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Posts Tagged ‘vaccination’

Remember how some awful people protested against vaccinating young people against HPV, not simply on the grounds of any anti-vaccine quackery, but because they thought it would turn teenage girls into shameless sluts?

Well, you knew they were full of shit, and now it’s official. Routinely protecting children from a dangerous infectious disease does not turn them invariably toward any kind of flagrant immorality, like daring to enjoy sex, any more than usual.

Just a quickie from me today, but it’s worth mentioning.

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My lovely lady done a thing, about vaccines and medically irresponsible idiots and stuff. Go have a read.

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This year, the US had an outbreak of a preventable disease, because of how many children are going unvaccinated. This disease kills 164,000 people across the world every year, mostly young children. Anti-vaccinationists think that’s “marvellous”.

The cover of a new colossally fucked-up book depicts a potentially fatal illness as being like dancing with butterflies in a pretty garden.

Measles might not really be on your radar as a major threat to children’s lives. That’s probably because you live in a country with a decent healthcare infrastructure where kids tend to get vaccinated routinely, which is why worldwide measles deaths recently dropped by 78% in under a decade. In less economically developed countries where widespread, systematic vaccination isn’t an option, that’s where people die, or suffer complications such as blindness or severe respiratory infection.

The likes of Stephanie Messenger, who want to teach children to “embrace childhood disease”, and have to mislead them (deliberately or otherwise) about the facts to achieve that goal, provide about the biggest challenge out of anyone I ever try to empathise with. They want to make the western world’s relationship with preventable diseases more like that of Africa, before a major vaccination initiative on that continent started saving around 300,000 lives every year.

Ugh.

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– A teenager spent most of the money in his bank account. Then, by doing nothing but letting the remaining balance sit there, he went from having $4.85 to owing $229.10, due to fees and penalties accrued within two weeks. I can’t imagine what sort of lesson to draw from this except further confirmation that banks’ policies are specifically intended to screw money out of the poor.

– “After studying and cataloging 522 texts, Boyd concluded that Genesis 1 can be classified as narrative with a probability of virtually one.” That’s adorable.

– For all the out-of-touch wackiness NaturalNews is usually crammed with, not all of their priorities are way out of line. While their ideas about a government fluoride conspiracy might be nothing but paranoia, their attitude to the TSA is unsettlingly in line with my own. A 17-year-old girl was recently detained and missed her flight because she was carrying a purse with a gun design on it.

– The folk at Age of Autism, on the other hand, are yet to display any such fortuitous stopped-clock correctness, to my knowledge. They’re still going on about Andrew Wakefield. Hey, did you know that you can take a study with a tiny sample size, which was fraudulently conducted, whose results have been refuted and never replicated in multiple studies, and which has been formally retracted by the journal that published it, but still have this study be “valid and scientifically sound” by simply declaring it so without making any effort to rebut the numerous criticisms? It works for anti-vaccinationists!

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This was going to be a blog post which looked at a couple of recent claims made by Mike Adams on his NaturalNews blog. It’s going to be a bit shorter than I’d planned, for reasons I’ll come to.

First, he posted recently about a recall of flu vaccines. His only source is the Daily Mail, but he’s not egregiously wrong on the basic facts. Baxter Healthcare announced a recall of 300,000 doses of its influenza vaccine Preflucel, due to safety concerns.

Where he goes wrong is in thinking that this is somehow a massive deal.

Preflucel is one of thirteen different available vaccines, and is intended specifically for people with allergies and heart conditions. It’s not a large or particularly crucial part of Europe’s vaccination program.

What led to the recall was that, in Germany, more people were reporting mild side effects from the vaccine, such as headaches, than would usually be expected. That’s it. It’s making more people feel nauseated than usual, so they’re pulling the batch just to be safe.

Mike Adams wants us to be scared that this vaccine is “so harmful that the company has decided to recall several hundred thousand doses of it and cease all further administration”. But really, what this shows is that this particular pharmaceutical corporation seem to have a reassuringly low threshold for taking a sweeping precautionary measure. They didn’t want to take the risk that we could just be seeing the first signs of a more serious problem – or possibly they just don’t want the PR nightmare of being seen to have continued selling a product with a suspected raised incidence of unwanted side effects – so, the stuff’s gone.

