Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Difference Between a Scientific Study and a Survey

Recently, I posted some information surrounding some recent studies which have once again shown a strong genetic component to autism.  This included three peer-reviewed scientific studies which have been published in reputable medical journals, and conclusions were drawn from the studies that were in line with what many previous studies have found... that autism is primarily genetic, and that there can be some environmental factors that contribute to a lesser degree.

When I wrote that post, I fully expected that Lowell Hubbs would appear out of the woodwork and attempt to discredit the studies by claiming they were biased or that they were secretly funded by some arm of "big pharma", but what I did not expect was the nonsense that he posted as a comment (shown here):

"You can not possibly be that dumb as to suggest autism is genetic? That is over the top for even the level of stupidity you have already put forth. How, in one generation did the genetic gene pool change from 1 in 10,000 autistic children to now 1 in 100 or at times even less than 100? The vaccines were steadily increased after 1988 and after the vaccine manufacturers were given complete legal immunity. They are now 49 shots of 14 vaccines before the age of 6. And you think there is no grey area, no questionable area anywhere? Who the hell pays you for this shit? Vax UnVax Study Results Managing Editor's Note: From the Child Health Safety site: A new survey of 7724 participants shows unvaccinated children are healthier and have vastly fewer chronic conditions than the vaccinated. The survey is published here The Health of Unvaccinated Children, Survey Results."  ~Lowell Hubbs
Ok a few things need to be pointed out here.  First of all this comment was added soon after the original post was added to this site, meaning it is doubtful Mr. Hubbs even bothered to review the original studies as he would not have had time to analyze them or find any deficiencies in their methodology.  It isn't really a new phenomenon to have a vaccine conspiracy theorist simply ignore reputable science, but it does just show yet again how Mr. Hubbs is unable to even comprehend or fully understand the science he attempts to ignore. 

Had Mr. Hubbs responded with direct criticism of the studies or questions about the results it would be one thing, but it is obvious that rather than be bothered to actually review the source data, Mr. Hubbs instead just scans the titles and makes up his mind.  In fact, Mr. Hubbs has already made up his mind in regards to vaccinations and autism, so no amount of new data or scientific study can change it.  This is the basic premise of a vaccine conspiracy theorist like Mr. Hubbs... they don't allow the data to lead them to conclusions, but rather they form a conclusion and then spend all of their time finding data which supports it while ignoring data that challenges it.  This is not how science works - which is why Lowell Hubbs and his ilk will always remain nothing more than a distraction to the real science being performed each and every day.

So what else can we learn from Mr. Hubbs' comments?  Well... as sad as it is, Mr. Hubbs has displayed an ignorance to basic scientific concepts which honestly calls into question whether he is even fit to comment on these issues when it is so clear he has no clue what he is talking about.  I'm referring to the fact that Mr. Hubbs provides a link to a survey, and yet he confuses this with a study.  Mr. Hubbs believes the nonsense he has linked to somehow proves the unvaccinated children are healthier, and he honestly believes this is a smoking gun.

Let me explain the major flaws in Mr. Hubbs thinking.  First of all, the survey he linked to is just that... a survey.  This means it is nothing more than anecdotal evidence and is in no way considered scientific.  No research was performed to identify the people who responded to the survey, there is no indication that bias was addressed, and no mandate for those responding to the survey to even bother to answer honestly.  There was no direct contact between any doctor, scientist, or researcher and the survey respondents, and there was no analysis performed on medical records or test results.  The fact that Mr. Hubbs feels a survey is worthy of being considered a "study" only shows how poorly he understands the scientific process.

So for the sake of discussion, lets go ahead and examine this little survey to see what we find.  Let's look at the science behind how they gathered their data, and let's examine the methodology behind the survey itself.  The first glaring red flag here is who actually designed the survey.  It was distributed by the website which is nothing more than an anti-vaccination website which seeks to label all vaccines as harmful as they try to sell various antivaxxer books (as any good antivaxxer will tell you, fear is very profitable).

