Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Germ Theory Denialism

If you mention the phrase "scientific theory" during a debate with someone who is fairly ignorant regarding matters of science, they will almost always focus upon the term "theory" as if this suggests the concept is just someones opinion. It doesn't matter if you are speaking about the theory of relativity, gravitational theory, the theory of evolution, climate change theory, atomic theory, or yes even the germ theory of disease - as soon as the term theory is heard, people come out of the woodwork to claim these theories are not fact because if a concept was able to be proven it would no longer be considered to be merely a theory.

Because of this, it is probably a good idea to explain what a scientific theory actually is. Per the United States National Academy of Sciences, scientific theory can be described as follows:
In everyday usage, “theory” often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, “I have a theory about why that happened,” they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.
The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.
Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.
In this respect it seems clear why many scientific theories can never be considered scientific fact because the areas of study are constantly evolving and research is ongoing. We may never fully understand gravitational theory, but we do know how an object will react if we toss it into the air.

Similarly, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has stated the following surrounding scientific theory:
Scientists strive to make sense of observations of phenomena by constructing explanations for them that use, or are consistent with, currently accepted scientific principles. Such explanations—theories—may be either sweeping or restricted, but they must be logically sound and incorporate a significant body of scientifically valid observations. The credibility of scientific theories often comes from their ability to show relationships among phenomena that previously seemed unrelated.
In fact, scientific theory "are the most reliable, most rigorous, and most comprehensive form" of scientific knowledge that humans possess. Scientists aren't treating these theories as hypotheses nor are they considering them to be nothing more than educated guesses. Scientific theories require specific criteria to be met including the requirement that the theory be well supported by independent strands of evidence rather that by one lone source and that the theory be makes falsifiable predictions with consistent accuracy.

Thus with this in mind, one can only shake their head in disbelief when someone proclaims that they don't accept a mutually accepted scientific theory. Believe it or not there are those among us who deny that the Earth revolves around the Sun (heliocentrism), just as there are those among us who deny that an apple will fall from a tree and strike the ground beneath it (gravity). In most cases these people are simply ignored because most people have accepted these theories as scientific fact.

However in some cases, due in no small part to simply ignorance of the subject matter and/or ignorance to the entire concept of microbiology, you find people who deny that microbes cause disease (germ theory), and they often choose to travel back in time to the 1800s as they attempt to rewrite history to proclaim that Louis Pasteur's germ theory was a sham and that Antoine Béchamp's theory was the correct one.

Obviously much has been written about germ theory, but the simple version is Pasteur believed the microbe caused the disease while Béchamp believed the disease caused the microbe. Béchamp simply did not accept the belief that bacteria could create disease in a host and instead he felt the disease would in turn produce the bacteria which could then be detected.

In the 1800s there was room for debate, because they lacked many of the tools and techniques afforded the modern day scientist, and even though Béchamp's theories rendered him to the shadows of obscurity, with modern methods science has shown Pasteur's theory to be the correct one. The book is closed, the jury has ruled, the facts are in, and surely nobody would bother to challenge accepted scientific theory right?


In fact, there are those on the lunatic fringe who do exactly that. Many anti-vaccinationists have latched on to the idea that Béchamp's germ theory is the correct one whereas Pasteur was wrong all along. If there was any doubt, Lowell Hubbs is one of these people... because where would a great medical or scientific conspiracy be without our good friend Mr. Hubbs.

I'm not posting this to debate germ theory, because frankly it is accepted science, and there is no use in trying to engage in a debate over accepted science. Rather, I post this because it shows an anti-vaxxer has no shame. I use this as but one example of how anti-vaxxers will go out of their way to ignore even the most basic scientific facts in order to push their own viewpoints.

Don't bother asking these people how diseases are spread from person to person because if you don’t believe in the accepted germ theory, and if the bacteria are caused by the disease itself, how exactly would it be transmitted to another host? Perhaps even more curious is how a simple cut on one's finger could become infected if it were not for the transmission of bacteria?

If these germ theory denialists are to be believed, then antibiotics shouldn't actually help treat or cure any disease, because they would simply attack the microbe itself and never touch the underlying condition which was producing the microbe. So how exactly can they describe antibiotics or antibacterial agents?

How does a germ theory denialist explain how entire groups of people become sick by eating tainted tomatoes or spinach. The whole thing makes me wonder if these people head to Central America on vacation and dare to drink the water. Hey... if microbes are a symptom rather than a root cause, what is there to be afraid of?

I challenge any germ theory denier, including but not limited to Lowell Hubbs, to listen to the following video and not come away with it questioning their silly ideas.

Ahhh... who am I kidding? We all know anyone who denies the most basic scientific premise is not likely to use logic as part of their thought process.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blog Transition

I recently broke one of my own rules and visited Mr. Hubbs blog.  No it wasn't so that I could read about his latest posting and it wasn't to mock him.  Instead, it was to leave a comment for him since believe it or not I don't even have a current email address for him.

