Last week, I wrote an article about the growing whooping cough epidemic in Australia, which, of course, brought the absolute nutjobbery out of the woodwork in the form of Meryl Dorey, who is the leading mouthpiece for the anti-vaccination lunacy in Australia. She is no different than any other pseudoscience propagandist, such as the ones found in the anti-evolution crowd, global warming and HIV/AIDS denialists, and sasquatch/alien abduction/Loch Ness Monster/crop circle idiots. That’s right, there is no difference between creationism, sasquatch and homeopathy–no science, and a lot of beliefs based on…nothing.
(more…) «Ken Ham is clueless about…»
No, it’s not how the UK is getting our bad reality TV. We actually stole that from the BBC.
No, it’s not getting obese from eating too many fast foot restaurants. To use the old adage, “that ship has sailed.”
No, it’s not religion becoming a part of the political discourse. Oh wait, here we go.
First a little background. During a football match (the British version, what we call soccer, something we haven’t borrowed from them), a player named Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch (field). Only 23 years old, he had a cardiac arrest, and he was defibrillated 12 times over a 78 minute time period before his heart restarted. The newspapers in England (not always known for their ability to control sensationalist headlines) touted that he was dead for 78 minutes, and that it was some sort of miracle that he survived.
(more…) «The UK is learning bad…»
The other day, I was watching some news story about climate change; it was mostly from the denialist point of view, but I was struck by what seemed to be almost the same arguments that the creationist folks say about evolution. I began to wonder if there was a religious component to the global warming denialists, maybe at the same fundamentalist belief level as the creationists.
While I was digging through the Huffington Post’s Science Section (which publishes story about how homeopathy works or how a bug jumping on a camera lens is obviously a UFO chasing the powerful Chilean Air Force, I noticed a couple of articles by Victor Stenger, a world-renowned particle physicist who writes about scientific skepticism of religion and faith. It’s possible that I’m too harsh about HuffPo’s general anti-science content, though Stenger only partially makes up for the rest of the anti-science articles on HuffPo.
(more…) «Religion and global warning denialism»
The anti-vaccination lunacy is made up of lot of individuals who push the various myths and pseudoscience regarding vaccines onto the planet. There’s Andy Wakefield, whose original article was withdrawn by the medical journal who published it, and who was stripped of his medical license because he perpetrated a fraud. Why he’s not sitting in a British prison is beyond my understanding.
In my recent post about Bill Moyers and the anti-vaccine lunacy, I referred to the Straw Man Fallacy, which I’ve just added to my Logical Fallacy FAQ. I try to keep my FAQ to a few sentences (and I will add links to more complex descriptions of the fallacies), trying to make it easy to grasp the essence of the particular fallacy.
The New York Times article, Heartland Institute Leak, a Plan to Discredit Climate Teaching, obtained some leaked documents from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that denies the link between second hand smoke and cancer; and denies anthropomorphic global warming (human-caused climate change). These documents outlined “plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet.” According to the Heartland Institute, “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective (pdf file).”
❝The culture wars have been fought in the classroom for decades, waged over such issues as school prayer, the teaching of evolution and whether the Pledge of Allegiance should include the phrase “under God.” But the conflict usually pits backers of religious instruction against secularists. The latest skirmish, by contrast, is centered on a scientific issue that has nothing to do with religious teaching: climate change.
(more…) «Climate change denialists targeting classrooms»
We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups: anti-vaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch. The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience” as if it’s a pejorative without foundation.
(more…) «Pseudoscience and the anti-vaccine lunacy»
I do yeoman’s work reading the stupidity on the internet so you don’t have to do it yourself. Some of it makes me feel unclean–I hate that I contribute to the google rankings of some of these websites by even clicking on these websites. The Age of Autism (no, I will not make a link to it) is one of the most offensive of the anti-vaccination websites, although that ranking changes depending on what is posted. It’s not just me who thinks they’re bad, but Skeptoid (Brian Dunning) himself considers it one of the Top Ten Worst Anti-science Websites. According to Dunning:
❝This website of investigative reporter Dan Olmsted promotes his own notions that autism is caused by mercury toxicity (contrary to what we’ve learned scientifically), that it is increasing dramatically at epidemic proportions, not just in counting methods but in actual incidence (contrary to whats been measured), and that it can be cured by holistic treatments, supplementation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, removal of dental fillings, and bowel cleansing (contrary to all research done on these methods).
