Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering – the role of homeopathy *update*
Posted by gimpy on February 7, 2009
As you may be aware there has been a bit of bother in the bad science blogosphere after lawyers for LBC radio demanded that Ben Goldacre remove a lengthy excerpt of the Jeni Barnett show posted as an example of media irresponsibility over the health issues arising from MMR scaremongering. Despite taking the clip down the threat of legal action still hangs over Goldacre’s coiffured curls and he has posted a spirited defence of his actions on his blog. Despite the attempts of LBC lawyers to protect their copyright, coincidientally at the same time Jeni Barnett posted a couple of rather ungracious responses on her blog, the excerpt in question has been posted to wikileaks and a transcript of the show is now available online (links, along with other blogs covering this, at the end of this post – the Streisand effect in action).
There is much to discuss with respect to this post, the legalities of copyright, there is the responsibility of broadcasters to public health, the willingness in which ignorant individuals issue uninformed opinion in the public sphere, the collision between old media attitudes and new media realities, and the complicity of the media in the falling MMR vaccination rate amongst others. These issues are being covered by other blogs and in the comments to Goldacre’s posts so I will focus on a particular vice of mine. Homeopathy. While bloggers and others are justifiably getting angry at Jeni Barnett and the media over this issue I think it is important to look at professions that feed and grow strong on such public emanations of ignorance and doubt.
7 minutes into part 2 of the broadcast, Tracey, a homeopath, calls – this is a transcript of the conversation (inaccurate transcription may have occured)
Tracy (T): Hi Jeni. Yes, I’d like to totally agree with you the fact that immunisation is totally unnecessary, especially in this day and age when hygiene has changed so much since how it used to be.
I have 4 children. The oldest being 12, the youngest being 3. [Infant noises.] You can probably hear in the background right now.
Jeni Barnett: Don’t talk to me, just talk to her for a second.
Tracy: [Soothes child.] My eldest is 12, my youngest is 3, none of them have ever been vaccinated, immunised. And they’re all very healthy children. They don’t have any auto-immune diseases. They don’t suffer asthma, eczema. I just think [vaccination] is total abuse of the immune system.
JB: Now, now, now. I want to do this slowly because you’re going to have people phoning in saying you’re utterly irresponsible.
12 years ago when you had your first baby, why did you not have them inoculated?
Tracy: It started off, I went on a short course about, it was a choice, making a choice about vaccination. And it was run by a homeopath.
JB: But why did you go on that course in the first place?
Tracy: Because I had a feeling inside, I inherently knew, that it must be wrong to be putting toxins and poisonous material into a young baby’s body.
Tracy: It’s as simple as that. Mercury, formaldehyde, you know – live viruses that are cured (?) in monkeys’ kidneys. How can that be right for your child?
JB: Now, are you, by any stretch of the imagination, described as a crank by your friends?
Tracy: No. They all know me too well now.
JB: So, when you made that decision, and when I made that decision 22 years ago, it is about the loneliest decision you’re ever going to make.
Tracy: Oh, absolutely! Even your family, you’ll have people standing up saying,
“Why? Aren’t you being irresponsible?”. You’ve got the doctors, you’ve got the health authorities…You know you’ve just got to take the bull by the horns and confront that on a daily basis.
People at the school would frown upon me as if my child was in some way was gonna infect their child by not being vaccinated.
But I’m a very strong-willed person anyway. And from what I learned from my first son being born I decided, yeah, I want to take this further, and investigated it a bit more and went on to college and trained to become a homeopath.
Tracy: Yes. It all came from initially just thinking, “Do I want to so this?” and it all started with that very first thought. And you know what? The more you investigate it, the more you find out about it. And anyone, right now, this moment in time can go on the internet, they can go on sites. They can find out the dangers of vaccination and make their own informed decision.
I’m not saying that for everybody it’s going to be as straightforward and as straight cut as I was able to make that decision myself. But I just knew, from the beginning, that it was the wrong thing to do.
JB: This is fascinating.
Tracy, let me ask you this. When measles-if there’s a case of measles at the kids’ school, or if there’s a case of mumps or chickenpox-what do you do?
Tracy: I say, “Great! Come on kids – let’s go get it”. Because
children get childhood diseases for a reason. It’s to boost their immune system so that later on in life when they come into contact with those diseases, it doesn’t affect them so severely. And that is why they are called childhood diseases.
The only reason children get really, really ill and perhaps, you know, suffer serious side-effects are if:
a) their immune system is not strong enough to fight off the virus, or b) they are being suppressed by drugs or in some other way. Suppressant drugs or given too much antibiotics or…
JB: Now, now, you see, Tracy. People will hear what you’re saying and they’ll say,
“It’s all right for you”. As you’ve (quite rightly) said, your
kids-Thank God, touch wood and I’m touching it as we speak-they have run through this. But you are saying it is an individual decision, aren’t you?
Tracy: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. I would never, even in my job, I would never say to people, “You mustn’t do that”. I would give them the facts and say, “This is what I’ve come across. Go on these websites-and there are thousands out there-do your own investigations, don’t take my word for it. You know, everything I say, it may be my truth, it may not be yours. But you must investigate it yourself and don’t take the easy way out”.
I’ve had doctors ringing me at home. I’ve had Health Visitors having angry conversations with me. And now, what I say to those people-whose minds I’m not going to change anyway-that’s fine-I just say, “That’s my choice I’m making and I am making an informed decision”. And every parent has the right to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, not many people do want to do that.
JB: Tracy, I think that with you inspiring them they may jolly well want to after that.
