Thursday, August 14, 2014

For Balance, We Turn To... - Jen Eyer Edition

This seems to be the week for lazy journalists falling for the false balance that is the epitome of sloppy reporting. I had originally planned to write about this particular bit of nonsense yesterday, but the article giving a platform to anti-vaccine bully Becky Estepp took precedence. Also, Dr. Steven Novella and Orac both beat me to the punch. But, there's still plenty of meat in the story to go around.

I'm talking about the latest verbal vomitus from anti-vaccine activist Mary Tocco, titled No one should be forced to vaccinate their children". Ms. Tocco's letter was in response to a science-based op-ed, "Anti-vaccination movement threatens the health, safety and well-being of Michigan children", by Dr. Anthony F. Ogjnan and Dr. Sandro Cinti. The original letter is well worth the read, particularly for those who live in Michigan and are concerned about their legislators being gulled by the dishonest misinformation campaigns of anti-vaccine groups, like Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines (MOMV - apparently Ms. Tocco is as bad at making acronyms as she is at everything else, since she calls it "MOM", i.e., "Michigan Opposing Mandatory"). Ms. Tocco's response is an exercise in name that logical fallacy and an excellent illustration of how "research" (in anti-vaccine world) is a far cry from actual research in the real world. I'm not going to delve into her letter very much, since Dr. Novella and Orac both covered a good deal of what was wrong with it, but I will point my readers to discussions of how Ms. Tocco she tried to twist the Bible to support her ideology.

What I want to focus on is the person responsible for giving Ms. Tocco space to spew her bile, Michigan Live's Director of Community Engagement, Jen Eyer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

For Balance, We Turn To...

Over a dozen current and former students in the Carlsbad High School broadcast journalism program have found themselves in the middle of a long-running bullies' rights and health debate after they produced the film Tangible Harm. We turn to Candy Wenpigzfly for her armchair report.

The film debuted online more than a year after it was completed. Students say that's largely due to the backlash they've faced, even during the production stage.

Chad Stryker, an intern with this station, worked on the film during his junior year. He said the idea came from the San Diego Traffic Circle Club two years ago. Their members were impressed by the students' previous award-winning documentaries and wanted the journalism class to do one on the topic of bullying victims' health and rights.

"We told the Traffic Circle Club we would do the film, but only on our terms. That meant we would approach the subject with serious journalism and investigation," Stryker said. "We wanted to make sure the story we would end up telling would be unbiased and free of the false balance so common among many media outlets. We would go where the evidence led."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice Pick Cherries to Sow Fear

If there's one thing that never seems to change, it's that anti-vaccine types just do not understand science. They love to pick and choose from the literature when they think they find something that supports their "vaccines are the root of all evil in the world" ideology, but more often than not, the source actually does not support their viewpoint. Some think, for example, that recent measles outbreaks have occurred predominantly among the vaccinated, when nothing could be further from the truth. To support their position, they cite studies where the majority of cases were unvaccinated, or where none of the cases were vaccinated (and the index case was a patient of an anti-vaccine doctor), or a report of a 30-year-old outbreak occurring under very different conditions than today. More often than not, they latch onto a phrase or a few sentences from a study that they think supports their position without taking into consideration the rest of the study. Some simply copy and paste from other anti-vaccine sites without even reading anything for themselves. The end result is that they make a fool of themselves.

The latest example of this come courtesy of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice (VCVC), a horribly misnamed offshoot of the even more horribly misnamed National Vaccine Information Center. Though asserting themselves as "pro-safe vaccine", their actions and words reveal them to be fervently opposed to any and all vaccines. I first wrangled with VCVC in the comments on a Vermont news article. Since then, they have accused me of being paid by "Big Pharma", have tried to find out who I am and "out" me (though why I can only speculate) and have contributed to the spread of misinformation about vaccines that has led to the largest outbreak of measles in decades.