Second, and perhaps more important that who distributed the survey, is HOW they distributed the survey.  According to their website, the responses they received were "[d]ue to social network pages and the help of many people who supported the survey".  So essentially they relied upon social media like facebook pages to distribute the survey, and then they even openly admit it was distributed by people who supported the survey!  Do these people even understand the concept of bias?  This is like asking a five year old to distribute a survey to other five year olds and then reporting that the survey says peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the most healthy meal on the planet while playing kickball is the world's most popular sport.

These people just don't get it... and I doubt they ever will.

It gets better though.  Out of the 7,799 responses to the survey (none of which were validated in any way which means a single person could respond to the survey 300 times if they wished), only 582 of the survey respondents indicated that conventional medicine is their preferred medical treatment.  Considering that conventional medicine is actually the preferred treatment of well over 95% of the public, this figure shows how skewed this survey is, but there is no mention of this discrepancy by the authors.  Apparently they are more concerned with distributing their bias and they have no interest in pointing out the fact that there are numerous glaring flaws in their methodology. 

So what was the preferred medical treatment?  Well not surprising, 2,826 of the respondents relied upon homeopathy, 2,370 relied upon naturopathic medicine and 1,729 relied upon other medicine which according to the survey's authors is mainly chiropractic and supplemental.  This basically tells us of the 7,799 people who took this silly survey on their facebook pages or from anti-vaxxer websites that 6,925 of them (or 89%) rely upon unproven forms of 'alternative' medicine while only 7% use conventional medicine.  Don't ask me what happened to the other 292 survey respondents (4%) which apparently were not counted... I guess statistical accuracy or explaining major discrepancies in the data just isn't important to antivaxxers.

It is painfully obvious this survey is a joke, and not even a good one at that.  Even the most ardent anti-vaccination quackjob on the planet understands that most people use conventional medicine as their primary source of treatment, thus if you have a survey with drastically different results it doesn't take a brain surgeon (or even a research scientist or statistical analyst) to figure out the survey is heavily, heavily skewed and full of bias.

As entertaining as this is - it actually gets better!  The next piece of data we are shown indicates that over 99% of the survey respondents were happy that they didn't vaccinate their children.  It was actually 99.69% which is a statistical super-mega-amazing-majority! 

But wait... I thought this survey was supposed to show how much healthier unvaccinated kids were when compared to vaccinated kids.  If 99.69% of the kids in the survey are unvaccinated, that would equate to 7,775 of the 7,799 children which would only leave a maximum of 24 kids who are potentially vaccinated.  How do they expect to perform a valid comparison between group A of 7,775 people (99.69%) and group B of 24 people (0.31%)?  The fact that I even have to point this out to someone like Mr. Hubbs who has taken the survey at face value only serves as more evidence on how disconnected the antivaxxers are from reality.  Critical thinking skills, common sense, and any level of scientific understanding apparently don't exist within the antivaxxer community - and this little survey acts as a prime exhibit of those facts.

In fact, if you actually read on into the survey results, you will soon discover that they did no such comparison between vaccinated and unvaccinated children who were counted in the survey.  None whatsoever.  Instead, they are comparing their survey of unvaccinated children to other scientific studies which determine the rate of various medical conditions such as allergies or asthma.  Once again there is a severe failure to understand the scientific process and the fact that the distributors of this survey fail to understand the glaring flaws in their methodology is comical at best.

Where things really get interesting is when you drill down into the survey results a bit further and you come across their graphic which shows their survey results displaying autism cases in unvaccinated children.  The graphic they use is shown below:

Click to View in Full Size

Unfortunately there is a lot left up to the imagination surrounding this image, and no explanation is given for the numbers shown.  It is understandable that there would be very few if any cases of autism reported in children under the age of three since autism is often undiagnosed until the child is a toddler, but beyond that the numbers shown in this table seem rather high.

We are continually told that the rates of autism are roughly 1 in 110 American children and that this number has bloomed in the past decade, yet this graphic (if you average all children from 0-12 years of age) shows the rate to be 1.46%.  If you factor in all children through age 18 the rate averages to 1.25%.  So if the rate of autism in the general population is 1 in 110, that equates to 0.9%.  However this survey is suggesting that the rate of autism in unvaccinated children is anywhere from 1.25% to 1.46%... which is an increase over the general population of 38% to 62%!

