Jeni Barnett – Pig Ignorant and Proud

It seems that abuse of copyright law are rather like buses – you get nothing for a and then two show up at once.

I’ve commented on the Associated Press’s attempt to sue artist Shephard Fairey for basis his now famous ‘HOPE’ poster on a photograph for which AP hold the distribution right over at Lib Con.

Meanwhile, a blogfight has broken out between Ben Goldacre and Jeni Barnett after Ben posted and audio file of, and commented extensively on, a 44 minute fearmongering segment of Barnett’s LBC radio show in which she regurgitated ever piss poor anti-MMR argument you could ever dream of, prompting LBC to threaten to sick their lawyers on Ben for copyright infringement.

Now, I think we all know what a bad idea that is – the ‘offending’ audio file is already up on Wikileaks, the usual blogswarm is gathering pace and the offensively dimwitted Ms Barnett is digging herself into an even deeper hole – and today we discover, unsurprisingly, that the number of reported measles cases has risen for the third consecutive year, up to 1,348 cases in 2008 from 990 in 2007.

For my own part in proceedings its Ms Barnetts’ response to Ben’s initial article I want to tackle, so here goes…

The reaction to the interview about the MMR jab is growing like a fungus.

Hey, that’s the Streisand Effect – look it up for yourself.

I am not a scientist, I would not claim to be a scientist. When tested on the contents of the MMR vaccine I told the truth. I did not have the facts to hand. Was I ill informed? Yes. As a responsible broadcaster I should have been better prepared as a parent, however, I can fight my corner. I don’t know everything that goes into cigarettes but I do know they are harmful.

Ill-informed doesn’t even come close.

How is it that Jeni knows that cigarettes are harmful. It is, perhaps, because she’s a parent? Because at some point during the actual of childbirth a hormone is released which imprints the knowledge that cigrarettes are harmful in the memory of the mother?

Or is that the case that she, I and everyone else knows that cigarettes are harmful because research undertaken by scientists over the last forty years and more has established the evidence which links cigarette smoking to lung cancer, heart disease, etc.

The knowledge that cigarettes are harmful is not something we acquire naturally by osmosis, it is something we discover by carrying out scientific research. We establish what is and isn’t the truth by looking for evidence.

The evidence relating to cigarette smoking tells us that, yes, it is harmful.

The evidence relating to the MMR jab tells us that Andrew Wakefield was an unprincipled charlatan who should never be allowed near a research facility for the rest of his life and that there is no evidence to support any of claims made about the MMR vaccine linking it to autism or Crohn’s disease.

No evidence means no link and the mere fact that you are parent proves only you have a child not that you are capable of speaking with any kind of authority on the subject of childhood diseases. In relying on that, and that alone, as the basis for her claim to authority in this matter, Barnett merely shows herself to be prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

As a professional should I have been better prepared – YES – but the discussion took off in a direction I hadn’t expected when I received a vicious phone call from a Nurse I was utterly thrown. I won’t get thrown again.

Yes, Jeni was so thrown by a ‘vicious’ but otherwise rather polite interjection by a nurse who attempted to challenge her ignorant warblings that she spent the entire call talking over the nurse’s contribution, cutting her off in mid sentence and doing everything possible to make it clear to her listeners that, as the ‘star’ of the show her own ill-informed and unhelpful opinions were infinitely more valuable and worthy than those of a mere nurse.

I find it interesting that the vitriol that comes out of the pro MMR lobby is precisely why Allopathic medicine is struggling. Most of us who seek alternatives allow others their position but often the ‘others’ have a real problem allowing us ours.

First, allopathic medicine is anything but ‘struggling’ – just try suggesting that the NHS should close a local hospital or GP practice and see what kind of reaction you get.

As for having a problem with those who seek ‘alternatives’, lets try an set out what kind of problems us rationalist have and why.

Problem number one is simply that there is no valid supporting evidence for the alleged efficacy vast majority of so-called ‘alternative’ medicines and therapies. At best, an ‘alternative treatment’ may have no effect whatsoever or work only as well as a placebo. At worst, the ‘treatment’ may be dangerous, itself, or may prove harmful because an individual relies on a useless bit of woo rather than seek proper medical treatment.

Problem number two goes nicely with problem one… because most ‘alternative therapies’ are of no actual value whatsoever, those who peddle such ‘alternatives’ for a living are, not to put too fine a point on it, ripping people off.

Now, if someone like Ms Barnett is gullible enough to buy into the whole snake oil thing and pay for it with her own money then that’s up to her, but when the woo peddlars and their fanbase start asking everyine to pay for it as well, via the NHS, then that gets to be a bit more of an issue given that there are lots of other things that the NHS could, and does, usefully pay for – things that actually work.