Web authors like Olmsted obviously must know that their writing is at variance with science based findings, so there must be some kind of cognitive dissonance going on, outright dishonesty, or perhaps even a belief in a global Big Pharma conspiracy of bad science.❞
(more…) «More misinformation, lies, distortions and…»
This morning, I was reading a posting by Orac, the nom de guerre (or nom de blog, according to him) of a rather snarky, humorous, and brilliant (yeah, I think he’s brilliant) surgeon hiding somewhere in the midwest. In his article, The Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement, he amusingly and pointedly exposes the pathetic myths of the anti-vaccine movement. Seriously, it’s not that hard dismissing the unsupported claims of the vaccine denialists, but the postings from the evidence-based crowd are necessary to make sure those people who make decisions through the University of Google Medical School have some accurate information. At least that’s the theory.
So what is a trope? If you’re talking about a religious service, it’s a musical embellishment, which sounds about right. But in writing, a trope is a word or words that are used in a sense that is different from their literal meaning. Hyperbole, used frequently by the vaccine denialism gang, is an example.
Orac listed several tactics, then the tropes, of the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s clear that they are used by the Big 3 of pseudoscience, Climate Change Denialists, Evolution Denialists (creationist) and Vaccine Denialists. There are others, of course, like the HIV/AIDS denialists (claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS), and Physics Denialists (homeopathy). First their tactics (liberally paraphrasing and embellishing on what Orac wrote):
- Skewing the science. This involves cherry picking studies, quote-mining, and attacking science that doesn’t support their denialist point-of-view, while trumpeting any report or study that supports them. The Big 3 of Denialism even attempt to rename their pseudoscience into “science”, with creation science and the “theory” of Intelligent design by way of illustration. Case in point, Generation Rescue, Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine denialism website, contains a list of ingredients in vaccines and the side effects. No citations. No list of the concentration of ingredients. No description of the actual risk of said side effects. In other words, it looks like science. But it doesn’t even meet the standards of a high school science paper or Wikipedia.
- Shifting hypotheses. Using a football metaphor, Orac calls it, “moving the goalposts.” The denialist crowd changes either their requirements for evidence or just dismiss whatever evidence that doesn’t support their point-of-view. One of the best examples (of so many good ones) is the old macro vs. micro-evolution canard used by creationists. For scientists, macroevolution (change in a large population of organisms over geologic time periods) and microevolution (change at a species level over a relatively short period of time, usually one that is observable) are both driven by the same mechanisms, that is genetic drift and natural selection. Creationists will regularly state that they “believe” in microevolution but not macroevolution. Science answers questions, and it thrives on answering new ones. But artificial questions that are just invented to shift the emphasis is a waste of time.
- Censorship. This is an extreme characteristic of all anti-science movements. For example, the Age of Autism does not allow dissenting comments in any of their discussions about vaccines. Answers in Genesis, the evolution denialist website, only “answers” questions that are moderated. Real science loves these discussions. If some vaccine denier came to this website, I’d engage them in debate (except it’s hard to debate someone who doesn’t use real evidence).
- Attacking the opposition. Dr. Paul Offit, a respected pediatrician, is regularly attacked by the anti-vaccine gangsters (sorry, I fell into hyperbole, please pardon the mess), because of his writings on the subject of the safety of vaccines. His 2011 book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, probably angered those gangsters (oops, once again) as much as anything. Orac himself apparently had an email campaign written about his evil ways passed along to his university (I guess his nom de blog isn’t that secret). I once spent a substantial amount of time editing Wikipedia anonymously, focusing on vaccines, evolution, and alternative medicine articles. I was very careful with my identity, but someone found my address in California and began spamming my email and regular mail. They contacted my employer, but since it was my company, I wasn’t too concerned.