You see, even though I will never agree with Mr. Hubbs on the subject of vaccinations, there are certain things we might be able to agree upon, and therefore I have extended the olive branch so to speak to determine what Mr. Hubbs would think about me renaming this blog to remove his name from both the URL as well as from the title.  He has expressed "concern" about this blog using his name in the past, and recent events have made me question whether it is appropriate.

Of course in return I would hope that Mr. Hubbs would agree to do the same for his own blog.  Perhaps he could rename it to "ProVaccineBabyKiller" or something equally as clever, but I'll leave that up to him.  I'm not talking about removing existing content nor am I speaking about further blog posts - the only point of discussion here is the removal of the name "Lowell Hubbs" from the blog name and URL.  It is possible that Mr. Hubbs would like to use his name on his own blog which is fine by me.... that is his call.

I left my comment on his blog several days ago but it has yet to be published, so as of now I have no idea what his opinion on the matter might actually be.  I would envision this blog transforming into a general blog about vaccine conspiracy theorists rather than simply focusing upon Mr. Hubbs, but before I take any action I would like to get Mr. Hubbs' opinion.

Now it is possible he simply has not read the comment yet, and it is possible he really doesn't have a response, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt in the hopes he will reach out to me and let his opinion be known.  That is part of the reasoning behind this post since I know he does read this blog so I'm sure he will (eventually) see this post and be able to offer his opinion.

So with all of that said, if anyone has any ideas for a new name for the blog, by all means leave them in the comments.

Edit (07/27/12): The blog has officially been renamed to The Vaccine Conspiracy Theorist and the new url is http://vaccineconspiracytheorist.blogspot.com/.  Unfortunately this means old bookmarks, favorites, shortcuts, and links will no longer function properly, but in time I hope those who have visited the blog in the past will be able to find it again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Facts, More Facts, and Persistent Facts

On an almost daily basis, I'm reminded of the John Adams quote "facts are stubborn things", and I am reminded of how accurate those words are.  Facts tend to get in the way of opinion, they shatter falsehoods, and they destroy dishonesty.  However, it seems often when facts are presented, those who find their opinions to be threatened merely ignore the facts rather than accept them.  This is often true with anti-vaxxers including Lowell Hubbs, because even after showing him evidence that disputes his statements, he refuses to accept reality.

Let me give an example.  Mr. Hubbs continues to make claims that the Amish are not vaccinated and that they don't get autism.  He has made these statements in the past, even though I showed him evidence which absolutely destroys that baseless claim including several different articles which served as sources.  Do you think Mr. Hubbs would drop the assertion that the Amish don't vaccinate?  Do you think he would back down from the claim that Amish children don't get autism? Do you think he would go back and modify his websites and blogs to remove any statements which make claims that the Amish don't vaccinate or that they don't get autism?  If your answer was no to any of the above questions, give yourself a gold star.

In fact, Mr. Hubbs continues to believe the Amish are autism-free, and he is still making claims about how they aren't vaccinated even though there is no legitimate evidence to support these claims.  Even if either of those two statements were true it still does not in any way suggest vaccines cause autism.  It is a classic misunderstanding of correlation and causation, and Mr. Hubbs is deliberately trying to blur the line between the two in order to support his worldview.

If someone actually has a desire to learn the truth about the Amish, there are more than enough sources that exist to prove that they do in fact vaccinate.  These include the articles mentioned above, news reports, and even studies. In fact, in one study it was found that 84% of Amish households with children reported that all of their children had received vaccinations and another 12% of Amish households with children reported that some of the children had received vaccinations. Only 4% of these households reported that none of the children received vaccinations.

That same study found that when it comes to older members of the Amish community who knew their own vaccination status, 90% reported that they had in fact received vaccinations as children. When broken out by age and looking at only respondents aged 45 years or less, this number swells to 96% which is actually higher than the general population in some cases. Does that sound like the Amish don't vaccinate?

As to the original author that made the claims about the Amish (Dan Olmsted), even he has had to backtrack and admit his reporting was "anecdotal" rather than scientific, and he seems to have backed down from his suggestions that a perceived lack of autism within the Amish community had a relation to vaccines. Of course he is still beating the drum trying to claim the Amish have a lower rate of autism (which very well could be true due to environmental and genetic factors) and he is still trying to confuse correlation and causation as all good anti-vaxxers do, but it does appear to some degree he is avoiding the "vaccines cause autism" nonsense primarily because he cannot support that hypothesis with any available data or research.

This is one of the primary issues I have with anti-vaccinationists. Even when presented with data that clearly shows their statements and opinions to be wrong, they simply ignore the data and continue to make the same false statements in the hopes they might be able to get away with it. It is one thing to form a hypothesis when you don't know the facts, but when the facts are in and when they seem to contradict your original opinion, it is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty to continue down the same path as if the facts don't matter.

Let's be clear - the Amish community isn't limited to one small group nor is it isolated to one area of the country. There are at least 25 states in the US with Amish populations, there are various subgroups and sects, so it stands to reason that what may be the case in one Amish community may not transcend across all. It would not be fair to make a blanket statement that all Amish communities vaccinate nor would it be fair to claim that none of the Amish are autistic, because the truth is there are both vaccinated and un-vaccinated Amish just as their are Amish children who have autism.

