Monday, March 17, 2014

AAP: Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence

Even though there has never been any reputable, science-based evidence to support a link between vaccines and autism, the antivaxxer crowd continues to pretend that isn't the case as they push retracted papers from discredited "doctors" and self-proclaimed experts, nutritionists, or 'alternative medicine gurus'.  One tactic I tend to see employed on a regular basis is the famed "link dump" where an antivaxxer will share a website or a blog page (often his or her very own blog or webpage) which lists dozens upon dozens of various studies or papers all of which they claim show vaccines are harmful, or show that vaccines cause autism, or show that vaccines are deadly etc.

So often the problem is that these studies and papers are rarely ever peer-reviewed nor are they published in reputable medical journals (or reputable non-medical journals for that matter).  Those that are peer-reviewed or published will often have little to nothing to do with vaccines, and they surely don't prove that vaccines cause autism.  Sadly, I have even seen cases where these websites and blogs contain studies that actually say the exact opposite of what antivaxxers are claiming, but they lack the ability of understanding the subject matter and simply misunderstood a line of text in the abstract.

The other aspect of these link dumps that I find so peculiar is that often times there is zero context other than a title which says "Proof that Vaccines cause Autism" or "Evidence that Vaccines are Killing Us" or some other outrageous claim.  If one cannot even offer the slightest context around the studies they are listing, does it not suggest they haven't bothered to even read them?  Or is it that they have tried to read them but found the subject matter far too complex?  Either way, I have noticed the same lists appearing on antivaxxer blogs and websites (in one occasion even the same typo in the URL of a study which tells me those copying the list didn't even bother to visit all of the sites) and thus it seems as if in some cases antivaxxers are merely sourcing other antivaxxers without bothering to vet the information.  In theory this could lead to antivaxxer A being cited by antivaxxer B who in turn is cited by antivaxxer C who is then cited by antivaxxer A who never realizes they are actually indirectly using themselves as the supporting evidence to claims they themselves originally made.

Confused yet?  I can't blame you, but keep in mind antivaxxers have also been known to create their own blogs and then cite those blogs as sources within comments as if writing something and then linking to your own words adds credibility.

So what is my point you might ask?  Well, during a recent discussion with some colleagues I commented that even though there haven't been any studies that have successfully linked vaccines to autism, there have been several peer-reviewed AND published studies that have shown no link between vaccines and autism and that these studies were widely known.  The problem it seems is that those searching for real live published science are often overwhelmed because when they do find a study they may not understand what it means or they may not understand what the conclusions of a study actually were.

So inevitably the question was asked... where is the easiest place to find these studies, and unfortunately that answer is rather complex.  You could go directly to the journals which publish the studies, you could search pubmed, or you could try browsing the websites of the CDC or the FDA, but if we are honest with ourselves we must admit most people simply don't have the time, nor the patience, to follow this path.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone (a reputable someone) would put a list together that could be shared with parents or laypersons who have an interest in the subject?  Of course blogs and websites do that sort of thing all the time, but what about an actual organization known for their healthcare advocacy or one which is composed of over 60,000 pediatricians or pediatric specialists (you know... doctors who actually specialize in children)?

If you haven't guessed, I'm referring to the American Academy of Pediatrics which has published a memo detailing around 40 of these studies.  They make occasional updates to the list as new information is published, but even more impressive is that they do an amazing job of offering context!  This means they don't just provide a list of studies or sources but rather they summarize each study as well as providing a brief overview of what the author conclusions were, thereby giving those interested a succinct way of seeing the results without necessarily needing to read through hundreds upon hundreds of pages of medical and technical material.

Of course the list is geared towards parents, but I've found myself referring to it on many occasions and I can state in no uncertain terms that it is a useful list for anyone interested in vaccine safety up to an including pediatricians, researchers, and educators.  Thus, if you ever find yourself wondering if there is a nice package detailing the science behind vaccines... this might be right up your alley.  Click the link below, read the summaries and conclusions, dive into the studies themselves, and make up your own mind.  That isn't so hard is it?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Blog Update!

I know, I know... I haven't posted anything since July and based upon some of the feedback I've received
some of you are wondering why. Unlike the late Andy Moulden, no I haven't died.  No I haven't learned something that has convinced me that antivaxxers might actually be right. No it isn't because "big pharma" is no longer paying me to write blog posts. (For the record they never were... but I haven't convinced my detractors of that fact) No it isn't because the threats of the antivaxxers finally worked or that I fear for my safety if I happen to post again. The truth is, I have been researching, writing, producing, and publishing a lot of new content. The only difference is I'm actually publishing on a much more popular website that gets thousands of unique visitors each day, and as a result I have scaled back my posting here.

The reality is that the amount of time I spent working on blog posts is finite, and therefore after working on material for the other site I simply don't have much time to write here. If I'm honest, I also have to admit this blog doesn't garner nearly the attention of the other site, so it makes more sense to post new material there rather than here. It is also nice to have a larger group of readers who respond to posts and add their own commentary, and I must admit it is nice to have a team of writers producing blog posts - so if I don't feel like posting for a week or two I know there is someone else producing great content. I also have the benefit of feeding off of the other contributors and it is almost like having a group of editors working with me. I have had contributors to this blog over the past several years but it was still up to me to do the actual publishing and final editing of the posts, so having an actual 'team' of writers is a refreshing change.

I'd love to provide a link to my new home, but I have an agreement in place that I won't associate or cross-post between this blog, and the other site. I also post under a different name at my new home, so I'm afraid it won't be easy to find me (although that is by somewhat by design as well since I don't need by "biggest fans" trolling me everywhere I go). The keen-eyed among you might find it on your own of course, but I just can't link to it directly. Of course writing for another site does have limitations. I no longer have 100% editorial control and my posts may not always be published. I also have to maintain a certain relationship with the readers, so I can't really run around calling people "idiots" even though the label is often well-deserved. For the most part however, the experience thus far has been fantastic. We have a growing readership, the quality and quantity of material being produced continues to improve, and even the site itself is more polished and professional (say what you will about Blogger - it just isn't designed for high volume traffic and has a LOT of limitations).

Fret not however, I'm not saying I will never post here. There may be times it makes more sense to post something here rather than the other site, and in those cases I might add a quick update. There are also times when I want to share something I've found elsewhere but simply don't have time to do a complete analysis or write a lengthy blog post about it - and in those cases I may just post a paragraph or two pointing to an article or site of interest. In fact, I have half a dozen ideas that I've been collecting and simply haven't had the opportunity to write about, so you might see some of them pop up here in the next few weeks or months. I do thank you for your comments, feedback, and encouragement over the past few years. It is because of you (and the existence of vaccine conspiracy theorists) that I have kept creating new content and why I have stayed involved. Without you - the readers and those who offer their comments - this blog wouldn't exist, so I thank you for your contributions and I hope our paths cross in the future. In fact, several of the individuals who have contributed or commented here in the past few years have commented at the other site already - so this is far from a goodbye.