And now the tropes (mostly from the vaccine denialist mob):
- “I’m not antivaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccines.” Of course, there’s no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, but this sounds good. A similar one is the evolution denialist “I believe in microevolution, but not in macroevolution.” Or the climate change version, “sure, the temperature is rising, I just don’t believe humans are involved.”
- Vaccines are toxic. Thoroughly debunked and debunked.
- A demand for absolute safety. As anyone who’s in medicine states, every medical procedure, technique, injection, device, pharmaceutical, or whatever else has some risk. When the benefits outweigh the risk, then the choice is clear. When the benefits outweigh an invented risk, then it’s extremely clear.
- A demand for absolute “proof” that vaccines are safe. I hate these arguments. Science doesn’t work in absolute proofs, it works to provide evidence that supports a hypothesis. Science is open-minded, so it demands the best possible evidence, but leaves the possibility that an alternative hypothesis may supplant the original one.
- “Vaccines didn’t save us.” Pure delusion.
- Vaccines are “unnatural.” This trope is used by the alternative medicine world every day, because, they state, without any evidence, “natural” is better than real science. In fact, there’s nothing more natural than inducing an immune response, since it happens billions of times. Debunked.
- Choosing between “vaccine injury” and disease. What injury? Last I checked, the real evidence doesn’t support vaccine injury. So, there is no choice, since the real disease is worst.
What is troublesome about these tropes is that they are simple to state. ”Vaccines are toxic” is a three word statement that is scary, even if not supported by evidence. To discredit it, one needs to discuss each of the ingredients, providing real evidence, and then try to tie it all together. That’s way beyond three words. I once heard Paul Offit on NPR, and his answers were intelligent and correct, but they are so nuanced and complex, the listeners defaulted to the “vaccines are toxic” meme.
I believe that patients should be informed about their health and their healthcare choices. But searching the internet for this information has always troubled me. If you google “vaccines and autism”, you get over 7 million hits (with number 2 being the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, so that’s comforting). But what is the quality of these hits? Is Wikipedia a good choice? Well, I’ll answer that question because I know a couple of physicians and medical researchers watch over it carefully. In todays world of the interwebs, readers tend to accept every website as being “the truth”. I know people who actually count the number of websites that support a particular point of view!
Where are the critical thinking skills? I bet the various science deniers will state that they are thinking critically, but mostly what I see is trying to support a viewpoint by manipulating the information, instead of being openminded. It is difficult to engage in this discussion with such individuals.
I didn’t realize how many bloggers about vaccines posted on this woman. It makes me a bit concerned that we’ve given her more credit than she deserves, but it’s important to stamp out the vaccine denialism quickly. So when someone googles “Patriot Nurse”, they find the evidence-based discussions, not the ranting of a woo-meister.
Vaccines are safe and effective. Scientific study has shown this to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt. No vaccine – or any medication – is without risks, and I would encourage people to speak to their physician if they are having doubts or questions. Remember that anyone can post anything they wish on the internet – be it true or not. And simply because something SOUNDS authoritative does not make it correct.
Good morning angry supporters of The Patriot Nurse (TPN).
No one is debating your RIGHT to choose whether or not to vaccinate. But if you have the right to NOT vaccinate, then a patient – especially parents who …will be giving birth to a vulnerable neonate under your care – should have the right to choose whether or not you act as their nurse.
NO one is after The Patriot Nurse’s job. A science writer for a legitimate science zine contacted her work to verify her identity. Which is exactly what a responsible writer does before publication – verifies a source.
Non-vaccinating nurses at other hospitals have to take isolation per-cautions(gloves, gown, mask). This is to protect them and protect the patients. Regardless of whether YOU think vaccines work – science sure thinks that they do, and the employers have a right and a duty to protect those under its care.
The Patriot Nurse is a sham. She states in her video that saying this comes as a great cost to her as a nurse. If she so firmly believes in her anti-vaccination rhetoric – so much so that she would post it online AND STATE THAT SHE WAS A NURSE – then she should be well aware of the potential consequences.
All of you crying “free speech” are being deceived. The Patriot Nurse has deleted EVERY SINGLE comment that was not entirely supportive of her. You can’t claim that her free speech is in jeopardy while she refuses that right to others.
The Patriot Nurse made a video. A stupid video. In which she makes very very basic scientific errors. She was called to answer to those errors on her page, on this blog, on Orac’s blog and elsewhere. She refused to do so. She is not interested in having a dialogue. She had her little diatribe and that was that. NO ONE is so special that they can make sweeping, erroneous statements without recourse.
I know that you anti-vaccination activists have a lot of other anti-vaccination friends online. But the fact of the matter is that 94% of people are still vaccinating. You’re a blip on the radar. You’re the new “trendy” thing to be against. But when it comes down to it, all but a handful of people are intelligent enough to realize that:
1) there is NOT a global conspiracy of scientists and doctors trying to poison your children
2) a few bad nurses or doctors do not discount the whole of the scientific method; nor are the opinions of a few more valid than the opinions of millions
3) researching vaccines on Google is NOT equal to going to post-secondary education for 10+ years to be a physician, pediatrician, immunologist or what have you.
The Patriot Nurse is not a martyr. She is a nurse who is expected to uphold the ideals and principles of her nursing organization and employer. And seeing as those things adhere to evidence-based medicine – and she doesn’t – she now has a problem. She brought it on herself. It was her choice not to vaccinate, and it their choice (and DUTY to the public) to deal with her how they see fit.
Every so often, I come across a bit of antivaccine idiocy that’s so amazingly idiotic, such a–shall we say?–target-rich environment that it’s catnip to a cat. I just can’t resist it, even when there are other topics and subjects out there that have backed up over the last few days and I want to cover. You’ll see why in a minute. In this particular case the antivaccine lunacy comes in the form of a video that’s been making the rounds amazingly quickly the anti-vaccine crankosphere since it was released yesterday.
Of course, whose advice you follow on such matters is your call. You can put your faith in the paranoid rantings of the Patriot Nurse, PlayBoy models and inconsequential actresses or base your opinions on the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that shows, though not perfect, for the vast majority of human beings that receive them, vaccines are safe and the best protection against potentially disabling and deadly diseases that infect us.
Pseudoscience pushing individuals can be likened to zombies. They have no brains, and their only goal in life is to eat the brains of those who don’t adhere to their position. The anti-vaccine crowd are my favorite zombies, because the metaphor can be further extended because the victims of these zombies can die (the logical result of non-vaccination).
Yesterday, I ran across this YouTube video by someone called the PatriotNurse. As an aside, WordPress (the blogging software I use) allows for embedding of YouTube videos, which is perfectly within my programming capabilities. But for some unknown, and admittedly perplexing reason, PatriotNurse disabled the embedding feature. Lacking evidence, I won’t speculate as to why. She also has disabled comments to her video by stating, “The comments are OFF for many reasons. Foremost is that I refuse to be abused for a contrarian viewpoint that goes against mainstream “Sickcare.” In other words, she refuses to allow her zombie ideas to be shown in the bright light of the day. Also, if you look at her other videos, well, let’s just say I’m concerned about who trained her as a nurse and who would currently employ her, but that’s not the point here.
Basically she uses the standard repertoire of unsupported claims, canards and fairytales that most vaccine denialists use to make their case. Every once in a while we should list out all their claims, debunk them, and refer to them in the future. The anti-evolution crowd, which probably relies upon 100 times more myths than the anti-vaccine group, has spawned a few websites that list out creationist claims, then thoroughly debunks them. At this time, the anti-vax websites focus on just a few claims, all of which are easily dismissed.
In order of weakness of the argument, here we go!
- After my friend’s neighbor’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter was vaccinated, she got….This argument is a typical example of the logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc or post-hoc fallacy, a Latin phrase which literally means, “after this therefore because of this.” In other words, just because one event follows another event, one cannot conclude the first event caused the second event. Or even that they are even peripherally related. One of the worst mistakes in science is conflating correlation (this event happens when another event happens) with causation (that one event actually causes the second event). Let’s put it this way. I’m sure a certain percentage of children who are vaccinated break there arms in a fall, get a cold, or draw on the wall with a pen. I’m sure some of us recall such an event. But are they related to the vaccination? Well, I’m sure someone would make a case that the child going to the pediatrician’s office to get a vaccine picks up a cold from another kid, but that’s a perfect example of pure coincidence. In other words, without providing a logical mechanism for the correlation, then causation is far from proven.
