by Christina England
October 16, 2009
In her article she wrote ‘The cervical cancer vaccine may be riskier and more deadly than the cancer it is designed to prevent, a leading expert who developed the drug has warned’ she preceeded to give the views of expert Diane Harper, who had been ,she wrote,’involved in the clinical trials of the controversial drug Cervarix’, Dr Harper had said according the Express, ‘the jab was being “over-marketed” and parents should be properly warned about the potential side effects.
A few days later Ben Goldacre, a GP and journalist for the Guardian attacked her well written piece on his blog Bad Science and in a Guardian article.
In his blog he not only criticised the piece heavily but made a cutting rather unnecessary comment, in my opinion,of Ms Johnson’s previous work, which I felt undermined her journalistic capabilities and also her professionalism.
Lucy Johnson is an excellent and well liked journalist in the UK. She is currently the health editor of the Sunday Express having previously worked for the Observer and The Big Issue which she helped launch. She has won an impressive array of awards for her humanistic and sensitive but frank journalism skills and yet Ben Goldacre took it upon himself to publicly humiliate her.
Sadly, her piece has been removed from the Sunday Express site and the Sunday Express was forced to make an apology Diane Harper has since stated that the journalist misinterpreted her comments. Maybe it was simply that Dr Harper never expected her to report fully on what she had said, after all Dr Harper has been reported to say similar elsewhere. It has been said that Ms Johnson still stands by what she wrote.
If this had been the first time that Goldacre had done this to an outstanding and talented journalist he may have been forgiven, after all everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, back in 2005 he did the same to another outstanding British journalist Melanie Phillips. This time he heavily criticised an article she wrote in the Daily Mail, on the MMR and Dr Andrew Wakefield.
In her piece Smear and Evasion Melanie Phillips wrote the following, in reply to his attack. First however,she explains what she had written in a very clear and concise manner, then she followed the by writing:-
“When I pointed this out in the Daily Mail last week, I was attacked in these pages by Dr Ben Goldacre, who said I did not understand how science worked. On the contrary, it is Goldacre who is ignoring the evidence, and his errors go to the essence of the MMR controversy. Like the government, Goldacre believes clinical findings are trumped by epidemiology, which he says is “evidence-based” medicine. But the attempt to refute Wakefield by epidemiology is a category confusion. Epidemiology looks at patterns of disease in a population. It cannot prove or disprove cause and effect in individual patients. A paper published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons says epidemiology “cannot establish a causal association unless other biological evidence backs it up”, and does not meet a scientific standard of proof since it is prone to bias – the very criticism that the Cochrane report made of the epidemiological studies of MMR and autism.