In 2017 the Sense about Science (SAS) John Maddox (JM) Prize was awarded to to Riko Muranaka for her efforts to counter apparent misinformation about the HPV vaccine.
MedWatcher Japan are the group who have helped raise the profile of concerns about the HPV vaccine in Japan. When it comes to tackling the adverse effects of treatments, there is no more impressive group in the world and in response to their arguments – see Here – the Japanese government has reconsidered its position.
Key to an award of an SAS Prize is that Muranaka should have been threatened, and intimidated for her brave work standing up for truth. I asked some MedWatcher contacts what the score was. They said yep she’s saying she has been threatened but there is nothing much that can be done about it, as she would just use any complaints or even debate as evidence of persecution.
What’s going on?
Iron Fist in Iron Glove
In the 1980s the pharmaceutical industry began to outsource the running of clinical trials to contract research companies, the writing of articles on their drugs to medical writing companies, and a lot of drug development to biotech companies, who could be bought if they discovered something.
Between 1990 and 2002 when Sense about Science and the Science Media Centre appeared, industry realized they could outsource “fascism” too.
When a controversy blows up about a medical product today, it is rare to have the company behind the product wade into the controversy. They take a reputational hit if they do. Instead, the Science Media Centre in the UK or equivalent bodies elsewhere or SAS wades in – supported increasingly by APA or RCP or other such bodies.
SMC and SAS offer plausible deniability. As Tony Blair seems to have told the Trump team, the Obama administration will never have asked Britain’s intelligence service to spy on Trump – but it will have been understood.
Industry also gets to exploit private enterprise. If a number of providers are competing for the contract. just as with ghostwriters whose job requires competing to find big name academic authors and journals, or CROs who in competing will sign up non-existent patients if need be to secure the next contract, industry can depend on its outsourced defenders to outdo each other in terms of heaping abuse on those who might disparage a company product. They outsourced defenders are not bound by Good Communication Practice standards.
The following material – except my comments in orange – is taken from the SAS website.
The JM Prize recognises the work of individuals who promote sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so.
It pays tribute to the attitude of JM who, in the words of his friend Walter Gratzer: “wrote prodigiously on all that was new and exciting in scientific discovery and technological advance, denouncing fearlessly what he believed to be wrong, dishonest or shoddy. He did it with humour and grace, but he never sidestepped controversy, which he seemed in fact to relish. His forthrightness brought him some enemies, often in high places, but many more friends. He changed attitudes and perceptions, and strove throughout his long working life for a better public understanding and appreciation of science.”
The winner of the JM Prize receives £2000, and an announcement of the winner is published in Nature. The award is presented each year at a reception in November.
Simon Wessely and Fang Shi-min are the two winners of the inaugural JM Prize for Standing up for Science
Fang Shi-min, a freelance science journalist based in Beijing, was awarded the Prize for his bravery and determination in standing up to threats to his life to uncover clinics promoting unproven treatments, and to bring a wide public readership to the importance of looking for evidence.
Simon Wessely, Professor of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London, was awarded the Prize for his ambition and courage in the field of ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) and Gulf War syndrome, and the way he has dealt bravely with intimidation and harassment when speaking about his work and that of colleagues.
Given his very close links to SAS and SMC, the award of an SAS Prize to SW smacks of SAS awarding the Prize to itself.
That said, it’s easy to get on with SW. I’ve been to his house and he to mine. There are certain things you don’t challenge acquaintances on. In this case one of those things was his belief that he’d had death threats and in general had had a hard time from people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who didn’t like his research. Long before this SAS prize came on the radar, he had assiduously been peddling this line, as the researchers working on CFS in general do.
One of the other things I didn’t challenge him on was James Coyne who SW thought was marvellous.
I’d first come across JC when the University of Toronto – and perhaps others – appeared to have outsourced the defending of their fragile little selves against the juggernaut that was Healy – after they’d fired me – to JC, who didn’t just say what U of T or others might have wanted to say but went wildly beyond that without his having ever met me or liaised with me in any shape or form whatsoever.
JC is a notable academic thug, a bully who picks on women in particular. Some people find him very intimidating in print but if you confront him he becomes your new best friend in a rather wheedling kind of way. See Rolf Harris and James Coyne
David Nutt is the winner of the 2013 JM Prize for Standing up for Science.
The judges awarded the prize to Professor Nutt in recognition of the impact his thinking and actions have had in influencing evidence-based classification of drugs…, and his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism.
Professor Nutt was named chairman of the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in May 2008. In 2009 Professor Nutt was dismissed from his role at the ACMD by Home Secretary Alan Johnson after speaking out about the Government’s policies on drugs being at odds with the evidence. Concerns among the scientific community following Professor Nutt’s dismissal led to the creation of the Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice, which are now part of the Ministerial Code.
Again I know DN, well enough to share an early morning Caribbean jacuzzi with him when we were both jet-lagged. I thought this award to DN was wonderful given that he had referred me to the GMC in 2006 – a professional death threat – for standing up for science in the face of pretty intimidating odds.
Curiously the weapon he used for the referral was an article by Coyne on the martyrdom of david healy. Something Coyne and the journal in which it appeared seem to have been too nervous to include in the print edition of the journal.
In throwing the case out the GMC put it all down to the usual rough and tumble academics get up to.
Emily Willingham and David Robert Grimes are the two winners of the 2014 JM Prize for Standing up for Science.
Emily Willingham, a US writer, has brought discussion about evidence, from school shootings to home birth, to large audiences through her writing. She has continued to reach across conflict and disputes about evidence to the people trying to make sense of them. She is facing a lawsuit for an article about the purported link between vaccines and autism.
David Grimes writes bravely on challenging and controversial issues, including nuclear power and climate change. He has persevered despite hostility and threats, such as on his writing about the evidence in the debate on abortion in Ireland. He does so while sustaining his career as a scientist at the University of Oxford.
If there is anyone around the place who sounds most like Coyne, without being JC, its DRG who has the same features of picking on women and being intimidating and just plain objectionable. He wades in on medical, especially vaccination, issues, without having any background that would qualify him for doing so, and usually does so from the safety of a twitter feed or print media – he has been notably reluctant to engage with people in real time.
Edzard Ernst and Susan Jebb are the two winners of the 2015 JM Prize.
Edzard Ernst is recognised for his long commitment to applying scientific methodologies in research into complementary and alternative medicines and to communicating this need. Prof Ernst continued in his work despite personal attacks and attempts to undermine his research unit and end his employment. As a result, he has addressed a significant gap in the research base in this field and has brought insights into discussions with the public, policy makers, commentators, practitioners and other researchers.
Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford, is recognised for her promotion of public understanding of nutrition on a diverse range of issues of public concern, from food supplements to dieting. Prof Jebb tackled misconceptions about sugar in the media and among the public, and endured personal attacks and accusations that industry funding compromised her integrity and advisory capabilities. Despite this experience, she continued to engage with the media and the public on issues of dietary advice, talking about the need for sound science and high quality research, and advocating for high standards of research governance.
Elizabeth Loftus awarded the 2016 JM Prize
Professor Loftus is best known for her ground-breaking work on the “misinformation effect” which demonstrates that the memories of eyewitnesses are altered after being exposed to incorrect information about an event, as well as her work on the creation and nature of false memories. In addition to her research, Loftus has appeared as an expert witness in numerous courtrooms, consulting or providing expert witness testimony for hundreds of cases. Her findings have altered the course of legal history, in showing that memory is not only unreliable, but also mutable.
This year’s nominations – the highest number received in any year – reflecting a growing recognition in the global science community of the importance of engaging in discussion about science in the public realm. In 2016, there were 72 nominations, with nominees from 17 different countries.
Riko Muranaka has been awarded the international 2017 JM Prize for promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so. A journalist and lecturer at Kyoto University, Dr Muranaka is recognised for her work championing the use of evidence in public discussions of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is recognised by the scientific and medical community, and endorsed by the World Health Organisation as key to preventing cervical and other cancers. In Japan the vaccine has been subject to a national misinformation campaign to discredit its benefits, resulting in vaccination rates falling from 70% to less than 1%.
Dr Muranaka’s work to put the evidence for the safety of the vaccine clearly before the public has continued in the face of attempts to silence her with litigation and undermine her professional standing. In persisting, she has tried to ensure that a scientific account of the weight of evidence is available not only for Japanese families but for public health globally.
Keepers of the Flame
I have to take care what I say here, as SAS will put it forward as evidence that RM is totally deserving of her JM Prize.
The very existence of this post in fact proves they all deserve a JM Prize – maybe even a second one each.
One of the extraordinary characteristics of at least some of the recipients of the JM Prize, SAS, SMC and others is that despite having the backing of the establishment and some of the most powerful interest groups on earth, when up against individuals or at most a handful of people who have been damaged by drugs or vaccines, who are trying primarily to stand up for both science and decency, the SASers see, or at least paint, the struggle in terms of them as the few defenders of science trying desperately to keep a flickering flame alight in the face of overwhelming forces of darkness.
It’s as though the Catholic Church were to use claims their priests had abused children as evidence of the hostile forces surrounding them – and their role as the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness does not comprehend.
The Lilly advert above seems to capture many of the psychodynamic ambiguities involved in this kind of positioning.
To be continued with my nomination for the 2018 JM Prize.
Readers nominations for the Prize are welcome.