Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Eating Healthy Fats During Pregnancy May Reduce Baby's Autism Risk

A new study indicates that women who consumed high levels of certain types of omega 6 fatty acids during pregnancy may reduce their risk of having a child with autism by 34% when compared to women who consumed low levels of the same fatty acids.

Even more shocking was the same study  found that women who consumed very low levels omega 3s were 53% more likely to have an autistic child than women who consumed average amounts of these same fatty acids.

Of course as the article points out, more research is required and this is not meant to prove or indicate a cause and effect link.  This is not what we would call a smoking gun, nor is it suggesting they have found a root cause for autism.  What this does is offer us another piece of evidence - another piece of the puzzle - to help explain the types of risk factors that may be associated with autism in children.

Whether it be research that helps identify genetic markers associated with autism, research that suggests the age of the father may contribute to genetic mutations which increase the risk of autism, or research that indicates a link between obesity in mothers and an increased risk of autism one thing is clear - and that is we continue to see numerous studies which identify various risk factors that may contribute to autism, and the collective body of evidence suggests autism is not caused by any one factor, but perhaps a variety of difference risk factors which all culminate in a child suffering from autism.

Yet the odd thing about these studies is that even after decades of research and dozens upon dozens of published, independent studies... we still haven't seen a single study which has been able to show vaccines themselves are a risk factor for a child becoming autistic.  Not a single study that has linked vaccines to autism.  Not a single study that has shown even so much as a casual link.

Yet antivaccinationists continue to purposefully distort fact and confuse the public by suggesting that not only do vaccines cause autism, but that there is a veritable mountain of evidence to support this claim.  The only problem is - they aren't being honest, and they will even go so far as to continue to cite Andrew Wakefield as an expert on the subject even though he has been fully discredited, had his original 'study' retracted, was stripped of his medical license due to fraud, and is (for all intents and purposes) the laughing stock of the medical community.

So perhaps the question is... when with antivaxxers start allowing the evidence to lead them to the answers they seek rather than ignoring the endless stream of science which continues to offer insight as to the root causes of autism?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Impossible Demand for 100% Vaccine Safety

What would you say to someone who makes a demand for you to prove to them that all automobiles are
safe?  Do you think you could use safety data to prove that automobiles are more safe than they have ever been?  Maybe you could explain how there are new innovations like airbags, crumble zones, anti-lock brakes, or traction control systems which all work together to increase safety.

Now what if that same person cited statistics which showed that even in the year 2011 there were still over 32,000 people killed in automobile accidents in the US alone?  Does that suggest that automobiles aren't really that safe after all?

When you really think about it... how do you determine what is "safe"?

Reasonable people will understand that claims about vehicle safety based upon the number of accidents or the number of deaths in a year isn't taking in to account the big picture.  First you need to realize that there are hundreds of millions of miles traveled each and every year and there are million upon millions of drivers.  Next you need to take into account that even if a vehicle has eight airbags and has a five star crash test rating, sometimes things can and do go wrong and it may have nothing to do with the vehicle.

In the end, you would realize that 32,000 deaths may seem like a significant number, but in context of the hundreds of millions of miles driven, and the millions of unique drivers, the millions of different vehicles, the total hours spent in a vehicle throughout the year... well in the end 32,000 deaths is actually a very small number.  You might even show them statistics which prove that we haven't had less traffic fatalities since 1949 when the population and the number of miles traveled were less than half of what we have today.  You might even point out that almost as many people die from accidental poisonings in a given year (more than 33,000 deaths in 2010) than do in automobile accidents.

So perhaps logical people will agree that proving vehicles are safe is based upon certain assumptions.  Number one, you need to define the term "safe" and assume that is based upon historical averages and based upon percentages.  You also need to assume that no vehicle can ever be 100% safe, and you need to accept the fact that there will be accidents, and there will be a certain amount of deaths as a result.

With that in mind, should we ban automobiles because people die every year?  Should we change the laws to only allow them to be sold if they are 100% safe?  Should we demand that the government require automobile companies to be held personally responsible for each and every death that occurs while operating a motor vehicle?  Of course not... that sounds so silly when you put it like that doesn't it?

So with that in mind, why do anti-vaccinationists demand that we prove every vaccine is 100% safe?  Not only do they demand vaccines are 100% safe, but they aren't willing to accept the commonly held definition of the term "safe" (which in this case means involving little or no risk of mishap).

Even though there is overwhelming evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of vaccines, it is doubtful this would appease an antivaxxer because chances are there will always be cases where someone had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or a case where someone suffered a side effect, or cases where someone was fully vaccinated but still contracted the disease they were supposed to be protected against.

In addition to requiring all vaccines to be 100% safe, anti-vaccinationists are quick to point out case where someone was injured by a vaccine over 50 years ago.  They believe that the modern vaccines of today should still be blamed for any problems that existed decades ago, just as we should be blaming modern automobiles for the safety failures of the Chevrolet Corvair or the Ford Pinto.

We can all admit that vaccines have not always been perfect.  There have been cases such as the Rotashield rotavirus vaccine in 1998 and 1999 which was pulled from the market after it was determined it increased the risk of intussusception (a rare type of bowel obstruction) in infants.  There was the "Cutter Incident" back in the 1950s where a live virus was included in a polio vaccine which resulted in 10 deaths, and 200 children suffering from paralysis.

We also know that some polio vaccines were contaminated with Simian vacuolating virus 40 (SV40) which has the potential of leading to tumors.  Granted studies linking SV40 to cancer in humans have been inconclusive, this doesn't remove the negative impact these contaminated vaccines have had.

However, even with these and other failures in mind, is this enough to warrant the elimination of vaccines entirely?  Sadly if you are an antivaxxer the answer is yes.  Antivaxxers are convinced that these failures overshadow any good effects from vaccines, and they believe we would be better off without any vaccinations whatsoever.

They would have us return to the days where polio infected tens of thousands annually and killed as many as 6,000 in the US alone.

They would have us return to the days of millions upon millions of people dying from smallpox and to the time where as many as one out of every seven Russian children would die from the disease.

They would even attempt to convince us that the 18 people that died from measles every hour in 2011 (158,000 deaths total) aren't important.  They would try to claim the 71% reduction in measles deaths due to vaccination is trivial and unimportant.

Whether it be a vaccine used to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) or one which has been shown to prevent rotavirus, antivaxxers seem to believe that no vaccine is a good one, and although vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective, even if we could guarantee vaccines were safe 99.97% of the time and effective 99.99% of the time it still wouldn't be enough to convince those in the anti-vaccine crowd, because they will never be satisfied with anything less than 100% effectiveness and 100% safety.

So there is a choice... one one hand you could...
  • Refuse to acknowledge the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and believe they cause far more harm than good
Or alternatively you can accept reality and...
  • Acknowledge that although vaccines are not perfect, they do an incredible job of reducing and in some cases actually eliminating entirely the risk of contracting disease.  Accept that vaccines safe lives and prevent the spread of disease.  Accept that vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and that we have the historical record to show us not only how safe they are, but how effective they are as well.  Acknowledge that we no longer need to fear death from diseases such as smallpox or polio, acknowledge that vaccines are one of humankind's greatest scientific breakthroughs, and agree that vaccines (although not always 100% safe or 100% effective) are far less risky or damaging than the diseases they prevent (which can, and often do lead to death or long-term complications).
Nobody says we have to be satisfied with our current vaccines, and we can (and should) demand for better vaccines, safer vaccines, and vaccines for diseases which currently have no other cure (such as HIV).  We should always be striving for advancements and we shouldn't be afraid to challenge accepted science or to ask the difficult questions.

However there is a vast difference between wishing for vaccines to improve and wishing vaccines didn't exist.  Antivaxxers don't really care about vaccine safety.  They don't care about the millions of lives lost.  They don't care about people suffering from polio or pertussis or smallpox because they have never suffered from these diseases.  They likely aren't old enough to remember a loved one dying from what we now consider to be vaccine preventable diseases, and as such I can think of no other term to describe antivaxxers than the word selfish.

These people don't care about those who have died, and their only concern is pushing a political agenda based upon something they read about on the Internet or a reaction that their cousin's, boyfriend's, sister's, coworker's daughter's, teacher's, kid had after being vaccinated for tetanus.

Demanding improvements is reasonable, demanding 100% safety and effectiveness quite simply is the exact opposite of reasonable.  Just as we understand there is a risk every time we get into an automobile, we also understand there is a risk with each and every vaccination.  The question that should be asked is whether the level of risk is worth engaging in that particular activity, and the data overwhelmingly proves to us that driving in automobiles as well as being vaccinated is well worth the risk.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Irony at Work: Andrew Wakefield and Academic Integrity

A friend pointed me to a link showing the schedule of events for the AutismOne conference, and aside from the normal players like Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Eisenstein, and the father-son Geier duo, I couldn't help but notice that they have actually asked Andrew Wakefield to speak.

The best part?  The topic of his speech is "Defending Academic Integrity and Research".

Here is a summary of his little chat:

"Doctors and scientists working in the public interest and specifically for the wellbeing of their patients – particularly those involved in researching vaccine safety – are coming under attack as never before. This talk emphasizes the reasons why we should value the individual over the concept of a "herd," the importance of maintaining academic integrity, and the progress that has been made despite systematic oppression of scientific and medical enquiry."

That's rich.  A guy who was stripped of his medical license due to fraud, a man who failed to disclose financial conflicts of interest, and a man who was found to have manipulated and falsified data within a published study (which was subsequently retracted) is speaking about academic integrity.  

Let's keep in mind Wakefield is the same person who (among many other things) was found guilty of four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children.  The sheer number of proven charges would boggle the mind... yet this is the type of person AutismOne invites to speak about academic integrity?

Sort of makes you wonder if they have Bernie Madoff scheduled to speak about Economic Ethics.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Benefits of Vaccinations: History Continues To Frustrate Antivaxxers

When it comes to vaccines, do the benefits really outweigh the risks, or is there a chance you are simply
gambling your health each and every time you opt for vaccinations?

If you are an anti-vaccinationist (antivaxxer) the answer is clear -  there is no such thing as a safe vaccine, and vaccines are clearly not worth the risk. On the other hand, if you look at history, or if you study the actual impact of vaccines you soon realize that not only are vaccines incredibly safe and effective, but they are responsible for saving millions of lives that otherwise would have been lost to various diseases.

Needless to say, some argue about these benefits, and some like to act as if the jury is still out.  Antivaxxers are continually attempting to suggest that society would be better off without vaccines, and I felt it was well past time they offer some evidence to show us why they feel that is the case.

Enter the Challenger

For those of you following along at home, Lowell Hubbs is a narcissistic anti-vaccinationist who not only has served as inspiration for many of the posts on this blog, but someone who comments (or attempts to comment) on a very regular basis.  In fact Mr. Hubbs has added hundreds of comments to this blog just as he has contributed thousands upon thousands of comments to practically every other vaccine-related blog, forum or website that he can find.

Now it should be noted that although Mr. Hubbs doesn't actually hold a degree in a science related field, and although he doesn't hold a degree at all, and even though he has never spent a single day in any form of post-secondary education - he does consider himself an expert in subjects like vaccinations, medical conditions, the source of disease, the history of medicine, and pretty much any topic which is even remotely connected to modern medicine.  Whether this expertise was gained during his time in the State Penitentiary serving time for one of his four felony DUI offenses, or whether this knowledge was gained from his time working at a meat-processing facility as a day laborer I cannot say, but rest assured Mr. Hubbs claims he is a trusted expert, and therefore you are expected to take his word for it... credentials be damned.

The reason this is important is because Mr. Hubbs is one of the antivaxxers who routinely claims that vaccines cause more harm than good, and in his view (and in the opinion of most antivaxxers) vaccines should never be used - EVER.  Therefore, as I know this is a commonly held belief with antivaxxers, I've asked Mr. Hubbs to provide me the evidence to support this viewpoint.

If you are really interested in the details, you may wish to read the comments from a prior blog post here.  However I will do my best to summarize below.

This all began when Mr. Hubbs submitted a comment which read in part:
"I have put in front of you multiple times the long list of studies that prove in any honest and rational mind, that the claims of vaccine doing more harm than good, are indeed true."
Of course I countered this with a response that Mr. Hubbs clearly doesn't understand what the terms "scientific study" actually mean and how to date there hasn't been a single study which shows vaccines cause more harm than good.  One might think if this were actually the case, one of the more well known anti-vaccine organizations would have performed some level of study comparing the risks of vaccines against the benefits - or perhaps even a summary study of existing data... but alas it doesn't appear it has happened.  Of course Mr. Hubbs claimed there were "numerous studies in Pubmed" and accused me of hiding the truth and twisting the facts and lying to deceive the public yada, yada, yada.

It was about this time that I decided it was time to put this little issue to rest once and for all since Mr. Hubbs, and other anti-vaxxers like him, continue to make these claims on a near daily basis. Therefore I proposed the following solution to Mr. Hubbs:
"Please post a comment with ONE SINGLE peer-reviewed AND published study that shows vaccines cause more harm than good or that vaccines cause autism and we can discuss it."

I then added some ground rules in a silly attempt to limit this discussion and prevent it from wandering away into some unrelated anti-mainstream medicine rant or a discussion about metal tooth fillings or chemtrails as so often happens when you attempt to engage an antivaxxer.  Those rules were listed as follows:

  • Do not attempt to link me to your personal website and call it "proof" as I won't publish it.
  • Do not attempt to cut and paste a laundry list of dozens upon dozens of links to various articles, blog pages, or anti-vaxxer websites and claim they are scientific because I won't publish it.
  • Do not attempt to change the subject and rant about me, this blog, or any other unrelated issues as I won't publish it.
  • Do not attempt to post a link to an anti-vaxxer website and claim it is a published study.
  • Do not attempt to link to a summary document or an abstract or a partial summary report because I won't publish it.
  • Do not attempt to post a transcript of a speech or interview as you attempt to pass it off as a published study because I won't publish it.
  • Do not attempt to link to a non-recognized 'journal' like Medical Hypotheses or Medical Veritas or anything which isn't listed in MEDLINE because I won't publish it.
  • In short - stick to legitimate peer-reviewed studies rather than opinion pieces, blog posts, interviews, or unpublished nonsense.

Ok - so that seems straightforward enough right?  So if our antivaxxer friend can post a study proving how vaccines are actually causing more harm than the benefits of said vaccine, this should be a slam dunk.  Honestly I wouldn't even be as picky as I make it seem, so if he could provide me with a summary study that even attempts to compare the risks of vaccination against the benefits I would be happy to discuss it.  Surely if you make such a claim you should have the supporting evidence to back it up, so I might think it someone is so adamant about their statement they might actually have some level of evidence at the ready just in case someone challenges them.

I fully understand it is silly to ask for a study that proves vaccines cause autism or a study that proves vaccines cause more harm than good, because we all know these studies don't actually exist.  Of course I also know antivaxxers refuse to look at the entire body of evidence and they refuse to acknowledge all of the good that has come from vaccinations, thus asking them to provide a study seems only fair.  After all - if you make a claim, it is your duty to support that claim with evidence, and therefore it shouldn't be difficult for Mr. Hubbs to support his wild statements with a study or two.

The Response:

So how does Mr. Hubbs respond to this challenge?  Do you think he is able to follow a few simple rules and provide a study in support of his beliefs?

Not exactly.

The initial volley from Mr. Hubbs should have contained perhaps three or four sentences and a URL pointing to this mythical study of his... but that just won't do for an antivaxxer.  Therefore I present to you the two part response that Mr. Hubbs felt was a logical reaction to a very simple question:

Part 1 of 2:
"This reply will be in two parts.

I am getting more than a little tired of that kind of persistent hypocrisy in your claims, in regard to your own personal attack on me throughout the pages of this blog, and as well in your allowing all the as a fact, slanderous reply comments to be published, that you have. Your continual and false self elevation to some sort of expert here and on these issues, is beyond laughable. A self proclaimed blogging expert with as well absolutely and intentionally, no personal identity. As far as statements of opinion; why is it that you claim to and believe that yours are the only ones that correct; no matter what the subject matter, and no matter how well founded your oppositions claims are.
Look at what you are doing here. All you had to do was publish my original and first reply, and be done with it. But oh no, you refused to do that, and here you are weeks later still avoiding the content of that reply and its reference material. Here you are still making pathetic and repeat false excuses, one after another, for why you could not publish that reply as it was. Here you are as well making reply posting rule after rule, that actually has and had nothing to do with the dis-allowance of that said reply. You simply refuse to allow the truth information and all that unbiased science to be promoted; it is to much truth. Your agenda is NOT truth' and it all to clearly never has been nor ever will be. Your agenda is one of self selective denial.
And don't even go there in any attempt to claim you have not been to my website, as you know exactly what is there, and that is why you refuse to link to any of its pages. You quite clearly used to as well scour the original site in an attempt to find some dirt, and you were never successful. You as well simply refuse to allow any readers know that I have a counter blog to this one, and/or to ever reference to it. What should that tell the readers, when you go on blogging and creating more and more titled blog pages, having never answered to the truth information that exists on that blog? A blog that contains many repeat copies of the rebuttal and correct information replies, you refused to publish on this blog."

Ok so let's go ahead and dissect part one of this comment.  First of all you will note Mr. Hubbs was unable to provide a link to the study that was requested.  This is obviously not unexpected and as I've dealt with more than a few antivaxxers in my time, I fully expected this type of response.

What Mr. Hubbs does offer us is a list of complaints.  He complains about my 'hypocrisy', my identity, the  comments I've published on the blog, the comments I haven't published on the blog, my 'agenda', the rules I've set forth in this discussion, or why I won't link to his many blogs or websites.

Did you catch the part where he actually provided the evidence or the study showing how vaccines are so harmful?  Yes I guess I missed it too... because of course instead of offering some level of evidence, Mr. Hubbs feels his laundry list of complaints are worthy of multiple paragraphs and are more important.

Rest assured however, that Mr. Hubbs wasn't done yet.  Thus he posted the following comment some time later (perhaps after he opted to clam himself down via some Earl Grey tea and yoga).

Part 2 of 2:

"Part 2 of your reply.
You see what you are avoiding here again is any realization as well of the fact that it is not just one study that is the total of the evidence. It is multiple studies and data all showing the same or similar findings. It is when you put that all together, that you have the total package of realization and understanding. So, what are you doing? You are again censoring the reply information you have been given. I do not find it acceptable, nor do I have any desire whatsoever to play along with your twisted censorship games, Editor.

However, even though I have explained to you the situation, and I could give you dozens of good vaccine harm and ASD related studies, I am going to give you a single study, to see what you come up with. Actually I am going to give you two studies, because they are somewhat interlinked as a basic info package. These studies are obviously quite self explanatory. The first one deals with the spectrum of ASIA: ‘Autoimmune (Auto-inflammatory) Syndrome.
The spectrum of ASIA: ‘Autoimmune (Auto-inflammatory) Syndrome induced by Adjuvants http://lup.sagepub.com/content/21/2/118.full
PLoS One. 2009; 4(12): e8382. Published online 2009 December 31.Self-Organized Criticality Theory of Autoimmunity
Systemic autoimmunity appears to be the inevitable consequence of over-stimulating the host's immune ‘system’ by repeated immunization with antigen, to the levels that surpass system's self-organized criticality.
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008382 (Full study)
By the way; when we get done with this, we can move on to the issue of aluminum vaccine adjuvants, combined with vaccine contamination. Be sure that you as well provide any counter studies in any arguments you make, and just your opinions, are of course, not acceptable. Claims as well from Paul Offit and the CDC, that dietary consumption of mercury and/or aluminum is the same thing as injected forms of it, and claimed to be handled by the human body and detoxed the same way, are as well and of course not acceptable, as it is not backed by any real physiological data nor science."

So again Mr. Hubbs begins his comment with excuses.  Excuses on why such a study (showing vaccines cause more harm than good) doesn't exist.  Excuses on why he can't comply with a simple set of rules.  Excuses on the format of his response.  We've seen this before and such excuses are fully expected.  However then Mr. Hubbs goes on to say he will provide a single study - and then changes that to say he will provide "two studies".

Great - I can work with two studies... two studies isn't a big deal, and if either of them - or both of them combined lead me to believe his statement about vaccines causing more harm than good may have some validity then by all means I'm willing to hear him out.

The problem is, Mr. Hubbs cannot count, and apparently he has no idea what a 'study' is.  He doesn't provide links to just one or even two studies, but instead his comment includes no fewer than nine different links to various documents, summaries, and a few studies.  This isn't to say the studies he references aren't interesting because they are, but the issue is they don't even attempt to claim vaccines cause more harm than good.  So much for following simple rules.

Alas, let's humor our antivaxxer compatriot as we delve down into the fractured mind of a man who has been known to claim 9/11 was an inside job or how you can cure cancer with baking soda.  Surely it will be a fun ride.

The Analysis:

Link Cited: http://lup.sagepub.com/content/21/2/118.full

First, it is probably worth noting the very first link Mr. Hubbs provided isn't even a study.  This begs the question on whether or not Mr. Hubbs really knows what a study actually is, but we will ignore that point for now and discuss the actual content.  What he actually has provided is an article which begins by explaining how a Saudi Sheikh was diagnosed with probable systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and how the disease re-presented itself after a flu vaccine.

Great - so even if we assume the flu vaccine triggered the re-emergence of his auto-immune disease and was 100% responsible this still does not in any way prove that vaccines cause more harm than good.  In fact, the article discloses the fact that he had the condition prior to the vaccine, and it also states the condition was treated with steroids.  This is an example of one person having a reaction to a vaccine, so is the premise here that because one person had a reaction that vaccines on the whole are simply harmful?  Nonsense - that is the logical equivalent of claiming because someone drown in a swimming pool we should ban water.

The article does cite several other articles, summaries, and even a few studies that discuss this same subject matter, and of course Mr. Hubbs actually links to some of them separately later (which I'll discuss below).  There are few interesting statements within this article however. Number one, the article states "[...] although immunization with the flu vaccine is considered safe for most SLE patients, for this particular patient, re-immunization should be considered with caution".  Also, earlier in the same article they authors state "[...]vaccines are beneficial for the vast majority of subjects [...]".  Those statements don't really seem to be very harmful for vaccines but rather they seem to suggest that side effects are rare and that the benefits outweigh the risks.  If this is the best Mr. Hubbs can do, it isn't looking good for him.

Link Cited: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20708902

For his second link, Mr. Hubbs shows us an abstract for a proposal entitled 'ASIA' - autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants.  This isn't a study, but rather a review of other data which result in the authors suggesting four conditions (siliconosis, Gulf war syndrome (GWS), macrophagic myofasciitis syndrome (MMF) and post-vaccination phenomena) should be classified as ASIA.

Great - that's helpful I suppose, but there is nothing withing the proposal that provides actual data and it isn't even pretending to be a study so I'm unsure why Mr. Hubbs felt this should be included (other than the fact he most likely copied and pasted this entire series of URLs from a different antivaxxer website).

Link Cited: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22235045

Moving on to the third link, it appears Mr. Hubbs finally gets to the point where he has actually provided a link to a study.  This is a supposed study of 114 people (of which 93 are used within the study) diagnosed with immune-mediated diseases following immunization with hepatitis-B vaccine.  There is value to summarizing this data, unfortunately there are some serious flaws with this methodology.  Now I know this will upset antivaxxers, but the fact is this 'study' only looked at people who consulted with legal representation as they blamed their symptoms upon vaccines. Needless to say this isn't exactly the way to perform unbiased research.

Where are the confidence intervals linking the hepatitis B vaccine with the auto immune conditions?  Why didn't they bother to use a control group?  Where is the 'meat' of how they performed their research?  How many of these patients had histories of existing auto-immune diseases?  I wish I could answer these questions, but the information isn't present, so we are left to guess.  What we do know is the authors indicated there were common clinical characteristics which in their view suggests a common denominator in the diseases. Fair enough... but this is far below the burden of proof to suggest vaccines cause more harm than good.

So if we ignore the lack of detail in the study for a moment and simply assume that all 93 of those people had some form of a reaction to the hepatitis B vaccine and that there was no other possible cause of their illnesses, does that therefore mean the vaccine itself is harmful and that it should be eliminated?  Unfortunately the authors don't extrapolate their data to the population as a whole, and we aren't provided with details on how their selected their subjects or what methodology was employed to find them, therefore we can't really know how these numbers would apply to a large population.

We do know however that hepatitis B can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis, and cancer - so it is a serious condition. The American Medical Association (AMA) has indicated that in the US 11,000 people a year are hospitalized as a result of hepatitis B, and according to an article found in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, around 5,000 people in the US die each year from the disease.  That same article indicates that each year as many as 1,000,000 people worldwide (that is 1 million!) die of hepatitis B-related cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma (cancer).  The article also states the following:
"The incidence of acute hepatitis B in the United States has declined from 8.5 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 2.1 per 100,000 population in 2004, with the greatest declines (94%) in children and adolescents, coincident with an increase in hepatitis B vaccination in these age groups."
So we have a vaccine which has been showing to reduce hepatitis B by over 75% and up to 94% in children and adolescents... yet antivaxxers try to suggest because the vaccine may trigger a re-occurrence of an auto-immune disease this is sufficient reason to eliminate it from the marketplace?

Per the AMA, the hepatitis B vaccines have been administered to more than 20 million people in the US and more than 500 million people in the world, and oddly enough we aren't hearing about thousands upon thousands of vaccine-related deaths or injuries... so doesn't that suggest the vaccine is far more beneficial than harmful?

The truth is, the evidence against the vaccine which suggests it can lead to auto-immune diseases is anecdotal, but even if we assume such a link exists and is certain there still isn't sufficient evidence to suggest the vaccine isn't beneficial.  We know it can prevent people from contracting hepatitis B, we know it will prevent hospitalizations for tens of thousands, and we know it saves thousands of lives each year in the US alone.  Is that not enough evidence to show the vaccine is worthwhile?

Link Cited: http://lup.sagepub.com/content/21/2/190.abstract

This is an abstract speaking of Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) and how it may be part of the ASIA.  It isn't a study, and the article does not try to claim the aetiology (cause of the disease) of GWS is even known. The article readily admits that GWS could be due to exposure to environmental factors or chemical drugs, vaccinations or the adjuvants in them - but they make no claims, and offer no evidence to support these statements. What this article is attempting to communicate is nothing other than that fact that they feel GWS should be part of the ASIA classification. That may be interesting, but it is not at all useful in this discussion - it appears Mr. Hubbs most likely pasted this link as it was included in a list of ASIA related URLs he found elsewhere. Color me surprised he didn't bother to review the material he was attempting to base his case upon.

Link Cited: http://lup.sagepub.com/content/21/2/128

This is yet another article about ASIA. This one specifically relates to "illegal injections of foreign substances for cosmetic purposes" such as silicone, mineral oil, collagen, and other substances. It in no way relates to vaccines, and in no way relates to this discussion.

Once again it is not only clear Mr. Hubbs didn't bother to read beyond the first link or two in this list before pasting it into his message, but it is clear he is unable to follow even the most simple of rules.  Apparently asking for actual medical studies is far too difficult.

Link Cited: http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/1081203/ASIA_A_New_Way_to_Put_the_Puzzle_Together.html

Oh look yet another article about ASIA.  If there was any doubt Mr. Hubbs copied a list of ASIA related links from another website, it seems to have pretty much been confirmed as yet again it appears the material doesn't actually support the statements he is attempting to make.

We have already been shown several articles that discuss what ASIA is... so what is the benefit of offering this one?  Once again this isn't a study, it offers no comparison between risk and reward, it doesn't even attempt to suggest vaccines should be eliminated or reduced, and it speaks in very general terms rather than attempting to blame vaccines for ASIA.  For example, it explains that autoimmune disease may be caused by both genetic and environmental factors, and that those environmental factors can include infections, toxins, drugs, and other agents.  We can't deny that vaccines would fall into this list here, but what conclusion should be drawn from this?  Sadly - Mr. Hubbs doesn't seem to know.

What we do know is the article Mr. Hubbs tries to use as evidence to support his position that vaccines cause more harm than good actually states the following:
"Vaccines have been safely and effectively administered to humans and animals worldwide for 200 years, thereby enabling the elimination of many serious and life-threatening infectious diseases."

It seems to me that the article actually helps promote the idea that vaccines are beneficial.  They do explain there are risks and yes they offer examples, but clearly based upon the body of evidence, even the authors felt it was worth noting that there are significant benefits to vaccines.

Science: Ten Billion.... Antivaxxers: 0.

Link Cited: http://lup.sagepub.com/content/21/2/210.abstract

This is getting rather repetitive.  This is yet another article (or rather an abstract of an article) that discusses ASIA, and although it doesn't delve into the benefits vs. risks of vaccines, the very first sentence does state that "adjuvants may induce autoimmune diseases in susceptible individuals". (emphasis mine)  So essentially they aren't even claiming adjuvants actually are the root cause of ASIA, but rather they may be in certain cases, when people just happen to have other genetic traits that make them susceptible.

Awesome - isn't that helpful!  Actually, sarcasm aside, it is an interesting article provided you acknowledge the research involved measuring post-vaccination levels of pathogenic antiphospholipid antibodies in genetically prone mice.  Does this help Mr. Hubbs with his case that the risks of vaccinations outweigh the benefits?  Not in the slightest... but at this point it is abundantly clear Mr. Hubbs not only has no idea how to actually read and comprehend this information, he also has no idea how to offer supporting evidence that works for his position rather than directly against it.

Link Cited: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008382

Well I'll give credit to Mr. Hubbs for one thing... at least this one is an actual study. It doesn't do much to suggest the risk of vaccines outweigh the benefits, but it does do a great job at explaining how if you repeatedly inject massive amounts of antigens into mice it may lead to systemic autoimmunity.
The authors of this study admit the levels of antigens they are introducing are beyond the system's "self-organized criticality", and frankly that is what research generally does.  They test to extremes to determine the outcome which would never occur in normal daily life, thus injecting various substances into mice every five days may be the equivalent of injecting 5ml of the exact same antigen into a human every week for several decades.  It isn't that anyone is suggesting we do this of course, and such a test would be unethical, but the researchers are knowingly and willfully going far beyond a level which is considered "normal" in the mice in order to test a theory.

The real problem here isn't with the study at all... but rather Mr. Hubbs interpretation to the study.  In fact the study is testing exposure to massive amounts of antigens, but they are not suggesting this is linked to exposure from vaccines, and they even openly state that "[l]iving organisms are constantly exposed to a broad range of environmental antigens, as exemplified by the recent re-emergence of measles virus infection among a subpopulation of Japanese young adults who were not vaccinated against the virus."

So as you can see, the researchers are actually focused more upon environmental antigens impact those who aren't vaccinated rather than those who are.  That isn't to say someone couldn't be overstimulated via vaccinations, but it appears it would require exponentially more vaccinations than any human being is ever exposed to in multiple lifetimes, because in terms of vaccinations a human wouldn't be exposed to the same antigens dozens, or perhaps even hundreds of times.

