Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

We have discussed the conspiracy theorist repository known as whale.to a few times in the past namely here and here, and you might think after showing how that particular website included such riveting fiction as flying dolphins, holocaust denials, and how the government invented the AIDS virus and is secretly infecting the population, you might have thought anti-vaccinationists would try to distance themselves from the site.

You may have thought the popularity of Scopie's Law would have some antivaxxers second guessing whether they wanted their names associated with whale.to due to the obvious implications to their credibility. You may have even thought that rather than siting the website directly, that antivaxxers would instead just copy and paste the data into other less familiar websites.

Well... you would be wrong.

As it turns out, antivaxxers still flock to whale.to on a regular basis, and just today I was directed to a comment thread where none other than anti-vaccination extraordinaire Lowell Hubbs is once again citing whale.to as a reputable source.  The following screen cap was taken from a Huffington Post article found here (and one which I recently discussed in a previous blog post).

Mr. Hubbs' comment shows everything that is wrong with the anti-vaccination movement today.  No, I'm not talking about his usage of ellipsis which make it appear that he has to take... a... breath... between...each... word.  Rather I'm speaking about how when antivaxxers are presented with facts they simply choose to ignore them.  When their sources are shown to be lacking, laughable, or just simply absurd they don't seek out more reputable sources but instead they latch on to their nonsense and go into defense mode.

We've seen this same pattern of behavior when it comes to Andy Wakefield.  Even though the Wakefield "study" was retracted and Wakefield himself stripped of his medical license, and even though he was found guilty of fraud and manipulation of data, and even though he was shown to have conflicts of interest due to financial connections to competing/alternative vaccines to those which he was attacking - the anti-vaccine movement refuses to distance themselves from this failed relationship even though it is clear to everyone else that it only serves to harm their credibility.

Thus is it really any surprise to not only see Lowell Hubbs citing whale.to in his comments, but even going so far as to claim it is a "great site" containing "real history"?  Sadly, anti-vaccinationists don't appear to grasp the concept that a untrustworthy source harms their credibility so they just continue to spew the same nonsense day after day.  The fact is, for someone who is on the fence and unsure of vaccinations, these types of tactics only serve to harm the anti-vaccine movement because a person of even moderate intelligence is going to take a look at a website that features flying dolphins, extensive data pertaining to UFOs, and information about government mind-control, and they will be either consumed with laughter, or they will simply assume the anti-vaccine movement is akin to every other group of conspiracy theorists out there such as Bigfoot hunters, 9/11 "truthers", or those idiotic moon-landing conspiracy theorists.

Come to think of it, whale.to might actually be helping to show people how out of touch these anti-vaxxers really are.  In that case I can only hope people like Lowell Hubbs continue to reference the website as often as possible - because it seems to be doing a fantastic job of showing the anti-vaccinationists for what they really are... simple conspiracy theorists who have a propensity to believe anything they read on the Internet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HuffPo: Anti-Vaccine Vitriol: Seeking Reason

Dr. David Katz recently published a piece on The Huffington Post in response to some of the anti-vaccination nonsense that gets posted on the HuffPo website on a regular basis.  The amazing thing is HuffPo is known to  be somewhat of a safe haven for antivaxxers, so to witness them being called out for their tactics and lunacy is nothing short of amazing.

I'd love to cite some specific passages from his article, but the truth is if I cited only the parts of the article which make sense and which make very valid points, I'd end up posting the entire piece.  Therefore I encourage you to read the entire article in its entirety over at the HuffPo website.  You can find the article at this link:  Anti-Vaccine Vitriol: Seeking Reason.

Well ok, I do have to list one of my personal favorite quotes that Dr. Katz wrote: "In other words, if you want to offer advice against vaccination that reasonable people can take seriously, try being reasonable".

I dare say the phrase "reasonable antivaxxer" is an oxymoron, but perhaps one day I'll actually come across one.  It is difficult to imagine a world where a reasonable person tosses aside all logic and common sense while ignoring mountains of scientific evidence and historical records, but perhaps there are varying levels of reason.

Of course even after reading the article, the antivaxxers once again come out in full force in the comments section.  Sadly it seems most of them were unable to complete the entire article before posting because many of their comments are using the very tactics discussed in the article itself almost as if they antivaxxers were so enraged after the first paragraph or two they skipped the remainder to cut and paste more anti-vaccine nonsense.

One comment that caught my eye was from an antivaxxer who complained of a lack of "[d]ouble-blind, randomized controlled studies" showing the efficacy of flu vaccinations.  Not only did this particular antivaxxer clearly not read or understand Dr. Katz's article, but she also appears to be very confused about ethically questionable studies.

We of course have discussed this issue in the past, and frankly anyone of average intelligence should understand the moral issues with trying to perform such a study, but even more troubling is how these antivaxxers presume it is possible to prove a negative in the first place.  I just have to wonder if someone did perform a double-blind randomized controlled study on a flu vaccine and those individuals who did not receive the vaccine were six times more likely to contract the flu - would antivaxxers actually suggest the vaccine was functioning as designed?  I think we all know the answer, and that answer is "no", because they would simply claim there was bias, or they would challenge the funding source for the study, or they would make claims about how correlation does not equal causation (even though they are guilty of confusing the two on a continual basis).

The truth is, even if the results did come out as expected it wouldn't change perceptions or the minds of the anti-vaccination crowd, so what benefit would such an unethical study provide, and at what costs?  What if one of the test subjects contracted the flu and died as a result of complications?  What if those study participants who didn't receive the vaccine contracted the flu and spread it to dozens or possibly even hundreds of others?

You see when someone doesn't receive a vaccine, it isn't only them who is impacted.  Potentially it is everyone around them.  It is anyone and everyone who comes into contact with that person which is precisely why I have no problem with calling someone who willfully skips their vaccinations out of ignorance to be nothing short of selfish.  If you want to kill yourself I have zero problem with it, but when you put the lives of others in danger due to your selfishness, then I have a problem with your actions.

We have seen the ramifications of scientific ignorance when antivaxxers refuse to allow their children to receive vaccines, and in some cases it has lead to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as the measles or pertussis... with the end result being hospitalizations, prolonged illness, and in a few select cases even death.

Therefore antivaxxers can continue to protest that no double-blind randomized and controlled studies on the efficacy of the flu vaccine have been performed, but it won't change anything and is merely a distraction.  As much as we might love to see such a study, it won't be happening anytime soon not only because of the ethical issues, but because anytime a study is performed and the treatment has such profound effects, the study will be interrupted.  It is simply inhumane to continue a study when a sample group shows such a significant benefit over the control group, and any long-term study of a vaccine is most certainly going to show this disparity thus we must look elsewhere for the necessary data.

Granted it isn't like we can't look at actual historical data to know if something works.... say for instance the fact that the CDC reported the incidence of invasive Hib disease dropped from 40-100 per 100,000 children down to 1.3 per 100,000 due to routine usage of the Hib vaccine from 1980 to 1990. Surely that is merely a coincidence.

Then again, Australia found the same thing... which results in this chart showing how the Hib vaccine resulted in over a 90% drop in reported cases in 12 years and actually eliminated all fatalities within 7 years.

It still must just be a coincidence right?  I mean we can't use this type of data because it isn't part of a double-blind randomized and controlled study... so it must be garbage.

Then again, there have never been double-blind randomized and controlled studies proving the efficacy of parachutes either, and there won't be anytime soon.  Does that mean we shouldn't trust the efficacy of parachutes?  Of course not, because we already know they save lives.  We already have more than enough evidence to know that parachutes are a great idea, and we know what the alternative is.  To suggest we need a double-blind study to determine whether parachutes work or not would be unethical (and obviously idiotic), but when you think about it, vaccines are no different.

So the next time an antivaxxer asks for a double-blind study aka: a "vax vs. unvaxxed" study showing the efficacy of vaccines, just ask them if they are willing to participate in a double-blind study for parachutes.  Sure that seems incredibly stupid, but so does the idea of passing on a vaccine because of scientific ignorance or fear.

Now if you need an example that is more in tune with vaccine, simply look no further than shoulder-mounted three point safety belts in automobiles.  We know the usage of such devices has resulted in many lives saved, and we know what the statistics are prior to their usage much in the way we know what the rates of disease were prior to vaccines being developed.  So should automobile manufacturers be required to perform double-blind studies on seat belts prior to installing them in vehicles?  Should they be required to report any findings of shoulder injury or broken arms due to the seat belts even though those same people may have died without the seat belt?

Our world isn't always so black and white, and sometimes the data is impossible to obtain via a perfectly controlled scientific study.  In some cases we need to look at the other sources of evidence such as infection rates or historical data.  It may not always be as clean and concise as a chart listing infection rates of X vs. Y, but unless you are willing to jump out of a plane without a parachute you really have no business complaining about a lack of double-blind studies.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Need Another Reason to Get a Flu Shot?

If reducing the risk of suffering from the flu this winter isn't quite enough to convince you to get a flu shot, consider this:  according to two studies presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, it turns out getting a flu shot can actually decrease the risk of a heart attack by as much as 50%!

So not only can you avoid the flu, you might actually save your life.  Sort of makes you wonder how antivaxxers will spin this to make it look like a bad thing... because saving lives isn't exactly the type of side effect they like to talk about.

Is this the kind of thing that should be reported to VAERS?

Read more here:  The Shot That Prevents Heart Attacks (via Yahoo Health)