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What the Papers Don't Say About Vaccines

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the headlines-over-reason dept.

Medicine 737

jamie tips an article in The Guardian's "Bad Science" column which highlights recent media coverage of the MMR vaccine. A story circulated in the past week about the death of a young child, which the parents blamed on the vaccine. When the coroner later found that it had nothing to do with the child's death, there was a followup in only one of the six papers who had covered the story. "Does it stop there? No. Amateur physicians have long enjoyed speculating that MMR and other vaccinations are somehow 'harmful to the immune system' and responsible for the rise in conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Doubtless they must have been waiting some time for evidence to appear. ... Measles cases are rising. Middle class parents are not to blame, even if they do lack rhetorical panache when you try to have a discussion with them about it. They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts."

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737 comments

Negative headlines sell better (5, Insightful)

Zironic (1112127) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021721)

No one is interested in reading positive news like the fact the vaccine isn't actually harmful so there's no money in printing it.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022067)

No one is interested in reading positive news like the fact the vaccine isn't actually harmful so there's no money in printing it.

My daughter got the MMR a month or two ago and she ended up with a week of 106F fever. Ordinarily, she likes to run around but for that week she just didn't do anything other than clinging to her mother. What I'm saying here is that the side effects of the vaccine were far worse than anything else (colds, injuries, etc.) that she had up to that point.

Now, she probably didn't end up with permanent damage from the vaccine and it may be that permanent damage is (very?) rare. But the reason these stories have traction is not that it's bad news and bad news sells.

The reason that these stories have traction is that seeing your child with such severe side effects is extremely traumatic and parents are naturally curious whether such severe side effects are causing permanent damage.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022281)

My daughter got the MMR a month or two ago and she ended up with a week of 106F fever.

So the doctor told you that the fever was a result of the MMR or did you come up with the diagnosis yourself?

I'm just saying that it could have been a coincidence. Perhaps it wasn't the vaccine but some other cause after all kids do tend to get sick.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (2, Informative)

JavaBear (9872) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022397)

I got the MMR as a kid, and din't get sick from it, my brother did though, but oddly enough he got well after a week or so. Does that mean that the vaccine is dangerous?

NO, of course not!

Vaccine is made of deactivated viruses, and the body reacts to those viruses as it is supposed to, some just reacts a bit more...effectively, than others, and immediately fires up the immune responses.

The MMR vaccine is clearly one of those cases where the "Better safe than sorry" approach of some misinformed parents REALLY risk hurting their child, when it later in life get into contact with the viruses they were supposed to be protected against through the MMR.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (0, Redundant)

Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022177)

Oddly enough, I stopped subscribing to a dead-tree newspaper when I realized that, on balance, there was no real news, and certainly no real analysis left in the paper. So, there's no money in not printing the news either. I wonder when editors will wake up to that fact? Or maybe the just don't mind running tabloids...

Lack of Interest in Science (4, Insightful)

reporter (666905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022247)

A more fundamental problem is a general lack of interest in science. Consider the news stories about American celebrities. Regardless of whether such news is postive or negative, the public loves reading about the lives of celebrities. "People" magazine is one of the most popular magazines in America. The circulation of, say, "Scientific American" pales by comparison.

Consider the story about the dangers of germ-free environments [findarticles.com] . Specifically, excessive attempts to elminate germs can, in addition to creating super-bugs, cause our immune system to malfunction. Without the constant exercisng of our immune system by germs, our immune system goes into overdrive by generating an immune response to things (e.g., pollen) that are not germs.

The above story appeared for a brief moment in the news and then disappeared. Meanwhile, the quantity of advertisements for anti-bacterial products (containing triclosan) has exploded. The public prefers to watch pseudo-science commericials instead of genuine-science news stories.

The anti-science public does not care about science. If the public did care about science, it would have dramatically reduced its purchases of anti-bacterial products (thus protecting the health and lives of Americans). So, when the public does not care about science, science-related stories appear briefly in the news media and then quickly fade away in favor of stories about, say, Paris Hilton.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022355)

I'm not interested in listening to pro-vaccine propaganda. When I see a real study done in the US making the same claims as the Dutch study I'll change my mind if I don't find any gross negligence. Dutch studies alone are not an indicator and if you look how their government funds things they are not unbiased.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (2, Informative)

afxgrin (208686) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022411)

Well if you're immune system is expressing large amounts of chitinase because of the vaccine, I wouldn't be surprised if it leads to things like asthma.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitinase [wikipedia.org] :

As such, it is unsurprisingly related to allergies. What is surprising, perhaps, is that asthma in particular has been linked to enhanced chitinase expression levels.[14][15][16][17][18]

Re:Negative headlines sell better (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022485)

Go back and RTFA. The study referenced therein concluded that children who were vaccinated had less problems with Asthma, not more, than the non-vaccinated group.

Re:Negative headlines sell better (2, Interesting)

JavaBear (9872) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022431)

True, but how about printing stories about kids getting hurt by the illnesses these vaccines could have protected them against?

Polio is apparently on the rise, because of these misinformed people, and that is very bad news indeed.

Parents ARE to blame (5, Insightful)

tannhaus (152710) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021747)

When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child. If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

*Father*

Re:Parents ARE to blame (5, Insightful)

Samschnooks (1415697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021841)

When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child. If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

*Father*

Or why not ask your physician who, I would think, knows a bit more than a writer who does the bare minimum of research, if any, to meet his deadline.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

jdh28 (19903) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022173)

Or why not ask your physician who, I would think, knows a bit more than a writer who does the bare minimum of research, if any, to meet his deadline.

