Tag Archives: anti-vaccination

Who Quacks at the Quackwatch?

Or, quisnam planto anser sonitus procul anser vigilo? – I’m not sure that’s good Latin, don’t quote me on that. Isn’t “anser” a goose?

Stephen Barrett’s Quackwatch is an excellent place to go to find out just what sort of patent-medicine nostrums you’re being pitched. It contains useful information on shut-downs, lawsuits, cease-and-desists, and more. They were quite helpful when Robert Dowling came to town. I recall that, when Dowling found out that one of our members had put the above article into a flier-form and left a stack near the door, that he exploded, said that Barrett was being sued for libel and slander and defamation, rightfully so!

I found out that Barrett get legal threats quite a bit. It’s not an uncommon tactic; as Dr. Barrett says on his own website: “Very few people provide the type of information I do. One reason for this is the fear of being sued.”

FEAR!

And there is a lawsuit in the air, the fetid scent like a feotid spring in the estuaries of Mississippian coastlines after a spill of oil on crab-spawn tides.

Who would do such a thing? Well, it’s not Dowling. Nor any of the people he mentioned. No, the plaintiff here is the darling of the anti-vaccination movement; Doctors Data.

DD is a testing lab of questionable quality, allowing your local peddler of high quality serpent lipid extracts to utilize a fascinating technique, described in crude terms here by PZ Myers (what? You expected him to describe things otherwise?) “Do the doctory thing of drawing a little blood while wearing a white lab coat, send it off to a ‘lab’ that does a few tests and sends back a very official looking mass of data, and then the quack gazes into it and announces that you need powdered newts’ eyes, or whatever nostrum he’s peddling that day.”

Ahhhh, but you shouldn’t take my word for it. Nor the word of PZ Myers. Though, admittedly, Dr. Barrett takes a more hardline approach; but uses less “colorful” language, here.

You see, the crux of this issue is that Doctors Data uses an unscientific technique, “provoked sampling,” to see if your kiddy has mercury or lead in his or her little system.

It’s a urine sample test. These are designed to see how much of a toxic ingredient might be present in your urine. But unlike normal testings, the “provoked” method adds a little bit of a chelation agent to bind to the metals and draw them into the urine so that the test can find them. Orac explains it better, of course, while adding that peculiar blend of respect and insolence that only an unemoting box of blinking lights can command. In that particular post, Orac explains how the provocative test is, well, bogus.

And it is, but you should read his explanation of it. Or perhaps you’re looking for a somewhat different explanation, but still sufficiently scientific, then you should peruse this offering from Science-Based Medicine.

In the brilliant reply to the DD Lawsuit, Barrett says this: If you want me to consider modifying the article, please identify every sentence to which you object and explain why you believe it is not correct.

When asked to point out a factual problem, they cannot of course do so. They merely want him to shut up. They merely want this: full and complete retractions. Not corrections, not accurate representations – retractions.

And Barrett should not be forced to do that. If you’d like to help him combat this legal thuggery, then feel as though you should go and contribute to Quackwatch.

Monday – You Know What

Well, Darwin Day is right around the corner, and (surprise!) I haven’t got a plan yet. Last year was the big double bi-centennial for Darwin and Lincoln, but this year the nearest events I can track down are in Baton Rouge. I’m still searching, so if anything interesting comes up, I’ll blag about it.

A lot of you have been asking “When is the next meeting going to be?” and pointing out things like “Hey, weren’t the meetings going to be monthly?” Well SHAZAM – February 23rd – it’s a Tuesday. Historically, it’s also the day in 1870 that the state of Mississippi was re-admitted into the United States after the Civil War, but don’t ask me why I know that. I won’t be able to answer.

This may not bring us up to the hoped-for goal of an average of one meeting per month, but we’re getting closer (we’re right at .4). It’s my fault. Promise.

Well, it’s Monday, so you know what that means: A great big ole’ stack of links.

First up: Evolution in Medicine This is an interesting article that points to a real, non-manufactured debate in the vaccination world. At hand is the problem of making sure that your vaccinations select against more virulent strains of disease rather than the less virulent ones, allowing them to survive and integrate their less-virulent genes into the viral population.

This sort of thing takes place in nature, as well. There is the “trade off hypothesis,” for instance. If a virus (or other pathogen, but viruses serve as excellent examples) kills the host organism too quickly, there is a loss of survival fitness. Allowing the host to continue to linger ensures that the host (which is an entire ecosystem, as far as the pathogenic organism is concerned) stays around long enough to keep spawning more disease.

And if there are no other hosts for the pathogen, then being less virulent is a good thing from the viewpoint of the pathogen (and the host, for that matter). Of course, this is not a universal rule (so few things are!); if an organism is not really hampered by the death of the host, or if it is highly transmissible, then the cost of virulence is much lower.

