Archive | July, 2012

The return of the MMR lecture

23 Jul

For a number of years I used to give a lecture on the MMR vaccine debacle, that illustrated many of the points I wanted students to understand about rational thinking. Following the General Medical Council’s determination of serious professional misconduct against the doctors involved in the original article it seems like the story had run it’s course and so I decided to retire the lecture.

However, with a recent article it looks like the Daily Mail may be trying to kick start the issue. Sue Reid’s article, headlined “MMR: A mother’s victory. The vast majority of doctors say there is no link between the triple jab and autism, but could an Italian court case reignite this controversial debate?” details a recent Italian court verdict linking MMR and autism. I won’t rehash the whole sorry saga here, but you can find an excellent summary of the evidence here. The best that I can say is that any ‘rational’ reading of the evidence  suggests that the Italian court may not have seen all the research when they made their decision !

What I find particularly interesting about this case is that it cuts across many disciplines, and so could be widely used as an example. For ‘science’ disciplines one can discuss the ethics of the original research, the value of peer review, the difference between correlation and causation and a range of other topics. But for disciplines as diverse as Media studies,Political Science and Health Promotion could gain from discuss of the MMR fiasco. Media students might consider how a ‘controversy’ can be maintained in the absence of evidence, and politics students might think about how media coverage of the story peaked with the birth of the then PM Tony Blair’s last child was due to be vaccinated, rather than when the original paper was published. Health studies students might want to think about the impact of such stories on vaccination rates, and how such stories might be combatted.

I shall be spending some time over the summer digging out my old lecture slides and updating them. It seems like this particular lecture isn’t quiet dead yet !

Even the best students might not be very clear on ‘science’

12 Jul

I’ve just come across this great video that demonstrates scary levels of misunderstanding of very basic science. I’m wondering if by showing students how poor their science knowledge is we might be able to prompt them into action

So, if you ask Harvard graduates (regularly listed as the world’s best university) to explain the cause of the change of seasons  they produce very poor results. Seems like there is that makings of a very nice in-class demonstration of poor science understanding here. I suspect school kids are all taught the ‘real’ cause of the change of seasons so it will be interesting to see how many 1st year undergraduate students actually know. I shall try this out in October, and report back !! ( Slightly worried that the results may be depressing)

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