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Judgement day for public trust in science

Susan Watts | 13:27 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010

When JD Salinger's death was announced on Thursday evening, a three-minute item on public trust in science slipped out of the Newsnight running order. So here is what I was preparing to say:

The doctor whose research 12 years ago sparked the MMR vaccine controversy, Andrew Wakefield, faced what some called his "judgement day" at the General Medical Council(GMC) on Thursday afternoon.

The case raises far-reaching questions over how science is conducted, adding to those already swirling around over climate change research.

Science, how it is carried out and how it is reported, is under scrutiny. Some say it is about time.

Last year's e-mail release from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (UEA) raises questions about how open scientists are prepared to be when questioned by critics.

The information commissioner said this week that the unit had breached freedom of information laws by failing to respond to Freedom of Information requests, but says it is too late to prosecute.

The withholding of climate data is already being examined by an inquiry set up by the university, and chaired by Sir Muir Russell. There were calls on Thursday for this to be held in public.

And then there's "glaciergate" - evidence that the speed of Himalayan glacier melt has been seriously misrepresented in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).

It is profoundly worrying that it took three years for this issue to emerge, especially since the IPCC proudly proclaims its reports to be "peer reviewed", and therefore trustworthy.

The Wakefield case raises fresh questions. How rigorous are ethical checks on medical research? Who pays for the science we all read about? And again, questions over peer review, and just how robust this process is, given its aim of questioning new science before it is published.

The GMC panel looked into the circumstances surrounding research on 12 children, published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998.

The liberal democrat MP Evan Harris is on the House of Commons' science and technology committee. He thinks the original Lancet paper should never have been published, and that the fact that it was means peer review failed.

"We need to look at peer review, because while it's far better than nothing, it is not perfect, and when it fails it gives claims made under peer review the imprimatur of being properly done, research being conducted properly, and there being sufficient oversight by other scientists of that work.

"So the stakes are very high and I think there's more that can be done to make sure that peer review is as fraud-proof or lazy-proof as possible. I just wish that either the science minister or one of the select committees would take this issue seriously, because it's in the interests of everyone, scientists and the journals and the public, that they can have faith in peer reviewed work."

It is hard to imagine how the GMC panel's findings could have been more damning.

It concluded that Dr Wakefield had carried out research without proper ethical approval, had shown "callous disregard" for the distress of children at a birthday party for his son, at which he had taken blood samples for his research, and that he had been "dishonest" in how he had presented his science to The Lancet.

The panel also found that his actions brought the medical profession into disrepute.

Having concluded, as it has, that Dr Wakefield's actions could constitute serious professional misconduct, the panel will now decide if his actions did constitute serious professional misconduct, and if so, what sanctions to impose.

The most serious of these is that he could be struck off.

Dr Wakefield made a brief statement: "Naturally I am extremely disappointed by the outcome of today's proceedings. The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust - I repeat, unfounded and unjust - and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion...

"It remains for me to thank the parents, whose commitment and whose loyalty has been extraordinary, and I want to reassure them that the science will continue in earnest."

But Evan Harris thinks that the Wakefield case raises serious issues over the ethics of medical/scientific research:

"Even though it's 12 years after paper was published, I'm not sure we've learned all the lessons. I think that journals looking at studies done on human subjects should ask to see the research protocol - that's the plan giving ethical approval - and compare it to what actually happened as described in the paper.

"That way I think we will pick up on other people playing fast and loose with research ethics in this area. It does slow down researchers to make sure they get everything approved, but I think it's vital ethically and to keep the confidence of the patients that their wishes are being protected."

The GMC panel stressed that the Wakefield case is not a judgement on the MMR vaccine, and any supposed link with autism or bowel disorders. But both sides clearly see it that way.

There were extraordinary scenes outside the GMC, parents with anti-vaccine banners and a campaigner with a loudhailer suggesting the public look more critically at the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK's vaccine policy.

At the same time, many of the UK's major medical and scientific institutions re-issued a statement to coincide with the GMC announcement. It said that they believe that the MMR vaccine protects the health of children, and that "a large body of scientific evidence shows no link between the vaccine and autism".

