COVID vaccine math – it seems to be confusing the anti-vaxxers

a close up view of a vaccine vial on white background

I have been seeing the same old bad math from COVID-19 vaccine deniers that I’ve been seeing from anti-vaxxers for years. They don’t seem to understand the basic principle of “incidence,” that is the proportion of a population that contracts a disease.

I’ve heard and read several times the claim that more people contract COVID-19, despite having received the vaccine, than those who aren’t vaccinated. I sincerely doubt this math is true, it appears the number of hospitalizations for unvaccinated individuals far exceeds vaccinated individuals.

However, that doesn’t mean that zero individuals with the COVID-19 vaccine end up hospitalized. That would be bad math.

But what we’re getting to support these bad math claims from COVID-19 vaccine deniers is based on bias, avoiding the rate of incidence, and other issues. So, let’s try to clarify what’s going on with a couple of simple graphics.

Continue reading “COVID vaccine math – it seems to be confusing the anti-vaxxers”

Cupping craze – Olympic swimmers love their pseudoscience

cupping

If you’ve been watching swimming at the super-spreader Tokyo Olympics, you’d have noticed some of the swimmers with odd bruises on them – it comes from cupping, a useless pseudoscientific alternative medicine belief. It was popular during the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, but I guess it’s still around.

Just in case you didn’t know, cupping doesn’t mean the protective equipment some male athletes use to protect their groinal (invented word, deal with it) regions. Although, for those athletes, that’s the most important cupping they will ever do.

Apparently, the cupping craze was first noticed because several members US Men’s swim team had awful-looking welts and bruises all over their bodies. Michael Phelps, probably the greatest Olympian ever with over 20 gold medals, was sporting several of the cupping welts on his shoulder.

Like homeopathy and chiropractic, which have little scientific evidence supporting any related clinical value, cupping is a fad without any scientific value. None.

Continue reading “Cupping craze – Olympic swimmers love their pseudoscience”

COVID vaccine deniers – 12 are responsible for 73% of anti-vaccine content on Facebook

COVID-19 vaccine deniers

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) recently published a guide called the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of 12 COVID-19 vaccine deniers who are responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine information on social media. Some of the names are familiar (at least to me) and some are not that familiar (again, at least to me).

CCDH is one of the leading voices in calling out the anti-vaccine world, especially during this time of COVID-19 deniers. They have long pointed out that social media, especially Facebook, has become the major mouthpiece for these groups. And recently, President Joe Biden has called out Facebook for “killing people” as COVID-19 had evolved into the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

The Disinformation Dozen have a long history of grifting, lying, and anti-vaccine rhetoric. Of course, more recently, they have become committed COVID-19 vaccine deniers, while many of them are promoting evidence-lacking COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. And according to CCDH, the Disinformation Dozen are responsible for about 73% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook. That is disturbing.

Because I like to be an encyclopedic resource for anti-vaccine garbage, like my list of facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine to debunk deniers, this article will be a list of the Disinformation Dozen along with links to further criticisms of them, whether or not it was written by yours truly. I wanted to also update what platforms some of these people are still using for their propaganda.

Continue reading “COVID vaccine deniers – 12 are responsible for 73% of anti-vaccine content on Facebook”

Christopher Aluminum Exley, anti-vaccine “scientist”, gone from Keele University

Christopher Aluminum Exley

Anti-vaccine crank and self-proclaimed aluminum expert, Christopher Exley, has announced that he’s departing the University of Keele (Staffordshire, England) for unknown reasons, but since he’s an anti-vaxxer, I’m sure he will blame Bill Gates and Big Pharma.

I have written about Exley quite a bit over the years, mainly because he keeps “publishing” opinion pieces about aluminum adjuvants in vaccines while making claims without a femtogram of clinical or epidemiological data that sits at the top of the hierarchy of biomedical research.