Perhaps you should read back through Ben Goldacre's blog and see what else he's written about the MMR scare - this is something he most definitely does know about. Oh yeah, and if you read his biography you'll see he is also a medical doctor.

John

Re:Parents ARE to blame (4, Insightful)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022263)

Why, because Western medical practitioners are conspiring against us, didn't you know?~

But a little more seriously, I think many people are getting suspicious of doctors who are too quick with the prescription pad, and don't spend much time actually doing preventative, or even curative, medicine.

Anecdotes factor in to the story as well. A friend of the family has a son who's autistic. The boy is 13 years old, handsome, has some artistic talent, and wears a diaper because he's totally incontinent. His mom swears up and down that she can trace the changes in him to the very day he got his 18 month MMR. Even if it's anecdotal, a story like that puts the fear into you when you have your own baby.

My wife and I thought about it carefully, and did consult with our family doctor, who is very strict about research-based medicine, and doesn't like to pull out the prescription pad for the least little thing. He recommended going with the shots, but also told us that he takes extra precautions with the vaccines (this was before the latest research). Him, we trust.

Also, and this really bothers me, many parents who don't vaccinate their kids are trading on the fact that the rest of us do. The risk of their kid catching one of the MMR diseases is much lower because everyone else has their shot. This of course eventually leads to a "tragedy of the Commons" situation where, as we see, those diseases become more prevalent.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (2, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022267)

Or why not ask your physician who, I would think, knows a bit more than a writer who does the bare minimum of research, if any, to meet his deadline.

It was only a few decades ago that physicians were endorsing cigarettes, and sticking radium rods up kids noses [heart-dise...urgery.com] as a treatment for enlarged adenoids. Not to mention fun treatments like frontal lobotomies.

Certainly some contemporary common practices among physicians will be looked back with as much amazement. Not to say that current vaccination methods are or are not in that set, only that physicians can be very very wrong and you ought not to blindly trust them.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022325)

The person who started the MMR scare was a doctor who had his findings published (subsequently refuted) by the Lancet Medical Journal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022341)

Really depends if you can have a doctor you can trust. One could also argue that the doctor is being paid by the drug company to push the vaccines. Not saying it's true in all cases, or the majority of cases, but I wouldn't put it past some doctors.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022401)

Here in the US, doctors still circumcise babies, even though most other countries have rejected it. If doctors are still willing to do something as unethical as that, I have no choice but to question their motives in all matters.

That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021863)

"Make extremely sure that you have all the facts"? I'm a continuous skeptic about everything, and from what I've read, I'm 99.99% sure that autism and vaccines are not linked in any way - but the cause of autism is not known, so it would be irresponsible for me to run out and declare that I'm 100% sure. I'm not sure, and neither are you, and if you claim you're 100% sure, then you're being religious instead of scientific.

A parent who is less sure, say 90% sure, now has to balance the effects and probabilities that on the one hand, that the kid will get the almost-never-lethal-or-disabling measles; and on the other hand a minute chance that the kid will get the disabling malady of autism. It's their kid, so I find it unsurprising that parents are simply skipping the vaccines as long as there's the shadow of a doubt.

The only way to get the parents back on vaccine schedules is to determine the cause of autism.

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (5, Informative)

dmr001 (103373) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022143)

When parents of my pediatric patients say they're skipping vaccines, they talk more about what they read on the Internet than what they see on television or read in the newspaper. The second most common source of information cited about how vaccines are dangerous is "people [they've] talked to." Only a small percentage make a distinction about specific vaccines; most who refuse the MMR refuse everything. So, do I have to wait until we prove another negative - autism isn't caused by DTaP - to prevent common (and sometimes fatal) whooping cough? Proving that the MMR vaccine doesn't cause autism (NEJM 347:1477-1482) hasn't been enough for my vaccine refusers so far. This is a parental issue. I think the solution is basic education in the scientific method and statistics for everyone, beginning in elementary school.

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022275)

During a big outbreak of the measels in the netherlands 2961 people were infected.
Twenty percent of the infected people developed serious complications.

Three kids died, 53 had to be hospitalized. 130 had pneumonia. 152 otitis media.

If you don't vaccinate your kid because of an extremly vague at best and realisticaly unplausible chance of your kid getting autism you are a bad parent. No discussion.

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (3, Interesting)

jamie (78724) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022359)

The only way to get the parents back on vaccine schedules is to determine the cause of autism.

Um, no. That's not the only way.

There are two public interests here. One is preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases. The other is protecting vulnerable members of our society who are unable to defend themselves against their parents' superstition and ignorance. For either or both reasons, we can and should use the law to force parents to vaccinate their children.

Parents are prosecuted for withholding other forms of medical care from their children. For example, 11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann died from diabetes while her parents prayed over her, and those parents are now charged, as they should be, with reckless homicide [thenorthwestern.com] . Why not meet deliberate failure to vaccinate a child with, say, a charge of child endangerment?

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022405)

People are always looking for The Explanation to various problems, troubles and ailments. So it is easy to blame vaccines for causing Autism; instead of accepting that it could perhaps be a multitude causes behind it.

