Review of Trace Amounts – bad science and conspiracies

trace amounts

Opponents of legislation to tighten school immunization requirements have been promoting a movie called Trace Amounts to legislators and others. They seem to think this movie proves a link between thimerosal – a mercury-based preservative in vaccines – and autism. It shows, in their view, that our vaccine program is corrupt and harmful through and through, and hence is an argument against vaccine mandates. The movie, however, shows nothing of the sort. There is no new evidence in it, and it simply repeats old and disproven claims.

Continue reading “Review of Trace Amounts – bad science and conspiracies”

National Football League and concussions – let’s review

National Football League and concussions

On 25 December 2015, Concussion, a movie about the National Football League and concussions to its players, will premiere in theaters in the USA. The movie is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist, who, while working as a neuropathologist at the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Office examined the brains of several deceased National Football League (NFL) players. He was the first to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.

For those of you who ignore the sport, or find it an American curiosity, it is a very violent sport where 160 kg (about 350 lb) men, running and moving at the speed of world class Olympic athletes, hit other men moving at the same speed.

The game is complex (don’t even think that these young men are stupid, they have to memorize and quickly read hundreds of play combinations just for one game), much like an intricate ballet. Those who belittle the sport don’t understand its elaborate and convoluted movements combined with its brutal and gladiatorial combat.

It’s also a huge business. The National Football League owns Sundays, generating revenue in excess of US$12 billion from TV contracts, merchandise sales, and licensing. It’s difficult to tell what profits it generates (it’s a private “non-profit” corporation), but it’s estimated to be around $1 billion per year.

Put it another way, the second most valuable sports franchise in the world is the Dallas Cowboys, who are estimated to have a value of around US$3.2 billion. Just as a comparison, for those of you who are not Americans, the most valuable sports franchise in the world is the soccer team, Real Madrid, which is valued at US$3.26 billion, just slightly ahead of the Cowboys.

The NFL is such a powerful economic force, that they are very careful with their image, despite ongoing issues with domestic violence and other problems. It was amusing to watch how ESPN, the USA’s leading cable sports network, dealt with the movie about the National Football League and concussions since the network paid the NFL over US$15 billion for TV rights for the next few years. ESPN is reluctant to criticize the NFL for anything, but it also needs advertisers like the promoters of the new movie.

But this isn’t about sports per se. Let’s look at the science behind the claims made by Dr. Bennet Omalu. Let’s look at the credibility of these claims and refutations.

Continue reading “National Football League and concussions – let’s review”

Antidepressants cause autism – another red flag

Antidepressants cause autism

The headlines are screaming again, ANTIDEPRESSANTS CAUSE AUTISM !!!!!!!!!!!!! (approximate average number of exclamation marks per article). Of course, a critical analysis of the the underlying study that caused the headlines is more nuanced and may not say what you think it says.

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex range of conditions classified as neurodevelopmental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, which is described in detail in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 redefined autism spectrum disorder to encompass diagnoses of autismAsperger syndromepervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegrative disorder. Generally, symptoms of these disorders include social deficits and communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, sensory issues, and in some cases, cognitive delays.

The scientific consensus for the causes of autism has centered on genetic factors, generally several genes. This hasn’t stopped a whole host of claims as to what causes autism. Emily Willingham wrote an article a few years ago with the title, This just in: Being alive linked to autism, in which she lists 30 recent claims of what causes autism. It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad.

Of course, we cannot overlook the old canard that vaccines cause autism. Which is about as untrue as a claim can be in science.

So what about this new claim about antidepressants and autism spectrum disorder? It’s based on a study just published in JAMA Pediatrics, a relatively high impact factor (approximately 7.148) and selective peer-reviewed journal.

The results from the may be significant, but possibly a critical analysis of the article will give us a different perspective. Continue reading “Antidepressants cause autism – another red flag”

Why we vaccinate – pertussis and epilepsy are linked

There is really only one reason to vaccinate – protecting everyone, especially children, from dangerous vaccine preventable diseases. We have eliminated smallpox. We have almost eliminated polio.

And we had almost made measles extinct, until the myth that the MMR vaccine (to prevent mumps, measles and rubella) caused autism, started by one of sciences greatest fraudsters, the defrocked MrAndy Wakefield. It’s a myth that’s been thoroughly and definitively debunked.

One vaccine preventable infectious disease that we’ve been unable to conquer is  whooping cough (caused by the bacteria, Bordetella pertussis), also known as pertussis. Pertussis is a relatively dangerous infection, the disease itself has serious consequences for children and adults:

  • 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die

Whooping cough can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria). The vaccines can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.

As with all medical procedures, there are some adverse effects with the pertussis vaccines. Moderate adverse effects from the vaccine occur in about 1 in 10,000 (or even fewer) injections. The most severe effects, which may or may not be causally related to the vaccine since the rate is  so low, are in the range of 1 out of a million doses.

One out of one million doses of the vaccine cause a serious adverse event (maybe). Compare that to the 1-2 out of 100 will die of the disease. Unless you flunk math, there is no rational reason to avoid the vaccine. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate – pertussis and epilepsy are linked”

The breadth and depth of vaccine research

I have frequently stated that the breadth and depth of vaccine research, which provides solid evidence on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, overwhelms the misinformation, logical fallacies, and conspiracies pushed by the Society for Promotion of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (that is, the antivaccine cult).

In other words, there is so much evidence, published in generally respected, high quality journals, that it is the basis of a pure, 24-karat gold scientific consensus about vaccine safety and effectiveness. Using just one search parameter, vaccines + efficacy + safety, there are over 4200 articles published over the past 55 years on vaccines. Other search parameters show even more results.

As I’ve said time and again, the only thing that matters to science is the quality and quantity of repeated evidence derived from a broad range of different studies. We’ve got that. Continue reading “The breadth and depth of vaccine research”

Part 6. Medical uses for cannabis – the TL;DR version

This is Part 6  of a series of six articles discussing various medical uses for cannabis or marijuana. In this part, I summarize all of the five previous articles into some bullet points so that you have quick and fast access to some scientific information about medical uses for cannabis or marijuana.

In case you missed them, here are the first five articles in this series:

Part 1. Marijuana and medicine assessing the science.

Part 2. Marijuana and cancer – assessing the science

Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science

Part 4. Marijuana and health risks – assessing the science

Part 5. Marijuana and pregnancy – assessing the science

Maybe you don’t agree with the science about marijuana’s role in medicine. But that’s not how science works. The evidence should lead you to a conclusion (actually, the acceptance or rejection of a hypothesis). One shouldn’t form an a prior conclusion, then go hunt for data. That’s not how it works.

As new systematic or meta reviews bring more clinical evidence of the benefits of the medical uses for cannabis – this takes time – maybe evidence based medicine can incorporate marijuana into the armamentarium of medical practice. But only real clinical evidence matters.

So let’s review where the evidence leads us. Continue reading “Part 6. Medical uses for cannabis – the TL;DR version”

Part 1. Marijuana and medicine assessing the science

I suspect, like legal same sex marriage, social norms are changing across the USA (and the world), which has lead to the decriminalization of marijuana in 23 states and the District of Columbia for some medical conditions. The US Federal Government, has shown little enthusiasm in enforcing Federal law about cannabis, although the Federal government retains the highest authority in regulating certain drugs like marijuana. So let’s look at marijuana and medicine assessing the science critically.

It’s clear that rational people still want regulations for marijuana, including prohibitions against public smoking (I don’t want second hand cannabis smoke wafting over me or my children, as much as I don’t want to inhale other people’s tobacco smoke). And a safe society would have strict regulations that would forbid marijuana smoking by individuals who have roles in public health and safety like physicians, pilots, mass transit drivers, and others.

But I think those would be reasonable boundaries for legalization of cannabis that would be reasonable to most people. But this is not the point of this article.

As the push to legalize marijuana for personal or medical use gains traction in the USA, there has developed a strong belief, unsupported by evidence, of the value of the medical uses of cannabis. What is troublesome is that the pro-marijuana side seems to make claims about the medical uses of cannabis that appear to be only tenuously supported by real scientific evidence.

In fact, some of the claims are downright dangerous. The reasons for pushing this is probably, though I can only speculate, to make it appear that marijuana is some miracle product, so let’s speed up the legalization of it. It’s like the Food Babe telling us that kale is the miracle food, except that kale isn’t illegal. It does taste awful (but again, not the point).

Because of the amount of scientific information, this article is part 1 of a 5-part series about marijuana and medicine – assessing the science. For detailed analysis of various aspects of the science of marijuana and medicine, check out each of the subtopics:

Part 2 – Marijuana and cancer
Part 3 – Marijuana and neurological disorders
Part 4 – Marijuana health risks
Part 5 – Summary of marijuana and medicine

Continue reading “Part 1. Marijuana and medicine assessing the science”

Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science

This is Part 3  of a series of six articles discussing marijuana’s use in medicine and health care. In this part, we discuss marijuana and neurological disorders – probably the only field of study regarding medical uses of cannabis that has a robust area of clinical research.

Although research into the use of marijuana and cancer takes all the news these days, there is probably just as vigorous research into neurological disorders.  If you read the story regarding CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who claimed he changed his mind about marijuana, you’d know he was also convinced that marijuana had some great potential in mental health. But is there really any high quality evidence?

In this article, I’ll look at some of the more prominent claims, along with a skeptical analysis of those claims. Continue reading “Part 3. Marijuana and neurological disorders – assessing the science”

Hey vaccine deniers–a huge study says measles vaccines are safe

vaccine-MMR

Unless you’re a serious science denier, who thinks that the measles vaccine is more dangerous than measles, we have ample evidence that the measles vaccines have just about eliminated measles, although an uptick in measles this year probably can be tied to the antivaccine crowd. We have boatloads of evidence that vaccines have prevented morbidity and mortality from measles. We don’t have to look back 100 years, we can look back 20 years–measles cases dropped from 55,000 in 1991 to 189 in 2013This sudden drop happened because of the Vaccines for Children Program.

The measles vaccine, usually a part of the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) or the MMRV vaccine (MMR plus varicella, also known as chickenpox), successfully prevents measles, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, similar to common cold. However, the initial symptoms are followed by a rash that spreads all over the body.

Many people think that measles is a minor disease, that’s because they weren’t around 30 years ago, when measles epidemics hit children in school. The CDC estimates that approximately 3 out of 10 adults or children who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. The myth that measles is “nothing” is just that–a myth, lie and bad science. Continue reading “Hey vaccine deniers–a huge study says measles vaccines are safe”

Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)

Marijuana_Cures_CancerEditor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

As the push to legalize marijuana for personal or medical use gains traction in the USA, the “pro-pot” arguments become more enthusiastic and more off the beaten track of real science. I suspect, like legal same sex marriage, social norms have changed, and legal marijuana is something that will become commonplace across the country, except in some deeply conservative areas. The Federal Government has shown little enthusiasm in enforcing Federal law, which retains the highest authority in regulating certain drugs, in states that allow legal marijuana.

I personally have no issue with smoking marijuana, since other “drugs”, like alcohol, are completely legal and socially acceptable. I think that legalizing marijuana will reduce much of drug trafficking, reduce the burden of law enforcement and penal system costs, and have other beneficial effects to society.

I still want regulations such as control over public smoking (I don’t want second hand cannabis smoke wafting over me or my children, as much as I don’t want to inhale other people’s tobacco smoke), there needs to be regulations about when it might be illegal to be high (I don’t want my Delta Airlines pilot to be smoking weed before flying my jet, and I don’t want automobile drivers to be under the influence), and I want age regulations no different than there is for alcohol and cigarettes (despite . But I think those are reasonable boundaries for legalization of cannabis that would be reasonable to most people. But this isn’t the point of this article.

What troubles me about the “debate” about legalization of cannabis is that the pro-pot side seems to make claims about various medical benefits that appear to be only tenuously supported by real scientific evidence–in fact, some of the claims are downright dangerous. The reasons for doing this is probably, though I can only speculate, to make it appear that marijuana is some miracle product, so let’s speed up the legalization of it. It’s like the Food Babe telling us that kale is the miracle food, except that kale isn’t illegal. It does taste awful (but not the point). Continue reading “Medical uses of marijuana–hitting the bong of science (updated again)”