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

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
 

The two most important parts of Obama’s legacy could be on the brink of collapse, and this time there's no back-up plan

David Usborne
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot