Mark Henderson: Junk medicine: Anti-vaccine activists
Opponents of MMR
believe in homoeopathy, the Force, ESP and all sorts of other rubbish
This afternoon, a collection of anti-vaccine activists and worried
parents will sit down at University College London to talk MMR. Though
Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose discredited research frightened thousands
into refusing the triple jab for their children, has cancelled an
appearance, the seminar’s agenda is clearly his.
Critics of the vaccine, such as Dr Carol Stott, of Cambridge
University, and Paul Shattock, a pharmacist, of Sunderland University,
will apparently explain “what the Government isn’t telling you about MMR”.
It’s fair to assume this isn’t going to focus on its good record of
safety and efficacy and the umpteen large studies that have found no
link to autism.
For the privilege of hearing a one-sided view of evidence that is
rejected by mainstream science, guests will cough up £40. Parents might
prefer to invest in tickets down the road at the Royal Opera House:
they’re cheaper and they won’t put your children’s health at risk.
Behind this event is a company called What Doctors Don’t Tell You, whose
executive director, Lynne McTaggart, will be speaking.
It claims to expose “the truth about the dangers of modern medicine”.
But a glance at its literature reveals a wealth of junk science and
McTaggart’s group is on the wrong side of every health issue going.
It is suspicious of medicine to the point of paranoia, while placing
blind faith in all sorts of alternative prescriptions without a jot of
supporting evidence. And it charges plenty for the benefit of this
wisdom. When challenged by The Times, it promised that any
proceeds from today’s event would be donated to autism research. The
company, though, publishes and sells more than 40 books, leaflets and
newsletters full of questionable medical advice. A good example is
The Vaccination Bible (£8.95), in which McTaggart attacks MMR — and
other forms of immunisation.
Vaccination has wiped out smallpox, it is close to eradicating polio
and it has made a bigger contribution to health than any advance bar
modern sanitation and clean water. McTaggart, though, rejects this and
invites parents to consider homoeopathy instead.This wrong-headed approach to medicine is the only way in which
homoeopathy can be harmful. Inert sugar pills will not cure disease but
neither will they damage people.
They become dangerous only when they are chosen ahead of drugs that
are proven to work.
Homoeopathy is not the only source of magic and miracles in which
McTaggart believes. She is also keen on spiritual healing, psychic
powers and other paranormal bunkum. The reasons are spelt out in The
Field, a triumph of pseudoscience purporting to chart discoveries
that “seemed to overthrow the current laws of biology, chemistry and
physics”. The Universe, she argues, is pervaded by a field of vibrations
“like the Force in Star Wars”. This connects human minds and bodies in
“a packet of pulsating energy constantly interacting with this vast
energy sea” and explains the supernatural phenomena she accepts as real.
There is no evidence for such gibberish, which rests on misconceptions
about quantum mechanics. This bit of physics is so weird that the great
Richard Feynman famously pronounced that nobody really understands it —
but it is often invoked by believers in the paranormal. About the only
thing experts agree on is that quantum effects do not support
homoeopathy, extra- sensory perception or any of the other nonsense in
Parents should know that this perspective underlies the health
recommendations of McTaggart’s group. The current laws of science may be
incomplete but they do rather a good job of explaining the Universe.
They are certainly a better guide to medicine than hokum from George
McTaggart is right on one point: her philosophy is definitely
something doctors don’t tell you. For good reason, too: it’s rubbish.