Editorial Note: The Post-Truth Rumorology post attracted a comment by Annie that deserves featuring.
She cites a really good Daily Mail article in which Melinda Messenger talks about intervening when her daughter is scheduled to have the HPV vaccine. The DM article drew this response from Dr. David Robert Grimes – a physicist at the University of Oxford – “Mothers should listen to the experts”.
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers we can prevent, which is why this vaccination program is so important and why all parents should ensure their daughters receive this potentially life-saving inoculation, writes Dr Robert Grimes, Science Writer and Cancer Researcher at the University of Oxford.
Gardasil, the form of the vaccine currently used in the UK, has been extensively tested for years and recipients constantly monitored for potential adverse effects.
More than 200 million doses have been administered over the past ten years, with research and trials dating back to 1991. The vaccine has proved to be a safe and effective intervention with an extremely low complication rate.
Only last year, a report based on data from more than a million recipients concluded the vaccine had a ‘favourable safety profile’. But still claims of ‘vaccine damage’ continue to circulate online, to be stumbled upon by the many who daily consult Dr Google, instead of turning to highly trained health professionals for advice.
Much of it comes from anti-vaccine campaigners, not content with the damage already done by the discredited, downright dangerous claims linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Among the groundless assertions are that the HPV vaccine causes thrombosis and chronic fatigue.
I cannot blame anyone whose child becomes ill or permanently exhausted for searching for an explanation and cause.
However, if you are giving a medical intervention to everyone at a certain age, as in this case, it is a medical certainty that some people get sick in the days, weeks or months afterwards. It would, of course, have happened whether or not they had received the treatment. It is merely coincidence.
Perhaps another issue with the vaccine, for some parents at least, is having to face up to the fact that their children will likely become sexually active in the not-too- distant future.
But, although pretty natural, such squeamishness doesn’t give you the right to deny your child, or the people they may become intimate with, the protection provided by this vaccine.
This most recent scaremongering, from the American College of Paediatricians concerning a risk of premature menopause, is equally without merit.
This is not some august medical body (in fact, that’s the American Academy of Paediatricians), but rather a group of conservative activists opposed to abortion rights, gay marriage and pre-marital sex.
Their claim is motivated more by ideology than by any evidence, and is simply not supported by the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. There is no link between the HPV virus and premature ovarian failure, so it makes no sense to suggest that the vaccine may cause this condition.
Yet still, there have been a number of legal challenges mounted against the manufacturers of Gardasil, supported by the ‘Regret’ group in Ireland.
The case made it all the way to the Irish High Court, and although it was refused, the movement shows no signs of abating.
We need only cast our minds back to the damage done by scare stories about the MMR vaccine to be reminded how dangerous this can be.
Those who are not vaccinated against the HPV will have a much higher risk of contracting cancer than they would have of becoming ill as a result of having the jab, so, from a parenting perspective, it’s a no-brainer.
What we must avoid at all costs are these tales of personal misfortune, which are ultimately unrelated to the vaccine, getting in the way of an inoculation programme that could save many thousands of lives.
Editorial Note: Dr Grimes is not a doctor. He is closely linked to Sense about Science for whom vaccinations can do no harm.
Annie also picked out some DRG Tweets. In response to Caron Ryalls
(a) No idea who you or your daughter are (b) Going to go out on a limb & say no medical records say HPV vaccine caused ill health
U publicly claim my daughter’s ill health is unrelated 2 HPVvax but U hv no access 2 her medical records @drg1985!
Linked to the Daily Mail article: David Robert Grimes @drg1985
The @DailyMailUK just ran page 3 model’s fears over HPV vaccine. Utter drivel. I was quoted in reply, w/ name mangled. Not linking.
..it’s utterly irresponsible of @DailyMailUK to run this crap, especially as I clearly stressed dangers of false balance to DM reporter.
And the sad thing is, the ramblings of a celebrity will garner far more press and panic than me or any scientist. Do better, @DailyMailUK
..it’s precisely this kind of thing that makes scientists weary about talking to the press; science is an afterthought. @DailyMailUK
The Messenger article was well done. Neither Motivation nor Expertise are always right, we ideally need both. But if forced to choose between them, and in particular when motivation is linked to a mother looking after her children, in our current post-truth world of which pharmaceutical companies are the masters – as Study 329 demonstrates, I personally would lean toward motivation.
What was a surprise for me in the article was that while Messenger was sent a consent form by her daughter’s school and made it clear she did not consent, on the day the vaccinators are there if a 12 or 13 girl consents the vaccinators can over-ride a parent’s objections.
The Victoria Derbyshire show last week also featured a pre-teen who figured they were in a mis-sexed body. They were looking forward to being 13 when they could essentially demand the alt-hormones.
But if a teenage girl walks into a beautician in Britain and wants her ears pierced, unless she is 16 nowhere will do it without parental consent, and in Scotland it would be illegal.
A common theme in comments like DRG’s is that anecdotes are not data or science.
The original phrase was the Plural of Anecdotes is Data. This was coined in 1969 by Raymond Wolfinger. It is at the heart of the Big Data industries. If this weren’t true Google and Facebook wouldn’t exist.
The idea that the Plural of Anecdotes is not Data appears to originate from the CEO of Nutrasweet after his company’s product became embroiled in a cancer scare. It has been the mantra of corporations defending products ever since. (Please let us know if you can find earlier uses).
The response “Anecdotes are not Science” to claims of harms came into existence earlier. It was being widely used by spokesmen for the Pedophile Information Exchange during the 1970s when they infiltrated the Gay Liberation Front and Britain’s National Council of Civil Liberties. The NCCL was then steered by figures like Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, who feature in the photo above. Hewitt and Harman were later among the leadership of the Blair Government.
Statements that we haven’t proven harm to children offered the press a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel opportunity to go after the Loony Left.
The PIE also showed a mastery of the ability to split hairs and other tricks that are now part of the corporate armory – No pedophile ever harmed a child, they were busy telling us in the 1970s – it’s child-molesters that do things like that.
The upshot was caught in this constructed photo of Patricia Hewitt – a decent woman as far as I know – who probably never actually said this. But she ended up years later being portrayed as taking the same position that all politicians on the Left or the Right take in response to drug induced injuries and occupational injuries or environmental toxicity – we can’t or haven’t proven harm. In most of these cases, like environmental toxicities and drug induced injuries, it turns out the harms to children are even greater than to anyone else.
The Vaccine arguments portray children’s immune and other systems as still developing suggesting they are more able to overcome these challenges than older people. This is Anecdotal.