Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

The fictional CDC coverup of vaccines and autism–movie time

CDC-coverup-bullshitEarlier this week, I and about 20-30 other pro-science bloggers wrote articles about a strange story, pushed by all of the usual suspects in the antivaccine universe (starting with Natural News, Green Med Info, and the Age of Lying about Autism). Despite new information, press releases, claims and counter claims, nothing has changed in the facts about vaccines and autism as a result of this somewhat entertaining story that included fictional claims with real people.

Nevertheless, this story is so provocative, so laughable at some level, and so filled with rather disreputable characters, it gives all 20-30 of us bloggers, who focus on the real scientific evidence behind the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, a great subject for writing. I mean we Americans have a three day weekend coming up, signaling the end of summer (not technically from an earth’s orbit perspective, but just from long tradition), so no one may care about this story in a few days. Except for the zombie meme–someone will bring this up again in a few months.

Since much of this story has strong fictional elements, I think we should examine this story as if it were a synopsis for a screenplay behind a proposed new superhero movie. You know, The CDC vs. the Evil Cult of Antivaccination–Revenge of Real Science. Hey, I ought to copyright that, just in case someone does turn in into a movie. Because this synopsis has all of the important parts of a movie–unsavory characters, a fool, the superhero government agency dedicated to saving lives, and the geeky nerds who think science trumps lies. No cool spacecraft or benevolent aliens unfortunately. I’ll work on that.

OK, let’s get with the story.
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Great CDC Coverup–suppressing evidence that MMR vaccines cause autism?

syringe-vaccine-autismOh no, here we go again. The antivaccination cult, lacking any real evidence, grabs onto the flimsiest of stories, disregarding the foul and corrupt individuals promoting the story–using it all to scream “GOTCHA” to anyone involved with vaccines. Last year, it was laughably jumping on some comments of Dr. Diane Harper, who was promoted by the antivaccination crowd as the “lead researcher” for Gardasil, that appeared to say that Gardasil was useless.

Or promoting an “Italian court” that decided that MMR caused autism, relying upon the discredited and retracted study by one of the greatest scientific criminals of the past 100 yearsMrAndy Wakefield, who fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Or furthering the story of a French businessman, who claimed to have intimate knowledge of Merck’s data about Gardasil–all of it negative. Except he never worked in Merck’s R&D department, and was made redundant when his company was acquired by Merck.

The Church of Antivaccines, whose god, Mr. Andy Wakefield, should be held criminally responsible for deaths of children who never got the MMR vaccine, are so bereft of any real evidence to support their beliefs, they will either invent, misrepresent, or manipulate any story that even tenuously supports their dogma that vaccines are dangerous.
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Quashing the hollow “polio vaccine causes cancer” myth

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 140 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see an claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.

Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute this claim takes a lot more than 140 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to blast the claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.

Fighting zombie memes with evidence from the CDC.

Fighting zombie memes with evidence from the CDC.

And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Killing zombie memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these zombie memes is a full-time job. And, once it’s been debunked, we move back to the first problem again, again, and again.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep discrediting these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, but now I have to refresh it, just to make sure someone who Googles “polio vaccine cancer” has my article near the top of their list of Google hits. 
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Natural News gets it all wrong about mandatory vaccinations–Part 2

dorit-reissThis article was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA.

Dr. Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. She is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

This article is the second part of a two-part series about a Natural News article published recently. See Part 1-the science.

Healthcare Mandates, Influenza, and Hospital Policies

Worried about transmission of influenza from healthcare workers to patients, hospitals and legislators have been working for several years to increase the rates of workers vaccinated against it. Initially, hospitals tried education. That helped raise vaccination rates some, but they were still dismally low. Hospitals then tried offering a “declination form,” acknowledging the risks of not vaccinating (pdf). Again, this was effective, but not enough – not up to the 90% standard sought.

Starting in 2005 (with Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, in 2005), some hospitals – still a small minority – have adopted mandatory vaccination policies. While the numbers are small, they are growing.
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Natural News gets it all wrong about mandatory vaccinations–Part 1

natural-news-bullshitFor the typical American skeptic, there is nothing surprising by a headline that says that Natural News get it’s it all wrong. Most skeptics might wonder when they’ve ever gotten it right.