- Everyone I know who gets a vaccination gets sick, paralyzed, or (put almost anything here). Similar to the post-hoc fallacy, it depends on a confirmation bias, that is, individuals look for evidence that supports their own beliefs or assumptions, ignoring all else. Of course, the vast majority of children or adults that get vaccinated do not have any serious side effects (nota bene: I chose one of literally thousands of articles that dismiss any serious side effects from vaccines). Essentially, this claim barely rises above personal anecdote.
- Vaccines cause autism. I’m not even sure this claim should be discussed because it’s been so thoroughly and scientifically quashed, it is almost sad that it’s still used as an excuse to not vaccinate. But since this is supposed to be a thorough list, I’ll go through the debunking again. Andrew Wakefield, who first invented the claim in a article in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Eventually, several co-authors removed their names from the paper in 2004, and finally the article was fully retracted by the journal in 2010. Finally, Wakefield was found to be a fraud. Still, the anti-vax conspiracists believe that vaccines cause autism, despite substantial evidence in peer reviewed journals (pdf file). Since all the evidence dismisses the claim, but it’s still trotted out by anti-vaxers, one can only reply with the evidence.
- Vaccines contain mercury. In the past, a mercury-organic compound called thimerosal was used as a preservative in certain vaccines, especially those that were labeled for multiple doses (vaccines vials are often doses of 10). But to be perfectly clear, thimerosal is not metallic mercury floating in the vial, it is a compound that is bound up in a rather large organic molecule, meaning that the mercury itself is inaccessible to the body and will be excreted. Cans of tuna, a typical childhood meal, contains several times more mercury in the form of methyl mercury, which is easily absorbed by the gut and can be dangerous. Vaccines that contain thiomersal contain about 25µg (or mcg or micrograms) of mercury. A 125g (about 4 oz) portion of canned tuna contains about the same amount.
- Vaccines contain mercury–but injected is worse than eating it. The discussion then moves to the myth that ingesting mercury from foods is somehow better than getting it injected. Before we continue, remember the mercury in vaccines is thiomersal which is bound up by a relatively large organic molecule. This is a method used in a lot of pharmacological applications to isolate toxic metals from the body, but still derive a benefit from them. Contrast agents used in enhanced radiology exams (like CT’s) contain iodine, also fairly toxic. The organic molecule protects the patient from the toxic effects, while soon after the exam (usually within 30 minutes), the contrast agent is excreted. The same with thiomersal. Ingested mercury, in the form of methyl mercury (found in most fish), is actually absorbed faster, and methyl mercury also disperses to more organ systems because it mimics an essential amino acid, methionone. There are no physiological mechanisms that block the uptake of a small molecule like methyl mercury, so the effect might be worse than thiomersal.
- Vaccines contain mercury, oh my. Except, they don’t contain mercury, save for some flu vaccines. So, not only eating tuna sandwiches is a larger mercury source, vaccines is not a mercury source.
- Vaccines contain aluminum. So we dispensed with the mercury myth, but a new one shows up. In this case, vaccines do contain aluminum, in the form of aluminum salts. It is used as an adjuvant to increase the immune response of the vaccine, an important requirement to confer immunity to the disease. However, more aluminum comes from food sources (like breast milk) than from vaccines. “During the first 6 months of life, infants could receive about 4 milligrams of aluminum from vaccines. That’s not very much: a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram and a gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water. During the same period, babies will also receive about 10 milligrams of aluminum in breast milk, about 40 milligrams in infant formula, or about 120 milligrams in soy-based formula.”
- Vaccines bypass the gut which is our best immune defense system. It’s hard to disprove something that has no basis in real physiology. If this claim were true, of course, we’d never be afflicted by most pathogens, and we wouldn’t need vaccines. The adaptive immune response to immunizations requires interaction with the internal organs and blood.