For instance, as an example, no one fully understand the accumulated effects of all the pollution we pump into the air, the toxins we dump into the ocean, and rivers, and the additives and preservatives added to food and drinks. Various chemicals could by themselves be harmless, or even of benefit to society, but combine variations together in a person at random (especially children) and the effects are unknown. Perhaps it's not the cause of anything, perhaps it is; all I know is that very little substantial research is being done. And the sentiment presented by manufacturers and retailers seem to be; "If you don't die at once; it's not a poison. Besides you're all just a bunch of doom saying crybabies."

Personally I try never to form a convolution based upon a lack of evidence, however in these cases there seem to be almost fundamentalist zeal in ignoring or suppressing any research and trials to document fully the effects of Everything for an extensive amount of time (enough time to make a rational conclusion one way or the other).

Basic point is, question everything. As a specie we have a tendency to use, abuse, package and sell all kinds of stuff that we don't fully comprehend yet. Like radioactive toothpaste being marketed as extra healthy. [orau.org]

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (1)

Kibblet (754565) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022427)

They already KNOW some causes of autism. It's a spectrum, and the symptoms that cause it are a list of behaviors, some of which have known triggers. Rhett's Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome are two that come to mind off the top of my head. I know another child that had a surgical injury that caused autistic behaviors. If autism were a disease, then it would be easy to say 'let's find the cause'. But given the scope and definition of autism, I would find it very hard to say that we could find 'the cause'. Maybe we can find more causes, which would be great. They suspect a few different things for my own child. Oh, and it isn't just the media. I've gone to seminars and conferences, with doctors and PhDs who are still spouting 'it could be the shots'. It couldn't have been that with my son, though. That much we DO know.

Re:That is impractical. I mean, impossible. (1)

jwiegley (520444) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022491)

You might want to discover that the world, and people, aren't black and white.

Sure != proof. "Sure" is like "trust". It is a continuous spectrum. The original poster never said 100%. He simply said "extremely" sure; indicating that the parent should feel, believe or can justify strongly that their decision is the correct one.

Please read what was written, exactly as it was written, before knee-jerking a reaction.

It's not actually a parental issue (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021929)

It's a societal issue. Once a critical portion of the population is not immunized against a disease, then a widespread epidemic is more possible and likely. This could have severe economic impacts that go far beyond the goals of individual parents. This is why most immunization is mandatory unless there is a specific religious or health related exception. People invoking these exceptions trivially are endangering the functioning civil order. These vaccines have proven to be quite safe -- and, even if there is a risk of infection (say for example, with live polio), if the negative side-effect rate in the population is low-enough, its still something that should be mandated in order to ensure that the population as a whole is resilient to some of the Big Nasties.

Re:It's not actually a parental issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022237)

Clearly you haven't taken a child in for a vaccination in the last few years. I was vaccinated when i was little, in the '70s, and it was just a handful of shots for big diseases. Any reasonable person would say, "yes, obviously, that's a good idea."

In the '00s, however, vaccinations are a huge deal. The schedules span years, involving massive cocktails of four or five vaccinations in each shot, and start at birth. There are vaccinations for lots of nonfatal and barely threatening diseases (but the literature makes them all out to be the worst thing, ever). This is not the same thing they did to you as child. This starts to irk the common sense in people who see doctors as learned and skilled experts, but not as infallible gods.

Re:It's not actually a parental issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022343)

It's a societal issue. Once a critical portion of the population is not immunized against a disease, then a widespread epidemic is more possible and likely. This could have severe economic impacts that go far beyond the goals of individual parents.

From the mumps? Smallpox or polio, maybe - but the mumps?

I would venture to suggest that if you asked a credible scientist to estimate the probability of a mumps epidemic with severe economic impact (as a function of vaccination level) that they would tell you that such an estimate would be extremely difficult (almost impossible, in fact) but that "back of the envelope" calculations suggest that such an epidemic is extremely unlikely even with no vaccination whatsoever.

But maybe you actually have some credible scientific studies you can cite? Or, are you just fear mongering on pro-vaccination side of the issue? If so, you're no better than those who fear monger on the anti-vaccination side of the issue.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (3, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022005)

When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child.

Unless you happen to be a medical expert of sufficient calibre to run the experiments yourself, you rely on others to supply you accurate knowledge about the subject. Unless you are an expert in every subject, there are bound to be potential decisions regarding the welfare of your child where you have little choice but to go off half-cocked, since you simply have no way to know for sure what the results of each choice might be, and at what probability.

If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

No one is up to that responsibility. Nothing short of a god could possibly be. But don't let logic get in the way of making grandiose declarations - in the name of the children, of course.

*Father*

Ah yes, that would explain it. There's something about children which seems to turn people's brains off, allowing them to both spout and believe unbelievably stupid statements without recognizing them as such. Must be some kind of hormonal thing.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

tannhaus (152710) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022245)

Unless you happen to be a medical expert of sufficient calibre to run the experiments yourself, you rely on others to supply you accurate knowledge about the subject.

Yes, but if you decide People Magazine, the internet, or whatever is more trustworthy than your pediatrician, you are not responsible enough to have kids - at the very least, you need to change pediatricians.

This isn't a case of people not knowing, this is a case of people making a choice: they choose not to vaccinate their children. They risk their children's lives because of something they've read on the net or wherever else instead of listening to the advice of practically any pediatrician they come into contact with. Again, these people should have their children taken away from them.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

tannhaus (152710) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022273)

There's something about children which seems to turn people's brains off, allowing them to both spout and believe unbelievably stupid statements without recognizing them as such. Must be some kind of hormonal thing.

