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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mad Mel: Beyond the reality dome

Melanie Phillips is at it again. Not content with mis-interpreting the JPR/Metropolitan report on anti-Semitism, she now steams ahead and gets her knickers in a twist over the MMR vaccine. It seems that spreading scare stories based on made up conclusions and bunk statistics comes naturally to Melanie. This is a fantastic piece by Ben Goldacre about her recent rant.

Whatever you have been told, science is not about certainty. And this creates problems for those health professionals who are charged with interpreting and relating data to the general public. We are expected to refute wholesale misunderstandings, in a popular forum, to people who may well be intelligent but who know nothing of evidence-based medicine, in soundbite format.

Health scares are like toothpaste: they’re easy to squeeze out, but very difficult to get back in the tube. On Monday, for example, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail wrote yet another attack on the MMR vaccine. She suggested that the journalists who trusted the new Cochrane review, which shows that MMR is probably safe and not linked to autism, were lazy stooges who took the press release at face value.

The problem is that Phillips seems to misunderstand basic epidemiology. She cites “research data” of highly dubious status and misrepresents what data there is. Her response is a microcosm of the problems that can arise when journalists engage with science.
Read more of this fascinating article here.

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