California drought myths and science

If you pay attention to anything about the weather, especially climate change, you know that California is experiencing an epic drought. The causes are complex (always be skeptical of “simple” explanations), and the fixes may not even be possible.

So instead of talking about California’s new mandatory vaccine law (or anything else about vaccines), maybe it was time to talk about California drought myths –then refute them with science, which is always fun.

Stating the obvious, water is necessary for the residents, industry and agriculture of California. The Los Angeles metro area, with about 10 million people, and other Southern California cities, like San Diego, have few natural water sources, so they must rely upon water that arises far away from the residents.

The mountains, especially the Sierra Nevada range, of California are the water “bank” for the state. The winter snowfall ends up being the spring runoff, which is stored in reservoirs, and used, until the next season. Los Angeles takes (or steals if you saw the Jack Nicholson movie, Chinatown) water from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a sparsely populated (and rarely visited) part of California.

The fact that the 2015 snowpack on April 1 was a pathetic 5% of normal, while the snowpack on June 1 was 0% of normal, is frightening. In other words, snowmelt, that in some years can last well into summer, was gone before summer started, so California essentially has no water in the bank. And because this drought is nearly 4 years old, the reservoirs are mostly dry, and there’s little water left.

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Update: Gov. Brown signs California vaccine exemption bill

The California vaccine exemption bill – SB 277, which essentially eliminates all vaccine personal belief exemptions for children to be vaccines prior to attending schools in the state – was signed into law today by Governor Jerry Brown (D).

The SB 277 vaccine exemption bill was sponsored by California Senator Richard Pan MD and by Ben Allen, of Santa Monica. The bill was introduced after a outbreak of measles in December at Disneyland sickened 136 Californians. It passed quickly through both houses of the California Legislature.

The law applies to students attending any public or private school in the state, so parents who choose not to vaccinate children for non-medical reasons would need to make other arrangements for their child’s education. Now, only valid medical exemptions, such as known allergies and other medical conditions, approved by a physician, will be allowed an exemption to vaccination.

Governor Brown also reiterated, while signing the bill, that “while requiring that school children be vaccinated, the law explicitly provides an exception when a physician believes that circumstances – in the judgment and sound discretion of the physician – so warrant.”

There is some evidence that the medical exemption has been abused by parents who do not want their children vaccinated with cooperation of like minded physicians. This does worry me, since there are pediatricians who “advertise” their services in signing these forms.

Notwithstanding my concern, this makes California one of the three toughest states for vaccinations, along with Mississippi and West Virginia. And that is good news indeed.

 

Update: SB 277 vaccine bill sent to Gov. Brown

he California SB 277 vaccine bill, which essentially eliminates all vaccine personal belief exemptions for children in schools in the state, has passed it’s last hurdle in the California legislature and has been sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

The SB 277 vaccine bill was sponsored by California Senator Richard Pan MD and by Ben Allen, of Santa Monica. The bill was introduced after a outbreak of measles in December at Disneyland sickened 136 Californians, and it passed 25-10 after the two senators agreed earlier to compromises aimed at easing its passage.

This makes California one of the three toughest states for vaccinations, along with Mississippi and West Virginia. Now, only valid medical exemptions, such as known allergies and other medical conditions, will be allowed an exemption to vaccination.
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SB 277 vaccine bill sails through California legislature

I’m a little late with this story, for no other reason than I was distracted by all the good news this week–the Supreme Court rulings on the legality of Obamacare and the removal of all state laws that prevent the right of all citizens to marry.

As I’ve written before, the California SB 277 vaccine bill, which essentially eliminates all vaccine personal belief exemptions for children in schools in the state, continues to get overwhelming support from the legislature, and passed through one more step to becoming law.

According to several news reports, Senate Bill 277, which mandates vaccinations for all schoolchildren regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs about vaccines and vaccinations, passed on a 46-to-31 vote in the state Assembly after an hourlong debate. The outcome of the vote was expected.

On Monday, 29 June, there is a Pro-Forma vote in the California Senate (to approve minor language changes in the Assembly version), and there is little doubt that it will pass there.

Once that happens, the bill will be sent to Governor Jerry Brown, who has, for unknown reasons, showed some openness vaccine exemptions. Two years ago he essentially gutted a bad law that made vaccine exemptions a bit harder to obtain by adding this language to his signing bill:

This bill is about explaining the value of vaccinations – both the benefits and risks – for an individual child and the community. Whether these are simple “information exchanges” or more detailed discussions, they will be valuable even if a parent chooses not to vaccinate.