Later, I spoke to David Thrower, a father of an autistic child he believes was damaged first by a single measles vaccine, and then by MMR. He has profound concerns about the state of science today:

"I think that whether there's confidence or not in the vaccine is not the point. The point is that people need to have confidence in science, and they need to be confident that the science is independently funded and independently reported and at the moment I just don't think we have that.

"I think scientific research has more or less now been colonised by the drugs manufacturers or it comes from government, there's no longer any independent money going into this issue and until we get that, we won't get any further forward."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    ITS NOT JUST SCIENCE

    Critical thought is not a currency in our culture.

  • Comment number 2.

    While it is good to note that the public, rightly, has reason to adopt a perhaps more challenging stance to all that is served up by 'scientists', it is worth remembering there are others involved, and often complicit in one's perceptions of 'science' too.

    From politicians who rather foolishly think what they are told, and choose to believe, renders it 'settled', and indeed feel empowered enough to label those with simple doubts and questions in highly pejorative terms, to those in the media often more than supportive of certain establishment narratives.

    I, for one, feel that while the edit suite is a fantastic tool to aid communication, it is also a hugely powerful one ripe for abuse. And when it is abused, the fragile thing that is trust can be very badly compromised.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/susanwatts/2009/01/restoring_science_to_its_right.html#comments

  • Comment number 3.

    Global Warming (AGW)

    I have been following the Climate Change /Global Warming story for some time and am very concerned about the balance of the BBC’s reporting of it.

    Recently, triggered by the UEA email scandal, there has been a far more rigorous presentation in some media of the wide range of views and data which actually exist in contrast to a very limited, possibly edited, selection presented by governments (including ours ‘settled science’), quangos and, sadly, some of the media, the BBC not excluded.

    Post Copenhagen, the UEA’s dubious research, the IPCC ‘s selective statistics and glacier dishonesty it seems a good time for a serious and balanced consideration of the whole topic. After all our government glibly promises £1.5bn at Copenhagen, carbon trading industry is now worth millions and biofuel possibly compromises future food production, all in the name of a possibly unproven hunch.

    It seems to me to be an appropriate topic for Newsnight. Suitable panellists might be Nigel Lawson, someone from UEA(I doubt if Prof Jones would fancy it), someone from the IPCC and a leading sceptical scientist, eg. Prof Jawarowski.

    It would be important to cover:
    Science and statistics
    The principal of peer review.
    Open access to raw data (not just release to sympathetic reviewers).
    The difference between original and ‘adjusted’ data.
    The effect on statistics of the reduction in climate recording stations(NOAA).
    Long term data, eg Central England Temperature Record, from 1659
    Politics and the Industry
    The value of grants received by UEA, and from whom.
    How much money Al Gore has made from climate related activities.
    The extent to which his Nobel prize arose from fraudulent data.
    The amount of taxation likely to be levied as ‘climate protection’.
    Prof. Pauchauri and his connection with climate change commercial interests.

    I wouldn’t expect the program do be able to make scientific judgements but it would be immensely valuable to demonstrate the political and, therefore, financial climate within which this discussion is being conducted and the sums of money hanging on political judgements.

  • Comment number 4.

    Fact - our Earth’s climate is changing.
    Using carbon for energy has caused great harm to the Earth’s atmosphere and every living thing on our planet. Obvious solution: the World must stop using energy produced from carbon.

    Fact - the Sun and natural universal shifts are having affects on our planet that we will not be able to prevent. We can only hope to mitigate such affects by compiling strategies to ensure that our populations will be able to adapt to the changes in climate.

    Currently, the main solution proposed by governments, corporations and bankers is to use fraudulent science to manipulate the rest of us into paying taxes to an undemocratic, central banking system . The staggering amount of money wasted on pointless wars instigated by governments and supported by corporations, bankers and military industrialists goes to prove that any strategies put forward by these groups should be treated with suspicion.

