Skip to content

Shocking case of bad science reporting at SBS

November 27, 2012

The Australian Academy of Science has just released a booklet aimed at countering anti-vaccination propaganda. In a hopelessly unbalanced report on SBS World News, Hanna Belcher did her best to sabotage the Academy’s message. You can watch this example of bad science reporting here, or read the transcript below:

Hannah Belcher, World News Australia: Four-year old Nicholas is having his final vaccination before starting school. Like many parents, his mum Sarah spent much time trying to decide whether or not to get him immunized due to the barrage of conflicting evidence.

Sarah Sanders, mother: The long-term implications if they did get something that was life-threatening, I mean you just can’t, you can’t imagine losing a child. So I, yeah, I didn’t think twice about it after that.

Hannah Belcher: Sarah’s research led her to believe that it was the right thing to do.

While 90 percent of Australian children are vaccinated within their first eighteen months, the number of children who miss out is rising. The Australian Medical Association estimates 30 thousand children are not getting their jabs because of parental objection. Twelve years ago, there were just 450 objections.

The common fear among parents is the well-publicized claim linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination to autism. Other medical studies suggest that overuse of the whooping-cough vaccine has created a new virulent strain. The Australian Academy of Science says they’re myths.

Dr. Steve Hambleton, Australian Medical Association: There are many irrational fears out there and we need to fight it with actually facts that are simple and clear, that make sense, and these are totally independent of government, totally independent of pharmaceutical companies.

Hannah Belcher: The Health Department’s immunization handbook warns parents to immediately consult a doctor if their child has an adverse reaction. But the Australia Vaccination Network, the voice of the anti-vaccine camp, says doctors are not reporting cases to government health agencies.

Meryl Dorey, Australian Vaccination Network: And in several instances I’ve worked with the parents to get the doctor to report the reaction and that has been literally like pulling teeth. Even when the reaction followed almost immediately after vaccination, the doctors tend to think that there is no connection between the reaction and the vaccine and therefore they don’t report it.

Hannah Belcher: It’s difficult to say who is right in the child vaccination debate, but most medical professionals agree that parents must read all the information and make an informed decision.

Yes, that’s right. Hannah happily falls into the much-discredited practice of false balance by trotting out Meryl Dorey to give the “other side” of the story. And this only weeks after ABC’s Media Watch had slated WIN News for a very similar offence.

But on top of that, Hannah found it necessary to do her own job on the facts. She says there’s a ” barrage of conflicting evidence”! Not as far as I know, Hannah. There might be a lot of noise, but all the evidence points in one direction – that vaccination saves lives. There is no conflict in the science.

And the closing statement takes the cake. “It’s difficult to say who is right in the child vaccination debate …”. No, for anyone who has actually looked at the science (as you’d expect a journalist covering the story to do) it’s not at all difficult. I would have thought that was the whole thrust of the Academy’s argument. The nonsense spouted by the anti-vaxers consists of, as it says, myths. They have no evidence to offer.

  1. Appalling…

  2. I’m reasonably disappointed in SBS, which should (and used to) do better. False balance is the scourge of modern journalism, but does seem to afflict science writing more badly than other forms.

    Let’s hope a more definitive position will be taken, perhaps, if we are really lucky, an editorial comment?

    Fingers crossed.

    • Yes, foldedcranes. I notice that many of the commenters on the SBS forum agree with us. Let’s hope the message gets through.

  3. Who is stupid enough to use Meryl Dorey as an equivalent authority to physicians, researchers, and generally intelligent people. That’s an Appeal to Authority gone bad.

  4. scienceiscomingtotown permalink

    Sad. But it is very difficult to make people (non scientists) understand that ‘evidence’ against vaccination is not real.

  5. What awful reporting, and such a poor understanding of the science involved. Thanks Graham! Added the link to rbutr.

  6. Glad others share my view of this report. I would encourage you all to make an official complaint on line to SBS as I have done. We dont ask for pro-pedophilia balance or pro-anorexia or pro-violence balance or those who think gravity doesnt exist. The science of vaccination is a thousand times more developed than that of gravity, where’s SBS balance on that!!!

Be part of ScienceOrNot? Write a comment, make a suggestion or add an example!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,197 other followers

%d bloggers like this: