Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

I am really impatient with science deniers, so I saw something that will allow me to mash up two of my favorite subjects – the Walking Dead and science denialism – and it makes me happy. I know, you want to know how I can possibly combine the Walking Dead and science denialism – you’re just going to have to read on!

I know it’s shocking, but I find it difficult to be really civil towards science deniers. Partially, it’s because no matter how much evidence you present, science deniers rely on logical fallacies like strawman arguments, arguments from ignorance, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, and so many others.

Or they rely upon all of their biases. Confirmation bias, yes. Selection bias, yes. Cognitive biases, yes. And that logical fallacy that’s also a form of bias – cherry picking. The denialist’s favorite fruit has got to be cherries, because they’re picking them all day long.

Then toss in a big dollop of Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s really difficult to take any science deniers very seriously. They take themselves seriously, despite their total lack of affirmative or negative evidence.

The only thing that matters in science is evidence. That’s it, that’s the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, alien, immigrant, liberal, conservative, a janitor, a professor, black, white, or a Nobel Prize winner. If you lack evidence, you have nothing.

If you think there are debates to be made in settled science, that means you get the denialism card, no matter who you are. If you are an MD, and think that vaccines don’t work, then why should I consider your opinion on anything in medicine to be valid, when you’re denying some of the basic principles of medicine – the Germ Theory, for example.  Continue reading Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015

Editor’s Note: This article – separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle’s Red Wine and Applesauce blog. Many thanks to Tara and a host of other people for creating this list.

Note from Tara Haell: This post is co-published with NPR’s health blog Shots. Check out the story for updated information about this year’s flu shot from a CDC medical officer.

Once again, flu season is upon us — and so are all the misconceptions, excuses and worries that have kept so many people away from getting their flu vaccines. Plenty of people are fully informed about the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and simply choose not to get the vaccine, as is their right (as long as they don’t work in healthcare settings where it’s required). But many others may have skipped the shot because they’ve bought into one of the many myths about the vaccine that always circulating with the influenza virus itself. Or perhaps they’ve read something unsettling about the vaccine that has a kernel of truth in it, but which has been blown out of proportion or misrepresented.

Of all the vaccines out there, the flu vaccine is unique in several ways: it’s the only one the CDC recommends for the entire (eligible) population every year, it has the most variability (and nearly always the lowest percentages) in effectiveness, and it has more tall tales told about it than Paul Bunyan. Much of the debunking and explaining you’ll find here is essentially the same as in past years’ posts, but a couple misconceptions have been rearranged, and I spent a bit more time discussing the evidence about potentially lower effectiveness of the flu vaccine in people who had gotten it the previous year.

Finally, I called these items “concerns” instead of “myths” because several of the issues discussed here are not outright “myths.” That is, some of these concerns originated from factual situations, but the details got gnarled and twisted along the way, or else the fact itself doesn’t have the implications people may expect it does. “Concerns” therefore better captures that each of these items is a legitimate concern for many people but is something that simply requires explanation, whether that’s an outright debunking or simply context and clarification.

One thing that needs a bit of clarification is last year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, as I discuss in the NPR Shots blog post that accompanies this one. The overall flu vaccine effectiveness last year was an uninspiring 23%, low enough to legitimately make you wonder why you bothered if you got the vaccine. But as I explain at NPR based on an interview with CDC influenza medical officer Lisa Grohskopf, the overall effectiveness doesn’t capture the effectiveness of each strain within the vaccine.

A poor match with the H3N2 strain — which caused the most illness and the most serious cases — was responsible for the lion’s share of that low number. Meanwhile, the match between the vaccine strains and the virus strains for B viruses, which circulated the most toward the end of the season, was good enough that the vaccine was closer to 60% effectiveness for those strains. This year, changes to the H3N2 strain for the vaccine should boost the effectiveness and offer a better showing than last year’s lousy run, according to Grohskopf.

With that info out of the way, let’s get to the flu vaccine concerns, with two important notes. First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in the hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed research articles, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common misconceptions and clarify common concerns about the flu vaccine. This post does not constitute a recommendation from me personally to each reader to get a flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2015-2016 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.

To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 concerns at the top followed by the factual information below it. They hyperlinked facts will jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.

Continue reading Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015

Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.

Over and over, I’ve read comments on the internet (obviously, my first mistake) that there is no scientific consensus about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms (generally crops or food), and their safety to humans and the environment.

There are even claims that GMOs are not necessarily productive or provide higher yields, and so called organic foods are healthier (they aren’t) and can lead to higher productivity.