There’s nothing here from which to conclude any dastardly conspiracy. And at a conservative estimate, influenza kills a quarter of a million people each year. People really need vaccines for this, particularly the elderly and the chronically ill, and the path to trying to keep everyone as safe as they can be isn’t always going to go smoothly. We just have to make sure that mistakes and problems are dealt with as responsibly as they can be.

The second NaturalNews post I was going to cover was this one, but… Well, take a look at the page after page of inanity. I just don’t have the energy to go through it all.

Sigh. Sure, Mike, maybe it is time I start reading some books by David Icke. That’ll be what finally opens my eyes.

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Okay, no. I’m not actually proposing a direct causative link between those two things; I’m not the Daily Mail. The evidence that proximity to Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann causes life-threatening illness is, at best, hazy and inconclusive.

What has happened is that she has strongly opposed a certain vaccine, which is known to prevent cervical cancer in women, and which fellow White House wannabe Rick Perry attempted to mandate for all girls of a certain age in the state where he was Governor.

The safety of the vaccine is well understood, by a number of scientific bodies which have explored the matter in some depth. Michelle Bachmann, however, reminded us that there’s another side to the story:

I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects… This is a very real concern.

An HPV vaccine causing “mental retardation” is entirely implausible and unsupported. If anyone can produce the medical case file from this woman’s daughter which would demonstrate otherwise, there’s a $10,000 prize up for grabs:

 

 

The host of the above video suggests that, in fact, Bachmann concocted the entire story for the sake of a talking point. The malice of that speaks for itself, but let’s be charitable and assume she really did have an encounter, much as she described. She may be fudging the details or remembering things in a somewhat more convenient way than they really occurred, but let’s be generous.

What do her subsequent actions tell us about the way Michelle Bachmann sees the world?

There are three possible conclusions which I think we can draw:

  1. Michelle Bachmann thinks she’s doing science. That is, she really believes that – to borrow Stephen Colbert’s phrase – citing a study in The New England Journal of Some Lady I Just Met is a legitimate way to reach valid scientific conclusions. One person told her that this thing happened; ergo, there is a “very real concern”.

    Now, I’m willing to credit Michelle Bachmann with a great deal of ignorance about how science works, but this still seems unlikely. Imagine she’d been approached, instead, by a different stranger, with a similarly compelling but equally false story. Let’s say it was someone whose daughter ate some Gouda cheese, and immediately and as a direct result developed a crippling phobia of her own elbows. Would Bachmann have brought up the “very real” concern caused by this particular dairy product, for the sake of protecting the nation’s children?

    I’m going to suggest that she wouldn’t. I think that, in most cases, Michelle Bachmann would not accept the truth of just any anecdote from a complete stranger, as well as the broad conclusions drawn from it. There must be some other reason why she trumpeted this particular one so vehemently.

  2. Michelle Bachmann thinks the science is on her side. Maybe she understands that this one random woman she met doesn’t prove anything, but believes her case to exemplify a more general truth. It’s just an anecdote, but it’s representative of what’s going on elsewhere. She knows that there is scientific data to back her up, but a personal story is something that people can relate to more easily.

    This also would require a substantial and worrying ignorance about the current scientific understanding of how the world works, but I find it more plausible that Bachmann actually is that disconnected from reality.

  3. Michelle Bachmann doesn’t care about science. She’s trying to score some points against a political opponent, and knows that using the right kind of scary rhetoric, talking about “innocent little 12-year-old girls [being] forced to have a government injection”, will turn her into the morally courageous candidate in the eyes of many Americans who aren’t inclined to think about this in a lot more detail. The science behind the alleged vaccine dangers doesn’t matter to her nearly as much as people’s perceptions of it.

    This is perhaps the most cynical option, but a politician caring less about reality than about their public perception is hardly unprecedented.

My guess is that it’s mostly 3, which may also be powering the delusion of 2. What do you think?

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Jamie Bernstein has a two-part report of her recent experience at an AutismOne conference, over at Skepchick and Friendly Atheist. Both parts are really worth a read.

