Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Dumb Asses who don’t get the flu vaccine

flu-shot-mythsEvery flu season, I resurrect this hysterical and snarky by Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Mark Crislip which was originally published in A Budget of Dumb Asses, which accurately states that healthcare workers who refuse to get a flu vaccine are Dumb Asses. Yes, complete and utter Dumb Asses. Even though this broadside against vaccine deniers is about the flu vaccine, it’s all right to search and replace flu with say meningitis, pertussis, measles or anything. And just because it’s about healthcare workers, it’s all right to replace that with your neighbor, co-worker, or some other anti-scientific antivaccination Dumb Ass.

The upcoming 2014-2015 flu season is just starting, and many physicians and clinics (along with many pharmacies, government flu clinics, and other places) have this season’s flu vaccine. One of the best ways, if not the only real way, to prevent contracting this year’s flu is by immunization with the seasonal flu vaccine.

And it’s time for intelligent, reasonable, and rational people to get their flu shots. We’ve dispensed with many of the myths that are cherished by vaccine refusers, and many reseachers have shown that getting the flu vaccine can improve health outcomes.

Warning: this is funny (unless you’re a vaccine denier, in which case you have no sense of humor, irony or sarcasm, something probably gained by getting vaccinated). So, if you’re reading this list while sipping on coffee, I take no responsibility for damage to your computer, smart phone, or tablet if you snort out your drink. Them’s the rules. 
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Andrew Wakefield keeps trying–another appeal

wakefield-fraud-UKThis article was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA. She has written a valuable review of the recently published article, “Power and Persuasion in the Vaccine Debates: An Analysis of Political Efforts and Outcomes in the United States, 1998-2012”.

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.

On September 19, 2014 the Third Court of Appeals of Texas rejected Andrew Wakefield’s appeal against the decision of a Texas trial court that it had no jurisdiction to hear his libel suit against The British Medical Journal (the original article), Brian Deer, and Fiona Godlee. The details of that case and the suggestion that Andrew Wakefield was strategically using litigation to both rally supporters and deter critics have been previously addressed.

Andrew Wakefield had 45 days to appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court (Tex. R. App. P. 53.7). That time ended on November 3–an appeal was not filed by Mr. Wakefield within that time.
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Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math

Updated 19 November 2014.

When dealing with those pushing pseudoscience, like the antivaccination cult, the most frustrating thing is that they tend to ignore and deny the most basic tenets of science. If denying the fact of gravity would further their goals of “proving” vaccines are neither effective nor safe, they would do so. For all I know, they have.

Sam Harris, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA (which is ironic), and is one of leading science philosophers of our generation, says this about those who cling to pseudoscience:

Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. What if someone says, “Well, that’s not how I choose to think about water.”? All we can do is appeal to scientific values. And if he doesn’t share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?

If the antivaccination movement didn’t lead to epidemics of long-gone diseases, which can harm and kill children, the conversation would be over. I would just put the vaccine deniers in the same group as evolution deniers (creationists) or gravity deniers (there has to be some, somewhere). I would mock their pseudoscience, and move on. Of course, their denialism does lead to deaths of children, so we have to do what is right, and stop their lies, misinformation and ignorance in every forum we can.

We have to appeal to scientific values, and despite the fact that antivaccination pushers don’t share those values, we must continue to try. I have gotten enough emails and comments from people that they have started to vaccinate because of what I have written, so maybe some child’s life is better because all of us who support vaccines are heard.

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What does science say about GMO’s–they’re safe

scaremongering-WordleUpdated 19 November 2014.

The science deniers of the world, whether they deny evolution, global warming, vaccines, or GMO safety, spend their time inventing pseudoscience to support their beliefs and claims. As I have written previously, “Pseudoscience is easy. It doesn’t take work. It’s the lazy man’s (or woman’s) “science.” But it has no value, and because it lacks high quality evidence in support of it, it should be dismissed, and it should not be a part of the conversation.”

Alternatively, real science is really hard. And it takes time. And it’s based on high quality evidence. And it is repeated. And it is almost always published in high quality journals. As I’ve said a thousand times, real science takes hard work and is intellectually challenging. You just don’t wake up one day and say “I’m a scientist.” No, it requires college, graduate school, teaching, working in world class laboratories, publishing, defending your ideas to your peers, and one day, if you don’t stop, you will be an authority in your little field of science.