    A case in point – the banker J P Morgan in the early 1900’s purposefully blocked an amazing discovery made by genius Nikola Tesla that it was possible to generate and transmit energy naturally through the ether. Tesla was initially backed by Morgan to develop this new technology, but the banker withdrew funding when he discovered the energy produced could not be “metered” and would in effect be “free energy”. When Tesla died in 1943 the FBI confiscated all of Tesla’s scientific papers and refused to release any of the information despite numerous requests from scientists and investigators. Bankers, governments and corporations should now be IMPELLED to make disclosure of any information of this kind so that we can try and develop energy systems that may save the Earth from destructive forces beyond our control.

    I’m guessing we shouldn’t be too optimistic about this happening any time soon. They will go down with the rest of us, clutching their dollar bills………or, more likely, they’ve already made arrangements for their own survival and couldn’t care less about the rest of us.

  • Comment number 5.

    i see milliband is trying to pump the climate industry again [lets not dignify it by calling it science]. lots of tax wonga at stake which they have to justify with 'science' otherwise it just looks stupid.

    which it probably is given this

    'LORD STERN’S report on climate change, which underpins government policy, has come under fire from a disaster analyst who says the research he contributed was misused. The criticism is among the strongest made of the Stern report, which, since its publication in 2006, has influenced policy, including green taxes.'

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7009710.ece

    and oh dear

    'The world's leading climate change scientists have been caught out making unfounded claims about global warming for the second time in just over a week.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1245695/UN-climate-change-panel-blunders-wrongly-linking-global-warming-rise-severe-floodings.html

    there is no time limit on prosecuting people on data laws. see 'Is the British government conspiring not to prosecute?'

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100024548/climategate-is-the-british-government-conspiring-not-to-prosecute/




    the socialists who have piled into climate as a trojan horse to get their climate 'justice' agenda in must be delighted with

    'IMF plans 100 billion fund to help poor mitigate climate impact'
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gMWHPPppC7BpUvb7qSdthPw5ThyA


    not sure this adds to their credibility

    Tony Blair is lobbying world leaders on the environment on behalf of an organisation funded by the Russian oligarch with close links to Lord Mandelson.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7054986/Tony-Blairs-climate-change-project-paid-for-by-Oleg-Deripaska-oligarch-who-entertained-Lord-Mandelson-and-George-Osborne.html


    climate industry is the new iraq/war on terror.

    which means they have to create a new gitmo to put the climate deniers in. which explains agendas like 'Ed Miliband declares war on climate change sceptics'?

    all this govt language of 'war on ....' is boringly familiar? they have to bring their 'climate science' to the deniers?

    climate industry is the new iraq/war on terror.

  • Comment number 6.

    I happened to wonder into the ACT ON CO2 energy saving tips for car drivers from a link on an article of mine pointing out the extra fuel wasted by traffic calming on drivers.com. It would appear that the IPPC is not the only government alleged eco organization using anecdotes or false propaganda from magazine articles.

    " Slow down! A recent study commissioned by What Car? Magazine showed that the average car consumes 38 per cent more fuel at 70mph than it does over the same distance at 50mph. At 60mph it uses 34 per cent more than at 40mph. The average driver travelling at 90mph on a motorway will spend £1.20 more on fuel every eight minutes than a driver travelling at 70mph. The 90mph driver will have travelled farther in that time but will still be spending 40 per cent more per mile than the 70mph driver."

    As an extremely well qualified automotive engineer I can assure you that the above paragraph is complete motor industry propaganda aimed at costing the motorist more in the long run.

    It would appear that Act on CO2 has swallowed all the misleading propaganda and reproduced it on their web site covering driving technique. There are actually sites out there which suggest the true way to save fuel, driving as Act on CO2 suggest won't save anything, just reduce the life of your engine.

    Some of you may have seen various articles on alleged " eco driving " and not being a trained automotive engineer like myself probably taken it all in like a toilet. Perhaps ACT ON CO2's greatest sin is the advice given is to change up at 2500 Rpm ( 2000 in a diesel ) which is completely misleading.

    An internal combustion engine is at its most efficient at the Rpm where maximum torque occurs. This can be gleaned from the owners handbook and the economy trick is to select a gear which comes close to the said Rpm at your desired target speed. An engine will " sup juice like a fish " at any RPM significantly below maximum torque whilst at moderate ( 1000 ) Rpm above maximum torque Rpm fuel consumption does not increase significantly.