Now I fully realize why antivaxxers like these types of studies, because they draw their own conclusions from them which typically result in phrases like "this proves vaccines will cause autoimmune diseases" or "vaccinations will inevitably lead to autoimmune diseases".  The problem here is that these same antivaxxers clearly do not understand how these studies are performed, and they are improperly interpreting the results without understanding the testing methods.

This is sort of like claiming eating tuna will lead to heavy metal poisoning, or that drinking alcohol will lead to liver failure and therefore tuna and alcohol should be outlawed.  Of course we all know eating tuna or drinking alcohol is perfectly healthy in moderation.  The problem is when you consume too much of either - and then there can be side effects.  There can be medical complications, and if you continue down this path long enough it can even lead to death.

The point is, if antivaxxers are so insistent that we eliminate anything that can harm us if exposed to it long enough, they would have to ban everything on the planet including water, oxygen, and sunlight.  Good luck with that.

Link Cited: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2795160/

This is yet another example of why we know Mr. Hubbs doesn't actually read the content he links to and instead just copies and pastes lists of URLs from antivaxxer websites and blogs.  How do we know this?  Well, if you actually visit the link above you will find it is the exact same study posted previously... but hosted on a different website.  It is as if Mr. Hubbs bragged that he saw both a Mountain Lion AND a Cougar during a recent camping trip and therefore we should be doubly impressed.

Note to Mr. Hubbs:  A Mountain Lion and a Cougar are the same animal.

The Results:

So there you have it.  A list of nine links, not a single one of which actually even attempts to suggest (much less prove) that vaccines cause more harm than good.  Out of the nine we saw several repeated themes, duplicated information, and a general misunderstanding of what constitutes a study, and although the link dump is impressive in terms of the number of websites included, it falls short of actually reinforcing the argument that vaccines cause more harm than good.

The thing is, I won't deny that vaccines have some side effects.  Nobody will deny that.  Nobody will pretend anything consumed by or injected into the human body may not have side effects in some small number of people, because the reality is anything that comes into contact with humans will have side effects to someone.  Some vaccines have contained egg byproducts would be harmful to those with egg allergies - but do we pull all vaccines off the market because of the potential it might cause an allergic reaction?  No.

We understand that with every product on the planet, there are potential risks.  Peanut butter has been known to kill many people, but you won't see anyone protesting in front of the JIF factory claiming it should be banned.  There are even people who are allergic to sunlight (photodermatitis) - so does that mean we should only allow people out at night?  Obviously not.

In short Mr. Hubbs, you didn't show me a study that backs up your previous statements.  At all.  You failed - and to make matters worse you couldn't even come up with this list yourself.  Instead you had to copy and paste it from one of the many lists that originated as part of an antivaxxer movie like this one:


I must ask myself, why is this so hard for antivaxxers?  Why are they unable to provide the evidence that they claim exists, and instead they simply cut and paste various links that not only don't relate to the issue under discussion, but actually include data that specifically counters their arguments?  How incredibly sad.  I'm not sure if I should be saddened that they obviously are unable to understand the material, or simply disgusted that they have these concepts explained to them time and time again yet refuse to acknowledge the facts.

Trying to suggest vaccines cause more harm than good is one thing, but you need to be able to provide evidence to support that view.  I can find a study that shows there are side effects of vaccines, but out of context that is meaningless.  What is required is for someone making such a claim to include information about the benefits of the vaccine as well - and then there can be a comparison.

For example I might claim aspirin is harmful and then link to a study like this one.  I can now prove that aspirin can be a major risk factor and contributor to bleeding events and can even lead to death... but does that tell the whole story?

Not exactly.

Therefore if I wish to be honest, I would also need to factor in the benefits of aspirin.  I could link to an article like this one which details the benefits of aspirin when used for cardiovascular prevention.  Some compare and contrast is required - and ultimately the full picture becomes clear and we soon realize that the risks of taking aspirin are minor, while the benefits many.  This helps explain why you can run down to practically any corner store in the nation and buy a bottle without a prescription, and why millions of doses are taken daily with very few issues.

Thus when it comes to vaccines, we need to be honest about not only the risks, but also the benefits.  Merely listing all of the potential side effects or negative consequences of a vaccine is not being truthful about the issue, thus we need to also consider what benefits may exist.  After all... isn't that the entire point?  If you want to know if the risk outweigh the benefits you can't simply ignore the benefits - you need to address them head on.

Benefits of Vaccines:

Let's look at just one vaccine - the smallpox vaccine.  I've discussed this before, but it bears repeating.

Towards the end of the 18th century, approximately 400,000 Europeans died annually from smallpox. Around that same time, approximately 10% of all children born in Sweden died from smallpox, and even worse one out of every seven Russian children died from the disease.

In the early 1800s, the United States passed a law (aptly named the Vaccine Act of 1813) to ensure the safe and legitimate smallpox vaccine would be available to the public. By the late 1800s, smallpox was effectively eliminated within the US due to the vaccine.  This wasn't just a coincidence, and contrary to what anitvaxxers have tried to suggest, smallpox did not get renamed to something like chickenpox (if you have ever seen images of someone infected with smallpox, you wouldn't even try to suggest such insanity).

Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century, and killed approximately 25% of those who were infected (obviously more serious than chickenpox).  Smallpox was killing up to two million people a year as recently as the late 1960s and yet due to a large-scale vaccination initiative, we actually eradicated smallpox in 1979.  It not longer exists in the wild and there hasn't been a case reported since.  Even though many nations on the planet still suffer from a lack of clean drinking water and there are still many diseases spread via a lack of sanitation - we were still able to eliminate smallpox.

So what is the end result?  Well for starters even if we don't factor in the population growth we know the vaccine has saved approximately two million lives a year.  Since 1979 that is 68,000,000 lives saved... all from a single vaccine.  Therefore I must ask the question... are those 68,000,000 lives less important than a small chance that someone, somewhere might suffer a side effect from a vaccine?

When we look at the benefits of other vaccines we see the same picture.  In some developing nations, measles used to kill as many as 34% of those infected by the disease, yet due to a vaccine it is a disease which for the most part can be prevented and in areas where vaccination rates are highest the mortality rate of measles is near zero.  This is yet another example where a vaccine has saved hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of lives - so if one wishes to debate the risks vs. benefits, it seems the benefits are many.

Look at the polio vaccine, the pertussis vaccine, the rabies vaccine, or vaccines for diseases like diphtheria, rotovirus, or hepatitis B and you will find much of the same.  Vaccines prevent disease, vaccines prevent suffering, and vaccines prevent death.

In Summary:

I knew asking for evidence from an antivaxxer was an exercise in futility.  The overwhelming evidence that concludes vaccines save lives is irrefutable, and vaccines are commonly held as one of mankind's greatest triumphs.  To suggest the risks of vaccines somehow outweigh the benefits requires one to revise history, to ignore decades upon decades of existing research, and to close their eyes, minds, and hearts to the facts surrounding them.

However let it never be said that I didn't give an antivaxxer a chance.  Mr. Hubbs has obviously failed, and although I know he will twist the facts and distort these words in some vain attempt to pretend he knows more than generations of scientists, doctors, and researchers - the point remains that vaccines save lives.  Vaccines aren't perfect... they likely never will be, but when we let the evidence and facts guide us we can come to no other conclusion that to equivocally state that the benefits of vaccines far, far, far outweigh the risks.

And  this ladies and gentlemen is why you can't bother to argue with an antivaxxer, because they ignore science and facts as they spew nonsense.  They can't support their views even when given the opportunity to do so, and when presented with a detailed analysis of their incoherent ramblings, the only thing they can do is respond with more insults, more denials, and more lies.

I've given then the opportunity to present their case and they failed... the discussion is over and now you can see with your own eyes why I don't bother to engage these people on a regular basis.  Sorry antivaxxers - if you aren't going to bother to read materials before you actually cite them as evidence I see no reason to waste my time engaging you further.

