Daily Mail Up For A New Vaccine Hoax

March 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Having played a major role in what Ben Goldacre calls the Media’s MMR hoax, the Daily Fail first went for Andrew Wakefield, calling him “the doctor who sparked a worldwide health scare over the MMR jab”. They then went after, um, their own readers. The Fail called parents who had (partly thanks to the Fail itself) refused to vaccinate their children with MMR morons and middle-class twits. Having perpetuated the MMR scare, the Mail then blamed a lone scientist for beginning the scare and its readers for having fallen for it, taking zero responsibility for their own, significant, role in the whole debacle. That was the Mail’s MMR Hoax. Now they’re going for a new target – the cervical cancer vaccine.

Here’s the story. Here’s what blogger JQH thinks of it. He makes the point that 99.8 per cent of the girls receiving the vaccine suffered no adverse events and refers to the fallacy that correlation implies causation. My take on the Fail story is that, while there were 1300 reported adverse events suffered by girls who had had the vaccine, some of the adverse events are extremely unlikely to be linked in any way, most of the adverse events appear to be mild, some will have been associated with the act of vaccination rather than the vaccine itself, and (finally) that – compared with the risks of cervical cancer – the risks of the vaccine are pretty insignificant.

The Fail article refers to a girl developing anorexia. I wonder how the Fail think that vaccination causes anorexia? This is possibly the best example of post hoc fallacy in the Fail article – because the girl developed anorexia after having the vaccine, a link between the two is implied where, in all probability, none exists. Mild adverse events associated with the vaccination of children would include pain in the arm where the vaccine was given. The Fail article apparently hints at this when claiming that dozens (*) suffered “pain ‘in extremity'”. The wording of the Fail article seems to imply that the pain was extreme, though – whereas I would have thought that ‘pain in extremity’ referred to pain in one of the extremities of the body (i.e., the arm in which the vaccine was given, which would be expected). At the very least, this part of the Fail’s article is ambiguous and potentially misleading.

As to the risks of vaccination against cervical cancer, 1300 reports of adverse events, mostly mild, with some doubt over whether a number of these adverse events are in any way linked to the vaccination have to be weighed against the 700 deaths per year that will be prevented by the vaccine. If the Fail wanted to discuss the merits of the vaccine then they could quite legitimately have queried the cost-benefit of this vaccination, but chose instead to write a dubious feature that overstated health concerns and include a call from anti-vaccinationist Jackie Fletcher for the “Government […] to look at the future of this programme”. Remember – “Most were minor complaints such as rashes, swelling on the injection site, pain or allergic reactions.” Meanwhile, the Fail report that four girls had convulsions, one had a seizure and one had an epileptic fit. Given the number of children being vaccinated, one would expect some to have adverse events unrelated to the vaccine purely by chance. Paul Offit related a story of a child in his office waiting to be vaccinated. The child had a fit before the vaccine could be administered – imagine if the fit had occurred a few minutes later. It would have seemed to be clearly linked to the vaccination. Now that’s something to remember next time you read about an adverse event occurring following administration of a vaccine.

The Daily Mail’s reporting of the UK’s immunisation programme undermines it and it’s surely time something were done about it. JQH recommends “”the Editor and publishers of the Daily Mail [be] prosecuted for endangering public health”. In the absence of a prosecution, it may be worth writing to the Press Complaints Commission here. But first, perhaps we should contact the Editor of the Daily Mail – I think this is the address to write to in order to complain about the inaccuracy of their story: letters@dailymail.co.uk; and if the inaccurate elements of the story are not corrected then contacting the PCC is the next step. The first part of the PCC’s code of practice is that: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.” Not forgetting that:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. […] The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

They’ve perpetuated one vaccine scare, let’s not let them get away with starting another.

*I like jonnyhead’s interpretation of what I shall henceforth refer to as a ‘Journalist’s Dozens’. Jonnyhead gives us this definition: “dozens is tabloid shorthand for ‘a number considerably less than 100 which nevertheless needs to sound big for our purposes'”. I also used a couple of points made on the Bad Science forums by mjrobbins, Elennaro, and Martin Y in putting this post together.

14 Comments

  1. dvnutrix said,

    The Fail article refers to a girl developing anorexia. I wonder how the Fail think that vaccination causes anorexia?

    Yes, if they are using this in the technical sense then anorexia as loss of appetite is not that odd but this is a general sort of article in which the term ‘anorexia’ is frequently understood to mean anorexia nervosa which is a very different matter.

    The People’s Medical Journal really does not care…

  2. The Gonzo Girl said,

    Wow, “worldwide healthscare”?
    It didn’t even reach Germany.
    I’d say outside Britain and outsite the Autism, science, or skeptics bloggosphere noone has probably even heard of Wakefield.
    At least that’s my general impression.

  3. jdc325 said,

    Gonzo Girl – yes, I think I’ve heard surprise expressed by people in Germany and Australia on learning that the UK had had a scare about MMR.

    dvnutrix – even though I knew the meaning of anorexia, it still didn’t occur to me while reading the piece that the Fail could have been referring to “loss of appetite” rather than anorexia nervosa. I think their article can, at best, be described as being “ambiguous to the point of being misleading”.

