Posts Tagged “antivaccine”
A devout Catholic mother is suing the Big Apple over its requirement that students be vaccinated. As the Staten Island Advance reports, she considers vaccinations to be an affront to God … or something like that (WebCite cached article):
West Brighton resident Dina Check fervently opposes vaccinations, even for her young daughter, on religious grounds.
The practicing Roman Catholic believes the body is a temple, and contends injecting vaccines into it “would defile God’s creation of the immune system … [and] demonstrate a lack of faith in God, which would anger God and therefore be sacrilegious.”
Those strong views have put Ms. Check, 46, at odds with the city Education Department. They have also resulted in her 6-year-old daughter’s recent barring from PS 35, Sunnyside, for failing to be immunized.
Ms. Check has struck back, filing a civil lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court against the Education Department.
I’d never heard the Catholic Church teaches its followers not to allow vaccinations. The Advance checked into the matter, and confirmed it does not:
Professor Christopher P. Vogt, a moral theologian, said the Catholic Church doesn’t oppose vaccinations.
“I don’t see any tension between immunizing children and Roman Catholic teaching, belief or practice,” said Vogt, associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at St. John’s University in Queens. “When we immunize children, we’re trying to protect children and the common good. As a Catholic, we have a responsibility to take care of our world.”
When read some passages Ms. Check had written, he said it seemed as though she’s taken a Fundamentalist view of Scriptures.
“Catholicism doesn’t hold that we take a literal reading of Scriptures,” he said.
Note, this is not the only occasion when Catholics have decided to opt out of certain medical procedures on religious grounds, even though Catholicism does not forbid them. A couple years ago I blogged about how many Hispanics — largely Roman Catholic — consider organ transplants to be sacrilegious.
Also, sadly, this is not the only time a parent has refused perfectly valid medicine for his/her children because to do so would betray a lack of faith in God. It happens even when getting medical care is a matter of life and death. It’s much more common than most people are aware.
Photo credit: John Keith, via Wikimedia Commons.
Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire.
, catholic church
, dina check
, new york city
, ps 35
, roman catholic
, roman catholic church
, staten island
, west brighton
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The forces of Antivax are still running strong in the US, even if their wild-eyed paranoid conspiracies have been disproven by everything science has discovered about the presumed relationship between childhood vaccines and autism — which is to say, it doesn’t exist. There’s a Forbes article on a recent champion of this particular form of pseudoscience, outgoing Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana (WebCite cached article):
I was in my car yesterday listening to C-SPAN (yes, I do that sometimes), when to my stunned surprise I heard Congressman Dan Burton launch into a diatribe on how mercury in vaccines causes autism. No, this was not a replay of a recording from a decade ago. The hearing was held just a few days ago by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Congressman Burton used this hearing to rehash a series of some of the most thoroughly discredited anti-vaccine positions of the past decade. Burton is a firm believer in the myth that vaccines cause autism, and he arrogantly holds the position that he knows the truth better than the thousands of scientists who have spent much of the past decade doing real science that proves him wrong.
Burton’s absurdly-orchestrated escapade featured bona fide CDC and NIH scientists — who understand the truth here, which Burton and his fellow Representative Bill Posey of Florida don’t like — being chastised and lambasted, and Antivax cranks lauded for their lies.
The last paragraph in this Forbes piece includes this pithy gem:
Message to Congress: science isn’t easy, and autism is complicated. Don’t criticize science when it doesn’t give you the answer you thought you knew. That’s not how science works.
And that, folks, is the problem … with this and many other scientific and technological issues. People have certain beliefs, and they demand that science confirm them; when it doesn’t, they pitch fits and holler and whine like little children. Burton and Posey and all their anti-scientific cohorts should grow up and act their ages, fercryinoutloud.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, antivaccine movement
, antivax movement
, bill posey
, childhood vaccinations
, congressional hearings
, dan burton
, liars for antivax
, lying liars for antivax
, mmr vaccine
, washington DC
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Strangely, after the antivax movement has been demonstrated to be pseudomedicine, and after a number of outlets have formally retracted their prior involvement in it, CBS News has decided to weigh in on the putative link between childhood vaccinations and autism, and has gone over to the side of the quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists and sanctimonious mommies (WebCite cached article):
For all those who’ve declared the autism-vaccine debate over – a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.
