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 The Goldacre test for Michael Fitzpatrick
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John Stone

United Kingdom
1254 Posts

Posted - 07/30/2007 :  14:54:29  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I posted this three works ago (also transferred to Guardian CiF). It seems that Ben Goldacre is unwilling to pick up the gauntlet. I wonder whether Michael Fitzpatrick would like to have a go: -

For some time I have been trying to ascertain the basis of Dr Goldacre's alleged scientific pre-eminence in relation to MMR. This has involved contributing extensively to Guardian blogs: for instance the one last week 'Examine the data, not the author' (I have pseudonym "Pluralist") in which once again he suggested that the MMR theory was discounted statistically:


But what, of course, what was absent from this was any data. Week after week the MMR case is cited as one of scientific absurdity in the category of lucky charms, aromatherapy etc. You suspect that despite Goldacre's minimal scientific contribution to this issue he is simply engaged in a propaganda effort, drip feeding Guardian readers. There is a mention in his column again today but unfortunately not open to comment in the Guardian blog. Either way it seems to have been decided that it is worth going on like this on the basis that only a tiny fraction of readers will pick up the critical comments, and the message will get through to the Guardianistas about what they are supposed to think.

As it happen I have traced an article by Goldacre in which after a fashion he does discuss the data: 'Never Mind the Facts (Guardian 11 December 2003). This article was considered so excellent that it won an Association of British Science Writer's award, which at the time was funded MMR manucturer Glaxo SmithKline:


Here, then, are Ben's hard facts:

"So here we go, checking out our hunch on big populations. Dr Kreesten Madsen, of the Danish Epidemiology Science Centre, compared 440,000 children who had MMR with 97,000 children who didn't. The children who had MMR were no more likely to develop autism than the children who didn't. In Finland, one group looked at 3 million MMR vaccinations, found only 31 cases of related gut symptoms, and not one of these children went on to develop autism in the next 10 years. A group in London looked at 498 children with autism, to see if they developed it after MMR. They looked at when they had the MMR jab, and when they developed the symptoms or the diagnosis, and found no sudden blip after immunisation. Another paper shows no increase in GP consultations in the six months after immunisation. Two hundred children in London and Stafford with autism were studied to see if there was a new type of autism related to MMR, featuring bowel problems and sudden regression, a bit like in the drama: half had the jab, half didn't, and there was no difference in type of autism between the groups. In California, looking at 1,000 children a year, over 14 years, the number of cases of autism increased by 373%, while the number of children getting MMR increased by only 14% (from 72% to 82%). There's plenty more."


In fact, three of studies cited were discussed in Cochrane (2005) and found wanting:

"The study demonstrates the difficulties of drawing inferences in the absence of a non-exposed population or a clearly defined causal hypothesis". (Re: Taylor 1999)

"The number and possible impact of biases in this study was so high that interpretation of the results was difficult". (Re: Fombonne 2001)

"The interpretation of the study by Madsen was made difficult by the unequal length of follow up for younger cohort members as well as the use of the date of diagnosis rather than onset of symptoms of autism". (Re: Madsen 2002)

The same kinds of criticism would go for his use of the California data. Where are the controls, and if the trend was upwards why could MMR not have contributed to it? And what about all the additional mercury?

But the most extraordinary claim of all relates to the Finnish study:


Three million shots, and not a single case of autism.

How could a competent scientist spout this nonsense? The fact was that Peltola et al had conducted a study which did not have in its follow up criteria either autism or inflammatory bowel disease, so they detected not a single case of either in a million and half plus children. This letter was published in the Lancet in May 1998 (amidst international publicity) to knock Wakefield on the head, and it is cited by Goldacre as "good science". Incredible.

So Ben, is this it?

It should be noted that once when some ribald remarks about Michael Fitzpatrick were posted on this site his complaint was registered very speedily.

Edited by - John Stone on 07/31/2007 12:39:21
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