- Too many vaccinations. While listening to video (I couldn’t bear to watch), PatriotNurse mentioned another old canard about too many vaccine doses given to infants and toddlers. Apparently, the anti-vaccination zombies need to run from one debunked myth to another one. Paul Offit, much hated by the anti-vaccine gang, has stated that “Vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system. Although the infant immune system is relatively naive, it is immediately capable of generating a vast array of protective responses; even conservative estimates predict the capacity to respond to thousands of vaccines simultaneously”, that “multiple vaccinations do not weaken the immune system,” and that “vaccines represent a minute fraction of what a child’s immune system routinely navigates; the average child is infected with 4–6 viruses per year.”
- It’s a Big Pharma conspiracy. This conspiracy is huge, because it includes the CDC, FDA, major medical journals, physicians, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. Of all the logical fallacies, the Appeal to a Grand Conspiracy is one of the most annoying. It is difficult to disprove, because the vaccine conspiracists don’t provide any real evidence for their assertion. Since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, their claim lacks even bad evidence.
There might be other arguments that they use, and I’ll be finding them and debunking them. In the meantime, I’m going to create a vaccine FAQ that debunks these things.
Creationists utilize numerous logical fallacies to either “disprove” evolution (using rhetoric and religious text) or to “prove” creationism. Usually, however, they stick with trying to showing how evolution is wrong, thereby, implying that creationism is correct. (I’m going to set aside the fallacy that by simply disproving evolution one proves creationism, you still have to provide evidence for creationism itself.)
I could list them all from “it’s only a theory”, which ignores the fact that a scientific theory stands at the top of hierarchy of scientific thought, essentially considered a fact, to Charles Darwin renouncing evolution on his deathbed, which he didn’t. One of my favorites is the wholesale misunderstanding (either intentionally or through complete ignorance of science) of taxonomy. As Rosa Rubicondior states:
Creationists, either disingenuously, or because of genuine ignorance, seem to have missed the whole point of taxonomy, so they continually make idiotic mistakes which, even though they might imagine them to be valid arguments against evolution, are recognised by those who understand the subject as evidence only of their ignorance. And, with so much information readily and freely available, this ignorance can ONLY be either deliberate or feigned. No one remotely interested in the subject has any excuse for their level of ignorance.
If any has ever heard the creationist meme of “if man evolved from apes, then why are there apes still around,” then you would understand the statement above. Simply put, man evolved from a primate common ancestor (which lead to all the great apes, including chimpanzees and gorillas) about 4-8 million years ago. The common ancestor is not around, but human primate relatives do. In biological terms, the divergence into the various great apes (Family Hominidae) is quite recent. The evidence is not based on supposition and guesswork, there are vast amounts of scientific literature supporting this family tree.
I find these types of arguments from creationists show a complete lack of knowledge of biological sciences, except at the most superficial level. If one looks at the tree of life as a bunch of endpoints without understanding how the tree is built. Of course, if they read these posts from Rosa Rubicondior and others, they would understand it. But I guess I’ll have to agree with Rosa:
Even more unforgivable are those who assiduously maintain their own ignorance by refusing to read anything, like this blog, which might cause them to abandon their cherished beliefs, for these are the people who are quite deliberately and consciously fooling themselves into believing what they know to be false. These will be the ones who are constantly asking what they like to think are the ‘killer knock-down’ questions of biologists and who then ignore the answers and ask the same questions again next week. You only need to read their sanctimonious condescension and pretence to have greater knowledge than the scientists who spend years learning and researching the subject, to see what they are getting out of their intellectual dishonesty.
I wish there were creationists who actually had a scientific background (and there are a few), because the debate is just dull with those who are not. Their knowledge of science is so lacking that I wonder if they consider how much evolutionary science is built into the medical care they receive. Of course, I guess that’s why faith healing exists.
I use Twitter not only to tweet about my favorite sports teams, but to see what’s being said in science, medicine, politics, and anything interesting. I actually have a list (you can read by list if you want) that I call “Pseudoscience” that are tweets from the biggest anti-science medical people around. Today, I received the following tweet:
So that lead me to a post at “Natural News” (OK, I’ll admit that my skeptical radar fired up) entitled, “Medical journal openly questions science, ethics of HPV vaccinations.” As an aside, Natural News’ url for the article is “vaccinations_quack_science_medical_journals.html”; not very subtle are they?
