MMR, LBC, EDM: Initial Thoughts

February 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, government, Media) (, , , , , , , , )

There is an Early Day Motion that refers to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and also to LBC radio (London’s Biggest Conversation). Ben Goldacre discusses it here. You can find the EDM here. You can view the list of MPs in alphabetical order and check to see whether yours has signed the EDM. If they haven’t, then you can write to them using this website: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/.

It’s also possible to group the EDM signatures by party – this shows 11 Liberal Democrats, 15 Labour MPs, and 2 Conservatives. Given that the parties have, respectively, 63 MPs, 350 Members of Parliament, and 193 Members, this means that 17 per cent of Liberal Democrat MPs have signed, with 4% of Labour MPs attaching their names to the list and only 1% of Conservatives putting their John Hancock on the EDM.

I wrote to my MP and I suggest you do the same if you haven’t already. Here’s an example of the kind of correspondence you get between MP and Whiny Sceptic Constituent:

[Me] I would like to encourage you to sign the EDM regarding MMR vaccination and sensationalist media coverage.

[MP] Thank you for your email.

I very much support the thrust of the email and I certainly have faith
in the MMR vaccination which both of my children have had. However I
certainly respect those who have a different opinion. I am afraid that
I do not know what the presenter on LBC said; would you be able to let
me know?

Best wishes

[Me] Thank you for your response. I certainly respect other people’s right to hold an alternative opinion, but I also think that alternative opinions that run contrary to the evidence can sometimes be actively dangerous – particularly when they are in the realm of public health and are espoused by someone who has a platform for their views such as LBC. I like the wording of the EDM here: “…recognises the right of Jeni Barnett as a parent to make her own judgement about vaccinations for her own children but implores her and others in the media to act more responsibly when making comments in the public domain; and further expresses its hope that in the future reporting the issue of MMR will be less sensationalist and more evidence-based.”

Regarding what was said during the broadcast on LBC, there are transcripts available online and I believe that the audio is also available on some websites (e.g., Youtube).

Kind regards

[MP] Thank you for your further email. I am very sorry for the delay in replying to you but have given this matter much thought. I think that your comments are perfectly fair and sensible, but I just feel very uncomfortable about signing this EDM. I worry about the future of free speech generally in the country, and the media have an important role to play in challenging the executive and the authorities in this country.

I wouldn’t like to do anything that might lead them to shying away from challenging conventional wisdoms and viewpoints which I think on balance is very much in the public interest.

Therefore whilst I very much sympathise with the extremely sensible points you make I hope you at least appreciate my reasons for not signing the EDM which is due to the wider implications rather than on the merits of this particular issue where I firmly agree about the safety of the MMR jab.

[Me] Thank you for taking the time to consider my email and respond to it.

I’m not sure the EDM really does have wider implications – or that it could potentially hamstring the mainstream media. The phrasing “…implores her and others in the media to act more responsibly when making comments in the public domain; and further expresses its hope that in the future reporting the issue of MMR will be less sensationalist and more evidence-based” asks for more responsible behaviour and less unevidenced, sensationalised reporting. To pick one especially famous example of investigative journalism, it strikes me that Woodward & Bernstein uncovered evidence and reported on it rather than inventing a story, sensationalising, or misreporting. To call for less sensationalist and more evidence-based reporting should not affect the ladies and gentlemen of the press – they should already be striving to produce accurate stories. I don’t see why people should be allowed to abuse free speech to in order to make statements that are demonstrably false, but as they are allowed to do so I think the least we can do is express our disappointment when they make false statements that could have serious and harmful effects on public health and implore them to refrain from doing so in future.

Kind regards

[MP] Thanks for the email.

I do not necessarily disagree at all with the points you make, but just don’t feel entirely comfortable with the EDM.

If you ever wish to share your views with me on any issue I will always be pleased to hear from you.

Best wishes

6 Comments

  1. Richard Walkington said,

    Hello,

    I wrote to my local MP, Mike Penning, who happens to be the Shadow Minister for Health. I received a rather good reply agreeing with our concerns and stating that he had signed EDM 754. He does not seem to show as one of the signatories on the list you link to. Does anyone know if this is a definitive list or where I can find one.

    Richard

  2. al capone junior said,

    Alas… I’d help you out on this one JDC, but I’m not British. Great blog tho, I’m surprised your MP actually responded.

    al

  3. jdc325 said,

    Al – thanks for the moral support.

    Richard – I’m afraid I can only find that one link as an official list of signatures. There are party lists that have “open” and “total” signatures but the numbers are the same so, as far as I can tell, all those who have signed should be listed there. Perhaps it hasn’t been updated recently? (I think the House of Commons is on “half-term” this week).

  4. Teek said,

    I emailed my MP, Eleanor Laing (Con, Epping Forest), and she signed the next day – and wrote back to me by snail mail (she’s really rather good at this sort of thing, despite being a Blue…), appreciating that I’d brought this issue to her attention.

    result!

    cracking work jdc, not sure I buy your chap’s fears about freedom of speech etc, persistence is the key – it may be worthwhile making an appointment to see you MP in person in surgery…?

  5. theholyllama said,

    @ Richard Walkington

    If your MP has signed the EDM, their name will appear on the UK Parliament website that JDC links to. As his name does NOT appear there, it might be worth contacting him again to clarify the matter. To be honest, I’d be surprised if he did sign it, as by convention members of Government and their shadow ministers on the Opposition benches do not sign EDMs, although in this case I would have expected him to explain this in his correspondence with you.

  6. AndyD said,

    Your MP’s response has a familiar ring to it. I recall many times being involved in meetings trying to sell an idea to a client and having them say, at the end of the pitch, “I agree with everything you say – BUT…”

    Does your MP support racist or hate speech on the airwaves? If not, how does s/he condone speech that may lead to the death of a child?

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