A recent article published in a leading psychiatry journal, JAMA Psychiatry, has shown that pregnant mothers’ exposure to the influenza (flu) was associated with a nearly 4X increase in risk to their child eventually developing bipolar disorder in adulthood. These findings add to mounting evidence of possible shared underlying causes and illness processes with schizophrenia, which some studies have also linked to prenatal exposure to influenza. Bipolar disorder, historically called manic depressive disorder, is a mood disorder where the sufferer can experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania (or hypomania), typically alternating with episodes of depression. It can be treated with medications and psychotherapy (especially cognitive therapy), but more difficult cases require the individual to be voluntarily or involuntarily institutionalized until the mood changes can be reduced or eliminated.
A large outbreak (or epidemic) of measles has hit over 700 people in Wales over the past few weeks according to NHS Wales. And since there are 6000 children who are unvaccinated against measles in this area, the outbreak will continue to increase in size, since measles is a highly contagious disease. This type of epidemic should not be happening in a modern, advanced country like the UK.
Well, who or what is to blame for ? Well, according to a UK newspaper, The Telegraph, “what actually caused the drop in vaccination uptake which led to Swansea was the autism scare, started and repeatedly stoked by Wakefield, abetted (it must be admitted) by the media.” Yes, that Mr. Andy Wakefield whose fraudulent paper alleging a connection between MMR and autism which was retracted by the Lancet, is at fault here. Continue reading “Andrew Wakefield–you sir are a disgusting, vile excuse for a human being”
If you spend any time in the “debate” (actually, one side has scientific evidence and the antivaccination side denies all science, so to avoid falling for a false equivalency, debate gets scare quotes), you’ll hear every dumb argument to deny science. But one thing that you’ll see repeatedly from the vaccine deniers is that they would support vaccinations if there were better clinical trials.
The problem with the vaccine denier’s clinical trial proposals is that they are a moving target, relying on a form of the Argument from ignorance, claiming that if we can’t absolutely “prove” that vaccines are safe, then it must be absolutely unsafe. For example, there are dozens of articles, including one of the latest (published here and discussed here).
My good friend Allison Hagood, co-author of Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives, wrote a commentary about the antivaccine community’s perfect clinical trial. Follow along! (Allison’s commentary is presented in whole, but I’ve edited the formatting and added links where necessary).
The myth of vaccines causing autism is based upon the fraudulent claims of Mr. Andy Wakefield, which caused the original article making said claims to be retracted by The Lancet. Despite this fraud, Wakefield’s acolytes, minions, and disciples in the vaccine denialist world continue to make the claim that vaccines cause autism. But there are over 250 studies that show that vaccines do not cause autism. And there is a boatload of evidence that the MMR vaccine, specifically mentioned in Wakefield’s original study, does not cause autism.
But one of the enduring myths of the vaccine denialist crowd is that it’s not just MMR vaccine that causes autism, but it’s the number of vaccines of all types that are given to children in a short period of time (pdf). Even though the best scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that vaccines do not cause autism, approximately one-third of parents continue to express concern that vaccines may cause autism, and nearly 1 in 10 parents refuse or delay vaccinations because they believe it is safer than following CDC vaccine schedule. Continue reading “Risk of autism is NOT increased with “too many vaccines””
Public Health Wales has reported an outbreak of almost 190 reported cases of measles in South Wales since November 2012. They are focusing their investigation in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, where 189 cases have been confirmed. Cases have been notified in 32 secondary and primary schools and nurseries across the area, with 20 cases notified in the last week alone.
According to Dr Marion Lyons, Director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales, stated that “people most at risk of catching measles are children of school age who have not had two doses of MMR. We estimate that there are more than 8,500 school age children at risk of measles in the ABMU area at present due to their MMR status. Children should have their immunisation record, including MMR status, checked at the beginning of primary and secondary school and on leaving secondary school. We cannot emphasise enough that measles is an illness that can kill, or leave patients with permanent complications including severe brain damage, and the only protection is two doses of the MMR vaccination.”
The only protection against measles is the MMR vaccination. There are no other methods to protect a child from measles, other than isolation in a bubble against an outbreak. And despite the fraudulent claims of Mr. Andrew Wakefield and his acolytes, minions, and disciples, the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. And it does not cause autism.
Measles is just so contagious, that one unvaccinated child with the infection can pass it to nearly anyone that lacks immunity to the disease. An infected child can walk into a pediatrician’s office, where there may be infants who are too young for the vaccination, and pass it to them. Measles is not just a simple disease with a few red spots on your skin. It can lead to more serious complications like encephalitis and corneal scarring. In fact, complications are more frequent and severe in older teenagers and young adults (even if healthy), so the need for vaccination has significant benefits even if you’re an adult.
In general, about 30% of children who contract measles develop a more serious complication such as diarrhea, ear infections (leading to deafness) and pneumonia. About 5% of cases require hospitalization from pneumonia, about 1 in 1000 will contract encephalitis, and 1-2 out of a 1000 who get measles dies. Measles kills over 1 million children per year. And these risks are about the same for adults who contract the disease.
Many children are unvaccinated in South Wales. Maybe it’s because they believe the false information promoted by Wakefield and other vaccine deniers. Maybe they forgot to update or complete the vaccination series. Maybe they can’t afford the vaccine (though I don’t think that’s an issue in the UK’s public health system.) It’s the lack of immunized children that have caused this outbreak. Hopefully, parents will see the scientific truth and protect their children.
Vaccines Save Lives.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) appear to be an increasing medical issue in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD is diagnosed in approximately 1 in 88 children, and are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. ASD refers to a broad range of symptoms, from mild social awkwardness to mental retardation, repetitive behaviors and an inability to communicate. The CDC states that diagnosing ASD can be difficult, because there are no medical tests, such as a genetic or blood test, that can provide a definitive diagnosis. Physicians make a diagnosis through observation of a child’s behavior and development.
Medical science agrees that the increase in diagnosis is not only a result of better diagnostic standards, but also because there appears to be more children who are actually developing autism. Unfortunately, science has not uncovered the cause. Genetics are a critical factor, for example, since it has been shown that if one twin has autism there is a high likelihood that the other twin will also develop ASD. But are there other factors?
We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups: antivaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, HIV/AIDS denialism, 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”, even though the name is given to them both as a pejorative, but also because its based on their non-scientific, but scientific-sounding method of providing information.
In fact, there are several hallmarks that indicate to most educated individuals as to what is or is not pseudoscience. Real science is a systematic and rational method to organize and analyze “knowledge” into testable explanations and predictions. Sometimes, it appears that the anti-science crowd believes that science is just a word, not a philosophy which is organized as the scientific method. It isn’t some magical system that only smart people in secret ivory towers practice. The scientific method is simply a set of logical steps:
- Formulate a question: Based on observations of the natural world. Maybe you notice that sky is blue, and you ask “why is the sky blue?” Or “how do I design a vaccine to encourage the immune system to prevent a virus from causing a disease?” Of course, the questions can become much more complex as we make more detailed observations of the our world.
- Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis may be broad or very narrow. One could make a hypothesis that life can evolve on many planets across the universe. Or one could make a hypothesis that a drug can cure a disease in a small population of individuals. A proper hypothesis must include a null hypothesis, that is, the scientist must be willing to test that the null hypothesis is also false (a sort of double negative). This null hypothesis is that the new vaccine does nothing and that any disease prevention are due to chance effects. Researchers must also show that the null hypothesis is false. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. This all sounds complicated, but digested down to its simplest form, it means that a scientist is always willing to attempt to prove that the hypothesis is wrong.
- Prediction: Once a hypothesis is developed, then the a prediction (or more than one prediction) is made based on the hypothesis. For example, if a vaccine is supposed to prevent a disease, then the prediction is made that it prevents some some amount of the disease above what would be assumed just by random chance. For example, without the vaccine it might be predicted that only 10% of individuals might be immune to the disease, but with the vaccine, it would be predicted that 85% would be immune. In all fields of science, the hypothesis leads to predictions which are different than what would be found simply by coincidence or randomness. Also, the hypothesis must be powerful enough to create more accurate predictions than alternative hypotheses.
- Test: This is the conducting of experiments or investigations to determine whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypotheses. These experiments are observations which will agree with or conflict with the predictions; if they agree, then the confidence in the hypothesis will increase. On the other hand, if there is conflict, the confidence will, of course, decrease. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. Medical and drug experiments utilize double-blind clinical trials to limit confirmation bias, a tendency towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study.
- Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and one’s own experience can be incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)”
In 1998, Mr. Andy Wakefield published his now famous study in the Lancet, a respected medical journal, that claimed that the MMR vaccination (for measles, mumps and rubella) caused neurological disorders, especially autism, in children. His study was not well accepted by the medical community back in 1998, because of the small sample size and somewhat subjective analysis. However, science works this way. Someone proposes a hypothesis, and many scientists will jump to study it in larger and better designed studies. But Wakefield’s study became the center of the anti-vaccine universe.
So, since 1998, there have been over 250 studies published that absolutely refute Mr. Wakefield’s hypothesis. Assuming that 75% of those studies were primary studies, which cost around $5-50 million each, then nearly $1 billion has been spent trying to confirm (or refute) Wakefield’s findings. And then we find out that Mr. Wakefield engaged in a massive fraud for personal gain, which can only lead us to conclude that the $1 billion was wasted. Maybe that $1 billion could have been used to find a real underlying cause of autism, instead of trying to support or nullify the original hypothesis.
Preventable childhood disease epidemics keep breaking out throughout the world. Whooping cough has spread throughout the USA, and measles cases have risen dramatically in the UK. Now 17 new cases of measles have been reported during the last week in Southern Ireland bringing the total number of confirmed cases in West Cork to 42. Physicians in that part of Ireland are urging parents to vaccinate their children
According to Dr. Fiona Ryan, a consultant in public health medicine, “At the moment, the best way to ensure safety is to ensure that babies are not exposed to older children who may not be vaccinated and who are incubating the disease. Some cases have unvaccinated brothers and sisters, so they are very likely to become infected. Unfortunately the symptoms are very non-specific before they get the rash.” Continue reading “Measles outbreak in Ireland”
Generally, you know when a group is trying very hard to find support for their fringe beliefs when they have to find an insignificant court ruling in a small city in Italy. It’s like confirmation bias taken to the highest level of fallaciousness, trying to find that one irrelevant item that supports their pseudoscientific beliefs. In this case, it was a court in Rimini, Italy, a small city on the northern Adriatic coast. The court ruled that an anonymous child was diagnosed with autism about a year after receiving the MMR vaccine, which is a very safe vaccine that prevents mumps, measles and rubella, all diseases that are harmful to children. Continue reading “Vaccine denialists getting even more desperate to find link to autism”