Monday, July 23, 2007

MMR and psuedoscience

Many of today’s fringe belief based groups like those promulgating Intelligent Design, HIV & germ theory denialism, or the anti-MMR vaccine crowd have long attempted to wrap themselves with a cloak of scientific legitimacy.

That these attempts have been repeatedly exposed for the false claims and misrepresentations that they are consistently falls on the deaf ears of many “believers”- a trait rather typical of the pseudoscientific mindset. It has long become apparent these groups have agendas that do not include honest and authentic scientific inquiry.

In this age of instant media coverage and increasingly competitive news markets it seems more and more difficult to find truly balanced, well researched, and thoughtful news pieces regarding important issues of the day. Sound bits, noise, and color flood media outlets as available news information seems to dumb down to basic instinctual reactions or short lived emotional fixes. Whether this is a problem of the media or their response to consumer demand can be argued, but that this phenomenon smothers clear thinking and paused reflection is increasingly difficult to argue against.

So it is that the recent MMR article debacle at the Observer (UK) comes immediately to mind. It is well worth the effort to chase the links and follow the sequence of events and Ben Goldacres (Bad Science) response to this classic example of media misrepresenting science. Goldacre puts it succinctly after a well done critique:

“I am pretty jaded and sceptical, but this front page story has completely stunned and astonished me. The misrepresentations and errors went way beyond simply misunderstanding the science, and after digging right to the bottom of it all, knowing what I know now, I have never resorted to hyperbole before, but I can honestly say: this episode has changed the way I read newspapers.”

This incident is a good example of the potential damage a well placed, yet very misguided newspaper headline and article can do. Though I am not familiar with the Observer or its qualities as a media outlet, this type of reporting certainly does not impress.

What ever the case may be, this whole event demonstrates the effort and care it takes to respond and counteract pseudoscience in general, and highlights the urgent need to address the educational shortfalls (i.e.; in science) of the populace that give opportunity for quackery to flower beyond reason.

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