As for the whole anti-vaccine thing, I think the issue there should be fairly self-evident in the fact that, in the UK, we’ve gone from well under 100 cases of measles in 2005 to over 1,300 last year thanks, for the most part, to the pig ignorant media scaremongering that Ms Barnett was indulging in on her show. She may not be overly concerned that her flapping gums are playing their part in convincing some parents that its okay to put their child’s life at risk and turn them into a miniature ‘Typhoid Mary’ in the process, but some of us other parents take that kind of thing pretty seriously because the position Barnett feels herself entitled to is also putting our kids at risk.

Doesn’t change my mind though.

No, I don’t suppose it does, although it seems question as to whether one could argue that there’s a mind there to change.

The fact that I decided not to have my child jabbed was my decision alone. And it is a lonely decision. To be singled out and held totally responsible for a measles, mumps or rubella ‘epidemic’ is clearly ludicrous.

Oh, boo-fucking-hoo and the stench of a burning straw man.

Barnett is, of course, not totally responsible for any kind of epidemic and no one has suggested as such. She is, however, responsible, along with others in the media, of promoting a bunch of ignorant, dangerous and unscientific nonsense, nonsense that is leading to a rise in the numbers of reported cases of measles.

Single jabs on demand? Why is that a problem?

Because… oh dear, we’re going to talk about evidence again, which rather excludes Jeni from the conversation, but the fact of the matter is that the evidence relating to the use of single jabs shows that these are typically less effective than the triple MMR jab, not because the vaccines themselves work any less well but simply because parents are less likely to complete the full course of vaccinations when asked to take their kids along for six injections rather than just two.

This isn’t at all difficult, in fact this isn’t just the kind of evidence that scientist would know, its precisely the kind of evidence that any halfway competent journalist when carrying out even the most cursory piece of background research.

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

I doubt that anything else has been more comprehensively ‘looked at’ in the last ten years than the claim that MMR might be linked to autism and/or Crohns disease, and not one of the many credible studies published over that period has found the slightest bit of evidence to support such a link, a fact that’s hardly difficult to discover as the abject failure of anyone to find any evidence to support such claims has been widely and repeatedly reported.

On the contrary, its the anti-MMR crowd who’ve been sticking their fingers in their ears and doing all the shouting down every time another piece of research is published which indicates that they’re entirely in the wrong.

And I do not accept that my position, as a radio broadcaster, is irresponsible if I should choose to share my own personal dilemma. I would like some of my critics to try and run a three hour programme.

Well that would depend very much on the kind of personal dilemma Ms Barnett is talking about. If it something like ‘Should I shop at Evan or M&S?’ or maybe ‘Pizza or KFC’ then she’s amply qualified to share her dilemma with the world but when it comes to vaccinations it patently obvious that she hasn’t got a clue what she’s talking about, in which the old adage about keeping schtum rather than proving what an idiot you are would seem one that she would do well to take to heart.

I am interested in the debate not a witch hunt.

Tell that the ‘vicious’ nurse you refused to listen to because she didn’t phone in to agree with you…

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.

Sorry, no… you’re not getting off anything like that lightly, not after sending in the lawyers to try and cover your own arse.

As a footnote, I suspect the most significant and illuminating thing in Barnett’s response is likely to be this comment…

“[A]s a parent, however, I can fight my corner”

We all, as parently, naturally want to believe that we are doing the best we can for our children and I strongly suspect that its because she see’s her own position through the lens of being a parent that she willingly deceives herself about the merits of the choice she made rather than face up to the fact that all the evidence indicates that she made the wrong choice.

That doesn’t make her a bad parent, but it does make her a lousy broadcaster when she gets on to a subject like this and makes use of a privileged position and a public platform in order to reinforce her mistaken belief in the validity of her position.

She may claim to ‘interested in the debate’ but, in truth, a legitimate debate is the very last thing she wants because we she to take part in such a debate she would run the risk of being shown to have made the wrong choice for her child and that’s a possibility that I doubt, on the evidence of her comments her, she’d be willing to risk.

19 thoughts on “Jeni Barnett – Pig Ignorant and Proud

  1. She may not be overly concerned that her flapping gums are playing their part in convincing some parents that its okay to put their child

  2. ‘Speaking as a mother’

    or as Bill Bailey so eloquently phrased it,

    ‘talking out of my arse’.

