Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

got-skepticismThe name of this blog, of course, is the Skeptical Raptor. I’m not sure how I invented that name, but I like raptors, either the fossil dinosaur version, or the living dinosaur versions, birds of prey. They both actually work as a metaphor of what I try to do–provide scientific and knowledgeable analyses of the scientific consensus or critiques of beliefs and pseudoscience. Usually one leads to another.

Of course, I don’t pretend to be very nice about my critiques, probably another reason why I chose to put “Raptor” in the blog’s name.

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). These individuals actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really?
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Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

crosby-mumps-2Yesterday, I posted an article about the recent mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, which has hit 13 players (there’s no official number, it varies depending on the source) including one of top stars of the league, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A fourteenth player, also on the Pittsburgh team, may also have the virus, depending on the test results that come back for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has been “put in isolation” by the team.

If this outbreak happened in the general American population, it would get some local news, but since there are just a few hundred cases of mumps in the USA in any given year, not many of us would be writing about it. But since it’s happening in a popular sport (technically the fourth most popular sport in the USA, but number 1 in Canada), it gets more focus.

While writing the story about this outbreak yesterday, I ran across a lot of social media myths that vary from truly odd and scary to plain misinformation. I thought it would be useful to quash some of the most annoying bits of misinformation.
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Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League, vaccines and mumps

I get to do a click-bait article talking about Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the most talented and exciting young ice hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL), the top level of ice hockey in North America (if not the world). It’s a sport dominated by Canadians, Russians, Czechs, Finns, Swedes, and Americans, though there are a smattering of players from other countries especially in Central/Northern Europe. In Canada, hockey is a religion.

Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

And I love hockey. Yes, I know it’s a sport whose fans are located in freezing cold parts of the world, and has absolutely 0 interest outside of maybe 10 countries. But it’s a truly world sport, with players from all kinds of countries. I sat a game last year where a whole row of fans travelled from Finland to the USA to watch one player. They chatted with other fans, used iPhones (poor Nokia) to text photos to their friends back in Helsinki, and complained about US beers. You don’t get that at a American football or baseball game.

So, why are we talking about Sidney Crosby and ice hockey in a scientific skeptics blog? Well, it’s not really about click baiting (though I need to try that once), it’s because Crosby has come down with the mumps. Worse yet, the NHL appears to have a mini-outbreak of mumps with 13 players, two referees, and numerous coaches, staff, and other NHL team employees contracting the disease. 
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More powerful cancer-preventing Gardasil vaccine cleared by FDA

gardasil-cancer-soccer

Updated 15 December 2014 to include more information about the clinical trials performed prior to FDA review.

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.

HPV is linked to cancers in men and women, and because there are so many subtypes, research has established which HPV types are linked to certain cancers.

  • Cervicalvulvarvaginal, and anal cancers can be caused by HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
  • Genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. Although genital warts are generally benign (though unsightly), there is a small chance they develop into cancers.
  • Various precancerous lesions of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus can be caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58
  • Oropharyngeal and penile cancers are caused by subtypes 16 and 18.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous with regards to cancer as tobacco. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. About 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.

cervical-cancer-gardasil

The original HPV quadrivalent vaccine, known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe), can prevent infection by human papillomavirus, substantially reducing the risk of these types of cancers. An HPV bivalent vaccine, known as Cervarix, is used in some countries, but only provides protection again two of the subtypes most associated with cervical cancer.

The new version of Gardasil, recently cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration, protects teens and young adults from 9 subtypes of HPV, helping prevent more cancers.

According to the package insert, Gardasil 9 is indicated in females aged 9-26 years for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer caused by HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58; genital warts caused by types 6 and 11; and various precancerous or dysplastic lesions of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus caused by types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. The vaccine is also indicated in males aged nine through 15 years for the prevention of anal cancer caused by types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58; genital warts caused by types 6 and 11; and anal intraepithelial neoplasia grades 1, 2, and 3 caused by types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

The FDA approval is based on data from a randomized, controlled study (to be published soon) in the U.S. involving approximately 14000 females aged 16 to 26, all testing negative for HPV at the start of the study.

The study found that the new vaccine was approximately 97% effective in preventing infection from the additional five HPV types, while still equally effective to the current Gardasil in preventing the original four types, based on participants’ antibody responses. An additional 1200 males and 2800 females, aged 9 to 15, showed similar antibody responses as the older participants in the trials–researchers concluded that the new Gardasil vaccine should provide similar effectiveness as the older one to the original 4 HPV subtypes.

Safety data on Gardasil 9 is based on adverse reactions tracked in more than 13,000 males and females. Headaches and swelling, redness and pain at the injection site were the ones most commonly reported. Among these participants, five individuals reported serious adverse events that were determined to be vaccine-related. These events included fever, allergy to the vaccine, asthmatic crisis, headache and tonsillitis. These adverse events are common to vaccinations, especially if an individual is allergic to one or more of the ingredients.

Currently in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 are vaccinated against HPV. The immunization is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21. Officially, the CDC will not make a formal recommendation for the use of the new Gardasil until ACIP issues new recommendations in a few months.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about how to actually prevent cancers. There are no magical panaceas that prevent any of the 250 or so cancers. There’s no magical supplement or pill. There are just a few ways to prevent cancers–stop smoking, stay out of the sun, lose weight, avoid radiation, and get the HPV vaccine.

