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.

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

Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?

For the past three years or more, ever since I (pretty accidentally) got drawn into the vaccine discussion, several of you asked an opinion over the legal aspects of dealing with anti-vaccine harassment. One recurring question is “can I sue for libel over this.”

I want to take advantage of a number of recent and particularly ugly attacks to provide a primer on when you can, in fact, sue for libel over something said online.

I also want to make clear that – as many of you heard from me – I think that almost always suing for libel is the wrong strategy. First, I think tort suits are a bad way to deal with discussion, even ugly discussion. And at least in part, if you step up, you should know the discussion can include ugliness. And sometimes from both sides.

Second, even if you are a private figure, tort suits are hard, expensive, and public. And if the other side is willing to put aside ethical standards – and if you get to the point where you think about suing for libel, you’re usually dealing with someone with, at best, flexible ethics – that’s going to be part of the lawsuit process as well, and you can expect things to get worse before you win. And after you win.

Third, in many cases our law is rigged against those speaking on public matters, intentionally, because we value free speech. That can protect you if you’re sued by an opponent, but it will work against you if you are the one suing.

Further, suing an anti-science attacker can really work for them. You give them publicity they would not otherwise have. If they win, they can really push the slur against you. After all, it’s not libel, you lost, they can claim it’s true even if they won because the law is rigged against the plaintiff. If they lose, it’s because of the conspiracy, and because the system is rigged against them – and they still had the publicity and cost you time you will never get back, grief, and probably resources. It really is a bad deal for you, no matter what.

And finally, it leaves a bit of a bad taste that the tactic has been repeatedly used by anti-vaccine activists.

But I also see the other side. I hear you when you tell me that you should not have to put up with harassment  when it crosses a line. I understand that you have not given up your private rights by becoming involved in this discussion. The law values and protects reputation, and harm to your reputation can cause a variety of other harms to your livelihood and your family – and your emotional well-being.

Being a vaccine advocate does not mean you cannot use your legal rights, especially when you are under direct attack to your good name. And if you’re already being sued from your side, a counter-suit, if you have a claim, might make sense.

At any rate, it’s probably worth going over the basics of the law.

Continue reading Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?

David Gorski conspiracies – Mike Adams is wrong

The blogosphere has been all intoxicated by Mike Adams, the self-styled Health Ranger who publishes the Natural News website, and his detailing of various David Gorski conspiracies. At first, I thought that Adams was a bit insane, a view that Dr. Gorski himself stated.

In case you don’t know, David Gorski is the managing editor of the website Science-Based Medicine, which is like the anti-Natural News.

But upon further review, and doing my own research, I have come to the conclusion that Mike Adams is pretty much wrong but not for the reasons you might think. I think Adams got lazy and didn’t do a thorough investigation, as befits someone who claims to be the Health Ranger.

I hope that Mike Adams forwards an official Shill Check™ to me for performing this valuable duty to science and the Truth™.

Continue reading David Gorski conspiracies – Mike Adams is wrong

Flu vaccine during pregnancy – protects the infant

The modern healthcare system of developed countries have done an outstanding job in reducing the burden of infectious diseases over the past few decades. However, some susceptible groups, such as infants, remain at significant risk to these diseases. Research has recently shown that the flu vaccine during pregnancy protects infants from that disease. This is more data that provides evidence that getting vaccinated, even during pregnancy, is important to infant health.

In a new paper published in Pediatrics, by Dr. Julie H. Shakib et al. of the University of Utah Medical School Department of Pediatrics, examined the health of infants born to influenza-immunized mothers. The short version is that the babies born to these mothers had a smaller number of laboratory confirmed influenza infections and fewer hospitalizations compared to infants born to non-immunized mothers.

I could almost stop there, bold, underline and italicize those results, and move to another article. Lucky for me, the readers of this blog demand real data to support the above conclusion. And I’m here to do just that.

Continue reading Flu vaccine during pregnancy – protects the infant

Harvard mumps outbreak – not an indictment of vaccines

And here we go again. An outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease is used by the anti-vaccine crowd to indict all vaccines. Recently, the Harvard mumps outbreak has made the news after about 41 students contracted the disease. And myths arise.

Since most of those who caught the disease were vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, the anti-vaccine interwebs are jumping up and down pointing at the pro-science people and saying, “neener neener, vaccines don’t work.” Yeah, they’re that immature. And they are absolutely wrong.

Let’s take a look at the whole story, including some very simple math, which even science deniers should understand. Then we can thoroughly debunk the tropes pushed by the vaccine deniers. This should be fun.

Continue reading Harvard mumps outbreak – not an indictment of vaccines

SB 277 lawsuit – baseless anti-vaccine complaints

An anti-SB 277 lawsuit was filed by Attorney T. Matthew Phillips in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. To remind everyone, SB277 is the California law that removed the personal belief exemption to school immunization requirements.

Although the lawsuit commenced for the plaintiffs is in theory, challenging the new statute, the complaint posted online is poorly drafted. Much of the complaint, especially the first section, does not meet the basic pleading standard in California, which requires “a statement of the facts constituting the cause of action, in ordinary and concise language. “ (CCP § 425.10)

As phrased, the complaint does not make valid legal arguments against the new statute. The complaint demands trial by jury when it is elementary law that the relief requested in the complaint would not entitle the plaintiffs to anything but a trial before a judge. The complaint fails to meet the requirement that the attorney’s signature constitutes a certification that “[t]he claims … are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law.” (CCP § 128.7(b)(2).)

