Patricia McKenna and MMR, again

Great! Patricia McKenna just called around, canvassing our area — and just got a serious telling off from the wife ;)

Catherine — unsurprisingly, given that she’s a zoology Ph.D — was fantastic, hitting every key point of the issue: that we’re both long-time Green voters who’ve been forced to not vote Green this time around, due to this MMR issue and the anti-science/pro-hokum angle it represents.

Interestingly, she claimed that her stance on MMR was always her own point of view, and that it wasn’t party policy — and that it was mentioned on the party website was a rumour put about by the PDs.

While it turns out that Dr. Ruairi Hanley, the author of this letter to the Indo is indeed a PD (didn’t realise that!), Treasa at Winds and Breezes also noted it appearing on the Green Party site, as follows:

Questioning the Benefits of Immunisation

There are significant question marks about the effectiveness of mass immunisation programs. We would launch a major study of the benefits of these programs looking at all aspects of health

So Treasa — are you a stealth PD rumour-monger? ;)

Worth noting that at no time did McKenna reassure C that her policy would not become government policy if the Greens were elected… as an elected representative, surely her own policies would influence the government’s thinking?

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22 Comments

  1. ben
    Posted May 1, 2007 at 21:45 | Permalink

    I must say I’m in awe of McKenna’s courage, if nothing else — if I were in that situation I think I’d be inclined to change my political platform on the spot, to something along the lines of “ow ow ow yes yes you’re right anything you say ow please stop hurting me.”

  2. Posted May 1, 2007 at 21:53 | Permalink

    I am extremely sorry, under the circumstances that I did not take a print screen of the quote when I found it. But yes, it was there. I would note, however, that a representative of the Green Party does not dispute that the document existed on the Green Party’s website or that it was changed shortly before I wrote the original piece back in February. See the comments on my page for that. I would note, however, that the Green Party document concerned did not specifically mention the MMR by name, but referred only to doubts on mass immunisation programmes. I find it worrying that the MMR is coming up specifically in this case when the GP’s previous policy was more general, referring to mass immunisation policies in general, and not specifically the MMR.

    In any case, any policy which could be seen to dilute the take up of immunisation, irrespective of whether it is the MMR, or other vaccines, is not, perhaps, in the best interests of the health of the new generations at large. The Green Party’s health documentation does not make this clear at the moment.

    With respect to my political affiliations: no I am not a member of the Progressive Democrats. Nor am I a member of any other political party. I’m just a voter who’s a bit devastated by what’s on offer to the voting public right now.

  3. Posted May 1, 2007 at 23:10 | Permalink

    Given the current TB outbreak in Cork following the inexplicable decision not to vaccinate children in this county, you would think that politicians would ease off on the ‘no mass immunisation’ spiel for awhile at least. The Greens should yield to the medical experts rather than assume they themselves know better. The stubbornness and irresponsibility shown by Patricia McKenna in your previous post is infuriating, and you are right to switch your allegiance if this is how they represent your constituency.

  4. soubresauts
    Posted May 5, 2007 at 00:39 | Permalink

    Ben and James, I would respond to your comments here if I hadn’t already covered those points in the other discussion: http://taint.org/2007/04/10/134819a.html

  5. enda johnson
    Posted May 6, 2007 at 12:01 | Permalink

    It looks like your wife gets a mention in Gerry Stembridge’s article in the SBP today:

    “an angry zoologist” LOL!

  6. Posted May 6, 2007 at 13:23 | Permalink

    hahaha! yep, that was her!

    As a friend said last night — “if they don’t have the 6-months-pregnant, Birkenstock-wearing, Dublin 7 angry zoologist vote, what votes do the Greens have?” ;)

  7. Posted May 8, 2007 at 00:13 | Permalink

    I would have thought that a generalised doubt about ‘mass imunisation’ was even worse than a specific doubt about MMR. I have to say that mass imunisation is in my opinion one of the big achievements of human sciences – in all fields. Now, while I have more time for Patricia McKenna than I do for most politicians (not a particularly competitive field mind you), this issue alone would be enough to add her to my list of candidates to specifically dissuade people in Dublin Central from voting for. I’ve been campaigning against Pascal Donohoe for a while now, I think Patricia McKenna will get added to the list now (and since most of my extended family lives in the constituency and are the types of people who would vote green, that might actually make a difference).

