Manufacturing a controversy about the MMR vaccine

MMR vaccines and the manufactroversy

First published 25 June 2012, updated on 2 March 2015.

Here we go again with the trope that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The Daily Mail, a British middle market tabloid, has published an article, MMR: A mother’s victory: The vast majority of doctors say there is no link between the triple jab and autism, but could an Italian court case reignite this controversial debate?, that is attempting to create a controversy out of thin air about the MMR vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella. The article is referring to an insane Italian court ruling which, despite all evidence to the contrary, blamed a child’s autism on the vaccination.

Update–in February 2015, an Italian Court of Appeals overturns the decision by the Provincial Court, so the vaccine denier claim that “Italian courts state that vaccines cause autism” can be dismissed. Mostly.

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What does science say about GMO’s–they’re safe

scaremongering-Wordle

Updated 1 March 2015.

The science deniers of the world, whether they deny evolution, global warming, vaccines, or GMO safety, spend their time inventing pseudoscience to support their beliefs and claims. As I have written previously, “Pseudoscience is easy. It doesn’t take work. It’s the lazy man’s (or woman’s) “science.” But it has no value, and because it lacks high quality evidence in support of it, it should be dismissed, and it should not be a part of the conversation.”

Alternatively, real science is really hard. And it takes time. And it’s based on high quality evidence. And it is repeated. And it is almost always published in high quality journals. As I’ve said a thousand times, real science takes hard work and is intellectually challenging. You just don’t wake up one day and say “I’m a scientist.” No, it requires college, graduate school, teaching, working in world class laboratories, publishing, defending your ideas to your peers, and one day, if you don’t stop, you will be an authority in your little field of science.

The anti-GMO crowd is mostly lazy. They have this luddite belief that all technology is bad, but have absolutely no evidence to support it. Sure, they pick out one or two poorly done articles and then shout for all the world to hear “GMO’s are dangerous to…bees, humans, babies, whales, trees” over and over and over again.  Yet what do the GMO refusers really bring to the table? 
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The Frankensquito–stopping Dengue fever in the Florida Keys

giant-mosquito

At this point, the world is no stranger to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), though admittedly it’s mostly with food crops. The consensus of real science (not the biased political versions) is that GMOs are safe to humans and the environment.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about an innovative and small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, which has developed genetically modified male mosquitoes, sometimes referred to as  Frankensquitos (a term I fully embrace as being both ironic and descriptive) that would mate with wild females. Those females would produce offspring that would not survive to adults, because they require an antibiotic, tetracycline, in their diet, something that isn’t usually available in the the wild. Over time, with multiple releases of males, the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the vector for transmitting Dengue fever and other tropical diseases, such as Chikungunya, would fall to such a level that transmission of these diseases would be significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
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Vaccines increase rate of Type 1 diabetes–another myth refuted

 

Diabetes wordcloud

Published 16 March 2014
Updated 14 January 2015

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

A lot of the vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause a lot of everything, and several claim that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes (or here), based on little evidence. As far as I can tell, this myth is based on the “research” from  J. Barthelow Classen, M.D., who has pushed the idea that vaccines causes type 1 diabetes, through some magical process that has never been supported by other independent evidence. In another example of the antivaccination world’s cherry picking evidence to support their a priori conclusions, they ignore the utter lack of plausible evidence supporting this belief.

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

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How science deniers use false equivalency to pretend there’s a debate

Science vs BS

Original article published 18 December 2012
Revised 30 December 2012
Revised 7 July 2013
Revised 3 November 2013
Revised 2 December 2013
Revised 25 June 2014
Revised 8 January 2015

If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.

Part of the problem is that some people think that science is unapproachable and too hard to comprehend. It isn’t. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s easy, because it shouldn’t be. Answering questions about the natural universe requires, demands that scientist approach it with the least amount of bias and the most amount of evidence. And sometimes it is complex and nuanced, but why do people give false balance to someone, without the expertise or education in the field, as if they know more about the issue than does the scientist.

To become a world class architect and to design a skyscraper isn’t easy, but we non-architects can observe what we see, and accept that the building isn’t going to topple over in a hurricane. Do we presume to know how the foundation has to be built to support the building? Or what materials are used to give flexibility in a wind, but strong enough to not collapse? Mostly, we don’t, we trust that there isn’t a massive conspiracy to build unsafe skyscrapers because architects are being paid off by Big Concrete to use cheaper materials. We don’t question the architects’s motives or whether there are solid engineering principles, probably outside of most of our understanding, that were employed to make that skyscraper.

It’s the same with science. We can accept scientific principles without doing the research ourselves. But, and it’s a big but, if you want to dispute accepted science, then you have to bring science to the table not a false debate. Science isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy either. You cannot deny basic scientific facts without getting a solid education, opening a scientific laboratory staffed with world-class scientists, and then publishing peer-reviewed articles that can help move the prevailing scientific consensus. You cannot spend an hour or a day or even a week Googling a few websites and then loudly proclaim that the scientific consensus is wrong; no, you need to do the hard work. Until you do, those of us who are skeptics and scientists get to ignore you, and we get to continue with the current consensus.
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The annual report of Skeptical Raptor’s blog–2014

2014-annual-report

Actually, it’s not so annual, cause this is the first time I’ve done it, more or less.

I started this blog in January 2012. Just three years ago. I really didn’t know what subjects would be my focus, but it was science generally. I kind of wandered around for the first few months, before I think I hit my stride with vaccines, junk medicine, evolution (though I really need to move back into that area), and other things that captured my interest.

In January 2012, I had precisely 262 page views. For the whole month. I really thought “why bother.” For 2012, I had 184,000 page views, which still made me wonder if the effort was worth it.

In November 2014, I had over 278,000 unique page views, meaning I did more in November than I did in all of 2012. For 2014, I had nearly 1.2 million unique page views, which meant this website is ranked 278,000th in the world. OK, that sounds terrible, except that there’s 1,200,000,000 (1.2 billion if you hate counting zeroes) websites on the interwebs as of this moment. So this blog ranks in the top 0.023% of all websites on the internet. It’s no Facebook or Amazon, but then again, I have reach goals for this blog, and those aren’t it!

My goal is to provide scientific evidence for science and medicine, while doing the same against pseudoscientific myths and memes that are popular on the social networks. I do it with my style–take no prisoners, and use the highest standards of evidence. I refuse to accept a cherry-picked study that supports an a priori conclusion, when the scientific consensus, based on a mountainous body of evidence, is a formidable fortress of knowledge.

I seriously get frustrated when people think that their opinion somehow trumps the scientific consensus. Or that they think they can lie or intentionally abuse data to fit their “beliefs.” Climate change deniers. Evolution deniers. Vaccine deniers. GMO deniers. HIV/AIDS deniers. All use the same methodology to make their points. Whining about so-called problems, based on nonsense and ignorance. Depending upon false authorities to “prove” that the denier point of view deserves respect. Finding the one study that is an outlier, and ignoring the mountains of evidence supporting the scientific consensus. Providing false-balanced presentations that make it appear that there is really a debate. Using personal attacks and conspiracy theories to attack the character of thoughtful and intellectually superior science supporters.

If it weren’t so dangerous, we’d laugh at these people. Well, I still mock them, but I know they are dangerous lunatics.

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GMO opponents are the left’s version of global warming deniers

Zombies and GMO. Can't go wrong.
Zombies and GMO. Can’t go wrong.

Originally published 19 May 2014
Updated 22 December 2014.

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.
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I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

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

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

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). These individuals actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really?
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Genetically engineered insulin does not cause cancer in diabetics

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

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

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

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

No-MSG2Updated 5 December 2014

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

But there is one food additive that appears to be the root of all evil–MSG. How many times have you been to a Chinese restaurant where they put up signs with NO MSG ADDED? Just so you know, unless that restaurant isn’t using soy sauce (one of the major components of nearly all Chinese food flavorings), the amount of MSG in your Kung Pao Chicken is still quite high, because that soy sauce has more MSG in it than could possibly be added by a shaker of MSG.

Background

MSG has no taste by itself, but it is used by many professional cooks as a flavor enhancer, improving and enhancing the flavor of almost any food. The taste that is enhanced by MSG is different than the standard sour, sweet, bitter and salt flavors–it is called “umami,” which also is enhanced by substances like soy sauce. It’s the savory flavor that one finds that is different from the commonly stated “four tastes” that chefs used to consider when developing flavors for food. The taste enhancing quality of MSG is not well understood, but it’s possible that humans evolved the pleasurable taste of umami as a result of natural selection favoring those who enjoy eating high quality protein foods.

MSG has been used as a flavor enhancer for several thousand years. It is one of the key components of many Asian cuisines, especially Japanese who have extracted MSG from kelp for centuries. The Romans used a sauce called garummade from fermented fish, that was used instead of more expensive salt. In fact, MSG can be used to mask bad flavors, such as spoiled meat, just like salt.

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