Actually, I think there is something about people who have never had children thinking that they know it all and are great fonts of wisdom. Then, they get a kid and realize that they don't know jack...or they choose not to vaccinate their kids. I see why you're so defensive..

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022417)

Soccer moms will be the downfall of western society. Hordes of unvaccinated kids that live in super sterile conditions so they never develop an actual immune system that then get crammed into overcrowded daycares cause mommy and daddy have to work four jobs to pay for the house, white picket fence and the "think of the children" special edition SUV will be the source of the next great pandemic.

Think of it as evolution in action. (0)

wiredog (43288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022101)

Parents who don't get their kids the MMR vaccine put their kids at higher risk of getting those diseases. Kids who get those diseases are less likely to have children of their own. So as soon as herd immunity breaks down, the number of stupid people breeding drops.

Re:Think of it as evolution in action. (1)

aaronfaby (741318) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022305)

Unfortunately, it is evolution in action, but in a way that impacts us all. The people who refuse vaccines are opening the door for these diseases to mutate, and therefore render the current vaccinations useless. I do not believe something as important as vaccination is a personal choice, because it is very much a public safety issue.

Re:Think of it as evolution in action. (1)

TechMouse (1096513) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022333)

That doesn't work. When the herd immunity drops below a certain tolerance, then the chances of problems increase across the whole population. In short, it's not only the unvaccinated children who are at risk.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

TechMouse (1096513) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022117)

Unfortunately most people rely on the media for those facts. You can't expect everyone to have a deep understanding in medical biology, or even enough of a passing interest to read the journals. Most people turn to broadcast and print media to get a summary of what's going on in the world. That's why it's quite so bad that the press routinely ignores the big picture in favour of the hasty headline. Massive respect to Ben Goldacre - he's one of the few people really pushing for a balance in a world that doesn't really understand the meaning of the word.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022121)

Research scientists are the only ones who really know "all the facts", and they only know "all the facts" about a narrow sliver of what there is to know. It takes many years of diligent work to even be able to understand even that. The rest of us rely on them to explain, usually through intermediaries like public health officials, newspapers, books, pediatricians, etc, what we should do. Maybe what you mean is that parents should dig a little deeper than their local paper or some random, paranoid website when making health decisions. That's fine. But whom should they trust, and how should they decide that? It's really a lot more complicated than you're making it sound. Parents do share in the responsibility, but they can only do so much.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022187)

I assume you've read Brave New World? That kind of thinking can lead to extreme conclusions.

It might seem a nice idea, but implementing any social system around that kind of concept would be very difficult to do without extreme consequences for society. Unfortunately most people are more sheep-like and are easily scared

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022447)

So... what do you do when people are too sheeplike to make sane decisions on their own? Coddle them and make them more like sheep?

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022479)

So... what do you do when people are too sheeplike to make sane decisions on their own? Coddle them and make them more like sheep?

Get them to vote for you!

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022243)

..it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child.

Parents should not make decisions concerning their offspring. All children belongs to The Glorious Peoples Republic! Making decisions about your child is anti-social and a betrayal of The Party!

Re:Parents ARE to blame (4, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022291)

How do you possibly get "all the facts" when you are trying to raise a child?

Most parents (if you really are a parent) sort of muddle through the whole process of raising kids with imprecise information and an attempt to do the best we can with what limited information may or may not even be available to us at the moment.

Yes, reading first aid manuals, parenting guides, and other such books or websites may be useful, but more often you go on the advise of your own parents, neighbors and friends. There is often a whole lot of trust that happens too... sometimes misplaced trust at that.

As for "THE TRUTH" about vaccines, I don't really even know what the truth may or may not be here. Certainly it can be quantitized how useful vaccines have been in terms of the society as a whole, but as a parent you don't care about who a vaccine is generally saving the whole of society if it is your own kid that is the 1% or 1/10th% who gets screwed over with a bad reaction to a vaccine. All you care about really is how it is going to impact your own children.

I also don't think the medical community is being totally honest here, and that there can be some children who shouldn't be receiving vaccines. The trick here is to be able to make that decision... often with the medical community actively fighting against you or openly dismissing your fears without so much as even looking at any legitimate concerns you might have or even doing so much as even looking at your child at all, much less your child's medical history.

Muddling through is the best any parent can do anyway, and how dare you suggest that a child should be removed from a parent who is otherwise working in good faith to do the best they can for their own kids.

Re:Parents ARE to blame (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022319)

So what is you solution? The state takes all children of parents it thinks made bad decisions away?

I blame much of this problem on the British government which took an extremely patronising attitude to parents. Their leaflets supposedly explaining the safety of the MMR did not cite any facts other than that the vaccine had been used got a long time without any evidence of damage being found - it conspicuously failed to mention whether anyone had looked for such evidence. The rest of it was largely "we know better than you so you better do as your told".

It would have been perfectly easy to fund something like the Danish study [bmj.com] much earlier.

Even better would be to fund a set of long term studies of the long term effects of all commonly used vaccines, proving them all safe. The datasets would overlap (reducing costs) and it might turn up other useful information as well, and datasets that could be mined if any future doubts were raised.

Err... (3, Insightful)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021751)

Since when is this nebulous entity called "the media" the only group that "has access to all the information"? If people decide to shirk responsibility for their own lives, and blindly accept conventional wisdom, that is their choice and they have freely made it, whether or not they consciously acknowledge it.

Re:Err... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021991)

Since when is this nebulous entity called "the media" the only group that "has access to all the information"?

That's hardly the point. Imagine you have a child on immunosupressants - who can't be vaccinated. Your personal choice to be better informed on MMR is not going to save your child from infection, only the herd immunity of a better informed public can.

The media often make claims to be balanced, and we care about this because its supposed to mean we can trust them to filter the flood of information out there into something we can use to make informed decisions, be it on MMR or the next president. Clearly in this case, they are failing miserably.

Re:Err... (5, Insightful)

gowen (141411) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022001)

The problem here is that many British newspapers have spread wholly-untrue scare stories about the MMR injections, largely based on erroneous analysis by descredited scientists, Andrew Wakefield.

No-one can be be expected to follow every major medical story by reference to the original papers (and despite your noxious smugness, you don't either). We all rely on the media, both to alert us to potential medical risks, and to give accurate and even handed treatment to medical stories.

The papers and journalist in question (and. Melanie Phillips, I'm looking at you) have put sales-grabbings scare stories ahead of providing actual information -- acceptable if you're just gossiping about celebrities, but children have lost their lives because well meaning parents have been swayed by newspaper medical stories written with scant regard for the truth. Like people who shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre, they should be held to account.

Re:Err... (1)

Gorobei (127755) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022369)

Roughly since the start of the industrial revolution. Prior to that, it was mostly the church.

I understand this internet thing has caused some changes over the last decade. Numerous journalists have assured me that this fad allows consumers to "search" for news, and find information from experts in the field involved. Obviously, lacking a journalist to intermediate, this leads to a lot of confusion and wasted effort.

Re:Err... (1)

dword (735428) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022419)

Since when is this nebulous entity called "the media" the only group that "has access to all the information"?

Since "the people" are too stupid or lazy or busy to read books; watching and discussing about a football game is much cooler than reading and discussing about proteins.

Re:Err... (1)

tim_darklighter (822987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022423)

It also says something about the anti-vaccine crowd when they look to spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey for their "scientific" views on the subject. They may be entertaining, but neither of them has any background in making medical decisions for people. And since people tend to believe every movie star with a cause is correct, they tend to ignore credentials.

Michael J. Fox = Advocates Parkinson's research because he has the disease (Sounds good)
Jenny McCarthy = Had a child with autistic tendencies, so it must be the vaccines' fault. (Huh?)

More evidence that peoples' bullshit filter is broken.

MMR? (1)

Bradmont (513167) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021763)

Am I the only one who had to google MMR Vaccine [wikipedia.org] to find out that this is talking about the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine given to chlidren?

Re:MMR? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021801)

yes

Re: MMR? (1)

gidds (56397) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022025)

Probably depends where you live.

Here in the UK, the media (or at least, a good number of newspapers, TV programmes, etc.) have been trumpeting the possibility of a link between this vaccine and autism for the last few years -- despite the only 'lab' claiming any link turning out to be a shed belonging to someone with a correspondence degree.

(It's interesting that most of these vaccine scares seem to be restricted to one country at a time, even though the vaccines themselves are used across the world...)

As others have said, Dr Goldacre is a voice well worth listening to. At least partly because he shows, time and time again, that you have to go to the actual results, the facts and figures, to see what's really going on. He's done a lot of that work. It's a shame that mainstream journalism rarely follows suit.

Took me 5 minutes... (5, Funny)

Loibisch (964797) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021769)

...to read the last sentence.

They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts.

Six commas...

A beef, with commas, you have? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021953)

You must be new here, for if you were not, you would know that us, the readers of slashdot, enjoy reading summaries which, when read slowly and carefully, provide some great meaning that, fortunately, could not have been presented to us without all the deliberately, refreshingly placed commas, all of which brighten our sad, lonely days in these dank, windowless basements which, for many of us, have been our homes for decades and, comma-willing, will continue to be for many more decades to come, for we would be distraught should our parents, who gave birth to us, of course, were to boot us out into the "real world", the simple notion of which frightens us beyond belief, really.

Sincerely, yours,

Reader, who is anonymous, for various reasons, none of which concern you, the reader of this comment.

There is no "The Media" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021789)

Contrary to popular opinion, newspapers, radio stations, television stations, news sites, podcasts, and blogs are ALL in competition with one another. Each of them tries to find the stories that sell best to their readers. Its called a free market.

I know its popular to blame everything on "the media" (or here in North Carolina, "The Liberal News Media"), which apparently includes everything from Slashdot to FOX to the BBC, but it is simply bullshit. It is as realistic as saying that icecream makers insist on making unhealthy foods. No... They make what people BUY.

Doctors != Scientists (5, Insightful)

DrLudicrous (607375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021811)

I know this is going to be viewed somewhat as flamebait, but to put it bluntly, doctors are mechanics for the human body. No more, no less. The vast, overwhelming majority of doctors have little to no true scientific training, any more so than a business person or Joe the Plumber. Even those doctors doing active medical research have limited scientific faculties IMO, having heard about this stereotype from others, read about on the internet, and dealt with it myself. Therefore, when it comes to scientific interpretation, anything coming from a doctor's mouth should be taken with at least a grain of salt, if not a shakerful.

Re:Doctors != Scientists (3, Insightful)

Luke has no name (1423139) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021889)

Not every computer scientist actually does scientic research on computation and data sets, many of them program. They are scientists ACTING as technicians or engineers, if you are familiar with the Scientist-Engineer-Technician hierarchy and its meaning.

In that, medical doctors are scientists, trained in the medical sciences, which act as technicians on the human body.

Re:Doctors != Scientists (3, Insightful)

DrLudicrous (607375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022111)

Right, I see some of what you are saying. However, the point I was trying to make was that doctors don't effectively use the scientific method on a day to day basis. The way they approach research is fundamentally different from how a scientist in biology, chemistry, or physics would approach the same research. Basically, IMHO, calling doctors scientists is an insult to real scientists, and denigrates the work that they do. If you are going to call doctors scientists, you might as well call a biologist a neurosurgeon because they know the science behind how the brain works.

Re:Doctors != Scientists (4, Informative)

dubl-u (51156) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021941)

I know this is going to be viewed somewhat as flamebait, but to put it bluntly, doctors are mechanics for the human body.

It's funny you should say that. A friend of mine is toward the end of med school, and at her house I was leafing through one of the professional journals she gets. It reminded me a lot of a car mechanic's guide. Very little on the science or the why. She agreed.

Maybe that's the right thing, as being a family doctor you have to keep up with an awful lot of conditions. But I went through a lot of doctors before I found one who a) had at least a touch of humility, and b) made me feel like she understood the actual science involved.

Re:Doctors != Scientists (1)

puck01 (207782) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022429)

Depends on the journal your reading. Read my other post in this thread. Say principles apply. There are plenty of basic science medical journals out there. Most practitioners would not be reading those, however.

I'm a med student and I have to agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022039)

I am a med student, but I'm not from the USA. I am from Austria, Europe or as some would say 'Old Europe' ;)

And I have to agree.

In my country med school takes 6 years and you don't have any other college level education beforehands.

Med school is somewhat scientific here, but I don't think most people learn to really think like a scientist. You have to write a scientifical paper but most students are just lab assistants or call center agents during this.

To be honest I get sick when I talk to coleagues who think homeopathy actually works. People who at least were exposed to most of the concepts behind microbiology, biochemistry and so on.

There are actually courses about homeopathy, etc. at my university.

I can deal with doctors who do homeopathy for the money. I can't deal with those who really belive in it.

I think a really good doctor should have scientific thinking skills. He doesn't need to be an actual scientist. It's enough if he knows how to interpret scientific papers. Sees their merit and apply them.

Re:I'm a med student and I have to agree (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022249)

No we don't call Austria "old Europe", we call it the birthplace of Nazism. But I guess things have really changed there, huh ?

Re:Doctors != Scientists (1)

puck01 (207782) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022399)

That's a bit erroneous but partially true. Its mostly just an oversimplification and/or over generalization.

What you are saying is sort of like if I was talking about scientists and implying they should all be biologists but are not in some sort of derogatory way. Of course, not all scientists are biologist and that is not expected. But some scientist trained in say environmental science might drawn on biology for what they are working on.

Doctors draw from many disciplines in order to do what we do. I believe we mostly try to use science as our foundation but that is not always possible. We are very much trained in the ways of science. That's pretty much what most of use focus on in undergrad and the 1st two years of medical school. Are most of us PHDs? No, of course not, but much of what we do draws from directly from science. Those of us who primarily practice in a community environment later in life will draw much less on the basic science part and focus more on the other disciplines of medicine. Those who primarily practice rely on those doing the research to guide principles put into practice.

Those of us who stay in academics tend to stay more in touch with basic science because most of us are educators or do research ourselves that drives practice. Some of us also have PHDs, some of use don't.

So it just depends on the doctor you are talking about. Since the public mostly interacts with practicing community doctors, I can see where you are coming from but I'd argue that does not accurately reflect the scope of what many of us do.

Re:Doctors != Scientists (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022437)

I don't know how that could be taken as flamebait. It does, after all, come from within the profession (i.e. DrLudicrous).

MMR Kills, Obama is Black (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021821)

DUH!!!! WTF, you guys expect some real objective... non MTV generation, non sensationalist news and coverage? This is a America... where MYSPACE rules.

Evidence does not get recorded (1, Interesting)

jrumney (197329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021823)

Not that I'm saying there's a link, but my son suddenly started suffering Cold Urticaria [wikipedia.org] right after having his second MMR jab. When we saw the doctor about it, I mentioned the vaccination as a possible trigger and the doctor immediately launched into a defence of MMR without recording it (she wrote down everything else I mentioned). While I'm aware that the previous arguments about links to autism were based on poor use of statistics, I did find it strange that the NHS is not interested in recording such incidents so that they can do proper statistical analysis and find any real links that exist.

Re:Evidence does not get recorded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021935)

Yes, you ARE implying that there's a link, and you are an idiot for doing so. It's conspiracy bullshit based on what one doctor did at one time. Wow, that's overwhelming evidence that they don't record statistics or investigate possible side effects!

Re:Evidence does not get recorded (2, Informative)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021973)

Many, many statistical analysis have been done. Repeatedly it has been proven there is no link.

But the press still print any trash story they can make up, leading to people like you being unsure.

You don't understand evidence (3, Informative)

ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022317)

I did find it strange that the NHS is not interested in recording such incidents so that they can do proper statistical analysis and find any real links that exist.

Because such self-reported anecdotes are not relevant in a proper statistical analysis.

If there were a correlation to be found, then the epidemiologists would be able to find it just based on the fact that a significant number of children came in with cases of hives shortly after coming in for their MMRs. Your records would support that, based simply on the objective facts that you had the MMR on date x, and came down with hives on date x+n. That's all the evidence your son's case can provide.

Your armchair analysis on a sample size of one is not evidence, and has no place in a medical record.