The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review.”
CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson, this article’s author, uses a fallacious appeal to authority in order to grant this study greater weight and credibility:
The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm.
Here, Atkisson implies that, since the author worked for a pharma company — thus, one would she’d support the use of vaccines — then if she’s decided otherwise, why, the evidence must be incredibly compelling, no? Unfortunately that’s not how these things work.
Attkisson further implies that no one has been scientifically reviewing the supposed link between vaccines and autism (“Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do …”) but that is absolutely not true. Of course other people have reviewed the matter! Atkisson also mischaracterizes the study as Ratajczak’s own original work, but it’s not … it’s merely her review of other people’s studies. (That, of course, does not in itself invalidate what she says, but it does mean that Atkisson is making the study seem to be something other than it truly is.)
Another way Atkisson tried to grant greater authority to this study, is by implying that the CDC … which has consistently said there is no connection between vaccines and autism … was stunned speechless by it:
We wanted to see if the CDC wished to challenge Ratajczak’s review, since many government officials and scientists have implied that theories linking vaccines to autism have been disproven, and Ratajczak states that research shows otherwise. CDC officials told us that “comprehensive review by CDC…would take quite a bit of time.”
All in all, I must give CBS News and Sharyl Attkisson credit. They certainly crafted a marvelous piece of yellow journalism. They must be so proud!
Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, appeal to authority
, autism vaccine connection
, bad journalism
, cbs news
, childhood vaccinations
, childhood vaccines
, helen ratajczak
, journalism fail
, mass media
, sharyl atkisson
, vaccine autism connection
, yellow journalism
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Nearly a year ago, the British medical journal Lancet retracted an article it published, back in 1998, which linked autism with the MMR vaccine. The Wakefield study was known to have been flawed before then; the Lancet retraction was merely one more nail in its coffin. (The most recent nail — and perhaps its final one — was a more recent finding that the study was fully fraudulent and not merely “flawed.”)
Something similar has been happening at a different media outlet, the online magazine Salon. Back in 2005 it (and its then-partner, Rolling Stone magazine) had presented an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr claiming that vaccines were dangerous and that an entrenched corporate/government conspiracy had been working to prevent people from knowing about it.
I’ve already blogged about RFK Jr’s wingnutism. And Salon, to its credit, almost immediately began backtracking from the story, releasing a long series of corrections and emendations, hoping to reel it back in.
But the antivax nutters refused to let up, and continued to milk the original paranoid RFK Jr article as “proof” that vaccines caused autism and that a conspiracy was afoot to hide this.
Well, Salon finally followed Lancet‘s lead, and formally retracted that story. Salon Editor in Chief Kerry Lauerman explains this decision (WebCite cached article):
In 2005, Salon published online an exclusive story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that offered an explosive premise: that the mercury-based thimerosal compound present in vaccines until 2001 was dangerous, and that he was “convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.” …
At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” [cached] further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.
If you really want to read RFK Jr’s drivel, it’s still available as a WebCite cached article, and it’s also still hosted at RFK Jr’s own Web site (cached).
I have no doubt that “true believers” in the antivax movement will not be fazed by any of these retractions. If anything, they will further convince them that the conspiracy they’re so convinced is in play, has been at work, and forced the retractions. In other words, these retractions will actually confirm, rather than undermine, their nutty beliefs. (The mechanism by which this sort of thing is one I’ve blogged about before.)
P.S. It’s not clear what Rolling Stone has done with this story. I cannot find it on their site. It’s as though it never had existed. Hmm.
Hat tip: Boing Boing & Retraction Watch.
Photo credit: Daniel Paquet.
, autism vaccine link
, mmr vaccine
, panic virus
, rfk jr
, robert f kennedy jr
, rolling stone
, salon magazine
, seth mnookin
, the panic virus
, vaccine autism link
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Oprah Winfrey — that fountain of uncritical thinking, meaningless psychobabble and assorted mindless New Agery — is such an influential mass-media tycoon that merely being “a friend of Oprah” is a career unto itself. Her repeat guests all have little media empires of their own, built on the foundation of having gotten the Oprah Seal Of Approval. Some even have their own TV shows … e.g. Phil McGraw and, more recently, “Dr Oz” (aka Mehmet Oz, MD). As I’ve blogged before, Oprah and her frequent guests can — and sometimes do — offer advice that can actually be dangerous, if followed to the letter … and her audience is more than large enough to assume there are some out there who do exactly that. That said, of all the assorted fruit-loops, fuzzy thinkers, and wingnuts to whom Oprah grants airtime and endorsements, Dr Oz has not attracted the kind of criticism that other “Friends Of Oprah” have received (such as Suzanne Somers).
But now the Chicago Tribune raises serious questions about Dr Oz and his advice (WebCite cached article):
Dr. Mehmet Oz is known as “America’s Doctor,” and it’s not much of a stretch.
Though he is a medical specialist — an acclaimed cardiac surgeon — Oz offers health information on just about any topic, from diet to child care to sex, through a television show that averages 3.7 million viewers a day, six best-selling health guides, columns in Esquire and Time, and a Web site.
Millions turn to him for advice, looking for an authority figure to make sense of the flood of medical information available online and in the media.
Much of the material Oz provides is solid, but some medical experts express reservations about his approach, saying Oz’s ventures also offer advice unsupported by science.
Oz has called the rotavirus vaccine “optional” — a risky view, according to experts. He tells people to examine the shape and sound of their bowel movements closely — a silly idea, specialists say. He invited a doctor to his TV show who has helped spread the idea that cancer can be cured with baking soda. On his Web site, another doctor endorses a group that promotes unproven autism treatments.
Dr Oz’s production staff defends his non-discriminating approach toward medicine:
Oz declined to be interviewed, but his spokespeople say the doctor’s mission is to give his audience information from multiple perspectives. His “Ask Dr. Oz” feature offers answers not only from prestigious medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic but also from alternative medicine practitioner Deepak Chopra and from Dove, maker of skin care and beauty products.
“The purpose of the site is to provide users with as much information as possible and allow the users to differentiate between what they find helpful and what they do not,” Oz’s spokespeople wrote in response to questions.
But more information is not necessarily better, as not all perspectives are equal in medicine.
Like many people, especially in the mass media, Dr Oz appears to think that if you throw enough information at people — good, bad, and in-between — they will all magically gravitate toward the good information, and the bad will fall into the gutter. Unfortunately, however, that’s not what happens in real life. People who are barraged with information will, in the majority of cases, gravitate toward the information that they find emotionally compelling … which often is not the valid, scientifically-sound information. Members of Dr Oz’s audience are not all well-schooled in medicine and capable of discerning the bad information and rejecting it. They depend on Dr Oz … who has learned medicine and ought to be capable of separating good medical information from the bad … to do that for them. (If they didn’t have this expectation, they’d have little reason to watch his show in the first place!)
Dr Oz and his staff do his viewers a disservice by blasting them with a mixture of good advice and pure bullshit, then expect them to tell the difference. They can’t — and they shouldn’t have to. Clearly what Dr Oz is doing, is subordinating the pursuit of science and good medicine, to the desire for ratings, which for him hinge on Oprah’s demographic: They much prefer “touchy-feely” notions that are emotionally satisfying, rather than valid and rational. In other words, they’re much more interested in “truthiness” than in truth.
I wonder what makes Dr Oz think that dispensing a mixture of valid advice with a whole lot of bullshit is a way for him to live up to the Hippocratic Oath?
Hat tip: Consumerist
Photo credit: George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc (see Tribune article)
Tags: alt med
, alternative medicine
, america's doctor
, complementary medicine
, conventional medicine
, critical thinking
, deepak chopra
, dr mehmet oz
, dr oz
, friend of oprah
, friends of oprah
, harpo productions
, medical advice
, mehmet oz
, mehmet oz md
, new age
, new agey
, oprah winfrey
, talk show
, talk shows
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As if we needed the legal system to say it — the science of the matter speaks for itself, even if the antivaxers say it doesn’t — a special federal court has (again!) ruled that there is no link between autism and vaccines. CNN reports on this (WebCite cached article):
A federal court ruled Friday that the evidence supporting an alleged causal link between autism and a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines is unpersuasive, and that the families of children diagnosed with autism are not entitled to compensation.
