The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.
I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers).
Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked”
Vitamin and mineral supplements are important to maintaining proper levels of these nutrients when they aren’t obtained from the diet. Generally, if a human consumes a diet of broad based foods, there is little need for supplementation, unless they are afflicted with a chronic medical disorder which requires additional nutrients.
This article has been completely updated with new information and can be found here. Comments are closed on this article, but please comment on the new one.
Aspartame (brand name Nutrasweet) is a popular artificial sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than common table sugar known as sucrose. Aspartame is a dipeptide of the natural amino acids L–aspartic acid and L–phenylalanine–these amino acids or peptides are consumed regular with nearly any animal or plant protein.
When aspartame is ingested, it is hydrolyzed (broken down by water molecules) into its constituent components: aspartate, phenylalanine and methanol, in an approximate 4:5:1 ratio. No aspartame has been found in the bloodstream, since it is so quickly hydrolyzed in the gut, and only the constituent components are absorbed.
After publishing a few articles about Katie Couric‘s false balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science broadcast on her eponymous TV talk show, Katie, I thought I could move on to other topics in skepticism. I, and dozens of other writers on the internet, had chided, criticized and lambasted her using anecdotes from two mothers to impugn the safety of Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), while ignoring solid science and medical research that supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Last week we devoted several segments on my TV talk show to the issues surrounding the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. Learning about this relatively recent preventive measure is tremendously important, and I felt it was a subject well worth exploring. Following the show, and in fact before it even aired, there was criticism that the program was too anti-vaccine and anti-science, and in retrospect, some of that criticism was valid. We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine. More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines. As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts. Continue reading “Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.”
Worse yet, according to lead researcher, Kassandra Alcaraz, director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society, the new study found that just one in three U.S. girls and less than 5% of U.S. boys has received the full recommended course of three shots of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine. Part of the reason for the low vaccine uptake rate was that the survey found that around 70% of Americans were unsure of the vaccine’s role in preventing cancers in both men and women. Continue reading “Most Americans don’t know HPV vaccine prevents cancer”
If you weren’t aware, on 4 December 2013, Katie Couric, a fairly popular USA-based journalist with her own eponymous TV talk show, Katie, did a report about Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe). Essentially, Couric interviewed several individuals who claim, without any evidence (and lacking any clue about statistical analysis) that Gardasil harmed their children. Couric gave about a minute of time to ONE physician to explain the safety and effectiveness of Gardasil, as opposed to the heartbreaking, but ultimately irrelevant, stories from parents who needed to blame something for what had happened, and chose Gardasil. As opposed to depression, diet soda, bottled water, air pollution, bad TV shows, or that fake butter that the movie theaters use.
In other words, Couric, in the ultimate example of false balance–Couric believed that both sides of a scientific “debate” are equivalent in quality of opinion and evidence. But rarely is this true, especially in scientific principles that have been well-studied and supported by a massive amount of evidence. The safety and efficacy of vaccines is supported by the vast consensus of real science. The antivaccination side has no evidence, so it must rely upon logical fallacies and cherry picked data, and lack any real, world-class contingent of scientists who have stepped up to change the consensus with real evidence. Continue reading “Katie Couric doubles down on the Gardasil false balance”
More fear mongering from the antivaccination forces, this time claiming that “mainstream news media is widely reporting today that a French teenager has filed a lawsuit against French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur, and France’s health regulators, over side-effects that were caused by the Gardasil HPV vaccine.” The plaintiff is claiming that the vaccine induced multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease that results from inflammation of neurons. The best available evidence is that MS is caused by a virus, which someday will be prevented with a vaccine!
Formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe) is a vaccine that prevents infection by the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine specifically targets subtypes 16 and 18, that cause not only approximately 70% of cervical cancers, but they also cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. It also targets HPV6 and HPV11, which account for approximately 90% of external genital warts. The viruses are generally passed through genital contact, almost always as a result of vaginal, oral and anal sex.
Let’s be clear here. Gardasil prevents cancers–serious, life threatening cancers.
Furthermore, the HPV quadrivalent vaccine has been shown to be extraordinarily safe in two different and large epidemiological studies, one with over 700,000 doses and the other with over 350,000 doses. The relative safety of the HPV vaccine is not in question except by those who engage in logical fallacies and anecdotes. The size of these two studies were so large, so impressive, that they would have uncovered extremely rare events, and there were none.
We have discussed this issue before. Teenagers are at risk of many chronic diseases that are coincidental to vaccines. For example, the rate for MS in some populations in Europe is close to 200 per 100,000. Without any substantial and incontrovertible evidence that the HPV vaccine is linked to MS, and with substantial evidence that MS is caused by viruses and is fairly prevalent in Europe, one can only conclude scientifically that this child had a coincidental MS attack. That is sad, and I wish we could have prevented the disease, and someday we might–but blaming Gardasil is simply irresponsible, since we have evidence it saves lives.
So, let’s debunk some of the crazy points made by the fear-mongering anti-Gardasil article:
No, we have no evidence that Gardasil caused MS. In fact, we have evidence otherwise, since the background rate of MS in Europe is substantial.
A lawsuit certainly does not imply causality, especially since nothing has been adjudicated so far. And even if the French legal system finds for the plaintiff, it does not provide evidence of causality. Courts are terrible evaluators of scientific data.
Japan did not stop using Gardasil vaccine. The Japanese Health Ministry, under pressure from the anti-science crowd, withdrew its recommendation for the vaccine based on adverse events that were actually BELOW the rates of those same events in the general population. In other words, they failed to take any epidemiology courses.
