Thursday, 26 July 2007

Science vs. the media

Francis Sedgemore on the Guardian's Comment is Free site blames the whole MMR debacle on scientists.

Most of his article is content-free rhetoric, but analysing the substance of what he actually has to say:
"in the dock should also go those medics who back in 1998 set out to silence the now discredited Wakefield and his supporters in the most vituperative attack, and fed the media feeding frenzy"
But of course Wakefield was not only wrong, his claims were unfounded, it would have been remiss of them not to have disagreed with him - yet Sedgemore seems to think that they shouldn't have challenged Wakefield's argument, with all the public health ramifications that held. How the hell would that have helped, would the media have not run the scare story? Don't make me laugh. I'm also not sure where this 'vituperative' attack was from, at the time people mostly recommended more research, the attacks on Wakefield personally have come since he has been proven to be wrong, unethical, incompetent, and refused to change his mind when the contrary evidence has come in.

"Medical research does not have a particularly good track record."
Well it hasn't been bad what with those antibiotics and vaccines and all!

"The drug industry routinely engages in disease mongering,"
And this is the fault of doctors and not the complicit media why exactly?

"dietary advice changes on an almost weekly basis,"
Again, does the advice from the medical associations or government change or does the media just spin the findings from each and every study to make it seem like the advice is constantly changing to those unfamiliar with how science progresses slowly based on the weight of accumulated evidence (people like Sedgemore it would seem)?

"bow-tied hepatic specialists advise the government on alcohol taxation,"
So he objects to medical professionals (BMA, chief medical officer) intervening in the public debate on taxing alcohol (an argument to be had, but hardly damning of medical research!) or does he disagree that alcohol is damaging to the liver?

"and dodgy data on cannabis strength are fed to a sensation hungry media in an attempt to have the drug reclassified and users recriminalised."
Is that anything to do with the medical establishment or due to politicians and a complicit media again? As far as I know the medics mostly publish scientific studies on the harmful effects of cannabis, and relatively few offer opinions on legal classification - of those I think the majority are probably against reclassification. But, again, does he disagree with the medical science or just the involvement of medics in the debate about classification?

"But while medics sneer at hacks, they might also like to attend to the planks obscuring their own vision, and work on their serious public outreach problems."
The motes and beams reference is just too funny, all a "public outreach problem", if the media essentially make up their own unjustified interpretation of an unpublished leaked unfinished scientific study and spin it as a scare story and refuse to retract it more than once, that is the fault of the scientists who were not consulted about the story which attributed views to them, and ripped off their research, all whilst making fundamental mistakes in interpreting the data.

I note that Francis Sedgemore tries a much more temperate response that simultaneously fails to respond to the criticism of his hyperbolic attack on medicine and science in defence of journalism. You might almost suspect that his original article was deliberatly over the top in order to provoke people to read and respond, even though it was essentially wrong and unjustified. All a bit redolent of MMR and the media really.

Looking over some previous articles he seems to have a bee in his bonnet about the "medical establishment", particularly regarding cannabis, yet while his articles see him railing against these evil doctors he doesn't seem to refer to anything concrete that they're supposed to have done, e.g. here where he says "Spreading scare stories about cannabis is grossly irresponsible and risks bringing the medical profession into disrepute." but only talks about journalists and politicians.

Elsewehere he harks on a similar point about alcohol taxation:

"...only fools and medical professionals think that the solution there is to raise alcohol prices to Swedish levels, and further restrict the availability of booze. Criminalising cannabis users will likewise not make for a healthier society."
Again, it isn't clear why he disagrees with the argument, or who exactly he is disagreeing with, so I'm not sure where his "Medical research does not have a particularly good track record" argument comes from, or indeed what his point is other than that he doesn't like medics interfering with debates on public policy by giving their opinion, presumably that is exclusively the domain of journalists?


Amusingly Sedgemore links to this thread where I and others argue that the Lancet is partly to blame for the MMR furore and seems to think that supports his position, I'm afraid that won't wash Francis, there is plenty of blame to go around, the Lancet may have helped spark the row but the mainstream media jumped in feet first and is still stoking the fire, which is where we came in. [Sedgemore summarises his response to criticism of his article here]

No comments: