Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article has been rewritten and updated. Please visit that article

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]

Continue reading “Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought”

Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth

If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying.

These myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.

One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination cult is that multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system of the poor baby’s tender physiology. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.

Continue reading “Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth”

Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives

The CDC recently published robust evidence that supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness. There is nothing more powerful than epidemiological studies that show a correlation (and causality) between the drop in the incidence of a vaccine preventable disease immediately after wide introduction of a the vaccine itself in a relatively closed population.

Continue reading “Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives”

Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience

Logical fallacies are essentially errors of reasoning in making an argument – identifying them is an excellent tool in debunking pseudoscience and other junk science. When logically fallacious arguments are used, usually based on bad reasoning to support a position (or to try to convince someone to adopt the same position), it is considered a fallacy.

Most of you didn’t know, because I didn’t promote it much, but I had a link in the menu for a list of logical fallacies. It lay fallow, barely read by me or, apparently, anyone else.

However, I decided to update and improve my list of favorite logical fallacies used by all of the pseudoscience crowd. There are many more logical fallacies than what I list, but this blog is focused on providing evidence, in a snarky way, against anti-science claims made by everyone from the vaccine deniers to creationists. Continue reading “Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience”

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”

Dr. Robert Sears vaccine info misleads parents about measles

This article is by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy and the law. 

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

Today, on Friday, January 16, 2015, Dr. Robert (Bob) Sears, a California pediatrician and author of a controversial book on vaccines (critiqued here, pdf, or here by the fine folks at Science Based Medicine) wrote in his Dr. Bob’s Daily and published on his Facebook page that measles is only rarely fatal in developed countries and that serious complications are rare. (In the likely event that Dr. Sears decides to delete his misleading comments, it’s archived here permanently.)

Dr. Sears’s comments were false. And they were irresponsible. In a way that can put people – including children, including his patients – at serious risk. This is not the first time Dr. Bob Sears has made inaccurate claims about a vaccine preventable disease, but on the background of the current measles outbreaks, the risk from his behavior is more imminent and more obvious. It is appropriate to react. Continue reading “Dr. Robert Sears vaccine info misleads parents about measles”

Pro-vaccination websites that I love

immunize-for-goodBased on what I write, you’d think I was all about vaccines and thoroughly mocking the ignorance of the antivaccination world. And, apparently, I’m paid to do that. Sadly, I do not have a new BMW M5 in my driveway. I’d rather write about evolution, but there’s a direct correlation between not vaccinating and harm to children from vaccine preventable diseases, so it seems more important to me than arguing about the stupidity of creationism.

I tend to be the cranky one on the interwebs with respect to vaccines. I’m the mean, angry uncle who turns on the sprinklers when the antivaccine parents walk their dogs in front of my house. Extra benefit–their dogs don’t poop on my lawn. See, I’m the curmudgeonly neighbor of the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.

I realize my tone, filled with sarcasm and mockery, may blur my message, which is always based on real science, anti-cherry picking, and appropriately weighing evidence from experts vs. invented data from non-experts. But there are websites, which are important to my own personal mission of understanding vaccines and infectious diseases, that provide the same high value information but without the snark. I know, some of you like snark, as do I.

Here are some of the best websites on the internet that engage in the debate (there’s no debate, vaccination is safe and effective, as shown by a couple of mountains worth of evidence) about vaccines. But are on a different planet of niceness compared to me.

Voices for Vaccines. This blog (with lots of supporting information) tells personal stories through the voices of those who vaccinate. You cannot helped but be touched by the stories. VacLiars (see, I cannot resist) hates Voices for Vaccines, so there’s that. But it’s a good place if you’re looking for a calm voice in the screaming about vaccines. One of the managers of this website, Karen Ernst, has written a very popular post here. And she was nice. One of the scientific advisory board members (all of whom have impressive credentials in pediatrics and/or infectious diseases) is Paul Offit, who invented a vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year. I don’t have to say anything more.

Shot of Prevention. One of the older websites that is pro-vaccine (by old, I mean 4 or 5 years), Shot of Prevention focuses on practical parenting issues with regards to vaccinating and diseases. What I love about Shot of Prevention is that its writers come from all walks of life, and really gives the reader a broad perspective on immunization.

Red Wine and Apple Sauce. This website has a different appeal, but it’s an outstanding resource for a thoughtful analysis of immunizations. Tara Haelle, who is a science journalist and writes nearly all of the articles, discusses more than just vaccines, but numerous current topics  that are important to parents. She writes long detailed articles, filled with links that support her points, and she should be on anyone’s list for getting information about vaccines.

The Value of Vaccination–A Conversation. A relatively new entrant into the conversation about vaccines, Value of Vaccination focuses in a different way–the stories are more personal, with the perspective almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a parent or individual. It features conversations that show us what the value of vaccination is and how it makes our lives better.

vaccines-save-livesPKIDs Online. PKIDs, officially Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases, probably would not describe themselves as a “pro-vaccine” website, but they really are pro-vaccine. They tell the personal stories of parents of children who have chronic infectious diseases, most of which are vaccine preventable.

Vaccine Education Center. Run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (known by almost everyone as CHOP), it is one of the top websites for information about vaccines. Yes, Paul Offit is involved again. Well, when you’re one of the leading experts in immunization of children, and you’re on the faculty of CHOP, that’s what happens.

Vaccine News Daily. This website, more or less, aggregates news articles about vaccines, while giving a brief, but useful, summary of the information. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the vaccine world.

I Speak of Dreams. Although not necessarily about vaccines, I Speak of Dreams is an important resource in myths (and debunking of said myths) about autism. And because vaccines and autism has been a manufactured issue since the late 1990’s, anyone who discusses myths about autism has to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking the myths of vaccines and autism. If I might remind everyone, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

All of these websites have non-cranky writers. Well mostly. And most of them are much more patient with comments than I am, because I have no patience when it’s clear that a commenter doesn’t get what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t.

I’m sure I missed an important website or two. This article isn’t static, I can make changes whenever I want, so drop me a comment. Besides, I’d want to know about your website!

Use the Science-Based Vaccine Search Engine.

The false ideology of science deniers–research is easy

tyson-science-trueA few days ago, a fellow pro-science person was concerned about a tweet she received. Her antagonist was claiming that if my friend had all that time to tweet, then she obviously wasn’t working in academics as she claimed.

I have a Twitter feed that flies across the top right corner of my screen. I have over 1200 followers, and I follow the tweets well over that number. I have varied interests, but to be honest, there are too many tweets. I only respond or retweet things I happen to see when I look up to that upper right corner of my computer’s screen. I know I miss some good stuff. But I think I find a few dozen every day that lead me to read news articles or peer-reviewed journals. Occasionally, I run across a Tweet that makes me laugh or think.

Yes it takes time, but from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I’m reading, writing, texting/messaging other scientists for ideas. We discuss books we’ve read. All of us in science writing work very hard to get where we are, which cause an epiphany bout the science deniers. I have a theory about their behavior and dismissal of science. I cannot be sure it applies to everyone; for example, there are some seriously deranged people who blame everything in science on Reptilians, Illuminati, Jews, and the US Government (run by Jews I suppose). There’s no logic with those types. Continue reading “The false ideology of science deniers–research is easy”

Religious exemptions for vaccination – abuse and reform

In November 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health published the results of a survey examining people getting an exemption from school immunization requirementsThe survey found that most people getting an exemption – 54.9% – explained their reasons to be “philosophical” or personal belief, including concerns about vaccine harms, a preference for natural immunity, and a belief they could protect their children in other ways. 

The problem is that New Mexico does not offer a personal belief exemption. It offers medical exemptions and religious exemptions for vaccination only. In other words, these people got their vaccine exemption using an exemption that did not reflect their real reasons.

Our host, the Skeptical Raptor, invited me to describe an article I wrote on this that is forthcoming in the Hastings Law Journal. The article argues that:

Why we vaccinate–protect kids from rotavirus induced seizures

 

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq, a pentavalent rotavirus vaccine.
H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq, a pentavalent rotavirus vaccine.

Rotavirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Rotavirus causes severe watery diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. In babies and young children, it can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids). Globally, it causes more than a half a million deaths each year in children younger than 5 years of age. 

Prior to the launch of the rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq® or Rotarix®) in the United States in 2006, rotavirus was the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children. Before the vaccine became available, almost all children in the United States were infected with rotavirus before their 5th birthday. Each year, in the US, rotavirus lead to more than 400,000 doctor visits; more than 200,000 emergency room visits; 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations; and 20 to 60 deaths in children younger than 5 years of age. After the introduction and widespread use of the vaccine, a Cochrane systematic review concluded that the rotavirus vaccines may prevent up to 96% of severe diarrhea cases arising from rotavirus. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–protect kids from rotavirus induced seizures”