The Daily Mail published another MMR piece earlier this week. As usual it had the predicted results in that it stirred up the usual frenzy of illogic and fallacy.
Why do I say that?
In order to explain we need to fast-forward a couple of days to where Melanie Phillips, Andrew Wakefield’s staunchest media supporter in the UK, published her own follow up to the Mail story. I urge you to go read both pieces now before you read the rest of this.
OK, done? Good.
So lets talk about what was said. Basically, the gist of both articles is now the medical community in the UK _have_ to take the MMR link seriously because Dr Peter Fletcher, ex-Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Health has said a few things about it.
On the face of it thats pretty impressive – this isn’t some no-nothing from nowhere – this is an *ex CSO*. But once you get past the fact of who he _is_ and start to isolate what he’s actually _saying_ then, to borrow a phrase, the facade starts to crack.
First is the fact that this sort of argument – based on his good standing in the past – is a sort of reverse Argumentum Ad Hominem in that it is argued that it is equally or of more importance regarding who Dr Gordon _is_ as oppose to what he _says_. This is, of course, a fallacious position from which to start.
So what does he (and the original article) actually say?
[Dr Gordon]….has accused the Government of “utterly inexplicable complacency” over the MMR triple vaccine for children.
Thats simply an assumption based on his circular reasoning that the MMR has routine or above average negative effects: as an argument it relies on the reader agreeing that there is a case for the Gvmnt being complacent in the first place. Since the establishment of this case _is whats actually being debated_ its safe to ignore this as pre-conceived bias.
[Dr Fletcher]…..said if it is proven that the jab causes autism, _”the refusal by governments to evaluate the risks properly will make this one of the greatest scandals in medical history”_.
Well, d’uh. How is that news? Its obviously true and equally obvious entirely irrelevant to establishing a case for believing MMR has a role in causing autism. Its a tactical appeal to emotion – nothing more.
He added that after agreeing to be an expert witness on drug-safety trials for parents’ lawyers, he had received and studied thousands of documents relating to the case which he believed the public had a right to see. He said he has seen a “steady accumulation of evidence” from scientists worldwide that the measles, mumps and rubella jab is causing brain damage in certain children.
This is at the heart of the two articles. Dr Fletcher however simply invokes the spirit of these ‘thousands of documents’ and doesn’t discuss them or what they contain at all. It may well be that he’s hampered by the legal constraints of the case(s) in question but thats really besides the point. What we need to know is – what can Dr Fletcher _add_ to the debate? Both the epidemiology and the hard science have refuted the MMR link on more than one occasion. If Dr Fletcher has peer reviewed journal based evidence that contradicts or invalidates the science done so far then he should state it. At the moment he is simply repeating a fallacy of intuition, magical thinking and an argument to the future. None of these lend any scientific credence to making a case that supports the idea that the MMR jab caused or contributed to anyones autism. If there’s evidence lets get it peer reviewed and published in a respected journal – anything else is simply hearsay.
But he added: “There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves.”
This is a combination of Galileo gambit and a fallacy of the assumed but hidden truth. In other words its the invocation of a conspiracy theory. Its an easy thing to say because one doesn’t have to prove or even allege who these ‘powerful people’ actually are and thus there is no one available to defend the given proposition. I always think of this as the last refuge of the truly desperate. If someones case is strong enough then why resort to such a transparent and desperate tactic?
Clinical and scientific data is steadily accumulating that the live measles virus in MMR can cause brain, gut and immune system damage in a subset of vulnerable children,” he said.
It is? Where? In fact the vast weight of scientific evidence has very recently concluded that there is no link.
There was no credible evidence behind claims of harm from the MMR vaccination. This is the conclusion drawn by the Cochrane Review Authors, an international team of researchers, after carefully drawing together all of the evidence found in 31 high quality studies from around the world. They also highlight that the policy of encouraging mass use of MMR has eliminated the scourge of measles, mumps and rubella from many countries. _”In particular we conclude that all the major unintended events, such as triggering Crohn’s disease or autism, were suspected on the basis of unreliable evidence,”_ says lead author Dr Vittorio Demicheli who works at Servizo Sovrazonale di Epidemiologia, Alessandria, Italy.
By contrast, Dr Fletcher yet again fails to say _what_ this ‘vast weight’ of scientific evidence was, where it could be found and who produced it. He just says its there. And we should just trust him because he’s cleverer than us.
Yet there has been a tenfold increase in autism and related forms of brain damage over the past 15 years, roughly coinciding with MMR’s introduction
The new study, which involved 10,903 preschool children in the United Kingdom, confirmed the elevated autism rate, but clearly demonstrated that autism prevalence is not increasing.
Fletcher also makes the mistake of matching correlation with causation – a schoolboy error for any scientist.
He said there was “no way” the tenfold leap in autistic children could be the result of better recognition and definitional changes, as claimed by health authorities.
Another totally specious statement with nothing to back it up. Fletcher might well believe it but as he provides no evidence then its just an opinion. In fact, scientific studies in the US indicate the rise in rate _is_ down to better recognition and diagnosis.
“It is highly likely that at least part of this increase is a vaccine related problem.” he said.
Again, this may be Fletcher’s opinion but he provides nothing in the way of support for it. This isn’t science, this is just gossip.
And thats just about all of Dr Fletcher’s contribution to the debate. Fallacy, lazy reasoning, assertion and unverified claims. It comes as no surprise that other lazy thinkers hype such garbage when they have so little science to support their position.