Anti-science legislation – state level activities are troubling

anti-science legislation

We have seen a lot of anti-science activities at the Federal government level that are scary. Massive reductions in Federal budgets for the EPA and National Institutes of Health are bad enough for those of us who support science research and education. But the emboldened right wing, at the state level, are pushing all types of anti-science legislation that will have a profound effect on how we teach science to our children. We need to pay attention to this.

I thought it would be beneficial for us to take a look at the states that are pushing anti-science legislation since the November 2016 election, when a lot of state legislatures’ composition changed (or remained the same). In general, this legislation focuses on anti-evolution and anti-climate change beliefs pushed by the right wing.

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Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science

Scott Pruitt

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by the United States Congress. Among its many responsibilities, it is at the forefront in attempting to reduce the effects of climate change. Of course, Donald Trump appointed a climate denier EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, who has absolutely despised the EPA while attorney general for Oklahoma.

In an interview on CNBC, Pruitt said the following:

In recent years, critics would say the EPA has been too focused on CO2 and maybe things like hazardous waste sites, particulate pollution, strip mining, what’s happening to the oceans — there are so many things that the EPA could do productively that maybe have been diverted from this single-minded focus on CO2.

I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s (CO2) a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet…we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.

But the new climate denier EPA administrator is wrong about his “opinion” about the science of climate change. Let’s look at just how wrong Scott Pruitt is about the science of climate change. Continue reading “Scott Pruitt, climate change denier EPA chief – wrong about the science”

Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years

Alternative facts

Alternative facts, what most of us would call outright lies or misinformation, are the new standard of truthfulness coming out of the Donald Trump administration. It started when Kellyanne Conway, one of the numerous Trump talking heads who think Americans are stupid, said, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … alternative facts.”

Alternative facts seem to be pretty close to the Nazi propaganda technique, called the Big Lie. It is about the use of a lie so colossal that the public would not believe that someone would have the audacity to distort the truth so impressively. Except, I’m going to reiterate most Americans (an non-Americans) aren’t that stupid. And sorry for going Godwin so early in the article, but sometimes, it is necessary to point out the obvious.

I’ve been fighting alternative facts as skeptic for nearly three decades. It started when I got into an argument with a school board candidate in California who said that “evolution is just a theory.” Now, those of you with scientific understanding accept that a theory, at least in science, is approximately equal to a fact. What he should have said is, “evolution is just a fact,” but instead he was making “theory” a pejorative which implied evolution wasn’t a fact.

He and I must have argued for 20 minutes, when he finally claimed that science was a religion that required faith, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what science represents. I told him that he apparently lacked any education in science, so why should he be on the school board. He lost, though I take no credit for it.

Over the years, I have evolved (pun intended) into other areas of scientific skepticism, like GMOs, vaccines, and alternative medicine. See, even the junk medicine quacks grasped that “alternative” label long before Donald Trump walked into the national spotlight.

Let’s look at my favorite alternative facts of science.

Continue reading “Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years”

UPDATED – Trump asks vaccine denier Robert F Kennedy Jr to chair vaccine panel

Robert F Kennedy Jr

President-elect Donald Trump has met with Robert F Kennedy Jr., a notorious vaccine denier, today. The two will discuss “the issues pertaining to vaccines and immunizations.” And whatever tiny spark of hope that maybe Trump was pandering to the anti-vaccine wing nuts for votes has been put out with a bucket of water.

Kennedy, who is a member of the family that is the icon of liberalism, has been increasingly attacking vaccines and their supposed dangers. Kennedy continues to push the trope that vaccines cause autism, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that it simply does not. Moreover, Kennedy pushed the CDC whistleblower myth, which has been debunked so many times, that I should create a macro just to respond to it whenever it appears in a comment thread.

Kennedy has also stated that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, a belief that has been rejected by real science many times. Kennedy checks off most of the key denier talking points for vaccines, including comparing the damage done by vaccines to the holocaust. He made that comment while promoting an anti-vaccine propaganda film, Trace Amounts.

Trump himself shares many of the Kennedy’s anti-science beliefs on vaccines, including claiming that there is a link between vaccines and autism. During a 2015 GOP primary debate, Trump said

I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump–I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me. … [in which] a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

One of the things I’ve learned, while fighting the good fight on science on the internet for over 20 years, when someone says “I am totally in favor of XYZ,” they generally will follow up with how they really aren’t. Trump does the same.

Ironically, Kennedy was a strong critic of Trump, calling the President-elect, “dangerous and deceptive.” I guess when it comes to vaccines, politics does make some strange bedfellows.

But the story gets worse. Several tweets just hit my timeline that makes me physically ill:

 

This is just incredible. Robert F Kennedy Jr chairing a panel on vaccine safety? Who is he going to put on this panel, Mr. Andrew Wakefield?

According to a news report,

Outspoken vaccine critic Robert Kennedy Jr. has accepted a position within Donald Trump’s administration as chair of a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity — the clearest sign yet of the president-elect’s suspicions about vaccines.

