Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Opting Out of Vaccinations

A reader forwarded a news story to me about the recent study finding that more and more parents are opting out of giving their children the recommended vaccinations. I'll try to talk a little more about that in a separate post, when I get some time to do some more writing. In the meantime, here's the video:

The only quibble I really have is that the quote from Jennifer Margulis went unaddressed:
Many of the vaccines are unnecessary and public health officials don't honestly know what the effect of giving so many vaccines to such small children really are...
Most, if not all, of the vaccines are necessary for public health and prevention of disease. And the effects of the vaccine schedule can be seen from the long history of safe use.

Other than that, it's a nice, short summary of some of the concerns about dropping immunization rates.

Paying to Volunteer

This past weekend, while many were getting together with family and friends, sharing in feasts, watching TV and spending too much money on holiday shopping, a story erupted among skeptic circles. Like many such matters, it began with the actions of an apologist for what is, at best, questionable science and at worst rank quackery. An individual, Marc Stephens, put himself forth as representing one Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski. Mr. Stephens, you see, took it upon himself to defend the reputation of the good doctor, going so far as to rattle his saber and issue legal threats to Andy Lewis (aka Le Canard Noir) of Quackometer and teenage skeptic Rhys Morgan. They were to take down their less than complimentary writings about Dr. Burzynski or face a libel suit. We've seen this kind of thing before.

Monday, November 28, 2011

May As Well Try to Stop a Storm...

Clouds gather on the horizon. Thunder, like deep, rolling laughter, rumbles forth. A storm is gathering. Watching the approach from a vast, flat plain, a lone figure stands, clad all in maille and wearing the livery of his liege lord, shouting defiance to the heavens while brandishing a long metal pole. Marcus had always envisioned himself a great warrior, yet his simpleness of mind was apparent as he stood on that plain, watching the storm draw nearer and nearer.

Behind him rose the small, yet ornately decorated manor house of his lord, Stanis, whose wealth was accumulated through false promises to those desperate enough to turn to him for succor. The manor was surrounded by open land sloping gently down to the building. Its moat was filled with the dreams and hopes of the sick who sought relief at its doors.

Lightning flashed, arcing through the air between cloud and servant, drawn to the idiotic pomp enshrouding Marcus. Bolt after bolt zigged and zagged to the metal man, and every one then being drawn to the manor house and the lord watching from its lone turret. The more Marcus shook his fist impotently at the sky, the more frequent and powerful grew the display of light. He would as soon try to silence a speaker of truth as stop the storm about to plunge him, and his Stanis, under a flood.
To put this all in context, check out the posts linked by Liz Ditz, Josephine Jones and Anarchic Teapot. For how the storm started, check out Rhys Morgan and Le Canard Noir. And if you like this little story or think that the tin man needs some more well-directed shocks, please consider sharing this on Twitter.

Varicella Vaccination Among Older Kids Protects Infants

Turning on the news this morning, I was greeted with a story that caught my ear. Published online, ahead of print, a new study in the journal Pediatrics, "Varicella in Infants After Implementation of the US Varicella Vaccination Program", looked at the incidence of varicella (chickenpox) among infants under 12 months of age.

The varicella vaccine was approved in 1995 and is recommended for all children aged 12 months to 12 years. It is a "live" virus vaccine, meaning that the vaccine uses intact, though weakened, virus particles that grant immunity without causing full-blown disease. Vaccines of this sort are generally more effective than "killed" virus vaccines, which only use part of the virus. Because of the approved age range for the vaccine, it does not provide direct protection to infants under 12 months of age, but it can provide protection through herd immunity.

So what did the researchers find?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Faith Healer

Do you dream of working only one day a week? Have you ever thought how nice it would be to draw crowds of thousands to pack a stadium, all to see you? Ever thought how easy it would be to pay for that private jet, California mansion and the latest Porsche if only you were willing to take advantage of the religious faithful?

Well, now you can. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Faith Healer!