  8. soubresauts
    Posted May 8, 2007 at 12:58 | Permalink

    Chekov, you really need to educate yourself about vaccination/immunization. I suggest you start here: http://www.doctoryourself.com/vaccination.html

    You can find plenty of useful links on the other thread, once you wade through the emotional stuff: http://taint.org/2007/04/10/134819a.html

  9. Posted May 8, 2007 at 15:11 | Permalink

    “Chekov, you really need to educate yourself about vaccination/immunization. I suggest you start here:”

    I suggest you start by not assuming that I’m not educated about vaccination. As it happens, one of the things that I do in my job from time to time is to review health-informatics papers prior to their publication in academic journals and conferences. I am familiar with the modeling algorithms used in epidemiological studies – up to and including actually encoding them in software. However wrong they may be, my opinions are not based on ignorance.

    Anyway, from my understanding of the area, and a history of engaging in many arguments with anti-vaccinationists I have come to a firm conclusion that their arguments are completely and utterly without any merit at all. I won’t go into it here, but suffice to say that I find that most of their arguments are based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the basics of the scientific method and an assumption that people such as me are “patsies” for the pharmaceutical industry – something that is so far from the truth in my case that there are no words to express how wrong it is.

  10. Posted May 8, 2007 at 18:14 | Permalink

    ooh nicely done there Chekov ;)

  11. soubresauts
    Posted May 8, 2007 at 19:24 | Permalink

    Chekov, you say you “have come to a firm conclusion that their [anti-vaccinationists] arguments are completely and utterly without any merit at all.”

    I wonder who you’ve been arguing with. That’s quite a put-down, for a whole lot of people.

    Since you style yourself as some kind of “anarchist”, I guess your condescending attitude to those who reject vaccination has to be based on science-elitism.

    The attitude of “I know the science and you don’t” reminds me of nothing more than the put-downs you find on websites such as “Sense About Science”, Spiked, Quackwatch, and Ben Goldacre’s badscience.net (the cheek of him, using Samuel Beckett’s face in his latest piece!).

    I know you don’t have the time to write to Dr Andrew Saul and all the others to point out the error of their ways, but perhaps you could give us an inkling…?

    Makes me wonder: Which vaccinations do you think the state should promote as routine? Have you gone into the cost-effectiveness of those programmes vis-a-vis alternative approaches to the diseases? Do you want to make vaccination compulsory? If not, what measures do you propose for achieving herd immunity (if you believe in that)? Do you think the state rather than the pharmaceutical companies should pay for those measures? Do you believe in social excusion for people who won’t vaccinate (see Conor O’Neill’s ideas on the other thread)?

    Political questions, aren’t they?

    Is it fair to suggest that you wouldn’t trust any Irish politicians to deal with those questions? What do you advise “anti-vaccinationists” to do? Just vaccinate?

    You and Justin can come up with the modeling algorithms and so on (and that’s admirable), but you can’t govern a nation with mathematical formulas. People have to decide.

    You say that “mass imunisation is in my opinion one of the big achievements of human sciences.” Oh, I’ve heard that before, from the same people who declare that fluoridation is “one of the greatest public health measures of the twentieth century”. I don’t trust them; they lie.

    BTW, it’s surprising that you misspell “immunisation”.

  12. Posted May 9, 2007 at 00:32 | Permalink

    “Since you style yourself as some kind of “anarchist”, I guess your condescending attitude to those who reject vaccination has to be based on science-elitism.”

