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”

Google search terms – pseudoscience examples

pseudoscience examples

Google provides me with the search terms that result in clicking on a link to this website. I rarely look at them, but today I looked to find all of the search terms that were pseudoscience examples – some of them were hysterical.

I wanted to do something completely different – away from the anti-vaccination hate-filled creeps, away from the anti-science GMO beliefs, and everything else. Let’s amuse ourselves with some of my favorite search terms over the past three months.

Continue reading “Google search terms – pseudoscience examples”

Gardasil harms girls says American College of Pediatricians

Gardasil harms girls

Yes, I admit that is a clickbait title, especially for those of you who read this blog for science-based information regarding vaccines. But the point of the title is that it allows me to talk about two topics that got mashed together by an anti-vaccine website – whether Gardasil harms girls and whether the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) is a legitimate group.

It would be a full time job to search the internet for every piece of junk science that attacks vaccines. Since Big Pharma Shill Checks™ only cover a couple of seconds of work, I have to limit my takedowns to a few select pieces of silliness on the internet.

And this one is particularly silly. Not only does Gardasil protect girls from sexually transmitted disease, it protects them against cancer. There is no harm.

And the American College of Pediatricians is a whole other story. Continue reading “Gardasil harms girls says American College of Pediatricians”

Gardasil causes behavioral issues – more myth debunking

Gardasil causes behavioral issues

This article has been updated and can be found here. The comments for this article have been closed permanently.

I could have a full-time job just debunking the rumors and myths about the HPV cancer-preventing vaccine, Gardasil. I’d bet one year of my Big Pharma Shill Income™ that the anti-vaccination gangsters make up more junk science about Gardasil than all other vaccines put together. And now, bogus claims that Gardasil causes behavior issues – time for a critical analysis.

This new claim about Gardasil arises from an article, “Behavioral abnormalities in young female mice following administration of aluminum adjuvants and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil,” published in the well respected, relatively high impact factor, journal Vaccine. When it was first published, my thoughts were that the editors of Vaccine missed something. Given that it’s been “temporarily removed,” I guess they did.

But let’s look at this claim with our critical thinking skills, which most of the readers here have.

Continue reading “Gardasil causes behavioral issues – more myth debunking”

HPV vaccine anecdotes – not the basis of real science

Anecdotes are a fundamental part of the anti-vaccine propaganda machine. We have a tendency to overstate the importance of anecdotes, because they usually have an emotional appeal to them. Anecdotes are not data, not even close. At best, they are observations, but they give no indication of temporal correlation, let alone causality.

HPV vaccine anecdotes have become part of the discourse about Gardasil and other HPV vaccines. It has become  full-time job just to debunk the myths that arise from a handful of anecdotes.

I have written on a number of articles about the HPV cancer-prevention vaccines, Gardasil, Cervarix and Silgard. These vaccines prevent infection by up to 9 different types of genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the USA.

The virus is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is very easy to transmit, and according to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract HPV every year.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous with regards to cancer as tobacco. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. And about 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.

There is  a robust body of evidence supporting the fact that HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing HPV infection. There are also several large studies (also, here and here) that strongly support the high degree of safety of the HPV vaccine.

Recently, the European Medicines Agency (EMA, European Union’s version of the US FDA) had started a review of human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines “to further clarify aspects of their safety profile,” although the agency also points out that this review “does not question that the benefits of HPV vaccines outweigh their risks.”

The outcome? The EMA found that the HPV vaccine was safe.

Continue reading “HPV vaccine anecdotes – not the basis of real science”

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”

Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis

This article has been substantially updated, and can be read here. Please read and comment at the newer article.

One of the most tiresome discussions that a scientific skeptic has when debunking and refuting pseudoscience or junk science (slightly different variations of the same theme) is what constitutes real evidence. You’d think that would be easy, “scientific evidence” should be the gold standard, but really, there is a range of evidence from garbage to convincing.

So this is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet. This is a major update of my original article on this topic, with less emphasis on Wikipedia, and more detail about scientific authority and hierarchy of evidence.

In today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media pretending to present knowledge in a manner that makes it appear authoritative. Even detailed, 2000 word articles that I write are often considered to be too long, and people only read the title or the concluding paragraph. This happens all the time in the amateur science circles specifically. For example, many people only read the abstract and, even there, only the conclusion of the abstract for scientific articles.

Continue reading “Evaluating scientific research quality for better skeptical analysis”

Not all scientific articles are equal in science

vaccine-saves-30000-lilvesIn evaluating a scientific claim made by anyone, the only thing that matters is the quality and quantity of evidence. It does matter who is making the claim, it does not matter if you believe their claim, and it does not matter if they make a powerful emotional argument–absent real evidence, it is nothing but words.

When discussing the validity of a scientific or medical claim, some people accept that there is a hierarchy of scientific sources, from nearly worthless (that would be anything from Mercola or Natural News) to scientifically significant systematic reviews. But a lot of people think that if it is published, without any regards to where or how it was peer-reviewed, it signifies the scientific consensus, period, end of discussion. Some will abuse PubMed, the US National Library of Medicine’s powerful search engine, searching for the one article that supports their “beliefs,” while ignoring the 1000 other articles that don’t.

Or how some individuals will use the obscure cell culture study to support their claim that XYZ prevents cancer, while completely ignoring all other evidence that cell culture studies are just an early phase of research, and until it’s confirmed in a large clinical trial with human subjects, the cell culture study barely ranks above conjecture or speculation. Continue reading “Not all scientific articles are equal in science”

Logical fallacies Part 1-Anti-vaccination gang’s naturalistic fallacy

In this blog, the term “logical fallacy” is used frequently to illustrate a logical or rational failure of a particular argument. There are several definitions of what constitutes a logical fallacy:

[pullquote]❝A logical fallacy is, roughly speaking, an error of reasoning. When someone adopts a position, or tries to persuade someone else to adopt a position, based on a bad piece of reasoning, they commit a fallacy.❞–Logical Fallacies[/pullquote]

[pullquote]❝An argument that sometimes fools human reasoning, but is not logically valid.❞–Fallacious Argument[/pullquote]

[pullquote]❝In logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an improper argumentation in reasoning resulting in a misconception or presumption. By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener or interlocutor (appeal to emotion), or take advantage of social relationships between people (e.g. argument from authority). Fallacious arguments are often structured using rhetorical patterns that obscure any logical argument.❞–Wikipedia[/pullquote] Continue reading “Logical fallacies Part 1-Anti-vaccination gang’s naturalistic fallacy”

Another bogus anti-vaccination paper

I use Twitter not only to tweet about my favorite sports teams, but to see what’s being said in science, medicine, politics, and anything interesting. I actually have a list (you can read by list if you want) that I call “Pseudoscience” that are tweets from the biggest anti-science medical people around. Today, I received the following tweet:

So that lead me to a post at “Natural News” (OK, I’ll admit that my skeptical radar fired up) entitled, “Medical journal openly questions science, ethics of HPV vaccinations.” As an aside, Natural News’ url for the article is “vaccinations_quack_science_medical_journals.html”; not very subtle are they?

First a little background is necessary before starting this story. Gardasil (Merck’s brand name) is a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus. In early stages, HPV only results in mild symptoms like warts in the genital and anal areas, but in some cases can lead to cervical cancers. The vaccine not only prevents the transmission of the disease but seems to reduce the long-term risks of cancer.

But, I digress.  Imagine my reaction to the article.  “Oh no, HPV vaccinations are unethical!!!!!” Call the police. I’ve been all wrong about vaccines. Oh wait, let me look up the original article, because even very unbiased news sources like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times sometimes get medicine wrong. Let me run over to the article before I post my mea culpa about vaccines.

The article, Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine policy and evidence-based medicine: Are they at odds?, published in the Annals of Medicine in December 2011. The authors, Tomljenovic and Shaw are associated with the University of British Columbia, Department of Ophthalmology. I don’t want to degenerate into some sort strawman fallacy, but I question why two individuals in a medical specialty, ostensibly involved with the eyes, are so obsessed with vaccines. Furthermore, they have a long history of anti-vaccination papers, most published in low impact journals. For example, they recently published an article correlating aluminum with autism, though the correlation is specious and providing no causality. One of the worst mistakes of research is conflating causality and correlation.

Moving on to the article, their abstract states:

All drugs are associated with some risks of adverse reactions. Because vaccines represent a special category of drugs, generally given to healthy individuals, uncertain benefits mean that only a small level of risk for adverse reactions is acceptable. Furthermore, medical ethics demand that vaccination should be carried out with the participant’s full and informed consent. This necessitates an objective disclosure of the known or foreseeable vaccination benefits and risks. The way in which HPV vaccines are often promoted to women indicates that such disclosure is not always given from the basis of the best available knowledge. For example, while the world’s leading medical authorities state that HPV vaccines are an important cervical cancer prevention tool, clinical trials show no evidence that HPV vaccination can protect against cervical cancer. Similarly, contrary to claims that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, existing data show that this only applies to developing countries. In the Western world cervical cancer is a rare disease with mortality rates that are several times lower than the rate of reported serious adverse reactions (including deaths) from HPV vaccination. Future vaccination policies should adhere more rigorously to evidence-based medicine and ethical guidelines for informed consent.

I won’t go through each point, but a couple are important to refute:

  1. Uncertain benefits.  The Centers for Disease Control disagrees.
  2. Clinical trials show no evidence that HPV vaccination can protect against cervical cancer.  This is partially true, since HPV-related cancers can take from 15-25 years to arise.  Epidemiological data takes time.  However, we know that HPV is the cause for several types of cervical and other cancers, so preventing HPV is a logical choice to make, given the prevalence of the virus.
  3. Vaccination polices should adhere more rigorously to evidence-based medicine.  It does already.  Pretty strongly.  Anti-vaccination, as best as I can tell, is based on fraudulent journal articles (see anything by Andrew Wakefield).

HPV vaccine is safe and efficacious. If you need more information on the HPV vaccine safety, the good researchers at Science Based Medicine did a great article called, The HPV Vaccine (Gardasil) Safety Revisited.

Let me make this clear. Every single medical procedure, pharmaceutical, and device has some risk associated with it. Can you get an infection at the injection site? Yes! Can you be allergic to the injection? Yes! Can it cause paralysis? No. Can it cause a broken leg? No, though if you did a random study, you’d find a large percentage of young girls who broke their legs within six months of being vaccinated, so obviously correlation is equivalent to causation. Or it doesn’t.

If Tomljenovic and Shaw could prove either no benefit with some measurable risk, or little benefit with large risk, then there is an ethical issue with the HPV vaccine. But actually, there is a high level of benefit with almost no risk, or risk that actually is imaginary rather than shown in evidence based medicine. You see, just because you use “evidence-based” in your article title, it doesn’t mean you actually follow it.

HPV vaccine should be recommended for all young men and women (yes, I said men too), reducing the future risk of cancer and it’s burden to the family, individual and health-care system.