If anti-vaxxers really wish to be honest and if they are sincere in their desires to learn about the root causes of autism, they would be well advised to stop repeating fallacies and instead focus on what we really know instead of merely what we want to believe.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lowell Hubbs Hacking Failures

We have discussed Lowell Hubbs' fondness for talking about "hackers" several times in the past, but it generally has involved him accusing others of hacking his websites or blogs.  Recently I received a tip about Mr. Hubbs recent activities where he actually admits he has attempted to "hack" this blog in order to prevent me from speaking about him.

It is abundantly clear based upon previous comments made by Mr. Hubbs that he has very little understanding of technology and thus is incapable of "hacking" anything, so I will admit I was skeptical at first, but as you can see below, Mr. Hubbs even admitted his attempts on his own facebook page (the comments were in reference to a post on this blog):

Now that being said, I honestly have no idea what Mr. Hubbs is talking about here.  Yes I know I tend to say that often, but the fact is this blog has never been "hacked" and has never been "down".  As far as Google goes they have my name, email address, mailing address, and phone number so I wouldn't think it would be too difficult to contact me.  As far as I can tell, this seems to be yet another example of Mr. Hubbs making wild claims that don't resemble reality in any possible way... but what else is new.

What I find so amusing is that Mr. Hubbs acts as if he is just an innocent person who is merely interested in getting his message out there, but the reality is rather than countering real science with facts and logic, he is more interested in simply preventing people from learning the truth about him.  That speaks volumes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

SBM: Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde

Science Based Medicine has a great post about how the Internet has drastically changed the availability of medical information.  We know the Internet has made it much easier for people to research medical issues and it is often an invaluable tool to help people learn about symptoms, treatments, or root causes of disease just as it can be a tool to help research potential side effects or interactions from medications.

However for all the good the Internet has brought us, it has also brought the bad along for the ride.  Cranks and Quacks have been dumping their nonsense on the Internet for years, and even people with zero medical training whatsoever, no post-secondary education, and no experience in any medical facility, research center, or even so much as time as a cashier at a Walgreens have the ability to create their own websites,  pack them full of "medical" information, and then run around citing those websites as sources when they make wild claims.

We've seen this pattern from our very own Lowell Hubbs.  Not only has Mr. Hubbs created multiple blogs and websites which he has pasted information of varying degrees of credibility to, but he will also routinely cite his own websites as he attempts to provide evidence of his wild claims.

The blog post also discusses a study performed by Anna Kata which discusses vaccine misinformation on the Internet. There is a lot of great background there which I won't bother repeating here other than to say that Kata does a great job of identifying the patterns and tropes that the antivaxxers have come to rely upon.

However, what I found most interesting in the post was the discussion surrounding the term "research". As Dr. David Gorski says in the post: "[t]o become a real expert in a field requires paying dues that go beyond doing some searches on Google and finding studies that confirm your preexisting beliefs".

Real research isn't done by someone sitting in a dimly lit room performing random Google searches and gleaning information from websites which may or may not have any legitimacy behind them. All too often when I see antivaxxers start discussing vaccines, they soon refer to their "research" which is presented as a laundry list of links to various antivaxxer websites, blogs, or forums.

This is not real research.  Real research is performed in labs and universities and research centers.  Real research involves people with the requisite skills and knowledge to understand data they are reviewing.  Real research requires someone of an intellectual capacity to discern meaningless nonsense from legitimate science, and real research involves at the very least a knowledge of what separates a legitimate study from an editorial or opinion.  Real research involves performing actual work and drawing conclusions that haven't been drawn before based upon knowledge.  It is not simply a matter of repeating what someone else has already said with no context or analysis of it.  As Dr. Gorski states:
"It’s also a matter of context and quality control. Advanced training in science is not so much about learning a body of information, although that is certainly important. It is far more about learning the scientific method, learning how to do science. It involves learning to learn, how to do research, how to evaluate the quality of research, and, most importantly, how to put the results of new studies into the context of existing knowledge. There’s a reason it takes many years to learn these skills; they’re difficult and require a lot of work to acquire. There is no shortcut, either, not even the University of Google."
Perhaps this is why when I see someone brag about their education being from the "University of Google" I can't help but laugh because these people are putting their own ignorance on display and they don't even have the capacity to recognize it.  It is as if they show up to the Olympic Swimming Trials hoping to be given a chance to compete because a few weeks ago they received a swimming certificate from their local YWCA.  I don't know if I should openly mock such behavior, or whether I should feel a certain sense of empathy towards those who quite obviously don't know any better.

Either way, the post by Dr. Gorski once again serves as evidence as to how those with a science-based view of medicine will always remain several steps ahead of those who choose to ignore science and instead focus upon beliefs or opinions.  I recommend you take a few minutes to review the post in its entirely over at the SBM website:

Science-Based Medicine: Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde