Vaxxed review – my personal take on that fraudumentary

I was given the opportunity recently to watch  MrAndy Wakefield’s fraudulent  and self-serving anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Controversy. After getting physically ill and angry, I thought it was my duty to do my own Vaxxed review, something more in-depth than the general criticisms I’ve done with this piece of junk in the past.

I don’t have it in me to write about everything wrong with this “documentary” – to be honest, I heard not one single bit of science based fact presented with respect to the MMR vaccines and autism spectrum disorder. The fraudumentary mostly presented lies, misinformation, anecdotes, and, notably, no real science. Worse yet, it tried to make Wakefield into a hero – maybe a deity of some sort.

So, let’s be clear – this movie is about Wakefield. Not children. Not identifying real causes for autism. Not anything important.

There are a lot of excellent reviews of this “documentary,” including a recent one by David Gorski (you know, my doppelgänger according to certain crackpots on the internet) in Science Based Medicine, “Andrew Wakefield’s VAXXED: Antivaccine propaganda at its most pernicious.” It’s a long review, so read it if you prefer.

Continue reading “Vaxxed review – my personal take on that fraudumentary”

Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

crosby-mumps-2Yesterday, I posted an article about the recent mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, which has hit 13 players (there’s no official number, it varies depending on the source) including one of top stars of the league, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A fourteenth player, also on the Pittsburgh team, may also have the virus, depending on the test results that come back for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has been “put in isolation” by the team.

If this outbreak happened in the general American population, it would get some local news, but since there are just a few hundred cases of mumps in the USA in any given year, not many of us would be writing about it. But since it’s happening in a popular sport (technically the fourth most popular sport in the USA, but number 1 in Canada), it gets more focus.

While writing the story about this outbreak yesterday, I ran across a lot of social media myths that vary from truly odd and scary to plain misinformation. I thought it would be useful to quash some of the most annoying bits of misinformation. Continue reading “Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science”

Healthcare worker fist bumps–maybe it’s all about being cool

©ABC, 2014. Donald Faison and Zach Braff give each other a fist bump in the TV show, Scrubs.
©ABC, 2014. Donald Faison and Zach Braff give each other a fist bump in the TV show, Scrubs.

This article is all about fist bumps. And diseases. And bad science.

For the handful of you who are culturally naïve, let’s quickly describe the fist bump itself. It is a greeting, in lieu of a handshake, which is performed when two individuals acknowledge each other with a closed fist gently tapping each other. There are, of course, all kinds of flourishes and embellishments added to a fist bump, which are unique expressions of individuality. I like the hand explosion after a fist bump, but that’s probably uncool.

If you thought fist bumps are a recent cultural creation, you’d be wrong. Apparently, Greek charioteers did it. And motorcycle riders who pulled up next to each other at red lights have been doing it since the 1940’s. The gesture has been relatively popular in the American game of baseball for at least 50 years. President Barack Obama regularly fist bumps instead of offering a handshake, even with his wife, Michelle. Researching this story, I always thought it was modern and fashionable, but I find out it’s antiquated, but possibly still fashionable.

During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, many medical professionals recommended that healthcare workers greet each other with the fist bump with colleagues and patients rather than the traditional handshake. My anecdotal observations are that I’ve done more fist bumps in the last two or three years during visits to hospitals and physicians than I had in my whole life before (which may have included approximately 0 fist bumps , but I’m not cool). I had a 5 day stay in a hospital a couple of years ago, and not one single nurse, physician, surgeon, attending, resident, janitor, or nutritionist shook my hand. Not one. But I certainly got the fist bump every time, even when I extended my hand for a handshake (I was bored in the hospital, so I started to experiment).  Continue reading “Healthcare worker fist bumps–maybe it’s all about being cool”

Computer problems oh my!

zombie_computerYesterday, technology failed me. This website and blog were down for about 8 hours on 20 November because a server at my data center was overrun by zombies. Well, that’s my story, and I’ll stick to it.

The web hosting company did its best to get things up and running, but there were some “glitches” (thank you President Obama for making that word a part of non-computer tech speak) today. One of the major problems is that a corrupt database has replicated all of the comments made on this blog, not one time, not two times, not three times, but ten times over. This commenting problem has overwhelmed my blog, so I had to do some creative unglitching of my website.

Thus, all comments now must come from registered users of Facebook, Yahoo or AOL. Not sure why the commenting system I chose to use requires Yahoo or AOL (does anyone use AOL anymore?). You cannot comment if you’re a registered user of this website anymore. Most people are logged into Facebook 24/7, so it shouldn’t be any problem. I’m experimenting with a couple of other commenting systems, including DISQUS, mainly because I like the way its set up.

Because of the problem with the comments, any comment made before this morning all appear as one date to me, so I can’t see more recent comments. I don’t reply to every comment, but I do choose to reply to a few. So, if I didn’t reply it could be because I’m rude and didn’t want to do so, or because my website decided to not to cooperate. But starting this morning, I see all of the comments in chronological order again, so if you post a comment that tells me to go jump in a lake, I’ll see it!

Speaking of comments, I do not censor any comments. You can call me names if you wish, though anything racist will be deleted, just on principle. You can disagree with me, and I may respond, but it will be a better conversation if you have peer-reviewed research supporting your point of view. And don’t cherry pick. I hate it.

And I delete spam, because it’s obnoxious. If you want to sell your honey/hemp oil magical cure, go to some hack’s website, like Mercola or Tenpenny. They don’t like science. And if you’re trying to sell my readers a fake Louis Vuitton bag, the spam filter gets that in a second. Less even. And if you’re going to type long winded comments over and over, I’m going to delete a few if they appear to be spam-ish. 

So those are seriously simple commenting rules. No racism. Don’t attack other commenters (but attack me all you want). No selling junk medicine. No spamming. And you have to register through Facebook, but who’s not on Facebook anymore. I know, some of you think it’s a privacy issue. It isn’t. If you’re not a friend of the SkepticalRaptor on Facebook, there’s no way I can see anything that’s not public. And I don’t care to see it, since I’m more interested in writing.

That’s it. Thanks for being patient.

Forget polls–psychics call election for Obama

Unless you live in Antarctica and the satellite downlink is not working, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article anyways, there is an election in the United States between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And unless you’re completely unaware of the news, you would hear that the election is close. 

Major election analysts, those with long track records in statistical analyses in election polls, are not seeing a close election, and as we get closer to the election date, the errors are becoming smaller, and the confidence in the predictions are getting stronger. Here are the three best:

  • Nate Silver, Five Thirty Eight–As of October 25, 2012, Obama has a 74.4% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College (an antiquated way that the United States actually elects its Presidents), 295-243. 
  • Princeton Election Consortium–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has an 88% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 297-241.
  • Votamatic–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has a >95% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 332-206.

In other words, from a statistical standpoint, and because of the unusual way that the United States elects its president, the President is almost guaranteed to be reelected, barring some strange statistical anomaly or world event that dramatically changes the election scene.

But why use mathematics, when we have psychics and their pseudoscience to help us out, especially since the pollsters have “been universally negligent in addressing the fact that on November 6 at precisely 7:04 PM EST, Mercury goes into retrograde.” The Atlantic, doing yeoman’s service to the political world, has polled psychics to determine their predictions for the upcoming elections.

Now you would suppose that most psychics are New Age liberals, so there would be some bias in this polling. But The Atlantic believes that “they would act in the interest of establishing a record of accuracy, as opposed to saying what they hope happens. Letting personal political leanings interfere with the veracity of their professional analyses also must go against the code of the trade.” Obviously, this is a serious business.

Some of my favorite predictions:

  • “Mitt Romney will not win his home state of Massachusetts.” Well, that was a tough one. If that’s all I would need to do to become a psychic, I’m changing my career.
  • “It might even look like [Romney] will or could win. He may even lead in the poles. But on the day of the election Obama has enough of an astrological edge to beat out Romney.” Is that “poles” or “polls.” You never know. So, this prediction has enough fungibility, that whoever wins, it won’t matter, the psychic will claim that they predicted it. 
  • “In a survey of 172 psychics at Psychic Source71.5 percent saw Obama.” So there’s a poll of psychics. I wonder if Nate Silver incorporated that into his research. 

Well there you have it. Ignore the real scientific polling. The psychics are calling the election. And of course, since Obama is probably going to win based on real evidence, they’re all going to claim that they called it well in advance. Then you can call them up and find out how to win the lottery. Or if you’re going to meet the love of your life. Or when the world is going to end. Don’t waste your money. Please.

 

American attitudes about global warming

In most industrialized countries, global warming is considered to be a fact supported by not only personal observations, but also because of the scientific evidence. In fact, there is an overwhelming level of scientific consensus on this matter, including nearly every scientific organization in the United States. But the American mindset is quite different than the rest of the world. The reasons are many: conflating political debate with scientific debate, poorly understood economic trade-offs, badly written articles in online encyclopedias, reliance on confirmation bias, and just plain ignorance. Continue reading “American attitudes about global warming”