Now let me be clear that I give no credibility to this survey nor do I feel it is in any way scientific.  However if the antivaxxers wish to consider this a valid survey, then by all means they need to be willing to accept the data, and that means an unvaccinated child is 38% to 62% more likely to be autistic than a vaccinated child.  Hey - I can only go off of the chart provided, and math doesn't lie, so I guess that is what they want us to believe.

Then again, the website does include a disclaimer which readily admits that they "cannot guarantee that the information provided is complete, accurate and current", so I guess that allows them to wipe their hands from all of the fear-inducing headlines that don't seem to mirror the actual results of their survey.  Funny how these antivaxxers always seem to have some type of a disclaimer, so that made me wonder... do legitimate peer-reviewed medical studies have disclaimers on the bottom that state the study's authors can't guarantee that the results are complete or accurate?  The answer is no - because real science needs no such disclaimer, and a legitimate study would never be published until the study's authors were confident the data was not only complete, but that it was accurate and current as well.

This it is more than obvious even to a casual observer that this survey is worthless.  I really was looking forward to a legitimate scientific study that includes a large enough control group to make it meaningful, but once again the antivaxxers have let me down.  Obviously I could go on and on about the flaws in this survey, the overwhelming unscientific bias that has blended into everything from the survey creation, to survey distribution, collection, analysis, and even production... but I think what I have shown in this one post alone is enough to prove that not only is the survey entirely non-scientific, but even using their own skewed and heavily biased data still shows a result which contradicts their own predetermined viewpoints.

This also goes to show that how the Age of Autism website authors have no understanding of what true science is.  The fact that their article states "[t]his is excellent work from an independent source" just goes to show they not only misunderstand the term "excellent" but they have no clue what it means to be an independent source.  Unfortunately most of the comments added to their article thus far appear to have bought into the bait hook, line, and sinker and most likely those individuals haven't bothered to objectively analyze the data.

Is there really any wonder why anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists like Lowell Hubbs are never taken seriously when they can't even be bothered to identify the fatal flaws in the very data they use as evidence?  The only thing this survey has proven is that the ignorant will remain ignorant, and the scientifically inept antivaxxers will remain scientifically inept.

Real science wins.  Again. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Even More Evidence to Suggest Autism is Genetic

Back in July I wrote a post that pointed to a few studies which suggested Autism is primarily caused by a genetic component but also to a smaller degree can be brought on my environmental factors.  In one of those studies the environmental factor examined was usage of antidepressants, which were found to have an effect if a women took them during pregnancy.

It seems that the subject of Autism is a hot topic right now, because I have just reviewed several additional studies on the subject all of which show a strong genetic component to Autism as well.  These studies were all published in the journal Neuron on June 9th, 2011.

The first study is entitled "Rare De Novo and Transmitted Copy-Number Variation in Autistic Spectrum Disorders".

The second study is entitled "Multiple Recurrent De Novo CNVs, Including Duplications of the 7q11.23 Williams Syndrome Region, Are Strongly Associated with Autism".

The third study is entitled "Rare De Novo Variants Associated with Autism Implicate a Large Functional Network of Genes Involved in Formation and Function of Synapses".

These studies were all performed in collaboration with the Simmons Simplex Collection (SSC) which is a core project and resource of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).  SFARI is a private organization involved in multiple aspects of Autism research and contains a Scientific Advisory Board which is filled with prestigious doctors and scientists from Universities such as Columbia, MIT, Duke, and Harvard.  Obviously if you wish to know more about them I urge you to review their website, but I mention it here because vaccine conspiracy theorists tend to ignore any data that has any connection to the CDC, FDA, WHO, or any other government agency, thus I thought it fitting to mention who SFARI is to ensure it is clear they are not just another rubber-stamping government agency.

The bottom line is these are reputable peer-reviewed scientific studies which point to a strong genetic link to Autism.  I realize that the concept of peer-reviewed science is often difficult for a vaccine conspiracy theorist like Lowell Hubbs to understand, but the bottom line is these are three different studies all of which have been published in a very reputable journal, and as much as Mr. Hubbs may like to pretend Neuron is somehow biased or is nothing more than a shill for "big pharma" or the vaccine industry, I'm afraid that isn't the case.