Faith Healer

That's right. With Faith Healer, you can pack 'em into the nearest stadium and convince them you can actually speak to God. With the easily hidden radio ear piece, your wife can feed you information on attendees gleaned as they entered, wowing them with your miraculous insights into their lives. Call the believers up on stage and use the lever in back for Miracle Faith Healing action! To drain the pockets of those who couldn't attend your stage act, just sell them your Miracle Money Incense. Your promises to pray for them when they send you back the ashes and $50 will end their money woes. After all, if they have no money, they have nothing to worry about!

Faith Healer stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • Radio ear piece
  • Miracle Money incense
  • Wad o' cash
Wheelchair for "Make 'Em Walk Again" scam sold separately.

The Fine Print
Figure not actually for sale. Figure and text intended as a work of satire. Image copyright Todd W. and Lil Peck. Quacktion Figure™ is a trademark of Todd W. and Harpocrates Speaks.

Complete Quacktion Figure™ series

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Report on MN Measles Outbreak from IDSA

Several weeks ago, from October 20-23, Boston, MA played host to the 49th Annual Meeting of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA). This conference gives physicians, scientists and other health care professionals an opportunity to continue learning about the pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, as well as to connect with colleagues from around the country. The conference presents speaker sessions, poster presentations, exhibits and networking opportunities.

One of the poster presentations at IDSA covered the measles outbreak in Minnesota earlier this year. Presented by several members of the Minnesota Department of Health (lead author, Pamela Gahr, MPH, Cynthia Kenyon, MPH, David Boxrud, MS, Karen White, MPH and Ruth Lynfield, MD) and Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health (Erica Bagstad, MS, MPH), the poster offered a closer look into how and why measles was able to spread, as well as insight into some of the difficulties involved in investigating and controlling the outbreak.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Chiropractor

Have you ever wanted to heal people, but found the complexities of medicine too much to handle? Thought how nice it would be to have a single cause of all diseases? Do you think of how nice it would be to fleece people using a made-up device that doesn't work as claimed, but find yourself bound by your own ethics and a desire to do no harm?

Well, fret no more. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Chiropractor!


That's right. With Chiropractor, you can dream up your own theory of disease based on non-existent spinal displacements and pinched nerves. No matter how unconnected with the musculoskeletal system, you can claim to cure anything with a simple shove of the vertebrae using your Chiropractic Adjusting Tool (C.A.T.). Kid have an earache? No problem! Don't worry that no auditory nerves pass through the spine; just a quick twist of the neck is all it takes. Diagnose all manner of diseases using your patented e-meter. Measure the non-existent "innate intelligence" and interpret the readings to mean anything you want! And with the flexible model of the human spine, you can demonstrate how misalignments of the vertebrae look so scary to remind them that regular treatments are needed. Keep 'em coming "back" for more!

Chiropractor stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • Chiropractic Adjusting Tool (C.A.T.)
  • Flexible model of the spine
  • E-meter
Malpractice insurance to cover adjustment-induced stroke sold separately.

The Fine Print
Figure not actually for sale. Figure and text intended as a work of satire. Image copyright Todd W. and Lil Peck. Quacktion Figure™ is a trademark of Todd W. and Harpocrates Speaks.

Complete Quacktion Figure™ series

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

National Vaccine Misinformation Center Calls Out AAP for Using Free Speech to Promote Reality

Recently, the American Academy of Protecting Kids' Health (AAP), a physician group whose goal is to promote practices and education to keep children healthy, wrote a letter of protest to Melting Airlines' decision to run a misinformative ad about influenza. The ad, paid for by the National Vaccine Misinformation Center (NVMC), discusses what on the surface appears to be good advice for avoiding the flu. The AAP disagrees with the ad because rather than directing people to a web site with accurate and truly informative information, it drives people to the NVMC web site, which is a cesspool of rank claptrap.

Barbie Moe Flusher, founder and president of the NVMC, has taken umbrage at the characterization of her organization as one that:
opposes the nation's recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Sequelae of Pox

A couple weekends ago, something of a firestorm erupted among skeptical bloggers. Namely, the news about parents sending pox-laden lollipops through the mail. It was covered by Mike the Mad Biologist, Emily Willingham, Reuben, Tara Smith, Orac and Phil Plait. Largely, the various bloggers, myself included, condemned the parents in the original story because they were knowingly sending infectious material in the mail.

Some folks in the comments of the various articles made the observation that every day, people lick envelopes, handle packages in perhaps less than sterile conditions and so, perhaps unwittingly, leave unintended presents for the recipients, not to mention the delivery personnel. How is that any different from what these parents have done?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Chelation Therapist

Do you have a child with autism? Know someone with cancer? Do you wish there were some magic bullet to use instead of costly behavioral therapy or intense regimens of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy? Would you like to use experimental treatments outside a clinical trial setting? Are pesky regulations keeping you from doing any of this?

Well, now you can change all that. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Chelation Therapist!

Chelation Therapist

That's right. With Chelation Therapist, you can develop your own evidence-free therapies that are one-size fits all! Want to boost the immune system? Just inject a little urine. Autism? Use your very own experimental chelation cream! Breast cancer? Chelate! Prostate cancer? Chelate? Lung cancer? Chelate! Chelate! Chelate! And should the local medical board look askance at your maverick ways, just use your political influence to change the laws and hamstring those "rabid dogs"! Easy as buttering up some bread.

Chelation Therapist stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • Urine-filled syringe
  • Experimental chelation cream
Pocket legislator sold separately.

The Fine Print
Figure not actually for sale. Figure and text intended as a work of satire. Image copyright Todd W. and Lil Peck. Quacktion Figure™ is a trademark of Todd W. and Harpocrates Speaks.

Complete Quacktion Figure™ series

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pox by Post

Something came to light today that made me despair for the human race. I first read it at Mike the Mad Biologist's blog. It was also covered by Emily over at The Biology Files, where Emily took a look at just who the people were that were involved. Reuben wrote about it at The Poxes Blog and Tara discussed it at Aetiology.

What could have gotten the medical and skeptical blogosphere in such an uproar? This story.

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Ayurvedic Guru

Are you a medical doctor, tired of the drudgeries of trying to actually heal people? Have you ever thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could just make people think they were feeling better without doing all that messy real medicine"? Does the idea of raking in the dough and building a mass media presence by spewing mindless pablum and misusing terms like "quantum" appeal to you?

Well, now you can do all that and more. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Ayurvedic Guru!

Ayurvedic Guru

That's right. With Ayurvedic Guru, you can tell people to take herbs instead of real medicine. Your messages of love and peace will make people feel better, even while their conditions worsen. Worried about pesky questions from skeptics? Just wow them with your keen grasp of quantum mechanics. Present your very own Schroedinger's cat to prove the truth of your quantum woo. Sure, you might not convince people that know better, but your adoring fans will lap it all up!

Ayurvedic Guru stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • Sprig of Herbs
  • Simultaneously alive and dead cat
Miniature library of fanciful books, CDs and videos sold separately.

The Fine Print
Figure not actually for sale. Figure and text intended as a work of satire. Image copyright Todd W. and Lil Peck. Quacktion Figure™ is a trademark of Todd W. and Harpocrates Speaks.

Complete Quacktion Figure™ series

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Little Bit of Poison in a Sweet, Inviting Wrapper

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, why aren't you?), you have likely already heard about a PSA put out by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) and, two slick anti-vaccine organizations. The PSA is being run on Delta Airlines flight. You can read more about it at Skepchick and Respectful Insolence. The Skepchick article includes steps you can take to combat the propaganda, including a link to a petition to get Delta to stop showing it on their flights.

The video is available on YouTube (Update: It looks like NVIC removed the video at that link, but it is still up here and here [Update: looks like it has been removed from Facebook, now, too]), but cannot be embedded. Comments have also been turned off, perhaps to avoid inconvenient critiques from science-minded individuals. On the surface, it appears to be pretty good advice, so why all the fuss?

Because the PSA includes some iffy information and, more importantly, directs people to the NVIC web site, which is rife with misinformation and distortions of fact.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Open Letter to the United States Congress

Dear Members of Congress,

I recently learned that you passed, overwhelmingly, a resolution (PDF) reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the official motto of the United States. I am left to wonder, why?

Have you, unbeknown to the rest of the country, implemented legislation to help create jobs? Have you worked to improve health care? Cut down our debt? Eliminate waste?

How much time did you take away from important matters to not only vote on this, but to draft, read, refer to committee, approve and all the steps required to bring this to the full House?