The first part is mostly a write-up of the rather unsettling package of speakers and other happenings lined up for the event, including a speech from fraudulent non-doctor Andrew Wakefield about how cruel the rest of the world is to conspire against them by, y’know, pointing out they’re endangering countless lives by distorting science. There was also some pretty kooky self-help psychobabble, and some booths offering a variety of wacky stuff like homeopathy, which you might think should be wholly unrelated to either autism or vaccines, but which probably all tend to appeal to people of a certain frame of mind for the same sorts of reasons.

Part Two is sad in a whole other way. Jamie went along to this thing with a guy called Ken Reibel, who’s an active and somewhat well known part of the reality-based side of the online autism community. At some point in the day, it seems like someone on the staff organising the conference realised who he was – and things suddenly start getting tense.

In short: they were thrown out, despite not really doing anything wrong or being disruptive in any way, and it was pretty clear that the only reason for it was that they knew that Jamie and Ken were not reliable followers who could be trusted to toe the line and stick to the mandated set of beliefs.

Now, these people don’t have to be thrilled to have someone around who they know has written extremely antagonistic things about them in the past. And it seems to be within their accepted policy to be able to refund a visitor’s entrance fee and ask them to leave the premises at any time. But even if they’re legally within their rights, it displays an impressively determined closed-mindedness, to evict someone on no other grounds than that they are known to hold a contrary opinion. These visitors weren’t kicking up any kind of a fuss, and had given no indication that they would do so.

You do only tend to find this fragile, defensive, and rather pathetic attitude in isolated pockets of woo. I’m not aware of any skeptical or rationalist event where somebody has been thrown out on such tenuous grounds. In fact, when believers turn up at skeptical events, it can lead to some interesting conversation – the first instance that springs to mind is when Hayley Stevens and Rose Shapiro were questioned about homeopathy during a Q&A session following an interview. The guy was a little insistent, and eventually they had to just move the discussion on, but he was never deemed unwelcome simply for holding alternative views.

On the other hand, anti-science campaigners have something of a track record of this kind of thing, such as when a student was kicked out of the Creation “Museum”, or when PZ Myers was pulled out of the line to see a film that he was in.

It seems to say something about whose aims include open debate, and whose are more focused on self-confirmation and ignoring dissent.

There’s more on this from Orac and Ken Reibel himself.

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The BMJ (originally “British Medical Journal”) has published a report describing Andrew Wakefield’s autism research as an “elaborate fraud”.

Wakefield notoriously published a scientific paper in 1998 proclaiming a possible link between childhood vaccinations and autism. It has since been retracted by the journal that published it, and Wakefield has been struck off (i.e. had his license to practise medicine revoked). This new report goes beyond concluding that his work was unscientific, unethical, and incorrect, and suggests that it seems to have been “a deliberate attempt to create an impression… by falsifying the data”.

Part of Wakefield’s response has been to imply that the BMJ, which has been publishing scientific research and reviews since 1840 and is among the most respected and widely cited such institutions in the world, has no credibility or significance.

“BMJ? Had its day” was his conclusion on Twitter yesterday. As I observed at the time, this seems a rather grandiose claim for one discredited idiot to make against such a respected publication, but you can’t argue with a rhyme.

Working on similar principles that things which sound a bit the same must be true, I came up with: “Andrew Wakefield? Fraudulent scumbag.” Wait, I may have confused “rhyme” with “mountains of evidence” there. My mistake.

Everyone seemed to notice this story first on CNN’s website, and of particular interest is Wakefield’s interview with Anderson Cooper.

Cooper seems to know the score, and does a pretty great job. It’s clear from the outset that Wakefield has no actual facts to back himself up, and his only response to the heaps of criticism of his work and his methods is to complain about being relentlessly persecuted – a complaint which does nothing to address any of the evidence. He asks who’s paying Brian Deer (the journalist behind the report) to do what he’s doing, admitting that he doesn’t know and failing to explain why this should be remotely relevant. (He also neglects to mention his own substantial and genuine financial conflicts of interest, such as owning a patent on an alternative measles vaccine.)

Elyse over at the Skepchick blog is also all over this. In particular, she goes through the specific cases of each of the twelve children in Wakefield’s study, and highlights the discrepancies between what was claimed in the paper and what the actual facts of the cases are.

