Pseudoscience pushing individuals can be likened to zombies. They have no brains, and their only goal in life is to eat the brains of those who don’t adhere to their position. The anti-vaccine crowd are my favorite zombies, because the metaphor can be further extended because the victims of these zombies can die (the logical result of non-vaccination).
Yesterday, I ran across this YouTube video by someone called the PatriotNurse. As an aside, WordPress (the blogging software I use) allows for embedding of YouTube videos, which is perfectly within my programming capabilities. But for some unknown, and admittedly perplexing reason, PatriotNurse disabled the embedding feature. Lacking evidence, I won’t speculate as to why. She also has disabled comments to her video by stating, “The comments are OFF for many reasons. Foremost is that I refuse to be abused for a contrarian viewpoint that goes against mainstream “Sickcare.” In other words, she refuses to allow her zombie ideas to be shown in the bright light of the day. Also, if you look at her other videos, well, let’s just say I’m concerned about who trained her as a nurse and who would currently employ her, but that’s not the point here.
Basically she uses the standard repertoire of unsupported claims, canards and fairytales that most vaccine denialists use to make their case. Every once in a while we should list out all their claims, debunk them, and refer to them in the future. The anti-evolution crowd, which probably relies upon 100 times more myths than the anti-vaccine group, has spawned a few websites that list out creationist claims, then thoroughly debunks them. At this time, the anti-vax websites focus on just a few claims, all of which are easily dismissed.
In order of weakness of the argument, here we go!
- After my friend’s neighbor’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter was vaccinated, she got….This argument is a typical example of the logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc or post-hoc fallacy, a Latin phrase which literally means, “after this therefore because of this.” In other words, just because one event follows another event, one cannot conclude the first event caused the second event. Or even that they are even peripherally related. One of the worst mistakes in science is conflating correlation (this event happens when another event happens) with causation (that one event actually causes the second event). Let’s put it this way. I’m sure a certain percentage of children who are vaccinated break there arms in a fall, get a cold, or draw on the wall with a pen. I’m sure some of us recall such an event. But are they related to the vaccination? Well, I’m sure someone would make a case that the child going to the pediatrician’s office to get a vaccine picks up a cold from another kid, but that’s a perfect example of pure coincidence. In other words, without providing a logical mechanism for the correlation, then causation is far from proven.
- Everyone I know who gets a vaccination gets sick, paralyzed, or (put almost anything here). Similar to the post-hoc fallacy, it depends on a confirmation bias, that is, individuals look for evidence that supports their own beliefs or assumptions, ignoring all else. Of course, the vast majority of children or adults that get vaccinated do not have any serious side effects (nota bene: I chose one of literally thousands of articles that dismiss any serious side effects from vaccines). Essentially, this claim barely rises above personal anecdote.
- Vaccines cause autism. I’m not even sure this claim should be discussed because it’s been so thoroughly and scientifically quashed, it is almost sad that it’s still used as an excuse to not vaccinate. But since this is supposed to be a thorough list, I’ll go through the debunking again. Andrew Wakefield, who first invented the claim in a article in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Eventually, several co-authors removed their names from the paper in 2004, and finally the article was fully retracted by the journal in 2010. Finally, Wakefield was found to be a fraud. Still, the anti-vax conspiracists believe that vaccines cause autism, despite substantial evidence in peer reviewed journals (pdf file). Since all the evidence dismisses the claim, but it’s still trotted out by anti-vaxers, one can only reply with the evidence.
- Vaccines contain mercury. In the past, a mercury-organic compound called thimerosal was used as a preservative in certain vaccines, especially those that were labeled for multiple doses (vaccines vials are often doses of 10). But to be perfectly clear, thimerosal is not metallic mercury floating in the vial, it is a compound that is bound up in a rather large organic molecule, meaning that the mercury itself is inaccessible to the body and will be excreted. Cans of tuna, a typical childhood meal, contains several times more mercury in the form of methyl mercury, which is easily absorbed by the gut and can be dangerous. Vaccines that contain thiomersal contain about 25µg (or mcg or micrograms) of mercury. A 125g (about 4 oz) portion of canned tuna contains about the same amount.
