This week was a bit depressing to be pro science (and by association, pro-vaccine). As I discussed, Katie Couric employed the full false balance fallacy to the extreme to try to “prove” that the Gardasil vaccine was somehow dangerous, based on the anecdotal, and ultimately unscientific, stories. That’s not science. That’s not good journalism. And that goes against real science and real clinical trials which, startlingly, comes to a conclusion that Gardasil is safe and very effective.
Oh, then in response to the intense criticism, Couric doubled-down on the false balance.
I needed something to mock the antivaccination movement, something to remind me that these people are, in general, crackpots of the highest order.
Updated 24 November 2013.
Thirteen years ago, Richard Dawkins, noted secularist, author and evolutionary biologist, wrote an open letter to Prince Charles, noted promoter of pseudoscience and heir apparent to the British throne, about the Prince’s hostility to science. Even though the letter was written more than a decade ago, the salient points still ring true today:
…Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural-ness of ‘traditional’ or ‘organic’ agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago – too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.
Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified – admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We’ve been playing God for centuries!
(more…) «Richard Dawkins talks about GMO…»
Updated 17 November 2013.
I consider Paul Offit as one of the leaders of the theme that Vaccines Saves Lives, and as someone who is truly dedicated to vaccines. He has done great work at great personal sacrifice to do so.
Being one of the “leaders” has caused his name has been demonized by the anti-vaccine lunatics, who use the Big Lie, a Nazi propaganda technique where a known falsehood is repeatedly stated, then treated as if it is self-evidently true in hopes of swaying the course of an argument in a direction that takes the big lie for granted rather than critically questioning it or ignoring it. The vaccine deniers constantly repeat untruths so that those lies evolve into apparent truths, at least for those who hold onto their pseudoscientific anti-vaccine beliefs.
The problem is, of course, that if you’re a new parent who is confused by what vaccines may or may not do, you’d assume you could not accept anything that Dr. Offit says because of the anti-scientific memes and tropes of the vaccine denialists. And the Big Lies told about Dr. Offit.
(more…) «Debunking myths about Dr. Paul…»
One of the tactics of the GMO (genetically modified organisms, usually crops–some people use the term GM instead) refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMO’s are safe.” Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMO’s 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.”
Even though I don’t necessarily like arguing with logical fallacies, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough.
Updated 12 November 2013.
In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, sources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant. So, if there only was a high quality, peer-reviewed meta review about the safety of GMO foods!?!?
(more…) «Review of 10 years of…»
Updated 6 November 2013
One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.
Because they are strong supporters of vaccines, they have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. These attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.” For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I think I want to call this corollary “Offit’s Law,” named for Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or even “Gate’s Law.”
An vaccine denier, Sayer Ji, whom I have criticized in the past for his anti-science rants about the immune system, has placed the Gates Foundation firmly in his ignorant pseudoscientific crosshairs of criticism. Ji wrote an article, Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups, which is a bit fear-mongering, a bit of pseudoscience, and a bit of conspiracy theory lunacy. Ji has previously made a completely insane claim that vaccines “subvert evolution”, which was effectively ripped into tiny little pieces and incinerated by Orac a few months ago. Essentially, Ji brings out the Naturalistic Fallacy (he does this over and over with the immune system), a fallacy that presumes that how the world “is” should then be used to state how it “ought” to be. Ji stated that we interfered with “evolution” through the use of vaccinations. Orac disabused Ji of his crackpot beliefs:
Ji’s article is the naturalistic fallacy on megadoses of steroids. To him, science isn’t just subverting Nature (with a capital “N,” again!) but it’s producing vaccines that are allegedly going to permanently alter us to make us no longer “human.” Vaccine scientists and doctors are somehow “callous lack of regard for three billion years of evolution,” as though evolution could never be improved upon. What is medicine, after all, if not interfering with evolution. Antibiotics interfere with evolutionary selection in that they save lives that might otherwise have been lost, allowing reproduction that might never have happened. So does surgery, a whole host of medicines, and a number of other treatments. That’s the idea.
(more…) «Vaccine denialists really hate Bill…»
Science is built upon the scientific method, which is a logical process of observation, experiment, analysis, and publication. It is simple, but it requires work. Over time, after numerous experiments, nearly always published in peer-reviewed journals, followed by frequent repetition (and sometimes failure) of the experiments and results by other scientists, scientists arrive at a consensus about the evidence that supports a particular set of principles about the science being researched.
As the evidence accumulates and becomes more predictive, it is declared, through scientific consensus, a scientific theory, which is a series of statements about the causal elements for observed phenomena. These theories explain aspects of the natural world. They are predictive. And they can be tested through the scientific method.
Arriving at a scientific consensus is not something that happens overnight–the development of this consensus is rather glacial in pace. That’s a good thing. It keeps out poorly supported ideas, but gives strength to ideas that are supported by a large quantity and quality of evidence. From basic scientific ideas, the scientific method expands or improves these ideas over time. And, one does not simply decide that the consensus is wrong through a debate or argument–changing the consensus requires as much research based in the scientific method, as many peer-reviewed publications and as much critique, repetition, and review as the evidence that built the original consensus.
(more…) «How vaccine deniers abuse the…»
Here comes weight-loss pseudoscience-often appearing in spam, the Dr. Oz show, or random google search. Weight loss pseudoscience, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, are an American obsession, especially since since the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic. Americans are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill, while maintaining a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, whoever sold it would be richer than Bill Gates.
Recently, two junk science weight-loss treatments have been hitting the public consciousness–raspberry ketones and green coffee beans. Dr. Oz, who despite a solid education in science-based medicine, and has taken to promoting everything from homeopathy to Joe Mercola‘s various lunatic cures, has been pushing both of these weight loss non-working treatments to his audience. Or if you have a bad spam filter, I’m sure you’ve seen the emails promoting these two supplements.
But are they effective? Let’s check.
Lots of people take vitamin D supplements to keep their bones strong as they age, advice that is pushed by legitimate organizations, like the National Osteoporosis Foundation. But does vitamin D actually do anything, or are their effects some kind of myth?
A group of researchers in New Zealand examined previous clinical trials involving vitamin D supplements to determine if they actually helped improved bone density, a critical measure of bone strength and health. Their meta-review of the data was recently published in the Lancet.
The researchers determined that vitamin D supplements did not usually increase bone density for people who already had normal levels of vitamin D. Although bone density did improve in the femur, the longest and heaviest bone in the human skeleton, all other bones did not exhibit a higher density after vitamin D.
The systematic review included 23 previously published studies (comprising a total of 4082 participants, 92% women, average age 59 years) who received vitamin D supplementation over an average of 23.5 months. Bone mineral density was measured at one to five sites (lumbar vertebrae, femoral neck, total hip, trochanter, total body, or forearm) in each study.
The studies included in the review had differing vitamin D supplementation regimens. The vitamin D dosages, as well as the length of the treatment, varied across. On average, 500 IU (international unit, with each unit being the biological equivalent of 0.025 μg cholecalciferol/ergocalciferol) was the daily dose in six of the studies, 500-799 IU was used in four studies, and 800 IU or more was used in 13 studies.
Across all of the studies, 70 tests of statistical significance were performed. Of the 70, six had findings of significant benefit of vitamin D supplementation, two showed significant detriment, and the rest, 62, show no significant benefit or detriment. Of all the studies, only one showed a benefit at more than one bone site. And more supplementation did not show any benefit, so there was not a dose-reponse effect.
Most importantly, of the studies that did report improvement in bone density, the finding was not significant enough to prevent a bone from fracturing after a fall. Surprisingly, the researchers also discovered that doses of less than 800 IU per day were more effective for improving bone density in the spine.
The researchers concluded that “continuing widespread use of vitamin D for osteoporosis prevention in community-dwelling adults without specific risk factors for vitamin D deficiency seems to be inappropriate.” In other words, the evidence does not support the hypothesis taking vitamin D provided a benefit of increased bone density in individuals who already had healthy levels of vitamin D–supplementing with vitamin D was not necessary for most adults over the age of 55. Moreover, the researchers recommended that healthcare providers should target individuals who may not be getting sufficient vitamin D naturally, such as through exposure to sunlight, with either vitamin D supplementation or sunlight therapy.
To answer the original question? Yes, vitamin D supplementation is a waste of money, unless there specific issues that would indicate that it would be useful, such as in individuals who do not make sufficient vitamin D naturally. And no, more vitamin D does not help.
- Reid IR, Bolland MJ, Grey A. Effects of vitamin D supplements on bone mineral density: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2013 Oct 10. doi:pii: S0140-6736(13)61647-5. 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61647-5. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24119980.
I frequently employ the term Logical Fallacy to demonstrate a logical or rational failure of a particular argument, especially those who adhere to anti-science or even pseudoscience points of view, like antivaccinationists. Logical fallacies are used to win arguments, despite the merits of said argument. It’s also used to divert the reader (or listener) to a totally irrelevant point, but has the illusion of being logical.