I am signing AB 2109 and am directing the Department of Public Health to oversee this policy so parents are not overly burdened by its implementation. Additionally, I will direct the department to allow for a separate religious exemption on the form. In this way, people whose religious beliefs preclude vaccinations will not be required to seek a health care practitioner’s signature.

So, we’ll see if he realizes he’s flying against the wind here, and joining some of the right wing anti-vaccination types.

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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.”

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.

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Marijuana and medicine – assessing the science

I suspect, like legal same sex marriage, social norms are changing across the USA (and the world), which has lead to the decriminalization of marijuana in 23 states and the District of Columbia for some medical conditions. The US Federal Government, has shown little enthusiasm in enforcing Federal law about cannabis, although the Federal government retains the highest authority in regulating certain drugs like marijuana. So let’s look at marijuana and medicine assessing the science critically.

It’s clear that rational people still want regulations for marijuana, including prohibitions against public smoking (I don’t want second hand cannabis smoke wafting over me or my children, as much as I don’t want to inhale other people’s tobacco smoke). And a safe society would have strict regulations that would forbid marijuana smoking by individuals who have roles in public health and safety like physicians, pilots, mass transit drivers, and others.

And yes, there should be laws against driving vehicles and being high, not unlike what is required of those who imbibe alcohol and drive.

But I think those would be reasonable boundaries for legalization of cannabis that would be reasonable to most people. But this is not the point of this article.

As the push to legalize marijuana for personal or medical use gains traction in the USA, there has developed a strong belief, unsupported by evidence, of the value of the medical uses of cannabis. What is troublesome is that the pro-marijuana side seems to make claims about the medical uses of cannabis that appear to be only tenuously supported by real scientific evidence.

In fact, some of the claims are downright dangerous. The reasons for pushing this is probably, though I can only speculate, to make it appear that marijuana is some miracle product, so let’s speed up the legalization of it. It’s like the Food Babe telling us that kale is the miracle food, except that kale isn’t illegal. It does taste awful (but again, not the point).
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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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New Gardasil prevents cancer – blocks HPV infection

Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the USA. There are more than 40 HPV sub-types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. Additionally, some HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

The new, more powerful, version of the HPV vaccine , recently cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration, protects teens and young adults from 9 subtypes of HPV, helping prevent more cancers. The new vaccine, called Gardasil-9, prevents even more types of cancer.

This newest version of the HPV cancer-preventing vaccine safely and effectively prevents several forms of cancer in young adults by protecting the those who receive the vaccine from nine different types of the HPV virus. In a clinical study, published in Pediatrics, 3066 girls and boys, aged 9 through 15, were given a three-dose series of the new Gardasil-9 vaccine–day 1, month 1, and month 6.

The researchers observed no serious adverse events and high immunogenicity (antibodies to all 9 HPV types).

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Marijuana and cancer – what are facts and what’s just smoke

If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, Facebook, or just researching cancer treatments on the internet, you will run across something about marijuana and cancer – someone will claim that smoking pot, eating pot, hemp oil (which is manufactured from the seeds of cannabis plants that don’t contain much THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active hallucinogenic agent of cannabis), or some other consumption of cannabis will cure or prevent cancer.

Of one hand, studies of cannabis’ effectiveness in reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy, one of the the most common claims,  has generated negative results in some well done clinical trials and some positive results in others. But that has nothing to do with actually curing or preventing the cancer itself, just dealing with the effects of the treatment.
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Marijuana and pregnancy – again hitting that bong of science

As I have written previously, consumption of and growing marijuana should be completely decriminalized. And the laws need to be rewritten, not in the haphazard way it is now, but with protection and respect of rights of people to consume or grow (for personal use) cannabis. The criminal prosecution of marijuana use and distribution is a ridiculous waste of public resources.

The criminalization of marijuana has caused the growth of drug cartels that threaten the survival of Latin American democracies. And it has caused damage to delicate environments in pristine wilderness in the western USA where illegal marijuana farms use chemicals, human waste and water diversion to destroy the forest.

I could go on, but marijuana laws are simply unsupportable by any stretch of the imagination–the laws waste money and harm citizens.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that cannabis is completely safe. Or that the guy driving his car next to me or a surgeon about ready to slice into my abdomen or the pilot of the jet I’m boarding should be high.

Marijuana should be regulated and taxed like any other product in the class, such as alcohol and cigarettes. It’s a reasonable system where people can enjoy their weed, but it is regulated to prevent harm to others.

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Stalking pseudoscience in the internet jungle

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