    Don't worry if you don't have the handbook, it turns out that in most cases 30 Mph in third gear comes close enough to the maximum torque of your engine. Don't go into 4th unless you are doing at the very least 40 Mph, similarly don't use 5th until doing at least 50. Do around 60 Mph wherever you can legally and of course more importantly don't infringe Newton's laws of Motion around corners, on the 10% +2 Mph plod rule you can theoretically do 68 anyway.

    The theory that creeping around at 40 saves fuel is complete nonsense in my long experience, its all about work done times efficiency ( only 30% ) times time taken.

    The real measure of fuel consumption is grammes per kilowatt hour not Mpg, the longer it takes you to get there the more fuel you will use. Sir Frank Whittle knew this when he perceived the jet engine. It works out that the most efficient average speed for a modern motor vehicle is close to 60 Mph, after that air resistance starts to come into play.

    However, dependent on vehicle design air resistance can fall as the vehicle goes faster and builds up its own near perfect streamlining so true 70 on the motorway is not an efficiency problem in such a case. ( most car speedo's read 10% fast ). If you need to calibrate your speedo follow a lorry on the motorway at a accurately limited fuel inefficient 56 Mph. Fuel consumption for 38 tonne tankers running from Lancashire to Glasgow and back on nights increased from 9 Mpg to 7 Mpg on the introduction of speed limiters during the 1990s

    Furthermore, if you chug around at 40 Mph in top gear carbon deposits are likely to build up in your engine leading to reduced fuel efficiency over time. Similarly, if you have a turbo its life is likely to be significantly reduced driving at low Rpm over a period, start black smoking and fail the MoT. Driving on full throttle in too high a gear risks blowing the head gasket not to mention unnecessary stress on the crankshaft bearings and connecting rods.

    As an integral part of " the motor industry " it is highly probable that What Car will attempt to increase business for other motor industry cartel members.

    It would appear that the energy saving information on Act on CO2 is just as much a scam as the rest of the Climate Change quasi-religion.

    Left this bit out of the original but ACT ON CO2 also attempt to portray that opening your window ( over 50 ) to keep cool in summer uses more fuel due to " increased drag " than using your air conditioning. If this were the case an average family car travelling at 70 Mph would physically slow down the moment you opened the window. Air conditioning can use up to 15% of your engines power and therefore contribute similarly to increased fuel consumption.

    I believe that Clarkson was pushing this story on Top Gear, but then in more recent times it has always been a comedy programme !

  • Comment number 7.

    'Science, how it is carried out and how it is reported, is under scrutiny. Some say it is about time.'

    Some would say that this all started to go very very wrong (or right form those engineering it?) about three decades ago.

    Two things happened. First we fatally expanded Higher Education (for essentially commercial reasons alone?). Second, Thatcher's Government (and its successors) politicised/commercialised science at the same time that they politicised the Civil Service.

    To understand the latter, I suggest one has to look very carefully into how Civil Service grading changed a couple of decades ago. This effectively removed the 'independent' advisory function of specialist Civil Servants. An illustration of how this went wrong can be seen in the cases of David Kelly and (in a non scientific capacity) the legal advisor who felt she had to resign her post in to FCO (which is 'the done thing' when Civil Servants can't follow orders) over 1441 and the legality of the Iraq War.

    That is the choice - i.e do as one is induced to do by the unsaid demand from one's superiors..... or leave.

    The consequences should be quite clear in terms of the integrity of those who don't leave.

    It is very easy to be high-handed in this matter, but people do have partners and dependents to support, and leaving, even by 'one's own volition', can appear to some that one is leaving 'under a cloud' or 'jumping before one is pushed'...

    It's a dilemma.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think that a lot of science unfortunately is taken at face value from media coverage. That means the BBC and other organisations have a particular responsibility in this area.
    It is a personal view that the BBC itself have reported what it feels is the consensus view but has drifted like the scientists into promotion of a hugely politised theory.
    It is now obvious there are huge potential conflicys of interest with regard to governmental influence and membership of the IIGCC.
    Can you really hope to be impartial?