Most things in evolution have this sort of trade-off; in The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins uses the example of the gazelle legs; longer legs make you faster, allowing greater survivability, up until a point where the legs become brittle and break too easily, making you an easy meal.

Ah, on to other pastures. If you happen to be one of those “experts” from Ghost Hunters, Ghost TV, Ghostvision, Paranormal Patrol, or whatever the hell is on the History channel at the moment; Ben Goldacre has found you a new job. You’d be working for the same people who make the head lice repellent badge, and have this to say about it:

1. How does it work?
Without a comprehensive understanding of technology e.g. that used in space travel, it is not really possible to provide a very satisfactory answer.

So if you’re a rocket scientist and school nurse dealing with head lice, you should write these guys a letter.

Not that it would be as relentless and classical as this gem from Mark Twain written to a patent-medicine salesman.

Twain was a great wit of his time. His writings on religion, the tragic medicine of his time, and (my personal favorite) Christian Science show a deep skepticism about human nature, education, and authority, while revealing a man who has a bit of faith in the abilities of reason, sees them as accessible to most people, even if they don’t, perhaps, use them.

Things have changed a lot since Twains’ day, but patent medicine salesmen are still out there and education is still in a laughable state. Take, for instance, the autism-vaccination link crowd. You might have heard about this recently – Andrew Wakefield was dishonest and unethical in his research that showed the only link between autism and vaccination.

Bad science AND unethical experimentation on children, combined with a heap of undeclared conflict of interests? It makes you wonder who the anti-vaxx crowd is screaming about when they say these things about actual doctors.

On to Convergent Evolution.

You may remember this one if you tuned in to Skeptics Guide this week. Apparently, researchers in China and Michigan mapped out the gene responsible for the super-sensitive inner-ear hairs that make echolocation possible. The Chinese team was studying bats, and the Michigan team was studying dolphins. Surprise, surprise, the exact same gene was altered in both animals, a gene that made these hairs super-short and sensitive. More research is underway to see if other animals who have crude sonar systems – shrews, oilbirds, and swiftlets to name a few.

Of course, these aren’t the only single-gene convergences in biological history. One of my favorites is the case of the Northern Short Tailed Shrew and the Beaded Lizard.

These two animals have mutated versions of the same ancestral gene to create the toxic protein they employ.
Now – Get your ass to Mars! There you’ll find the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Now you’ve doubtlessly heard this week that Spirit isn’t doing too well. By that I mean that it’s stuck. Stuck in a hole. On Mars. But it’s still going! The team at the JPL/NASA is going to shut it down for a few months so that it can survive the insane Martian winter. While it will no longer be doing any roving, it is now an immobile laboratory – on another world. The lack of focus on moving it around means that the team can get down to some more science after the winter.

Some people are upset, but Spirit is doing pretty damn well. After all, it only had a ninety day mission. In human lifespan terms, this would be like getting upset that someone only survived to be 1400 years old. The folks at the Planetary Society have more to say on the subject, and don’t seem to be too excited about the fact that NASA, not the JPL, is calling the final shot on this one. Of course, Spirit is still valuable, and they’ll be kicking her around to try and get into a survivable position, so we’ll have to wait until next year to see what’s up. One thing a stationary Spirit might be able to model quite well is the wobble of the Martian orbit – a clue to the nature of the core of the planet.

Plus, let’s not forget that Opportunity is still kicking, heading to a relatively new crater (the youngest crater examined on Mars) and is within 100 meters of it.

If only all our NASA news could be so good. The new NASA budget, which actually seems to have been crafted with an eye to a lot of astronomical complaints, is run-down in a nice manner on Bad Astronomy. The bad news: It might not pass the Congress.

Chelate This

Have we done chelation for autism before? It feels like I’ve been over this territory before, and I know that others have.

Here’s a primer, chelation therapy is used legitimately to treat heavy metal poisoning. That said, there’s more than a few dubious medical claims made for chelation. Chelation plays nicely into alt-med weirdness – it removes real toxins. But it is also dangerous.

Chelation (the chemical action) is also used in treatment of soil to remove industrial pollutants – and one of the chemicals, OSR#1, is also used by by Kim Stagliano as a delicious morning addition to her gluten-free waffle sandwich breakfast. Mmmm, gluten-free waffles with a dash of OSR#1 -which is the same as MET-X, used for decontaminating mines, metal plants, and the like.industrial clean-up. Sign me up, sir.

In case you don’t know Kim Stagliano, she’s one of the wonderful brains behind Age of Autism, who blames vaccinations (with “toxins”) for her three autistic children (the third one, by the way, was totally unvaccinated).