Props to the author (4, Insightful)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021845)

Just gotta give up some respect to Ben Goldacre.

In the face of the standard shrill anti-science which permeates western media, he's a guy who tells it straight. A high class myth-busters, if you like.

A geek. The man.

ignant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26021885)

Too many people are ignant. That's the real issue...ignance.

There are studies showing more people buy more media when the news is out of the ordnary. That's another issue...ignant people leading ordnary lives.

Vaccines helping children is ordnary. The ignants get no excitement from it.

Now, vaccines harming children is exciting. The ignant want to read more about this.

But to really get the issue to the forefront, you need to get it on daytime TeeVee, like Oprah or something.

If you can add maternal instinct to the mix, then you have the potential to really give the ignant something out of the ordnary.

Trust No One? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021893)

I've long said that the internet would turn the world upside down as much as the printing press did 500 years ago, and this is one of the ways.

People are smart enough to know that our entire ruling class - the first, second, third and fourth estates, all slant information to suit their own ends. No one trusts their leaders and the constant bickering among the different classes at the top only serves to amplify this distrust. But, before, this distrust meant that people could only be isolated, with a few prayed on by the conspiracy industry.... but now that everyone can talk to anyone, this distrust of institution has exploded. You don't have to worry that the media, government, and scientific community might call you a crackpot, when you can find an easy 10,000 people that agree with you.

Blame everyone else. (1)

retech (1228598) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021915)

This, again, props up the new trend to say "I/We" are not to blame... "THEY" are! Since when did a parent lose any responsibility to to do the homework and figure out what is or is not best for their child? Since when do we believe EVERYTHING we read?

Amateur physicians?? (2, Insightful)

Chineseyes (691744) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021959)

Do we really want to take medical advise from amateurs? This isn't backyard car modding we are talking about.

Re:Amateur physicians?? (3, Insightful)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022149)

Well, I'd suggest not, but there are plenty of people who take their advice from 'alternative' therapies, from the internet, from their religion and from spam email.

Of course with so many of these things it's what people want to hear: People would like there to be magical cures. People like a conspiracy - to feel that they know something everyone else doesn't - such as that MMR is actually an overall negative and hence they won't have their kids vaccinated.

Re:Amateur physicians?? (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022259)

Do we really want to take medical advise from amateurs? This isn't backyard car modding we are talking about.

Indeed, I get my medical advice straight from big pharma. I can't afford health insurance, so I've been relying on the advice they offer for free during commercial television programming breaks. I just wish they could give free samples as well. Mind you, I'm perfectly healthy, but some of the products look like they could me even healthier. And happier, too.

Dr Sear's Vaccine Book (1, Informative)

TheDarren (1341057) | more than 5 years ago | (#26021965)

I highly recommend Dr Sear's vaccine book if you are a new parent. The doses of mercury and formaldehyde included in most vaccine is concerning to most parents. As most parents will tell you, your kid feels and looks like crap after getting a single vaccine. Dosing him with multiple ones really knocks 'em down for a week or more until they return to normal.

My wife and I chose to space out the vaccines we gave our child to 1-2 a month instead of 3-4 every two months. This keeps a "mostly normal" vaccine schedule while trying to avoid overburdening the kids body.

Re:Dr Sear's Vaccine Book (3, Informative)

Shados (741919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022153)

The mercury was removed years ago because of people flipping over it. Kids feeling like crap after a vaccine will happen regardless of what you put in it, because of the very nature of what it does (it makes your immune system go nuts over it, which is what makes you feel like crap... like what happens when you a have a freagin cold). Oversimplifying here, but thats about it.

Spacing them out may or may not have benefits, I'm not arguing that, but its not the mercury or whatever that makes your kid go poof after a vaccine.

I'm glad my parents didn't know about this . . . (2, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022395)

Dosing him with multiple ones really knocks 'em down for a week or more until they return to normal.

. . . or they would have vaccinated me more often.

. . . Or maybe they did, and I still haven't returned to normal.

Yes, that's it.

well that's funny (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022015)

That's funny, when I was like 2 I had to take a vaccination and I had some horrible reaction to it and almost died and they were 100% sure that was the cause. I also didn't react real well to my 17 year old tetanus shot but that was a bit more common. So don't go thinking they're completely and utterly safe either.

Re:well that's funny (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022089)

It's well known known and documented that some fraction of people have adverse reactions of pretty much any vaccine. That is a direct side-effect of what a vaccine is.

That's not what this article is about.

Re:well that's funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022179)

...I had some horrible reaction to it and almost died and they were 100% sure that was the cause.

That's not what this article is about.

Huh?

I though that was exactly what the article was about: whether vaccines can kill (or almost kill) healthy children and whether the general public is aware of this fact.

Re:well that's funny (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022439)

No, the article is about whether vaccines trigger chronic conditions like asthma. Adverse reactions to vaccines have long been known, are very rare, and manifest very soon after the vaccine (and can be dealt with accordingly). You get warned of this every time you get a vaccine and they also instruct you what to do if you *do* have an adverse reaction.

See the difference?

Re:well that's funny (2, Insightful)

Shados (741919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022097)

You can have a reaction to nearly anything you can stick in your body. So nothing's 100% safe. The debate is always at the "is it the norm of the exception" point.

Power Lines (5, Insightful)

bperkins (12056) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022041)

Remember when power lines were giving our children cancer?

I'm glad they fixed that.