Special masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims released more than 600 pages of findings after reviewing three test cases and finding all the claims wanting.
“Petitioners’ theory of vaccine-related causation is scientifically unsupportable,” wrote Special Master Patricia Campbell-Smith in her conclusion about William P. Mead, whose parents, George and Victoria Mead, had brought one of the suits.
This is not the first time this special court has shot down the antivax position:
In February 2009, the court’s special masters concluded that the evidence supporting a link between measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR, combined with thimerosal-containing vaccines, was also unpersuasive.
That prior ruling is being appealed, and one can assume the tinfoil hat-wearing antivax crowd will do the same in this case, so this hardly ends the matter. And to be honest, the courts are not scientific authorities … they are merely legal authorities … so these rulings do not “prove” that vaccines don’t cause autism. (Actually, that has already been proven scientifically.) What they do show is that every time a serious review of the issue is conducted, the decision always ends up being the same … that vaccines don’t cause autism.
Photo credit: Stephen Dyrgas.
, george and virginia mead
, george mead
, mmr vaccine
, patricia cambell-smith
, special master
, us court of federal claims
, vaccine court
, virginia mead
, william p mead
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Not that it ever had much credibility to begin with, but the anti-vaccine movement — including those, like actress Jenny McCarthy, who insist that vaccines cause autism — has lost one of the very few pillars of support it ever had. CNN reports on an action taken by the British medical journal Lancet (WebCite cached article):
The medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday retracted a controversial 1998 paper that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.
The 12-year-old study linked autism with the MMR vaccine. The research subsequently had been discredited.
While researchers have long known this paper had been flawed, the mere fact that Lancet had published it — and that it could still be referenced as having been in that prestigious journal — has lent the antivax movement more credibility than it deserved. But there are problems with it which could not be ignored, and the journal has taken action:
Last week, the study’s lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was found to have acted unethically in conducting the research.
The General Medical Council, which oversees doctors in Britain, said that “there was a biased selection of patients in The Lancet paper” and that his “conduct in this regard was dishonest and irresponsible.”
The panel found that Wakefield subjected some children in the study to various invasive medical procedures such as colonoscopies and MRI scans. He also paid children for blood samples for research purposes at his son’s birthday party, an act that “showed a callous disregard” for the “distress and pain” of the children, the panel said.
As I said, that there had been problems with Wakefield’s study, is not news to the medical community. The most recent — and perhaps compelling — evidence of its flaws:
A September 2008 study replicated key parts of Wakefield’s original paper and found no evidence that the vaccine had a connection to either autism or GI disorders. The study, conducted at Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found no relationship between the timing of the vaccine and children getting GI disorders or autism.
But the general public hasn’t been too aware of these problems, and the antivaxers have, of course, taken advantage of that:
The Wakefield study also became part of the evidence that parents cited who did not vaccinate their children.
“The story became credible because it was published in The Lancet,” Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, said Tuesday. “It was in The Lancet, and we really rely on these medical journals.”
Singer, the mother of a child with autism, added, “That study did a lot of harm. People became afraid of vaccinations — this is the Wakefield legacy — this unscientifically grounded fear of vaccinations that result in children dying from vaccine preventable diseases.”
Unfortunately the mass media does little to educate people on how science actually works. You see, the truth about science is that it can, and does, change its mind; studies that were printed even in prestigious journals can turn out to have been fraudulent, or incomplete, or their conclusions found incorrect, etc. Science is self-correcting. Since the Wakefield paper was published 12 years ago, medical science has accepted that it was wrong … but the public has been slow to find that out. Hopefully that will change.
Note to Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other antivaxers … please pay attention … !
Tags: andrew wakefield
, conventional medicine
, dr andrew wakefield
, general medical council
, lancet journal
, mass media
, medical journalism
, mmr vaccine
, science journal
, science journalism
, wakefield paper
, wakefield study
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Robert T. Carroll of the excellent Skeptic’s Dictionary site offers some insight into why the forces of Antivax seem so prevalent in the media and have taken hold of the US in an unprecedented (and dangerous) way. (I’ve blogged many times on the Antivax movement.) You see, it’s all about presentation, and incompetence. I’ll let him tell the sad tale, which is sparked by one of Carroll’s correspondents named “Jan” on a related but different topic:
Of course, the news media whether it be Fox (that arm of the Republican party) or the liberal elite media (that arm of the Democratic party) report the anecdotes, not the RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Two recent stories illustrate the kind of evidence Jan counts and the kind that the media thrive on.
One story involves a young woman who developed a weird neurological disorder (dystonia) ten days after getting a flu shot. The nature of the story makes it clear that there must be some connection between the young woman’s health problems and the flu shot. The reporters don’t have to come right out and say that the shot caused her problems. That’s clearly implied by having the report at all. Reporters aren’t paid to encourage viewers to think, however. So, don’t expect them to investigate other possible causes of the young woman’s problems. They won’t report that 9 days before her illness, she drank 20 shots of tequila. [For those of you who can't figure it out for yourselves, I'm making this stuff up about the nine days of Christmas for illustration purposes.] Eight days before her illness, someone spiked her drink with ecstasy. Seven days before her illness, she ate a hamburger at McDonalds. Six days before her illness, she spent time in a toxic building where the DMV is located. Five days before her illness, she fell out of bed. Four days before her illness, she drank some bottled water that a friend gave her. Three days before her illness she watched a whole movie in fast forward mode. Two days before her illness, she took a neuroleptic for facial pain. And the day before she got ill, she rode a roller coaster for three hours. Why didn’t the reporters note these things? Why didn’t they go back eleven days and beyond to see if there might not be something people might causally connect to the illness? Because the flu shot is the current bogeyman. Next year it could be ground beef.
The reason for this is all about drama, and using emotion to “hook” the reader/viewer/listener:
Obviously, an emotional anecdote will be more persuasive than a dry report on RCTs and statistical probabilities of being harmed versus being protected by a vaccination. Also, the fear of possible harm carries more weight that the hope of possible protection from harm. Further complicating the data is the values issue that’s involved here. Getting vaccinated or not affects the whole community, not just oneself. For most people, protecting themselves and their children is a higher priority than protecting strangers. By getting a vaccination and avoiding the flu I not only protect myself but prevent myself from infecting others who aren’t vaccinated and who might be greatly harmed by the flu.
Since this is not a tangible, observable benefit in people’s favor, they ignore the good that vaccines do. They concentrate, instead, on the harm it might do them … which if it came to pass, would be tangible and observable to individuals.
Anyway, the issue with the antivaxxers is more a matter of emotion than evidence. It doesn’t matter that 28 pregnant women in the US have already died from swine flu and no pregnant woman has been harmed by the vaccine. It doesn’t matter to antivax parents that the chance of their child being harmed by a vaccination is near zero. It doesn’t matter that there is an almost certain benefit to their child and the community at large by having the child vaccinated. It doesn’t matter that 43 children in the US have died recently from swine flu* and none have been harmed by the swine flu vaccination. They have an anecdote: an 8-year-old boy died a week after his swine flu vaccination. It must have been the vaccine that killed him even if health department officials deny it. Their denial is proof they’re covering up something. And so it goes.
The problem is not just that Americans lack critical-thinking skills. That’s true, and it’s quite bad enough. But even those who are capable of thinking critically, are denied access to information they could use, by a mass media which is hell-bent on playing up the drama behind everything and withholding information that runs contrary to the dramatic narrative, because it might tend to dilute the drama and thus fail to “hook” viewers/readers/listeners sufficiently.
This is insidious, folks, and it needs to stop. The mass media must begin to take responsibility for what they’ve done … not only in the case of building the Antivax movement, but in many other areas too. Journalism in almost any field is rife with misinformation and artificial drama, and too full of informational holes to be of any use to those not subject to being emotionally hooked. No one is served by this … no one … except maybe the media outlets themselves, in the form of higher ratings. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And Americans should no longer tolerate it.
, appeal to emotion
, h1n1 vaccine
, mass media
, randomized controlled trials
, skeptic's dictionary
, swine flu
, swine flu vaccine
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