By John Stone
In our era of news management it is not unusual that the most significant events happen almost silently and with virtually no public debate or attention. Thus it was that yesterday the BBC Trust launched a report written by geneticist Steve Jones which will lead to the complete shutdown of the reporting of scientific controversy. The only trace you will find of this publication on the BBC news website is a well-buried report entitled ‘BBC praised for science coverage’. While this document is politically and ideologically horrific on a much wider front it is worth looking at Prof Jones’s response to the MMR issue.
In case you hadn’t guessed Jones’s criticism of the BBC’s coverage was that it was insufficiently one sided, although no one can remember a time when their reporting was ever less than prejudiced and hostile to vaccine damage families or Andrew Wakefield, and very often pitched at the crassest level. Notably, Jones recommends that British GP Richard Halvorsen, who actually runs a private vaccine clinic and only advocates a little selectivity and caution with the use of vaccines, should not be allowed to speak on the subject of MMR vaccines again. The irony that Halvorsen has written a copiously researched book on vaccines which shows less than a “four legs, two legs bad”devotion to them, and almost certainly knows vastly more about the subject that Prof Jones, seems to have escaped him. The reality that the science in this area is anything but definitive may not now be reported: only apparently the consensus view (based on no science at all) that they are all fine and without hazards.
Unfortunately (and the vaccine issue could stand in for many others here) what this above all else fails to do is to acknowledge the fallibility of human institutions. In effect, the BBC are handing over to industrial and business lobbies and saying ‘Thou must not question’. This for instance includes GM foods which are presently completely shunned by the British population, and perfectly reasonable questions about the long-term effects of these products are to be swept aside. From now on we are simply to be told what to think.