Polling pastors on evolution | NCSE

Polling pastors on evolution–National Center for Science Education

There are a few interesting points regarding this poll:

  • The poll was commissioned by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, a rather conservative Christian denomination.  I’m concerned about the inherent bias.
  • Protestants in various parts of the country have different beliefs about science and evolution.  This poll may be biased towards Southern US churches, where more literal beliefs in biblical myth is more prevalent.
  • Of course, this polling does not include anyone outside of the US.
  • The first question was “I believe god used evolution created people”.   About 24% agreed with that, over 72% disagreed.  Of course, that’s a loaded question, because a pastor might accept evolution and not think a god was involved, but it’s hard to tell without the real data.
  • Interestingly, only 46% thought the earth was 6000 years old, whereas 43% disagreed (although, not sure if they thought it was 4.5 billion or something else).
  • One minor, but very annoying point.  One does not believe in evolution, since belief implies acceptance with or in spite of evidence.  Evolution is a theory (and in science, a theory is essentially a fact) based on mountains of evidence.  It does not require evidence, it requires acceptance of the evidence, or rejection of the evidence based on denialism, ignorance, or belief in an alternative explanation–or all three.

There are churches that accept evolution as is.  Jews, Catholics, and most mainstream Protestants (such as Anglicans) were, of course, excluded from this poll, and would have skewed it toward “pastors” supporting evolution.  Of course, anti-evolution (or evolution denialism) is so prevalent these days, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by this poll.

By the way, if you aren’t, follow the National Center for Science Education.  They keep everyone updated on important issues in science education in the USA.

WHO | 10 facts on immunization

WHO | 10 facts on immunization.

  1. Immunization prevents an estimated 2.5 million deaths every year.  Immunization prevents deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. It is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.
  2. More children than ever are being reached with immunization.  In 2010, an estimated 109 million children under the age of one were vaccinated with three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine. These children are protected against infectious diseases that can have serious consequences like illness, disability or death.
  3. An estimated 19.3 million children under the age of one did not receive DTP3 vaccine.  Seventy percent of these children live in ten countries, and more than half of them live in WHO’s Africa and South-East Asia regions.
  4. Over 1 million infants and young children die every year from pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhea.  A large number of these deaths can be prevented through vaccination.
  5. Public-private partnerships facilitate the development and introduction of vaccines.  For example, a new vaccine which prevents the primary cause of epidemic meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa, meningococcal A, MenAfriVac, was introduced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger last year. At the end of 2011. Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria are vaccinating more than 22 million individuals with the vaccine which has the potential to eliminate the leading cause of meningitis epidemics in Africa.
  6. The supply of influenza vaccines has been significantly expanded.  The expansion has been possible as a result of WHO supporting the efforts of vaccine manufacturers to produce and license influenza vaccines in 11 developing countries.
  7. Global measles mortality has declined by 78%.  Global measles mortality has been reduced from an estimated 733 000 deaths in 2000 to 164 000 deaths in 2008, thanks to intensified vaccination campaigns.
  8. Polio incidence has been reduced by 99%.  Since 1988, polio incidence has fallen by 99%, from more than 350 000 cases to 1410 cases in 2010. Only four countries remain endemic – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – down from more than 125 countries in 1988.
  9. Annual deaths from neonatal tetanus have fallen.  Neonatal tetanus deaths have declined to an estimated 59 000, down from 790 000 deaths in 1988.
  10. Immunization provides an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures.  Immunization not only protects children from vaccine-preventable diseases. It also serves as an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures, such as vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition, insecticide-treated nets for protection against malaria and deworming medicine for intestinal worms. In addition, the benefits of immunization are increasingly being extended across the life course to include adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancers that occur in adulthood.

Has there been a more successful human medical effort in the history of man?  No.

Totally Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis in India

Totally Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis in India.

Along with HIV and malaria, tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world.  According to the World Health Organization, there were 8.8 million new worldwide cases of TB, along with 1.4 million deaths in 2010.  TB is difficult to treat, usually taking over six months with antibiotics that sometimes have difficult side effects.

Also, because of low patient compliance, misdiagnosis, and other issues, multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) versions of TB can arise in a population. MDR is resistant to the first-choice drugs, requiring treatment with a larger cocktail of  one or more of the nine different “second-line” antibiotics, which are less effective, have more adverse effects, and can take much longer to effect a cure, up to 2 years or more. XDR TB is resistant to the three first-line drugs and several of the nine antibiotics usually considered as second line choices.

As the article states:

The vast majority of these unfortunate patients seek care from private physicians in a desperate attempt to find a cure for their tuberculosis. This sector of private-sector physicians in India is among the largest in the world and these physicians are unregulated both in terms of prescribing practice and qualifications. A study that we conducted in Mumbai showed that only 5 of 106 private practitioners practicing in a crowded area called Dharavi could prescribe a correct prescription for a hypothetical patient with MDR tuberculosis. The majority of prescriptions were inappropriate and would only have served to further amplify resistance, converting MDR tuberculosis to XDR tuberculosis and TDR tuberculosis.

The spread of this disease could be quicker than some other infectious disease (like HIV), because of how easily it’s spread (one patient can infect up to 15 others before diagnosis and treatment), and, of course, the lack of viable antibiotics for XDR TB.

Right now, the infection seems to be in a small subgroup of TB patients in India (and Iran) in a border region that has poor medical care.  However, given the lack of effective antibiotics means that we’re all in this together.

The interesting fact about the title of the article–the authors seem to have invented a new subset of TB, Totally Drug Resistant.

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer?

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair.

The good thing about being a skeptical, and applying the scientific method to everything is that you learn to think critically, to analyze data, and to demand data.  I had a sneaking suspicion that airline security was more of a PR scheme than anything else.  In medicine, every procedure, medication, and device has some marginal increase in harm to the patient, but that should be far exceeded by the benefit.  In the case of the TSA, the harm (cost, inconvenience, delays, risk of radiation from scanners, and anything else you can imagine) seems to far outweigh any marginal benefit.

The fact is I can think of dozens of ways to disrupt and terrorize Americans with a small bomb or gun (both so easily obtained in today’s USA)–I won’t list them here, just in case the terrorists or so damn lazy that they google the internet for ideas. Get 21 deluded religious fanatics together, a few weapons, and an inviting target, and we will forget about the airports.  What are we going to do next?  Put up scanners at supermarkets, malls, gas stations, movie theaters, and golf courses?

TSA receives $8.1 billion in funding every year, and I have to imagine that amount could be better spent on other types of security measures that get at the issue at the core.  Again, using medicine as analogy, try not to treat the symptoms, but the causes.

By the way, there are websites that provide you with detailed instructions on how to generate fake boarding passes.  They’re meant for family members to go to the gate to meet other family members. Some are there to show the vulnerability of the TSA system.  So, even non-terrorists know how to get around the rules.

TSA doesn’t pass even the smallest bit of scrutiny or critical analysis.  Wish it would be gone, but there’s not much we can do to make that happen.

Huge volcano threatens Europe!!! Maybe not.

Although my interests center on medicine and biology, I have more than a professional hobbyist interest in geology, specifically vulcanism, the study of volcanoes (and not Spock).  So I peruse news stories about volcanic eruptions when they appear.  This week, a British newspaper, the Daily Mail, published a story entitled, Is a super-volcano just 390 miles from London about to erupt?  I suspect that the Daily Mail is one of Britain’s sensationalist newspapers, and this article would confirm it.

But let’s go over some of it’s points.  Yes, the Laacher See volcano did erupt about 12,900 years ago, and it was a rather large eruption, on the size of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.  Obviously, I was somewhat surprised that such a recent and large volcanic event happened in Europe.  If it did happen today, Europe would be devastated for years.  That eruption was massive, and one can find deep layers of ash throughout Central Europe up through to the North Sea.  It had a profound effect on weather patterns of the era, with effects happening within a few weeks.

The article uses as its evidence that the volcano erupts every 12,000 years, so it’s overdue (I suppose) for an eruption, and that there are some CO2 outgassing in the lake (which formed when the magma chamber collapsed after the most recent eruption).  If that’s their “evidence” for a future eruption, then we need to redefine what constitutes evidence.  In fact, as they say in the financial industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results.  Furthermore, I could find no published, peer-reviewed support for a prediction of a new eruption.  In other words, the Daily Mail invented this prediction.

As for the CO2 bubbles in the lake, yes that happens in water over a magma chamber, but it is, by itself, not an indicator of impending doom.  However, the CO2 can be dangerous, of course, but that’s a biological issue not a prediction-of-eruption issue.

This is what bothers me about these kind of articles.  The internet, being the rather instant communication method that it is, transfers this information from one side of the planet to another.  Soon, I’ll be reading about it in what are supposed to be reasonable websites that monitor the world environmental issues.

Science journalism has a responsibility to actually provide accurate information.  Too many times I read articles published in news sites (probably higher quality than the Daily Mail) that wildly misinterpret medical or scientific articles.  I spend so much time debunking the overstating of what is said that if I could get paid for it, I’d have quite a career set up.  Wikipedia is notorious for this kind of sensationalism.

I can only hope that all the skeptics out there have an effect on this type of bad science journalism.  And London, you’re safe for now, though with the Olympics coming up, I may change my mind.



Duesberg Strikes a blow for HIV/AIDS denialism : denialism blog

Duesberg Strikes a blow for HIV/AIDS denialism : denialism blog.

Laymen summary:  Duesberg has no clue.  None.

I spend a lot of time criticizing the vaccine denialists who have taken a fraudulent study, Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet publication claiming a link between MMR vaccinations and autism, to causing families to stop vaccinating children.  This has lead to increased measles, whooping cough and other disease rates.  All of which are preventable.

But of course, Duesberg, an HIV/AIDS denialist hits a whole new level of harm to others.  He claims HIV does not cause AIDS.  Actually, there is a ton of evidence that it does.  He claims that AZT is ineffective.  The evidence says otherwise, and in fact, HAART has decreased AIDS mortality significantly.

And what has this AIDS denialism done?  Uganda and South Africa have rising AIDS rates because of this denialism (and a government’s complicity to that denialism).

I wish that Peter Duesberg would go away.  But unfortunately, science allows for the gadflies and cranks, which, in this case, cause harm.

Vaccines–once more with emphasis

As I’ve discussed previously, I find the anti-vaccine movement, linking cases of autism to pediatric vaccinations, to be based on pseudoscientific principles.  There are several individuals that have pushed this quackery, but one of the more visible is Jenny McCarthy, ex-Playboy Playmate of the Year (no, I’m not going to link to it), bad actress, and failed game-show host.  I am flabbergasted, befuddled, and generally gobsmacked that anyone would listen to this woman, a scientific illiterate, about anything outside of how to model and possibly how to choose a career in bad movies.  That parents are making decisions about vaccinating their children based on her bogus beliefs is beyond my simple understanding of the world.  I guess if you get an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, you have power!

However, there are always consequences to every action, and there are many by delaying or refusing vaccinations.  The Jenny McCarthy Body Count is a website that lists every vaccine-preventable case and death that has occurred since Jenny made public her belief that vaccines caused autism in her son (which many believe is a misdiagnosis) in June 2007.  Since then, there have been 142, oops, I mean 866 preventable deaths (as of today).  (As an aside, I had taken a screenshot of the Body Count three years ago to make a presentation, and the number was 142.  It is horrifying that the number has increased 7X since then.) As the website says, she’s not responsible for everyone one of these cases or deaths.  But if she convinces just one person to not adhere to a vaccine schedule for their children, then it’s one too many.

This body count, and Jenny McCarthy’s involvement, would be funny in any other context.  Children contracting diseases that can be easily prevented, with few or any side effects, is irresponsible and abusive.  An 18 month old child cannot decide whether they receive a vaccination or not, so we must rely upon well-informed parents to make certain it happens.  The anti-vaccine movement, based on junk science, causes harm.

And remember, the counter for the number of children who have been diagnosed with autism that has been linked to vaccinations remains at 0.

Time to return to your movies Jenny.

Good job vaccine denialists

The anti-vaccinationsts have had a lot of success in Europe recently.  According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, they report these rather gloomy statistics for measles during the Jan-Oct, 2011 time period:

  • France–nearly 15,000 measles cases
  • Italy–over 4,500 cases
  • Spain–almost 1,900 cases
  • Europe–over 28,000 cases

Measles is a totally preventable disease with an extremely safe vaccination.  And even though there is a belief that measles is not that dangerous, acute measles has a 15% mortality rate.

I see these stories, and I wonder if the anti-vaccination zealots sleep at night knowing the harm they cause.