Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates

This article is #3 of the 12 most popular posts on Skeptical Raptor during 2015. This article discusses how science deniers employ false equivalence to create fake debates.

If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalence to make it appear that the often minority, and scientifically unsupported viewpoint is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is based on huge amounts of published evidence.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. It’s because some news sources think there’s a debate, so bring one person to represent one side, and one for the other, and the person screams the loudest often wins.

Continue reading “Science deniers use false equivalence to create fake debates”

Vaccine denier makes it up – France and vaccinations

I have a special affinity for France, you could even consider me a Francophile. There are a lot of reasons for this, including living there for a bit of time, but most of it highly personal.

On the other hand, I also have a special affinity for debunking nonsense from the antivaccination cult. I don’t debunk it all, because there are so many good writers out their that have fun mocking, debunking, and criticizing the vaccine deniers.

However, if someone combines France and vaccinations – well, I’m just going to have to focus on it. Especially, when the information is so patently wrong and unsupported by real evidence.

Continue reading “Vaccine denier makes it up – France and vaccinations”

Man the barricades against the anti HPV vaccine barbarians

During my long years in scientific research and medical device product development, one of the great goals that is often repeated (rarely by the researchers themselves but politicians and the public) is a prevention or “cure” for cancer. Setting aside the simple fact that there are over 250 different cancers, each with its own cause(s), pathophysiology, prognosis and cure(s), and setting aside the fact that we can cure some cancers, albeit with radical treatments, simple prevention and cures have been elusive.

Many people have hyped foods or supplements as “natural” prevention for cancers, but the evidence that any of these things work is missing. Or a myth. Or just don’t work.

Actually, one of the best ways to prevent cancer is get immunized against certain cancer causing viruses. And there is one medical discovery that can prevent one of these viruses. It’s easy to get the prevention. It’s very safe. And it really works. Continue reading “Man the barricades against the anti HPV vaccine barbarians”

Measles, mumps, rubella outbreaks–the culpability of Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield-fraudThis week, writer Aaron Carroll provided a graphic depiction of the toll of the antivaccination movement, which itself comes from a Council on Foreign Relations interactive map of “vaccine-preventable outbreaks” worldwide 2008-2014. I narrowed down the map to just include measles, mumps, and rubella, three diseases that can and are prevented by the MMR (or more commonly in the USA, MMRV, which includes chickenpox) vaccine.

Even though the vaccine deniers champion the trope that these diseases are “not serious,” real evidence from real infectious disease medical specialists say otherwise. Measles, mumps and rubella can be dangerous diseases with debilitating complications, including death, for both children and adults. And as you can see in the map (click on it for greater detail), outbreaks of measles (in red), mumps (in olive) and rubella (in blue) are larger than it should be in both the developed and the developing world than it should be, given the easy access to the MMR (or MMRV) vaccines. Continue reading “Measles, mumps, rubella outbreaks–the culpability of Andrew Wakefield”

Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.

gardasil-one-lessAfter publishing a few articles about Katie Couric‘s false balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science broadcast on her eponymous TV talk show, Katie, I thought I could move on to other topics in skepticism. I, and dozens of other writers on the internet, had chided, criticized and lambasted her using anecdotes from two mothers to impugn the safety of Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), while ignoring solid science and medical research that supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Well, today, Couric issued an apology, of sorts, regarding the episode. Her introductory paragraph, basically says it all:

Last week we devoted several segments on my TV talk show to the issues surrounding the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. Learning about this relatively recent preventive measure is tremendously important, and I felt it was a subject well worth exploring. Following the show, and in fact before it even aired, there was criticism that the program was too anti-vaccine and anti-science, and in retrospect, some of that criticism was valid. We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine. More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines. As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts. Continue reading “Katie Couric does a 180 and an apology. Too late.”

Most Americans don’t know HPV vaccine prevents cancer

© Wikipedia Commons, 2013
© Wikipedia Commons, 2013

The blogosphere has been chatting a lot lately about Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe), mainly because of  Katie Couric, a fairly popular USA-based journalist with her own eponymous TV talk show, Katie, who did a falsely balanced anti-Gardasil episode that completely ignored real science.  

The vast majority of Americans haven’t been vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus) and are unsure about the shots’ effectiveness in preventing cancers, according to a presentation to the American Association for Cancer Research based on data culled from a survey of 1700 individuals in the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The CDC states that HPV is directly responsible for cervical canceranal cancervulvar cancervaginal canceroropharyngeal cancer and penile cancer. These are all deadly, disfiguring, and potentially preventable cancers through the use of HPV vaccines. 

Worse yet, according to lead researcher, Kassandra Alcaraz, director of health disparities research at the American Cancer Society, the new study found that just one in three U.S. girls and less than 5% of U.S. boys has received the full recommended course of three shots of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine. Part of the reason for the low vaccine uptake rate was that the survey found that around 70% of Americans were unsure of the vaccine’s role in preventing cancers in both men and women. Continue reading “Most Americans don’t know HPV vaccine prevents cancer”

Katie Couric doubles down on the Gardasil false balance

katie-couric-hpv

Revised 10 December 2013.

If you weren’t aware, on 4 December 2013, Katie Couric, a fairly popular USA-based journalist with her own eponymous TV talk show, Katie, did a report about Gardasil (formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine and also called Silgard in Europe). Essentially, Couric interviewed several individuals who claim, without any evidence (and lacking any clue about statistical analysis) that Gardasil harmed their children. Couric gave about a minute of time to ONE physician to explain the safety and effectiveness of Gardasil, as opposed to the heartbreaking, but ultimately irrelevant, stories from parents who needed to blame something for what had happened, and chose Gardasil. As opposed to depression, diet soda, bottled water, air pollution, bad TV shows, or that fake butter that the movie theaters use.

As I wrote before, Gardasil is incredibly safe, as shown in massive and well-designed epidemiological studies. It prevents HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, a sexually transmitted disease. And in case you think it’s just some benign virus, HPV is directly responsible for cervical cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer and penile cancer. These are all deadly, disfiguring, and potentially preventable cancers through the use of HPV vaccines.

In other words, Couric, in the ultimate example of false balance–Couric believed that both sides of a scientific “debate” are equivalent in quality of opinion and evidence. But rarely is this true, especially in scientific principles that have been well-studied and supported by a massive amount of evidence. The safety and efficacy of vaccines is supported by the vast consensus of real science. The antivaccination side has no evidence, so it must rely upon logical fallacies and cherry picked data, and lack any real, world-class contingent of scientists who have stepped up to change the consensus with real evidence. Continue reading “Katie Couric doubles down on the Gardasil false balance”

The long history of the antivaccination movement–plus their theme song

The rousing anti-vaccination hymn.

This week was a bit depressing to be pro science (and by association, pro-vaccine). As I discussed, Katie Couric employed the full false balance fallacy to the extreme to try to “prove” that the Gardasil vaccine was somehow dangerous, based on the anecdotal, and ultimately unscientific, stories. That’s not science. That’s not good journalism. And that goes against real science and real clinical trials which, startlingly, comes to a conclusion that Gardasil is safe and very effective.

Oh, then in response to the intense criticism, Couric doubled-down on the false balance

I needed something to mock the antivaccination movement, something to remind me that these people are, in general, crackpots of the highest order. 

Continue reading “The long history of the antivaccination movement–plus their theme song”