Therefore, the HPV vaccine is safe, based on over 1 million doses in controlled studies. HPV vaccine prevents the virus that causes some serious, deadly cancers. Multiple sclerosis is probably not caused by the HPV vaccine (or any vaccine to be factual). Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a virus that one day will be prevented by a vaccine developed by real scientists (and if I’m still writing then, rest assured the vaccine deniers will risk their children contracting MS to whine nonsensically about that new vaccine).
Gardasil saves lives. And I’ve shown that scientific fact based on solid scientific, published evidence.
The HPV quadrivalent vaccine, also known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe) prevents infection by the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine specifically targets subtypes 16 and 18, that cause not only approximately 70% of cervical cancers, but also they cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. It also targets HPV6 and HPV11, which account for approximately 90% of external genital warts. The viruses are generally passed through genital contact, almost always as a result of vaginal, oral and anal sex.
In a recent study published in the journal Vaccine, researchers examined the HPV 16/18 infection rate in a randomized group of 4,178 young women, aged 16-24 years who were undergoing screening in community health services in the United Kingdom.
One of the key results was that in the group of 16-18 years, where the HPV infection rate dropped from 17.6% in a survey done prior to the introduction of the vaccine down to 6.6% post-vaccination. This group also showed the highest HPV immunization coverage, about 65%.
The authors concluded that:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]These findings are the first indication that the national HPV immunisation programme is successfully preventing HPV 16/18 infection in sexually active young women in England. The reductions seen suggest, for the estimated coverage, high vaccine effectiveness and some herd-protection benefits.[/infobox]
These results mirror a study which established the substantial and dramatic drop in HPV infections after the release of the HPV vaccine in the United States. We can only conclude that the HPV vaccines caused a significant reduction in HPV incidence in UK and the USA. The HPV vaccine is effective.
The HPV vaccine is safe. The HPV vaccine prevents the HPV infection. And preventing HPV infections stop 60-95% of some serious and dangerous cancers and other annoyances such as penis pimples. Why is the decision to vaccinate with Gardasil even under discussion? Once again, here is scientific evidence that a vaccine saves lives.
In a community-based phase III trial of Cervarix (bivalent HPV vaccine) in Costa Rica, researchers reported that the Costa Rica Vaccine Trial (CVT) showed that the four-year vaccine efficacy against 12-month HPV subtypes 16 and 18 (HPV16/18) persistent infections was similarly high among women who received one, two, or the recommended three doses of the bivalent HPV16/18 vaccine. The researchers examined nearly 7,500 women, aged 18-25, in Costa Rica to determine both vaccine uptake (what percentage were vaccinated), number of doses, and HPV16/18 antibodies.
Some of the key results:
About 80% of the participants did get all three recommended doses, leaving about 20% who got one or two doses.
Researchers analyzed blood samples for HPV16/18 antibodies in randomized subsets who received one, two or three doses.
Antibodies to HPV16/18 was observed in 100% of women 48 months after vaccination with one, two or three doses. The only difference noticed that it appeared to take a slightly longer average period of time for 100% of the one-dose group.
Almost all participants in all vaccine dose groups were seropositive at approximately 1 month after receiving the first vaccine dose and remained seropositive throughout the 48 months follow-up period.
The researchers also compared “a natural infection group” against those who were vaccinated with Cervarix. For those vaccine deniers who say “natural infection is better”, the titers of HPV16/18 antibodies were 14-24X higher with two-doses of the vaccine, while the titers were 5-9X higher with one-dose vaccinations.
The authors concluded:
The high efficacy after single dose suggests that long-term protection may not require the 5- fold higher titers induced by three doses of the vaccine. Fewer doses would be less expensive and logistically easier to deliver, therefore increasing vaccine accessibility worldwide. The findings also suggest that second generation vaccines might be strongly protective even if they do not induce the high levels of antibodies induced by the licensed vaccines as used according to current recommendations.
One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is an over-reliance on confirmation rather than refutation of a hypothesis. The antivaccine crowd are well-known for this particular violation of the scientific method. As discussed previously, science works on refutation–creating experiments that might actually disprove a hypothesis as a method to develop evidence in support of it. The anti-vaccination crowd actually hypothesizes (but not in a scientific sense) that a vaccine or set of vaccines was the causal factor in some side effect (autism, death, or whatever else), then they should establish an experiment (double-blinded of course) that would refute that hypothesis. If at some point, the data cannot refute it, then the anti-vaccinationists would have supporting data for their particular supposition.
But instead of actually performing experiments (which cost money, which may show that they are wrong, or which might not be ethical), they resort to mining data to prove their point. Data mining is dangerous, because confirmation bias, that is, finding information or data that supports a belief while ignoring all other data that does not, makes the data suspect or even useless.
So, in that vein, the anti-vaccinationists often mine data from any database they can find, such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a program for vaccine safety, managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS functions as a post-marketing safety surveillance program (similar to other programs for almost every regulated medical device and pharmaceutical) which collects information about adverse events (whether related or unrelated to the vaccine) that occur after administration of vaccines.
VAERS has numerous limitations, including lack of scientifically designed questions, unverified reports, underreporting, inconsistent data quality, and absence of an unvaccinated control group. VAERS is basically a collector of information, but has limited value in making conclusions since it does not provide information that is obtained in a controlled manner. However, it does have some usefulness, in that certain trends may be spotted given enough time and data points. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine lunacy–more lies about Gardasil”