Their latest foray into cherry-picking quotes from sources they either do not understand or purposefully misrepresent is similarly about measles. It's a comment on a Portland Press Herald (Maine) titled More Maine families are skipping or delaying childhood vaccines:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Richard Dawkins is Illogical and Insensitive

There's been a bit of a to-do recently in the skeptical community. Usually when something like that occurs, it has to do with women's rights, harassment, sexual abuse, or some combination of those. This time is no different, and it involves an individual who has gotten in trouble on these topics before. He apparently just is incapable of learning. It's like there is some sort of psychological block that comes down, a subconscious censor in his brain sticking its fingers in its ears, going "Lalalala! I can't hear you!", preventing him from really understanding what is explained to him.

Trigger warning: this post is going to discuss rape.

I hadn't planned on writing anything about this, but then I read something by the aforementioned individual that I felt I just had to say something. The person we are talking about is Richard Dawkins. He is a very big name in the skeptical community, and an even bigger name in the atheist community. Certainly, he's done a lot to get people thinking and asking hard questions when it comes to religion, creationism, intelligent design, and the like. But, and here's where skepticism comes in, we need to judge his words for what they are, not because of who said them. And when it comes to rape, he has been found wanting.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Imunization Awarness Month - The Vaccination Chronicles

It's National Immunization Awareness Month! I didn't have time to write up a big, long post, so instead, I thought I would share this video from Richard Saunders. This short documentary, The Vaccination Chronicles, was a personal endeavor by Saunders as an effort to educate the public about the importance of vaccinations. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Case of Justina Pelletier Spawns Dubious Legislation

The intersection of science and politics is a very murky area. While science can and should inform policy and legislation, those who try to legislate science can easily find themselves on shaky ground. To say that politicians ought to exercise great care when introducing legislation that affects the scientific enterprise is, perhaps, a slight understatement. That is especially true when they start trying to dictate what science is and is not allowed. It's even worse when the individual politicians behind the legislation have demonstrated by past behavior that they are, shall we say, science-averse.

That's the case with a recent bill that has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Minnesota's Rep. Michele Bachmann. I won't go so far as to say that Bachmann is crazy or insane, as I'm no psychologist and there's no need to pathologize her particular brand of nonsense, but she certainly has shown that she does not understand science and her conception of the world differs quite profoundly from reality. Whether it's on the subject of evolution, climate change, or vaccines, Bachmann regularly gets the facts wrong. Now she's wading into policy governing research by introducing a bill nicknamed "Justina's Law". In a related vein, Rep. Steve Stockman has introduced what he's calling the "Parental Protection Act". Both bills are vague and stand to do more harm than good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Massachusetts Steps Closer to Expanding Autism Support

Massachusetts State House
Source: Fcb981/Wikipedia
When someone receives a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, it profoundly impact the individual and their family. Depending on the severity, they may need only minor assistance or extensive services. Some may be able to live independently, while others require round the clock support. There may be other concurrent medical or mental health conditions, as well. In far too many states, autistic individuals fall through the cracks. It's only recently that states have started to enact legislation aimed at reforming health care coverage for those with an autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disability.

Massachusetts is the latest state that is close to expanding coverage and support for people with developmental disabilities. The state house of representatives unanimously passed a bill (H.4047 - An Act relative to assisting individuals with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities) that does a number of things that will hopefully improve the quality of life of those individuals and their families. The senate passed a similar version of the bill (S.2245, reprinted as S.2257), also unanimously. The next step is a compromise bill, then it's off to the governor for signature.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Top 5 Ways to Prevent Measles

Measles is pretty damn contagious. In fact, it is one of the most contagious diseases known, infecting about 90% of all susceptible contacts with as little as 0.2 viral units. It can remain active in the environment for up to two hours, in the air and on surfaces. It is remarkably well adapted to spreading from host to host and staying viable long enough to do so. But it's not so well adapted that it can do all that without causing a high rate of complications, whether it's leaving the host open to secondary bacterial infections that may cause pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea, or invading the brain to cause encephalitis, seizures and permanent neurological injuries, or in rare cases, death.

