Poll–choose your favorite scientific consensus

I’ve written a lot about the scientific consensus, which is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is limited (sometimes from individuals who are not experts in the field) and considered insignificant.

The scientific consensus is powerful, and can only be refuted by evidence. Not debate. Not belief. Not flipping a coin.

So here are some of my favorite scientific consensuses (yes, that’s the plural, as far as I can tell). Which one(s) do you  accept? Vote early, vote often.

Index of articles by guest author–Prof. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines (generally, but sometimes moving to other areas of medicine), social policy and the law. Her articles usually unwind the complexities of legal issues with vaccinations and legal policies, such as mandatory vaccination and exemptions, with facts and citations. I know a lot of writers out there will link to one of her articles here as a sort of primary source to tear down a bogus antivaccine message.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination–she really is a well-published expert in this area of vaccine policy, and doesn’t stand on the pulpit with a veneer of Argument from Authority, but is actually an authority. Additionally, Reiss 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.

Below is a list of articles that she has written for this blog, organized into some arbitrary and somewhat broad categories for easy reference. Of course, she has written articles about vaccines and legal issues in other locations, which I intend to link here at a later date. This article will be updated as new articles from Dorit are added here.

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The child’s best interest – vaccines and parental rights

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines (generally, but sometimes moving to other areas of medicine), social policy and the law. Her articles usually unwind the complexities of legal issues with vaccinations and legal policies, such as mandatory vaccination and exemptions, with facts and citations.

Professor Reiss also writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss 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.

In Kagen v. Kagen (pdf), a Michigan Court of Appeals sided with a father who wanted his children vaccinated and overruled the opposition of the mother, ordering the children to be vaccinated on schedule. The Court found that vaccinating was in the best interest of the children. The Court also discussed which type of evidence can be used in Michigan to support claims about vaccines’ safety or lack thereof, highlighting that anti-vaccine sources are probably not going to cut it.

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Your one stop shop for real science and myth-debunking about Gardasil

Recently, I read a new article published in Pediatrics that described how educating either teenagers or their parents about HPV vaccinations had little effect on the overall vaccination rate for the vaccine. Essentially, the researchers found that it was a 50:50 probability that any teen would get the vaccine, regardless of their knowledge of HPV and the vaccine itself.

So I thought about why that Pediatrics study found that education about HPV and Gardasil didn’t move the needle on vaccination uptake. It’s possible that the benefits of the vaccine is overwhelmed by two factors–first, that there’s a disconnect between personal activities today vs. a disease that may or may not show up 20-30 years from now; and second, that the invented concerns about the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, promulgated by the usual suspects in the antivaccination world, makes people think that there is a clear risk from the vaccine which is not balanced by preventing cancer decades from now. It’s frustrating.

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HPV vaccine safety – European Medicines Agency review

As I’ve written on a number of occasions, HPV vaccines, Gardasil, Cervarix and Silgard, are powerful anti-cancer vaccines. They prevent infection by up to 9 different types of genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the USA. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous with regards to cancer as tobacco. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. About 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.

Despite the robust body of evidence supporting HPV vaccine safety and effectiveness, the European Medicines Agency (the European Union’s version of the US FDA) has started a review of human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines “to further clarify aspects of their safety profile,” although the agency also points out that this review “does not question that the benefits of HPV vaccines outweigh their risks.”

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Science democracy – debunking the strategies of denialism

I’ve always considered all forms of denialism, whether it’s climate change, creationism or the latest antivaccine lunacy, to be based on the same type and quality of arguments. It is essentially holding a unsupported belief that either science is wrong or, worse yet, is a vast conspiracy to push false information onto innocent humans.

One of the “tools” often used by science deniers is trying to convince the casual observer of a science democracy – that is, there is some kind of vote, and some number of “scientists” are opposed to the consensus.

I’ve often joked that science deniers all get together at the World Denialist Society meetings and compare notes. They all use the same strategies, including the myth of the science democracy, which seriously doesn’t exist.
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Water fluoridation benefits and risks – a systematic review

Water fluoridation has become a fairly common public health practice, as communities across the world accepted the evidence that fluoridated water is relatively safe and reduces cavities (known properly as dental caries). Several decades ago, it became a part of the public health strategy in many communities.

However, as fluoride became more available, especially in the forms in toothpaste and various mouthwashes, it has become time to review water fluoridation benefits and risks – especially as it becomes one of those “things” that cause concerns with the public.

As I’ve mentioned literally a few hundred times in this blog, the very highest level of research is a meta (or systematic) review, which tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence relevant to a particular question or hypothesis in medicine. Systematic reviews of high-quality randomized controlled trials are critical pieces of evidence that forms the basis of science-based healthcare.

Systematic reviews are best when they select hundreds or even thousands of research studies over decades of clinical studies, eliminating studies with bias (or pointing out the bias), and combining data from the best of the best. Now it’s time to look at one of the newer meta-reviews regarding water fluoridation benefits and risks from the Cochrane Collaboration, probably the premiere group that produce systematic reviews.

Using data from a wide variety of resources (from clinical trials to peer-reviewed studies to recommendations from public health organizations), the Cochrane Collaboration attempts to find the best and least biased data to answer a question. In case you’re wondering who is this “Cochrane,” they are either a group of brilliant scientists trying to provide better data for medicine or dentistry. Or they’re a cabal of evil wizards, hiding from the world in a dungeon in one of Big Pharma’s creepy castles in New Jersey. My guess it’s the former.
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Misinformation, lies, and memes from the anti vaccine cult

I do yeoman’s work reading the stupidity on the internet so you don’t have to do it yourself. Some of it makes me feel unclean–I hate that I contribute to the google rankings of some of these websites by even clicking on these websites.

The Age of Inventing Stuff about Autism is one of the most offensive of the anti vaccine cult websites, although that ranking changes depending on what is posted. It’s not just me who thinks they’re bad, but Skeptoid considers it one of the Top Ten Worst Anti-science Websites.  
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The constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or are just generally aware of current issues regarding vaccinations, you know that Governor Jerry Brown of California signed SB 277 into law. The law removes so-called “personal belief exemptions” for vaccinating children before they enter schools.

Personal belief exemptions were used (and frequently abused) by parents in California to exempt their children from vaccinations using religious beliefs (hardly any mainstream religion is opposed to vaccinations) or the “I don’t like vaccines” belief statement. So many California children were not fully vaccinated, especially when they were clustered in certain areas of the state, lead to several outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other infectious diseases.

Thus, the California Senate, led by Senator and Dr. Richard Pan, voted for SB 277, which sailed through the California Senate and Assembly, subsequently becoming law. It’s sole purpose was to protect the children of California, the country’s most populous and wealthiest state, from ravages of diseases that were once on the verge of extinction.

Despite the overwhelming support from the legislature and citizens of the state, some groups remain steadfastly opposed. One trope being pushed is doubts about the constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations for children.

Even a group of lawyers wrote a letter to the California legislature, “Statement of Lawyers Opposed to California SB 277,” that tries to deny the constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations for children. The letter concludes:

…we strongly urge you to decline the temptation to tamper with California’s legislative scheme that works to achieve public health objectives while protecting the rights of individuals to make conscientious medical decisions regarding their own health.

Please take the responsible course by rejecting SB 277 and avoiding the legal, educational, and health decision-making chaos that would follow from enactment of this legislation.

The letter is signed by over 150 attorneys, but appeared to be written by one Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, a famous attorney with a long history of playing “fast and loose” with the science regarding vaccines. Last month, this blog’s good friend, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who spends most of her time (as far as I can tell) writing about legal issues with vaccines, replied to Kennedy’s letter with real science, real constitutional law, and real facts.

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Another study supports the long term safety of Gardasil

I’ve written more than 30 articles about the safety and effectiveness of various versions of the HPV vaccine (also known as Gardasil, Cervarix and Silgard, depending on the region where its sold and the the number of antigens in the vaccine). I’ve also debunked numerous myths and tropes about the long term safety of Gardasil and other HPV vaccines.

There have been huge studies, one that includes over 200,000 patients and another that includes over 1 million patients, that have provided solid and nearly incontrovertible evidence that support the long term safety of Gardasil and other HPV vaccines.

Though it is frustrating that some researchers publish “evidence” from small studies that are poorly designed in an attempt to invent issues with HPV vaccines, if you look at the best designed unbiased studies, the facts are clear–Gardasil is safe and effective. It could be one of the safest and most effective vaccines since it was developed and studied in the era of harsh, and mostly unfounded, criticisms of vaccines by certain antivaccine activists.

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Is a Gardasil researcher really against the vaccine?

Because vaccine deniers lack any scientific evidence supporting their unfounded belief system about immunizations, they tend to rely upon unscientific information like anecdotes, misinterpretation of data, or ignorant Italian provincial courts to make their case. It’s rather easy to debunk these claims, but because of the nature of the internet, old news is recycled as “brand new,” requiring a whole new round of blog posts to discredit the misinformation. It’s impossible to recall one single instance where a vaccine refuser made a statement about vaccines that was not, in fact, rather quickly debunked. Not one.

The pro-children’s health side, those of us who think that vaccines save lives, have been winning the hearts and minds for awhile, given that still around 95% of children in the USA get all of their immunizations prior to entering kindergarten. But that doesn’t stop the refusers from trying, because various zombie anti-vaccination memes keep reappearing, especially since the successful pro-vaccine bill was signed into law in California.

One of the latest ones involves a so-called lead Gardasil researcher, Dr. Diane Harper, a former “consultant” to Merck (and GSK, who manufacturers Cervarix, a bivalent HPV vaccine), who apparently had some research role in the clinical trials of the HPV vaccines. But what are the facts?

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Stalking pseudoscience in the internet jungle

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