Some of the children were showing early indicators of autism before getting the MMR vaccine. Some didn’t show symptoms until several months later, also nullifying any evidence of a causal connection. The published data seems to have been repeatedly and deliberately misrepresented to make a link seem much better supported by the evidence than it is.

Steven Novella’s write-up of the latest developments is also a must-read.

And if you really want to get into this in some depth, there’s the BMJ report itself (or at least the first in a series, for now) by Brian Deer, who’s been plugging away at this thing and unweaving the facts from the bullshit for years. Mr Deer, I do not own a sufficient number of hats that would allow me to adequately take them off to you.

Edit: Brian Deer has responded in an interview to Wakefield’s continued accusations and insinuations against him, and Orac has weighed in on Wakefield’s dissembling and the inevitable manic minority rushing to his defense.

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While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.


Skeptics vs. anti-vaccination campaigners is never a dignified fight.

Certainly not everyone who fears for the safety of their children because of this scary mercury they keep hearing about is a terrible person. In fact, I’d guess that a majority of the people who actually believe in a connection between childhood vaccines and autism are good people, mostly caring parents who’ve heard some startling medical claims from numerous sources and are just trying to do the best for their child.

But the people we tend to hear from are the more vocal and devout proponents of an anti-science, anti-vaccination agenda, based on fear-mongering and pushing an ideology beyond any concern for such petty trivialities as evidence.

These are the people who cross over into the realm of “utter, despicable fucks”.

One of the Skepchicks, Elyse, talked about her experiences as a target of some vicious and personal attacks, as a result of her campaigning against Age of Autism, an organisation whose remit seems to wander little further than repeating anything negative they can possibly find to say about vaccines.

As Elyse describes, the people behind Age of Autism posted a copy of her Facebook profile picture (which included her 6-month-old daughter), lied about the things she’s said, and then sat back and let their fans react.

They’ve called me ugly. They’ve called me negligent. They’ve threatened to call child protective services on me. They’ve vaguely threatened violence. They’ve threatened my face. They’ve threatened to rape me with broken thermometers.

Classy stuff. And it’s another example of the overwhelming imbalance between the two sides in this sadly ongoing debate.

They think we’re endangering children with autism.

We think they’re endangering children with death, from diseases that we know how to stop people getting.

Even aside from the little matter of which camp can actually back up their position with evidence, the skeptics have much more reason to be pissed off about the irresponsible endangering of children’s lives.

Yet which way do the torrents of vicious, hateful abuse, and threats of violence always, always flow?

(Okay, maybe not always always; I’m sure some science supporters have at some point been needless dicks about this as well. But those would be fringe individuals getting roundly condemned for it by the majority of their side. This is a mainstream organisation at the forefront of the movement. No scientific groups carry themselves like this.)

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If you want your brain to get achingly confused, as it tries to decide between grinding your teeth and tapping your toes, then you need to see this.

Melodically, it might not actually suck as much as I’d like to be able to say it does. But you’d honestly be hard-pressed to make the anti-vaxxers’ argument look more idiotic, and the people in the movement more deadened to any sense of irony, than by mocking up something like this video. The misleading bullshit just will not stop.

At one point it shows a man’s testicles falling off and jumping onto a nurse’s face because he got vaccinated, and they’re using this to make a serious point about the dangers of vaccinations.

It’s exponentially funnier and/or scarier because it’s real, and they totally mean it.

The really disingenuous part, as Orac points out, is the way a lot of these people still claim not to be anti-vaccine. They’re all for vaccines – they just want them to be “safe”.

Never mind that they can’t actually link vaccinations to anything unsafe; that they can’t offer any useful suggestions as to how to make them safer; that the link between vaccines and autism has been repeatedly proven to be vacuous; that autism rates continued to rise even after a supposedly “unsafe” chemical was removed from childhood vaccines; or that the alt-med crowd don’t even seem to be able to define the “toxins” they rail against. They still demand, unspecifically and insincerely, that someone “green our vaccines“.

Does anything about these loons’ latest output imply that they think vaccines are a great idea in principle, if the medical establishment would simply adjust their practices a little so that this potentially useful method of medication can be employed more effectively?

Or are they just screaming ZOMG DOCTORS ARE TRYING TO KILL YOUR BABY!!1!

All they have is empty, scary yelling. And people are dying.

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