I suppose Mr. Hubbs will simply discredit these studies by suggesting all of the authors and members of Neuron's editorial board are biased or that they have been paid off etc, but when you consider there are over 100 experts on the editorial board, and several dozen authors not to mention the scientific editors, managing editors, reviewing editors as well as various directors and manages involved... well that seems like quite the conspiracy theory to suggest that all of these people are somehow in on the little shell game.

So what do these studies tell us?  Well according to John Timmer over at ARS Technica, the two studies that examined CNVs (copy number variations) "...found slightly different numbers, but the same general trend: new CNVs (deletions or duplications that are not present in either parent) are much more common in autistic children than they are in their unaffected siblings. One study found that they showed up 3.4 times more often; the other showed 3.9 times. In either case, there were many more changes in the dose of genes among autistic individuals. Moreover, most of these changes are rare, showing up in only one or a few individuals. This low frequency implies that, with a larger population, even rarer CNVs would be uncovered. The statistics are such that the authors estimate that there may be several hundred potential sites in the genome that could be linked to autism."

Timmer goes on to explain that the third study focuses upon what these CVNs do which primarily surrounds the formation of synapses etc in the brain.  This helps understand what the effects of Autism actually are and could potentially lead to additional research to counteract those effects down the road.

Now it needs to be stated that these studies are not suggesting Autism is always caused by a genetic component, and they even go on to state that there can be environmental influences.  However it is clear that as more and more research is performed, it seems the common conclusion is the genetic component which means those that tend to blame vaccines for Autism (such as our very own Lowell Hubbs along with the long discredited Andrew Wakefield as well as pseudo-celebrity Jenny McCarthy) are looking more and more like the fools they are each and every time a new study is released.

So how many peer-reviewed studies have been published thus far which have been able to even so much as identify a link between vaccines and autism?  Once again... the answer remains zero. 

Science wins.  Vaccine conspiracy theorists lose.  Again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Safety of the HPV Vaccine (Gardasil)

There has been a lot of talk the past few years about the HPV vaccine Gardasil.  For some it has been a miracle and a lifesaver.  For others it is just another vaccination they aren't sure they need.  However for a vaccine conspiracy theorist like Lowell Hubbs, Gardasil could quite possibly be the worst thing mankind has produced since Hitler himself.

Keep in mind Mr. Hubbs has never been too keen on supporting his viewpoints with hard science so rather than look at facts and figures he would much rather point you to random Internet testimonials about how some woman suffered some ill effects from the vaccine or how someone contracted a random condition soon after receiving the shots.  He is also a big fan of sharing stories of parents who are "convinced" all of their daughter's medical problems are due to the Gardasil vaccine even if doctors, scientists, and evidence disagree.  Apparently in the mind of a vaccine conspiracy theorist, the word of a parent is as good as a multi-year scientific study.  Go figure.

Therefore when I came across a visual image of the safety of the HPV vaccine I only thought it appropriate that I link to it from this blog.  The image can be found on the Information is Beautiful website, and in case you are curious... they include all of their sources, data, and even their calculations to support the graphic itself.  There are numerous scientific studies referenced, and you won't find a single part of the graphic which isn't supported be evidence nor will you find a piece of it based upon the opinion of a lone parent who "just knows" what the real truth is.

The graphic does a much better job of telling the story than a few words of written text can because it helps visualize the actual data, but at the end of the day here is what is important:

There have been 35,000,000 doses of the Gardasil vaccine distributed in the United States.  Of those 35,000,0000 there have been 1,498 people who experienced serious side effects, which equates to 0.009%.  There have been 68 people die withing one year of receiving the vaccine (0.0004%), however this doesn't mean their deaths had anything to do with the vaccine as they include ALL deaths.  Of these 68 people there were three deaths from car accidents, one from a suicide, and many many more from unrelated medical conditions.

