Emotionally Biased Is It

There was an “article in the Guardian last week about requests from doctors who worked with Andrew Wakefield, the scientist whose research prompted the MMR controversy, not to show the program.

A former colleague of the scientist at the centre of the row claims the programme will endanger children’s lives by fostering doubts about the triple vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella…One of the doctors who has worked with Dr Wakefield wrote to Jane Lighting, Five’s chief executive, asking her not to transmit it. The doctor, a co-author of the original Lancet paper that provoked the controversy, says in the letter that the film is undeniably good drama, but it unacceptably and dangerously blurs the border between truth and fiction.

Which you would think responsible people would feel hesitant about doing when the result could endanger people’s lives. Wouldn’t you? That’s not a hyperbolic claim, it’s just reality: measles, mumps and rubella are not trivial diseases, they can and do kill. Wouldn’t you think that under the circumstances tv executives would decide Hmm, maybe we don’t know enough about this, maybe this is a subject that isn’t quite right for the ‘docudrama’ approach?

The programme-makers point out that elements have been fictionalised in order to tell the story coherently…Adrian Bate, the producer, admitted the film was emotionally positive towards the concerned parents, but insisted it remained rooted in fact. “It is emotionally biased, but it’s not factually biased,” he said. Tim Prager, the writer, said: “What we have tried to do is to say that there should be a freedom to think and report what you discover without fear of losing your career, and to show that much of what has been written about the possibility of a link between MMR and autism has been based on statistics – part of the point was to humanise the story.”

Freedom. Hm. A glorious and emotive word, but is it really the right one in this situation? And then that contrast between statistics and ‘humanisation.’ Yes well that’s just it, ‘humanising’ can be highly manipulative – almost always is, in fact. You can ‘humanise’ anyone and anything. So the story-tellers in this case opted to ‘humanise’ the anti-MMR side and dehumanise the other side (listen to how robotic and indifferent that GP sounds on the bit of tape they played on Start the Week). So they made their program ’emotionally biased’ but not ‘factually biased.’ Well that’s the problem, you fools! The emotional bias is the point! That stuff works, we all know it works, we’ve all experienced it a thousand times, in movie theatres and just sitting staring at the box. They know how to get us, so even if they do get the facts right, if they get the compelling actor (and Juliet Stevenson is a terrific actor, I wish she’d stayed out of this one, I must say) to say the compelling lines, it doesn’t matter about the facts. As they surely know perfectly well. And there it is.

An an interesting blog linked to B and W on this subject the other day (yes of course I look, I like to know who’s reading us, naturally).

Just as Norman Geras and Marc Mulholland have already said much of what we’d meant to say on other topics (see yesterday’s post headed “It’s a Funny Old World”), we’ve been very largely trumped on this topic by Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels. But never mind: we’re glad of the opportunity to link, not only to her spot-on remarks about this project, but to a secular-humanist site that’s well worth exploring.

Thank you, yes it is, even if humanist isn’t quite exactly the right word, but no matter, it’s close enough.

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