The anti-GMO crowd is mostly lazy. They have this luddite belief that all technology is bad, but have absolutely no evidence to support it. Sure, they pick out one or two poorly done articles and then shout for all the world to hear “GMO’s are dangerous to…bees, humans, babies, whales, trees” over and over and over again.  Yet what do the GMO refusers really bring to the table? 
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How to evaluate the quality of scientific research

einstein-science-false-balance

Revised 18 November 2014.

One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing. So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) scientific evidence. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.

In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.

THE most popular article I ever wrote on this blog was one that thoroughly refuted a crazy meme that bananas kill cancer (which is an update of the original banana article). Hysterically, it was based on a complete misunderstanding of a study by “Japanese scientists” (the lead author was, in fact, an American, but whenever you see something that tries to claim authority by using unnamed, but smart sounding, scientists, be wary). Moreover, the conclusion made by the meme-author was based on ignorance about why a growth factor called “tumor necrosis factor” (TNF) that doesn’t do what it sounds like it does, about how a banana would never produce TNF, about how TNF would be broken down in the digestive system, about how it couldn’t be transported from the digestive system to the blood, and about how if you could eat enough bananas, if they did contain TNF, to have a biological effect, it would have to be more bananas than you could possibly eat, and the TNF effects would make you really sick. The banana meme did not have one single accurate assumption. None.

But still, it’s a popular belief. Just go to Facebook, and you’ll find someone promoting it. Like all anti-science memes, it’s a zombie, it reanimates from the dead and spreads its pseudoscience every few months, and I get thousands of hits from people trying to confirm the meme. Well, that’s actually good. I did the hard work of digging into the article and trying to figure out if this whole TNF thing was real.

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Did you get your flu vaccination?–2014 version

flu-shot-calendarThere is substantial scientific evidence that the flu immunization is both very safe and very effective. Unless you follow the ramblings of a non-immunologist, non-virologist, non-epidemiologist, non-scientist, Peter Doshi who has published outright fabrications about the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, you probably fall on the side of getting vaccinated. Maybe.

But some people refuse the flu vaccine because of adherence to easily debunked myths and misinformation. If you are on the fence about the flu vaccine, read Tara Haelle’s It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear. She worked hard to put that list together, so if you’re on the fence about the flu vaccine, read it before the flu season takes off. You won’t be sorry.

Or you can be a real dumbass and accept the lamest excuses for not getting the flu vaccine.

OK, what is your flu vaccination status? And if you have any comments, just drop them into the Disqus comments below. We’d especially like to hear from people on the fence, maybe we can give you some gentle persuasion to get the vaccine!

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Study concludes that homeopathy cures tonsillitis–probably not

massive-homeopathic-overdose-homeopathyHere we go again. “Researchers” trying to show that a pseudoscientific concept is real medicine, but failing so badly that only true believers would qualify it as real “evidence.”

In this case, homeopaths from the Department of Homeopathy at the University of Johannesburg (seriously, a Department of Homeopathy?) in South Africa recently published a study that claimed a concoction of homeopathic potions, in pill form, treats tonsillitis, an infection and inflammation of a set of lymph nodes called tonsils in the back of the throat, better than a placebo. The researchers concluded that “the homeopathic complex used in this study exhibited significant anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities in children with acute viral tonsillitis.”

Convincing conclusion. That’s it, next time my children have tonsillitis, I’m going to run down to my local homeopathic lotion and potion magician, and I’ll buy out the store.

Or maybe not. I’ll probably save my money from lining the pockets of that homeopathic wizard, and I’ll send the kids to a real physician who practices evidence-based medicine. And get real treatment.

Why am I so negative about a real peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal? For lots of reasons.
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Hey vaccine deniers–using Hitler’s Big Lie is a laughable strategy

mike-adams-vaccine-gunpoint

Oh I apologize. I went full-Godwin with the title. In case you don’t know, I’m referring to Godwin’s Law, named after Mike Godwin, who asserted that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, in an online argument, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will invoke a reference to Hitler or Nazis as the discussion gets more and more heated.