Of those 68 deaths, 32 of them were reviewed by a doctor... and are you ready to hear how many of them were attributed to the Gardasil vaccine?  If you guessed zero give yourself a pat on the back.  This means out of 35,000,000 doses of this vaccine there has not be a single death anywhere in the US which has been directly attributed to Gardasil nor has Gardasil even been considered to be a contributing factor.

Yes I know this is shocking, but it gets even better.

There have been seven studies which have examined the effects of the Gardasil vaccine.  These studies have covered over 44,000 women which were broken up into two primary groups.  One group was given the Gardasil vaccine while the other was given a placebo.

Statistically speaking, the number of women who experienced side effects after receiving their injections was nearly identical as were the number of women who died within several years of receiving the vaccine.  There were a total of 18 deaths reported in the group who had received the vaccine vs. 15 deaths reported in the group which had received the placebo, however none of these deaths (for either the vaccine or the placebo) were judged to be related - so essentially it is a non-issue.

So what else do we learn from these studies?  Well, the lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer in the US is 1 in 147 for those women who are unvaccinated while it is only 1 in 400 for those women who are vaccinated.  Similar numbers were shown in studies over in the UK as well, so this is not a random anomaly.

The fatality rate of cervical cancer is around 35%, so a bit of math tells us that the Gardasil vaccine could potentially save approximately 2,500 lives per year in the US, or a whopping 159,700 lives worldwide.

Think about that... almost 160,000 women could be saved each and every year due to one simple vaccine.  The very same vaccine that conspiracy theorists like Mr. Hubbs claim causes more harm than good.  If we are to believe Mr. Hubbs' nonsense, then where is the data showing this vaccine contributes to over 2,500 American deaths every year?  Where is the data that shows it is responsible for 160,000 deaths worldwide?  Where is the data to suggest it causes more injuries or that it doesn't actually prevent cervical cancer?

As we all know such data doesn't exist because quite simply all the studies that have been done have come to the same conclusions regardless of who was performing the study or who was financing it.  Even the skeptics have to admit that if there was a smoking gun against Gardasil you can rest assured it would have been brought to our attention... yet none exist.

It just goes to show that when the real data is examined, it once again contradicts the opinion of the vaccine conspiracy theorists, and try as they might they have nothing to counter it.  Once again real science wins, and pseudo Internet-educated experts like Lowell Hubbs find themselves on the wrong side of reality.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Pill Popping Hypocrisy of Lowell Hubbs

Quite some time ago, a frequent visitor to this site sent me a URL to a Yahoo discussion group where Mr. Hubbs has posted in the past.  Aside from some of the rather interesting statements made by Mr. Hubbs, what is even more interesting is how once again we find evidence proving that although Mr. Hubbs claims to be anti-big pharma (anti pharmaceutical company), he is more than willing to use their products when he feels they may benefit him.

He have witnessed this same pattern of hypocritical behavior with Mr. Hubbs' usage of Paxil and Xanax.  We have also seen it with Mr. Hubbs' use of Alprazolam, and he has also mentioned using Klonopin in the past.  Although Mr. Hubbs admits those drugs were all prescribed for specific reasons and he attempts to defend their usage, it doesn't change the fact that he is more than willing to use the products from the very same companies he claims are responsible for conspiring to keep people sick and dependent upon medications.

