Who and What is it safe to Believe?

If we can’t even trust the Peer Review system, who or what can we trust?

A friendly banter between me and one of my Stumbling friends began as an argument about whether or not Vaccines are safe. Public confidence in Vaccination became a (serious) problem with a failure of the peer review process by the Lancet, when, in 1998, they published Andrew Wakefield’s notorious and extraordinary claims about a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Based on case studies of just 12 patients it should never have been accepted by a reputable journal in the first place. It was finally Retracted in 2010. The shit from that ludicrous storm in a teacup is hitting the fans as we speak with the current ongoing panic as a low-level measles epidemic spreads from Swansea.

Our argument was over the validity of vaccinations as a basis of public health. When confronted with the question as to why we should trust the claims, my ultimate fallback was the peer review process. But then I realised that it was almost impossible to defend as it is still one of the “Trust Me” based social infrastructures and too many stories like the Wakefied cockup and the various examples touched on in this “Scientist Magazine” article (first link) were and are surfacing. Personally, I firmly believe that vaccines are reliable, safe and well-tested. But given the abuse of the peer review system which is little short of rampant (see also Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”) I have no trusted means of validating my belief for the benefit of those who remain sceptical. This is not just sad, it’s dangerous…