talks bollocks”.

  9. Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering - the role of homeopathy *update* « gimpy’s blog said,

    […] jdc of jdc325: MMR Scaremongering From Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics. Ugh. […]

  10. jdc325 said,

    Gimpy’s blog (see pingback above) also has a list of blogs covering this. The Quackometer blog has a post up, as does Orac. EDIT: and Black Triangle and JQH. More here: http://www.badscienceblogs.net/, including DC: here and HolfordWatch.

  11. Some Rebuttals to Jeni Barnett’s Canards in Her LBC Radio MMR Segment « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science said,

    […] that lends support to the safety profile of childhood vaccinations. jdc’s earlier post MMR Scaremongering from Jeni Barnett: LBC Use Legal Chill Tactics has been updated to provide a good discussion of the potential complications and sequelae that may […]

  12. dvnutrix said,

    Breaking news: Brian Deer discusses Andrew Wakefield in the Sunday Times and there are claims that

    THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.
    Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

    All of which adds to the discussion of what was known and when. It undermines the notion that there was a strong case to answer based on Wakefield’s research and makes it all the more disappointing that it managed to generate such a furore.

  13. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for that dvnutrix – I found some of the discrepancies between the medical records and what was reported in the Lancet paper pretty shocking.

  14. jdc325 said,

    Might it be worth suggesting via your blog that everyone sends a letter to the members of the board of global radio: http://www.thisisglobal.com/radio/contact-us/

    As well as everything you’ve said about the potential damage to public health caused by Jeni’s broadcast, the letter could suggest something along the lines that it undermines their support of children’s charities: http://www.thisisglobal.com/charities/

    And perhaps suggest to them that they make donation to a relevant charity. e.g.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense-National_Deafblind_and_Rubella_Association

  15. zeno said,

    I have complained to OfCom, but haven’t received even an acknowledgement. Anyone else had any response? I can’t find an email address to contact, so I’ll phone them tomorrow.

  16. Mary Branscombe said,

    response from Ofcom today: 190 complaints, ‘on balance’ the programme contained ‘sufficent’ opposing arguments. complaint not upheld.

  17. Alan Henness (zeno) said,

    I got my response from them today as well. I still have no idea if and how they considered my complaint, although I don’t expect it was any different to all the others.

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