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

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Science Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Science Supply Teacher position...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs  

When most porn is packaged for men, is it any wonder women get their sexual kicks by reading erotica?

Justine Elyot
 

Daily catch-up: low pay, E and non-E online, and the pointlessness of chess

John Rentoul
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style