  4. Daily Mail Finds Scientist’s G-Spot « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] I blogged about a Daily Mail story on the HPV/cervical cancer vaccine, as did JQH of the Letting Off Steam blog. JQH has now written a letter to the Daily Mail regarding their coverage of the vaccine. […]

  5. Edna Point said,

    Congratulations all you highly “educated” people who know how to “read between the lines” of nonsense Daily Mail journalism. You really know how to “pull things apart” and “get to the real story”. Let’s see what you have managed to ‘dig up’ from this article.

    -Pain in extremity = pain in the arm -to be expected when you have a needle stuck in it.
    -Rash at injection site = mild adverse reaction, no cause for concern.
    -1300 out of 700 000 = 0.2%, how tiny!Think of the 700 lives saved!
    -anorexia in one girl = she lost her appetite after the jab.

    So you can all go away now you terribly clever people and get your girls this vaccine – the Daily Mail is clearly talking nonsense therefore….. THE VACCINE MUST be safe!

    No.

    What really intelligent people do is research the issue for themselves rather than forming their opinion based on the failings of tabloid newspaper articles.

    Go away and read and really learn until you discover that HPV does not actually cause cervical cancer and then discover that the drug companies already KNOW this.

    The Daily Mail’s reporting of the UK’s immunisation programme DOES NOT undermine the programme as you claim. What it DOES undermine is the debate itself. Nonsense articles like this serve to limit the SCOPE OF THE DEBATE surrounding the safety of the vaccine. The ease with which articles like these can be ‘pulled apart’ leads the likes of YOU to the premature conclusion that the vaccine is safe. Your preoccupation with discussing nonsense articles is distracting you from the real facts. You will not find the real facts of the debate in the mainstream media.

    Go away now and dig, dig, dig until you discover the truth. Don’t waste your time worrying about how the Daily Mail is misleading the masses. Instead start contemplating how it could be misleading YOU TOO.

    When you eventually come to learn the truth about these issues (through your own independent reseach), expect to be labeled a poor pathetic foolish Mail reader who wasn’t able to read between the lines of their nonsense hoax.

    Those who refuse to vaccinate their children are the minority who have gone beyond mainstream press reports and researched this topic for themselves. Their stance is NOT “partly due to the Mail itself”. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the Mail.

    “The Fail called parents who had (partly thanks to the Fail itself) refused to vaccinate their children with MMR morons and middle-class twits” WRONG. NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DAILY MAIL!

    Once again the media has ‘limited the debate’.

  6. jdc325 said,

    “Those who refuse to vaccinate their children are the minority who have gone beyond mainstream press reports and researched this topic for themselves.”
    Oh, do tell – perhaps we are talking about research done by people like Hilary Butler? Or maybe you would recommend that I research vaccines by looking at the whale.to website?

    “Go away and read and really learn until you discover that HPV does not actually cause cervical cancer and then discover that the drug companies already KNOW this.”
    I call conspiracy theory here – please cite the sources for your claims that HPV is not a cause of cervical cancer and that the drug companies are aware of this supposed fact.

    ““The Fail called parents who had (partly thanks to the Fail itself) refused to vaccinate their children with MMR morons and middle-class twits” WRONG. NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DAILY MAIL!”
    I beg to differ. The Daily Mail were consistently producing articles that alleged a non-existent link between MMR vaccination and autism.

  7. dvnutrix said,

    Golly, the oppressed-by-the-weight-of-research-that-she-oddly-neglects-to-cite-Edna-Point sounds ‘mad as hell, and not gonna take it any more‘.

    It just goes to show you can’t be too careful.

  8. jdc325 said,

    dvnutrix – thanks for the comment. I read the David Mitchell article last night and I think it’s a brilliant idea.

  9. The Promotion of Counterknowledge « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] Daily Mail are a disgrace. You can read recent Daily Fail posts on this blog here, here, here and here. Not that I’m in any way […]

  10. Exclusive: The Daily Mail Causes Cancer « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] vaccine, and his subesquent complaints to the Mail and the PCC. Link. I wrote about their coverage here. This afternoon, I spotted a link on the Holford Watch miniblog to a new Daily Mail article […]

  11. West Los Angeles Chiropractor said,

    Finally someone who can write a good blog ! I loved your post and will be telling others about it. Subscribing to your RSS feed now. Thanks

  12. jdc325 said,

    Heh – you might like to try this post: A Beginner’s Guide To Chiropractic.

  13. Daily Mail on Vaccination: MMR, HPV, Swine Flu « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] there’s the HPV vaccine: myself and fellow blogger JQH wrote about a Mail article that we considered to be irresponsible. JQH wrote […]

  14. Daily Mail Science Correspondent on Vaccination « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] written by Rachel Porter, Paul Sims, and the anonymous (and ubiquitous) Daily Mail Reporter. (See here, here, here, and here for my thoughts on those articles.) The journalist in question is Fiona […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: