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More on the MMR “debate”

For a few days, despite my total disbelief and dismay at the content and tone of her radio rant show and the heavy-handed legal response that followed, I at least had to give credit to Jeni Barnett for allowing the debate surrounding the MMR vaccine scare to continue via the comments on her own blog.

Too good to be true, unfortunately. Yesterday afternoon I sent a comment in to the site where there were over 150 comments already posted. All of them have disappeared. In fact, the post itself, and a second one written in response to the initial stages of the debate that started on the first, together with the comments from that page, now doesn’t appear on the homepage of Jeni’s website. I don’t know the reasons why (they may be perfectly legit from a legal point of view), but for now at least, the debate that Jeni so badly wanted has been stopped – by Jeni herself.

Fortunately, by the power of web-cache, the first 121 comments from the first post, together with the first 81 comments from the second, have been retrieved and posted unabridged on the Quackometer website. It’s a shame the debate was curtailed, but it makes for interesting reading.

After the BBC report on the rise in measles cases earlier this week, another article has surfaced, indicating that measles cases are on the decrease in Yorkshire and the Humber. This is a classic case of a headline and opening paragraph creating a misleading impression of the story. There’s a very good reason why the number of measles cases in that particular region is lower in 2008 than in 2007 – and it’s not because measles is on its way out. There were measles outbreaks reported in the region in 2007 and 2006, suggesting that these years are probably not representative of the general trend. Of greater relevance is that the number of cases confirmed in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2008 is equal to that in 2006, and higher than in any year from 1996-2005 inclusive (Source: HPA).

Finally, a last minute plug for an event that I’ll be going to this evening – Professor Liam Smeeth’s inaugural lecture:

Why are some people healthy and others not?

presented by the Director’s Office – part of the Inaugural Lecture Series

Date: Tuesday 10 February 2009
Time: 5:15 pm 6:15 pm
Venue: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1
Type of event: Lecture
Speaker(s): Professor Liam Smeeth, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology

Admission: Free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis.

Contact: Phoebe Roome, email: phoebe.roome@lshtm.ac.uk

Among many other notable things, Smeeth has contributed to the evidence refuting the MMR/Autism link. I don’t think that MMR will be the focus of the lecture, but it promises to be a very interesting and informative talk about wider health issues. An inaugural lecture is intended to be accessible to a wider audience, not just academics – I encourage you to go along if you can!

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