Darrell Gale joined Wokingham Borough Council earlier this year as the new public health consultant. Yesterday he was quoted in the local press urging parents, as their children go back to school, to ensure they are immunised against potentially serious illnesses, mentioning MMR in particular.
It was sensible advice, and I emailed Darrell to thank him and his colleagues for their efforts (local MMR rates have been climbing steadily – see below), and also to express my satisfaction at the tone of the report.
Too often we see the scientific advice on MMR, and on vaccination generally, obscured in the media by misinformation and journalistic false balance. I am grateful that our local paper appears to report on these matters responsibly.
Darrell’s gracious reply included this gem:
As an evidence-based speciality, we in public health often get landed the sticky issues to deal with – such as immunisation and a whole raft of other health issues which our blessed media like to dissect before taking advice or evidence from the most misguided spokespeople they can. I’m pleased that our local paper has taken our advice and printed it without spin, and I hope they continue to do so. With that, we may still improve the health of those in our borough who most need it.
Darrell is absolutely right. It is not enough for journalists to show skepticism towards the powerful, to scrutinise what our politicians and officials are telling us, as vital as that is. They must also demonstrate the same skepticism to the opposite camp. For sometimes the powerless need help to raise their voice against the powerful; sometimes they can be dismissed as deluded deniers of evidence.
Vaccination rates amongst local children have risen massively in recent years, but there is still some way to go to achieve satisfactory levels for effective community immunity.
I was a little surprised yesterday to receive a promotional flyer for some “NLP4Parents” Neuro-Liguistic Programming workshops soon to be held in and around Wokingham. It came as an attachment to this week’s email newsletter from my child’s primary school, apparently at the request of Wokingham Borough Council.
I’m no psychologist but I’ve been aware for some time of the dim view that psychologists and neuroscientists have of NLP. It appears to be wholly unsupported by the scientific evidence or modern psychological theories, and the fact that it appears to be favoured by proponents of even wackier New Age nonsense should ring alarm bells.
I won’t say more as it’s not my field, but this post by neurologist Steven Novella is well work a read.
I would rather the school and Wokingham BC took no part in promoting such pseudo-science. I have emailed the school asking who at Wokingham BC asked the school to distribute this material. I will post again when I have found out more.
As promised, Berkshire skeptics were out in Wokingham town centre last week to raise awareness of homeopathy. Our aim was, in part, to counter some of the dubious information we believed Dr Jayne Donegan was likely to give out in her talk.
There were 6 of us in the end and we had a very pleasant time chatting to people going into the town hall, and to passers-by. The ladies from Thames Valley Homeopaths seemed genuinely amused by our presence and it was all generally good-humoured.
We simply handed out some leaflets summarising the principles of homeopathy and how it is not as effective as some people believe. We didn’t seek to disrupt the the talk itself in any way, merely to provide people with some reliable information on the subject.
I was surprised that a few people, clearly ardent fans of homeopathy, reacted with disgust at our leaflets and thrust them back with revulsion. One woman visibly shuddered, as though critical thinking and scientific evidence might be contagious and the paper itself was contaminated. A fascinating psychological response.
I doubt we won over many people to our viewpoint. I suspect most of those paying £10 to hear a homeopath talk have already decided to ignore the weight of existing evidence against its efficacy. But I think that this sort of action is as important as a publicity exercise as an educational one. I hope we can continue to show the mostly disinterested majority of the public that the promotion of homeopathy does not go unchallenged and there is a strong, calm and reasoned opposition to it.
So our local quacks have invited “GP and homoeopath” Jayne Donegan to address a paying audience at Wokingham Town Hall next Wednesday, and our opposition has made the local paper.
We’ll be handing out information leaflets before the event, in the hope of countering what we believe will be an unreliable and irresponsible pro-homeopathy message from Dr Donegan. We could really do with some some support so please come along if you can.
We’re meeting at 6:30pm in the Red Lion, Wokingham. Do drop us a line to say you’re coming.