Once again, science reporting lets the public down

It’s one thing to get a story wrong. Everyone does that – I’ve certainly done a couple of howlers in my time. It’s quite another to, on being informed of your howler, try and cover it up. And, it appears, this is exactly what The Observer is doing after it’s truly appaling MMR/autism front story from last weekend.

Bad Science » The Observer still misses the point, and makes a hash of apologising…:

“No. The central tenet of the Observer piece was wrong. There was no rise in prevalence found. They were fed a paper – god knows how, or by whom, god knows whether these schoolboy misunderstandings of basic methodology were made first by the Observer or by the person who fed the story to them – but they were fed a paper that used a different way to measure autism and autistic spectrum disorders, aspergers, atypical autism, and this wider net got a bigger number, as you would expect, and even that bit is not even certain, because the analysis is not complete.

How can they still not understand this? After ruminating on the subject for two weeks? It was very decent of them to finally call Dr Fiona Scott, after misrepresenting her opinions for two weeks, but could they not have phoned someone who understands basic research methodology? Are they so puerile that they think that every single person who is capable of reading and explaining that paper is part of a conspiracy to cover up MMR?

I have seen this paper, and I know how to read medical academic research papers. They would be welcome to give me a call. God knows I’ve been calling them and leaving messages, so they have my number. I’d be happy to help out. Lots of people ring me for informal advice on stuff like this. I’m always happy to chat.”

The simple fact is that, thanks to this story, more parents are likely to not have their children vaccinated. This means that children will die, unnecessarily, and for what? Because a newspaper wanted a good headline. The paper had a chance to put things right, and not only has it botched it, it’s botched it badly and made itself look stupid.

Given that I no longer read the Indie because of its appalling science reporting, The Observer’s behaviour leaves me with even fewer options for Sunday reading. Perhaps the internet is the answer…