  • Comment number 9.

    Dear Mr. Rippon and Ms. Watts,
    RE: CLIMATE CHANGE EDITORIAL COVERAGE.
    Is it not time for the BBC to do a blog or programme that properly criticises the IPCC and the governments that have excessively promoted the global warming hypothesis? There is now a growing list of criticisms to consider:

    Tree-ring data.
    Destruction of e-mails,
    Freedom of information,
    Manipulation of data.
    Exaggeration of glaciers’ melting,
    Frequency of hurricanes and extreme weather events.

    The taxpayer-funded Met Office is also part of the process of exaggeration and propaganda. For example, their web site contains assertions about the rate of temperature increases at the end of the last Ice Age, measured in terms of decades:

    "...Average global temperatures are now some 0.75 °C warmer than they were 100 years ago. Since the mid-1970s, the increase in temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade. This rate of change is very unusual in the context of past changes and much more rapid than the warming at the end of the last ice age. Sea-surface temperatures have warmed slightly less than the global average whilst temperatures over land have warmed at a faster quotation from rate of almost 0.3 °C per decade..."

    (Quotation from Met Office web site).

    I would presume that precision of measurement for this period( the Ice Age) is limited to something in the order of "per 500 year" period. Should the claim not be re-written to reflect the weak knowledge we have of the period?

    After that, perhaps the BBC could make its first criticism of the Stern Report.

  • Comment number 10.

    Congratulations on last nights programme which I feel is a first step on the part of the BBC in establishing balance on this topic.

    There is still work to do, however, as the IPCC seems reluctant to really accept its shortcomings. Watching the interview suggested that they have a religious rather than scientific belief in their message. The penalists were good.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 11.

    We may well be entering an age of distrust in science, but it is all relative. I distrust drug companies far more than I do science in general. The crux of the argument against Dr. Andrew Wakefield seems to be that he took blood samples at his child's birthday party. Whilst this may be unethical, it does not alter the results of any tests done with the blood samples. Therefore, it does not, in itself, negate his work.

    It is also worth noting that the MMR vaccine contains mercury based preservatives. While I cannot necessarily say this is harmful in this specific case, it is worth noting that mercury have a pattern of being withdrawn from products because of the inherent risks of this heavy metal. We cannot even by mercury thermometers any more!

    It would seem that if a doctor raises questions about the safety of a drug, then these should be investigated further rather than the doctor being vilified in a witch hunt for daring the question drug companies and government policy.

    Post 1:barriesingleton was right to say that there is a lack of critical thinking. The investigation into Andrew Wakefield was quick to highlight the conflict of interest due to him being an expert witness in a related MMR court case. However, where it the scrutiny of the other side? Any medicine routinely administered to all children represents a huge market for the drug companies. Switching to single dose vials to remove the need for mercury preservatives would cost the government huge amounts of money. Therefore, the drug companies and the government have a vested interest in keeping the MMR vaccinations as is.

    The BBC's own graph of MMR vaccination rates and disease cases appeared to show no correlation. Vaccination rates only dropped from 90% to 80% and these are not serious diseases anyway. I never had MMR - we just got mumps and measles instead. When I was at school we were vaccinated against "real" diseases like Small Pox and Polio!

  • Comment number 12.

    9. swatts2 'would presume that precision of measurement for this period( the Ice Age) is limited to something in the order of "per 500 year" period. Should the claim not be re-written to reflect the weak knowledge we have of the period?'

    Not only did political motivated people choose an area of science which is well known to be subject to the uncertainties characteristic of non-linear dynamical systems, but the message appears to have been cynically demographically targeted at the scientifically less-that-literate, too. This is what one might expect in a culture which now pretty much equates democracy with populism. These (see above post(s) are some of the simple, i.e. uncomplicated, reasons why competent scientists try to avoid the public limelight and why the less competent crave it.

    The respresentative of the IPCC last night was adept at foot-shooting in that he made much of his pyramid of quality control despite the obvious debris which had floated to the top.

    This is basically what happens if one expands/popularises/commercialises higher education as bling: it lowers standards. It shifts the selection filter to the left, or to change the image, it opens the sluice-gate.

  • Comment number 13.

    Why has it taken so long for Susan Watts, Newsnight's science editor to comment on the 'climategate' emails? The BBC are embarrassingly partial on this matter, and should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Comment number 14.

    13. mpjw 'Why has it taken so long for Susan Watts, Newsnight's science editor to comment on the 'climategate' emails? The BBC are embarrassingly partial on this matter, and should be ashamed of themselves.'

    A rhetorical question I know, but I'll add to it by asking why Newnight is so enamoured with celebrities, and why the Oscars got any attention at all last night?

    Is Newsnight just entertainment? Is it all presentation for the masses? Is asking such questions pointless in this ratings driven, populist, culture? Do some minorities have any say anymore, or are they to be contemptuously dispensed with as 'elitist' by madame guillotine?

  • Comment number 15.

    The real issue here is one of Peak Oil and climate change may be a ruse for Peak Oil. If the CC debate was a peak oil debate (no IPCC needed to forcast peak oil as it has happened in UK, Indonesia, Kuwait, mexico and USA) then we could possibly see mass panic like we saw back in 2000 with the petrol crisis, empty supermarket shelves, panic buying, although this would be temporary with ministers assuring us that the Global peak is decades away (lies) it would still cause major concern amongst members of the public.

    It has been forcast (google Jeff rubin) that by 2014 the world will need to find an additional 20 million barrels of oil a day (A DAY) just to standstill at current consumption rates and that is without demand growth, mainly coming from the Middle east for reverse osmosis for a thirsty ever growing young population.

    Come on Newsnight - Do a Peak Oil prima Please!

  • Comment number 16.

    15. Paul Smith 'Come on Newsnight - Do a Peak Oil prima Please!'

    Here's a general question and point: Given that so much is now available on the WWW, why does it matter what Newsnight says anymore? Most of the time they get their pieces from the web anyway. Let's call this the Wizard of Oz Syndrome.

    The same can be said with respect to peer reviewed journals. The days when the great publishing houses were the bottle-neck or gatekeepers of research are in fact long gone. Science/knowledge is falsifiable/replicable on the basis of the propositions aired, not who airs them, or who agrees to publish them, peer reviewers are not Titans anymore.

    The criterion for truth is in fact operational and pragmatic. If a proposition works and improves prediction and control in said domain, and if it is simpler than what was believed before (etc) it's true, i.e an advance.

    The revolution happened when the WWW became a forum for making public what people had to say. It began with USENET.

    This is what is meant by PUBLICation.

    This truth still has to sink in for many. Many are still locked into an outdated ritual or peer review and slavery to universities and publishing houses. This is what has changed.

  • Comment number 17.

    'The emails, published online on the eve of the recent Copenhagen climate summit, led to allegations that Professor Jones and other researchers had behaved inappropriately in withholding or deleting scientific information to prevent its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Last week the charge became more serious when the Information Commissioner's Office said that in withholding information, UEA had broken the law.'

    The Independent 2nd Feb

    There is a major problem can-of-worms here surely?

    The FOI (like HR and similar equality and freedom legislation e.g. the RRAA) applies only to PUBLIC, ie state funded bodies. Does this not mean that researchers working in publicly funded bodies are at a competitive disadvantage to those funded privately as they must disclose their data, and researchers guard their data from rivals/competitors?

    That is, is this not yet a further (clever) attack on statism?

  • Comment number 18.

    While there have certainly been some allegations of dodgy behaviour by some scientists, the headline seems overkill. People don't seem to have given up flying because they don't trust scientists who say that powered flight is possible. People haven't given up going to doctors because they have stopped believing the claims of medicine. The reason science is so powerful is that it allows for cross-checking and validation. If a scientist is proved to have acted unscientifically the flawed work is removed from the body of reliable knowledge and science goes on.

    There may be some strident anti-science voices but too much of civilisation depends on science for the public to abandon it. No-one wants a world with no medicine, engineering, transport, communications...

