Identifying science denialism and pseudoscience

Science denialism, a form of pseudoscience, is everywhere these days. There’s the oft-discussed vaccination denialists who refuse to vaccinate children because they believe that vaccines cause some condition (usually autism), and Big Pharma hides evidence. Or AIDS denialists who believe that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Or global warming deniers who think that either global warming isn’t happening or, if it is, it’s not caused by human activities. Or evolution denialists, like Ken Ham, who think that one hundred years of scientific research can be ignored for a book that was written 5000 years ago to help illiterate pastoral farmers understand the natural world. It’s not just science, of course, there are Holocaust deniers, who think that no Jews were killed by the Nazis. There are even 9/11 deniers (usually called truthers) who think that Big Government (probably in league with Big Pharma) is hiding the truth about what really happened on 9/11. Continue reading “Identifying science denialism and pseudoscience”

Housekeeping notes: Logical Fallacies and RationalWiki

There have been a couple of significant changes to this website to provide more information to the reader in the ongoing discourse of skepticism vs. irrationality. And by irrationality, of course, we mean anything pseudoscientific.

First, the Logical Fallacies FAQ has been thoroughly updated to make some sections more easy to read, add some better examples of the fallacy, and new external links. Also, in the sidebar, you can download the whole FAQ into a pdf file for use later. There are more detailed descriptions of logical fallacies out in the internet, but most of them are intense and detailed descriptions of the logic behind the illogic. Most of us, as readers of blogs, tend to have a limited amount of time, so having a quick reference on various fallacies should help get through various articles quickly. Continue reading “Housekeeping notes: Logical Fallacies and RationalWiki”

Americans believe that dinosaurs lived with humans

Shocking news once again–a new Gallup poll claims that the rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States is “essentially unchanged” over the past few years. The recent poll from Gallup asked “which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin an development of human beings:”

  • 32% of the respondents accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” 
  • 15% accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,” and 
  • 46% accepted “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Continue reading “Americans believe that dinosaurs lived with humans”

Antievolution legislation–Oklahoma safe for now

The Oklahoma legislature adjourned for the year on May 25, 2012, and all three legislative attempts to force the teaching of the nonexistent “scientific controversies” in evolution and climate change. The first antievolution bill was SB 1742 died in committee in March. The second science denialist bill, HB 1551, died in the Senate Education committee in April. The third attempt, which was an amendment to a school funding bill, HB 2341, died because the amendment could not be added in time.

Once again, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education led the charge to kill these bills. If Oklahoma citizens can do it, it should be possible everywhere. 

via Oklahoma okay at last | NCSE.

Measles complications–consequences of the anti-vaccine hysteria

Angelina at five, just before onset of SSPE

This article has been substantially updated, please go there. There is also another article about a separate measles/SSPE case in Italy.

One of the memes of the vaccine denialists is that childhood diseases, like measles or whooping cough, are not dangerous. In fact, some parents have set up “pox parties” to deliberately expose their children to these diseases, because anti-vaccine lunatics believe (with all evidence against their beliefs, typical of any science denialist) that natural immunity is better than a vaccine induced immunity. Not only is that an Appeal to Nature fallacy, but it shows ignorance on how immunity occurs.

Already this year, two children have died in the United States as a result of whooping cough. And there’s probably more, because of under-reporting.

Continue reading “Measles complications–consequences of the anti-vaccine hysteria”

Alternative medicine according to Mark Crislip, MD

I find interesting stuff in the most unusual places. I have an iPhone App called ID Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide (Infectious Disease Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide – iPhone, Infectious Disease Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide – iPad), a great medical tool for finding different infectious diseases and the medications useful for treating it. The App was written by Mark Crislip, MD, one of the top 10 healthcare skeptics (in the true sense of the word, none of that quack-based pseudoskepticism), and it’s been very useful to me. It’s a really nice app (and for $5.99, there’s no way to go wrong here), and it’s practical, unless you’re a hypochondriac.

