Thursday, December 23, 2010

Airborne, Oscillococcinum and Other Flu Remedies

With flu season in full swing, it's very easy to become desperate (flu, and associated symptoms can really wear you down), and pick up the first medicine you see in a pharmacy, especially if it is advertised as a "miracle" drug.
For many years such was the case with Airborne, which was advertised as a cold prevention medicine, until its makers were sued and had to settle and rephrase their claims (Cold Remedy Airborne Settles Lawsuit).
The new wonder-drug found all over the pharmacies this year is Oscillococcinum.
Is it any better? Does it help?
First, it's homeopathic, which is the first clue that the most you will probably get out of it is placebo effect. I will not get into in depth discussion of principles of homeopathy now, since they can be easily located on the Internet using Google, but to make it a short story: it's BS... sugar pill, water, etc.
It's actually entertaining to check the product Web page, and find this:
Each 0.04 oz. dose (1 g) of Oscillo contains 1 g of sugar
So, if 1g of the product contains 1g of sugar, where is the active stuff? Oh, I'm sorry, it's homeopathic, and it's the 200C dilution. 200C, means 10 to the 200 power. As anyone with any scientific knowledge would point out, that's way, way, way, way, way, way... more than all the atoms in the Universe. So, where is the active ingredient? Probably in our pockets, as this remedy tends to be rather pricey, especially for 1g of sugar.
If you want to get more, entertaining information about this, and other flu-related topics, check this out:
I keep half an eye on the medicine displays in stores when I shop, and this year is the first time I have seen Oscillococcinum being sold. Airborne as been a standard for years, but Airborne has been joined by Oscillococcinum on the shelves. Dumb and dumber. It may be a bad case of confirmation bias, but it seems I am seeing more iocane powder, I mean oscillococcinum, at the stores.

Ososillyococcinum and other Flu bits.

As, always, from the priceless Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Popular Myths: Probiotics

The probiotics commercial assault has been with us for a few years now, and most of us spent a pretty penny on some product that claimed some kind of probiotics benefit.
There is an interesting piece of news today about a product that most of us have probably seen on TV: Dannon yogurt:
The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday there is not enough evidence to back the claims as currently stated in its marketing and packaging. It announced that it has reached a settlement with the company that prohibits it from making certain claims unless they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Article: Dannon Yogurt Drops Misleading Nutrition Claims From Packaging, Must Get FDA Approval (sorry for the HuffPo plug).

For more info and some really good discussion see the post on The Science-Based Medicine Blog:
Probiotics

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Website of the Week: What's The Harm?

I gave up on this (WotW) endeavour for a while, due to a substantial lack of free time, but the very recent news from the skeptical front (as described in my recent posts: here and here) gave me a gentle nudge to plug in this Web site:

What's The Harm

As described there:
We are all confronted with new information daily. It comes to us via newspapers, radio, television, websites, conversation, advertising and so on. Sometimes it seems like a deluge.

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.
It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.
This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.
We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.
We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.
Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.
Please check out the list of topics and read what interests you.
[What is this site?]

As stated above, we are under a deluge of uncritical thinking. We run into people trying to get out money, even if it means hurting us. We all see it in our daily lives, sometimes without even noticing it. We all know not to trust a "car salesman", because that's what our experience tells us (they are there to make money), but we trust anyone who appears to try to sell us a book about healthy living, a revolutionary dietary supplement, or an incredible new therapy which cures it all. We might go to a doctor, who seems to have all the proper education, training and experience, but at some point he or she had dived into some sort of alternative medicine. Some of them might do it for profit, some out of honest belief that they are helping us. But belief alone, while providing a nice placebo in some instances, will not cure a real ailment, and if we give ourselves blindly to such beliefs, they just might kill us. Learning form other people's mistakes could save our wallets, health and maybe even our life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let Oprah Know What YOU Think

Following the article I linked to yesterday, and my own post, here is an appeal from Orac:
This strategy requires a lot of people bombarding the Oprah website with requests. It's unlikely to work just from my readership alone. It needs other bloggers willing to urge their readers to do the same thing to have even a wisp of a chance of working. So, if you have a blog, consider urging your readers to remind Oprah's producers about Kim Tinkham. Let's put it this way. Even if nothing at all comes of this, at the very least Oprah should be made aware of the price of quackery such as that which is about to claim Kim Tinkham. Yes, I know that Tinkham is an adult. I know that she bears major responsibility for her own choices. Yes, I know it's true that no one forced Tinkham to go to Robert O. Young for help. On the other hand, I also know that it is true that the sort of wishful thinking that Oprah promoted "primed the pump," so to speak. Even so, Robert O. Young and, yes, Oprah also bear a major share of the responsibility as well. Robert O. Young is beyond shame, but maybe Oprah is not.
Let Oprah know that Kim Tinkham is dying of cancer


Great idea!!!
Maybe it'll take away a few drops from the flood of nonsense coming from Oprah, maybe it'll make her think about consequences next time she promotes some total BS. Like Orac says, it's worth giving a try.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Appeal of Woo: Be Careful

The story below (from Science-Based Medicine) is a sad and unfortunate example of what uncritical thinking can lead to. It shows the real dangers of alternative medicine, the dangers most people don't perceive, usually responding: "what's the harm?"
It also presents yet another example why Oprah is a villain in my book, despite all the good she's done in other fields.
Read it, think about it, and make sure to follow your brains, not someone's "feel good" woo, when faced with important decisions.
Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.
Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? (Revisited)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Carl Sagan Day

Celebrate reason and Carl Sagan's 76 birthday by reading one of his excellent books...

Among the best, of course, is:
















If you haven't had a chance to read any of his books, start from this one, and it will most likely alter the way you see the world.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vaccine Awareness Week???

The anti-vaxers wanted this week to be a "Vaccine Awareness Week", so here it goes... a few good links to reinforce the importance of childhood vaccinations. Also, don't forget that getting booster shots later in life is equally important, as shown by a recent whooping cough outbreak in California: if you have a close contact with newborns (who are to young to get their pertussis shot), make sure you don't give them that nasty bug.

From the Science-Based Medicine blog:

What does “anti-vaccine” really mean?

Journal Club Debunks Anti-Vaccine Myths

Topic reference: Vaccines


from Orac:

The strange science and ethics of the anti-vaccine movement


and from our Northern neighbors:

The Faces of Vaccine (Un)awareness Week

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Send your thanks to Jenny McCarthy

In case you are wondering where to send your "Thank You" card:
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has claimed the 10th victim in California, in what health officials are calling the worst outbreak in 60 years.
10 infants dead in California whooping cough outbreak
 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do you hate McDonald?

Taste and quality aside... no argument there.
You must have seen the "undestroyable" McDonald's hamburger making its rounds on the Internet recently.
Did the story seem uhm... rotten a bit?
It probably is.
Here are a few good places to see if your average burger should really "decompose":

Some Skeptical Clarity to the Unrottable McDonald’s Burger Videos/Photos - via Science-Based Parenting

The Burger “Experiments” - via Neurologica Blog

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tickle Your Brain Before the Weekend

That'll get you thinking before the weekend:
Brothers Christopher and Peter Hitchens squared off Tuesday in a debate over whether civilization can survive without God. Christopher, the older of the two, is a renowned atheist thinker and author. Peter, the lesser known of the two, is a practicing Christian and also a well-regarded author.
Complete article: Hitchens brothers debate if civilization can survive without God

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: The Grand Design

This book generated more controversy that it deserves in my opinion.















I've heard countless statements about the book, from both non-religious, and religious figures. One side was all gung-ho about the fact that Hawking denounces God claims we do not need any supernatural forces to explain our Universe. The other side was offended for the same reasons.
While I think the book is as great as anything Stephen Hawking wrote in the past, I did not find it revealing, especially in light of his other famous book "A Brief History of Time".
His science is as good as ever, his delivery right on the mark, giving just enough details to keep us, mortals, interested without putting us to sleep. The "revelations" are nothing new in science, which has been staying away from supernatural explanations for many decades (if not centuries).
The only surprise I got: Hawking does not believe that we are going to find a "theory of everything". Many, smaller, more compact theories might have to do, each corresponding to a particular universe.
The rest of the "controversy" was in my opinion just marketing.

I still recommend this book as a great reading!!!

Some links:
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/showbiz/2010/09/09/lkl.stephen.hawking.interview.cnn
http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/09/11/stephen.hawking.interview/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/09/02/hawking.god.universe/index.html
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/03/religious-leaders-hit-back-at-hawking/

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk

I was watching "Real Time with Bill Maher" last night (Sept. 24th episode) and realized how his guests and the book I read recently came together in a nice fashion. Bill Maher had two conservatives: Andrew Breitbart and Amy Holmes on the show, going against Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan (the wife of Carl Sagan). The issue that created the most heated discussion (not to say yelling) was the climate change and its origins.
Andrew Breitbart gave the usual "not all scientists agree" nonsense with some additional, typical set of lies and Ann Druyan call him on it, saying straight to his face that the Right serves lies and distractions while we are still doing noting to mitigate the real issue.
The discussion brought up a very important problem that we all face almost every day, often without realizing it: how to tell what is "science" from all kinds of claims that people try to sell us?
This question, and a few possible answers are the core of the book "Nonsense of Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk"by Massimo Pigliucci:
















It is not an easy book to read, having a fair amount of philosophy in its content, but it also gives a great overview of the current "state of the game", or the anti-intellectual, anti-science attitudes so widely spread in our society. From the general rejection of science, mostly by the religious right, to the attempts of incorporating its own "soft" science into the mainstream by the "liberal" hipsters, we see this process almost every day.
Pigliucci starts off with a simple question: what is science and what is not (or what claims to be science, but in reality is pseudoscience). As we quickly find out, it is not an easy question to answer, since even within science itself there are disciplines that, while generally regarded as scientific, are having a hard time fitting into a number of predefined criteria.
We get a tour of current anti-scientific battlefronts, including various think tanks, which peddle any nonsense for which they get paid, under the covers of "real" scientific research, the current global warming debate (which is not really a debate from the scientific point of view anymore), and the Intelligent Design case from Dover. All of the above serve as great examples of how to define science and how to attempt to distinguish it from any other claims.
The final piece of this book and the one that I enjoyed the most was a discussion on how to tell an expert from a wanna-be. This is so important because, as I pointed out at the beginning, almost every day we encounter people who claim to have answers to all the issues of today's world. We also have to make our own decisions (some personal and some political) in an increasingly complex world, decisions that affect our health, our families and our way of life. It is therefore very important to know how to distinguish the real deal from "bunk".
If not for everything else, this is one reason to read "Nonsense on Stilts".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flu Season Is Here

Another flu season is upon us, and for some that means a new seasonal influenza vaccine.
As always, it is important to know the facts, evaluate your own risks and make sure that you make an informed decision. I myself have been exposed to some misinformation already, even thought the amount of noise is nowhere close to the levels from the last year, when we were in the midst of the "swine" flu (H1N1) pandemic.
The most prevalent piece of misunderstanding comes from the fact that this year's seasonal flu vaccine has the H1N1 component already included (see CDC: Vaccine Selection for the 2010–2011 Influenza Season), which was not the case last year (that's because last year's vaccine components were selected long before the H1N1 pandemic appeared). What I keep hearing is that this component is the same "untested" vaccine that we were using last year, which is partially true: it is the same H1N1 strain. However, one can not get any better testing for the vaccine strain than what we got last year, with tens of millions receiving the H1N1 shot, and almost no serious side effects reported by the CDC (discussion here: Vaccine Safety).
What is really worring from my point of view is the fact that the misinformation about flu vaccines, and about vaccines in general, comes not from regular, untrained people like myself. The real problem are professionals on the fringe, who for various ideological reasons still buy into the whole conspiracy theory, and claim "facts" about vaccines that are not true (like mercury in childhood vaccines) to scare people from getting the shots they might need to save their lives.

Some good resources from CDC to help you make up your mind:
Stay informed!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Naturopathy Revisited

Browsing the Internet today, I found a very interesting article from the always reliable alt-med debunker Orac:

[...] it would appear, naturopaths both desperately crave the validation of science, to be taken seriously by science-based physicians, while at the same time they resent science because it doesn't support their woo.

Which stuck a familiar chord from my recent past. So, reading further I see a quote from a naturopath:
We're too reliant on the scientific method, and it stands in our way of forging ahead.
The whole article can be found here: A highly revealing quote from a naturopath

The reason it sounded very familiar was that I had a very similar discussion, not long ago, which I described here: Science and Pseudo-Science
Notice the similarities? In my discussion, I was put against the same issue: when science, clinical studies and statistics just do not support your claims, discard science. My "opponent" presented the same attitude you can see from other naturopaths, and they are willing to defend it by just discarding sound arguments, which is not surprising, since it provides their livelihood. I just wonder, how is it working for their patients? Beyond a simple placebo, of course...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Dose of Humor

Check this out to start off the weekend early:

Mr. Credulous



Gotta love that one!!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CNN: The end of the autism/vaccine debate?

CNN has a great article summarizing the recent developments in the autism / vaccine debate:
"This retraction represents the death of a hypothesis," says Offit. "Parents should be reassured that a choice not to get a vaccine will in no sense lessen the risk of autism, and will only increase the risk of disease."
The end of the autism/vaccine debate?

There are a few excellent links with additional information at the bottom of the article.
Let's hope the word if finally out and all the money wasted on this misdirected research can go where it really belongs: finding causes and cures for autism.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wired Gets It - Again

I just got my monthly dose of "Wired"... still in the print form, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a short, but very good interview with Simon Singh. If you don't know him, I'd recommend one of his excellent books:















He has spent the last two years fighting British Chiropractic Association's bogus libel lawsuit, and won!!!
In the interview, he talks about the lawsuit and science vs. pseudoscience struggle in general. In all, it's another proof that Wired is one of the few mainstream media outlets that promotes good and sound science.
As soon as the link is up on their page, I'll post it here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

After the Debate

So, while I was unable to actually attend the debate, it seems that there was something interesting that happened there: John Tracy took a very typical right wing road, offending everyone and painting himself as the only one with any values:

John Tracy's comments at Pasco School Board candidate debate offend his rivals
So Tracy told the audience at Thursday's candidate debate at Pasco-Hernando Community College that he was the candidate of family values and integrity. Not just one of them. The one.
How funny...

There is more in the TampaBay.com Gradebook Blog:

Pasco School Board candidate Rev. John Tracy defends his debate night comments

You have to love what Mr. Tracy concluded:
This particular article misrepresents my statements and fails to accurately set the context of the debate forum. Lesson learned. Voters beware! Do not trust the press.
That's right, blame the media for your own statements and try to twist the facts around, to make up your own reality. This attitude is so typical of the far right found everywhere, not only in this country.

We have to make sure we vote for someone much better to have any influence over our school system.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pasco School Board Candidates Debate

Interestingly, there will be a live debate tonight between 12 candidates for the Pasco School Board, as reported by St. Pete Times:

Hear the Pasco School Board candidates debate

I would love to see it, or at least have a chance to read an extensive report on what all of them had to say.
More to come...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time To Vote

Early elections are on around Pasco County, and this year one set of votes is the dearest to my heart: County School Board members. That's because I will soon have my son in the local school system and I would like to ensure that the system gets better, remains focused on good education and is not influenced by any ideology.
There is a broad set of candidates to select from, but one stands out of the crowd as particularly BAD. That's John Tracy. I have seen it coming long time ago, as I wrote here. While Tracy's web page has softened up a bit since last year, he still is for teaching creationism in public schools, as indicated in his very recent interview with St. Petersburg Times:
Tracy said he is not out to change the curriculum. Still, he said, students should have a choice about whether they want to learn about evolution in science classes. He also called for making sure that religious references are not wiped out of history books.

Tracy spoke about student equality, saying that schools should be neutral ground for people of all political and religious beliefs. He said schools need to deal with drug problems, which are growing. And as a parent who has his children in a private church school, he backed school choice.
The whole article: Pasco School Board race features five candidates with diverse views

No, students should not have a choice what to learn in science classes! They should learn SCIENCE! If Mr. Tracy wants to teach his (or any other views) in his church, that's fine with me, but science is not based on personal opinions and beliefs. That makes it easy on who NOT to vote for.

Florida Citizens for Science has a nice summary of this issue for Pasco County: Details on Pasco school board races

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: "Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search For a Cure

I've been gearing up to write something about this book for a few months now, but due to a complete lack of free time, as always it took me a bit more than I anticipated.
















There is one simple sentence to describe this book: every new parent should read this one!!!
I wish this book had been out when my son was born, and my wife and I had to battle misinformation and pure nonsense of the anti-vaxx movement. It is consoling to know that we made all the right decisions at that time, even when the level of propaganda from the anti-vaxxers was reaching its peak.
"Autism's False Prophets" gives your an amazing perspective from the best source: Paul Offit is the top pediatrician and infectious diseases expert in the world. He's also an authority on vaccines, having co-invented one that's credited with savings hundreds of lives daily (see more info). He's been involved with the whole vaccines/autism controversy (not a real one, but that's how it is perceived) from the beginning and knows the details first hand.

The original publication date of this book was in 2008, which makes it slightly out of date, especially in light of recent events (Andrew Wakefield's original MMR paper retraction by Lancet, his medical licence being revoked in U.K. and numerous studies further discrediting any link between vaccines and autism), but the real value of this book and all the information it contains is in the fact that it shows how the whole MMR and autism link (and later just general vaccine/autism link) was manufactured and how the real data kept coming, showing there is no link at all. It also shows the unseen links behind some of the people "on the other side". We are used to hearing that it's the "big pharma" that influences our doctors, and it's the corporate interest and profit seeking that drive our medical establishement, but it is very educating to see that money might be behind some of the people who claim they are fighting for us, the consumers.

Unfortunately, even today, I still encounter people who refuse to believe and cause more harm than good, by spreading misinformation and sometimes pure lies to benefit their own, misguided causes. As we all know, the era of information abundance on the Internet makes making decisions much harder for many of us. It is even more important to find the right sources, and this book is the perfect one!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Joe Mercola's Nonsense In My Own Experience

So, last month I had a prolonged discussion with a "naturopath" about various kinds of "therapies" and science in general (I described it briefly here). One of the BIG NAMES thrown at me during that discussion was Joe Mercola and his woo-selling web site (no link here... I do not want to bump his Google rank).
As is was coming from a believer, Mercola was presented to me as an "authority" on various natural remedies and products. We did not discuss it in details, but I'd tried to point out that Mercola, while accusing everyone of various conflicts of interest, including the dreaded BIG PHARMA links, has direct financial stakes in most of what he's promoting, way more direct than any doctor has to the BIG PHARMA!
I stumbled upon a great article today from Orac, "Joe Mercola's shampoo woo", which dissects this problem to the core: it's always about money when somebody tries to sell you something "natural".

New Show Worth Watching

This has been going around the blogosphere:
Phil Plait, TV Star

Sounds interesting and I know I'll watch it.
My son will have a blast too: he loves Discovery shows about cosmic disasters, UFOs and all kinds of weirdness!!!

If you want a taste of Bad Astronomer's style, read his books, they are excellent:

















Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vacation Time - Revisited

As you might have noticed, my on-line activities have been slow in the last month, mostly due to summertime slump and vacation travels. From my occasional "woo-woo" debunking, I switched to my additional passions, which always have been: travel, hiking and outdoor photography (fortunately, they go together well). This year was slightly different, since it was the first time we went on an extended "exploration" trip with our 5 year old son. The "exploration" trip in our book means renting a car and going on an extended road trip from one hiking destination to another. Most of the time it also means extensive driving in between strenuous hikes. I was very worried how he would like the long walks, early days, strange hotels, and general lack of "quality" kids entertainment (Sponge Bob, for example), but I was very surprised to find out he loved it and he wanted more.
Our trip this year took us to Central and Southern California, a place I always wanted to visit, but never had a chance. We started in San Francisco, visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake surroundings (including Lone Pine), Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, made a quick stop in Legoland, explored Los Angeles a bit, and finally hit Big Sur on our way back to San Francisco.
We traveled in a fairly large group (three families, with kids around the same age), so it made it easier, but our various hikes stand as a testament, that kids can be introduced to nature at a very early age. In Yosemite for example, we managed to hike to the top of the Nevada Falls (hike descriptions here and here), a trail not easy to accomplish for most of the city dwellers of much more advanced age.
In addition to hiking, we managed to see a few gems that were worth every minute.
First one was the Alcatraz Island, with its famous prison. I was worried that it would be boring for my son, but he loved it and even managed to walk the whole personal audio tour by himself.
The second one was an unforgettable night at the Death Valley Junction's Amargosa Opera House Hotel. According to the management, it is one of the most haunted places in America, which I would believe, if only I'd been able to see anything out of ordinary... nope... not me. I did not see, nor hear, nor feel anything weird, and I suspect it is just a marketing plot (surprise, surprise!!!). However, the history of the place, the setting,  and the Opera House itself with its amazing paintings is really something to see, so don't miss it when you are exploring the Death Valley and its surroundings.
Now, you can tell that I have been doing mostly image processing for the last few weeks, as I managed to stack up 5000 shots on my old, trusty Nikon, but that's what digital photography is all about: cheap volume and selection.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Legal Trouble Again: Spreading the News

Sending lawyers to do the work of science is never a good idea. This goes beyond or standard freedom of speech, it targets the most basic principles of science: freedom of discussion and freedom to criticize ideas.
As always, when people who peddle woo-woo don't have real arguments, they send lawyers to try to intimidate those who expose them.
Time to spread the news about a company called Doctor's Data, Inc (DDI), which is engaged in dubious practices and is suing Quakwatch maintainer Steve Barret for exposing them.

More info from Orac:
Unfortunately, it's happening again. The favored laboratory of anti-vaccine practitioners and the "autism biomed" movement, a commercial laboratory known as Doctor's Data is suing Steve Barrett, the man who maintains the excellent resource Quackwatch, for criticism Dr. Barrett leveled against it, criticism that Doctor's Data richly deserved (in my opinion, of course). Not just that, it's suing Dr. Barrett for the ridiculously overblown sum of $10 million.
More legal thuggery against a defender of science-based medicine

The article in the center of all this is here:
How the "Urine Toxic Metals" Test Is Used to Defraud Patients

Let's get this info out there to ensure that "legal intimidation" does not pay, and only makes the news travel far and wide...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Science and Pseudo-Science

This past weekend, I had a chance to have some really interesting discussions and debates about a number of scientific topics. As it happened in a social setting, I was not really able to make all my points very clear, due to "etiquette" restrictions, but despite this limitation, it was very interesting to see how others perceive science in general, and medical science in particular. It was also an amazing journey into the world of logical fallacies, with some of them piling up on top of the others.

It all started from an innocent mention of some "ghost stories", which led to a full discussion about ghost seances and communication with the world-out-there.

However, the really interesting part came from the discussion of frequency healing and thermography. Both modalities are in the realm of cams, and are firmly set in the pseudo-science: "Radionics" and "A Critical Look at Thermography". Both discussions led directly to a standard "FDA and all the doctors are paid by the big pharma" argument, which, of course, is not something you can debate or win, so I did not even try.

There were two very interesting points made during our debate that are worth mentioning.

First, it was said that the frequency therapy (along with the machine used in the practice) can be attributed with a success rate of around 50%, when treating stage one cancers. However, when I asked about real statistical data, it turned out there there is none, and it's all based on a "gut feeling" from the past years. In addition, it was very telling to find out that the diagnosis of the cancers in question (as I said, in phase one), is "better than the standard medical procedures", which means it must be taken on faith, since we have no independent way to verify that the cancer is really there. Oh, I failed to mention, that the diagnosis is made by "laying hands"!

What I found even more interesting is a general attitude towards science. When I asked for some proofs, or scientific studies done on any of the discussed topics, I got a standard runaround with a lot of  buzzwords (like a long explanation about how frequency therapy rebuilds little cell tails, so they can continue living - I assumed we were talking about telomeres) and some quantum physics, but nothing solid. When I kept pressing, I was told that modern physics, and science in general, is not ready for the new ideas. They can't be tested and reproduced because scientists execute their experiments in a constrained space-time and do not really understand what's outside of the modern science.

That's all I really needed. Pseudo-science, and alternative medicine is not something you can debate and discuss with true believers (especially, when they have they income invested in it, but that's no surprise). Their world view is constructed to ensure that real data has no place in it and can't enter it under no circumstances. And if you don't understand something, just place it outside of our current methods of gaining knowledge and you can be virtually sure that you can peddle any nonsense and be safe with it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Those Selfish Parents...

If you haven't noticed yet from my posts on this blog, I am a strong supporter of child vaccinations. Not only I think we should vaccinate our children, but I do think that we should get rid of most of the exemptions, especially religious, which are nothing but a lame attempt to go around the system and the sound science behind it. If there is a medical condition that makes vaccinations dangerous to someone, then be it, but using religion to skip them is just plain dumb. If you want to use your religion (or your "worldview") as an excuse, you should be required to stay away from the world that's trying to move forward. That's because people who skip shots for "unreal" reasons (and by "unreal", I mean anything but a real medical condition), endanger all of us, especially those who really can't get vaccinated, because they are too young, too sick, or for some other, valid reason. The herd immunity concept is very real, and the effects of diminishing vaccination rates can be very clearly seen all over the world.
The latest proof of this can be seen in the statement on the Whooping Cough Epidemic from the California Department of Public Health.
As the vaccination rates go down because of the unproven and discredited link between childhood immunizations and autism, some of the illnesses come back and hit the most vulnerable first. That's the legacy of all those, who keep claiming vaccines are not safe. Shame on them!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Time

My vacation time now over, I'll be coming back to blogging with full force. On my recent trip to California, I had a chance to do some reading and visit some interesting places, including a haunted hotel. Irrationality is used all over the place for marketing and fun, but some of it goes a bit too far and makes people believe the most unbelievable things. I plan to write about it in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vaccine refusal is putting everyone in danger

That's the title of an op-ed article from L.A. Times, which shows how dangerous skipping shots can be:
By choosing not to vaccinate, parents put not only their children but other peoples'' children in harm's way. Immuno-compromised children, infants and pregnant women cannot be vaccinated, so they are put at increased risk when those who can be vaccinated are not.
And the conclusion is:
It is selfish for parents who intentionally don't vaccinate to make other children vulnerable. We cannot afford to continue leaving the public's health in the hands of irresponsible parents.
I could not agree more!!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Andrew Wakefield - Doctor No More

It's good to know that sometimes science and reason win, and the bad guys pay for their stupidity.
Today, the doctor who started the MMR vaccine controversy (never a real controversy) 12 years ago, and who probably caused more harm to children than anyone else (ok, maybe Jenny McCarthy is running right behind him), was "struck off" from the U.K. medical register, which means he's not a doctor anymore.

Good riddance!!!

Unfortunately, the legacy of his fake and unethical research and years of pushing his agenda" live on in forms of public confusion, preventable diseases that are coming back in various places around the world, and worst of all, children dying when they are not vaccinated. It's a shame!!!

Thanks to Orac for this great news!!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Website of the Week: Science-Based Medicine Blog

Science-Based Medicine Blog is a site to put very high on you daily reading list. There are a few good reasons for that.
The first one is their lineup of authors, which include clinical and academic doctors from various specialties, pharmacologists, veterinarians, current medical students and educators. Such a diversity and wide array of knowledge, ensures that all the medical information presented on the Science-Based Medicine Blog comes from the best sources and can be trusted.
The second reason I love this blog is the frequency of posts. You can be sure to have an interesting, well researched and informative article almost daily, not only bringing you the most recent developments in the world of medical knowledge, but also keeping a watchful eye on the mainstream media and its well known inability to report scientific news correctly (most of the time, at least).
Now that you know, put it on your reading list too!!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Local Dose of Woo: Gaia Spiritual Doorways

Living in the area where The South mixes with The North in a very unique way, I get my dose of nonsense almost daily: crazy churches, tea parties, homeopathic healers, small chiropractic shops, a psychic reader here and there (nothing beats Downtown Brooklyn when it comes to those). In all, it's a nice cauldron of traditional religion taken to the extreme, and some of the best New Age craziness. Yet, from time to time, a rare flower of nonsense just blossoms in your area, and it's hard to pass it by without a short mention.
Last week, when reading a local paper (and I mean LOCAL, because it's available only north of Tampa), I stumbled upon an article raving about a new metaphysical supplies store that had opened up its doors recently. It is called Gaia Spiritual Doorways, and it's truly a place for woo-woo of all kinds and shapes.
From candles (hello, Bed, Bath and Beyond) to oracle and tarot cards, runes (any hobbits selling them?), botanical and spiritual items, to statues of saints, angels and Buddahs, it's all there in it's glory.

If you don't know how to use all those goodies, take a workshop. Before you know it, you can do some Reiki, heal with stones, or use a pendulum (that one is hard and must require a lot of practice).
There are, of course, psychic readings available in the store, so if you are not sure what's in your future, make sure to stop by and ask for the next set of lotto numbers. I'm planning on going, and you can be sure you will not see me at work after I get my millions! I will get them, right???

What's really sad is not so much the fact that places like that exist and thrive on suckers (you know what P.T. Barnum allegedly said...), but that newspapers keep reporting on them uncritically. The article is a shameless plug for this business, with no single shred of critical thinking, down to the claim that the psychic readings available in the store are accurate, because they contain timeframes and apply to present and not some vague future. If so, why don't they apply for the "One Million Dollar Challenge" from JREF and be rich without trying. I might suggest that when I go to the grand opening... it's coming up soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Website of the Week: Respectful Insolence

This week, one of the best sources for medical knowledge, funny (and sometimes scary) commentaries on current medical and skeptical topics, occasionally a place for some controversial exchange, always a great read: Respectful Insolence by Orac.

I've been a big fan of Orac's blog for a few years now, and while you can find the same information in a few other places on line, no other place will give you the same package of information and entertainment. And, what's hard to come by on the interwebs, it's the information you can always rely on!!!

As Orac says about himself:
Respectful Insolence™ is a repository for the ramblings of the aforementioned pseudonymous surgeon/scientist concerning medicine and quackery, science and pseudoscience, history and pseudohistory, politics, and anything else that interests him (or pushes his buttons). Orac's motto is: "A statement of fact cannot be insolent." (OK, maybe it can be just a little bit insolent. Sometimes. OK, fairly often. Orac tries to keep his insolence respectful most of the time, but readily admits that he sometimes fails in cases of obvious quackery and pseudoscience, responding to personal attacks on him, examining poor critical thinking skills, bigotry or racism, and just general plain stupidity. When the stupidity to which Orac is responding reaches a certain very high level, he just can't help it and makes no apologies. You will know this is happening when Orac uses the phrase "the stupid, it burns" or some variant thereof.
Go, get your dose of insolence today...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On PBS: The Vaccine War

I did not have a chance to watch it on live TV last night, but it seems that PBS did a fairly good job describing the current state of the fake vaccine controversy. I often skip shows like that not because I'm not interested, but because I'm so used to the mainstream media being too politically correct and showing both sides equally, even if one of them does not deserve it at all, that I get too annoyed and upset watching them.
This one was not bad and it's worth watching.

Video here: The Vaccine War

Get a good deconstruction of the documentary from Orac: The Vaccine War: Telling it (mostly) like it is about the anti-vaccine movement

If you still think vaccines are "personal" choice, read this: Whooping Cough Outbreak in California Kills Two

Related: On H1N1 anniversary, a mother lives daily with regret

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Website of the Week: The Skeptic's Dictionary

In order to promote rational thinking, I decided to spread the news about cool, interesting and useful websites. I'll try to do it on a weekly basis, but that will depend on my other workload, which tends to be highly unpredictable.

This week: The Skeptic's Dictionary

As the main page states:
The Skeptic's Dictionary is a website and a book. Each features definitions, arguments, and essays on topics ranging from acupuncture to zombies, and provides a lively, commonsense trove of detailed information on things supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific.

Dozens of topics in logic, perception, science, and philosophy are also covered to help explain the appeal and popularity of occult beliefs and to provide a guide for critical thinking. » More about the SD & Reader comments on the SD
The Web site was created in 1994 - thanks to the Davis Community Network - and is still evolving. The book was published in 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, thanks in large part to literary agent Ted Weinstein and former Wiley editor Jeff Golick.
I find The Skeptic's Dictionary to be one of the most authoritative source of anti-woo information, with references, notes and amusing reader comments, which serve as a great introduction to research on any given topic.
It is also one of the best places to send your "on-the-fence" friends for more information on any given, skeptical topic.

