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.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that one of the NBA’s marketing deals is “a scam,” and he said Monday that he banned the product from the team’s locker room.
Cuban made his opinion clear in a video he posted to YouTube last week in which he criticized Power Balance bracelets before throwing the display case that was in the Mavericks’ locker room in the garbage.
“See this stuff?” Cuban said on the video, grabbing the display. “It was a scam when they were on ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s still a scam. I don’t care if the NBA was dumb enough to sign an agreement; this is going where it belongs.”
At that point, Cuban put the display case in a trash can.
It’s nice to see at least one NBA team owner taking on his own league, against this scam. Would that more owners did so, and more celebrities spoke out against Power Balance and the fraud it’s perpetrating on the public, rather than embracing and fostering it.
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!
Maybe you’ve heard of “Power Balance” bracelets … silicone bands with “hologram technology” that lots of prominent athletes have begun wearing. Advertising for the product claims “Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.” The problem is, there is no such thing as a “natural energy flow” within the body. No one has found it, no one has documented it, no one has measured it; it does not exist. These bracelets are, basically, bullshit.
Shaquille O’Neal and David Beckham may want their money back after the company behind the Power Balance bracelet admitted to an Australian court that there is no proof to back up its claims that it improves athletic performance.
“We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims,” Power Balance, LLC said in a statement.
Of course, even after having made this admission to an Australian court, the company insists the contrary, that its product works:
Taking to its Twitter account, Power Balance, LLC defended its product and posted tweets from customers who still believe in the bracelet’s abilities.
“don’t believe what u hear. We stand by our products. (our trainers did test on us and we saw a difference in wearing them),” the company tweeted.
They can get away with this disingenuousness, because the buying masses are stupid enough to fall for it.
Congratulations to Australia for taking on these insidious peddlers of woo and nonsense.
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.
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).
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?
In the fine tradition of using catastrophes to one’s own advantage, the Church of Scientology has decided that Haitians injured in the recent earthquake require their dubious pseudo-medicine. AFP reports via Google News (WebCite cached article):
Scientologists ‘heal’ Haiti quake victims using touch
Amid the mass of aid agencies piling in to help Haiti quake victims is a batch of Church of Scientology “volunteer ministers”, claiming to use the power of touch to reconnect nervous systems.
Clad in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the controversial US-based group, smiling volunteers fan out among the injured lying under makeshift shelters in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital.
An anonymous benefactor is sending Scientolgists in, at great expense, to provide this important service to Haiti:
“We’re trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called ‘assist’ to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication,” she said.
“When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch.”
Yeah, folks, this is yet another kind of “energy medicine,” which is just as bogus as every other kind of “energy medicine,” such as reiki, therapeutic touch, and more. Nevertheless, these Scientologists claim to have performed miracles:
Next to her lay 22-year-old student Oscar Elweels, whose father rescued him from the basement of his school where he lay with a pillar on his leg for a day after the deadly January 12 quake.
His right leg was amputated below the knee and his left leg was severely bruised and swollen. …
“One hour ago he had no sensation in his left leg, so I explained the method to him, I touched him and after a while he said ‘now I feel everything’,” said [the Scientologist known as] Sylvie.
“Otherwise they might have had to amputate his other leg. Now his sister knows the method and she can do it.”
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.