    I style myself as nothing. My politics are pretty squarely within the anarchist tradition and I’m proud of that. It’s a political movement where kudos are gained by doing crappy stuff like standing on street corners handing out leaflets, so if you’re trying to imply that I’m some type of poseur, then I don’t think you can back that up.

    I also don’t know what you mean by science-elitism, my experience in this particular field was merely provided in response to your claim that I needed to educate myself in the field. It was not an argument from authority – which I have no time for at all. In actual fact, I tend to think that science is simple in essence and can be understood by almost anybody who tries. The very best scientific thinker that I know has absolutely zero formal training in scientific subjects for example. My attitude towards what I call ‘anti-vaccination’ arguments is based upon a reading and appraisal of their arguments.

    “The attitude of “I know the science and you don’t” reminds me of nothing more than the put-downs you find on websites such as “Sense About Science”, Spiked, Quackwatch, and Ben Goldacre’s badscience.net (the cheek of him, using Samuel Beckett’s face in his latest piece!).”

    I object strongly to your lumping of all the above together. I have no time for sense about science, spiked or any of the other LM offshoots – they mix the sensible with the polemical. Ben Goldacre, on the other hand, is my favourite journalist bar none. I have never known him to use anything but the most principled and scientifically sound arguments, he never argues from authority, always explains his principles in elementary and approachable language and is admirably fair.

    “I know you don’t have the time to write to Dr Andrew Saul and all the others to point out the error of their ways, but perhaps you could give us an inkling…?”

    Firstly, it appears that you are now trying to use an argument from authority yourself. Arguments should stand on their own merits, not on the basis of which authorities hold them. As it happens, I do find myself with sufficent time to point out the error of his ways to mr Saul. Perhaps you can convey it to him?

    Dear Mr. Saul,

    You are profiting by misrepresenting yourself to vulnerable people as a medical expert when in fact you do not even understand the most basic and elementary principles of science. For example, your web page constantly claims that the public will see the evidence for your therapies effectiveness themselves, whereas it is the most obvious, basic and well-established truth that such subjective ‘evidence’ is worse than useless. Even the cosmetics industry would be ashamed to use such pathetic ‘evidence. You are a complete and utter disgrace.

    Yours etc…

    p.s. how much did your bogus PhD cost from the diploma mill?

    “Which vaccinations do you think the state should promote as routine?”

    Whichever ones are shown by the soundest scientific evidence to be effective at improving health outcomes.

    “Have you gone into the cost-effectiveness of those programmes vis-a-vis alternative approaches to the diseases?”

    You’d have to be more specific than that before I could consider the comparison. I’m generally more than happy to have my tax money spent on improving public health and I’d be happy if considerably more of it was spent in such ways as against building private hospitals for example.

    “Do you want to make vaccination compulsory?”

    Nope. Although I think it’s a difficult moral point. I don’t believe that children are the property of their parents and I do think it is seriously negligent of them not to immunise their kids, but I also think that the state is a poor surrogate for society, so on balance I think it should be up to the parents. In other situations I might be in favour of compulsory vaccination, if there was a more democratic manifestation of the common good which could make the decision.

    “If not, what measures do you propose for achieving herd immunity (if you believe in that)?”

    Firstly, unless you don’t believe in the axioms of set theory, you just have to believe in herd immunity – it’s just maths and it’s really easy to demonstrate that it exists.

    Secondly, I think rational promotion of the public understanding of science is the way forward. Of course, one of the problems is that vaccination is something that loses its power of conviction when it works – it’s much easier to doubt the efficacy of, for example, polio vaccination when polio has been eliminated from the population in general. Incidentally, my mother still walks with a limp from childhood polio – when it was invented there were very few willing to take the risk and I’d guess that if we dip below herd-immunity levels again, the sceptics will vanish again. In the meantime, I do what I can to convince those around me of the merits of vaccination.

    “Do you think the state rather than the pharmaceutical companies should pay for those measures?”

