FDA approves Zostavax vaccine to prevent shingles in individuals 50 to 59 years of age

One of the consequences of contracting chicken pox (Varicella zoster) is that the virus is not destroyed by the body’s immune system.  Once the symptoms of chicken pox disappear, the virus hides itself in the basal root ganglion, unseen by the immune system.  Even though the body generated an immune response to the original zoster infection, after several decades, the response is either weakened or disappears.

Eventually, due to unknown factors (such as stress or other illnesses), the zoster virus “moves” along the nerve bundles, and causes a second infection with much more serious consequences to the patient.  This second infection is called herpes zoster (despite being the same exact virus, it was given a different name probably because it was originally thought to be two different viruses, but in this case, it’s not given a formal biological binomial name), or more commonly, shingles.  This infection usually happens when the patient is in their 50’s and older, though it can happen at any time. Continue reading “FDA approves Zostavax vaccine to prevent shingles in individuals 50 to 59 years of age”

Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells

Orac, in his blog post, Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells : Respectful Insolence, hits the nail on the head about Mercola, one of the biggest quacks on the internet.  I don’t know if Mercola actually believes in his particular brand of science-denialism, but he uses it for one reason:  to have people with legitimate medical concerns send their money to him.  In case you don’t click on the outlink above, here are some precious quotes from Orac.

[pullquote]Putting the word “visionary” in the same title with the word “Dr. Mercola” is profoundly offensive to anyone who values reason, science, and science-based medicine.[/pullquote] Continue reading “Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells”

Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate

The Republican dominated Indiana Senate passed, by a vote of 28-22, a bill that allows school districts to teach creationism.  The bill’s language states:

❝The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.❞

First of all, evolution doesn’t cover the origin of life, but that’s just one of those mistakes creationists always make.  I’m not sure why they’re including all the religions, possibly to show that it’s not just Christian-oriented creationist myths.  But Scientology? Continue reading “Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate”

Science education in the USA–a critical report

Recently, the Thomas P Fordham Institute, a private think-tank focused on analyzing and critiquing the US public school system, issued a report regarding the state of each US state’s science education standards across a broad spectrum of qualitative measures from the clarity of the standards to content to rigor of the science.  It is an impressive and detailed report analyzing science education state-by-state with links to science education standards and other information.  It is worth reading, even just to find out how your state is doing.

[pullquote]Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.[/pullquote]

The good news

  • California is one of two states (the other being DC)  to get an A on the science report card.  As a resident of the Golden State, I’m proud of this news, though I am somewhat concerned that the state of the economy and budget crisis is not going to help in the future.  It’s also amazing what DC has done given that it is tiny jurisdiction, and that it received a C in 2005.  But since I’m a California, here’s what the report says about my state:

❝The California science standards are truly excellent.  The standards themselves are  reasonably succinct yet quite comprehensive.  This is especially true in high school  chemistry, where topics are covered that are rarely seen in other K-12 standards  documents.  The continuity from grade to grade is superb, thanks in part to the  introductory commentary, and context that the state provides, which relate grade- pecific learning to standards that have been covered in earlier grades, and those that will be covered later.❞

  • Four other states, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Carolina (which surprises me), and Indiana (despite an ongoing unconstitutional attempt to push creationism on its students) received an A-.
  • Seven other states received B’s.  However, if we are to accept a B as an acceptable result for science education in the US, the one area of study that is critical to American economic and technical leadership, then US science education will fall further behind the booming economies in Europe and Asia.
The bad news
  • Given the above information, 38 states had a C or below grade.  In fact, the average “grade” for science education in the US is a C.  Average.  Mediocre.
  • Ten states had F grades, which must indicate that they occasionally use the word “science” in a spelling test.  Some of these states had F’s in the 2005 report, so they’re not even trying to improve.  Even Wisconsin, which has a top-rated university system, received an F for their students.  Maybe the University of Wisconsin’s science programs only accept out-of-staters and international students.
  • Many of the lower performing states don’t even lay out a basic curricula for science.
  • The variability in standards and implementation is inconsistent across the country.  Why should a California child be better trained than one from Alabama?  Of course, the result of that science education is that California has a world-class university system (3 of the top 100 universities in the world are UC-Berkley, UCLA, and UC-San Diego) and is the world leader in computer technology.  Alabama, of course, has good football teams.
The authors of the study gave a few reasons for the low quality of science education in the US.  They listed four reasons that should give us all a reason to worry about the falling science knowledge in this country:
  • An undermining of evolution. Many of us have been writing about the regular demand by conservative Republican state legislatures to foist creationism on their students.  In the famous words of  Theodosius Dobzhansky, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Evolution is one of the four principles of biology (also including cell theory, genetics, and homeostasis), so without a deep and thorough understanding of evolution, medical research will fall apart.  How are we to save lives and treat diseases if students can’t even understand the essentials of biology?

