Posts Tagged ‘vaccines’

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 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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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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No politics in this entry!

Hoo-frickin’-rah. I’ve been way too focused on stuff this blog’s not even really meant to be about lately. So, on today’s menu, we have pseudo-medicine, crappy science journalism, anti-humanistic pandering, and pissing off Muslims. Ah, that’s much better. (Even if my mum doesn’t like it so much and wishes I’d stick to politics instead of this Atheism business.)

– Mark Crislip, writing for Science-Based Medicine, has provided nine answers to nine questions which are supposed to “stump every pro-vaccine advocate”. It continues to hurt, quite how pitiful the arguments of the anti-vaccine movement are. They genuinely seem to think that asking for scientific trials demonstrating the safety of vaccines is really something no doctor could ever possibly respond to. And the only way I can imagine someone thinking that is if they are utterly incompetent at doing any kind of scientific research.

Although, I suppose one alternate explanation may be hinted at in the phrasing of the question, and would imply a different kind of idiocy altogether. In asking…

Could you please provide one double-blind, placebo-controlled study that can prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

…it’s possible that whatever bozo wrote these questions expects one single study, taken in isolation, to utterly and irrefutably settle the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines, now and forever. Which is ridiculous. You also get creationists who seem to be demanding a single example of a fossil that proves the entire theory of evolution, not understanding that it’s a complex and multi-faceted model built up over time and supported by increasingly vast sums of individual data.

The first study that Crislip found (in just under a minute) specifically looks at the “23-valent pneumococcal vaccine”, and its effects in a particular demographic with regard to a specific disease. There are lots of others like it, but no single paper is going to prove “all vaccines are safe”. And fortunately, doctors and scientists don’t conclude that all vaccines are safe based on a single study, and have never claimed any such thing.

– In other news, fuck you, Daily Mail. This is one of those stories where it almost doesn’t matter if the guy’s technically correct about most things. If you’re going to claim that science proves “on average, men are more intelligent than women”, but that you’re not being sexist, you need to go out of your way to clarify the implications. You need to try extra specially hard to acknowledge that misogyny and prejudice do exist, and cause a real problem for many women, and that female oppression is not a myth that can be explained away by simple biological differences alone.

Otherwise you’re just perpetuating the idea that all gender difference is caused by men being innately superior to women, and then you’re as bad as any sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise prejudiced and patronising fuck you care to name.

– The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is okay with female genital mutilation, so long as it’s only a little bit, and so long as the parents really want their infant daughter’s clitoris sliced up.

Yeah. Everyone in that story can get fucked, pretty much.

– And finally, I’m still all for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Which is not something the skeptical movement is united on, but I’m yet to hear a good argument against it.

The only real reason offered that we shouldn’t provocatively draw stick figures and label them with the name Mohammed/Muhammad is that it offends many Western Muslims who haven’t done anything to merit their personal beliefs being disrespected. And this isn’t an utterly pointless argument to be carelessly brushed aside. It behooves secularist activists to provide some context to what they’re doing, and to let the majority of at least moderately reasonable Muslims know why we’re doing this, and that it’s not meant as a personal attack against them, but a defence of a free speech that’s under serious threat. Which is what the Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics at UW – Madison did recently.

But it still needs to be done. Because people don’t want us to even be able to draw stick figures labelled with Mohammed’s name. And fuck those people.

And it’s not just the ultra-radical extreme fringe where this oppression of free speech is going on. Comedy Central felt the need to censor episodes of South Park recently, because of fears for the safety of its employees, and Matt and Trey received death threats following their depiction of a bear suit that was said to have Mohammed inside. The Muslim Student Association claimed that the AHA’s planned action – which, remember, was to draw some stick figures and give them a name – was “illegal by the constitution of the University of Wisconsin (88-12 RACIST AND OTHER DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT POLICY)”. And the drawings were defaced, presumably by someone not happy with their content.

Hemant quotes the part of a statement from the AHA president that nails it:

A common sentiment I’ve heard the past few days went a little something like this: “I’m totally in favor of free speech and all, but what you’re doing is needlessly offensive. Just because you can draw Muhammad doesn’t mean that you should.”

And my response was simple — we shall see if I can.

As it turns out, no, you cannot draw depictions of Muhammad in Madison. At least, not without having them immediately changed to pictures of Muhammad Ali, and not without having them censored the next day. Let’s imagine an alternate universe. Let’s say the drawings were never tampered with, but instead were met with nothing more than shrugged shoulders and public admonishment for our childish behavior. In this scenario the egg would be on our faces. Instead, suffice it to say that our point has been proven. The right to criticize religion and perform blasphemous acts needs to be defended more than ever.

You don’t get to take away my rights and then tell me it doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t or shouldn’t ever want to exercise them. There are people trying to do exactly that, and they need to be told where to shove it. To any more moderate Muslims, such as those who serve in the military and fight to defend the civilised world and its freedoms, and who feel worlds away from the extremist zealots who blow themselves up for the sake of some perverted interpretation of your religion, we’re sorry if we offend you as a byproduct of asserting our free expression. But, frankly, I kinda hoped more of you would be with us on this.

Here’s the Mohammed Image Archive. Go nuts.

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Remember that guy from a couple of days ago, who was disqualified from the Shorty Awards because of all those blatantly phony accounts that had “voted” for him?

He’s gone and had second and third helpings of a big ol’ bowl of crazy.

The very existence of people with a natural tendency to doubt unlikely claims has angered Mike Adams into such a lather that he’s posted another furious piece about those damnable “skeptics”. Specifically, he’s listed a selection of things they believe, and invited his audience to join in his ridicule.

Reading this list, it seems that Mike Adams is either clinically moronic, delusional to the point of borderline psychosis, a fictional character being played as some sort of really annoying performance art, or just a liar. For whatever reason, he’s talking utter bullshit.

His very first point:

Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested),

Okay, let me stop you right there. I’ve been immersing myself in the skeptical community for several years now, and engaging actively in it for more than the two years I’ve kept this blog, and I have never heard this belief being expressed, by anyone. Even if there are some loons out there with this kind of bizarre fundamentalism toward vaccines, it is categorically not the standard skeptical view. It’s such a fringe idea, if it exists at all, that I’ve never heard of it.

I’m not going to quote any more of this crap. It never gets any smarter than that. He’s already been thoroughly and awesomely fisked by both Orac and Steve Novella, and the line-by-line dissection that I might have done if my day was about three hours longer has been adeptly handled by someone who I’m pretty sure is not Summer Glau, whatever they may say.

But because I’m feeling sarcastic, here’s some information you might be interested in. I “did a little research” myself, and I bring you a list which I promise will be just as informative and well-researched as Mike Adams’ own run-down, and which will cite just as many sources.

What “Mike Adams” really believes about vaccines, medicine, consciousness, and the universe

– Mike Adams believes that ALL skeptics eat babies. He knows the only reason they don’t blog about their Sunday dinners more often is because they’re hiding the truth and don’t want to scare any more delicious babies away.

– Mike Adams believes that ALL medicines approved or endorsed by anyone with an actual medical degree will interfere with the body’s natural ability to ride unicorns over rainbows.

– Mike Adams does not believe that the bodies of living organisms are composed of cells. He thinks that microscopes are orchestrating a conspiracy against him, and every biologist of the last 150 years is in on it with them.

– Mike Adams believes that ALL chemicals want to give his grandmother cat-AIDS. When he sees any potentially consumable object with a chemical composition based on ANY of the elements of the periodic table, he will destroy it by any means necessary. He is currently researching ways in which food may be sourced from entirely new forms of non-chemical matter.

– Mike Adams is so very hungry.

That’ll do.

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