Unfortunately, because the anti-vaccine world lacks any robust scientific data to support their preconceived beliefs, they have to cherry-pick pseudoscience from not only Christopher Aluminum Exley but also from Tetyana Not-An-Immunologist Obukhanych and Christopher Retraction Shaw. These are just some of the false authorities beloved by the anti-vaccine religion.

Let’s take a look at the very strange “resignation letter” from Christopher Exley. And I’ll try to keep the celebrations to a minimum. Or not.

Continue reading “Christopher Aluminum Exley, anti-vaccine “scientist”, gone from Keele University”

Drug development – explaining a complicated process, including vaccines

Based on some of the comments I see on the internet, I think that that people believe that drug development is easy. Anyone can do it. And all you have to do is invent a drug and, voila, it’s approved and you can make billions of dollars in gold

I might be over-exaggerating, but I’ve always thought that the anti-vaccine crowd believes in their heart that the development of vaccines includes throwing a bunch of stuff in a blender along with dollops of mercury, formaldehyde, aborted babies, and aluminum, which is poured into a vial and sold for billions of dollars. Despite those anti-vaccine myths, pharmaceutical drug development (including vaccines) is a difficult process that fails 99% of the time.

Drug and vaccine development is the total opposite of easy. It takes time, a lot of brilliant minds, and some luck. Sure, some worthless drugs do get approved (we’re eyeballing you Biogen), but almost every drug that fails to have a significant benefit to cost (in terms of safety and price) ratio will fail to get FDA approval.

The myths about drug development are filled with controversy, false claims, and conspiracy theories. Yes, occasionally, we can point out problems with the process. Unless you’re using confirmation bias, you will see that the vast majority of pharmaceuticals are very safe and very effective (or at least the benefits outweigh the risks).

One of the largest myths is that there really isn’t any regulation – Big Pharma owns the FDA (and other regulatory agencies) and does whatever it wants. But let’s look at the process of drug and vaccine development carefully, including how most drugs are investigated and brought to the market. Let’s try to separate the myths from the facts of pharmaceutical drug development.

Continue reading “Drug development – explaining a complicated process, including vaccines”

Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, evolution, climate change

scientific consensus

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgment of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific ideas and conclusions from pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other beliefs.

I often discuss scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.”

A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation. A scientific theory is considered to be the highest scientific principle, something that is missed by many science deniers. In addition, a scientific consensus is formed by a similar method – the accumulation of evidence.

I have written frequently about the scientific consensus because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical scientific issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many other areas of science.

This tome has one goal – to clarify our understanding of the scientific consensus, and how we arrive at it. Through this information, maybe we all can see the power of it in determining what is real science and what are policy and cultural debates.

But the most important thing is that the scientific consensus (and theories, for that matter) are not opinions. They aren’t random thoughts pulled out of the ether. Scientific consensus is based on overwhelming scientific evidence published in respected journals.

Continue reading “Scientific consensus – collective opinion on vaccines, evolution, climate change”

Researching vaccines the right way – the hierarchy of biomedical research

Researching vaccines

I have made it a point of many articles that anti-vaxxers are not really researching vaccines. They are using logical fallacies, such as cherry-picking, misreading medical research, or anything else instead of really doing research the right way.

Before anyone should take on the scientific consensus on a topic, like vaccines, researching must include an understanding of what is called the hierarchy of biomedical research. It describes what are gold (or even platinum) standards of research. And which of them are nearly worthless.

I am a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.

That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they nearly always try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, it’s actually the opposite of good science.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of instant news made up of memes and a couple of hundred character analyses flying across social media that make it difficult to determine what is real science and what is not. Sometimes we create an internal false balance, assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate when there isn’t one.

When I write about a topic, I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful, and nuanced (with a touch of snark) articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I also know science is hard. It’s difficult.

Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science – and we see that most of what we find on the internet that claims to be science is not. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking about science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.

But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) methods to evaluate biomedical research quality across the internet.