As the ever-respectfully insolent ORAC points out in a wonderful post here :

Imagine if you will, that a pharmaceutical company examined a chemical used for industrial purposes. Imagine further that the chemical this pharmaceutical company decided to look at originated as an industrial chelator designed to separate heavy metals from polluted soil and mining drainage. Imagine still further that that pharmaceutical company wanted to use that chemical as a treatment for autism, a chelator to be given to children. Finally, imagine that the drug company was giving this chemical to children without anything resembling any sort of competent preclincal testing or toxicology testing. Then suppose that, in order to avoid having to obtain FDA approval, the pharmaceutical company rebranded its chelating agent as a “supplement,” using the DSHEA of 1994 to bypass any need for extensive clinical trial testing for safety and efficacy in order to be able to market this chemical directly to consumers. What do you think the reaction would be of the crew at Age of Autism and other anti-vaccine blogs?

I think I know. They’d scream bloody murder. That’s what they’d do. And they’d be absolutely right.

Ahh, the DSHEA, (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 for those following at home), the work of legislation that gave us the Quack Miranda Warning and gave us all sorts of products like colas working as supplements, crackers that cure, ingredients that don’t have to be tested (or even actually exist in the product) and the wonderful “structure and function” claims.

Not that OSR#1 has complied with even the limbo-low bar set before it: “to establish that the product can be expected to be safe.” No testing has been done, other than feeding it to a few rats (not these rats apparently), and when the FDA requested safety data last year, none was given.

Seems like a double standard to me. After all, even us skeptics who supposedly spend all our time defending dangerous “allopathic medicine” at the behest of Big Pharma would go nuts over something like this: Like Ben Goldacre has over Merck publishing it’s own science journal, such as many other medical skeptics have done over the many real problems in modern medicine.

Ah well. More weight on the shoulders of AoA and the anti-vaccine movement. I can’t imagine how much longer it can sustain itself.

Information on H1N1

On Friday, August 28th, Dr. Paul Byers Jackson’s district health officer from the Mississippi State Department of Health gave a brief seminar to students from Belhaven College about the Novel H1-N1 “Swine” Flu, the flu that everyone’s been shooting pigs and freaking out over.

Swine flu is one of those handy viruses that can only be spread by person-to-person transmission, via those handy-dandy globules of spit, mucous, and germ that spray from the mouth during coughing and sneezing. So you don’t get it from eating pigs, and it’s not in an airborne cloud surrounding the sick. Also, it has to get in your face to be effective – so if you can stop rubbing your eyes, nose, and mouth (difficult when you’re rubbing your goatee and gloating) you can help yourself out a lot, there. Oh, and of course, you can wash your hands. I always think it’s kinda amusing to see health care professionals admonishing people to wash their hands. Or eat their fruits and vegetables. Or exercise. You’d think that this sort of thing would have settled into the background of “general common sense.” Of course, common sense is neither.

One of the points that was stressed during the meeting was that the death toll, infection rate, spread, and mutability do not seem to be any greater than your average flu season. Of course, since your average flu season kills approximately 36 thousand people in the United States, it’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, please don’t sneeze at it.

Something that IS different about this strain is the age of people who become infected. Usually, the flu strikes those in the 50+ age bracket. This flu, however, is more common in the 0-24 year old demographic. Students are highly susceptible, but we all know to stay away from students, don’t we?

Unfortunately, the highest death rate is amongst the youngest patients. And the virus is showing a remarkable resistance to the flu medication oseltamivir – aka “Tamiflu.” Most type-A flu does in fact show this resistance, according to Dr. Byers, the resistance in H1N1 types was nearing 100%. Does this mean you should panic, lock the house up, and start getting your shotgun shells ready for the inevitable zombie hordes?

No. Well, you should always be ready for zombie hordes, but they’re not going to be coming out of the flu. Dr. Byers isn’t the only one educating people on the flu (and doing a good job) but there’s certainly plenty of people out there who aren’t helping. Of course, in Mississippi, we may not be getting the discussions of the future, but we have done a slightly better job than some places when it comes to being a little bit common sense, and doubtlessly folks like Dr. Byers and all our skeptical readers are doing their bit to help.

Can we do more? Absolutely. After the talk, Dr. Byers had a few things to say about the anti-vaccine indignation, and thanked us for being realistic on this issue. Apparently, the folks at the health department feel it’s an issue somewhat akin to beating their heads against wall, and Dr. Byers said that the person I should talk to was the head epidemiologist, Dr. Mary Currier. So I did exactly that.

Dr. Currier was quite surprised to even receive a rational email about the vaccine mess. Apparently, most of the correspondence about this subject is less than knowledgeable. One of my favorite bits:

The self interest of the anti-vaccine gurus is
incredible, and it’s amazing that their self interest is not visible to
their followers… Thank you so much for writing – it is heartening to read a rational
email.

Well that’s what we’re here for – being rational.

P.S: This just in. There’s a great article on swine flu vaccine fearmongering just up on Science Based Medicine.