The complaint also contains gross factual errors, which may violate CCP § 128.7(b)(3), though those errors alone, at this stage in the proceedings, probably would not permanently damn the suit in state law at this initial stage. In assessing initial challenges to a complaint, state courts must assume that the factual claims in the complaint are true (not legal conclusions or polemical oratory), even when they are as far-fetched as the ones in this suit.

If the attorneys for the State of California were to demurrer to this complaint (file a motion requesting the court to dismiss the complaint as lacking sufficient grounds), the plaintiffs would probably be given an opportunity to correct the errors. For that reason, and since this post is already too long, I didn’t provide a detailed critique of the complaint’s shortcomings as a legal document.

Frankly, the people who donated money to this suit deserved better. The opposition to SB 277 consists of a minute fraction of California’s citizens. The opposition is misguided, but most of them are sincere in their beliefs and very, very passionate and dedicated to their cause.  Many of them clearly fear vaccines and the new law. I hope the courts will protect the community and children’s health by upholding SB 277 (and to remind everyone, the vaccine-denied children of SB 277 opponents need SB277 as well – they depend on herd immunity to protect them from their parents’ error). But when opponents put their trust in a lawyer, they deserve to have their interests competently and professionally represented. This complaint does not do that.

Of course, the complainants chose the lawyer, and they may have had input into the content of the complaint. They are responsible for that choice. But it is also the lawyer’s responsibility to advise them against making serious mistakes.

It is hard to see much indication that Mr. Phillips gave his clients such advice (unless, of course, advice was offered and rejected). Frankly, the tone of the complaint and the discussion on the complainants’ Facebook page suggests that the content of the complaint was driven by Mr. Phillips or at least supported by him. Continue reading SB 277 lawsuit – baseless anti-vaccine complaints

Acidic blood causes cancer – time to demolish a myth

There are so many inaccurate, misleading, and harmful claims about cancer that I could spend years just debunking them. One of the most popular assertions is that acidic blood causes cancer – that is, if you lower the pH of the blood, it creates an environment to let cancer thrive.

Now, I’ve stated this about a hundred times on this blog (I am not kidding) – there are only a handful of scientifically sound methods to potentially lower your risk of cancer. Quit smoking is near the top. Stay out of the sun. Maintain a healthy (that is, very low) weight. Don’t drink alcohol. Get exercise. And a handful more.

And even if you do all of them, you just reduce your absolute risk, not completely eliminate it. You could randomly get a set of mutations – there are several trillion cells in the body, and even if genetic copying in cell division or transcription were 99.999% perfect, it still leaves millions of chances of mutations – that lead to cancer.

And then there are at least 200-250 different cancers, all with different causes, pathophysiologies, prognosis and treatments. In other words, even if you found some miracle way to prevent one cancer 100% of the time, it probably will have no effect on the other 200 or so cancers. We have tended to conflate cancer as one disease, when it is really a large set of diseases that have the same general physiology, but aren’t truly related.

Cancer is scary because it is so random. In many cases, the treatment is so harsh. And people are so interested in anything that may prevent cancer. And if it’s simple like “eat superfoods like kale and blueberries,” or “reduce acid in your blood,” the instinct is to try it out.

But let’s examine how and if acidic blood causes cancer. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t.

Continue reading Acidic blood causes cancer – time to demolish a myth

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

HPV vaccine lowers cancer risk and healthcare costs

If you overlook the plain ignorance of junk medicine pushers on the internet, it’s clear that there’s only a few things that you can do to lower your risk of cancer.  Quitting tobacco is probably the biggest one. But right up there is the fact that the HPV vaccine lowers cancer risk – and as a consequence, lowers health care costs generally.

Despite it’s clear benefit to human health, the HPV cancer preventing vaccine, also known as Gardasil, is under utilized in the USA. There seems to be a lot of reasons why HPV vaccine uptake is low, but the evidence is clear that it is safe, it reduces cancer risk, and it lowers the costs of healthcare.

So, let’s take a look at some of the data.

Continue reading HPV vaccine lowers cancer risk and healthcare costs

Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski

This story is about Mike Adams of Natural News, considered the number one lunatic of the pseudoscience and anti-science pushing American Loons (a particularly vile form of worldwide loons).

Mike Adams, who styles himself as the Health Ranger (more like the anti-Health Ranger), runs the anti-science website, Natural News. Adams claims that Natural News is a science-based natural health advocacy organization, led by himself, a proclaimed “activist-turned-scientist.”

If you know nothing else about Natural News, Adams has claimed he’s a better scientist than Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Yes, let that sink in for a few minutes. Tyson thinks that evidence should be studied to form a conclusion, you know, the scientific method. Adams thinks that he can invent a few lame experiments to confirm his preconceived beliefs. That’s pseudoscience, in its purest form.

Mike Adams’ anti-science beliefs includes just about every important scientific fact of our modern world. He is an AIDS denier (meaning he doesn’t think that AIDS is caused by HIV). He is anti-vaccination. He is an 9/11 truther. He is an Obama birther. He thinks chemtrails exist. He has advocated violence against GMO supporters.

Mike Adams of Natural News encompasses the totality of science denialism in one wonderful package. If you wonder why he’s such a lunatic, it’s really just to sell his junk medicine to a naïve public. Essentially, he has used his “pseudoscience to sell his lies to the public.”

You might think there are no other lines he can cross. But you would then be underestimating his skills in lying and attacking those who support real science.

Continue reading Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski

Stalking pseudoscience in the internet jungle