- Vaccines contain mercury–but injected is worse than eating it. The discussion then moves to the myth that ingesting mercury from foods is somehow better than getting it injected. Before we continue, remember the mercury in vaccines is thiomersal which is bound up by a relatively large organic molecule. This is a method used in a lot of pharmacological applications to isolate toxic metals from the body, but still derive a benefit from them. Contrast agents used in enhanced radiology exams (like CT’s) contain iodine, also fairly toxic. The organic molecule protects the patient from the toxic effects, while soon after the exam (usually within 30 minutes), the contrast agent is excreted. The same with thiomersal. Ingested mercury, in the form of methyl mercury (found in most fish), is actually absorbed faster, and methyl mercury also disperses to more organ systems because it mimics an essential amino acid, methionone. There are no physiological mechanisms that block the uptake of a small molecule like methyl mercury, so the effect might be worse than thiomersal.
- Vaccines contain mercury, oh my. Except, they don’t contain mercury, save for some flu vaccines. So, not only eating tuna sandwiches is a larger mercury source, vaccines is not a mercury source.
- Vaccines contain aluminum. So we dispensed with the mercury myth, but a new one shows up. In this case, vaccines do contain aluminum, in the form of aluminum salts. It is used as an adjuvant to increase the immune response of the vaccine, an important requirement to confer immunity to the disease. However, more aluminum comes from food sources (like breast milk) than from vaccines. “During the first 6 months of life, infants could receive about 4 milligrams of aluminum from vaccines. That’s not very much: a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram and a gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water. During the same period, babies will also receive about 10 milligrams of aluminum in breast milk, about 40 milligrams in infant formula, or about 120 milligrams in soy-based formula.”
- Vaccines bypass the gut which is our best immune defense system. It’s hard to disprove something that has no basis in real physiology. If this claim were true, of course, we’d never be afflicted by most pathogens, and we wouldn’t need vaccines. The adaptive immune response to immunizations requires interaction with the internal organs and blood.
- Too many vaccinations. While listening to video (I couldn’t bear to watch), PatriotNurse mentioned another old canard about too many vaccine doses given to infants and toddlers. Apparently, the anti-vaccination zombies need to run from one debunked myth to another one. Paul Offit, much hated by the anti-vaccine gang, has stated that “Vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system. Although the infant immune system is relatively naive, it is immediately capable of generating a vast array of protective responses; even conservative estimates predict the capacity to respond to thousands of vaccines simultaneously”, that “multiple vaccinations do not weaken the immune system,” and that “vaccines represent a minute fraction of what a child’s immune system routinely navigates; the average child is infected with 4–6 viruses per year.”
- It’s a Big Pharma conspiracy. This conspiracy is huge, because it includes the CDC, FDA, major medical journals, physicians, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. Of all the logical fallacies, the Appeal to a Grand Conspiracy is one of the most annoying. It is difficult to disprove, because the vaccine conspiracists don’t provide any real evidence for their assertion. Since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, their claim lacks even bad evidence.
There might be other arguments that they use, and I’ll be finding them and debunking them. In the meantime, I’m going to create a vaccine FAQ that debunks these things.
My Turn: The Darwin connection | Concord Monitor.
While researching some points for my article on intelligent design, I stumbled onto a poignant and pointed article written by Leslie Brunetta, a New Hampshire science author who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She wrote the interesting (and very readable) book entitled, “Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating.”
Her thesis is that these anti-evolution bills in various state legislatures are a danger to her health, and by inference, the health of all Americans.
Essentially, she states that in the 1960’s, breast cancer was basically a death sentence, whereas today, the 5 year survivability for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is over 80%. Partially, the rate has risen because of better and earlier diagnosis, but mainly it is a result of highly effective treatments.
What does evolution have to do with this? Plenty. At even the most basic level, the discovery of DNA, which is essential to understanding any of the 200 different cancers, was driven by the need to uncover the basis of genetics and heritability of genes. Would we have discovered the DNA molecule if we weren’t driven by the desire to understand the foundation of evolution? Probably not.
Furthermore, Ms. Brunetta posits that everything from understanding the differences between cancer and normal genes to family history all depends upon a scientific foundation of evolution. She states that now we have genetic tests (arising from our knowledge of evolution) that can help determine which treatments are best for certain types of breast cancer, allowing some patients to forego chemotherapy.