Time To Vote Them Out

Regardless of their party affiliation, it's high time to vote those who support this amendment out in the upcoming elections:
Conservative Republicans, blind to the inevitable harm they would do to every Floridian's freedom, are seeking once again to undermine the state's long and pragmatic tradition of separating church and state. Supporters of the state's controversial private school voucher program want the Legislature to ask voters in November to strip the state Constitution of a clause that prohibits state spending on religious groups, such as private parochial schools that accept voucher students. The amendment, which could lead to tax dollars subsidizing proselytizing and religious discrimination, has no place in Florida.
More: Ballot measure threatens Floridians' religious liberty

Monday, April 19, 2010

Florida: Keep Our Money Away From Religion

I wrote about this issue last week, but there is an interesting editorial in today's St. Petersburg Times:

Protect Floridians' religious liberty

written by Rev. Dr. Harold M. Brockus, who is a president of the Pinellas County Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a retired Presbyterian and United Church of Christ minister.

He writes:
Floridians would not be truly free if they were forced to contribute tax money to religions they don't support.
I agree wholeheartedly! We must ensure that this amendment is defeated, if it is placed on the ballot. As Rev. Brockus says:
As a member of the clergy, I know how much Americans value their right to worship. It is precious. It's what sets us apart from many other nations, where people are oppressed because of what they believe or are forced to support religion against their will.
Amen to that!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: Denialism

Another one bagged! This time the book that took my undivided attention for a few days was Michael Specter's "Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives".
I have to admit I was picking it up (or downloading it, as it may be in case of an e-book) as a convert. It is definitely a book that "preaches to its own crowd" as far as I am concerned. I knew that this "denialism" attitude is very real and it affects us daily.
For one, I have seen the "vaccine" denialism first hand, and I've realised that it extremely difficult, if not impossible to reason with those who crossed over to the other side (that one that claims vaccines cause all kinds of harm). The confirmation bias, personal anecdotes, and simply the fear of loosing your own beliefs, is stronger than reason and clear thinking.
I'm also rather close to a crowd that strongly believes in all sorts of "natural" remedies, discarding any science that shows no effects. It is rather amusing (but sad at the same time) to see people spending hundreds of dollars on fake and unproven vitamins, remedies and modalities, claiming that the "big pharma" and the doctors are out there only to get our money.
However, the book goes farther than that. It talks about some valid reasons (Vioxx) why people distrust pharmaceutical companies and  the mainstream medical establishment in general. It is a fascinating story and it proves that there are enough controls in the system to keep us safe.
Besides vaccines and natural remedies, "Denialism" concentrates also on a few other topics, namely our "organic fetish" and the more and more pervasive genetics and genetic engineering.
In both cases, Michael Specter dissolves the myths and presents very convincing argument that only by listening to science and reason, we can keep both in check. But "keeping in check" does not mean, not embracing future discoveries. Genetics and genetic engineering are especially delicate areas, but we need to be mindful of what the give us, understand it, and use it wisely, following scientists, not politicians, to ensure our success.

You can also read Michael Specter's recent article on the CNN portal, where he discusses ideas coming from his book:
American denialism threatens many areas of scientific progress, including the widespread fear of vaccines and the useless trust placed in the vast majority of dietary supplements quickly come to mind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Florida: Keep Our Money Where It Belongs

Making sure that we don't favor one religion over any other is probably one of the best ideas written in the U.S. Constitution. It kept this country relatively sane (despite some right-drifting from time to time) and not looking like some theocracies of the current world. And yet some lawmakers in my own state of Florida, would like to change this:
The Florida Senate's Education PreK-12 Committee approved a constitutional amendment proposal Tuesday that would repeal a century-old ban on public funding of religious organizations. The 6-2 vote fell along party lines.

It is being pitched as the "religious freedom" bill by Republican leaders, but critics say it is a pro-church effort to abolish Florida's strict divisions between church and government.
Let's hope this amendment will die soon, and we will not hear of it again. I do not want to have any of my tax money going to any religious schools, as some of them are bound to be favored over others. Not to mention that most of them have their own agenda (despite the fact that they can be good schools otherwise) that might not agree with some of our own beliefs and convictions. Why would we even want to go there?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Deepak Is Not Very Smart

Ouch... traveling wears you out! No time to do a lot, projects hanging, thinks to be finalized.

I did have some time however, to notice this piece of genius from Deepak Chopra:
Had a powerful meditation just now – caused an earthquake in Southern California.
More here: Deepak impact

He is a nut job no matter how you slice it. But a funny one sometimes!!! You just can't stop wondering why people would buy his books, CDs, and the rest of the nonsense he sells.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lifesaving, safe vaccines

Great article (link, courtesy of Bad Astronomer):

Lifesaving, safe vaccines

No time to comment this week, but it well worth reading, as it is another perfectly put argument from a rather independent source.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Get Your Holistic Fix

Last weekend, I noticed an interesting article in the print and on-line versions if the St. Petersburg Times:

Hepatitis C outbreak at Brandon holistic clinic blamed on syringes

A hepatitis C outbreak at a holistic medical clinic in Brandon was likely caused by the reuse of syringes on patients undergoing intravenous therapies, a state health official said Friday.
The news above would not be that interesting, as it can happen anywhere, although I do not think it happens too often at hospitals anymore, however, it's the reason people went to this "clinic" that makes me sad:
Dr. Carol Roberts, director of the clinic, said the eight patients were undergoing chelation therapy to remove what she described as toxic metals from their bodies.
So, we have a clear case, where alt-med (or, as some prefer to call it, SCAM - So-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine) really, really can do harm. I can almost bet that most of the people who were getting this therapy did not have anything wrong with them, but were sold this unproven, unnecessary and dangerous modality as a way to "get the toxins out of their body". It can't do any harm, it's holistic (or natural), you know!!!
As pointed out in the article:
Chelation, which uses IV medications to grab heavy metals and minerals out of the blood and remove them from the body, is approved by the FDA only for lead poisoning and heavy-metal toxicity. The use of it by some practitioners for conditions like autism and heart disease has drawn controversy to the practice.
Hopefully, a bit of attention in the news will help to steer a few people away from this (or other "holistic") woo-woo nonsenses.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Health Care Reform

My personal opinions about the proposed health care reform notwithstanding, it makes me really worried, when I see what we all could be paying for if we have a universal health care system in the US.
I open today's (3/18/2010) St. Petersburg Times, and the front page has an article entitled "Here's what non-politicians think" (pdf). Among the "non-politicians" is a Christian Science practitioner Robert Clark, who believes in healing through prayer, which is basically a form of wishful thinking.
What's even worse, this article is continued inside the paper (sorry, they don't seem to have an on-line version), under a big, bold heading "Pros' take on health care bill"!!!
PROS??? Since when Christian Science (why is it called science anyway?) "practitioners" are called "Pros"? Pros in faith, maybe, but not in anything that even remotely resembles medicine!
You can see how effective it is here: Wisconsin Parents Get Probation Plus Jail in Daughter's Prayer Death
What really worries me is what Mr. Clark said:
If everyone has to participate, then everyone should be able to choose the kind of care they get.
I would not want to fund any kind of woo science, and pay for it's "procedures" out of my taxes. This includes Christian Science, homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture, just to name a few.
This means that the new health care bill should have very strong, and most importantly science-based, checks and procedures for selecting what is included as a medical procedure, paid by our taxes.
If Christian Scientists get in there, I'm pulling my Green Dragon from my garage and setting up a healing shop too!