Gardasil prevents at least 6 types of cancer, and that’s better than all the “natural” supplements that you could consume.

Gardasil Prevents Cancer.

 

If you need to search for scientific information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

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Poll: your opinions about the new anti-cancer Gardasil-9 vaccine

© Copyright CSL, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright CSL, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

I just wrote a couple of articles about the HPV vaccine (known as Gardasil and Silgard, while a bivalent form is known a Cervarix)–one discussing risky sexual behavior after receiving the vaccines, and the other discussing the new Gardasil-9, which protects against 9 different subtypes of the human papillomavirus. This new vaccine can protect against the development of more types of cancers, and is one of the precious few tools we have to actually prevent any cancer.

Even though there are boatloads upon boatloads of substantial evidence that support the overall safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccines, parents have read too many myths and scary anecdotes to really embrace it. And that’s sad, because preventing cancer seems to be the right choice.

I consider Gardasil (and the other HPV vaccines) to be one of the most important pharmaceuticals on the planet, in that it clearly prevents HPV which clearly causes many devastating cancers. I was wondering what you think.

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

Gardasil-vaccine-virus

Updated 11 December 2014.

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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Gardasil prevents cancer–does not lead to risky sexual activity

hpv-vaccine-cancer-CDCThere are really few ways to keep your children from contracting cancer. Make sure they don’t smoke. Keep them out of the sun. Watch their weight and maintain it at healthy levels. Don’t let them near radiation.

And vaccinate them against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes over 5% of the cancers world wide. Gardasil, which is now a more powerful anti-cancer vaccine, is available throughout most of the world and is indicated for use in girls and boys to prevent a variety of dangerous and disfiguring cancers. Lots of people think there are magical supplements and foods that prevent cancer, but there’s little or no science that supports it. If you want a magical prevention, there’s nothing better than getting Gardasil (known as Silgard in some parts of the world).

Parents who wouldn’t be considered to be antivaccination are frequently reluctant or even solidly negative to giving their children the HPV vaccine. Admittedly, some of the reluctance about the vaccine is based on some misinformation and outright myths about the safety of the vaccine. Without a doubt the HPV vaccine is extremely safe as shown in several huge epidemiological studies of young men and women who have received the vaccine. And we know that the vaccine prevents HPV infections.
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Genetically engineered insulin does not cause cancer in diabetics

insulin-vialI have a lot of issues with the pseudo-medicine pushed by many many websites whose sole purpose is to push woo, or nonsense, to their readers. Then they have links to buy junk medicine from their website. Natural News, Mercola, and others have become multimillionaires with this business model.

These “entrepreneurs” deceive their readers with pure pseudoscience, using misleading language, and searching scientific literature for research that confirms their beliefs and ignoring everything that refutes it. They oversimplify complex issues, “take this pill, it will prevent all cancers,” making it seem most medicine can be boiled down to taking a couple of supplements–which they sell on their website. Of course.

Some might argue that this information isn’t dangerous. These people will say that a couple of supplements, even if they’re expensive, isn’t going to hurt. Maybe, though there’s a lot of evidence that those couple of pills might be more harmful than even I expected. But if these junk medicine websites push information that can harm or kill, then someone has to draw a line in the sand and tell them “you lie, and by lying, you might kill.”

Many of us say that about these woo-websites’ general antivaccination beliefs. This blog has posted numerous articles about the Natural News’ unethical and risky antivaccination articles. Mike Adams, the so-called Health Ranger and wealthy owner of the Natural News, makes his money by pushing his lies and misinformation about vaccines.
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Quashing the hollow “polio vaccine causes cancer” myth

polio-cancer-sv40Updated 7 December 2014.

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.

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.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep discrediting these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, but now I have to refresh it, just to make sure someone who Googles “polio vaccine cancer” has my article near the top of their list of Google hits. 
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Debunking the vaccine denier myths of the Argument by Package Insert

©New York Times, 2013

©New York Times, 2013

Revised 6 December 2014 to clarify a few points, improve readability and include a new logical fallacy.

One of the cherished strategies of vaccine deniers is to quote the package insert (called a Patient Information Leaflet in EU countries and Instructions for Use in the case of medical devices) to “prove” that vaccines are dangerous. Vaccine deniers consider the package insert to be golden tablets of the Truth™. It’s ironic that these antivaccine groupies rail against Big Pharma, as if they are demon reptilians, but the package insert, written by Big Pharma, is considered gospel.

Just spend more than a couple of minutes in discussion with an anti-vaccinationist, and you’ll get a reference to a particular vaccine’s package insert (PI) as “proof” that it is dangerous, contains dangerous stuff, or is just plain scary. Orac has recently proclaimed it “Argument by Package Insert”–it’s almost at the level of logical fallacy. (David Gorski has just named it argumentum ad package insert, so it’s officially a logical fallacy.)

Vaccine package inserts are important documents, but only if the information include therein is properly understood. It is not a document that serves as medical and scientific gospel. But it is a document that can help clinicians use vaccines (or frankly, any medication) properly.
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