Warning: Bad science can damage your health

Share

In the intensive care ward of a hospital in Sierra Leone, I once heard a young man moaning in agony. His body was going into spasms and I was shocked to discover that he was suffering from tetanus. On the same trip to West Africa, I met more than a dozen men with hugely developed shoulders and withered legs – polio survivors, who propelled themselves on hand-driven wooden carts. It made me realise how lucky I am to live in a country where successful vaccination programmes have all but eradicated such diseases.

Sadly, I also live in a nation where people believe all sorts of nonsense; I'm driven to distraction by individuals who talk about feng shui or go on about their star signs. I suppose it isn't surprising when we have a future head of state who talks about Nature with a capital N (he thinks it's female, by the way), and attacks science as "mechanistic thinking". Prince Charles's (now defunct) Foundation for Integrated Health even lobbied government ministers in support of offering homeopathy – an "alternative" therapy which has been condemned by MPs as "scientifically implausible" – on the NHS.

Nothing confirms the existence of this tragic credulity more dramatically than the current measles outbreak in Swansea. More than 800 cases have been reported in the city since November, and on Friday, public health authorities confirmed that a 25-year-old man infected with the disease had died.

I had measles as a child and it was a very frightening experience; I have a vivid memory of having to lie in a darkened room for several days, while anxious adults drifted in and out. This was long before the MMR vaccine became available, but even at this late stage some parents in Wales seem to be reluctant to have their children vaccinated at emergency clinics.

It's a fascinating fact that most European countries were unaffected by Dr Andrew Wakefield's entirely discredited 1998 paper in The Lancet, which suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccine, inflammatory bowel disease, and autism. Wakefield was eventually struck off the medical register for serious professional misconduct, but by 2010 the UK had one of the lowest levels of MMR coverage in a survey of European countries. What accounts for the difference is the way that sections of the British media, led by the Daily Mail, habitually push an anti-science agenda. British newspapers published hundreds of MMR scare stories (more than 1,200 in the peak year of 2002) alongside claims about "cures" for cellulite and "sightings" of UFOs.

Experts warned that measles outbreaks would be the result, and that's what we're seeing now. There were more than 2,000 confirmed cases in England and Wales last year, almost double the figure for 2011, and the statistics are terrifying for parents of unvaccinated children. But they're also a warning about the consequences of credulity in a country where hostility to science sometimes seems endemic.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Powertrain Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
Is Ed Miliband a natural born leader? Or could he become one?  

Wanted: a leader with the strength to withstand criticism from the media

Steve Richards
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried