Aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – another attempt for something, anything

aluminum adjuvants

Here we go again, another attempt to link aluminum adjuvants in vaccines to something, despite the lack of real evidence for anything. Recently, an attempt by the disreputable pair of anti-vaccine researchers to show a link between aluminum adjuvants and autism was retracted by the journal.

Several researchers have proposed a systematic review (which are considered to be the pinnacle of the hierarchy of biomedical research) to determine if there are any links between aluminum adjuvants in vaccines to some medical condition. Read that carefully – this paper does not provide any new evidence, it is merely a description of their reasons for looking at aluminum along with the meta review protocol.

Mostly, I’d ignore these type of papers, because they aren’t providing us with any new information about vaccines. But in this case, I wanted to point out a bunch of flaws in their reasoning, which seems to indicate a high degree of bias. Therein is the problem – systematic reviews are powerful tools in science based medicine, but many of these systematic reviews are filled with a large amount of bias. And this study is starting from a very biased point of view. Continue reading “Aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – another attempt for something, anything”

Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated

vaccines and autism

Vaccines and autism are not linked or related according to real science, published in real scientific journals written by top scientists and physicians.

But this false claim is in the news again. Probably as a result of reports that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. So let’s take a look at the science.

On 28 March 2014, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that new data show that the estimated number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a disorder of neural development, usually appearing before the age of 3 years, characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior, continues to rise.  The picture of ASD in US communities is changing. Continue reading “Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated”

Anti-vaccine paper retracted – Shaw and Tomljenovic lose again

Anti-vaccine paper retracted

A few weeks ago, I wrote a critical analysis of a paper by Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic published in Inorganic Biochemistry that tried to convince us that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines caused autism. Predictably, it’s another anti-vaccine paper retracted by another journal.

Shaw and Tomljenovic have quite a history in retracted anti-vaccine articles. Last year, they wrote an article about aluminum adjuvants in the HPV vaccine – it was retracted, and eventually republished almost word-for-word in an inferior journal.

According to Retraction Watch, Inorganic Biochemistry’s editor, John Dawson of the University of South Carolina, stated that:

The paper by Shaw and co-workers is being retracted jointly by the authors and the editor.

Yup, another anti-vaccine paper retracted. Of course, the article was roundly criticized in numerous posts across the skeptical universe soon after it was published. For example, the piercing Orac wrote in his blog,

given Shaw and Tomljenovic’s history, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of this study as well…

At best, what we have here are researchers with little or no expertise in very basic molecular biology techniques using old methodology that isn’t very accurate overinterpreting the differences in gene and protein levels that they found. At worst, what we have are antivaccine “researchers” who are not out for scientific accuracy but who actually want to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism….If this were a first offense, I’d give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt, but this is far from their first offense.

Orac called the paper, “antivaccine pseudoscience.” Not that anti-vaccine is anything but pseudoscience.

Other bloggers, like The Mad Virologist, who is also an expert on DNA analysis, and the Blood Brain Barrier Scientist, who writes about the blood-brain barrier and heavy metal music, jointly analyzed the paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic. They did a masterful job in looking at some of the technical errors and other issues with the paper. I won’t pretend to summarize what they write, so I’ll use their own summary:

Based on the methods that were used in this paper, Shaw et al. went too far in declaring that aluminum adjuvants cause autism. But there are six other key points that limit what conclusions can be drawn from this paper:
1) They selected genes based on old literature and ignored newer publications.
2) The method for PCR quantification is imprecise and cannot be used as an absolute quantification of expression of the selected genes.
3) They used inappropriate statistical tests that are more prone to giving significant results which is possibly why they were selected.
4) Their dosing regime for the mice makes assumptions on the development of mice that are not correct.
5) They gave the mice far more aluminum sooner than the vaccine schedule exposes children to.
6) There are irregularities in both the semi-quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot data that strongly suggests that these images were fabricated. This is probably the most damning thing about the paper. If the data were manipulated and images fabricated, then the paper needs to be retracted and UBC needs to do an investigation into research misconduct by the Shaw lab.

Taken together, we cannot trust Shaw’s work here and if we were the people funding this work, we’d be incredibly ticked off because they just threw away money that could have done some good but was instead wasted frivolously. Maybe there’s a benign explanation for the irregularities that we’ve observed, but until these concerns are addressed this paper cannot be trusted.

Also, a lot of criticism occurred on PubPeer, a website devoted to a kind of extended peer review of published papers. The commenters were harsh. Oneclaimed that there was a “clear and deliberate” removal of control results in the paper. And many others either hinted or outright stated that DNA gel bands were duplicated, photoshopped or taken from a 2014 paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic (and published in a journal that’s not even indexed on PubMed).

Added to all of this is that the primary author has left the University of British Columbia, where Shaw and Tomljenovic do their “research,” taking all of the data with her. I don’t mean to be cynical, but I will be – yeah right.

As an aside, I don’t know why the University of British Columbia continues to house Shaw and Tomljenovic. They have had their “research” utterly discredited by the World Health Organization. They have had papers retracted. And when they do publish, they’re in low ranked, low impact factor journals. Finally, their “research” is supported by some of the most profoundly anti-vaccine sponsors in the world.  Frankly, the only good Shaw and Tomljenovic do for the anti-vaccine world is to allow those of us who are pro-science/pro-vaccine lots of fodder in embarrassing the anti-vaccine world.

So there we go. Another Shaw and Tomljenovic anti-vaccine paper retracted, and will probably be republished in the Journal of Homeopathy Vaccines (no, it doesn’t exist). By the way, I won the betting pool on when it would be retracted. Hopefully, the shills pay me for winning.