What if we didn’t understand evolution? We wouldn’t understand that viruses evolve quickly in a population, so we have to adjust vaccination antigens. We wouldn’t understand how bacteria evolve in response to antibiotics. We wouldn’t understand the range of genetic diseases that afflict individuals. I could write for hours on everything in medicine (and just medicine) that depends on an appreciation, and acceptance, of the theory of evolution. I wonder what the creationists would say if we were to refuse them all procedures and techniques that use evolution (well, I know what the answer would be, that a supernatural being guided the research or something similar). Of course, the Hippocratic Oath would prevent physicians from implementing this policy.
I’ve contended that the anti-science (anti-evolution) push on the right wing is bad for the security and economy of the country. Let me add in healthcare to the consequences of this desire to push religious teaching in public schools.
Addendum: Ms Brunetta points out something about Charles Darwin that is always forgotten but is critical. He theorized evolution and natural selection with no knowledge of genetics and DNA (the cause of genetic drift). Amazing leap of intuition on his part.
Since the start of the new year there seems to have been concerted effort in several midwest US states, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution by pushing creationist religious dogma in public schools (though not universities thankfully). It’s difficult to understand what the goals of this push might be, since nearly all legal precedent supports the fact that creation science, creationism, intelligent design or whatever new term that will be invented is religious doctrine and cannot be taught in public schools. Maybe Republican state legislators think the winds are at their back in making social change, or maybe they think the winds are shifting into their face, and so they should get moving before the electorate (which seems to be extraordinarily volatile these days) changes its mind again.
Creation science attempts to use science to validate the Genesis story of creation while simultaneously endeavoring to invalidate all the general scientific theories, facts, and paradigms that support the natural history of the universe including evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, and astrophysics. Intelligent design (ID) is a slightly different flavor of creationism which states that features of the natural world, whether living things or physical processes, are best explained by an intelligent designer. In other words, the central mechanism of evolution is not explained by natural selection and genetic drift, but by a designer. ID also attempts to state that it is a scientific theory based on evidence, rather than a religious dogma based on no evidence.
Neither can be regarded as real science because they fail to meet even the most basic elements of science and the scientific method. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” It’s the “modification of the hypothesis” that separates real science from pseudosciences like creation science and ID. In other words, if we could falsify the central premise of either so-called theory, would the proponents modify their hypothesis? That would mean that there is no supernatural being that created or designed the universe, which they are mostly unwilling to do.
On the other hand, real science is open minded about the itself. It is willing to change its hypotheses and theories, to evolve (couldn’t resist) to new data points. That is precisely why science is not a religion, but is, in fact, an essential philosophy to understand the natural world. It is based on evidence, on analysis of that evidence, and, if necessary, modification of theories based on the evidence. Scientists consider evolution to be a fact based the wealth of evidence supporting it. The theory of evolution is one of the basic principles of biology (along with genetics, homeostasis, and cell theory), but if there were data that essentially disproved evolution, then science would modify the theory. There is an old joke that if someone found a rabbit fossil in precambrian rocks, science would probably have to reevaluate and rewrite the theory of evolution. However, most real scientists would be skeptical and wonder 1) if it really were a fossil, 2) if it were really a rabbit, 3) if it really was a precambrian rock layer, and 4) if it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by someone with an anti-science agenda.
But what is really problematic is that ID itself attempts to promote itself as a scientific theory where the designer is not the Judeo-Christian god. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based think-tank, is the primary proponent of ID. They state that intelligent design is:
Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.
Setting aside the fact that their so-called science doesn’t meet the basics of what constitutes real science (or the fact that they generally accept the age of life on earth), they go to great lengths to avoid naming the designer. However, it has been determined that, despite the best efforts of the intelligent design movement, the designer represents the Judeo-Christian god. Many have concluded that intelligent design is pseudoscience rather than just bad science.
Furthermore, the ID proponents use the so-called “wedge strategy”, a plan sponsored by the Discovery Institute, to further their political goals. The strategy was established in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes “a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” In other words, it’s just religious dogma couched in scientific words that have little meaning.
Intelligent design and creation science are not only dangerous to scientific teaching, which is critical to the future of our country. To continue to be leaders in medicine, research, new technologies, and whatever results from them, the country needs to have students with strong foundation in the sciences. These anti-science legislators are almost anti-American (to play the “who’s more patriotic” card). And if you take the long-term view (a rare skill indeed in our politicians), lack of science training could be a huge economic issue (still playing that patriotism card).
