David Kirby, the famous journalist who had leaked the details of the Hannah Poling case in the media in the US, spoke in the United Kingdom last night, at Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London.

I turned up a bit early: 6:10 for a 6:30 pm start, thinking that I wanted to make sure that I got a seat, expecting the room would be quite full, but I was wrong.

The talk began slightly late at about 6:45 pm, and by that time there were about fifty people there, at most.  I was amazed that in a country where there are higher rates of autism than in most of the US that so few people bothered to turn up to hear what this man had to say.

Kirby gave an excellent talk.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had seen his work ridiculed on the some of the pro-vaccinationist websites, although I had never read his book or his work at The Huffington Post.  I suppose to be completely fair, I should point out that they don’t call themselves pro-vaccinationists, they tend to call themselves skeptics, or “science-based” or “evidence-based”, implying of course that people who are skeptical about vaccines and who look at evidence don’t exist, or that it is some sort of oxymoron.  It reminds me a bit of being at university where a scholar would refer to her theory as the ‘rich, complex model’ and the theory of someone who disagreed with her as the ‘impoverished, superficial model’.

When Kirby began his talk, he made it clear that he’s not anti-vaccine, nor is he a crusader and that above all, he is a journalist who leaves the science to the scientists.  He pointed out that when he goes home at night, he forgets all about autism; he has no stake in this game and no children.  Along with this topic, he is also working on a project concerning factory-farming of animals, and is writing a book, and none of it has anything to do with autism.

He further pointed out that he doesn’t care whether it is the vaccines that are causing autism or not.  He says that he began researching this area to figure out what was happening that was causing these huge rises in autism cases, and whether it is vaccines or something else doesn’t matter to him, because he is simply working to try and uncover the cause, hoping once discovered the autism epidemic will be able to be stopped.

Kirby began by considering facts and studies that supported the idea that vaccines and autism were not related, and then he turned to those that did suggest a relationship.  He discussed the major studies that are generally considered to be evidence that vaccines are safe, and pointed out all the areas in which these epidemiological studies had methodological problems that directly called the results of the study into question – in many cases by the authors of the studies themselves.  I had already read all the studies he discussed, so I didn’t hear a lot that I didn’t already know, but it was very interesting to have all the information from these studies presented back-to-back so that one could see that as a body of evidence it wasn’t terribly convincing.

But the most amazing part of this talk was that there was no one from the press there.

Well, there was one woman, who said she was a journalist, and that she tried to get someone to commission her to attend the event and write about it, but no one was willing, so she came out of her own interest.  She  pointed out that a notification about the talk had been disseminated among the usual channels in the journalistic community, and that she was certain that the lack of press had nothing to do with people not being aware of the talk.

Meanwhile Hannah Poling is big news in the states and people are now realising that many more children seem to have the markers of mitochondrial dysfunction than the US government originally claimed.   In spite of initial comments by the government health offices that Hannah had an extremely rare inherited condition (in fact Kirby said that the test case intended to replace the Hannah Poling case turned out to have all the same markers and condition as Hannah did, although I haven’t yet confirmed this myself) that the settlement did not mean that the government believed that vaccines cause autism.

But in the midst of this big news that lots of parents are following very closely online, things in the press here are strangely, almost bizarrely silent on this matter.  David Kirby even mentioned that he had a BBC interview scheduled which was canceled, and The Daily Mail commissioned him to write a piece on this subject, which he did, which they then decided not to print.

The Daily Mail did however choose to publish this poorly researched article by Barney Calman about biomedical interventions for autism.  Calman is a journalist who seems to have unfortunately joined forces with Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP who repeatedly and zealously denies that vaccines do any harm or that they have any link to autism.  Fitzpatrick has a son with autism (a teenager who is institutionalised), which he takes special care to mention whenever he speaks or writes, as if this somehow makes his claims weightier.  In fact, Fitzpatrick was at the Kirby talk yesterday, and after Kirby presented his material and then asked for questions, Fitzpatrick hurried not to make any substantive rebuttal of anything Kirby presented, but instead to ask how it could be the case that vaccines contributed to autism when there weren’t any GPs, paediatricians or pediatric gastroenterologists who believed it.

So it would seem that the press in the UK is only willing to publish pieces that are pro-vaccine, and against biomedical treatment for autism.  It doesn’t seem to matter if those articles are even remotely factually correct, or if the primary proponents make sophomoric claims from authority that something must be true because a bunch of doctors think it’s true.

Surely if work like that is worthy of any journalistic effort, then Hannah Poling deserves her own newspaper – and yet she gets nothing in this country.  For myself, I find the silence of the press completely deafening, and I am happy to see people around the country taking notice.

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