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Reviews PERSONAL VIEW

The legal aid folly that damages us all

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7459.239 (Published 22 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:239

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Unaccountable

Revisiting this article by the (unacknowledged) chairman of Sense
About Science [1] I was struck by this remarkable statement:

"The first was a claim against manufacturers of the MMR (measles,
mumps, and rubella) vaccine. As long ago as 1994 legal aid was granted to
a group of parents who were opposed to immunisation (and who were strong
believers in homoeopathy), for an action claiming that MMR causes brain
damage, epilepsy, arthritis, and autoimmune disease."

On what basis could Taverne claim either that this was a group (some
may have known each other, but others not) or that they were "strong
believers in homeopathy". One thing that is fairly certain about all of
them is that they had their children vaccinated: that some may have become
disaffected with mainstream medicine might perhaps be a factor of their
experience, but if he was saying that collectively the litigants were
adherents of homeopathy this is without foundantion and the purest
nonsense.

What is disturbing about this article after all this time is the way
it targets people rather than provides any scientific argument for its
position, and is substantially propagandistic. Sense About Science list as
its sponsors:

"the ABPI, AstraZeneca plc, BBSRC, The Biochemical Society, Blackwell
Publishing, BP plc, British Institute of Radiology, Dixons Group plc,
Elsevier, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, The Esmee
Fairbairn Foundation, Garfield Weston, GE Healthcare, GlaxoSmithKline,
Halifax Bank of Scotland, Health and Science Communication Trust,
Institute of Physics, Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine,
John Innes Centre, John Innes Trust, Medical Research Council, NESTA, New
Scientist, Oxford GlycoSciences plc, Pfizer plc, The Physiological
Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Astronomical Society, Royal
College of Radiology, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Royal
Society of Chemistry, Science Careers.org, Social Issues Research Centre,
The Society for Applied Microbiology, The Society for Endocrinology, The
Society for General Microbiology, Unilever plc. Help with equipment,
facilities and services has been received from: AXA Investment Management,
Horticultural Research International, Institute of Biology, The Natural
History Museum, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, and WPP." [2]

Now that the ABPI have a code of practice [3] it is also an
interesting question whether influencing public perceptions through such
lobby organisations fits either within its spirit or its letter.

[1]http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/about/7

[2] http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/other/130/

[3] http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/480#176540

Competing interests:
Autistic son

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 December 2007
John Stone
none
London N22