There are several definitions of what constitutes a logical fallacy:
A logical fallacy is, roughly speaking, an error of reasoning. When someone adopts a position, or tries to persuade someone else to adopt a position, based on a bad piece of reasoning, they commit a fallacy.–Logical Fallacies
An argument that sometimes fools human reasoning, but is not logically valid.–Fallacious Argument
In logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an improper argumentation in reasoning resulting in a misconception or presumption. By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener or interlocutor (appeal to emotion), or take advantage of social relationships between people (e.g. argument from authority). Fallacious arguments are often structured using rhetorical patterns that obscure any logical argument.–Wikipedia
Generally, in discussions or debates, those who lack scientific evidence (which is based on the logical scientific method), have only one choice–resort to one of many logical fallacies. Over time, distinct types of logical fallacies that help define a failure of a pseudoscientific argument. Let’s look at one that is popular with the antivaccination crowd.
People want the easy way to correct their health issues. They want to imbue a magical quality to “natural” products to make themselves healthier. They don’t want to take one of those evil Big Pharma drugs. Or put in the discipline or effort to reverse a chronic disease. If all that was not true, we probably wouldn’t see a million advertisements for supplements and “natural” foods that make you thinner, healthier, smarter, stronger, better. Of course, if even 1% of the claims (or outright fabrications) made by these hawkers of these supplements were supported by real science, physicians and Big Pharma would be unnecessary.
One of the diseases for which everyone is searching for a panacea is diabetes. It is essentially a disease of blood glucose management and is really several, unrelated diseases. Type 1 diabetes mellitus, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, results from a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Until insulin was discovered and isolated, type 1 diabetes was essentially a death sentence. And today, with bioengineered human insulin (until the 1980′s, when recombinant DNA insulin was manufactured, insulin was purified from pigs), patients can live relatively normal, healthy lives with type 1 diabetes. Most individuals contract the disease in childhood, although one form, latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA) is very similar to Type 1 diabetes, but the autoimmune disease strikes well after the common ages of Type 1. It is still treated with insulin.
(more…) «Cinnamon to manage diabetes? Don’t…»
I’m writing this opinion piece not for those who vaccinate themselves or their children, because they accept the science either because they reviewed it and accepted it, or they just know that vaccines work and are relatively safe.
On the other hand, this article is not written for the antivaccinationists, because they don’t listen to logic anyways. They ignore real science to invent their own, based on lies, pseudoscience, and logical fallacies.
No, this article is written for those who may be on the fence about vaccines, and thinks there’s some sort of balanced discussion or debate about vaccines. It’s time to dispel the false-balance discussion pushed by pseudoscience for the simple reason because they lack the intellectual and scientific evidence.
Let’s look at how the antivaccinationists have gone off the rails of real scientific understanding.
(more…) «Opinion: why vaccine denialism is…»
If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying. Those myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.
One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination lunacy is that there are too many immunizations for the poor baby’s tender immune system. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.
Let’s start out with a basic point–acupuncture does not work. For anything in medicine. And because there is a small, but significant, risk associated with the “procedure,” the risk to benefit ratio is huge (if not infinity, since there is no benefit).
Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”
Further, negative studies do not demonstrate an effect size of zero, but rather that any possible effect is likely to be smaller than the power of existing research to detect. The greater the number and power of such studies, however, the closer this remaining possible effect size gets to zero. At some point the remaining possible effect becomes clinically insignificant.
In other words, clinical research may not be able to detect the difference between zero effect and a tiny effect, but at some point it becomes irrelevant.
(more…) «Treating depression with acupuncture-evidence is…»
Ginkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.
The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity.
(more…) «Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth…»
When Big Pharma develops a new prescription medication, the regulatory authorities, such as the US FDA, set regulatory guidelines for not only the claims made by the company but also for the manufacturing standards. Every ingredient used to manufacture a pill or injectable must be listed in the package insert and must be tested during the three or phases of clinical trials.
In general, if a pharmaceutical company makes any changes to the ingredients, even something as simple as a binder in the pill, it must re-file with the regulatory authorities for clearance to do so. Even if a manufacturer changes equipment or a process, without changing the the ingredients, it is required to file those changes with the FDA, and they may not proceed with the change.
The same is not true of so called “natural health products.” In fact, according to a study published in BMC Medicine, the majority of herbal products on the market contain ingredients that are not listed on the product’s label. Furthermore, these companies (let’s call them Big Herbal) often substitute some of the ingredients with cheaper, untested alternatives and fillers.
