Friday, October 30, 2009

Watching the Local News

Bad idea if you concerned about your sanity and intelligence levels!
So, I'm watching the local news last night (I think it was WFLA - local NBC affiliate), and I see this report on some scientists out of Netherlands, who say that getting a regular, seasonal flu shot for kids, prevents them from developing immunity to the swine flu (H1N1).
Of course, in the best tradition of crappy reporting, this piece only mentions that it is "still a controversial research", not saying that it was published as an opinion piece, and that other scientists completely dismissed it, as unfounded and without any research basis.

Now, what would 99% of people who watch the nightly news and trust them do? Skip the shots, I bet.

Here is the news:
Do seasonal flu shots impede little kids' ability to fight off pandemic flu?
Flu jab 'may prevent children developing swine flu immunity'
and the original article in the Lancet: Yearly influenza vaccinations: a double-edged sword?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back to Wired: An Epidemic of Fear

The response to the great "Wired" article, published this month seems to be overwhelming.
I can't praise them enough for publishing this piece and I hope it'll make a dent in the culture of nonsense and plain stupidity that we've been immersed in. It's amusing and scary at the same time to read the comments and responses to the original article, and to the follow-up articles:

Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” part 1

Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” part 2

Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” part 3

A Short History of Vaccine Panic

Squalene: Not to Worry

Make sure to follow Amy Wallace on Twitter @msamywallace, to see some of her responses, and read about her appearance on the National Public Radio: Journalist's Vaccine Article Draws Hate Mail.

Health Care Debate - No Coverage for Woo-Woo

No matter where you stand in the current health care debate, I think all of us agree that wasting money is a big "no, no" in any future, universal health plan. However, there are attempts to inject a language into the proposed legislation, protecting supposed "discrimination" against alternative methods. Why would we pay for something like acupuncture, homeotherapy, or even worse, Christian Scientists' "prayer therapy" from the federal budget. Now, that's a waste in my book! To make sure that woo-woo like that does not make it into any future health care bills, sign and send the petition below:


Monday, October 19, 2009

Wired Gets It

I got my latest copy of "Wired" magazine (Nov. 2009), and to my surprise, the front page article is: "Fear" by Amy Wallace. I am surprised, because it is a rather well written article debunking all of the myths associated with childhood vaccines, and their alleged connection to autism. It is rather rare to find an article like that in the mainstream media, which prefers to present "controversy" and misinformation, rather that facts, and scientific point of view.
The article not only presents this rational view (with the help of no other that Paul Offit, the author of "Autism's False Prophets"), but also makes a few well placed, general, skeptical arguments, which help to drive the point, so often missed when dealing with myths and irrational ideas, yet so important in showing why people tend to believe in pseudo-science:

"In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincare said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people 'know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is no more consoling.'"
"Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort"
Going back to vaccines, the article drives a few good points:
  • Because of vaccines, the childhood diseases are mostly out of our minds, but they are making a comeback, mainly due to the fact that some parents refuse to vaccinate their children.
  • Very well known fact among the scientists is that "correlation does not imply causation", but this is one of the main drivers of the anti-vaccine movement, which claims that the increased rate of autism is caused by the expanded vaccine schedule in the developed countries. This "fact", is not true of course: it has been shown that the main cause of climbing autism rates is increased monitoring and expanded definition of the term "autism". As a matter of fact, a very recent study in U.K. has shown that autism rates are uniform across all age groups, which proves that there is no "epidemic".
  • While the anti-vaccine movement claims that the doctors and the "big pharma" support vaccines only for their financial gain (not true at all - there is much more money to be made off sick people), there is even bigger business of the alternative therapies growing all over the world. That's were the real profits are, and guess who makes real gains?
  • The public really does not appreciate the amount of pain and suffering (and lives) saved by the vaccines in the U.S. and worldwide.
Let's hope this article will make a small dent in the anti-vax propaganda, and maybe a few lives will be saved.

As soon as the current version of the magazine (and this article) is available on line, I'll link to it.

As promised, here is the link to the article: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Also, a short post on the indispensable Science-Based Medicine Blog: An epidemic of fear: The anti-vaccine movement’s war on science

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bad Flu Stats

If you still have any doubts, read this short piece of news: CDC: 86 Children Dead From H1N1

The swine flu is causing an unprecedented amount of illness for this early in the fall, with the deaths of 11 more children reported in the past week. And less vaccine than expected will be ready by month's end, federal health officials said Friday.
The dumb and completely irresponsible tone from some, who claim that this is "just another flu" makes me MAD!!!

Friday Rants: Swine Flu Again

There seems to be more talk about swine flu and H1N1 vaccine in the news that anyone can digest. Unfortunately, a big chunk of all this "chatter" is misinformation, spread by usual sources: TV shows (Oprah), web sites (Natural News), and just simple, unconnected, unrelated anegdotes (remember, anegtotal evidence is NOT data).

A lot of the misinformation comes from a simple fact that most of the people just simply do not understand how viruses, our immune system, and vaccines work. There is a lot of great sources out there, one of them here: How do vaccines work?