You've had your chance... you blew it.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccinations: What Antivaxxers Don't Want You to Know

Antivaxxers have been known to tout out a risk of contracting Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) as a reason to avoid all vaccines, and to be clear at one point in the 1970s there was a risk associated with a specific flu vaccine. However vaccines have changed, and according to a recent study that involved millions of patients, there is no discernible risk of contracting GBS after a vaccination.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, determined the odds ratio of various vaccinations ranged from 0.7 to 1.4 with a 95% confidence interval. Therefore simply put... there is no evidence linking vaccines to GBS.

So how do you think antivaxxers would react to such a study? Surely they would at least mention it right?

Nope - a visit to "Vactruth.com" finds zero references to this study. Maybe they should change their name to "Vacnotquitethetruthbutonlywhatwewanttotellyou.com" instead.

So how about our friends over at ThinkTwice.com... they claim they just want people to be informed of the risks of vaccination so they would have no reason to hide this information right? Nope... they don't have a single reference, although they do include several references to the debunked claims about other vaccines causing GBS (it seems they are willing to post anecdotes, but they shy away from peer-reviewed science).

How about NaturalNews.com? No luck there either... they have several articles speaking of the issue with flu vaccines in the 1970s, but no mention of current science produced on the issue. Apparently the last 40 years if scientific research aren't all that important when you have an agenda to push.

An interesting point about NaturalNews is how often they continue to claim vaccines are associated with GBS as if it continues to occur and how they don't even bother to look for any study that might prove or even suggest such a link.  In some cases, they won't even make the claim about vaccines causing GBS directly, but rather they will make statements such as "some experts say" vaccines can cause GBS etc. as well as making claims that new vaccines will cause GBS even before the vaccines hit the market.

Then again... NaturalNews isn't really known for relying upon science and has even been known to post unpublished 'studies' while presenting them as accepted fact.  They have also made it clear they aren't fans of vaccines for any reason, even going so far as to claim that vaccines are a "total hoax".  Needless to say they aren't shy about their obvious bias.

So what does all of this mean?  Well for starters it tells us that these "vaccination information" centers aren't really concerned with telling the whole story about vaccines and rather they are simply concerned with hiding legitimate science from the people who happen to frequent their pages.  That in itself isn't really news as we have known that all along, but what does this particular study mean to antivaxxers?

The simple reality is, studies like this one are just more nails in the coffin of the arguments that vaccines cause more harm than good.  As antivaxxers make claims about vaccines, they are repeatedly and routinely shot down time and time again.  They have people like Andrew Wakefield claim vaccines cause autism, and he is later found to be nothing more than a fraud.  They claim vaccine ingredients such as thimerosal cause autism, yet studies show the rate of autism doesn't change one bit after thimerosal is removed from practically all childhood vaccines.  They try to blame the aluminum content of vaccines as being a potential killer, yet fail to acknowledge the amount of aluminum in our bodies and in the environment around us. They complain that vaccines cause conditions such as GBS, and studies overwhelmingly show that not to be the case.  They claim the Amish don't get autism because they don't vaccinate, and research proves that not only do the Amish vaccinate, they also have been known to have autism.

Whether it be the argument about "too many, too soon" or the debunked claims about vaccine safety it seems the only things antivaxxers are really good at is not paying attention, and putting their fingers into their ears while yelling "na na na na, I can't hear you".  Yet these are the same people who complain when they aren't taken seriously within the medical and scientific community.  Isn't it ironic?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Risk of Autism Is Not Increased by "Too Many Vaccines Too Soon"

About a month ago, a new study was published which showed the risk of autism is not increased by a child receiving "too many vaccines too soon". The researchers examined children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those without ASD and they examined each child's cumulative exposure to antigens.

In the end, no relationship was found between the number of antigens or the number of vaccines with any increased risk of ASD. This isn't exactly new information and is more of a confirmation of what we already knew, but it is one more nail in the coffin of the antivaxxer belief that vaccines cause autism. For years these antivaxxers have been cheering the rallying cry of "too many, too soon", yet as the summary of the study explains, the true exposure of antigens (which are the substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to fight disease) has actually decreased in the past several decades:
"Although the current routine childhood vaccine schedule contains more vaccines than the schedule in the late 1990s, the maximum number of antigens that a child could be exposed to by 2 years of age in 2013 is 315, compared with several thousand in the late 1990s. Because different types of vaccines contain varying amounts of antigens, this research acknowledged that merely counting the number of vaccines received does not adequately account for how different vaccines and vaccine combinations stimulate the immune system."

This is an important point, because when antivaxxers complain about "too many vaccines" and the increased number of vaccines on the CDC recommended vaccine schedule, they are essentially focused on the packaging rather than the content.  This is like a woman going to the pizzeria and complaining that they sliced her pizza into eight pieces rather than six because she is on a diet.  In the end - it doesn't matter how many pieces we have, what matters is the CONTENT of each slice.  Same is true with vaccines - the sheer number of vaccines is meaningless, and what really matters is the CONTENT.  This is a very basic point that is often misunderstood by antivaxxers... but more often than not rather than misunderstanding it, they blatantly ignore it since it doesn't help their cause.

The fact is, the antigens are what we should be focused on here, because the antigens are what make up the body of the vaccine, and as the study explains the number of antigens have decreased as vaccines have improved.  Yet we have seen countless instances in which antivaxxers remind us that the rate of ASD is increasing as they attempt to link this to the growing number of vaccines on the CDC recommended vaccine schedule - even though they totally ignore the content of the vaccines, and even though they have no studies and no peer-reviewed science to support the link between vaccines and ASD.

This is partly why I've been holding off posting this study for a while, because I wanted to give antivaxxers an opportunity to review the data and perhaps even acknowledge that the science continues to lead us down a different path.  This particular study involved over 1,000 children which is slightly more than the 12 children that the now-entirely-discredited and no-medical-license-holding "Dr." Wakefield used in his study that attempted to link the MMR vaccine with ASD.  So if one was actually allowing the science to lead them to a conclusion, and if they were sincere in their desire to refrain from personal bias, and if they were actually interested in truth and fact... is there any possible way they could simply toss this study aside as they continue their unsupportable belief that vaccines cause autism?

Of course there is... because if we have learned anything about antivaxxers, it is that they couldn't possibly care less about real science or published studies.  For example if you were to visit the anti-vaccine website ThinkTwice.com, you would find zero references to this study.  One might think a website devoted to sharing information about vaccines might actually wish to mention it, but because the science doesn't fit with their core message... they simply ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist.

So much for getting the whole story.

Then you have the ironically named "Vactruth.com".  Again... not a single mention of the study.  What exactly are these groups trying to hide?  Shouldn't a website or organization focused upon vaccines actually bother to mention a major study that discusses vaccines?

Next you have Age of Autism which actually took the time to comment on the study the day it was released... which pretty much tells us they didn't even take the time to read the actual study (although I'm quite certain they wouldn't understand it if they did).  Either way Dan Olmsted wrote a short article complaining about it claiming the study "isn't really worth much comment".  Really Dan?  A study which examines over 1,000 children, studies the total number of antigens given to each of those children, and includes both children with and without ASD all in an effort to understand if there really is something to this "vaccines and autism" theory isn't worth much comment?

Sadly, Dan actually seems to believe that.  He didn't really say much about the study itself only quoting what others have said about it, and he doesn't even seem to brush the surface of any facts or data in the actual study.  It seems that Dan most likely didn't even read it - and instead he simply cut and pasted a few paragraphs from other known anti-vaxxers as he tried to minimize the importance of the study without actually taking the time to discuss the key points, any of the data, or the conclusions.  Classic.

Granted Age of Autism wasn't done, therefore the well-known spam-bot Anne Dachel decided to pipe in and actually discuss the study.  Of course when I say "actually discuss the study" what I mean is that she will complain about the timing of the study... because as we all know scientific information should be released on a schedule that appeals to antivaxxers.