First a little background is necessary before starting this story. Gardasil (Merck’s brand name) is a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus. In early stages, HPV only results in mild symptoms like warts in the genital and anal areas, but in some cases can lead to cervical cancers. The vaccine not only prevents the transmission of the disease but seems to reduce the long-term risks of cancer.
But, I digress. Imagine my reaction to the article. ”Oh no, HPV vaccinations are unethical!!!!!” Call the police. I’ve been all wrong about vaccines. Oh wait, let me look up the original article, because even very unbiased news sources like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times sometimes get medicine wrong. Let me run over to the article before I post my mea culpa about vaccines.
The article, Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine policy and evidence-based medicine: Are they at odds?, published in the Annals of Medicine in December 2011. The authors, Tomljenovic and Shaw are associated with the University of British Columbia, Department of Ophthalmology. I don’t want to degenerate into some sort strawman fallacy, but I question why two individuals in a medical specialty, ostensibly involved with the eyes, are so obsessed with vaccines. Furthermore, they have a long history of anti-vaccination papers, most published in low impact journals. For example, they recently published an article correlating aluminum with autism, though the correlation is specious and providing no causality. One of the worst mistakes of research is conflating causality and correlation.
Moving on to the article, their abstract states:
All drugs are associated with some risks of adverse reactions. Because vaccines represent a special category of drugs, generally given to healthy individuals, uncertain benefits mean that only a small level of risk for adverse reactions is acceptable. Furthermore, medical ethics demand that vaccination should be carried out with the participant’s full and informed consent. This necessitates an objective disclosure of the known or foreseeable vaccination benefits and risks. The way in which HPV vaccines are often promoted to women indicates that such disclosure is not always given from the basis of the best available knowledge. For example, while the world’s leading medical authorities state that HPV vaccines are an important cervical cancer prevention tool, clinical trials show no evidence that HPV vaccination can protect against cervical cancer. Similarly, contrary to claims that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, existing data show that this only applies to developing countries. In the Western world cervical cancer is a rare disease with mortality rates that are several times lower than the rate of reported serious adverse reactions (including deaths) from HPV vaccination. Future vaccination policies should adhere more rigorously to evidence-based medicine and ethical guidelines for informed consent.
I won’t go through each point, but a couple are important to refute:
- Uncertain benefits. The Centers for Disease Control disagrees.
- Clinical trials show no evidence that HPV vaccination can protect against cervical cancer. This is partially true, since HPV-related cancers can take from 15-25 years to arise. Epidemiological data takes time. However, we know that HPV is the cause for several types of cervical and other cancers, so preventing HPV is a logical choice to make, given the prevalence of the virus.
- Vaccination polices should adhere more rigorously to evidence-based medicine. It does already. Pretty strongly. Anti-vaccination, as best as I can tell, is based on fraudulent journal articles (see anything by Andrew Wakefield).
HPV vaccine is safe and efficacious. If you need more information on the HPV vaccine safety, the good researchers at Science Based Medicine did a great article called, The HPV Vaccine (Gardasil) Safety Revisited.
Let me make this clear. Every single medical procedure, pharmaceutical, and device has some risk associated with it. Can you get an infection at the injection site? Yes! Can you be allergic to the injection? Yes! Can it cause paralysis? No. Can it cause a broken leg? No, though if you did a random study, you’d find a large percentage of young girls who broke their legs within six months of being vaccinated, so obviously correlation is equivalent to causation. Or it doesn’t.
If Tomljenovic and Shaw could prove either no benefit with some measurable risk, or little benefit with large risk, then there is an ethical issue with the HPV vaccine. But actually, there is a high level of benefit with almost no risk, or risk that actually is imaginary rather than shown in evidence based medicine. You see, just because you use “evidence-based” in your article title, it doesn’t mean you actually follow it.
HPV vaccine should be recommended for all young men and women (yes, I said men too), reducing the future risk of cancer and it’s burden to the family, individual and health-care system.
Laymen summary: Duesberg has no clue. None.
I spend a lot of time criticizing the vaccine denialists who have taken a fraudulent study, Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet publication claiming a link between MMR vaccinations and autism, to causing families to stop vaccinating children. This has lead to increased measles, whooping cough and other disease rates. All of which are preventable.
