06 décembre 2008

It's not what the papers say, it's what they don't

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian

Writing this column really scares me because I wonder whether everything else in the media is as shamelessly, venally, manipulatively, one-sidedly, selectively reported on as the things I know about. But this week the reality editing was truly without comparison.

On Tuesday the Telegraph, the Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro all reported that a coroner was hearing the case of a toddler who died after receiving the MMR vaccine, which the parents blamed for their loss. Toddler 'died after MMR jab' (Metro), 'Healthy' baby died after MMR jab (Independent), you know the headlines by now.

On Thursday the coroner announced his verdict: the vaccine played no part in this child's death. So far, of the papers above, only the Telegraph has had the decency to cover the outcome. The Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro have all decided that their readers are better off not knowing. Tick, tock.

Does it stop there? No. Amateur physicians have long enjoyed speculating that MMR and other vaccinations are somehow "harmful to the immune system" and responsible for the rise in conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Doubtless they must have been waiting some time for evidence to appear.

This month a significant paper was published by Hviid and Melbye in the December 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. They examined 871,234 children in a Danish birth cohort, comparing asthma in those who had MMR against those who didn't. MMR-vaccinated children were massively and significantly less often hospitalised with an asthma diagnosis, and used fewer courses of anti-asthma medication than unvaccinated children. This "protective" effect of the MMR vaccine was more pronounced for hospitalisations with severe asthma diagnoses.

Those results aren't just incompatible with an increased risk of asthma following MMR vaccination, they actually support the hypothesis that MMR vaccination is associated with a reduced risk of asthma in young children. Tick, tock.

And most astonishing of all is the tale of "the Uhlmann paper", or the "O'Leary paper". This came out in 2002 and claimed to have found evidence of vaccine measles virus in tissue samples from children with autism and bowel problems, to massive media acclaim.

As I've said previously, two similar papers, by Afzal et al and D'Souza et al, in 2006 found negative results on almost the same question, and were unanimously ignored by the media (even though D'Souza actively went out of his way to show how O'Leary et al got false positives).

Stephen Bustin is professor of molecular science at Barts and the London. He examined the O'Leary lab for the court case against MMR, as an expert witness for the drug company defendants. The case collapsed, and he was unable to discuss his findings. Then he was called to give evidence in the American "autism omnibus" case against the vaccine. The anti-vaccine movement did their best to prevent this. They knew what he had found: it appears to be incontrovertible evidence that the lab was detecting false positives.

Now Bustin has finally been able to write about what he found in O'Leary's lab. He published this month. Nobody who covered the original O'Leary paper has written about it. Not a soul will.

Measles cases are rising. Middle class parents are not to blame, even if they do lack rhetorical panache when you try to have a discussion with them about it.

They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts.

Today, I have merely given you some small part of the other half, and next week I will move on: but know that nobody else has.

Encore un exemple du "biais de scoop" des journaux à sensation. Une information négative, ça ne fait pas vendre un journal alors qu'un beau scandale, même imaginaire, voila qui inquiètera la population. Qui sait? Après quelques années de baisse de la vaccination, le journal pourra dénoncer la gabegie du gouvernement qui n'a rien fait pour éviter les épidémies...