As always, Science-Based Medicine Blog comes to the rescue with very relevant and timely information:
Some of our more astute readers may have noticed that we are paying influenza slightly more attention than other topics of late. That’s because this situation is new, rapidly changing, and covers more areas of science and medicine than one can easily count. It’s also a subject about which the general public and media are keenly interested. This is an outstanding learning and teaching opportunity for us as a professional community. Unfortunately, it is also fertile ground for confusion, fear, and misinformation, and a playground for those who would exploit such things.
9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola and Natural News
More Nonsense from Dr. Jay Gordon
Flu Vaccine Efficacy

All the above are excellent reads, with multitude of great information.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cyber Security - Get to Your Bank Safely

Washington Post's Security Fix blog has a very interesting post today, with an excellent idea for better and more secure access to your on-line bank accounts:
The simplest, most cost-effective answer I know of? Don't use Microsoft Windows when accessing your bank account online.
Follow the recommendations!!! I would say, Live CD is the best choice, since there is almost no way to write anything to the local hard drives. It would have to be a very sophisticated virus/malware application to infect live Linux distro on the fly, and go low-level hardware access to write data to some other partition. The most usable solution is probably a memory stick with a hardware "read-only" switch. This way, it can go on your keychain, and be ready for a clean reboot at any time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flu Vaccine Facts

If you fear this year's flu season, get some facts on the new H1N1 vaccine from a very good source:

PUBLIC health officials are now battling not only a fast-spreading influenza virus but also unfounded fears about the vaccine that can prevent it.
This short, but well written article from:
Paul A. Offit, the chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is the author of “Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure.”
should be a great introduction for all those, who get medical advice from talk shows and other "credible" media sources.

Return of the Blog Post

After writing my previous post, I also posted a story A Battle is Brewing in Pasco County, on the St. Petersburg Times portal It's Your Times. It generated a nice buzz, and I hope it'll bring this issue to light, so the voters can make the right and informed decission.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ahh... Politics in the South?

We seem to have an interesting share of candidates for various offices in the Tampa Bay area. First, there is St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Bill Foster, who believes we once walked the Earth with dinosaurs:

He said he believes dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, though most scientists say there is a gap of at least 60 million years between dinosaurs and mankind.

Then, there is John Tracy, president of the Faith and Family Values Republican Club of Pasco County, who wants to run for Pasco County School board, with views like that:

He supports offering alternatives to teaching evolution in science, for instance, and he contends that the role of religion in U.S. history must be presented accurately.
We need to monitor them closely, and hope they don't go too far.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wisconsin Parents Face 25 Years in Prison When They're Sentenced in Daughter's Prayer Death

This case in Wisconsin is going to generate a lot of buzz, as it crosses the line between family and state control of our kids. Normally, I would be on the parents' side, however, seeing something so horrific and just plainly irresponsible, I can't stop myself from saying: this is what you get when your religion dominates your life to the extreme. We like to point out extremism abroad, especially in "other" religions, thinking we know it all, but we fail to see the same issues right in our own backyard.
Usually, I do not like religion bashing, and I do think that as long as you keep it to yourself, it should be your own decission, but cases like this one make me think twice.
I hope we don't see any more of them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Battle is Brewing in Pasco County

Florida Citizens for Science blog is reporting that a soon-to-be-vacant seat on our local Pasco county school board might be artacting some "undesired" individuals:

Pasco school board candidate wants alternatives
The same news came via the St. Petersburg Times web portal: Republican Club president and pastor posts desire for Pasco school board seat in 2012

We need to start looking at this soon, to make sure we keep our educational standards as high as we can. Do we really need someone who says:
"I'm definitely not interested in a theocracy," Tracy said. "But I do think religion — particularly Judeo-Christian beliefs — is a huge part of what we are today. I think it's wrong for us to sweep that under the rug."
Ouch... in addition to that:
He supports offering alternatives to teaching evolution in science, for instance, and he contends that the role of religion in U.S. history must be presented accurately.
Nice. So, let's sweep rational thinking and science under the rug and be done with it.
I know too many children in our public schools (not to mention my son going there soon), not to care. I really have nothing against any religion, but let's keep it away from school, especially science classes.
I am sure, there is more to come on this topic.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October - National Cyber Security Awareness Month

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

In today's world, where we tend to expose most of our lives on the Internet, it is vital to be aware of the dangers and challenges we face in the cyberworld.

There are some really good resources on the site above, to make sure all of us (especially our kids) are safe on line, and our identities are not compromised.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Here Comes Ardi

CNN is reporting on an incredible find: Ardi, a common ancestor to humans and chimpanzees.

More to come on this tomorrow, in Science: Ardipithecus ramidus.

Looks like it'll be a big deal, that will shed some additional details on our ancestry.

Science for our Children

The indispensable Bad Astronomy blog, points to this great site:

Science: [ So What? So everything ]

This site, run by the British government, is a great way to promote science. I wish our government, here in the U.S. took similar approach, and started promoting real science, instead of woo and nonsense, like the NCCAM, for example.

The site has a great section for parents, with ideas on how to answer some of your children's questions and how to communicate science to them effectively.

As I am on the topic of educating children, another great site has a multitude of resources for parents, who want to expose their kids to some quality science education:

100 Tools to Make Your Kids Math and Science Stars

It's good to start early (not too early... let them have their childhood!!!), and keep pushing science and reason in their lives, since most of the public schools in the U.S., society in general, and peer pressure, look down on scientific education.