Related: Health Care Debate - No Coverage for Woo-Woo

Monday, March 15, 2010

If You Had Any Doubts Left...

If you still have doubts about vaccines, and their autism connection, the latest ruling from the "Vaccine Court" should put those fears to rest:

Last Friday, a special vaccine court ruled on three cases in which parents were suing on behalf of their autistic children. In each case, the parents claimed that thimerosal had caused their child’s autism. In each case, the Special Master (a judge) ruled definitively against the parents. The result was a slam-dunk win for science.
Vaccine Court Ruling: Thimerosal Does Not Cause Autism

Most of the bloggers out there agree that this win will probably do nothing to those hard-core ant-vaxers and their misguided beliefs. But for the sane part of the society this (along with the rest of the overwhelming evidence) should be enough to put the question to rest. FINALLY!!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ms. McCarthy Is At It Again...

Ahhh... our favorite "authority" on scientific medicine, vaccines and autism is at it again!

Who's Afraid Of The Truth About Autism?

I'm a bit surprised it took her that long to come back, but I guess she needed to gather her thoughts after all the studies that found no link between autism and vaccines. Since her here, Dr. (probably not for too long) Wakefield has been completely discredited, she needed to find a new goal post to stick to.

It seems that one of her new sticking point is a "benefit vs. risk" idea:
Perhaps its better to say vaccines have both benefits and risks? Who's afraid of being honest about the good and the bad of vaccines?
This is something I actually agree with: it is about benefits vs. risks, except that the way she puts it is so skewed and just plain dumb, it hurts. Yes, vaccines have risks, but those are so tiny and insignificant, compared to all the risks associated with the diseases they prevent, there is no contests in this duel. We, as parents, have forgotten about all the terrible childhood diseases because they had been practically wiped off the face of the Earth by vaccines, so we think they are not there. However, as experience teaches us (see recent outbreaks of measles in the New York area), they will be back if we stop vaccinating our kids.
Jenny is, as always, spreading misinformation and bad, bad advice. I certainly hope, the time will soon come, for her to stop, since so far her anti-scientific views caused nothing but suffering to those children who became ill, or worse, as a result of her "campaigns".

Friday, February 26, 2010

Woo-Woo On the Run in 2010!!!

Just another quick followup on my recent posts about homeopathy.

First, there is this article: Homoeopathy discredited by UK panel (thanks to David for the link).

Second, there is an excellent article on the Neurologica blog: Homeopaths On The Run, which shows that they really are on the run. You can always recognize woo-woo by the way it reacts to real criticism.

Hopefully, this will add some weight to the discussion in this country as well, and we'll see homeopathy go away. Enough money has been wasted, which would've been better used in real medicine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Good News: Homeopathy Is... Nothing!

Following my last post, there is actually some good news from the center of the homeopathic universe: the U.K. (that's because homeopathy enjoys "royal" support there).
This piece of info comes via Orac's exceptional "Respectful Insolence" blog:

"[...] yesterday, when the Science and Technology Select Committee delivered its verdict on homeopathy. Indeed, the Committee has gone so far as to call for the complete withdrawal of NHS funding and official licensing for homeopathy."

The Long Dark Tea-Time of Homeopathy

As with other woo-woo... let's hope this gets the ball rolling and shines some much needed critical light on the issue. One can hope.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homeopathy... Continued...

You might remember my post from last year about my own, close encounter with woo-woo: homeopathy.
I wrote about someone unfortunate, who, out of desperation had dived into the world of homeopathic nothingness (isn't that exactly what homeopathy is???). I also posted some funny documents received from the homeopathic quack. Those were meant to be instructions on how to take the special concoctions, and they make any reasonable person laugh, except you feel really bad for the one who's being taken here (and for hundreds of dollars, no less!).
The red flags started popping up even before I saw the documents, as I had some insight into the initial interview process, which was meant to determine the exact course of treatment, however, it turned out to be more like a cold reading session, designed to extract various information about the patient and his past. This information was later used to create an impression that the homeopathic practitioner created a 'holistic" approach to the treatment, as it was somehow better and more effective in treating the actual problem.
Well, after almost six months it's time for an update. Did it help? Did the person get better? Did it work any better than any conventional medicine approaches?

Do I hear drum rolls...
Suspense...

It did not work. Period.

Is that a surprise for anyone with a shred of rational thinking left? No!
A little more background information is in order.
The problem in this case is a traumatic brain injury and it seems that conventional medicine does not offer easy answers. In such cases, time appears to be the best healer, and the normal brain functions return slowly, as they are picked up by other regions of the brain, not damaged by the trauma. It's easy to become desperate, it is very easy to cling to any hope, and look for help anywhere. That's when the alternative medicine often steps in, giving false hopes for a hefty price.

Homeopathy is CRAP. There is nothing there! You buy a nicely wrapped placebo, which might work for your headache, or cold (do I hear confirmation bias?), but will not, and can not work for specific, physical problems.
Not only it did not help after hundreds of dollars spent, but the "practitioner", who initially prescribed and sold the "medication", stopped returning phone calls, and is basically unreachable.
It is makes me mad to see quacks and frauds exploiting others for profit, and selling them sugar pills, or (mostly) pure water.

We should all think about it next time we buy a homeopathic remedy. You'd be better off donating that money to some worthy cause.

UPDATE (2/26/2010):
I forgot to include the link to the place in question:
Quantum Health
You know, when something hes "quantum" in it, it must be scientific...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More On Vaccines and Wakefield's Research

All the news from the vaccine field has been very good in the last few weeks, validating all of the research done in the past decades.
First, Andrew Wakefiled, the doctor behind the original 1998 MMR study, was found guilty of acting unethically and irresponsibly by the British General Medical Council, which meant that his study was basically "full of bull****". We need to remember that not only this study was never replicated (and not because people did not try), but 10 out of 13 authors withdrew their support long time ago, which plainly shows that there was something seriously wrong with it, even before the whole thing was investigated.
Next, The Lancet actually retracted the paper from their record, which, as far as I can tell, is a big deal, since they don't do it lightly and in their history had retracted very few research papers.
Since the above "study" (we must put it in quotes from now on) was the only one which supposedly linked vaccines to autism, and now it is officially debunked, there is nothing left on the anti-vaxx side of the equation. There are numerous studies DISPROVING any link between autism and vaccines, mercury, thimerosal, vaccine schedule, etc.
It really is time to abandon this non-existent issue and put the money and energy where it belongs: finding real causes and cures for autism!!!