Sadly, Anne doesn't actually spend even a single sentence discussing the study.  She doesn't discuss methodology, she doesn't mention the number of test subjects, she doesn't discuss background of the authors, and she doesn't discuss the actual findings of the study.  What does does is complain about the timing of the release, and immediately jumps to conclusions about whether the study will change the debate or if in the scope of things it even matters.  She then goes on to list the news websites that posted articles about the study and she bragged about how she posted her comments to each of them.

Anne then uses the rest of her post to include various links and unrelated statements about vaccines that she and her followers can cut and paste into the comments sections of the various articles even though none of them have anything to do with this actual study.  Once again it seems antivaxxers really don't seem to want to discuss this study... they would rather bury it and change the subject.  Shocker.

Dr. David Gorski over at Science-Based Medicine actually wrote about some of these same reactions from the anti-vaccine community in addition to several others.  He also covers the study in much more detail and explains how this particular study could very well be the final nail in the coffin for the "too many, too soon" nonsense that antivaxxers have been chanting for the past few years.  As with pretty much anything that comes from Dr. Gorski or SBM, that article is most certainly worth a read (although if you happen to be an antivaxxer you may need someone to help explain concepts like retrospective studies or confidence intervals).

This all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."  
                                                            ~Neil deGrasse Tyson

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Anti-Vaccination Groups: What's In a Name?

I just finished reading a piece on Slate written by Phil Plait entitled Antivaxxers Using Billboards to Promote Their Dangerous Message and I couldn't help but give a shout-out for an amazing article.

Plait speaks about the unfortunately named "National Vaccination Information Center" or NVIC, and how they are quick to point out what their perceive as "risks and failures" of vaccines, yet they never seem to mention any of the benefits.  The President of the NVIC, Barbara Loe Fischer, claims that she wants to have an honest discussion about vaccines, but the reality is she is only concerned with presenting her side of the issue and you will not find any pro-vaccine materials on her website (nor will you find peer-reviewed science detailing the effectiveness of vaccines).

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Plait would find fault with the NVIC, because he himself is a scientist. He understands the scientific method, he understands that we need to let the science guide our beliefs rather than opinions and anecdotes, therefore I'm not at all shocked to learn his feelings of the NVIC.  In fact, any reputable student of the sciences or even anyone with an open mind should come to the same conclusions.

If an organization wishes to be anti-vaccine that is certainly their right.  I'll even support their right to do so provided they aren't dishonest about what led them to hold those views.  However, when an organization like the NVIC pretends to want an open and honest discussion about vaccines while actually promoting an obvious bias against vaccines and while refusing to acknowledge published data surrounding the safety and efficacy of vaccines... well then they have crossed the line into quackery and thus they don't deserve a place at the table.

Clearly people like Fischer and the other members of the NVIC's leadership team aren't concerned with educating the public about the pros and cons of vaccines but rather they are only concerned with spreading their unscientific antivaxxer viewpoints.  I find that upsetting not because of the message itself, but because they go out of their way to create these false front organizations with clever names that are actually designed from the start to confuse people.  Just look at their name: "National Vaccination Information Center".  That suggests by visiting their website you might actually find unbiased information about vaccines... but that simply isn't true, and it is nothing short of a marketing tactic designed to deceive - all in the name of spreading misinformation.

This is one case where I think other nations do a better job than we do in the United States. For example in Australia they have a group very similar in scope to the NVIC that goes by the name of "Australian Vaccination Network" (AVN). Prior to that name, they called themselves "Vaccination Awareness Network".  Both of these names are extremely misleading and suggest that someone visiting them could expect unbiased information about vaccines.  However the truth is, the AVN is a well known anti-vaccination group whose sole mission is to provide information against vaccination.  They have no interest in providing both sides of the issue, they have no interest in providing peer-reviewed data surrounding the efficacy of vaccines, and they have no interest in acting as a source of reputable unbiased vaccine information.

This is why, in December 2012 the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading issued an order for the AVN to change its name as the current name was misleading the public.  They have until tomorrow (March 21st) to change their name or they may face deregistration - although as of this writing their website is still operating under the Australian Vaccination Network name.

The obvious question at play here is - why don't they simply change their name to the "Australian Anti-Vaccination Network" or even simply "Anti-Vaccination Network" so they could keep using the same acronym?  That would be a much more accurate representation of their true purpose, and updating their letterhead and business cards would be quick and easy!  Yet we know they won't willingly allow the public to be alerted to their stance because their goal is to confuse the public and mislead them into thinking they are being presented with both sides of the issue when in fact they are nothing but a front for a well funded anti-vaccination group.

Anyway, the original point is that Australia saw a name which was misleading and downright dishonest, and they did something about it.  If the US did the same, the "National Vaccination Information Center" would be forced to use a name that is more in line with their purpose as well... which would likely result in them being called something like the "National Anti-Vaccination Information Center" or "The Anti-Vaccination and Anti-Science Center of America" (or TAVASCA if you prefer).  Better yet perhaps they could use my personal favorite name of "Barbara's Anti-Vaccination Emporium".  You have to admit no matter what you think of vaccines, there is a certain ring to any name with the word 'emporium' in the title.

So this all makes us wonder - why are antivaxxers so determined to mislead the public?  Why must they purposefully choose names for their little organizations that cloud their true goals?  Why do they hide behind clever marketing rather than admitting their primary purpose is to spread anti-vaccine propaganda?  It certainly seems if they were proud of their stance against vaccines, and if they were really concerned with educating the public on their point of view, the very first thing they would do is use a name that is reflective of those viewpoints... yet antivaxxers never do.  I find that incredibly telling, and it shows us right from the start that antivaxxers have no interest in having honest discussions about vaccines.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Conspiracy Theorists and Other Enemies of Science

Journalist Will Storr recently wrote a book called The Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies Of Science which explores why so many conspiracy theorists seem to have trouble accepting facts... even when those facts are right in front of them.

This is an interesting subject and one which I've explored myself - which is why I'm certain this book would be an interesting read (the book was just published this week and I haven't had a chance to read it yet). Chris Parsons over at Yahoo! News wrote an article about the book entitled "Exploring the minds of Holocaust deniers and UFO-spotters who deny common sense".

Parsons' article begins:
"Will Storr is a man who deals in facts. As a journalist of more than 10 years, undeniable evidence and rational data are his bread and butter.
There are groups of people, however, who deny the irrefutable; who see cold, hard facts as mistruths or simply inconvenient.
Whether they are Holocaust deniers, creationists, or those who believe in UFOs - there are plenty out there whose view of the world defies centuries of scientific evidence. 
So why are there intelligent, seemingly rational people like this, who are capable of such unreasonable logic?"

Although I do agree with much of what Parsons wrote in his piece I would take issue with his statement that speaks of "intelligent, seemingly rational people", because the truth of the matter is conspiracy theorists are the farthest thing from rational. I might even debate whether most of these people are intelligent, although perhaps my personal bias is due to the lack of intelligence presented by the typical antivaccinationist. Rationality however... well there isn't much room for debate on that point. Not only do antivaxxers trample upon basic common sense, but they do so with impunity almost as if they have no desire to engage in any sort of discussion which may require it.

Either way, Storr's book might help shed some light on the thought processes that so many conspiracy theorists seem to share even when faced with evidence that counters their opinions. Unfortunately, Storr didn't include antivaxxers within his book that I've seen, but the same lack of logic and unreasonable nature most certainly applies to all conspiracy theorists regardless of form.

Whether it is someone who denies the moon landings, a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, a 9/11 "truther", an antivaxxer, or simply someone who believes Lee Harvey Oswald was innocent they all seem to share several things in common - a blatant disregard for logic, a stubborn refusal to accept facts when presented to them, and an complete and total inability to admit when they are wrong.

