Texas is officially the most anti-science state in America

As long as the Republican Party runs the state of Texas, then its strategies and beliefs are equal to the beliefs of the state itself. The Texas Republican Party just published its platform of beliefs (pdf), filled with nonsense, craziness, and denialism. I’ll stick with the anti-science junk, but you can amuse yourself with everything from immigration to voter ID.

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists – We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.

Obviously, a knock against global warming, or at least, that Texas’ oil and gas interests take precedence over global warming, endangered species, and the EPA! Apparently, the dune sage brush lizard is of critical importance to the Texas political process!

 RU 486 – We urge the FDA to rescind approval of the physically dangerous RU-486 and oppose limiting the manufacturers’ and distributors’ liability.

It is not physically dangerous, because out of 1.52 million uses, there were around 2200 adverse events (pdf), or around 0.14%. That’s less than smoking. Or drinking. Or walking across the street.

Morning After Pill – We oppose sale and use of the dangerous “Morning After Pill.”

No. Not dangerous either.

Fetal Pain – We support legislation that requires doctors, at first opportunity, to provide to a woman who is pregnant, information about the nervous system development of her unborn child and to provide pain relief for her unborn if she orders an abortion. We support legislation banning of abortion after 20 weeks gestation due to fetal pain.

There is little evidence that a fetus feels pain prior to 30 weeks of gestation. This is merely a method for anti-abortion and anti-women individuals to promote some sort of viability in a fetus.

Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents.

Actually, the First Amendment prevents the establishment of religion by government, which includes government sponsored institutions like public schools. 

Health Care and Nutritional Supplements ― We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription–only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.

Because real medicines that actually do real things require regulation. Vitamins and supplements that don’t do anything and have no evidence supporting their efficacy prefer not to be regulated. And the Republicans want that dishonesty to continue.

Immunizations ― All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

Vaccines save lives. Any other rationalization does not save lives.

Well there’s your Republican lunatics in Texas. Maybe one day the demographics change enough that a more progressive group of people run the state, removing the insanity.

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”

The Zombie Apocalypse or vaccine myths that won’t die

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.

Welcome to my world

A Skeptical Raptor’s native environment is the jungles of the internet, where junk science, pseudoscience, myths, logical fallacies, and outright lies survive unchecked. The Raptor has evolved over several million years to hunt down these anti-science prey, scaring them away from the average reader. Remember, a Raptor is missing some table manners, so the prey may not be treated very nicely.

OK, let me set aside the metaphors.  As you can see in my about me page, my background has been in the sciences, medicine and business. But the great thing about a strong science background is it teaches you critical thinking skills and the scientific method.  The scientific method isn’t mixing oxygen and hydrogen to make water, but it is the logical progression from observation to hypothesis to data to analysis to publication to review.  But science is not static, it is self critical, constantly reviewing itself, improving, discarding, or just supporting its theories.  What you’ll find is that the anti-science thinking is not self critical, because it considers improvement some sort of weakness.

I’m going to get this out of the way upfront.  I am a supporter of Big Pharma and the medical products industry in general.  Do I think they do no wrong?  No I don’t, I think that too often decisions are made based on business realities rather than medical ones.  However, despite some of the appeals to conspiracy about which I constantly read, most individuals in the industry are devoted to making human life better.  It is their only goal.  And despite some of the claims of the anti-science crowd, Big Pharma has saved many many many more lives than it has harmed.  Vaccines would be the #1 piece of evidence of that.  Polio, pertussis, measles, rubella, and many other diseases are no longer (well, not until recently, thanks to another anti-science group) a part of our cultural memory because of Big Pharma.

But I’ll talk about these issues over time.  I like writing for humor and critique, not for tremendous scientific analysis worthy of a Nobel Prize.  There are lots of bloggers, all of whom I respect beyond anything, who write about these topics in depth.  I will link to them, in case my skin-deep analysis annoys you.

So here goes.  Let’s see if I can do this.