As a side note, it's nice to see a voice of reason on the most "un-reasoned" Web news source: the Huffington Post:
One more time, just so nobody misses the point here - Andrew Wakefield lied to you. He lied, and because of his lies, children are dead.

Let's be clear - science works. You fly in airplanes because we understand lift. You watch television because we understand electromagnetism. And you live in a small-pox free world because we understand germ theory and vaccination. This understanding is a direct result of the scientific method being applied rigorously and openly. This scientific methodology unequivocally gets the job done - and if you don't believe me, turn your computer off and make your response to this article by casting a spell over a clear pond. Go ahead, I'll wait.
I applaud The Lancet for retracting this flawed article by this flawed, unlicensed, and discredited man. I only hope that we can now, finally, begin to undo the damage that Wakefield and his ilk have inflicted on the world.
Don't let your kids be Andrew Wakefield's next victims.
Waking Up From the Wakefield Nightmare

P.S.
Of course, the real "believers", or to use more correct term DENIERS, will not stop, as one can plainly see in the same Huffington Post, analyzed nicely here: David Kirby, King Of Denial.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No Comments Needed

No comments needed:

Medical journal retracts study linking autism to vaccine

The medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday retracted a controversial 1998 paper that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

The study subsequently had been discredited, and last week, the lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was found to have acted unethically in conducting the research.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Do Your Research and Follow the Evidence

As a parent of a five year old, the question of a link between childhood vaccines and autism has been on my mind constantly for the last few years. When my son was born I spent countless hours researching on the Internet, going over tons of data from CDC, PubMed, and various other sites. All this gave me confidence and ease of mind that there is nothing to worry about, and my son got all his shots as prescribed.
This was 2005. Now, in 2010, we have even more evidence that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. The studies just keep coming, and they are getting better and better data. Hopefully, we are also getting closer and closer to finding real cause for autism.
Unfortunately, all this data and research still did not stop people from making claims that vaccines are unsafe and should not be used.
For all of those, who are just beginning to take this rode, here is a great testimonial from someone who walked very similar road:

Why we changed our minds and started to vaccinate.

In a related story, Neurologica blog is reporting that Andrew Wakefield has been found guilty of acting "dishonestly and irresponsibly" when performing the famous MMR/Autism study in 1998:

Andrew Wakefield “Acted Unethically”

I wonder if there is a way to stop him (and others like him) from practicing medicine of any kind... that would be a perfect world I guess.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Homeopaty - There Is Nothing In It!

As I have recently watched some friends being sucked into homeopathic remedies, I became more and more interested in this alternative modality. It's not hard to guess that (as it is with most of the alt-med stuff) the idea behind it makes no sense, the tests do not support it, and basically all you get is pure placebo effect.

Unfortunately, homeopathy is so popular that is actually can cause harm. For a lot of people, it also appears legitimate, since you are "taking a pill". They just don't realize there is nothing in it... NOTHING!!!

It's best to start off with this great resource: "The Ladybird Book of Homeopathic Treatment & High Street Chemists", and then read Orac's excellent "Studying homeopathy in Third World countries, revisited".

I also blogged in the past about an excellent book on the subject: A Few Books of Note...

Dig around, learn, understand, and don't get fooled into a treatment that does NOTHING, because it has NOTHING in it!!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Baby Einstein and More...

I never liked those "baby geniuses" DVDs, videos. etc, no matter what company they came from, and the recent developments in this area (also here, and here) just reinforced my reservations: they are probably good for entertainment and as a babysitter device, but that's about it.
I do thing they just prey on parent's willingness to "do more" for their children, and the typical competition to make your kids look smarter and better than your neighbor's. In the process we all forget that children have less and less time to be just kids, to play and have fun, and we introduce them to the "rat race" at a very early age.

Steven Novella's Neurologica Blog has more on this: The Baby Einstein Hubbub:
It would seem there is no benefit to these alleged educational videos, and there is a suggestion of harm – although I would conclude that there is no long-term harm. It must also be pointed out that these studies are observational – not experimental. There are therefore many possible confounding factors. Perhaps parents who rely on these videos do so because they don’t have enough time to give to their young children – which itself is the factor that delays language.

He also blogged in the past on the newest fad: Your Baby Can Read – Not!, which I pointed to as well.

Remember, before your trust a TV commercial, do some research and go to the pros.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Give Me $7500...

Oh... if I only had $7500, I know already how I'd put that money to a good use: I'd get myself the newest release of documents from the Scientology Archives!!!

I'm sure it would be enlightening to read some more about Xenu, and how to become a better thetan, and I'm sure the fat cats on top of that cult would appreciate my $$$.

Good reading for a care-free Friday, I'm sure.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Is Herd Immunity Important? You Bet!!!

As we live in the increasingly connected world, our everyday interactions with others also increase (surprise, surprise!!!) and our individual decisions can have a deep impact on others. This has been especially evident since last year's swine flu outbreak, when we all suddenly realized that what each of us does every day may have very real influence on our families, friends and co-workers.
For some reason, this is not so evident to many when it comes to simple vaccines. I keep hearing from many around me that they would never take the seasonal (or H1N1) flu shot, because they are strong and healthy, and it's up to those who are not to protect themselves. The same selfish attitude is also present with some parents, who refuse to vaccinate their children due to some silly and long-ago-proven-false reasons, just because they feel their kids are healthy. Unfortunately, they do not understand a simple concept of "herd immunity", in which keeping the majority vaccinated and healthy, eliminates increased risks to those who can't get vaccinated due to real health problems, or who don't respond to vaccines well.
Maybe the term itself is not the best, as I have seen comments in some on-line discussions, stating that "we will not let them turn us into a herd of animals", but the concept is very real, proven scientifically, and can one day save YOUR life (when you are 64 (!) and you don't respond to the flu vaccine as well as you do today).

Thankfully, the mainstream media is beginning to cover this issue, as it is in the recent USA Today article: Missed vaccines weaken 'herd immunity' in children

Very good explanation with some additional info can be found on the (always reliable) Respectful Insolence Blog: The price exacted by the anti-vaccine movement

We can only hope that parents and general public will soon understand this important issue.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year... Let's Get Back To Work!

Happy 2010 to all!!!

Now, let's get back to work.
We all should remember the excellent Wired article: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, that finally broke the mainstream media silence on the growing anti-science problem, that, as suggested in the title, puts us all in danger.
Now, it's time for the skepitical bloggers to unite and show support, as the anti-vaxxers are using the only tool they have in suppressing the real truth: law suits.

Read more on this topic on Respectful Insolence and Neurologica.

I hope this one backfires and helps in spreading the real information and puts a small dent on the anti-vaxxers efforts.