Fantastic. 2:15 and [going to travel segment].
Martin over at Layscience has already fisked this excerpt and his anger at its nonsense is palpable. It is clear that Tracy is ignorant and uninformed about vaccination and is potentially putting her children at risk. However, it is not this that concerns me most. It is the quote about how Tracey came to her conclusions ‘It started off, I went on a short course about, it was a choice, making a choice about vaccination. And it was run by a homeopath.‘. It was run by a homeopath. I have documented on many occasions the inanities, inadequacies and insanities of the homeopathic profession and it is clear they have a fundamental opposition to vaccination, unless it is vaccination using homeopathic concentrations. This opposition to scientific theories of medicine, derogatorily referred to as allopathy – a description Jeni Barnett uses, has been ingrained within the writings and doctrines of homeopathy ever since its foundation by Samuel Hahnemann:
Therefore disease (that does not come within the province of manual surgery) considered, as it is by the allopathists, as a thing separate from the living whole, from the organism and its animating vital force, and hidden in the interior, be it ever so subtle a character, is an absurdity, that could only be imagined by minds of a materialistic stamp, and has for thousands of years given to the prevailing system of medicine all those pernicious impulses that have made it a truly mischievous [non-healing] art.
Verse 13. Organon 6th Edition
Lest you think that modern day homeopathy views such writings as being the product of their times and of little relevance to the modern work then read again the above transcript with its active campaign against vaccination. It is also not hard to find statements online such as this from Cassandra Marks:
A reader has asked whether homeopathic remedies can be used in place of immunisations [...] if your child has a simple illness without any complications this is much better for them than having an injection with all the well documented risks that that entails.
Cassandra even recommends anti-vaccine books and states they are available at homeopathic pharmacies. Be assured that modern day homeopathy still defines itself in opposition to ‘allopathy’ and actively seeks to undermine the best modern healthcare has to offer.
Jeni Barnett may be irresponsible and unapologetic but she is acting within her rights, and apparently within OFCOM guidelines, which are firm on subjects such as sex, drugs and the occult but not public health. Jeni Barnett is not a public health expert and nor does she pretend to be or treat patients, she is merely an ignorant broadcaster. Homeopaths on the other hand do believe they are public health experts and do treat patients. The opinions of Jeni Barnett will undoubtedly increase the anxiety of many members of the public when it comes to vaccination, but the harm does not lie in this alone. Barnett may believe she is just sharing her opinions with her listeners and giving a forum for a spectrum of views but she fails to realise or fails to care that the mistrust and disinformation broadcast across the radio waves by LBC is being absorbed by homeopaths, packaged into a bitter narrative of fear and mistrust of science based medicine, and sweetened with a sympathetic ear and a sugar pill. Homeopaths view such voices in the media as reinforcing their beliefs and giving them more confidence in their practices. They are active disseminators of ignorant opinion and underminers of evidence and this itself brings up further issues about their place in society. When homeopathy is given official support whether through the approval of degree courses, NHS funding or government recommendations their sugar pills act as a trojan horse, carrying their dark heart into the public consciousness and actively contributing to declines in public health. And should you want an illustration of just how damaging scaremongering over MMR can be then this BBC news report is essential reading, and I leave you with this graph.
I’m a bit slow today, I didn’t realise that Jeni Barnett is quite the fan of homeopathy. This does not surprise me and I wonder how influential her homeopath has been in forming her opinions. Clearly influential enough for Jeni to sign the homeopathy worked for me campaign….
Links to wikileaks and blogs
(shamelessly nicked from badscience)
Part 1. Frank. Jeni Barnett MMR show – full transcript
Part 2. Martin of The Lay Scientist. The Barnett Transcript –
Part 3 Podblack Jeni Barnett On LBC 97.3FM UK Radio – vs John From Epsom
Part 4 Rachel Dunlop of Sceptics’ Book
This section covers ~ 19 to 24 mins . To see the preceding section
head topodblack.com. For the audio head to my YouTube channel.
Part 5 Quackometer
Part 6 Holfordwatch Jeni Barnett and the Phone Call with Yasmin on the LBC MMR Segment
Dr Crippen of NHS BlogDoc: Jeni Barnett and LBC start the clean-up operation
Frank Swain of Science Punk: LBC sic lawyers on Ben Goldacre over criticism of MMR show
SJ Cockell of Fuzzier Logic: MMR scaremongerer sicks the legal dogs on Ben Goldacre
Podblack of Podblack Cat: Ben Goldacre – Will Not, Should Not, Be Silenced On Jeni Barnett.
Political Scientist: URGENT: The Joy of Law
Martin of The Lay Scientist: Jeni Barnett on MMR – The Complete Show.
Jason Brown of A Drunken Madman: More medical mendacity.
ES Armstrong of Scattergum: Jeni Barnett is an idiot.
Dr*T of Thinking is Dangerous: Is there a proper media lawyer in the house? Your country needs YOU.
Common Sense has updated the Measles graph for England and Wales.
Dr Rachie of The Sceptics’ Book: What are LBC and Jeni Barnett afraid of?
Press Gazette: LBC in legal warning to Ben Goldacre over MMR blog post
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle: MMR and legal threats and http://www.blacktriangle.org/blog/?p=1894″>The Today Programme’s irresponsible MMR interview
Quackometer: Jeni Barnett and Irresponsible Broadcasting
MacSpider of Spider Comment: Jeni Barnett, LBC, stupidity and threats
Londonist: MMR, For Some Reason, Still Controversial
Michael Grayer of Non-Toxic: Many Many Rants… and not much evidence.