    No. That would instantly lead to pharmaceutical companies stopping making vaccines. I do, however, think that private control of corporations should be ended at the nearest available opportunity.

    “Do you believe in social excusion for people who won’t vaccinate (see Conor O’Neill’s ideas on the other thread)?”

    No that’s silly. The point of herd immunity is that the vaccinated majority provides protection to the unvaccinated minority. Those who aren’t vaccinated are no danger to the vaccinated, only to others who aren’t vaccinated.

    “Is it fair to suggest that you wouldn’t trust any Irish politicians to deal with those questions? What do you advise “anti-vaccinationists” to do? Just vaccinate?”

    If any Irish politician tried to implement an anti-vaccination regime, they would change their mind ever so quickly once they saw the reaction from the medical and scientific communities. I’d also advise anti-vaccinationists to treat those advocating alternative treatments to exactly the same standards of scepticism that they would apply to corporate health providers, at which point they would instantly stop listening to them.

    “You and Justin can come up with the modeling algorithms and so on (and that’s admirable), but you can’t govern a nation with mathematical formulas. People have to decide.”

    The formulas give you very accurate answers to questions such as “what would happen if we stopped giving vaccinations”. The answer is, by the way, an increase in the number of dead and disabled children.

    “Oh, I’ve heard that before, from the same people who declare that fluoridation is “one of the greatest public health measures of the twentieth century”. I don’t trust them; they lie.”

    I’ve heard people say that “George Bush is a hero” and then say “it’s a nice day”. I don’t assume that they are equally wrong just because the same person said them when I can see the sun and blue sky.

    On the other hand, I think water fluoridisation is a good thing on the balance of evidence too, so in this case guilt by association doesn’t come into it in my mind.

    “BTW, it’s surprising that you misspell “immunisation”.”

    A misspelling on the internet? Well I never.

    Anyway, I’ve gone and got into another argument about vaccination. These tend towards the interminable and scattered in my experience. Perhaps you can narrow the field and point out one example of mass immunisation that you can build a convincing case against if you want to continue the argument.

  13. Posted May 21, 2007 at 16:02 | Permalink

    Love the idea of “science-elitism”. Can I complain about mathematics-elitism, when they tell me that, actually, you’re a moron and 2 + 2 doesn’t add up to 89?

    P.

  14. madeline
    Posted May 23, 2007 at 14:32 | Permalink

    Hi Justin. When health issues come up it can lead to much debate and confusion. My own experience has led me to see the bigger picture regarding science, and its many contribution’s to mankind. For 20yrs I worked with the health system as we know it, and God help anyone who disputed or questioned this view. Thankfully I have a open mind, and 15yrs ago discovered that science extends beyond conventioal medicine, and includes preventive and environmental medicine. Its not for me to go into detail as to why each area of science is different, and how they can ALL contribute to health and wellness. We are living at a great time where information is abundantly available to us so we all can be well informed and benefit from the wealth of science thats available to us.Its vital to look for the best and most trusted scientists.One such man is Prof. Samuel Epstien who is a world leading Enviornmental scientist ,he is the chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition,and author of several books including CancerGate, Dr Wakefield is not the only Dr to challenge vaccinations. Doctor Mercola.com has some interesting information on his web, including Fluoridation and Vaccinations. Phillip Day is a tireless investigative journalist who has a web worth looking at http://www.credence.org information supported by many Doctors,another web also backed by Doctors is WDDTY.com

  15. soubresauts
    Posted May 24, 2007 at 23:14 | Permalink

    Chekov, I’m getting around to responding to your May 9th post, which was a strange mixture of the earnest, the flippant and the insulting.

    Firstly, I didn’t mean anything pejorative with “anarchist”.

    You said: “My attitude towards what I call ‘anti-vaccination’ arguments is based upon a reading and appraisal of their arguments.”

    I haven’t seen a good “appraisal of their arguments”. Can you find one?