Therefore, it really isn't a surprise that Mr. Hubbs has been shown to use yet another product of "big pharma", nor is it a surprise to discover Mr. Hubbs claims to have specific side effects that include rage and violent behavior.  This time around, the drug of choice is Dostinex which Mr. Hubbs seems to have admitted taking for quite some time.  Dostinex has a variety of uses so I won't even speculate what condition Mr. Hubbs was or is attempting to address here, but what is interesting is some of Mr. Hubbs' statements surrounding the side effects he has experienced while taking the drug:
"What Im talking about is temper flare ups increased due to Dostinex, not the drug reducing that as prolactin went down. That has occasionally been seen in previous posts Ive read on another site; and I just have no question its had similar affect on me. I have benefited from Dosinex as it has rebalanced prolcatin and testosterone the typical previous high low ratio..."  ~Lowell Hubbs
So Mr. Hubbs admits to having temper flare ups?  Who would have guessed?  However it doesn't stop there:
"[...] I'm on three times as much Dostinex as you. .75 twice a week. I go from calm to wanting to throw things; and impatient isnt even the word; rage is more like it; very scarey. That drug quite honestly has an effect on sex drive that is something more than just testosterone levels going up. Ive heard that also posted. Because in all honesty, even when they went up to just below normal things started raging like I had the testosterone levels of a 17 year old and Im 48."  ~Lowell Hubbs
Once again we see Mr. Hubbs admitting violent behavior, although based upon his previous pattern of behavior I'm quite certain he will continue to blame his medications rather than accepting responsibility.  If that is the case however, how can Mr. Hubbs explain the fact that he continues to display these same characteristics time and time again right on this very blog?  If it isn't Mr. Hubbs making direct threats against those who disagree with him, it is Mr. Hubbs displaying Internet Toughguy Syndrome.  Even casual visitors to this blog have noticed the rage and anger displayed in many of Mr. Hubbs' comments... and even worse are those I am unable to publish due to their non-PG content.

As much as Mr. Hubbs' rage is a problem, I'm actually more concerned about him rambling on about his sex drive.  Normally I wouldn't have an issue with someone explaining increased virility, but when it comes from a man who has made questionable statements about young girls and who has on numerous occasions submitted pornography laced messages to this very blog... well I would be lying if I said it isn't concerning.

Those issues aside, as we see in this next quote Mr. Hubbs also feels he is qualified to discuss pharmacology and even includes the obligatory statement asking others to prove him wrong rather than him bothering to prove he is right.  Once again he displays a complete misunderstanding of how the scientific method works... but this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who knows Mr. Hubbs.
... "So, my guess would be exactly this with Dostinex in your system possibly we dont produce enough natural dopamine which is one of the needed feel good chemicals the brain has. I defy and doctor to dispute it; or come up with a study, or any medical teaching proving Im wrong. Thats why we feel like we do and have no patience. I am on .75 mg twice a week."  ~Lowell Hubbs
Finally, we have Mr. Hubbs admitting other side effects he claims are due to the Dostinex.  These appear to include a short temper, inability to deal with stress (which relates to the anxiety Mr. Hubbs has taken other medications for), and he even admits to being defiant and hostile:
... "if anything my ability to deal with stress on Dostinex is worse and I am short tempered and tough, become very defiant and hostile, yet I can get very emotional and nearly in tears over the littlest things"...  ~Lowell Hubbs
I'm not about to claim I know whether these side effects are due to Dostinex or due to some other supplement or series of medications that Mr. Hubbs may be taking at any given point.  For all I know, the hostility and rage that Mr. Hubbs describes may be part of his core personality and he is just looking for some random drug to blame for his actions.

We have witnessed in the past that Mr. Hubbs has refused to accept responsibility for his multiple DUIs.  We have also seen that he has various excuses for his arrests for theft and for shoplifting.  Essentially it seems that Mr. Hubbs is never willing to accept responsibility for anything, and he is always looking for someone or something else to blame for his actions.  Maybe in the past it was Paxil, then later it was Dostinex.  Other times it is a combination of Xanax and alcohol, and sometimes it may be to anti-anxiety herbs mixed with alcohol... but the repeating pattern here seems to be that it is never Mr. Hubbs' fault.

Never mind the blatant hypocrisy involved from Mr. Anti-Big Pharma himself taking numerous prescription medications while continually attacking big pharma... the question remains: if Dostinex does in fact cause side effects of rage and hostility... does that help explain a lot of what we have witnessed from him right on this very blog?  If on the other hand he is no longer on the Dostinex, then what other excuse could he possibly have for his actions? 

Either Mr. Hubbs is still on the Dostinex (which makes him a raging hypocrite), or he is no longer on it and therefore has nobody to blame for his continual fits of rage, hatred, and ever-increasing hostile behavior.  One also has to wonder... if Mr. Hubbs is no longer on the Dostinex, does that mean modern medicine cured whatever condition he was being treated for? 

Being an anti-big pharma and anti-modern medicine vaccine conspiracy theorist just seems to be a lot easier if you are a hypocrite.