I was scanning through the Drugs section, and I saw an entry for “Alternative Medicine.” What? Dr. Crislip went to the dark side? Did he actually think homeopathy worked? Was he a mole for alternative medicine crowd? But, that section had a nicely worded (note: It’s an R-rated section, maybe PG-13) commentary on complementary and alternative medicine (aka CAM). I’m not sure the letter was actually sent to the Annals of Medicine, but from reading his blog, I wouldn’t bet against it. Continue reading “Alternative medicine according to Mark Crislip, MD”

Measles outbreak in Ireland

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”

Evolution vs. creationism scorecard: 2012

Since the beginning of 2012, Republicans throughout the country tried to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by pushing religion into public schools. They lumped evolution denialism and global warming denialism into the broad terminology of “scientific controversy” (in case you’re reading, there are no scientific controversies over these theories, just political ones). And those Republicans tried their best to give the children in those states the worst science education ever. Evolution is the foundation of biology, that field of science that is the basis of our health, of medicine, of agriculture, of our environment, and of every living thing on the planet.

 So far, in 2012, there have been several attempts by Republican controlled state legislatures to force religion into public schools. It’s been a mixed bag, with several close wins for the science side, and a notable loss. Continue reading “Evolution vs. creationism scorecard: 2012”

Private school scholarships–gateway to creationism

You have to hand it to the antievolution folks. They don’t give up and they try every method possible to get their evolution denialism into the educational system despite every constitutional argument going against them. They tried to use intelligent design to force creationism into public schools, but lost in Federal court, costing the schools district over $1 million in legal fees. The have tried to push creationism in several states, succeeding in Tennessee, failing to do so in others. They keep trying, mostly failing. Continue reading “Private school scholarships–gateway to creationism”

Whooping cough is dangerous

Over the past few weeks, I’ve discussed numerous outbreaks of whooping cough, or Bordetella pertussis (or just pertussis) throughout the US, Canada, England and Australia. For those individuals who think that whooping cough has either disappeared or is not dangerous, well, it’s time to disabuse anyone of that particular notion.

2012 (the year, not the silly Mayan Calendar) pertussis outbreaks

These are just the more notable outbreaks. According to the CDC, there were over 27,000 whooping cough cases in the US in 2010 (and that number is going to be small compared to 2012’s numbers). And, worldwide, there are 30-50 million cases of pertussis and about 300,000 deaths per year. It is not a disease to be treated lightly.

Risks from whooping cough (all stats are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Of infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, more than half must be hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis about:

  • 1 in 5 get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 in 100 will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Half will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 in 100 will die

Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis, though they are usually less serious than in children, especially if they had been vaccinated. Usually, complications in this age group are often caused by the cough itself. In one study, less than 5% of teens and adults with pertussis were hospitalized. Pneumonia (lung infection) was diagnosed in 2% of those patients. The most common complications in another study of adults with pertussis were:

  • Weight loss (33%)
  • Loss of bladder control (28%)
  • Passing out (6%)
  • Rib fractures from severe coughing (4%)

So if anyone thinks this is an innocuous disease, well they’d be wrong. It’s not without serious consequences, up to and including death.

It makes you wonder why there isn’t something we could do about this disease. You’d think that science would be able to prevent it. Oh wait, there is a way, and it’s called a vaccine. The DTaP vaccine (for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) is the way to prevent whooping cough (and diphtheria and tetanus, both dangerous in their own right). 

The vaccine is over 85% effective in preventing a serious infectious disease. Since the introduction of the vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus cases have dropped by 99%. And whooping cough has dropped by 92%. And even then, people don’t want to vaccinate their kids. But why?

Antivaccine lunatics think that vaccines are harmful

  • All medical procedures, whether taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or having surgery to remove a tumor, has some amount of risk or side-effects. For the DTaP vaccine, there are some side effects, mostly minor, and even those may not be a result of the vaccine itself. 
  • An extremely large study, with over 13,000 patients, it can find even small effects, “found no evidence for an increased risk for neurologic, hematologic, allergic events, or new onset of chronic illnesses among adolescents vaccinated with Tdap.”
  • In a Korean clinical trial, published in a high impact peer-reviewed journal, found that “No serious adverse effects were noted, and most adverse effects resolved without treatment. The immunogenicity against each antigen was high in patients who were interchangeably vaccinated for DTaP.”

There are a lot more, but those are the most recent, and pretty much shut the door on the old “vaccines cause XYZ” myth. 

So what can we can conclude here. First, there are more outbreaks of whooping cough because fewer people are getting vaccinated or updating vaccinations. Second, whooping cough can be dangerous to adults and children. Third, DTaP vaccine prevent whooping cough. Fourth, aside from a very few and minor side effects, there is nothing dangerous about the vaccine.

Conclusion: vaccines save lives.