Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wisconsin Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt Befriends the Flu

One of the greatest refuges of those opposed to sound science and science-based policy is the legislature. After all, if you have no scientific basis to your position, change the laws to support your arguments instead. That's what opponents of vaccines generally like to do. They launch PR campaigns and wine and dine Congresscritters to try to get their way, rather than conducting actual quality scientific research and publishing the results. They really don't like it when public laws that aim to protect the public health are based on science and work quite hard to get those laws quashed.

The latest effort to undermine public health comes from Wisconsin Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt. Rep. Thiesfeldt is in the process of drafting and proposing a law that would ban public health employers from requiring their employees to receive the seasonal flu vaccine as a condition of employment. The fledgling bill comes after Rep. Thiesfeldt apparently received complaints from health care workers complained that they were forced to be immunized against the flu or lose their jobs. The accompanying memo is couched in "health freedom" style language and pits individual rights against employers' (and the public's) rights.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mark Geier: Not a Leg to Stand On

Poor, poor Mark Geier. For those who don't know, Dr. Mark Geier is half of the father-son team that developed the "Lupron Protocol" for treating autism. Put simply, Geier and his son came up with the scientifically unsupported idea that testosterone and mercury bind together in humans, allegedly causing autism. His treatment for this involves dosing children with leuprolide, followed by chelation. Leuprolide (also known by the brand name Lupron) is legitimately used for treatment of precocious puberty and as part of IVF treatment. It is also used off-label to chemically castrate sex offenders.

Dr. Geier, through his Institute of Chronic Illness and Genetic Centers of America, misdiagnosed autistic children with precocious puberty so he could claim that he was using Lupron on label, rather than for an unapproved, experimental indication (i.e., autism). This also allowed him to bill insurance companies for the lupron. His actions got him into hot water with various state medical boards, starting with his medical license in Maryland being suspended on April 27, 2011. Since then, one by one, 11 of his 12 medical licenses were suspended, an application for a thirteenth license in Ohio was denied, and some of those suspensions became complete revocations. The last actions I wrote about were the revocation of his license in Missouri and suspension of his Illinois license. At the time, the only state left in which Dr. Geier could practice was Hawaii.

As of April 11, 2013, that is no longer the case.

Friday, May 10, 2013

4th Grade Creationist Science Quiz

A recent post by Phil Plait reminded my of something I came across a while back. I had intended to blog about it earlier, but I needed to make sure I could verify it before I posted it. When I first saw it, I couldn't believe that it was true. So, I did a bit of digging. No mere search on the interwebz turned up the evidence I needed. I had to trek incredible distances and delve into long-forgotten caf├ęs and cobweb bedecked back rooms. Shady characters named "Barry" become well-known to me in my quest. In the end, I discovered that what you are about to see is totally, completely as real as Miracle Max.

Brace yourselves.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sylvia Browne is a Ghoul

On November 17, 2004, an episode of the Montel Williams Show aired, featuring self-proclaimed "psychic" Sylvia Browne and Louwana Miller, who came on the show desperate for information on her daughter, who had been missing since April 21, 2003, a day before her 17th birthday. With no good leads from police or FBI and having spent considerable effort putting up fliers and talking to people, Miller finally contacted the Montel Show after seeing Browne on an episode.

According to transcripts of the episode (e.g., at StopSylvia.com, posted in 2007), Sylvia Browne told the worried mother the worst possible news: "She's not alive, honey." She described the supposed abductor as "Cuban-looking, short kind of stocky build, heavyset" and put his age at around 21 or 22. Browne also asserted that it was only one person, despite witnesses saying they saw Berry get into a car with three men. In an interview with WKYC's Bill Safos, Browne is quoted as saying:
“I think he really had a crush on her,” she said. “And I think she rebuffed him. I think she thought he was harmless enough to maybe drive her home.”
A year and a half later, in early 2006, Louwana Miller died of heart failure. She died with the belief that her daughter was dead.

Monday, May 6, 2013

MIND Institute: No Difference in Immunization Rates

There are a lot of studies on vaccines and autism. The majority (read: the ones that are well-designed to minimize the influence of biases and confounders) show that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. Or, rather, I suppose I should use a more scientific turn of phrase: they have failed to find any causal connection between the two. There are some rather bad studies (small sample sizes, methodological flaws, etc.) that anti-vaccine activists like to crow about, like a horribly flawed macaque study that should never have been approved by an IACUC (IACUCs are institutional ethics boards that review studies using animals) in which there were not enough controls, missing conflict of interest statements, missing authors, and so on. In short, it put a bunch of macaques through needless procedures and death for no reason.

Of course, the anti-vaccine folk invariably pooh-pooh the rigorous studies, saying that they are horribly tainted and unreliable, the authors in thrall to Big PharmaTM. As they rationalize away any study that doesn't agree with their near-religious adherence to their preconceived notion that vaccines are the most evilest of all evilosity, they call for "independent" research looking at vaccines and autism. However, finding what they consider to be independent researchers is a bit dicey. Funded by NIH or equivalent governmental agencies? Nope. After all, government is in league with Big PharmaTM, dontcha know. Universities? Doubtful, since a lot of universities receive grants from corporate foundations. It doesn't matter that the researchers don't actually see any of that money, of course. The merest hint of a whiff of a connection is enough for them to dismiss anything that doesn't agree with their ideology. Is there any organization that they'll trust that actually has qualified researchers who don't stand to gain from finding a vaccine-autism connection?

Well, they might be okay with the University of California-Davis MIND Institute.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The NECSS of Thought and Reality - Year 3 (Part 2)

This past Monday, I shared my recap and some thoughts on day 1 (April 6) of the 2013 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, or NECSS, held each year in New York City. NECSS is a joint effort by the New York City Skeptics and the New England Skeptical Society. The conference is an opportunity for those interested in, well, science and skepticism to gather together for two days of talks, panels and performances that challenge you to examine what you think you know. This was the fifth year of the conference and my third year attending.

The first day opened with a look at how our minds can influence how we behave and how we perceive the world around us. From there, the program drifted into the realm of philosophy. How do skeptics determine what is right and wrong, what is ethical and moral? This included a discussion between Massimo Pigliucci and Michael Shermer, before breaking for lunch. The afternoon kicked off with a live show of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, then a panel discussion on storytelling. Simon Singh closed out the main program with an overview of the Big Bang. But the day wasn't over with that. A fundraising reception allowed attendees to mingle with the speakers, and then it was off to Drinking Skeptically or a private show of the SGU.

It was a full first day, and day two was no less engaging.