Bad Science v Bad Lawyers

Homeopathy is not a religion. But as it is a belief held firmly in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it can certainly be classed as a faith. Similarly, those who still campaign against the MMR vaccine because they mistakenly believe it causes autism – in spite of the fact that there was no good evidence for it ten years ago and that every study since then has reaffirmed its safety – can also be described as faith-driven.

Jeni Barnett is one of those. Her recent phone-in show on LBC was such an egregious example of everything wrong and stupid about the anti-vax mindset that Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre invited his readers co compile a full list of its canards for his Bad Science Bingo game.

To do this, he posted a 44-minute audio file of the relevant parts of the show on his site.

Yesterday, he got a call from LBC’s lawyers telling him to take it down immediately, and informing him that they “reserve their rights”.

Now, Jeni Barnett is free to peddle her hysterical ignorance, although whether she should be able to do so on air without repercussions is another question. However, if she is to do so, then other more informed parties should be able to rebut her nonsense point by point.

As Dr Goldacre points out

But thirdly, there is a question of the basic tools you need to illustrate a point. The clip I posted was, to my mind, hideous and unremitting: it went on for so long.

In fact it was so long, so unrelenting, and so misinformed that I really couldn’t express to you how hideous it was. If I tried, without the audio, you might think I was exaggerating. You might think that I was biased, that I was misrepresenting Jeni’s demeanour and views in this broadcast, that LBC and their parent company Global Audio are living up to the standards of basic responsibility which we might reasonably hold them to, as they shepherd Jeni’s views and explanations into our cars and kitchens. You might think that I was quoting Jeni out of context, cherrypicking only the ridiculous moments from an otherwise sensible, proportionate and responsible piece of public rhetoric.
Many of the specifics are discussed in the other post, but as a further brief illustration which has come to light today, on her website, Jeni Barnett is angry at the response to her broadcase being brought to a wider audience, and she is describing a nurse who rang in to disagree with her as “vicious”. Now, parenthetically, this strikes me as a slightly unkind and inappropriate thing to do as a wealthy public figure, a television and radio presenter, with an industry and (today we see them) lawyers behind you, to an individual working in the NHS for the good of the public on a low wage, with no such outlets, and no such resources. But more than that, I thought the nurse was actually very polite, despite Jeni talking over her, cutting her off, and expressing, as we have already discussed, unhelpful and ignorant views in a rather shrill and irresponsible fashion.

How can I convince you of this, if not with the audio recording?

The full recording is available at Wikileaks.

UPDATE: (8 Feb) Full transcript of the show is available at Science Punk.

Those silly lawyers have gone and created a blog storm.

UPDATE: In yesterday’s Times, David Aaronovitch has mooted the possibility of a class action against LBC

for permitting a presenter to inflict her preposterous prejudices on her listeners, to the detriment of someone else’s kids.

And MWW favourite Stephen Fry has entered the fray, leaving this comment on the Bad Science blog:

The fatuity of the Jeni Barnett woman’s manner – her blend of self-righteousness and stupidity, her simply quite staggering inability to grasp, pursue or appreciate a sequence of logical steps – all these are signature characteristics of Britain these days. The lamentable truth is that most of the population wouldn’t really understand why we get so angry at this assault on reason, logic and sense. But we have to keep hammering away at these people and their superstitious inanities. We have to. Well done you and well done all you supporting. I’ve tweeted this site to my followers. I hope they all do their best to support you. Publish and be damned. We’ll fight them and fight them and fight them in the name of empricism, reason, double blind random testing and all that matter.
Stephen xxx

9 Responses to “Bad Science v Bad Lawyers”

  1. simontheiceman says:

    would this explain why his site has been so difficult to access over the last 24 hours? I’m stuck at home with a broken arm and I need good ‘ol pharmaceuticals to keep the pain at bay – I wont be taking a punt wth any “scared” water stuff. yes I did mean scared and not sacred but now you come to mention it…

  2. marc draco says:

    Actually, monitor, they can’t (and it stinks!)

    I’ve detailed my own (probably unpopular) view on my blog.

    What’s needed is better regulation of broadcasters.

  3. Angela K says:

    Homeopathy has proved to be ineffective by double blind trails, properly conducted and peer reviewed so why do people cling on to this quackery? Probably the same reason people cling on to religion –you don’t have to think for yourself, provide evidence or seek other sources of information. There is possibly a placebo effect but certainly no chemical effect.

  4. sonofajoiner says:

    TBH, Angela I think one of the reasons that people go in for all this CAM clap-trap is precisely because they believe that they ARE thinking for themselves and making an informed choice, going against the pack etc etc. We really do seem to live in an increasingly bizarre age where anything’s ok so long as you can justify it to yourself and a handful of other cretins.

  5. Larry says:

    Individuals who buy into such total horses**t get whatever they deserve. It only takes average intelligence to follow a reasonably well-constructed, logical argument or the steps of the scientific method (Einstein was really not that smart guys — despite the “evidence” to the contrary). That said, people of average intelligence, not trained to think critically nor to question will fall quickly to the wiles of hucksters, charlatans and mountebanks. Fortunately, natural selection is still hard at work.

    Two words: Jett Tra-volta.

    Ha ha Scientology. Bring ’em all back. I dare you.

    I’m sick of being pleasant and/or objective; the gene pool needs a good chlorination.

  6. skeptics, the other kind of bigots says:

    Homeopathic medicine works, it has been proven by experiment.

    “To the researchers’ surprise, three of the four labs involved in the trial reported that the homeopathic histamine solutions caused statistically significant inhibition of the basophil degranulation reaction when compared with the controls. The fourth lab also observed that the ‘ghost’ histamine solution inhibited basophil degranulation, but it was not statistically significant.”

    liquid water has crystalline structure observable by x-ray diffraction.

    If homeopathic medicine did not work nobody will be using it.

    There were bigots before you that claimed acupuncture did not work.

    Only the ignorant think they are 100% right.

    • Jonny Dade says:

      @skeptics, the other kind of bigots,

      That’s just one experiment, it’s impossible to come to any real conclusion about anything based on the findings of 1 experiment. Generally when something like this has happened it’s worth looking a little deeper. Who funded it? What did they want to achieve with their results?

      It’s like an experiment that says “fast food is actaully GOOD for you”. Clearly this has gone against the grain, so we look a little deeper and surprise surprise, it was funded for by Burger King or McDonalds.

      Think outside the box