Posts Tagged “antivaxers”

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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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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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 … !

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