Science knowledge (4, Informative)

apillowofclouds (699564) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022123)

Recently here in NY we had a law passed to take the mercury out of vaccines (diff. kind of mercury used and not in dangerous amounts). The mother who they put on the news to hail the bill was, like me, a parent of an autistic child. However, the reason she gave for the bill was that "infants' immune systems are not well formed enough to fight the mercury". I was laughing so hard I nearly ripped something. That's what's wrong. You protest so hard you get a bill passed and go on the news to defend it, and you lack any basic understanding of the human body. If all these people think the vaccines are harmful, so be it. But I wish they would gain some basic understanding of the body first.

It's a debate that's been going on for a long time (3, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022133)

The age old debate about whether the flu shot can give people the flu. And the odd reaction to other components...I'm looking at you, thimerosal. Most of the discussions tend to be more heat than light.

My opinion is the fear is far greater than the actual risk would indicate. Even if the reaction rate was extremely small, litigation and the internet are going insure the stories spread far and wide. Combine a very small number of actual problems with a lot of publicity, add a dash of anecdotal evidence and I think the fear factor of vaccinations is over done.

Complicating the discussions are the number of times we've been collectively lied to by big business and big pharma. Even if they were telling the truth, we have reasonable grounds to remain suspicious. And the Bush administration installing an incompetent religious frootloop as head of the FDA hasn't exactly inspired public trust that the safety of medications and vaccines are being adequately monitored. It's easy to suspect that oversight of medication safety is every bit as good as the SEC's oversight of the financial markets.

The Big Media Conspiracy (2, Insightful)

degeneratemonkey (1405019) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022135)

It "might almost be a conspiracy?" Perhaps it looks that way due to the fact that stupid people are easily led astray when given an incomplete set of information. In truth, individuals are responsible for maintaining their own sufficient understanding of reality. As many others will surely tell you, "the media" (read: people) only disseminate the bad news because bad news sells.

stupidity (2, Insightful)

littleellie47 (1425931) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022235)

They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media

I would be a bit cautious about this part. As the saying goes, never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.

How bad is the disease? (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022279)

My rule of thumb on vaccines is to look at how bad it'll be to get whatever you're vaccinating against. Generally they fall into three categories:

  1. Things that, if you get them at all, will be a serious threat to your life and/or long-term health.
  2. Things that, while they may not be a serious threat to you, will pose a serious threat to others that can't be mitigated by isolation (either because of how contagious they are or because you'll be contagious well before you show symptoms yourself).
  3. Things that aren't a serious threat to you directly and that you can protect others from simply by staying away from them until you're not contagious.

The first two are things to get vaccinated against. The third... don't bother. I'm a firm believer in letting your immune system handle normally everything it's reasonable to let it handle. It's good excercise for it, and it'll teach it not to over- or under-react to threats. Reserve the external help for the things where you can't risk having it make a mistake. It's the same as any kind of excercise: you get some pain and effort up-front, but reap far more in benefits over the long run.

Caveat: talk to your doctor before you decide which category something falls into. Some things that're not normally a problem can be a big problem for certain people.

This time there *was* a conspiracy .... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26022311)

Usually, one can rely on the cock-up theory. However, in the case of the MMR vaccine there really was a conspiracy.

"In 1998, a young British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet suggesting an association between the measles component of the triple vaccine and the development of childhood autism. Though the paper stressed that no causative relationship had been proved, Wakefield took the most unusual (and self-promoting) step of calling a press conference, in which he suggested that the vaccine should be withdrawn. ...

An investigative journalist discovered a few years later that Wakefield had received payments from a serial litigation lawyer who hoped to mount a class-action suit against the vaccineâ(TM)s manufacturers."

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/bc1114td.html

Damn straight. (1)

MoellerPlesset2 (1419023) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022331)

Good to see SOMEONE's getting the word out.

Really, this crap has gotten so bad there are some subjects that just CAN'T be discussed with 'ordinary people' anymore. Vaccines, ADD/ADHD, Corn Syrup, Aspartame.. the list goes on and on. (And not too seldom, the conspiracy theories run together - "vaccines cause ADD!")

It's a sad state of affairs.

90% of all newspaper articles are utter crap (4, Insightful)

he-sk (103163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022361)

Here's my reasoning: Once in a while, an article covers a subject that I am knowledgeable about. Almost always, I will find something wrong in the article. Sometimes it's just a minor mistake or a gross over-simplification. More often than not, however, the article gets it hopelessly wrong and completely misinforms the reader.

I can only conclude that the same happens in articles that cover stuff I know nothing about.

So, I pulled the number in the headline out of my ass. Kinda like the average newspaper author.

shamelessly, venally, manipulatively, one-sidedly (1, Insightful)

kabloom (755503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022403)

Writing this column really scares me because I wonder whether everything else in the media is as shamelessly, venally, manipulatively, one-sidedly, selectively reported on as the things I know about. But this week the reality editing was truly without comparison.

Yes, as a matter of fact, the situation with the Palestinain terroist governments in Israel is just even more biased against Israel than the press was against MMR this week.

This goes way beyond the media (1)

popsicle67 (929681) | more than 5 years ago | (#26022467)

If it were just the media causing this one could expect a good portion of even the most gullible to hear enough contradiction to finally ferret out the truth. The real problem is people in positions of trust that respout biased media coverage again and again to the small groups of people in their sphere. You get enough of these grass-root level fear-mongers telling the same tale and pretty soon you really don't need the big media. These anti-immunization crusaders spread their stupidity much like religion does, and quite often in the same buildings (hint hint)
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