    “Ben Goldacre, on the other hand, is my favourite journalist bar none. I have never known him to use anything but the most principled and scientifically sound arguments, he never argues from authority, always explains his principles in elementary and approachable language and is admirably fair.”

    Like on this page? http://www.badscience.net/?p=390 Principled? Admirably fair? I think not.

    The object of their hatred, Dr Matthias Rath, shows his mettle here: www4.dr-rath-foundation.org/PHARMACEUTICAL_BUSINESS/laws_of_the_pharmaceutical_industry.htm

    By the way, the reality about Big Pharma is sort of admitted by Goldacre: “Everybody has some kind of interest in their results; and everyone makes mistakes, perhaps – we’ll say unconsciously – more often in their own favour. So science relies on independent replication; but drug trials are so expensive, and state funding of research so miserly, that pharmaceutical research is rarely independently funded.” (www.badscience.net/?p=397)

    And often not independently monitored either. Such is the reality of prescription drugs. But most people think the drugs have been comprehensively tested, and “proven” to be safe. Ditto vaccines.

    Goldacre linking to Quackwatch also worries me.

    Your insulting letter to Dr Andrew Saul was completely wrong-headed: * Saul does not misrepresent himself. * Saul does have a thorough understanding of scientific principles. Your insinuations are false. * There is nothing wrong with Saul’s PhD.

    “… In other situations I might be in favour of compulsory vaccination, if there was a more democratic manifestation of the common good which could make the decision.”

    Would you like to spell out what “a more democratic manifestation of the common good” might be?

    You said that “… one of the problems is that vaccination is something that loses its power of conviction when it works – it’s much easier to doubt the efficacy of, for example, polio vaccination when polio has been eliminated from the population in general.”

    Are you aware of the evidence that the main reduction in incidence of polio came before vaccination? The key factors were clean water and sewerage systems.

    Do you have any idea of how many people are damaged by vaccines? (Cf. http://www.irishmedicalnews.ie/articles.asp?Category=news&ArticleID=18772)

    Do you deny any vaccine-autism link? (Cf. http://autismmedia.org/media2.html)

    Would you agree that the campaign against Wakefield is now discredited? (www.jabs.org.uk/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=668)

    Would you agree that the Irish health authorities have no chance of reaching their target of 95% for MMR (see http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=11359).

    Are you satisfied that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely on the promotion and administration of MMR?

    You said: “I think water fluoridisation is a good thing on the balance of evidence too…”

    What makes you think that? Where is the evidence?

    “A misspelling on the internet? Well I never.” It wasn’t “a misspelling” (which wouldn’t surprise anyone); it was the repeat of the misspelling that surprised me.

    “Perhaps you can narrow the field and point out one example of mass immunisation that you can build a convincing case against if you want to continue the argument.”

    BCG. I made my case on the other thread: http://taint.org/2007/04/10/134819a.html

    The Cork respiratory consultant, Dr Charles Bredin, says (about TB) that “…routine vaccinations are not the answer.” (IT 24 Apr 2007)

    We keep hearing that we should follow “the best scientific advice” on vaccination, as if it’s all very simple. And you, Chekov, also make it sound simple. But it isn’t really, is it?

    What could be simpler than the case of smallpox, which was totally eradicated by vaccination… wasn’t it? How about this story in Nature Medicine? http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n5/full/nm0507-517.html

  16. soubresauts
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 18:28 | Permalink

    Chekov, you say you “have never known him [Goldacre] to use anything but the most principled and scientifically sound arguments, he never argues from authority, always explains his principles in elementary and approachable language and is admirably fair.”

    Can you read the following article and still maintain that view? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2078179,00.html

    Note the most recent comments on the article…

  17. Posted May 29, 2007 at 18:17 | Permalink

    “Firstly, I didn’t mean anything pejorative with “anarchist”.”

    You put it in “quotes” and claimed I “style” myself as one. There’s no other way to read it.

    “Like on this page? http://www.badscience.net/?p=390 Principled? Admirably fair? I think not.

