The dangers of electronic cigarettes – new research

Over the past few years, electronic cigarettes (often called a personal vaporizer, e-cigarette, or many other trendy descriptions–I’ll abbreviate them as EC, just to save space) have become a popular alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They originally were developed as a tool to quit cigarette smoking, which is factually linked to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

However, ECs have become much more than a tool to end smoking, but they have evolved into popular subculture phenomenon known as the “vaping community” that, in many respects, seem to mimic the marijuana advocates. The vaping community continues to push a belief that ECs are safer than traditional cigarettes, have little health risk to the vaper (electronic cigarette smoker), and is much more socially acceptable than smoking cigarettes or cigars.

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Anti vaccine cult – violent threats against California Senator

The anti vaccine cult has hit another low, sending out violent death threats against California Senator Richard Pan, who introduced SB 277, the bill that would repeal the personal belief exemption to school vaccine mandates. The bill still allows for legitimate medical exemptions (like immunocompromised children who need to be protected through the herd effect).

Although Sen. Pan is the leader of the legislators who are attempting to make this bill into law, many other lawmakers are championing mandatory vaccines for children to protect the general population have withstood intense and illogical criticism from the anti vaccine cult.

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Paleolithic diet myth – what our ancestors ate

Updated 14 April 2015

Surprisingly, most of the questions I get through emails about “skepticism” ask about the science or myths in popular diet fads. It’s clear that there are a lot of websites, pundits, and websites with pundits who think that changing your diet is the most important thing in the world.

Eat this to make your immune system strong. Don’t eat that because it causes cancer. But do eat this because it reduces your risk of cancer. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Drink this. Eat more of that.

My thoughts have always been that the human physiology is amazingly resilient, and as long as you have no chronic diseases, there is nothing one can do that will make the situation much better or much worse.

Yes, maintaining levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, iron, and others, are critical, but in the modern world, it’s almost impossible to miss out on those micronutrients. Yes, we should limit fats and “sugars”. But the thing is human physiology is complex, so marathoners eat lots of carbohydrates, and they are mostly healthy. It all depends.

And as I’ve mentioned, you’re not going to prevent or cure cancer with supplements (or presumably foods that are rich with those nutrients). Antioxidants don’t really help prevent cancerSoy won’t stop certain types of cancerNor will certain foods make you lose weight. There really are only a few ways to prevent cancer,

Most of these beliefs about foods, health and weight loss are based on either a boatload of anecdotal evidence, or use very preliminary laboratory research, make a leap of faith, and assume that laboratory evidence is equivalent to clinical evidence. Then, when the gold standard of research, a randomized clinical trial is done, the results generally show nothing. And in some cases, the negative effect is with the supplement or food.

And if you’re looking to try the newest diet craze, be aware that most fad diets just have no long-term successes, and may actually do harm. The newest one is based on the paleolithic diet myth. 
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Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives

The CDC recently published robust evidence that supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness. There is nothing more powerful than epidemiological studies that show a correlation (and causality) between the drop in the incidence of a vaccine preventable disease immediately after wide introduction of a the vaccine itself in a relatively closed population.

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MSG myths debunked with real science

Updated 12 April 2015

Updated 5 December 2014

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. Some of the angst caused by these additives is that they have scary chemical names.

Obviously there is a “low fructose corn syrup” that has got to be better and healthier? Right?

However, there is one food additive that appears to be the root of all evil–MSG. How many times have you been to a Chinese restaurant where they put up signs with NO MSG ADDED?

Just so you know, unless that restaurant isn’t using soy sauce (one of the major components of nearly all Chinese food flavorings), the amount of MSG in your Kung Pao Chicken is still quite high, because that soy sauce has more MSG in it than could possibly be added by a shaker of MSG.

MSG myths debunked. It’s time.

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Italian court says vaccines cause autism – wrong

Updated 12 April 2015.

So, here we ago again with the trope that “courts confirm that vaccines cause autism.” It all started when I saw a Facebook meme (the lazy person’s way of transmitting information) that stated that some obscure Italian court rules that MMR causes autism. These memes are backed up by blog posts from the usual suspects claiming that courts are confirming that vaccines cause autism mostly based on a oft-ridiculed year-old Italian Provincial Court ruling.

So now because an Italian court says vaccines cause autism (well, actually more specifically the MMR vaccine), we get to reject the mountains of evidence that state unequivocally that vaccines do not cause autism.

If this were just a one-off issue with vaccine denialism in the Italian court system, we could all make mocking jokes about Italy, but apparently it keeps happening.

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Your personal pseudoscience detector

Updated 12 April 2015

Pseudoscience is like bubble gum. It tastes pretty good, it’s fun to blow bubbles, and it annoys some people. But eventually, the flavor leaves, and you find that you’re just chewing on some nutritionally dubious substance. Now you have to find a place to spit it out.

Or I guess you can swallow it, and it stays in your intestines for the rest of your life. Oh sorry, that’s more junk science.

If you read something that makes some medical claim, here’s a quick and easy checklist to determine if it’s pseudoscience. Or real science-based medicine. What we all need is an official, Skeptical Raptor endorsed, pseudoscience detector.
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Vaccines cause diabetes – another myth refuted

Published 16 March 2014
Updated 14 January 2015
Updated 9 April 2015

If you cruise around the internet, engaging with the antivaccination cult (not recommended), you will pick up on their standard tropes, lies, and other anti-science commentary. One that has always bothered me, not because that it was a lie, but because I had enough evidence floating in my brain that I was wondering if it were true–that vaccines cause diabetes, especially the Type 1 version.

A lot of the vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause a lot of everything, and several claim that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes (or here), based on little evidence. As far as I can tell, this myth is based on the “research” from  J. Barthelow Classen, M.D., who has pushed the idea that vaccines causes type 1 diabetes, through some magical process that has never been supported by other independent evidence.

In another example of the antivaccination world’s cherry picking evidence to support their a priori conclusions, they ignore the utter lack of plausibility supporting any link between vaccines and Type 1 diabetes.

Moreover, Classen seems to come to his beliefs based on population-wide correlations that rely on post hoc fallacies, rather than actually showing causality between vaccines and diabetes. It’s like finding that a 5% increase in consumption of Big Macs is correlated with Republican wins in elections. They may happen at the same time, but it would take a laughable series events to show any relationship.

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Polio vaccine causes cancer – just a myth

Updated 9 April 2015.

Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure. This article is a substantial update of my original article on this topic.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 140 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see an claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.

Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute this claim takes a lot more than 140 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to blast the claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.

And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Killing zombie memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these zombie memes is a full-time job. And, once it’s been debunked, we move back to the first problem again, again, and again.

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A review of religion and vaccinations

Revised 9 April 2015.

A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs.

The father is a Roman Catholic, and as far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination, even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…” In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all lead me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religion and vaccinations. And I found some.

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Stalking pseudoscience in the internet jungle

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