HPV vaccine causes infertility and primary ovarian insufficiency – myth

HPV vaccine causes infertility

The HPV vaccine causes infertility through primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) – a belief unsupported by evidence. And the claim appears to be based on anti-vaccine ideology instead of real science.

Yes, I know, this story seems to repeat itself, but stay tuned, this is a good one. So let’s examine this myth from a scientific aspect and show how the HPV vaccine is actually unrelated to POI. Continue reading “HPV vaccine causes infertility and primary ovarian insufficiency – myth”

Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED

aluminum causes autism

Every morning I wake up with the vain hope that the vaccine deniers will give up on the thoroughly debunked vaccines-cause-autism tropes. And every morning I’m disappointed. Today’s trope is that vaccine aluminum causes autism. Despite the claims, there still is no evidence.

Two of our favorite anti-vaccine shills, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, have been the subject of scathing reviews numerous times by the feathery dinosaur. And they’re back again, using bad science, trying to convince the world that aluminum in vaccines is somehow linked to autism.

Well, let’s take a look at research, but don’t expect a different result when I last looked at a Shaw and Tomljenovic article about aluminum in vaccines. Which was retracted. Continue reading “Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED”

Anti-vaccine doctors – naming names and listing lists

Anti-vaccine doctors

Recently, the vaccine deniers have pushed a list of anti-vaccine doctors, which gets copy-pasted from one website to another, and are similar to those lists of “scientists” who deny Darwinian evolution or climate change. But is this really made up of respected physicians and researchers? Does it really contain doctors who are experts or authorities on vaccines?

Well, thanks to Zared Schwartz, a senior at the University of Florida studying microbiology, cell science and neurobehavioral, who took it upon himself to look up each of these individuals and see if they’ve got anything to offer in the discussions about vaccines. Guess what? It doesn’t appear so.

So if you run across this list of anti-vaccine doctors and researchers, wondering if any of them speak from authority, just check them out on this list.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine doctors – naming names and listing lists”

Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority

There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.

One of the most irritating problems I have with the antivaccination movement  is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.

For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show population level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.

Now the anti-vaccine world has a new hero – Tetyana Obukhanych. Continue reading “Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority”

Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism

hierarchy of scientific evidence

I am  a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.

That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, that’s the opposite of good science.

Unfortunately, today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media, can be overwhelming. Sometimes we create an internal false balance,  assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate, when there isn’t one.

I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful and nuanced articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I know science is hard. It’s difficult. Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.

But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.

Continue reading “Hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to scientific skepticism”

Retracted HPV vaccine article – Shaw and Tomljenovic are back

HPV vaccine article

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about a retracted HPV vaccine article, “Behavioral abnormalities in young female mice following administration of aluminum adjuvants and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil,” published in the one of the top journals in the field, Vaccine. This article was authored by, among others, the leading lights of the academic side of the anti-vaccine movement – Christopher Shaw,  Lucija Tomljenovic and Yehuda Schoenfeld. In particular, Shaw and Tomljenovic seem to have an obsession with the HPV vaccine.

After withering criticism across the field, especially since the article was published in a prestigious, high impact factor journal, the editors at Vaccine decided to withdraw the article:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the Editor-in-Chief due to serious concerns regarding the scientific soundness of the article. Review by the Editor-in-Chief and evaluation by outside experts, confirmed that the methodology is seriously flawed, and the claims that the article makes are unjustified. As an international peer-reviewed journal we believe it is our duty to withdraw the article from further circulation, and to notify the community of this issue.

The paper no longer exists in chronicles of Vaccine – about the best outcome possible.

Unfortunately, despite the strong criticism of the HPV vaccine article’s methods, analysis and conclusions, another journal, Immunologic Research, published the article, with small changes, in July 2016. Nevertheless, the formerly retracted HPV vaccine article has the same issues that were discussed months ago. Nothing has changed.

Let’s take a look what the article said, what changes were made in un-retracting it, and what are still the valid criticisms.


Continue reading “Retracted HPV vaccine article – Shaw and Tomljenovic are back”

Aluminum adjuvant in vaccines – let’s go cherry picking

Aluminum adjuvant

With the success of California’s vaccination law, SB277, there appears to be a trend to increase vaccination uptake among school-aged children. And it’s a great thing that we protect our children from vaccine preventable diseases. Yet, the anti-vaccine crowd is still looking for lame excuses to not vaccinate – today, it’s the aluminum adjuvant in vaccines.

The anti-vaccine crowd has a tendency to ignore the vast and powerful scientific consensus on vaccines. Instead, they prefer to cherry pick research, often from biased “scientists” who publish in the lowest quality journals. That cherry picking is a form of confirmation bias – the individual seeks evidence that supports their a priori conclusions rather than letting the robust body of evidence point them to a conclusion.

Generally, these myths, based on cherry picking, are debunked. But the anti-vaccine cult is nothing if not creative. They just move on to a new boogeyman. This time, it’s aluminum adjuvants in vaccines. To be honest, anti-vaccine tropes are zombies, so we think we destroy those tropes, but they rise again, fed by new cherry picking. And debunking the danger of aluminum in vaccines has been an age-old discussion amongst the pro-science crowd.

Today, we’re going to look at one of those articles which was recently published. If one accepted this research, while ignoring critical analysis and the body of other science, then it would be a great one to confirm one’s own pre-conceived beliefs. But that’s not how we do science, so let’s take a look. Continue reading “Aluminum adjuvant in vaccines – let’s go cherry picking”