What is your favorite antivaccine myth?

There hasn’t been a poll here for awhile. Let’s have a fun one.

Why we vaccinate–because the flu can be deadly to healthy people

flu-shot-coolThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published its most recent weekly report for the current flu outbreak in the United States (note: this link is to a non-static website where the numbers are updated weekly, so they may not match what is posted below). Here’s some of the most important data:

  • 2,622 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported since October 1, 2013. This represents a cumulative rate of 9.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the United States.
  • Of the 2,622 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season, 61.6% have been in people 18 to 64 years old, much younger than typical flu outbreaks where most flu hospitalizations occur in people 65 and older. This pattern of more hospitalizations among younger people was also observed during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
  • Widespread influenza activity was reported by 35 states.
  • Ten pediatric deaths have been reported for the flu since the beginning of the flu season–traditionally the peak numbers for deaths of children from the flu happens in the first three months of the year.

So, based on this information, flu doesn’t just send the elderly or those with chronic diseases to the hospital. Influenza related hospitalizations have hit healthy young adults in higher proportions. And the flu kills children. Despite all the garbage that’s placed on the internet, the black hole of accurate, scientific data, there is only one way to boost your immune system to prevent getting the flu–the seasonal flu vaccine.

In case you believe in some myth about the flu vaccine, here’s some real science about the flu and the flu vaccine for you:

If the science of flu vaccines doesn’t convince you, then you really are a dumbass.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science”

Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science

I’m trying out a new series, looking at some popular myths (mostly in medicine, but maybe we’ll wander outside of it when something interesting shows up) and determining if there’s any support or not in science. I’m going to link mostly to science articles and high-quality blogs, just so you have all the back-up evidence that you need. One way or another.

Background

Ginkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science”

The myth of getting the flu from the flu shot

Obama getting his flu vaccination.

As part of my history in medical industry, I used to train sales representatives on new medical products and procedures. Because these sales reps were in hospitals and physicians offices, many medical companies (yes, Big Pharma), a condition of employment was that they were required to be up-to-date on their vaccinations including the seasonal flu vaccine. Not all companies did this, and not all companies made it mandatory, but there was nothing worse than having a large percentage of the sales force out of commission sick with flu, especially if a new product was being launched. And doctor’s offices did not want sales reps walking into their offices sick either, so it was a good business practice. Exemptions were just not given, because it was a job requirement stated clearly in the written job offer, so they had a choice to not take the job. 

It was ironic that these well-paid, well-educated mouthpieces for Big Pharma would make up the most silly excuses for not wanting the flu vaccination. The number one reason, that I would hear, is that “the flu shot always gives me the flu.” And that’s just not these sales reps who would make up this claim, but apparently in a 2010 CDC poll, 62% of Americans also believe the flu vaccine can actually cause the flu. 

Well, let’s just blow that myth right out of the water:

  • According to the CDC, “No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the flu shot during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe.”
  • In a 2000 study on flu vaccine effectiveness, 2.2% of vaccine recipients vs. 4.4% of placebo recipients had laboratory confirmed influenza illness in 1997-1998. During the next flu season, 1% of vaccine recipients and 10% of placebo recipients had influenza illness. So, the risk of getting the flu is much higher in the non-vaccinated group.
  • According to the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness, which may mimic flu symptoms, but last only 1-2 days (as opposed to flu which may last 7-10 days).

So, if you think that the flu vaccine gives you the flu, it really doesn’t. And I’m not the only one saying this:

Get your flu shot. Because, you know, Vaccines Save Lives.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

Pay your bills in 2012–Mayans did not predict the end

Not that any reasonable person actually thought that the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world in 2012, but a lot of people think it’s going to happen.  This incredibly silly myth arose because the Mayan calendar was based on 13 separate 144,000 day intervals (called baktuns), and the last day of that 13th baktun is December 21, 2012, so, of course, the pseudoscience, myth-loving crowd thought that the Mayans predicted the end of the world.  Of course, this fails on so many levels, including that it’s impossible to predict the future and that it’s a silly assumption that the Mayan calendar can’t repeat itself. Continue reading “Pay your bills in 2012–Mayans did not predict the end”

Americans believe in debunked myths–shocking news

According to a Reuters poll, nearly 15 percent of the earth’s population believe that the world will end during their lifetime, while another 10 percent think the Mayan calendar proves that the world will end in 2012.  The end of the Mayan calendar, which spans about 5,125 years, on December 21, 2012 prompted a whole field of pseudoscience about the apocalyptic end of the word, sometimes spurred on by some of the junk programs on the History Channel.

What’s worse than all of this is that 22% of Americans believe in an impending Armageddon in their lifetime (the highest rate along with Turkey).  This compares to obviously better science educations in France, where only 6% believe in this silliness, in Belgium, only 7% believe, and the United Kingdom, only 8%. The poll also indicated that individuals with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalyptic end of the world.  Maybe the History Channel has a broader reach than originally thought. Continue reading “Americans believe in debunked myths–shocking news”

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.