    The object of their hatred, Dr Matthias Rath, shows his mettle here: www4.dr-rath-foundation.org/PHARMACEUTICAL_BUSINESS/laws_of_the_pharmaceutical_industry.htm ” I honestly can’t think of anything lower than that Rath guy. A multi-millionaire who has made his millions by assisting in the premature death of some of the most vulnerable people on earth. A charlatan, a liar and a bully who makes Glaxo-Smith-Kline look like an assembly of saints. He sits down there with hitlear, bush and stalin in my moral universe.

    “Are you aware of the evidence that the main reduction in incidence of polio came before vaccination? The key factors were clean water and sewerage systems.”

    I’m aware of the claim. I’m also aware of the absolutely irrefutable proof that vaccination has contributed hugely to the eradication of Polio from most of the world.

    “Do you have any idea of how many people are damaged by vaccines? (Cf. http://www.irishmedicalnews.ie/articles.asp?Category=news&ArticleID=18772)”

    That’s a link to an article which shows that the finest and most educated experts keep the question under constant review. Good to know and something that should further deepen our confidence in the programmes that they advocate.

    “Do you deny any vaccine-autism link? (Cf. http://autismmedia.org/media2.html)”

    There are few propositions that have been so conclusively disproved in an enormous number of extraordinarily high-quality studies (Japan being the best example). There is no link.

    “Would you agree that the campaign against Wakefield is now discredited?”

    Wakefield is so obviously discredited that I can’t imagine how he could ever remake his reputation. Why are you acting as an apologist for this self-enriching scare-mongering charlatan?

    “Are you satisfied that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely on the promotion and administration of MMR?”

    Nope. They should spend far more and they should target the anti-science fear-mongerers much more aggressively.

    “What makes you think that? Where is the evidence?”

    The support by many dental associations. They are generally much more knowledgeable than I am (or you are) about the evidence.

    “BCG. I made my case on the other thread: http://taint.org/2007/04/10/134819a.html

    The Cork respiratory consultant, Dr Charles Bredin, says (about TB) that “…routine vaccinations are not the answer.” (IT 24 Apr 2007)

    We keep hearing that we should follow “the best scientific advice” on vaccination, as if it’s all very simple. And you, Chekov, also make it sound simple. But it isn’t really, is it?”

    Science isn’t simple. Everything should be constantly re-examined in light of any new evidence.

    “What could be simpler than the case of smallpox, which was totally eradicated by vaccination… wasn’t it? How about this story in Nature Medicine? http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n5/full/nm0507-517.html

    What???? That story is about the first case in 17 years of a serious reaction to the smallpox vaccination. What’s the point?

  18. soubresauts
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 14:02 | Permalink

    This article about vaccination and autism is up to date with the science: http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/press041108a.php

  19. Posted May 8, 2008 at 14:50 | Permalink

    Up to date with the science, perhaps, but only so as to dismiss those studies which contradict the author’s conviction and grossly misrepresent the findings in the HSS case.

  20. soubresauts
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 20:04 | Permalink

    The article I linked to states:

    “In February 2008, HHS [U.S. Government Dept of Health & Human Services] conceded that vaccines did cause a normally developing toddler, Hanna Poling, to regress into autism.”

    Are you claiming, Chekov, that that grossly misrepresents what happened?

  21. soubresauts
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 00:17 | Permalink

    Well-known medical journalist Dr John Briffa offers his views on the ongoing MMR controversy: http://www.drbriffa.com/blog/2008/05/30/why-the-mmr-autism-war-is-not-over/

  22. Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:04 | Permalink

    oh god, we’re not still going on about this are we? I’m closing comments on this entry — please move on somewhere else, soubresauts.

    But in closing — John Briffa is just another celebrity “nutritionist”: http://nhsblogdoc.blogspot.com/2008/06/dr-john-briffa.html

    there’s a pretty good selection of commentary on his thoughts over at: http://www.badscienceblogs.net/index.php?s=briffa