Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.

Dr. Folta  is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.

In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.

This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.

Continue reading “Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta”

GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Although denial of anthropogenic global warming and evolution tend to be the domain of the right wing, the left-wing have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs (though some think I should include vaccine denialism too).  Global warming deniers and GMO opponents share some of the same tactics and beliefs, even if they are the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Continue reading “GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers”

lilady RN – a memory of a passionate vaccine supporter

In the world of social media, we generally don’t get to know one another very well. Out of the thousands of followers of this blog on Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets, I know only a handful people personally.

Individuals come and go, and sometimes you don’t notice when they come or go. But sometimes, an individual, even if they are anonymous, they make comments or make statements that remain in your memory, so you do notice when they are still around or not.

One such person is lilady RN, one of those anonymous individuals who also had a profound effect on this blog. She always was one of the first people who would comment on anything I wrote. She was positive, and would gently, if not very firmly, stand up to those who pushed an antivaccine agenda on here.

When I first started this website, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t have a voice. I’m not a journalist, so I just wrote. And she was one of the first people to post a comment on here. Over the past year, she has commented over 300 times to my articles, but thousands of times on Disqus to hundreds of articles that focused on vaccines, healthcare, and apparently other issues about which she was obviously passionate.

This past weekend, I was running a report about who commented here most, and her name was at the top of the list. Her comments suddenly stopped on April 14, 2015. Not just on my website, but across the internet. I was curious, but people stop commenting for lots of reasons. I guess I imagined she was working for Doctors without Borders or some organization helping people who needed her help.

Today, I found out what happened to her, and the truth was very sad indeed. I saw an article by a fellow blogger, Harpocrates, who wrote this statement about lilady:

It is with a very, very heavy heart that I write this. I recently learned that a member of our community, known to most as “Lilady”, passed away. She was a vocal and fierce advocate for public health and children, especially those with special needs. Her own son suffered physical and intellectual issues due to a rare genetic disorder, ultimately predeceasing her in his 20s. She also helped care for the son of her dear friends, who similarly suffered from multiple medical issues, including profound mental retardation and autistic-like behaviors. Until her death, she visited him every week.

In her youth, she saw first-hand what diseases like polio could do, with the virus taking the life of one of her childhood friends. She also once mentioned how a cousin was left with permanent brain injury due to measles encephalopathy. These early experiences inspired her to pursue a career as a public health nurse. Her years as a licensed registered nurse and epidemiologist gave her particular insight into infectious diseases and how they could best be controlled. Lilady dedicated herself to improving the lives of others.

Lilady has been an active voice online, particularly on the topic of vaccinations. She was often one of the first to respond to anti-vaccine myths on news articles from around the country. I first “met” Lilady over on the blog Respectful Insolence. We eventually corresponded via email, and her passion for science and justice always inspired me. She never shirked from telling the hard truths, even if it meant being perceived as gruff or “mean”. And it was amazing to see her in action across the web. Whenever a news story cropped up on autism or vaccines, just as surely as anti-vaccine activists would swoop in to fill the comments with myths and nonsense, you could be sure that Lilady would be there, too, to counter them with science and fact.

She has been a great friend to many of us, offering support and comfort in our own times of need. I am honored to have known her, and my one regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet her in person. My thoughts go out to her family and friends.

She was inspiring. And now that I know more about her, about her life and family, I know that her comments here and elsewhere wasn’t out of a desire to be well known as a commenter, but to counter the myths that pushed onto people by those who have some agenda that does not have the best interest of her fellow human beings at the forefront.

She also inspired other bloggers. She used to frequent Orac’s blog and the good people at Science Based Medicine, frequently posting something I wrote that was germane to their comments. Orac’s personal eulogy to lilady was also just published, and made me smile, in the way that we smile when we remember how someone made life a little bit easier, a little bit sunnier:

And it’s true. I’m starting to realize how much she added to the community that has, incredibly enough, formed around this blog. Whenever some new antivaccine troll would show up, spewing the same old antivaccine nonsense as though it were new, as though she had been the first person to think of it, as though scientists hadn’t thought about it many times before and refuted it, lilady would be there, slapping down the nonsense so that I wouldn’t have to.

…I will miss lilady, because no one can do it quite like she did.

For me, the best thing that lilady did was handle the numerous antivaccine trolls that frequent this blog. I have no patience with them, but lilady had just enough patience to snark them into silence. I read through most of her comments here, and I was trying to find the right one, but I couldn’t. There were so many.

But I think found one that perfectly represents lilady RN’s feelings about the antivaccine crowd:

The “feedback loop” is there. Not only do you have a reading comprehension problem, you also seem to have an auditory processing problem.

If, in fact, you have a relative who is a physician, and if, in fact that physician told you she doesn’t report minor events (redness and pain at the injection site, mild/moderate fever, crankiness, etc.), she correctly does not report those reactions.

Get to know the difference between minor reactions and Severe Adverse Events, which physicians are required to report.

I worked as a public health nurse clinician-epidemiologist at a large (1.2 million population catchment area) County Health Department-Division of Communicable Disease Control, where I investigated cases, clusters and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable-diseases. During my tenure there, I administered thousands of vaccines to infants, children and adults and never had a Severe Adverse Event reported to me by a parent or a treating physician. My colleagues (~ 40 doctors and nurses) at the Health Department, during their collective tenures, administered hundreds of thousands vaccines and they never had a Severe Adverse Event reported to them by a parent or a treating physician.

I had contact with every doctor (pediatricians and family practice doctors) who administered vaccines to infants and children in my County, they never reported a Severe Adverse Event for any vaccine.

Cripes, get a life, get an education in basic science and stop perseverating.

Immunology 101, Virology 101, Bacteriology 101 and Epidemiology 101…learn some.

The troll never replied back.

I too regret never meeting her, never chatting with her privately. I just knew she was there, and she did so much for me and this website, I’m not sure I could put together the right words for her.

I am saddened that she is gone. She must have been a hero to her colleagues and a wonderful person to her family and friends. There isn’t much I can say to make anyone feel better, but she did make the world a bit better by righting some wrongs. And what more can we expect from a fellow human being.

Thank you lilady RN. You will be sorely missed.

Autism and MMR vaccines – still not linked

A new study was published recently that showed, once again, that there is no link between autism and MMR vaccines. Are we still wasting good research dollars on showing that there is not one single link between autism and MMR vaccines (to prevent mumps, measles and rubella)? Apparently, we are going to do this until the evidence is literally the size of a mountain.

Despite the fraudulent claims of one MrAndy Wakefield, there is simply no evidence that vaccines are related to autism. Moreover, when we have gone looking, there is evidence that that autism is totally unrelated to vaccines.

And it’s more than just me yelling this loudly. Orac says soScience Based Medicine says soEmily Willingham says so. Oh I know, these are all bloggers, which isn’t real science–except, like me, whatever they write is actually linked to real science in the form of peer-reviewed studies. And we all conclude that there is simply not one shred of evidence to support the implausible hypothesis that autism and MMR vaccines are linked.

By the way, the CDC agrees with all of us. And they’re really smart people–Ph.D.’s, MD’s, and other public health specialists, whose backgrounds are in relevant areas of medicine like immunology, virology, epidemiology, microbiology, and so many other fields of research.

So despite overwhelming tons of evidence that vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine, do not cause or are completely unrelated to autism and autism spectrum disorders, the loud noise from the antivaccine cult continues. Using false balanced “debates” to pretend that there is actually some sort of scientific discussion about this point, some news reports will often make you think that there are really two sides to this story. But there isn’t. There’s one side with real science, and the other side with, well, nothing.

Continue reading “Autism and MMR vaccines – still not linked”

Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it

A few days ago, prior to the challenges of updating and moving this website, I was told of an article published on a “journalist’s” website that accused a lot of people of being astroturfers, the Skeptical Raptor included. Now I admit to not being up-to-date on every cultural term that flows through the internet every day (who could?), but I had to find out more.

First, what is an astroturfer? Supposedly, it’s a pejorative term that describes a fake grassroots effort. Astroturf is fake grass, so that’s its roots (pun intended).

It’s used usually to point out individuals or groups that are well-funded by corporations or political groups to look like some sort of movement. The anti-Obamacare groups, like Americans for Prosperity who claimed that grandma was going to be put before a death panel, is a perfect example.

Continue reading “Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it”

GMO opponents are the global warming denialists of the left

This article has been updated, revised, modernized, and zombified. Read that one instead.

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and  is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the US, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Global warming or evolution is supported by a massive mountain of scientific evidence. Both are theories that are ” well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” As I have stated before, rhetoric and debate are not going to refute these theories. We demand scientific data, produced in world class laboratories that have been published in top tier, high quality journals, subject to withering criticism. After time, they will either be accepted into the body of evidence or rejected. That’s how science works. It’s not a political debate where the person with the loudest voice wins. Continue reading “GMO opponents are the global warming denialists of the left”

Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells

Orac, in his blog post, Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells : Respectful Insolence, hits the nail on the head about Mercola, one of the biggest quacks on the internet.  I don’t know if Mercola actually believes in his particular brand of science-denialism, but he uses it for one reason:  to have people with legitimate medical concerns send their money to him.  In case you don’t click on the outlink above, here are some precious quotes from Orac.

[pullquote]Putting the word “visionary” in the same title with the word “Dr. Mercola” is profoundly offensive to anyone who values reason, science, and science-based medicine.[/pullquote] Continue reading “Joe Mercola: Proof positive that quackery sells”

The dopes, I mean tropes, of the vaccine, evolution and climate change denialists

This morning, I was reading a posting by Orac, the nom de guerre (or nom de blog, according to him) of a rather snarky, humorous, and brilliant (yeah, I think he’s brilliant) surgeon hiding somewhere in the midwest.  In his article, The Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement, he amusingly and pointedly exposes the pathetic myths of the anti-vaccine movement.  Seriously, it’s not that hard dismissing the unsupported claims of the vaccine denialists, but the postings from the evidence-based crowd are necessary to make sure those people who make decisions through the University of Google Medical School have some accurate information.  At least that’s the theory.

So what is a trope?  If you’re talking about a religious service, it’s a musical embellishment, which sounds about right.  But in writing, a trope is a word or words that are used in a sense that is different from their literal meaning.  Hyperbole, used frequently by the vaccine denialism gang, is an example.

Orac listed several tactics, then the tropes, of the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s clear that they are used by the Big 3 of pseudoscience, Climate Change Denialists, Evolution Denialists (creationist) and Vaccine Denialists.  There are others, of course, like the HIV/AIDS denialists (claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS), and Physics Denialists (homeopathy).  First their tactics (liberally paraphrasing and embellishing on what Orac wrote):

  1. Skewing the science. This involves cherry picking studies, quote-mining, and attacking science that doesn’t support their denialist point-of-view, while trumpeting any report or study that supports them. The Big 3 of Denialism even attempt to rename their pseudoscience into “science”, with creation science and the “theory” of Intelligent design by way of illustration.  Case in point, Generation Rescue, Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine denialism website, contains a list of ingredients in vaccines and the side effects.  No citations.  No list of the concentration of ingredients.  No description of the actual risk of said side effects.  In other words, it looks like science.  But it doesn’t even meet the standards of a high school science paper or Wikipedia.
  2. Shifting hypotheses. Using a football metaphor, Orac calls it, “moving the goalposts.”  The denialist crowd changes either their requirements for evidence or just dismiss whatever evidence that doesn’t support their point-of-view.  One of the best examples (of so many good ones) is the old macro vs. micro-evolution canard used by creationists.  For scientists, macroevolution (change in a large population of organisms over geologic time periods) and microevolution (change at a species level over a relatively short period of time, usually one that is observable) are both driven by the same mechanisms, that is genetic drift and natural selection.  Creationists will regularly state that they “believe” in microevolution but not macroevolution.  Science answers questions, and it thrives on answering new ones.  But artificial questions that are just invented to shift the emphasis is a waste of time.
  3. Censorship. This is an extreme characteristic of all anti-science movements. For example, the Age of Autism does not allow dissenting comments in any of their discussions about vaccines.  Answers in Genesis, the evolution denialist website, only “answers” questions that are moderated.  Real science loves these discussions.  If some vaccine denier came to this website, I’d engage them in debate (except it’s hard to debate someone who doesn’t use real evidence).
  4. Attacking the opposition. Dr. Paul Offit, a respected pediatrician, is regularly attacked by the anti-vaccine gangsters (sorry, I fell into hyperbole, please pardon the mess), because of his writings on the subject of the safety of vaccines.  His 2011 book, Deadly Choices:  How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, probably angered those gangsters (oops, once again) as much as anything.  Orac himself apparently had an email campaign written about his evil ways passed along to his university (I guess his nom de blog isn’t that secret).  I once spent a substantial amount of time editing Wikipedia anonymously, focusing on vaccines, evolution, and alternative medicine articles.  I was very careful with my identity, but someone found my address in California and began spamming my email and regular mail.  They contacted my employer, but since it was my company, I wasn’t too concerned.

And now the tropes (mostly from the vaccine denialist mob):

  1. “I’m not antivaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccines.” Of course, there’s no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, but this sounds good.  A similar one is the evolution denialist “I believe in microevolution, but not in macroevolution.”  Or the climate change version, “sure, the temperature is rising, I just don’t believe humans are involved.”
  2. Vaccines are toxic. Thoroughly debunked and debunked.
  3. A demand for absolute safety.  As anyone who’s in medicine states, every medical procedure, technique, injection, device, pharmaceutical, or whatever else has some risk.  When the benefits outweigh the risk, then the choice is clear.  When the benefits outweigh an invented risk, then it’s extremely clear.
  4. A demand for absolute “proof” that vaccines are safe.  I hate these arguments.  Science doesn’t work in absolute proofs, it works to provide evidence that supports a hypothesis.  Science is open-minded, so it demands the best possible evidence, but leaves the possibility that an alternative hypothesis may supplant the original one.
  5. “Vaccines didn’t save us.”  Pure delusion.
  6. Vaccines are “unnatural.”  This trope is used by the alternative medicine world every day, because, they state, without any evidence, “natural” is better than real science.  In fact, there’s nothing more natural than inducing an immune response, since it happens billions of times.  Debunked.
  7. Choosing between “vaccine injury” and disease. What injury?  Last I checked, the real evidence doesn’t support vaccine injury.  So, there is no choice, since the real disease is worst.

What is troublesome about these tropes is that they are simple to state.  “Vaccines are toxic” is a three word statement that is scary, even if not supported by evidence.  To discredit it, one needs to discuss each of the ingredients, providing real evidence, and then try to tie it all together.  That’s way beyond three words.  I once heard Paul Offit on NPR, and his answers were intelligent and correct, but they are so nuanced and complex, the listeners defaulted to the “vaccines are toxic” meme.

I believe that patients should be informed about their health and their healthcare choices.  But searching the internet for this information has always troubled me.  If you google “vaccines and autism”, you get over 7 million hits (with number 2 being the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, so that’s comforting).  But what is the quality of these hits?  Is Wikipedia a good choice?  Well, I’ll answer that question because I know a couple of physicians and medical researchers watch over it carefully.  In todays world of the interwebs, readers tend to accept every website as being “the truth”.  I know people who actually count the number of websites that support a particular point of view!

Where are the critical thinking skills?  I bet the various science deniers will state that they are thinking critically, but mostly what I see is trying to support a viewpoint by manipulating the information, instead of being openminded.  It is difficult to engage in this discussion with such individuals.