Let’s look at anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, since it also has this huge controversy over whether there’s a scientific consensus. Over 97% of published articles that expressed a conclusion about anthropogenic climate change endorsed human caused global warming. If that were a vote, it would be a landslide that would make dictators jealous.

According to Skeptical Science, it’s even more than that:

We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.

The consensus is so clear, outside of vocal, loud and junk science pushing individuals and organizations, that many scientists call it the “Theory of anthropogenic climate change,” which would mean it’s at the pinnacle of scientific principles, essentially an unassailable fact. Continue reading Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science

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

Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time

Here we go again. Anti-Gardasil activists and other vaccine deniers are attempting, once again, to make specious claims about the HPV anti-cancer vaccine. This time claiming that Gardasil DNA and aluminum somehow interacted to kill a young child.

This time, it’s a claim filed in United States Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, as a part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), that an injection of the Gardasil vaccine lead to the death of a young male the next day.

As tragic as that death is, and all children’s deaths are tragic, let’s take a look at the evidence being used here. Of course, I’m not a Special Master in the Federal Court System (admittedly, I want that title), I’m not an attorney (nor do I pretend to be one on the internet), and the NVICP has some complex rules and decisions processes. It’s never simple, and remember, the NVICP, or any court for that matter,  lacks the privilege of deciding what is good science.  Continue reading Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time

Your one stop shop for GMO science facts

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.

Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the argument from ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”

The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.

The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that a technology is absolutely safe.

I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.

Continue reading Your one stop shop for GMO science facts

Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

On 19 November 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  announced that a new GMO salmon, called AquAdvantage, is just as safe as any other salmon for consumption. The FDA based their decision on boatloads of data submitted by the company that developed the GMO salmon, Aqua Bounty Technologies, along with independent peer-reviewed data.

The approval process, taking nearly 20 years, for this transgenic salmon far exceeded the process required for pharmaceutical drug approval. The original application was filed in 1996, and data from 10 generations of the salmon had to be submitted to the FDA. It would be a ridiculous myth to claim that the FDA just bowed to the GMO salmon industry.

Of course, just like every other genetically-modified food ever developed, fear and loathing takes precedence over logic and scientific evidence. A major grocery store chain in the USA, Costco, has refused to market the fish, followed by other expensive grocery chains like Whole Foods, a promoter of pseudoscience in foods. A few countries have even written new regulations to block its import.

As can be expected, any group that doesn’t agree with the scientific evidence, turns to courts to help them out. Anti-vaccine and anti-climate change radicals love to do this, though they usually fail. In the case of the GMO salmon, the radical anti-GMO group, Center for Food Safety, has announced that they will proceed with a lawsuit to block introduction of this fish.  Once again, scientific evidence is ignored or cherry-picked in lieu of the pre-existing conclusion that GMO salmon is unsafe.

Time to look at this story with a bit more of a critical, skeptical analysis.

Continue reading Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

MTHFR gene mutations are the root of all health problems

I have a love-hate relationship with the internet. I love that I can Google a question like “who was the second basemen for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series?” It was Bill Mazeroski for those who care.

Although I think that Wikipedia needs to be used skeptically, it is a wonderful fountain of delicious knowledge. I sometimes just read random articles, and I enjoy the writing, scholarship and knowledge. Some articles, like World War II or the Roman Empire, are truly detailed pieces of scholarship.

But sometimes, the internet does a disservice to mankind, especially when medical information (or really disinformation) is presented as fact. Like vaccines cause autism. No, it doesn’t.

Or that chronic lyme disease actually exists. No it doesn’t.

Or that high fructose corn syrup causes obesity and diabetes. No it doesn’t (except that eating a lot of any sugar might do that).

But the newest one, at least for me, is that MTHFR gene mutations cause nearly every disease known to mankind. Seriously, apparently it is the root of all health evil, and the mutation is caused by…anything.

Continue reading MTHFR gene mutations are the root of all health problems

Racism sucks and isn’t scientific – opinion

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that. Besides, racism sucks – obviously.

Racism or xenophobia has probably been around since humans first evolved 200,000 years ago. I’m sure Grunting Human 1 hated Grunting Human 2, because 2 had funny looking ears. Or something.

I’m sure some evolutionary biologist can explain why racism exists. It probably was a biologically favored behavioral strategy to protect one’s own group, because of access to resources. Or something like that.

But that still does not preclude the fact that racism sucks – it is dangerous, simple-minded thinking. Continue reading Racism sucks and isn’t scientific – opinion

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

Stalking pseudoscience in the internet jungle

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