The offer, which came in a Wednesday meeting between Trump and the scion of America’s most prominent Democratic family, is likely to concern scientists and public health experts who fear the incoming administration could give legitimacy to skeptics of childhood immunizations, despite a huge body of scientific research demonstrating that vaccines are safe.

Kennedy told reporters after the meeting,

President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it. His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science. And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have — he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I — but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.

Yes, Mr. Kennedy the science dos matter and you are on the absolute wrong side of science. Face it, you’re a science denier on the facts of vaccines. Moreover, science is not subject to debate – either the evidence is solid or not, and you don’t debate. You provide scientific evidence equal to, or better than, the science presented that supports my understanding of vaccines. Claiming that yourself, or Donald Trump, are “pro-vaccine” falls on deaf ears when it’s clear that you will use any lame conspiracy theory, bad science or outright lies to support your point of view about vaccines.

Robert F Kennedy Jr – you are an embarrassment to liberal ideals on science. You are an embarrassment to the legacies of your father and your uncles. You’re just an embarrassment.

Now this science denying ignoramus might chair a panel to look at vaccine safety. Maybe I should hope that Kennedy gets shamed into accepting the scientific facts. But my hopes are starting to be delusions.

Update 1

A Trump spokesperson put out this statement:

The President-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas. The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism, which affects so many families; however no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of Autism with many groups and individuals.

So Trump may or may not set up this panel and may or may not appoint Kennedy to chair it.

Update 2

Politico is reporting that:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told members of his environmental group late Wednesday that he expects to temporarily leave it to chair a vaccine safety commission he has been discussing with President-elect Donald Trump and his aides for more than a month.

So, RFK Jr has been discussing this panel for much longer than it appeared when this news first broke. And it kind of supports the notion that this will happen, causing unneeded confusion about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, which is beyond dispute. At least beyond dispute of that uninformed, unscientific group.

I am not alone at being appalled by this turn of events. Nearly every scientific, medical and skeptical writer has expressed either shock, alarm, humor, or crying. Maybe all four at once.

Kennedy no longer represents liberal democrats to me. He’s an unscientific traitor.

 
 

Donald Trump and vaccines – should we really worry?

Donald Trump and vaccines

Yesterday, we were all focused on the huge kerfuffle with Robert F Kennedy Jr, who may or may not have been asked to chair a vaccine safety panel. But, as we’ve shown before, when it comes to Donald Trump and vaccines, it is clear where the president-elect stands – on the anti-vaccine side.

Despite the consternation with Trump’s views on vaccines, we really should examine what he can and cannot do. Because other than the tweeting out his opinions about vaccines, which constitutes modern politics’ bully pulpit, what powers does Trump really have to modify or eliminate vaccines. The answer is somewhat complicated.

Continue reading “Donald Trump and vaccines – should we really worry?”

HHS nominee Tom Price and a radical right-wing physician organization

Tom Price HHS nominee

Recently, president-elect Donald Trump nominated Georgia congressman Tom Price to be Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS). Price is a medical doctor whose impact on politics has been almost exclusively based on his unwavering opposition to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Once Trump was elected, along with a Republican Senate and House, most of us in healthcare knew that Obamacare was probably doomed. I don’t think it will be easy for the Republicans, now that they’re in power, to actually dismantle Obamacare, especially some of the more popular provisions such as elimination of the pre-existing conditions as a disqualification for receiving health insurance.

Also, there are over 20 million Americans who have taken advantage of health insurance from Obamacare, and I think it would be almost impossible for the Republicans to cut them off. But I may be delusional about the limits of Republican dislike of poorer Americans.

Setting aside healthcare insurance, what else may be impacted by Tom Price? Well, the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for many of the important health care institutions that matter to me and my readers. Some of the major institutions under the HHS umbrella are:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the nucleus of biomedical and health-related research in the USA. Much of the research at NIH, which has an impressive world-wide reputation, serves as the foundation of much of what we know about human health and disease.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – if you are a reader of this website and blog for the past 5 years, you know I, and many others, have tremendous respect for the CDC. It functions as the frontline, first responders if you will, for any disease that appears in the world. It is made up of some of the leading scientists, public health specialists, and thought leaders in healthcare, who give their careers to help humanity. And, of course, they set vaccine policy for this country. The CDC has tremendous influence on public health across the globe.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the primary regulator of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food, diagnostics, supplements, and many other areas, it is one of the most powerful agencies in the world for protecting the health of consumers.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – the federal agency that administers the Medicare program along with advising the states on Medicaid and other public health care programs.

Tom Price will have significant influence on much of the science of medicine, let alone the financing of health care in the USA. There is one thing in Price’s background that give us some significant insight as to how he’ll run his department – let’s just say, it’s not good. Yeah, none of us of would have predicted this.