(more…) «“Natural” supplements are filled with…»
There are so many silly memes that have arisen from the vaccine deniers, most of which have been thoroughly debunked. Everything from the well-worn (and worn-out) “vaccines cause autism” fable, which I have quashed here, to the “these diseases aren’t dangerous”, which, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
One of the more annoying of the tales pushed by the vaccine refusers is that vaccines aren’t tested thoroughly before being used on unsuspecting infants. I do not know where this started, or why it started, but like much in the anti-vaccination world, it really doesn’t matter. It just passes from one person to another across google, and individuals with no research background hold this particular belief as if it were the Truth™.
Not only are vaccines thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy before being marketed, they also are rigorously tested in various combinations with other vaccines. And I’m not Cherry Picking a few articles to support my point of view, unless by cherry-picking you mean I’m picking the best articles from the highest quality journals in medicine.
(more…) «Vaccines aren’t tested–myth vs. science…»
It’s getting colder outside, and if you go into any pharmacy, grocery store, chemist, or superstore, you will find literally a dozen or more homeopathic, herbal, or other unproven lotions and potions to prevent or treat the common cold, or rhinovirus. These supplements are a significant part of the annual US$108 billion dollar supplement/nutraceutical industry.
These alternative medicine (so named because there is no scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, let alone safety) products make claims that are so wonderful, many people take them. Then they themselves tell their friends how fast they got rid of their cold. Or that their cold wasn’t as bad after taking the supplement.
The problem is that determine the length and severity of the course of the common cold is entirely subjective. Since the disease is rather mild with few serious complications, it’s hard to determine when it exactly stopped and started, and how bad it was. The common cold tends to resolve itself without external help, but there really isn’t much you can do to make your immune system attack that cold faster.
Scientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examining of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.
In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence taken from other sources. Peer review is the evaluation of a scientific work by one or more people of similar competence (usually in the same field) to the producers of the work. Mostly, the peer review is blinded, in that the reviewers generally don’t know the authors (although it may not be difficult to uncover, especially if the paper is in an esoteric field of science). Peer review constitutes a form of self-policing of science by qualified members of a profession within the field of research. It is through this system of criticism and review that makes many journals, and the articles published within, powerful pieces of evidence in science.
In addition to peer review, there are other ways to ascertain the quality of research in a particular journal. Articles in high quality journals are cited more often because high quality journals just attract the best scientific articles. Higher quality journals employ a more meticulous and exhaustive peer-review.
Although somewhat controversial, journals are ranked using a metric called “impact factor” that essentially expresses numerically how many times an average article in a particular journal is cited by other articles in an index of all other journals in the same general field. The impact factor could range from 0 (no one ever cites it) to some huge number, but the largest is in the 50-70 range. One of the highest impact factor journals is the Annual Review of Immunology, which is traditionally has an impact factor in the 50′s–this would indicate that an average article published in that journal is cited by other medical articles an average of 50 times (an outstanding number).
(more…) «Proliferation of fake peer-review journals»
One of the cherished strategies of the vaccine deniers is to use 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. Spend anything 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.
There are a lot of myths about what PI’s are and aren’t, and what information in them may or may not be useful. It’s time to look at what a PI is and what it really says.
What is a Package Insert?
All of you have probably seen a package insert, it’s a multiple page document that’s included with all real medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). Depending on the type of drug, it can be 30-40 pages long, though most are printed on one huge sheet of very thin paper, so that it can be folded tightly and placed in each box that over-packages the drugs container (vial, bottle, etc).
In general, package inserts are part of what is called the “labeling” of the drug, which means all the verbiage that pharmaceutical company may say about the drug. You will hear FDA regulators and individuals in pharmaceutical companies refer to “labeling” all of the time. Labeling is strictly regulated and it includes everything from the box in which the drug is shipped to any print or video advertising. Even what sales reps say to physicians in a sales call is covered by the drug’s labeling. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has established very strict rules in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) on what can be and cannot be stated in the package insert. There is very little variance from one PI to another one even for very different classes of drugs. The regulations even state the type and size of font used in the PI.
(more…) «Vaccine package inserts–debunking the myths»
One of the most ubiquitous pseudoscientific claims that I keep hearing from the junk medicine crowd is that this supplement or that food “boosts” the immune system. These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day. And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize how complicated the immune system is by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it science.
And it isn’t that simple.
Using the Graham Coghill’s Science Red Flags, which are indicators of either bad science or unscientific nonsense (and which I’ve used with respect to GMOs), let’s do a quick review of a few outlandish claims of the junk medicine horde. I just cherry picked a few, because their pseudoscience is not the focus of this article. I don’t have that much time to find all the “immune system” rubbish on the internet!
(more…) «Boosting the immune system–sorting science…»