But of course, Duesberg, an HIV/AIDS denialist hits a whole new level of harm to others. He claims HIV does not cause AIDS. Actually, there is a ton of evidence that it does. He claims that AZT is ineffective. The evidence says otherwise, and in fact, HAART has decreased AIDS mortality significantly.
And what has this AIDS denialism done? Uganda and South Africa have rising AIDS rates because of this denialism (and a government’s complicity to that denialism).
I wish that Peter Duesberg would go away. But unfortunately, science allows for the gadflies and cranks, which, in this case, cause harm.
As I’ve discussed previously, I find the anti-vaccine movement, linking cases of autism to pediatric vaccinations, to be based on pseudoscientific principles. There are several individuals that have pushed this quackery, but one of the more visible is Jenny McCarthy, ex-Playboy Playmate of the Year (no, I’m not going to link to it), bad actress, and failed game-show host. I am flabbergasted, befuddled, and generally gobsmacked that anyone would listen to this woman, a scientific illiterate, about anything outside of how to model and possibly how to choose a career in bad movies. That parents are making decisions about vaccinating their children based on her bogus beliefs is beyond my simple understanding of the world. I guess if you get an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, you have power!
However, there are always consequences to every action, and there are many by delaying or refusing vaccinations. The Jenny McCarthy Body Count is a website that lists every vaccine-preventable case and death that has occurred since Jenny made public her belief that vaccines caused autism in her son (which many believe is a misdiagnosis) in June 2007. Since then, there have been
142, oops, I mean 866 preventable deaths (as of today). (As an aside, I had taken a screenshot of the Body Count three years ago to make a presentation, and the number was 142. It is horrifying that the number has increased 7X since then.) As the website says, she’s not responsible for everyone one of these cases or deaths. But if she convinces just one person to not adhere to a vaccine schedule for their children, then it’s one too many.
This body count, and Jenny McCarthy’s involvement, would be funny in any other context. Children contracting diseases that can be easily prevented, with few or any side effects, is irresponsible and abusive. An 18 month old child cannot decide whether they receive a vaccination or not, so we must rely upon well-informed parents to make certain it happens. The anti-vaccine movement, based on junk science, causes harm.
And remember, the counter for the number of children who have been diagnosed with autism that has been linked to vaccinations remains at 0.
Time to return to your movies Jenny.
The anti-vaccinationsts have had a lot of success in Europe recently. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, they report these rather gloomy statistics for measles during the Jan-Oct, 2011 time period:
- France–nearly 15,000 measles cases
- Italy–over 4,500 cases
- Spain–almost 1,900 cases
- Europe–over 28,000 cases
Measles is a totally preventable disease with an extremely safe vaccination. And even though there is a belief that measles is not that dangerous, acute measles has a 15% mortality rate.
I see these stories, and I wonder if the anti-vaccination zealots sleep at night knowing the harm they cause.
The Huffington Post is not known for it’s pro-science editorial content, but I do appreciate that Mnookin writes there. The irony is kind of dripping that the article is a plea for responsible science journalism, when it’s posted at HuffPo, but I always enjoy good irony.
Legal thuggery, antivaccine edition, part 3: Andrew Wakefield rallying the troops : Respectful Insolence
The arrogant, narcissistic Andrew Wakefield is going to bring a lawsuit against Brian Deer, the dogged Times of London reporter who not only uncovered that the original Lancet article authored by Wakefield was filled with errors, but uncovered fraud committed by Wakefield.
This is just wrong.
- Peter Duesberg is an AIDS denialist. I don’t mind scientists that try to press for a new theory. It happens more often than one would think, but right now, the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is overwhelming. He’s like the creationist of the virology world..
- He refutes the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs, without providing much evidence, but using this refutation as his “evidence”.
- His rebuttal of the clear cut data of the disaster in South Africa when the government accept the AIDS denialism and anti-retrovirals usage dropped has been refuted a number of times.
- Note that other journals turned him down. The Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology is what is a called a “low impact journal.” It means that the quality of the journal and its readership numbers are quite a bit lower than higher level journals.
Duesberg needs to go away.