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Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Donald Trump and vaccines

Donald Trump is technically the Republican candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. There’s a lot that he says that disgusts me personally, and the public generally. But there’s one area that may indicate the depth of his ignorance. Donald Trump and vaccines – his views are just plain wrong.

Trump isn’t alone on this matter – dangerous comments about vaccines were made by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign. Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before) also pontificated about the dangers of vaccines.

I’ve written previously about Republican candidate’s views on vaccines, back before we actually thought that Donald Trump had a real chance to become the Republican nominee. Feels like eons ago.

As I wrote recently, there’s really only a slight, probably not statistically significant, difference between the acceptance of mandatory vaccination. So the views of Donald Trump and vaccines is way over on the side of crackpot. This is why we can’t have good things.

Let’s look at some the things that Trump has said about vaccines on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating.

Continue reading “Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong”

Antiscience Donald Trump elected President – man the science barricades

antiscience donald trump doesn't know science

I disappeared for a few days after the election of a man who espoused racism, xenophobia and misogyny as the reasons to vote for him. His actual policy proposals were threadbare and, if he really believed them, we are looking a historical dismantling of all that is special about the USA. It’s hard to choose what scares me most about this sexual predator’s policies, but the antiscience Donald Trump ranks pretty much at or near the top.

Generally, the Republican party is quite antiscience. Republicans deny climate change. Republicans deny evolution, while Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, is hypercritical of evolution. And of course, Republicans have shown themselves to be vaccine deniers. There’s a lot more, but many of us consider those topics to be in the top 5 list of science denial. Frankly, if someone said that Trump believed in alien visitations and Sasquatch, and he was sending tax money to investigate them thoroughly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

On a broader level, a Trump administration will probably gut science research by cutting funding to National Institutes of Health and NASA programs in basic scientific research. There are probably areas, where Trump will appoint directors who are opposed to the years of science that form a basis of policy.

Despite the press tacitly being in bed with Trump, never really investigating him, Hillary Clinton won the election based on the popular vote, with a several hundred thousand vote lead over Trump. I think most Americans wanted a President who supported science. Sadly, Trump won the election because the USA uses an antiquated and anachronistic method to actually choose the president. A method that is based on needs of 250 years ago and on the negotiations required to get slave holding states to agree to the new Union. But, I’m not a political scientist, and the arguments for and against the Electoral College system of voting would be far beyond what are topics for this website.

Let’s just look at the antiscience Donald Trump, sticking to the key issues of climate change, evolution, and vaccines.

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The Trump Wakefield anti-vaccine bromance – yes, it’s a thing

trump wakefield vaccines autism

Two of the most disreputable public personas today are Andrew Wakefield, fraudulent anti-vaccine “scientist” and liar, and Donald J Trump, fraudulent anti-vaccine presidential candidate and liar. The Trump Wakefield bromance developed over their mutual belief that vaccines cause autism. In case you’re wandering to this blog from another planet, there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines are related to autism.

If you follow this, or honestly any skeptic’s, website, you’d know that Andrew Wakefield is one of the greatest conmen in medicine and science. And to be honest, that’s a tough list. His delusion that vaccines are related to autism has lead to actual harm to children throughout the world, as parents listen to his junk medicine and refuse to protect their children from vaccine preventable diseases.

Of course, most rational people understand Donald Trump’s misogyny, racism, and alt-right beliefs. I’ll let political writers elsewhere continue to point that out leading up to the election. For me, there are so many reasons to dislike Trump, with his anti-vaccine ignorance being near the top.

Lovely, aren’t they? Many skeptics have pointed out Trump’s dishonesty for years. The mysterious Orac has been pointing out Trump’s ignorance on vaccines for years.

Let’s take a look at the budding Trump Wakefield bromance. I promise, it will make you ill.

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Deplorable Donald Trump – creating anti-vaccination Republicans

deplorable Donald Trump

Deplorable Donald Trump, for those who are living in a log cabin off the grid, is a wealthy (according to him) white guy running for President of the United States. Deplorable does not begin to define all that Trump embodies – ignorance of the constitution, sexism, racism, misogyny, white privilege, xenophobia, and institutionalized lying. And since this is a pro-science website, Trump’s anti-science beliefs fall far below the low bar I set for your average Republican.

But his anti-vaccine rants are particularly loathsome. As I’ve written before, Trump is completely wrong about vaccines by claiming that the “massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism.” Wrong Donald Trump, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are related to autism. It’s hard to choose which of his hatreds are most dangerous, but I would nominate his anti-vaccine stance, because vaccines prevent diseases which can harm children, and protecting children has got to be society’s most important goal.

A little less than 2 years ago, a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found only a modest ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans regarding the science of vaccines – in fact, the difference was 1 percentage point, or essentially, vaccine support was the same between adherents of both political parties.

Unfortunately, the basket of deplorables hang on to every word uttered by the King of Deplorables himself, so one has to wonder if that difference has grown at all over the past couple of years as a result of Trump’s ignorant statements about vaccines. Lucky for us, we’ve got some data.

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