Because I am all about efficiency, I decided to invoke Hitler right in the title. Actually, given some of the antisemitism and hate speech of the antivaccine fanatics, it’s probably not too far off.

Be that as it may, the antivaccination crowd loves the propaganda technique known as the Big Lie, which is a method of stating and repeating a falsehood, then treating it as if it is self-evidently true with the goal of swaying the course of an argument. Eventually, it is hoped by the proponents of the Big Lie, that it will be taken for granted, and not really critically questioned. Hitler, and his Nazi propaganda machine, used the Big Lie to blame all of Germany’s problems, prior to World War II, on Jews, which may have contributed to the German people’s support, either actively or passively, of the Holocaust.

It’s ironic that some of the basic antivaccination ad hominem hate speech tends to be extremely antisemitic, especially towards the publicly Jewish members of the pro-vaccine/pro-science side. It’s doubly ironic that the antivaccination cult utilizes Nazi propaganda strategies, while claiming that vaccination, especially mandatory vaccination, is somehow a modern day holocaust. Truthfully, there’s really not any mandatory (and certainly not forced) vaccination of anyone in the developed world. There are so many loopholes for those who refuse vaccines through various exemptions, that mandatory is truly not that mandatory.

Of course, comparing vaccinations to the Holocaust is a form of Holocaust denial, just as dangerous as climate change denial, evolution denial, or all other forms of denialism. In this case, comparing vaccination, which saves lives, to the Holocaust (in this definition, the murder of European Jews), which killed 6 million innocent human beings, either betrays their lack of knowledge of vaccines and the Holocaust, or worse, that they think the sharp temporary pain of an immunization is somewhat equivalent to the murder of 6 million Jews. The fact that there is little evidence that anyone has ever died of a vaccination (stay tuned, an article is coming from here, once all the research is done) compared to mountains of evidence that the Holocaust actually happened makes such comparisons ignorant and hateful. Period.
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Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014

vaccines-saves-live-cloud

I make it a point to update this blog with the most current CDC analysis of vaccine uptake in the USA for kindergarten children (usually around 5 years old). Generally, the numbers have stayed stable, at around 95% vaccinated, although there is high variance from state to state, and locality to locality. The weakness in the vaccination uptake in the USA is that some areas may approach 100% vaccinated, but then other areas may be 50%, which makes those areas with low vaccine uptake susceptible to a quick spread of diseases that are not endemic to the USA (such as measles, polio, and others) through that unvaccinated population.

Given the 95% vaccine uptake rate, it begs the questions of why I push so hard for vaccination–because I want to protect the lives of children, and those 5% who aren’t vaccinated are at risk of serious disease and even death. And vaccines are the safest way to protect a child–protect them from death.

Nearly 55% of the readers of this blog are not American (a couple of years ago,this blog got a regular reader from Iran, which meant that all countries were represented amongst this blog’s readers). I have been accused of being a bit American-centric, but at the same time, I was also curious about vaccine uptake worldwide. 
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Why we immunize against the flu–save healthy children’s lives

flu 20shotIf you break your arm, go to an emergency department, you see that medicine has an effect. Your fracture is set (very painful), and then you have a cast (very itchy). You can observe, without much bias, that a physician and his medical knowledge has fixed you. And you can show everyone else your cast, get it signed, and tell everyone how brave you were!

On the other hand, vaccinations can seem like they really don’t do anything. We get vaccinated, and it keeps us healthy–but it’s really hard to see that it does anything. Basically, vaccines maintain your default standard of health (at least what you think is the standard), so showing off your post-vaccination bandage doesn’t have the same effect. The cause and effect is just not there.

But there are real stories of tragedies for adults and children who aren’t vaccinated.

For example, there is one vaccine that seems to be ignored or outright avoided, even by seemingly rational people who get vaccines for everything else–the flu vaccine. Many people seem to invent myths about this vaccine, or accept those myths more readily than they do for other vaccines, all of which are easily dismissed and debunked.

I don’t know what causes this one vaccine to be so easily rejected by so many people, but it could be that the central myth of the flu itself is that it isn’t dangerous. People really believe that no one gets hurt from the flu. Especially themselves. 
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