I was going to write about beta-carotene and sunburn but…

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It’s the summer, though in London where I was over the weekend the summer was not doing what summer’s are supposed to do: it was grey and wet all weekend long. And a good thing too, seeing as I decided to spend much of the weekend refuting the notion that MMR is vindicated with regard to autism. It is not, in my opinion. To my eye the evidence is simply not fit for purpose, in that the methods used are not adequate for the purposes of assessing whether or not MMR and cause autism. If you want to get the right answer in science, you do at least have to ask the right question. It doesn’t seem to have happened here.

I am not claiming MMR can cause autism. I say this because I’ve had that accusation levelled at me a few times now, even though I’ve stated that is not my position many times. It occurs to that the accusers would like to force me into an indefensible position. Yet, to my mind it is their position that is indefensible, though you wouldn’t know it from their hubris and the way they talk.

Just to give you a some indication of the sorts of ‘discussions’ I’ve been having over the weekend, you may like to peruse the exchange between me and Anthony Cox, who is a pharmacovigilance pharmacist in the UK, and whose job it partly is to ensure that things like drugs and vaccines are not harming or killing too many people (sorry, but sometimes it’s best not to sugar-coat things). You can find it here.

Anthony comes in at comment 35. If have the patience to read through the posts you will see what looks to me like a quite bewildering example of someone who purports to take a scientific approach, but then resorts to insults, misrepresentation and evasion, not to mention some distinctly unscientific and illogical thinking. Please try and remember as you read this exchange this is not an intellectual exercise (well, not for me), it’s about the safety of MMR as it relates to autism which I take to be of grave importance (and I know there are plenty who share this view).

If you want to cut to the chase, just read posts 52 and 54, where Anthony Cox launches a quite desperate attack, to which my response was to critique his position and the evidence he cites for it. I’ll warn you, post number 54 is a bit lengthy, and it goes into excruciating detail regarding why I think that the assertion that MMR has been proven safe with regard to autism is baseless. It’s long, but I do think it’s a worthwhile read for seekers of the truth and those who are of balanced, rational and relatively objective mind.

Anthony Cox refused to engage further, but he has his own site, so I went to put some questions to him there. You can see the debate continue at his own site here.

Now, I say ‘debate’, but it’s not really a debate, because it basically consists of me asking utterly reasonable and actually very important questions and Anthony Cox, err, refusing to answer them. It culminates in him insulting me (again).

My experiences over the weekend have reminded me of just how unscientific scientists can be. The exchanges here, on Anthony Cox’s site, and elsewhere have taught me that there are common (but lacking in substance) tactics that are used to discredit and refute my assertion that we don’t know if MMR causes autism or not.

Here, I think, are the main ones:

1. Claim that I should provide the evidence that MMR can cause autism (even when that it’s not my position that MMR causes autism).

2. Argue that because we don’t have evidence definitive evidence that MMR causes autism, then that MUST mean it doesn’t (this is illogical, but you’d be surprised how many times this card is played scientists who really ought to know better).

3. Misrepresent the strength of the science (this is actually the most common one, and my assertion is that the evidence used to vindicate MMR with respect to autism, from a scientific perspective, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans)

4. Insult me (e.g. call me ‘wilfully ignorant’)

5. Say nothing

The last two are easily spotted, the first three less so. The third is actually the hardest to spot of all. I highlight them just in case any of you come against this sort of thing, and would like to be somewhat forewarned. Do not think for a moment, by the way, that using any logical, scientific arguments in this issue means for sure that you’re going to get anywhere: far from it, those involved in this battle (on both sides) are usually quite firmly entrenched.

Would you believe, and this is the honest truth, that when I woke up this morning I had no intention of writing about MMR and autism? In fact, a mere week ago, I didn’t have any plans to dip my toe into this most charged and contentious of arenas either. What I had planned to devote this blog to was some evidence that relates to its capacity to protect the skin from sunburn.

But, I honestly got sidetracked. Some of that has to do with the fact that the weekend has been spent with my head relatively full of the arguments and scientific evidence as it relates to the MMR/autism issue. And also as those who are regular readers of this site will know, my stated aim is for it to be a portal of balanced and trustworthy advice about a wide range of health issues. And to this end, my thoughts on this debate fit that brief, although I know that many individuals disagree with my views. I am only too aware that my views on certain matters are unpalatable to some, but thinking about that and not expressing them would, I believe, not be the right thing for me, or for you. Actually, I believe it would not be the right thing ” period.

I am well aware that, at this rate, this site risks becoming a single issue one. But I have made a mental note to myself not to let this happen. However, I do think this subject should get the attention it deserves. It deserves it, I think because, I maintain that with the state of the evidence as it is that we don’t know beyond reasonable doubt that MMR does not cause autism. And we have quite a lot of people who believe that too and are asking for the appropriate scientific work be done. When the stakes are this high, is that really too much to ask?

Normal service will be resumed ” with piece about sunburn (probably) ” on Wednesday.

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