  • Comment number 19.

    18. 100 Word News 'The reason science is so powerful is that it allows for cross-checking and validation. If a scientist is proved to have acted unscientifically the flawed work is removed from the body of reliable knowledge and science goes on.'

    Well, it isn't exactly removed is it? In fact, there's an awful lot of junk science out there in the ever expanding library of journals. In some subjects, the entire way that research is done is highly suspect given researchers' uncritical faith in inductive statistics. Even more worryingly, one hears far to much store put by 'argument' instead of empirical evidence these days. It's as if legalese has taken over. I can think of some areas of 'science' which are completely at odds with empirical reality, can't you?

    Why is that?

  • Comment number 20.

    My son is autistic. He had a reaction to his first triple vaccinations (Hib/DTP..) He was hospitalised after the first jab, then again after the second one due to an unidentifiable rash he developed. He was given a lumbar punture. Was this necessary? The first time I was told by the doctors that it was not related to the jab, the second time, I was told it was a reaction to the vaccine and I should have the third dose as single injections so they could tell which one was causing the problem. The single jabs gave no reaction. Obviously I was too scared to give my son the MMR and he has had a single jab. I recently tried to get a single Tetenus jab for him. It took me 6 months and we had to be seen at our local hospital. The doctor told me very coldly he did not approve of single vaccinations.
    My story is not unique. What is so upsetting about the Wakefield situation is that it leaves parents like myself still waiting for answers. Lets hope there are researchers out there brave enough to continue exploring vaccination links. Bullying parents into mulitple vaccines is not the answer. I have read some despicable reporting in newspapers, one suggesting Boden vouchers might persuade us middle class mothers in favour of MMR. Pathetic journalism is all I can say!

  • Comment number 21.

    SCIENCE INFOTAINMENT SERVICES FROM NEWSNIGHT.

    It is notable that the Newsnight editor commissioned a series of 8 blogs on the Copenhagen summit. It was part of a crescendo of publicity and propaganda surrounding the climate change negotiations. Meanwhile, the BBC has dropped reporting on Asian bird flu and, to a lesser extent, on Mexican swine flu. Asian bird flu is probably still killing farmers who have had close contact with infected poultry. There is nothing on it because it is old news. Scare stories and crises make better and more entertaining news than dull humdrum fact. The new narrative is now likely to be cover-up and governmental deception in the scientific community. It is a good story-line; but it misses the essential point.

    POLITICS TRUMPS SCIENCE.
    One does not need to be a scientific expert to understand that countries such as Switzerland, Hungry, the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan do not have a sea-coast. If these nations choose to help others that are affected by rising sea levels, it would be an act of political charity. Similarly, there are many northern latitude countries, including the UK, where changes in long-term weather patterns are entirely benign. They, too, are making a gift to foreigners in agreeing a global solution to the alleged problem of climate change.
    The reason why a bureaucratic authority, which is wed to the climate change agenda and attendant budgets, invokes science is in order to stifle legitimate political debate.

  • Comment number 22.

    Susan, might I suggest that you dig much deeper into why there are all these problems with credibility, i.e what has changed over the past few decades in our demographics which account for this sad state of affairs?

    It is endemic, and it does need to be looked into very thoroughly by investigative journalists. It will take more than the Newsnight Team though.

    This is a valuable public service which the BBC could perform, I suggest, and the time is right.

  • Comment number 23.

    Perhaps if Susan got together with Paul Mason and looked into how SIVs have been used (via PFI) to failitate the privatisation of some of the last remaining public sector services (e.g schools via BSF and NHS polyclinics) at the gullible public's long-term expense, the true horror of all this devolution (see NI and the break up of Britain into Regional Assemblies overseen by Brussels by the Lisbon Treaty?) will become more obvious to people.

    Here is just one entry point using this thread's ever so sad subject.

  • Comment number 24.

    Here's the really BIG scientific question of our age which nobody seems prepared to 'address':

    If redistribution of wealth and equal opportunity are such powerful forces, how come there is absolutely no evidence that this makes an iota of difference? and why, given that our research cupboard is bare, does this myth still persist?

 

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