Just to be thorough, Natural News is a website that’s focused on anti-science delusions and pushing junk medicine, while marketing a whole boatload of nonsense remedies and “cures” for whatever makes the website money. It is owned by Mike Adams, self-styled “Health Ranger”, considered one of the biggest lunatics on the internet. Some consider him the #1 American Lunatic (and that takes some serious effort). Adams is so delusional, he insists that he’s just as science-oriented as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Only if it’s one of those alternative universes, I suppose.

Natural News has had a long history of vaccine denial, which always piques my interest, even if it’s to laugh hysterically. Occasionally, however, Natural News takes its anti-science beliefs to a whole new level, one that requires a double-pronged rebuttal and refutation.
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OK, why aren’t kids getting vaccinated with Gardasil?

Cervical-cancer-This is my 48th article about Gardasil, following by just a few hours, my 47th. After my 50th, I get a watch made from the gold hidden in the subterranean vaults of the Big Pharma overlords who generates bundles of cash from vaccines. Oh, I keep forgetting–that’s not true.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, also known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe) can prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the USA, which is linked to cervical, anal, vulvar, vaginal, oropharyngeal and penile cancer, HPV vaccine uptake is not as high as other vaccines. A recent report from the CDC, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, states that only 57% of girls and 35% of boys, aged 13-17 years, have received at least one of the three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. This is far short of the goal of Healthy People 2020, the CDC’s initiative to set clear objectives and strategies to improve the health of Americans, that 80% of American teens have received all three doses of the HPV vaccine by 2020.

Currently in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 are vaccinated against HPV. The immunization is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.
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Gardasil’s safety and effectiveness-Part 47. Long-Term Study

hpv-factsThis is my 47th article on the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, also known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe), which can prevent infection by human papillomavirus, substantially reducing the risk of several types of cancers.* Forty-seven** articles about Gardasil and the HPV vaccine! You’d think I would be tiring of it by now, but I think that Gardasil (or Silgard) are critically important in easily stopping cancers.

I find it ironic that people are always looking for the next “cancer cure”, but here’s Gardasil which prevents cancer from even starting. Which people seem to ignore for their children, even if, as parents, they vaccinate their children for everything else.

I tend to focus on Gardasil because there is a general understanding that the uptake of Gardasil amongst the target group (young boys and girls) is falling far short of goals. A recent report from the CDC showed that only 57% of girls and 35% of boys, aged 13-17 years, have received at least one of the three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine. Let’s look at it another way–43% of girls and 65% of boys are being put at risk to contracting some very nasty cancers. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year. Many individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer.
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Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.

Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge.  Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right.  In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution.  Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit.  Maybe I’ll just use them all.

Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC.  The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70′s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital.  The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.”  Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism.  
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Regarding the “science made mistakes” tropes? Debunked by real science

science-test-tubeI know I shouldn’t use the conspiracy theory fallacy when talking about the pseudoscience-pushing science deniers, who are the bread and butter of topics for skeptics. But, when I keep observing the same ridiculous and insanely illogical arguments used in the same manner by all of the deniers, I begin to wonder if they don’t get together annually at the International Society of Pseudoscience meeting, usually held in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo. They obviously share their stories, because we hear the same regurgitated stories in different contexts.

The antivaccinationists, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on a trope that “science makes mistakes.” And then they produce a list of historical events that “prove” that science is wrong. Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit these “science makes mistakes” tropes.

By the way, in my story, I admit that “science makes mistakes,” so read on.
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Neil deGrasse Tyson–unafraid of GMO’s

tyson-science-true

For those who read my article about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comments to the anti-GMO forces to “chill out”, here’s a tweet from him from 18 months ago. He didn’t just think about this issue recently.

Add this to the other world class scientist who thinks that artificial selection is no different than genetic engineering, since they both rely upon changes in genes. One’s random. One’s not.

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