I used to think that the Observer was a proper, accurate paper – that when you saw an article in it, you could assume that it was well-researched, probably accurate and, if a mistake was made, the Observer would correct it. Maybe I was naive before: at any rate, the Observer has very effectively disabused me of this belief. Apologies in advance for any typos etc. in the below: I’m sufficiently annoyed about this that I’m struggling not to break into any Stott-style swearing, so the bile might come out in an occasional spelling or grammatical mistake instead.
On 8/7/07 the Observer ran two awful articles on autism and MMR – and got things wrong in many, many ways. The problems with the Observer’s 8/7/07 article on autism rates and MMR, and Wakefield interview, have been dealt with at length – here and elsewhere – and I won’t go over all of these points again here: the Observer got things wrong in so many ways that it frankly becomes tedious to keep listing them again. They have also made a real hash of their two – woefully inadequate – responses to well-justified criticisms of the article: criticisms that were in many case far better-researched, more nuanced, and closer to what good journalism should be than Denis Campbell’s attempts at being a health/science journalist in the original Observer articles. The Observer have now removed one of the two offending articles from their website (although this appears to be for legal reasons, rather than a retraction due to the article being mostly wrong on most things it covered).
In this week’s Observer there is not (so far as I can tell from their website) any mention of their previous coverage of MMR and autism. After previously trying to cover up their horribly embarrassing failures with a bodged clarification, it looks like the Observer may now be hoping that if they don’t mention the elephant that is in the room – and currently stamping all over their reputation for quality journalism – the elephant will go away. However, that is not going to happen.
What I’m going to focus on here is the Wakefield/Campbell interview still on the Observer website – and two embarrassingly basic errors in the interview, which still remain uncorrected. In the interview, the writer (Denis Campbell, I presume) states that:
Critics point out that the US [Autism Omnibus] court case is not about the MMR vaccine itself but centres on the use of a preservative called thimerosal, which contains 50 per cent mercury and until a few years ago was added to routine vaccinations given to children in the US under one. Crucially, it has never been an element of the MMR vaccine here.
The Observer is simply wrong to imply that MMR contained thimerosal, anywhere, ever: this is a live vaccine, so adding such a preservative would render MMR ineffective. Moreover, the Autism Omnibus has discussed MMR at length: for example, Chadwick’s testimony to the court offers a devastatingly effective critique of Wakefield’s science. Continue reading