I wonder what it might take to get an antivaxxer to review Storr's book? If you are interested, you can pick up a hardcover copy from Amazon, or if you are patient you can probably wait for the paperback or (hopefully) even the ebook version.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Profit of Medicine

Bear with me here - this is a little off message as it doesn't have anything to do with vaccinations or anti-vaccinationists, but rather focuses on those who push the idea of alternative medicine, or more specifically alternative cancer cures.  Although on second thought I do find a lot of overlap between antivaxxers and those who place their faith in alternative medicine, so in essence this is probably focused on the same group of people.  Nevertheless, I found some of these numbers interesting and couldn't help but put this together to outline just how out of touch some people are about the world around them.

This post this began out of curiosity as so many antivaxxers claim that the only purpose of a vaccine is to generate profits for drug companies (aka: "Big Pharma"), or to individual doctors.  Aside from the fact there is much more money to be made by treating diseases such as polio, smallpox, or rubella than there will ever be by preventing these diseases, there is also the common sense aspect of this theory that fails to convince.  You see, to believe vaccines are merely a method to profit suggests that tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of clinicians, researchers, scientists, doctors, medical experts, federal regulators, and industry watchdogs are all somehow involved in some massive conspiracy and refuse to speak out because they risk missing out on their cut of that $23 vaccine given to a toddler.  To a reasonable person this line of reasoning doesn't even pass a smell test.

That aside, why is that that the proponents of alternative medicine never seem to care about the money being made by those who are so obviously anti-vaccine or pro-alternative medicine?  Why is there never a mention of how Dr. Blaylock profits from his many newsletters or his miracle brain repair pills.  Why does nobody seem to care when Andy Moulden (a man who doesn't even have a license to practice medicine) was offering his professional diagnostic service where he could tell you if a child had a neurological condition based upon a few photographs or a videotape?  Why the lack of concern when Dr. Tenpenny offers nutritional supplements that can cost more than $117 for a two month supply or when she offers a $200 "anti-flu" wellness kit which is nothing more than a collection of supplements and vitamins?

To make matters worse, why is the selective outrage non-existent when they find someone like Dr. Tenpenny offering vitamin D supplements for $14.99 when you can get a larger quantity of vitamin D elsewhere on the Internet for less than $5?  Shouldn't these people be outraged that a "doctor" would intentionally gouge people by marking up her products over 300%?  Why do they not seem to care when someone like Dr. Mercola offers a bottle 60 vitamin C capsules for $14.97 while you can head over to Walmart and get 100 tablets for under $7 or 70 vitamin C gummies for under $5?

Why don't they seem to care about antivaxxers making a living off of speaking tours and overpriced supplements?  Why don't they care about alt-med practitioners selling pamphlets or books or DVDs full of their opinions for $60 or $70 even though they don't ever seem to have peer-reviewed research to support their statements?  Doesn't it seem odd that I can download a peer-reviewed paper that involved thousands of hours of research by real scientists and doctors simply by searching Google Scholar and all of that data is available to me for free, yet antivaxxers want to charge me over $60 to watch a home movie of them giving a speech or $50 to get a copy of a PowerPoint presentation that they slapped together in a couple of hours?

The point is - if you are going to chastise someone for profiting from healthcare, why can't you apply this disdain equally?  The truth is, there is a lot of money to be made by pushing alternative viewpoints, and the benefit of doing so is that these people aren't required to provide evidence that their viewpoints are valid provided they include a nice disclaimer on their websites (which all of them do).

So should we place our trust in legitimate peer-reviewed studies written by teams of research scientists that will never directly profit from their research, or should we trust doctors who publish their own books and newsletters filled with unsubstantiated opinion, unscientific statements, and zero verifiable data?

So where does the hypocrisy end?  If we are really going to focus on the money, why can't we apply the same logic to those who seem to profit from alternative medicine?

For instance, what if we were to look at a doctor who claims he can cure cancer? For instance, what about Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski?

  • Total number of clinical trials filed by the Burzynski Research Institute: 61
  • Total number of Burzynski clinical trials with an unknown status and which have not had any updates in over two years (many of which were originally filed in the 90s): 50
  • Total number of Burzynski clinical trials which were withdrawn: 9
  • Total number of Burzynski clinical trials which have completed: 1
  • Total number of Burzynski clinical trials which are not yet recruiting and yet have been open since 2010: 1
  • Total number of Burzynski clinical trials with published results: 0
  • Total annual cost to receive antineoplastons treatment from Burzynski: $30,000 - $60,000 or more
  • Total per day cost for the Burzynski treatment program (not including other fees): $395
  • Total monthly cost charged by Burzynski including all medications: $30,000 or more
  • Total appraised value of Burzynski's home:  $4,351,310
  • Total real estate taxes paid by Burzynski in 2012: $86,560.53
  • Total number of peer-reviewed studies published worldwide showing antineoplaston treatment to be effective including all studies published by Burzynski at any point since he began his research: 0

I should probably point out the one Burzynski clinical trial that has actually been completed was originally started in 1995 and completed in February 2005, yet we still have yet to see any published data from the study.  Wouldn't you think a guy who claims he can cure cancer might be interested in actually publishing the data that might support his claims?  Guess not.  Either that or he isn't a very fast typist... because obviously eight years seems like a long time to actually release the results of the clinical trial.

Truthfully it probably isn't fair to mention that Burzynski lives in a multi-million dollar mansion because simply living in a nice home has no bearing on whether his work is credible.  In addition to that, perhaps we should actually feel sorry for Dr. Burzynski.  After all, his home has lost around $1.5M of value since 2010.  Then again his property taxes have dropped from a high of over $114,000 down to under $87,000 so perhaps we shouldn't feel too bad for him.

The reason I point this out is because it shows you how out of touch people are when speaking about the profit in medicine.  We expect doctors to make a good living.  We expect doctors to generally be considered upper income earners or in some cases even "wealthy" due to the amount of training and education required to become a doctor.  However we don't expect that they profit at the expense of their patients.  We don't expect them to charge thousands of dollars for medications which can be purchased in pharmacies for less than $180.  We don't expect them to charge patients to be part of clinical trials when most clinical trials are done at no cost to the participants.

So why don't those who believe big pharma is simply interested in making money, or those who accuse conventional medical doctors of only caring about the bottom line ever seem to step back and ask themselves how people like Dr. Mercola or Dr. Burzynski ever became multimillionaires while the traditional GP working in a clinic and giving vaccines to children will never have an income anywhere near that level?

Rest assured patients should always come ahead of profits.  Anyone with a conscious will agree with that statement, and I'm sure the vast majority of people working in healthcare today would overwhelmingly agree.  The truth is, as human beings we have an inherent desire to help others.  People want to leave the world a better place than it was when they entered it, and when push comes to shove most people will do the right thing.  Are there exceptions to the rule?  You bet - the will always be those who put personal greed and their ambitions ahead of others, but the question we need to ask ourselves is how often does this really happen?

It simply isn't logical to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are all putting personal gain ahead of the human race.  It isn't feasible to suspect people care more about their bank accounts than they do their fellow human beings.  It doesn't make sense to claim people are knowingly suppressing cures for diseases such as cancer when there is a very high probability that every one of us will lose someone we know to cancer one day.  Perhaps even scarier is the fact that males have a 1 in 2 chance of contracting some form of cancer in their lifetime and a 1 in 4 chance of dying from cancer while females have a 1 in 3 chance of developing some form of cancer and a 1 in 5 chance of dying from cancer.

So think about that for a second.  What alternative medicine proponents would have us believe is that there are hundreds of thousands of scientists and researchers out there who are all trying to prevent cures to cancer from seeing the light of day all the while knowing they have a very strong chance of one day suffering from cancer themselves.  These alt-med types actually believe these hundreds of thousands of people would put personal profit ahead of their own health and perhaps even their own lives.

Does this make any sense whatsoever?

This is perhaps one of the many reasons why it is so difficult to take the antivaxxers or the proponents of alternative medicine seriously.  If they lack the logic to think through even the most basic of their accusations... how can they be taken seriously when discussing more complex matters such as vaccine efficacy or the peer-review process?