May 11, 2009

James Randerson and the Guardian’s Deus-ex-Machina

Deus ex machina By John Stone

In ancient Greek tragedy, particularly that of Euripides, it was a frequent ruse in order to bring the play to a proper conclusion and sort out the plot, to lower an actor playing one of the gods from a crane (HERE ). I was recently reminded of this creaking mechanism in a Guardian blog by environment editor (and former New Scientist deputy news editor), James Randerson. Randerson was complaining about irresponsible neighbouring parents whose refusal to vaccinate their children had led to his 11 month-old daughter contracting measles and being unwell for a few days. Of course, he displayed all the lack of knowledge of the subject we have come expect from senior science journalists in the UK, and made all the ritual ill-informed comments about Andy Wakefield (HERE). 
“The sorry MMR saga began in 1998 with a tiny study (since partially retracted) in the Lancet. Andrew Wakefield and his team described 12 children with both bowel and behavioural problems who underwent various blood tests, gastrointestinal biopsies and lumbar punctures. It was, frankly, a deeply unimpressive piece of science which came to the less than stunning conclusion, "Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine."

“Instead, Wakefield himself is now being investigated by the General Medical Council over the research, because of alleged breaches of medical ethics and financial conflicts of interest. But what followed was a prolonged and shameful journalistic episode, in which Wakefield's speculation and misinformation was spread via flimsy news stories and scandalous comment pieces.”

Anyhow, on the third day -  by which time the blog was not exactly going Randerson’s way – something mildly remarkable happened. There was post from a hitherto unknown poster to the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ styled  “Intervenor”, defending Randerson’s position,  after which the blog was swiftly closed (more than six hours ahead of schedule). This curious and minor incident would not have perhaps been worth revisiting if it had not been for the interesting turn the particular debate had taken.

Several posters had by that stage pointed out that their children had been damaged by vaccine, including myself – I post under the name “Pluralist” – the most notable being “Seeing is Believing” (Elaine Butler). Elaine’s post is worth quoting in full (HERE ):
“Speaking from firsthand experience as parents of a child damaged by the MMR, like so many others affected in the same way, we are far more concerned with the 24/7 demands inflicted upon our existence then to read such nonsense however we will make an exception in this case, so incensed as we are with those contributors who show such disregard for humanity.

“Far from being anti-vaccine or MMR refuseniks, although we wish that we had been every minute of every waking day ever since, instead we were responsible parents who wanted to do what we thought was the very best for our child. In doing so we lost out on the Russian Roulette game better known as the childhood vaccine programme and to the detriment of our son, we proved that one size cannot possibly fit all!

“Our perfectly healthy and happy baby, who far exceeded all developmental milestones, had an immediate and extreme reaction to the MMR before our very eyes, so no amount of scaremongering or emotional blackmail will ever convince us that such a lethal cocktail of vaccines is safe. He is brain damaged, inflicted with a life sentence for the sake of herd immunity or the greater good…of what or whom we ask? certainly not the life he has lost with this living dead existence he suffers or this disgraceful, offensive, self-opinionated article and the misguided blind faith that supports it.

“The high-pitched scream persisted as the urabe Mumps strain shot his brain to pieces and he lost all senses as a result, this remains as vivid as the green gunge he discharged and the projectile vomiting that occurred in the instant destruction of his gut from the live Measles virus that poisoned his system from within, not forgetting how the Rubella virus attacked his joints and limbs before he lapsed into unconsciousness and was given the last rites.

“Our sacrificial lamb pulled through but in a vegetative state and is it really any wonder, for the barbaric and inhumane man-made attack on an underdeveloped vulnerable body it was, by three live viruses cultivated through foreign hosts that range from Tissue Culture; Embryonated Eggs; Live Animals and Humans. Not satisfied such practise is dangerous enough, this concoction also contains a vast range of the hidden undisclosed viruses; biological contaminants; polluted fragments of RNA, DNA with cellular degradation products; toxic heavy metals; along with the added chemicals, additives, preservatives, proteins and enzymes, so how can eminent pro-MMR scientists and doctors possibly declare this to be safe?

“Food chain manufacturers are required by law to list the ingredients of food stuffs to enable us to choose what we eat and drink, yet the components of vaccines can remain hidden and although unfit for human consumption, they are injected into our life sustaining body systems, so in whose interest and gain is that?

“The REAL science has proved the effects of the MMR vaccine, it is not discredited just discounted for bizarre intent and for what can only be a blatant disregard for human life.
“We are left entirely unaware of all this contamination, despite the real consequences for long-term public health and the damage these contaminants can cause, which cannot be calculated as no testing on the uniqueness of individuals is possible and therefore a vast range of unknown pollutants remain ignored but in the vaccines! Is this or the fact that 1 in 60 children are being adversely affected really rocket science?

“We contracted measles, mumps and rubella naturally in the 1950s and 1960s and with only the most basic of care available at home, made a full recovery along with all our friends who attended the infected parties arranged in our honour. The only lasting memory of the ‘killer measles was cotton wool in our ears and wearing sunglasses, a small price to pay for life-long immunity, which you cannot get from vaccines and that is why boosters are needed forcing our future generations to become lifelong pincushions!

“Complications, brain damage or even death by catching these viruses naturally, would have been far easier to cope with, then the inflicted destruction of our precious baby in this most barbaric and inhumane way.

“Rather than continue to waste such hot air on refusing to accept the reality of what is happening to our children and ridiculing those it has happened to, put energy, effort and commitment into appropriate research of our vaccine damaged children to make vaccines safer. Support pre-screening to test for natural immunity essential to avoid a destructive and unnecessary overload, or continue to risk the consequences of what could well happen to your precious off-spring further down the line.

“The only way we can take comfort from this hell on earth is to live in hope of sensible reporting by the media to safeguard others and future generations, instead we get the realisation that the Dark Side of our existence is less to do with Astrology but more to do with selfish interest.”

It is evident that it was posts such as this which occasioned Intervenor’s response, lowered as it were by a crane, to bring the action to a conclusion satisfactory to the author. Confronted by the reality that other people’s children have inescapably been harmed by vaccine (HERE):

“James Randerson is right to be furious: Let this MMR idiocy end.. (2//5/2009). While expressing concern for his little daughter and praying that she will recover and be bonny and well again soon, I believe he put the case for mass- immunisation perfectly. My second son - now 34 - (physically and mentally disabled) was vaccine-damaged by the whooping-cough element of the triple vaccine given in 1973. Like James, we as parents believe that vaccination is a form of social compact which protects the widest number of children in the population and cannot therefore support those understandably worried parents, who by abstaining from vaccination place at risk the wider community and ignore the fact that their children remain at risk. So much so, we went and had our following child - now 28 - fully vaccinated. Politicians Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, should demonstrate their open and honest support to Public Health Policy on MMR vaccination as regards their own children and so give a lead to wavering parents.”

Randerson’s original point was that fear of the MMR jab was irrational but how could you counter the perfectly reasonable response of parents who testified that their children had indeed been damaged. On what moral basis could someone whose child was recovering from measles respond to parents whose children had suffered life-long damage as a result of vaccine. Well just possibly the answer would be the pasteboard arguments that we get here.

Setting aside that someone vaccinated in 1973 cannot be less than 35 years of age, all this looks wildly implausible. Could any sane parent acknowledge that vaccine damage has occurred leaving their own child profoundly compromised, and believe that sufficient had been done to ensure the vaccine’s safety?

But what struck me about this, above all, was the “social compact” argument, because what every parent knows who has actually been through this is that there is no social compact. If there was a social compact there would be due acknowledgement instead of institutional denial and neglect, and parents would not be left in the position of having to prove it. If there was a social compact families would not have fight for services or endure poverty as a result of an adverse event. If there was a social compact every child who suffered in this way would be on some admittedly peculiar role of honour, instead of being shunned at every corner, and being made fun of.

I don’t know whether Intervenor is a real person, but I do know that as a supposedly serious science journalist Randerson’s failure to inform himself about the MMR question at any depth and his lack of scepticism about institutions – while typical – is intolerable and shoddy. 

John Stone, based in London, is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.