COVID vaccine deniers – 12 are responsible for 73% of anti-vaccine content on Facebook

COVID-19 vaccine deniers

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) recently published a guide called the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of 12 COVID-19 vaccine deniers who are responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine information on social media. Some of the names are familiar (at least to me) and some are not that familiar (again, at least to me).

CCDH is one of the leading voices in calling out the anti-vaccine world, especially during this time of COVID-19 deniers. They have long pointed out that social media, especially Facebook, has become the major mouthpiece for these groups. And recently, President Joe Biden has called out Facebook for “killing people” as COVID-19 had evolved into the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

The Disinformation Dozen have a long history of grifting, lying, and anti-vaccine rhetoric. Of course, more recently, they have become committed COVID-19 vaccine deniers, while many of them are promoting evidence-lacking COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. And according to CCDH, the Disinformation Dozen are responsible for about 73% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook. That is disturbing.

Because I like to be an encyclopedic resource for anti-vaccine garbage, like my list of facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine to debunk deniers, this article will be a list of the Disinformation Dozen along with links to further criticisms of them, whether or not it was written by yours truly. I wanted to also update what platforms some of these people are still using for their propaganda.

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Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease? No evidence

Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease

One of the undying beliefs of some people is that a handful of expensive supplements prevent cancer and heart disease. Outside of a few cases where there is a diagnosed medical need for supplements, the only result of taking them is very expensive urine.

I’ve written a lot about various supplements and their potential to treat or prevent cancer and heart disease, and the evidence is sorely lacking. There are good ways to prevent cancer, like not smoking and getting the HPV vaccine, but not a single one of them includes swallowing a bunch of vitamins.

Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft recommendations on supplements – they were unable to give a single recommendation to any of the supplements that they examined. And as we do here, let’s take a look at what they wrote.

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Anti-vaccine Sharyl Attkisson threatens to sue Dr. Peter Hotez for defamation

anti-vaccine sharyl attkisson

This article about threats to sue Dr. Peter Hotez by anti-vaccine journalist Sharyl Attkisson was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

Litigation threats by anti-vaccine activists are not new, nor are they unusual. Recently, anti-vaccine journalist Sharyl Attkisson sent a litigation threat to Dr. Hotez, a threat she then published online. Her chances, if she actually sues, are slim, but that does not seem to be the point of such threats.

As best as I can tell, litigation threats by anti-vaccine activists serve two purposes, neither of which depending on the validity of the claims. First, towards the target of the threat, the threat can serve as a deterrent to engage with the anti-vaccine activist. Second, in relation to the anti-vaccine activist’s own followers the threats can both serve to create a narrative of victimhood (“I’m targeted by ‘them’), and second to present themselves to their followers as bravely fighting back against attacks.

This post will describe the events, then put them in the context of previous litigation threats by anti-vaccine activists and previous such behavior by Sharyl Attkisson, then make some suggestions to any reader targeted by similar threats. 

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Joe Mercola warned by FDA about quack COVID-19 treatments

joe mercola

One of our favorite alternative medicine quacks, Dr. Joe Mercola, DO, has been warned by the FDA to cease promoting useless COVID-19 treatments. This is not the first time that Dr. Mercola has run afoul of the FDA, and given his past activities, I doubt it’s his last.

The FDA told Joe Mercola that three products he markets with COVID-19 treatment claims are are “unapproved new drugs” and “misbranded drugs” being sold in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The three products are – Liposomal Vitamin C, Liposomal Vitamin D3, and Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced.

In case you don’t feel like reading what Joe Mercola has done this time, I’ll save you a bit of time. There is no evidence that any of these products do anything to treat COVID-19. But let’s take a look at Mercola and his quack treatments.

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Anti-vaccine groups received over $850,000 from Paycheck Protection Program

anti-vaccine groups

On 18 January 2020, The Washington Post reported that several prominent anti-vaccine groups received over $850,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a government plan that provides loans to small businesses to assist in paying wages and certain other expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Generally, I don’t spend a lot of time discussing recent news events because real newspapers, like the Washington Post, do a much better job than I would. I wouldn’t even have thought in my wildest imagination that this bailout money would have gone to these groups that have only one purpose – reducing vaccine uptake so that more children and adults will suffer from diseases.

I find it particularly ironic that these groups, which are not only anti-vaccine but populated with right-wing COVID-19 deniers, would take bailout money that was expressly set up to help businesses deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When I read the article, I was livid. And I’m going to express my anger in this post, but I don’t think I’m the only person who wants to write the same things. So, this is like the old feathered raptor’s op-ed piece on this story.

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MSG myth debunking – science shows that it’s just an amino acid

msg myth

The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 10 – the MSG myth. 

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. But the MSG myth is one of the most pervasive in the food pseudoscience world (yes, I’m going to make that a thing).

Of course, these additives cause angst in people because of their scary chemical names. Or nonsense on the internet. Or random neurons firing.

Obviously, there is stuff, created by the beauty of natural sunlight and goddess blessed sweet waters from the Alps, that is better than these man-made evil chemicals. Well, no. Everything in nature is made up of “chemistry” –  25-hydroxyergocalciferol is a scary chemical name, right? Except it’s the metabolic product of the conversion of vitamin D in the human liver. It’s natural!

But let’s get back to MSG – how many times have you seen “No MSG” in a sign Chinese restaurant? Is it because China, who has been using MSG in their cuisine for centuries, has been conspiring against Americans since the first Chinese restaurant starting serving up kung pao chicken to unaware Americans?

It’s time to look at the MSG myth – is it real, or does it need a good debunking?

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Weight loss scams – raspberry ketones and green coffee beans

Next up, weight-loss scams (see Note 1) – you know all about them. Take one supplement and suddenly you lose kilograms of weight while eating burgers and fries while watching TV. They often appear in email spam, the Dr. Oz show, or a random Google search.

These weight loss scams, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, are an obsession with Americans (though it’s not unique to this country), especially since the USA is experiencing an obesity epidemic. 

Americans (maybe everyone else) are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill and maintain a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, whoever sold it would be richer than Bill Gates

Two pseudoscientific weight-loss scams have been hitting the public consciousness – raspberry ketones and green coffee beans. Dr. Oz, who despite a solid education in science-based medicine has been promoting everything from homeopathy to Joe Mercola‘s various lunatic cures, has been pushing both of these weight loss scams to his audience in the past. 

But it’s not just him, you can find ads all over the internet for them. I won’t link to them, because why should I send those quacks any clicks?

However, we’re here to answer the most important question – are these weight loss scams really scams? Is there anything there? 

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Whooping cough outbreak – science and simple math

whooping cough outbreak

I have written extensively about several whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) outbreaks which had reached epidemic levels in areas like the Washington state, which had been considered one of the worst outbreaks in the USA during the past several decades. This whooping cough outbreak has lead to several deaths here in the USA and in other countries such as the UK.

Of course, these outbreaks and epidemics have lead to the “blame game” from the antivaccination cult, because they have claimed that since A) most kids are vaccinated, and B) we’re having this outbreak, then C) either the vaccines are useless or are actually the cause of the outbreak. Seriously. They blame the vaccines.

There have been numerous reports about a whooping cough outbreak in the Reno County, KS area, with about 70 cases of the disease being reported. The report indicates that most of the kids who have the disease were vaccinated. It is unclear who said this, and what are the actual statistics. But for now, we’ll take this at face value.

Since this outbreak will undoubtedly lead to the typical antivaccine rhetoric about the whooping cough vaccines, DTaP or Tdap (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), I decided to search the internet to find the most popular vaccine denialist arguments regarding pertussis vaccinations–then debunk them. Hopefully, this will be useful for those who are observing what’s going on in Reno.

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Dr. Oz falls for the overhyped and debunked GMO corn study

dr. oz

A few weeks ago, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his homeopathy loving coauthor published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate (known as Roundup)-resistant NK603 GMO corn, developed by Monsanto, causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. And usual anti-science websites bought into this nonsense, including the TV medical practitioner, Dr. Oz.

It’s time to remind everyone that the Séralini study was bogus, and that Dr. Oz is also bogus. Here we go.

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Acidic blood causes cancer – time to demolish a myth

Acidic blood causes cancer

There are so many inaccurate, misleading, and harmful claims about cancer that I could spend years just debunking them. One of the most popular assertions is that acidic blood causes cancer – that is, if you lower the pH of the blood, it creates an environment to let cancer thrive.

Now, I’ve stated this about a hundred times on this blog (I am not kidding) – there are only a handful of scientifically sound methods to potentially lower your risk of cancer. Quit smoking is near the top. Stay out of the sun. Maintain a healthy (that is, very low) weight. Don’t drink alcohol. Get exercise. And a handful more.

And even if you do all of them, you just reduce your absolute risk, not completely eliminate it. You could randomly get a set of mutations – there are several trillion cells in the body, and even if genetic copying in cell division or transcription were 99.999% perfect, it still leaves millions of chances of mutations – that lead to cancer.

And then there are at least 200-250 different cancers, all with different causes, pathophysiologies, prognosis and treatments. In other words, even if you found some miracle way to prevent one cancer 100% of the time, it probably will have no effect on the other 200 or so cancers. We have tended to conflate cancer as one disease, when it is really a large set of diseases that have the same general physiology, but aren’t truly related.

Cancer is scary because it is so random. In many cases, the treatment is so harsh. And people are so interested in anything that may prevent cancer. And if it’s simple like “eat superfoods like kale and blueberries,” or “reduce acid in your blood,” the instinct is to try it out.

But let’s examine how and if acidic blood causes cancer. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t.

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