Continue reading “Researching vaccines the right way – the hierarchy of biomedical research”

Guillain-Barré syndrome may be linked to the JNJ COVID-19 vaccine

Guillain-Barré syndrome

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that the Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) COVID-19 vaccine may be linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a relatively rare autoimmune disorder. Unfortunately for the confidence in the vaccine, this follows up on several other missteps and potential cardiovascular issues with the vaccine.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the COVID-19 vaccines’ benefits, preventing the disease, far exceed the extremely rare risks.

Because there is a lot of confusion about Guillain-Barré syndrome and whether there is a causal link to the JNJ vaccine, I will try to present the facts as they are known today. Of course, things change, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet on 22 July 2021 to further discuss this issue, so stay tuned for more information.

Continue reading “Guillain-Barré syndrome may be linked to the JNJ COVID-19 vaccine”

Cherry-picking – fake science that shows vaccines don’t work and ivermectin does

cherry-picking

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve noticed an epidemic of cherry-picking by people trying to prove this or that about face masks, vaccines, treatments, and mortality. If you don’t spend a lot of time reading the scientific literature on these points, you’d think that there was some sort of scientific debate on everything to do with COVID-19.

Even though some people will try to show that science is all over the place about this pandemic, it really isn’t. We know that facemasks worked, and probably helped reduce the infection rate. And it helped crush the seasonal flu across the world.

We know that the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and very effective.

We know that all kinds of treatments don’t work from hydroxychloroquine to ivermectin to quack remedies from internet grifters.

And we know that the CDC isn’t intentionally inventing mortality numbers because of…reasons!

So, why does it seem like there are scientific debates about all of these? It’s because we seem to be in a world of false equivalence where cherry-picking one “science” article, irrespective of its merits, can “prove” a contradictory point. But this is not how science is done.

Not to be repetitive, but real science requires one to review all of the published evidence, giving more weight to published studies in respected journals, written by respected scientists, using respected methodologies and analyses, with respected conclusions. It is absolutely not cherry-picking those studies, irrespective of their quality (and they usually have no quality), just to support one’s pre-ordained conclusions. That’s pseudoscience.

I hate cherry-picking unless it’s gathering that delicious fruit. I can get behind that kind of cherry-picking.

Continue reading “Cherry-picking – fake science that shows vaccines don’t work and ivermectin does”

FDA approval of Alzheimer’s disease drug aducanumab – Inspector General may investigate

Alzheimer's disease drug

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first new drug, Aduhelm (aducanumab), for Alzheimer’s disease in 18 years. The new drug is manufactured by Biogen, a US-based pharmaceutical company, and if you read the news reports and social media posts, you’d think the new drug is a miracle.

Given that Alzheimer’s disease afflicts over six million Americans each year, we wanted to celebrate aducanumab as a miracle. Except, there’s really nothing to celebrate here.

The FDA ignored the advice of its own expert advisory committee, which voted overwhelmingly (eight against approval, one for, and two abstained) to not recommend the drug because, according to the FDA’s own analyses, the drug failed to show that it can do anything to treat Alzheimer’s devastating cognitive decline. Plus aducanumab costs $56,000 per year (yes, $56,000) and comes with a relatively high risk for brain swelling and bleeding.

In response to the outcry, Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock wrote a letter to the acting inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledging that there has been “significant attention and controversy” surrounding the approval of Aduhelm. In particular, Woodcock said, concerns continue to be raised about the agency’s contacts with Biogen, including “some that may have occurred outside of the formal correspondence process.”

So we have to ask why would the FDA approve this new drug for Alzheimer’s disease, even though aducanumab is expensive, has serious side effects, and probably doesn’t do anything to improve the outcomes of Alzheimer’s patients? And because the drug is so expensive and everyone will demand the drug for the disease, this could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the cost of healthcare in the USA and across the world (don’t believe for a second that this possibly worthless drug is going to cost only $5.00 in Denmark, because it won’t).

The answers to these questions are complicated, and I’ll try to explain. But I think what happened here is disturbing and tragic. And it could have implications for any new drug approved by the FDA.

Continue reading “FDA approval of Alzheimer’s disease drug aducanumab – Inspector General may investigate”