Striking a "fair balance" between sense and nonsense

I wrote to the BBC the other day objecting to the fact that their article "Autism rates back MMR jab safety" provides (alongside links to perfectly sensible bodies like the NHS and the National Autistic Society) a link to the "JABs" website that promotes mis-information about vaccines and supports Dr Andrew Wakefield's discredited notions about a link between MMR and autism.

My initial salvo (in the form of a completed BBC web-form):

Re: the link to the "Jabs" website from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8268302.stm

{Complaint:} The "information" on this site has been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited. The BBC should not include a link as though the Jabs site had some kind of valid contribution to make to scientific debate.
Children are dying because of the low uptake of MMR. This is a direct result of misinformation peddled by the Jabs site and other anti vaccination media.
This is not balance, it is gross irresponsibility.

Dr Schroedinger99

I had a reply (which is always nice even if the reply is full of nonsense):

Dear Mr Schroedinger99,

Many thanks for your message, and interest in the site.

All our coverage of the debate on the safety of MMR for many years now has emphasised that the jab is perfectly safe, and is backed by the medical and scientific establishment.

However, there are still people who remain unconvinced, arguing that there is no conclusive scientific proof, only epidemiological studies.
That is why, until their concerns can be disproved with absolute certainty, we link to the Jabs website. As you say, we are committed to a fair balance.

Kind regards,

Richard Warry
Health editor
BBC News website

I have replied:

Dear Mr Warry

Thank you for your email - which I find rather extraordinary.

I take it then that, although you are the health editor for BBC News website, you do not have a science background?

If you did have such a background, you would be aware that things in science and medicine are never proved or disproved "with absolute certainty". This can only happen in mathematics and logic.

Nobody can "prove with absolute certainty" that the phlogiston theory is false or "disprove with absolute certainty" the theory that measles is caused by demonic possession. Indeed, I am sure there are some websites out there promoting such "theories". Perhaps, in the interests of "fair balance", you should link to them too.

There are limits to the notion of "fair balance" - otherwise whenever you included an item on the "Holocaust" you would also be duty bound to include a link to some nutty neo-Nazi website where the whole thing is dismissed as a hoax; and whenever you had an item on moon exploration, you would have to include an equally preposterous link.

There is not a shred of credible scientific evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism and (while there may be contexts where it is appropriate for the BBC to link to sites promoting barmy conspiracy theories - such as in news items about barmy conspiracy theories) it is grossly irresponsible of the BBC to present the link to the JABs site alongside a link to an NHS information site as though the two were somehow on a par with one another.

I am extremely disappointed by your response.

Dr Schroedinger99

Not as restrained and polite as I often try to be, but I was in a bad mood when I received the BBC response and my mood then took a turn for the worse.


  1. I note that the BBC's guidelines on impartiality *do not* "require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view". They don't need to represent every argument, but *choose* to represent the almost certainly dangerously wrong argument that Jabs make.

  2. Unfortunately, the BBC have been linking to JABS for years and I know a lot of people have complained.

    They just refuse to back down. Maybe it's become a point of pride for them or something.

  3. Thanks for your valiant effort, anyway. I'm inspired to do some complaining myself.

  4. A (mis?)spokesperson for JABs was on Radio 5 Live on the morning the news broke of the death of Natalie Morton; she basically said something along the lines of 'I agree that you can't draw a conclusion until the test results are known but its obvious (what caused the girls death) isn't it?' Madness.


Comments are moderated, but you can leave them without registering.