In 2000, the U.S. eliminated endemic measles transmission, but that may be in jeopardy. This year, we have seen more cases of measles in the first six months than in the last four years. Combined. The majority of the outbreaks have been in the Ohio Amish regions, as well as among vaccine-refusing communities in other states. The common factor among all of the outbreaks is that they started when an unvaccinated individual traveled to another country in the midst of a large measles outbreak, got infected and brought the virus back to be spread around. Another commonality is that the majority of people infected in these outbreaks were either unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status.

With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to provide a list of ways (in no particular order) that you and your family can stay safe from this disease.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pre-Vaccine Declines in Measles Mortality

On Monday, I discussed "pox parties" and "measles teas", social gatherings where parents get their unvaccinated, nonimmune children together with another kid who has a disease, the purpose being to intentionally infect their kids and make them sick. It is a practice that, for at least a hundred years, has been decried by the scientific and medical community as a wretched idea, with one author describing them as "orgies of death". Indeed, in my opinion, these parties are nothing more than child abuse.

While vaccine preventable diseases are not the killers they once were, as I mentioned in passing in that post, they are still quite dangerous; diseases like diphtheria and measles should be avoided and prevented whenever possible. Anti-vaccine activists seem quite enamored with pre-vaccine mortality data. They like to point to the declining death rates from diseases and declare that vaccines not only did not save us from those diseases, but that we didn't need vaccines anyway. There are a couple of things wrong with this way of thinking. First off, it erroneously focuses on disease mortality and pretends that deaths and incidence are somehow the same thing. The implication is that the incidence, that is, the number of cases, was declining before the vaccines. Or they just come right out and say that death rate and incidence are the same:
Measles cases in all developed countries became much milder than in developing countries mainly due to improved diet. Is it logical that deaths associated with measles declined greatly without any corresponding decline in incidence?
That is, quite simply, false, not to mention sloppy thinking. Second, it ignores the non-fatal, but still quite serious, complications of diseases, such as severe dehydration, pneumonia, deafness, blindness, encephalopathy and permanent mental impairment, among others. And, yes, these diseases can still kill, even in developed nations with good healthcare like the United States.

I will readily admit, the measles vaccine did not contribute to the decline in deaths seen before the vaccine was licensed. (Duh!) But while anti-vaccine activists assert that the disease just got less dangerous on its own, they're wrong. Here's why.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Orgies of Death - The Dangerous Tradition of Pox Parties and Measles Teas

The other day, Reuben Gaines, over at The Poxes Blog, shared some information about groups on Facebook for people to arrange for the sociopathic practice of intentionally infecting their children with vaccine-preventable diseases. Groups like Rubella Immunity Network, Vaccine-Free Immunity, Chicken Pox Immunity Network and Montreal Chicken Pox Party, among others, rather than trying to protect children from disease, actively promote giving them diseases. The participants in these groups labor under the false notions that diseases like chickenpox, rubella and measles are completely harmless and that vaccinations are worthless, are more dangerous than the diseases, or both. I'm sure they truly believe that they are doing what is best for their little ones, but unfortunately, they are dangerously wrong. While most children will come through the disease unharmed, not all will. And certainly more are harmed, and die, from disease than are injured by vaccines.

Sadly, this isn't a new thing at all. Groups crop up worldwide:
Opponents of immunization often try to infect healthy children in a controlled way by holding so-called "measles parties" with an infected child at the focus, intending to provide their own children with life-long immunity.
Even as far back as 2001 in the United Kingdom, people were holding measles parties. They're in Germany, too. But as an article in SABC News notes:
There is a considerable variation across Europe, with Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands having high immunization and low death rates, while Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland have lower rates of immunization and correspondingly more deaths.
It's a tradition that goes even farther back than just 13 years.