Bill Gates vaccines save lives – Part 2

One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.

As strong supporters of vaccines, the Gates have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. Bill Gates vaccines save lives. Now I know that Bill Gates did not invent these vaccines, but the attacks on him make it seem like he did.

These personal attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.” 

For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I think I want to call this corollary “Offit’s Law,” named for Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or even “Gate’s Law.”  Continue reading “Bill Gates vaccines save lives – Part 2”

Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis

This article has been substantially updated, and can be read here. Please read and comment at the newer article.

One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.

So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.

In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.

Continue reading “Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis”

Your personal pseudoscience detector

Pseudoscience is like bubble gum. It tastes pretty good, it’s fun to blow bubbles, and it annoys some people. But eventually, the flavor leaves, and you find that you’re just chewing on some nutritionally dubious substance. Now you have to find a place to spit it out.

Or I guess you can swallow it, and it stays in your intestines for the rest of your life. Oh sorry, that’s more junk science.

If you read something that makes some medical claim, here’s a quick and easy checklist to determine if it’s pseudoscience. Or real science-based medicine. What we all need is an official, Skeptical Raptor endorsed, pseudoscience detector. Continue reading “Your personal pseudoscience detector”

Peer review failure – scientific papers retracted

As many of the regular readers of this website know, I put a lot of value in the quality of evidence for a scientific or medical claim, usually in the form of a paper published in a peer reviewed, high impact factor journal. But to be honest, I prefer a paper published in a peer reviewed, high impact fact journal that presents a systematic review of all of the evidence available to provide us with a broad statistical analysis over tens or hundreds of studies. It’s like a peer reviewed paper analyzing peer reviewed papers. Continue reading “Peer review failure – scientific papers retracted”

Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it

A few days ago, prior to the challenges of updating and moving this website, I was told of an article published on a “journalist’s” website that accused a lot of people of being astroturfers, the Skeptical Raptor included. Now I admit to not being up-to-date on every cultural term that flows through the internet every day (who could?), but I had to find out more.

First, what is an astroturfer? Supposedly, it’s a pejorative term that describes a fake grassroots effort. Astroturf is fake grass, so that’s its roots (pun intended).

It’s used usually to point out individuals or groups that are well-funded by corporations or political groups to look like some sort of movement. The anti-Obamacare groups, like Americans for Prosperity who claimed that grandma was going to be put before a death panel, is a perfect example.

Continue reading “Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it”

Manufacturing a controversy about the MMR vaccine

Here we go again with the trope that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The Daily Mail, a British middle market tabloid, has published an article, MMR: A mother’s victory: The vast majority of doctors say there is no link between the triple jab and autism, but could an Italian court case reignite this controversial debate?, that is attempting to create a controversy out of thin air about the MMR vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella. The article is referring to an insane Italian court ruling which, despite all evidence to the contrary, blamed a child’s autism on the vaccination.

Update–in February 2015, an Italian Court of Appeals overturns the decision by the Provincial Court, so the vaccine denier claim that “Italian courts state that vaccines cause autism” can be dismissed. Mostly.

Continue reading “Manufacturing a controversy about the MMR vaccine”

Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.

Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge.  Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right.  In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution.  Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit.  Maybe I’ll just use them all.

Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC.  The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70’s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital.  The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.”  Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism.   Continue reading “Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.”

The Irish Catholic children’s home scandal–it’s NOT about vaccines

children-at-st-marysThere’s an appalling story out of Ireland that has dominated the news for the past few days. Over a period of 35 years, St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, a Catholic home for unwed mothers in County Galway (on the west coast of Ireland), apparently buried some children in a sewer system after dying in that home. You might have heard from some irresponsible journalists that over 800 children were buried in the septic tank, without questioning whether 800 bodies could actually be buried in the septic system, and without determining when the home was moved to a County sanitary sewer system, making it impossible to dump dead children in the septic tank. OK, that’s a small point.

According to the individual who actually uncovered this atrocity, Catherine Corless, an academic historian, she claims, through her research of birth records and other information, around 800 children died at this home over 36 years. The Irish Times reports, “between 1925, when the home opened, and 1937 the tank remained in use. During that period 204 children died at the home. Corless admits that it now seems impossible to her that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank.” OK, it’s sad and maddening that 22 children died every year at this home, even if infant mortality rates were substantially higher back then because of malnutrition and vaccine preventable diseases (like measles, mumps, polio, rotavirus and others) that would run rampant through closed quarters like that.

So the first myth we need to debunk is that there are 800 bodies buried in a septic tank–there aren’t. But, like I’ve said, that’s really just a minor point (setting aside the atrocity itself, which we’ll address later), because there are some other issues that have arisen with this story that also need to be discussed honestly. Continue reading “The Irish Catholic children’s home scandal–it’s NOT about vaccines”

Pseudoscience and psychopathy

psychopath-lecterGuest post by Matthew Facciani

There has been a news story creating some buzz lately regarding recent claims made by neuroscientist James Fallon, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. Dr. Fallon studied the brains of psychopaths for a few years and later saw that his brain was just like those of the psychopaths he studied. Many news outlets are picking up on this story as Dr. Fallon has just released a new book about it as well.

To summarize, Dr. Fallon had received a PET scan of his brain in conjunction with an Alzheimer’s disease study, and subsequently noticed that his PET scan image was eerily similar to PET scan images from those of the psychopaths he researched. These articles then reported how both the psychopaths and  Dr. Fallon had less activity in the frontal and temporal lobes which he claimed are linked to empathy, self-control, and morality. Beyond the PET scan results, Dr. Fallon mentions how he his family has the “Warrior Gene” which is associated with aggressive behavior. Continue reading “Pseudoscience and psychopathy”

Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.

gardasil-one-lessAfter 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.

Well, today, Couric issued an apology, of sorts, regarding the episode. Her introductory paragraph, basically says it all:

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.”