This current push for creationist teachings is still centered in one part of the country in just a few states. Even if its reach is limited, let’s hope it can be crushed out before it gets too much traction in other Republican dominated state legislatures.
Psychics Say Apollo 16 Astronauts Found Alien Ship : Discovery News.
In light of the bad movie out on DVD recently, Apollo 18, which tells the story about a secret Apollo 18 mission to the moon which encountered aliens on the far side of the moon. Typical of these movies, there is a tiny bit of truth to the story because Harrison Schmitt , a Harvard trained geologist (and only civilian to walk on the moon) wanted Apollo 17 or 18 to land on the dark side of the moon to study it.
So these psychics, using a pseudoscientific technique of remote viewing, have stated that they see alien artifacts on the moon. And they claim that the astronauts from Apollo 16 saw those same artifacts. I think I’m not quite convinced.
What is remote viewing? It’s a paranormal technique that uses extrasensory perception (ESP) to find impressions about distant or just unseen subjects. In a wild waste of money, the United States military spent about $20 million in the 90’s to study remote viewing in the Stargate Project–no I do not invent these names, just because it’s a popular science fiction TV show (that I like). (If you have the time, please read the link to the project, because it’s an article in a military intelligence journal that breaks the bounds of military decorum with sarcasm and snark).
Remote viewing is considered a pseudoscience for many reasons:
- It violates the basic principles of physics, such as the speed of light (it’s a constant in the universe) and causality, that is, how does the image get transmitted across time and space.
- It violates the basic principles of neurology, in that there are no fields of energy that can carry information into the brain (other than those of the five basic senses).
- It violates the basic principles of current knowledge of the moon, because we have amazing detailed images of the moon (it’s not that far away) and we see nothing including the so called shipwreck.
Moreover, the Apollo 16 astronauts say nothing about seeing this. Imagine that there are 1000 people who might know what was or was not seen. I cannot picture that being kept secret for 40 years, because people talk, they always talk.
Ray Villard makes a valid request to remote viewer proponents. If they’re so good at it, do something to help science.
For any readers who think I’m being scientifically elitist, narrow-minded or protective, I’m presenting one simple challenge. Will somebody please remote view the icy dwarf planet Pluto for me from a close-up distance?
You must draw a map of both hemispheres that has detailed information about the coordinates and sizes of major features: impact basins, crater fields, ice flows, outcrops, tectonics rifts, cryovolcanoes, whatever — even crashed spaceships.
The best pictures of Pluto to date, from the Hubble Space Telescope, only show variations in color and reflectivity across Pluto’s surface, but not topography.
I’ll leave the details to the remote viewers, who by their claims can supposedly do a better job than Hubble or any other spacecraft. (But, still, no peeking at the Hubble pictures!)
Remember the basic point of debunking pseudoscience: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Bring us evidence. Not to be snarky, but I’m not exactly going to hold my breath.
Mounting opposition to Indiana’s creationist bill | NCSE
Missouri and Oklahoma have been at the forefront of the 2012 Republican push to add anti-science curriculum to public school science curricula in the form of creationism (apparently in the guise of Intelligent design). These initiatives fly in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US constitution, which simply states,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
Over the years, several court rulings have clarified this clause to cover any public institution, such as publicly funded schools. The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed lower court rulings that specifically state that the teaching of creationism in public schools violates the Establishment Clause. In McLean v. Arkansas, the judge ruled that creation science is not science because it depends on a supernatural intervention; in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court affirmed a ruling that a Louisiana law requiring the teaching of “creation science” was unconstitutional because it advanced a particular religious viewpoint; and in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a district court judge ruled that Intelligent design was another form of creationism (read that as religion).
So despite those very solid legal precedents, Indiana’s Senate Bill 89 will force public schools to teach creation science (which isn’t a science, other than incorrectly using the word science). Opposition to the bill is starting to appear, including religious individuals who find that creation science is “propounding pseudoscience of their own invention that is neither biblical nor scientific…”
It is ironic (or just plain cynical) that the same individuals who profess that there is some magical quality in the US Constitution are also the first to push laws that are in clear violation of one of the most basic tenets of that same constitution.
Study: Vaccine against bacterial meningitis shows promise – USATODAY.com.
