Posts Tagged “antivax”

Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFREven though the current anti-vax movement has been constructed upon a single demonstrably-fraudulent study (WebCite cached article) by Dr Andrew Wakefield — which he’d intended as the basis for a franchise selling “remedies” for something he called “austistic enterocolitis” (cached), it’s taken on a life of its own. It morphed originally from Wakefield’s (false) contention that the MMR vaccine causes autism, to the assumption that all vaccines, of any type, are toxic.

The mass media have done more than their share to perpetuate the lie that vaccines are dangerous, including this past December when Katie Couric spent an entire show parading sanctimonious mommies on her stage (cached) telling everyone that the HPV vaccine is lethal. Ms Couric later sort-of conceded she might have gone too far with that one (cached).

The truth of the anti-vax movement is much worse than just that it’s a big fat fucking lie with a fraudulent genesis; it’s actually hurting people in very real — and measurable — ways. The Council on Foreign Relations released a map showing the incidence of vaccine-preventable outbreaks around the world (cached). And the picture isn’t pretty:Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFROne expects to see such illnesses in developing countries, but as is evident in the map, even in highly industrialized nations, preventable childhood illnesses are also occurring in large numbers. Europe is plastered with measles, for instance, and the U.S. is spawning whooping cough from sea to sea.

I know I’ll be accused of having been paid by “Big Pharma” to point this out and condemn the anti-vax movement … but no matter how fervently the anti-vax crowd may believe otherwise, I haven’t. “Big Pharma” doesn’t even know who I am. I also don’t know anyone who works for, or who’s ever been paid any amount, by a “Big Pharma” firm. I’m just a guy who objects to irrationality and lies, and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for people to he harmed or killed by irrationality and lies. Call me crazy if you want — and many have! — but that’s just how I roll. <shrug>

Photo credit: CFR map screen-shot.

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VaccineA 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.

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SyringesThe 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.

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Smallpox vaccineStrangely, 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.

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Flu Vaccination GrippeNearly 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.

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flu shot!I blogged just under a year ago that the prestigious Lancet retracted a study it had published in 1998, by Dr Andrew Wakefield, which laid the foundations for the anti-vaccine movement. CNN reports, though, that a BMJ investigation into that study has revealed it’s worse than being just bad science — it was an outright fraud (WebCite cached article):

A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

The study’s investigators pulled no punches:

“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”

Wakefield, of course, isn’t having any of it, and is playing the martyr:

Speaking to CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Wakefield said his work has been “grossly distorted” and that he was the target of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”

My guess is that all the famous committed antivaxers — such as Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, Suzanne Somers, etc. — will side with Wakefield and his persecution complex. The evidence of Wakefield’s fraud that BMJ turned up, will mean nothing to any of them.

Photo credit: samantha celera, via Flickr.

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Dr. Mehmet Oz was a regular guest on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' before launching his own show, which averages 3.7 million viewers daily. (George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc)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)

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