    When I was a kid there was a widespread belief amongst my peers that getting measles nearly always led to meningitis and then death because several children we knew seemed to die this way. The head of my primary school had to do repeated assemblies to try and explain to a bunch of terrified 6 year-olds that the encephalitis was a separate thing and measles wasn’t an automatic death sentence. So people of my age group really ought to know better than to repeat this ‘it’s not so bad’ crap. I certainly could have done without catching it.

  3. “Surely your children have been vaccinated and are thus protected? Or am I missing something?”

    Er, because all children have a period *before* MMR takes effect when they are vulnerable, and increased rate of measles infection makes them more vulnerable. I’m probably safe in presuming MMR has a failure rate, too.

    I can’t believe I’m having to point this out, but the correct good parenting response to the MMR idiocy is to get your child vaccinated with MMR as soon as possible. It’s what I did, having to overcome a certain amount of maternal resistance.

  4. These anti-vaccination idiots evidently don’t even use the three brain cells they’ve got. If measles is so harmless, why did anybody ever bother trying to develop a vaccine for it?
    What I’d like to see Jenni doing is to bring her mother onto the show and have her explain why she vaccinated Jenni; if Jenni’s grandmother is alive, she could come on as well and describe how all these “harmless childhood infections” killed and crippled.
    Jenni wouldn’t dare talk over either of them!

    Oh, and in response to people like R Arctor, children aren’t the only ones at risk from these diseases: anybody with a compromised immune system – people undergoing cancer treatment, those who are HIV+ – have to try to avoid getting infected.

  5. I have not been vaccinated against Measles, Mumps or Rubella, due to medical issues. I have had measles, which was a pretty nasty period for a young child. I may have had rubella, it’s not always easy to notice the symptoms. I haven’t had mumps, but have been exposed.

    As an adult man, catching mumps could lead to severe complications. So I’d be obliged if those people whose kids _can_ be vaccinated against the three diseases that MMR covers do so.

    As one of the likely results of adult male mumps is infertility, not vaccinating your kids could well cause the risk that my kids don’t even get the chance to exist, Robert Arctor (quite why you’d name yourself after a schizophrenic drug addict I don’t know).

  6. The panic around this issue is ridiculous. I speak as someone who had minor reactions to both the first shot of the MMR (as a result of which I received the remainder of the vaccinations as individual jabs) and the BCG (which may have been due to the fact that my donkey of a school nurse got the needles mixed up and gave me the proper BCG in my forearm, where the stamp test should have gone, rather than doing the stamp test first as you’re supposed to). I am not autistic. I have also never had measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus or TB. I think of this as a good thing, funnily enough.

    I do see why some parents might prefer to have their children vaccinated for one thing at a time. What I don’t understand is how this pointless and massively discredited study is being used to discredit the concept of vaccination generally. Children’s immune systems are really robust so we don’t need vaccinations? They seem robust because thanks to vaccinations and (rapidly dwindling) herd immunity these diseases don’t appear nearly as much as they used to. Take away vaccinations and children will start getting these diseases and dying of them again.

    What I’d like to see is a system where (a) parents can choose between the MMR and individual jabs on the NHS, but also (b) you can’t send your child to public school unless s/he has been fully innoculated.

  7. I know this article was posted some time ago but I feel that the part about the weak child immune system has to be corrected.
    Quote “Injecting tiny babies with substances that may compromise their immune system needs to be looked at not shouted down.”
    This is one of those counter-intuitive things at play. Children are actually exposed to a whole plethora of nasty bugs through their first few years of life, their immune system is learning each bug and producing antibodies to them with minimal fuss. If you think about it young children always have a runny nose or some other sign of a ‘cold’.
    So its this, and our years of experience (as Unity mentions), that makes vaccines A-okay.

  8. Originally Posted By Katy Newton

    What I’d like to see is a system where (a) parents can choose between the MMR and individual jabs on the NHS, but also (b) you can’t send your child to public school unless s/he has been fully innoculated.

    Fully agree with b… as for the choice, it already exists if you want to pick up the extra cost of the single vaccinations… I (and my fellow millions) should not be asked to foot the bill for someone’s inability to understand the clear and unequivocal evidence that a triple jab does the job. Where there are medical complications, diagnosed by the professionals, that require a child to be vaccinated with individual jabs, this already happens on the NHS at no extra cost to the parent.

  9. V Samuel – I think the reason I was wary of the MMR for my kids was a reporter colleague who interviewed a parent who described the sudden change in their child after being injected.

    (he wasn’t a baby, he was jabbed when he was about nine or ten – died around 18, curled up in a wheelchair… )

    The colleague did a couple of other stories on local babies which rapidly went downhill after the jab. It scared the shit out of me.

    I know it’s not rational, but that’s why I went against it for my first two and went for single jabs. We said okay for the third and took the MMR.

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