The study is published in the Lancet (how ironic), and the conclusions (from the original study) state that 91-100% of participants (who received the vaccine) had high titers of antibodies for each strain of meningococcal B. By the way, the placebo group were in the 29-50% range for the placebo group.
Just in case you might wonder if there’s a placebo effect that causes an immune response to the bacteria, it’s probably not. There is usually a background seropositive individuals in a population, since individuals may be exposed to the bacteria on a usual basis. Even at 50%, the risk is so high that the vaccine (which is nearly 100% effective) is still necessary.
One more conclusion from the authors of the Lancet article:
No vaccine-related serious adverse events were reported and no significant safety signals were identified.
Just in case anyone was wondering.
Rosa Rubicondior: Where Creationists Get Confused..
Creationists utilize numerous logical fallacies to either “disprove” evolution (using rhetoric and religious text) or to “prove” creationism. Usually, however, they stick with trying to showing how evolution is wrong, thereby, implying that creationism is correct. (I’m going to set aside the fallacy that by simply disproving evolution one proves creationism, you still have to provide evidence for creationism itself.)
I could list them all from “it’s only a theory”, which ignores the fact that a scientific theory stands at the top of hierarchy of scientific thought, essentially considered a fact, to Charles Darwin renouncing evolution on his deathbed, which he didn’t. One of my favorites is the wholesale misunderstanding (either intentionally or through complete ignorance of science) of taxonomy. As Rosa Rubicondior states:
Creationists, either disingenuously, or because of genuine ignorance, seem to have missed the whole point of taxonomy, so they continually make idiotic mistakes which, even though they might imagine them to be valid arguments against evolution, are recognised by those who understand the subject as evidence only of their ignorance. And, with so much information readily and freely available, this ignorance can ONLY be either deliberate or feigned. No one remotely interested in the subject has any excuse for their level of ignorance.
If any has ever heard the creationist meme of “if man evolved from apes, then why are there apes still around,” then you would understand the statement above. Simply put, man evolved from a primate common ancestor (which lead to all the great apes, including chimpanzees and gorillas) about 4-8 million years ago. The common ancestor is not around, but human primate relatives do. In biological terms, the divergence into the various great apes (Family Hominidae) is quite recent. The evidence is not based on supposition and guesswork, there are vast amounts of scientific literature supporting this family tree.
I find these types of arguments from creationists show a complete lack of knowledge of biological sciences, except at the most superficial level. If one looks at the tree of life as a bunch of endpoints without understanding how the tree is built. Of course, if they read these posts from Rosa Rubicondior and others, they would understand it. But I guess I’ll have to agree with Rosa:
Even more unforgivable are those who assiduously maintain their own ignorance by refusing to read anything, like this blog, which might cause them to abandon their cherished beliefs, for these are the people who are quite deliberately and consciously fooling themselves into believing what they know to be false. These will be the ones who are constantly asking what they like to think are the ‘killer knock-down’ questions of biologists and who then ignore the answers and ask the same questions again next week. You only need to read their sanctimonious condescension and pretence to have greater knowledge than the scientists who spend years learning and researching the subject, to see what they are getting out of their intellectual dishonesty.
I wish there were creationists who actually had a scientific background (and there are a few), because the debate is just dull with those who are not. Their knowledge of science is so lacking that I wonder if they consider how much evolutionary science is built into the medical care they receive. Of course, I guess that’s why faith healing exists.
Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change | NCSE.
Not only is the sixth evolution denialist bill proposed by state legislatures since the beginning of the year (which is about 3 weeks long so far), it throws in climate change denialism for good measure.
Josh Brecheen, the sole sponsor of the bill, states that:
“Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.”
Which renowned scientists? Are there any? Almost every scientist (renowned or otherwise) accepts evolution as a virtual fact. Academic freedom means that a teacher teaches science (or history or whatever the discipline) without interference from government. So, does the Department of Biology at the University of Oklahoma teach Intelligent design as a scientific theory? It isn’t.
Glad I live in California. This stuff just doesn’t happen here.
The first artificial sweetener poisoned lots of Romans.
Three word commentary: lead acetate. Yuck.
I’ll stick with Splenda and Nutrasweet, thank you!
BBC News – India rejects ‘total drug resistant TB’ claim.
As opposed to early reports that I’ve discussed previously about the totally drug resistant tuberculosis strain that has appeared in India, the Indian government seems to state otherwise. I’ll wait until a published article appears somewhere.