❝Of course, most anti-evolution efforts are aimed more directly at the standards themselves.  And these tactics are.  far more subtle than they once were.  Missouri, for example, has asterisked all “controversial” evolution content in the.  standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that.  will not be assessed.  (Sadly, this marks a step back from that state’s coverage of evolution in 2005.) Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).  And Maryland includes evolution content in its standards but explicitly excludes crucial points from its state assessment.  

Other states have undermined the teaching of evolution by singling it out as somehow not quite as “scientific” as other concepts of similar breadth.  A common technique—used to a greater or lesser extent by Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia—is to direct students to study its “strengths and weaknesses.” 

Far too often, important evolution content is included, but minimally.  Some states mention evolution just once in their standards and never revisit it.  Others—including.  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Nebraska— unnecessarily delay it until high school.

Even some of the nation’s best standards subtly undermine.  the teaching of evolution.  In California, for example, students are told to “understand science, not necessarily [to] accept everything taught.” In New York, students learn that “according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection.” (This is not according to “many” but, in fact, all true scientists.)

Finally, conspicuously missing from the vast majority of states’ standards is mention of human evolution—implying that elements of biological evolution don’t pertain to human life.  This marks a subtle but important victory for creationists: even states with thorough and appropriate coverage of evolution (e.g., Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington) shy away from linking the controversial term with ourselves.  Only four states—Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island—openly embrace human evolution in their current science standards.  (Pennsylvania, which.  referenced human evolution in its previous standards, has omitted it from the more recent version.)❞

  • Propensity to be vague.  Some standards are so unclear and ill-defined that teachers actually have little guidance as to what to teach their students.  California, for example, lists out what students should “know” about electricity upon completion of a physics course.  Within that list, a good science teacher (like the one I had when I was in high school, who developed my interest in sciences) will create a lesson plan that is both invigorating and builds knowledge.  Maybe the intent of some school boards are vague guidelines to inspire independent teaching, but in a subject as critical as the sciences, strict standards are necessary–and good science teachers will use those strict standards to build exciting, challenging and inspiring curricula.
  • Poor integration of scientific inquiry.  Science isn’t all about memorizing muscles, organism names, or how to create the Kreb’s cycle given CO2, H2O and NH3 (my single question in a Biochemistry final exam many years ago).  It’s about the scientific method, the critical and analytical process that essentially leads an individual from observations to a scientific theory.  It’s how science works, it is what distinguishes it from all other forms of thinking.  Apparently, most states don’t guide the teacher on how to provide this type of teaching to their students, a major deficiency.
  • Where did the numbers go?  If evolution is one of the foundations of biology, then mathematics is the foundation of all sciences.  Students need algebra, at a minimum.  But calculus and statistics needs to be integrated into the teaching, as it is critical to analyzing data and understanding how the data makes sense.  Even if someone is going to forsake the sciences for business in college, algebra and calculus are also critical to accounting and finance.
The poor state of science education has effect on everything from the economy to bad medical choices.  Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.
At least California is doing it right.

Source:  The State of State Science Standards in the US, a 2012 Report

Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism?

I am not a fan of Charter Schools for reasons that aren’t relevant to postings about skepticism and science.  One of my issues with them is that the appear to be not very well regulated.  In fact, the basic definition of charter school is that they receive public monies and less regulation as long as they produce results (usually higher standardized test scores).  The definition of a charter school, according to the National Education Association (NEA), is:

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.

NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.

This does not give them carte blanche to violate the constitution of the United States, specifically the Establishment Clause.  A charter school in Michigan, the Byron Center Charter School, had this statement on their website (as recently as last week):

Religion
Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion, it can however, teach both creation and evolution as a theory, and use the Bible as a historical reference.

Let’s break down that sentence.  Yes, the school cannot promote a certain religion.  Several Supreme Court rulings say they can’t, so it’s good to know they understand the US Constitution.  No, they cannot teach both creation and evolution as a theory, since only evolution is a theory and creation is fairytale based on not one single bit of science.  And to use the Bible as a historical reference?  Well, there are some historical references in it, but they are infrequent, and frankly wrapped into fairytales and myths.  So, that sentence could be cut down to “Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion.”

Apparently, they have changed their website this week to remove the offensive, unconstitutional statement.  But just because they removed it from their website does not mean that they’re not teaching creationism in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  I hope that the State of Michigan determines if they’ve been in violation of the law then shut them down.

As the NEA states, “Charter schools should be monitored on a continuing basis and should be subject to modification or closure if children or the public interest is at risk.”  The public interest has been put at risk.

Source:  Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism? | Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Le Mur – Censored

Because I’m so annoyed by the anti-vaccination gangsters, I tend to read nearly every article, blog, and CDC statistic (seriously, I’m a vaccine geek) about vaccines.  While doing some background reading on the Patriot Nurse (read about her if you haven’t), I found a blog called Autismum (it’s been promoted to my favorite blogs in the side bar).  Once I start reading a blog, I keep going back to see what’s up.

She wrote a short post about the French movie, Le Mur (the Wall).  It’s a French documentary about some of the abusive practices in the French medical system for autism, including le Packing, which is a procedure (no, a procedure is evidence based, this is just plain medieval) where an autistic child is wrapped in cold wet sheets.  Now, I’m a Francophile.  My ex-wife is born and bred Parisienne.  Both of my daughters’ first language is le Francaise.  I love French food (mostly).  I find the myths about France and the USA to be amusing and untrue.

But this nauseates me at the basic level.  How can a modern country allow this practice?  What’s worse is that the French government is censoring the movie because, I suppose, it offends them.  This makes me despise French political system and hope that whatever we do to improve the US healthcare system, let’s not emulate France.

If you do anything else, read Support the Wall, and give them whatever verbal, monetary, or political support you can.

Source:  Le Mur – Censored « Autismum

 

No whooping cough deaths in California in 2011

The California Department of Public Health announced this week that there were no whooping cough (pertussis) deaths in California for the first time in 20 years, although there were still over 3000 cases of the infection identified in the state.  As a comparison, there 9000 cases and 10 deaths in 2010 in California.  The state worked closely with hospitals, schools, doctors and clinics to get more people vaccinated against whooping cough, a bacterial infection that afflicts the respiratory system.  Despite the myths that whooping cough is harmless, pertussis can be dangerous to infants because they cannot be fully vaccinated until they are six months old.

Despite the protestations, denialism and disinformation from the anti-vaccination gang, this is evidence of how vaccinations can have a positive impact on the public.

 

Colorado health officials mulling mandatory vaccinations

Colorado health officials mulling mandatory vaccinations | Vaccine News Daily.

Healthcare workers should be obligated to receive influenza vaccinations, mainly because they can be a nexus of spreading of the disease.  I personally don’t get why a healthcare worker should invent non-evidence based excuses for not getting the vaccine (I’ve heard them all), but it happens.

That the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons opposes this law is because it is a politically conservative group of physicians.  They’re opposed to mandatory vaccinations of any kind (even children), don’t support Medicare and Medicaid , even considering it evil and immoral, and are, of course, deeply opposed to Obama’s health care plan. I don’t care that there are conservative physicians, but I expect them to use evidence-based decision when dealing with medical and healthcare policy questions.  This group is incapable of evidence-based thinking.  Personally, I wouldn’t visit a physician who belonged to this group.

Nevertheless, if you observe Association of American Physicians and Surgeons opposing anything in healthcare, be very skeptical.  Extremely skeptical.

Gates contributes $750 million to Global Fund

Gates contributes $750 million to Global Fund | Vaccine News Daily.

Bill Gates, founder and former chairman of Microsoft, is contributing a huge amount of money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  The Global Fund provides grants (through an application process) to evidence-based  and cost-effective healthcare interventions for infectious diseases.  They are large supporter of vaccines as the primary step to prevent infectious diseases.

I’ve never been a fan of Microsoft, but I think Bill Gates’ legacy is probably going to be more about his charitable work than Microsoft Windows.  And his contribution to the Global Fund, about which there are unsubstantiated rumors (my assumption is that Gates wouldn’t have contributed $1.00 if they were true) regarding their finances, is critical to their strategy of eliminating infectious diseases.  Global Fund’s success is documented:

New HIV infections are declining in many of the countries most affected by the epidemic. More and more countries are in a position to target the elimination of malaria from their territories. The world is on course to halve TB mortality by 2015 in comparison with 1990.

Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been a major engine driving this remarkable progress.

We should applaud Bill Gates and the Global Fund.