Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vaccine Awareness Week: If Vaccines Work...

I haven't had much time lately to generate new posts, but one thing I've noticed lately is that there is a certain anti-vaccine talking point popping up. So I felt it might be a good time to put up an old post again addressing this point.

So, without further ado, here is a post from November 3, 2010 talking about why pro-vaccine people are concerned about those who refuse vaccines.

"If vaccines work, then it shouldn't matter if I don't vaccinate my kid."

That argument, or some variation thereon, is fairly common among anti-vaccine folks and the parents who fall for their propaganda. The thinking is something like this: vaccine proponents claim that vaccines work; if they work, they must be 100% effective; if they are 100% effective, then my kid getting sick won't affect anyone that's been immunized; therefore, why should it matter to anyone else what I choose for my child?

There's a couple problems with this line of reasoning.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Not to Make a Fool of Yourself on the Internet: A PSA

It seems that there are people out there who may, perhaps, lack a certain understanding of just how the internet works. They may write some ill-advised comment which draws well-deserved criticism. They might follow this up with additional statements which serve only to attract more criticism, with a big ol' side of humiliation. Maybe they do not realize that in the internet, nothing is truly erased.

And so it is that I find myself here, offering up some advice to the poor, self-centered, crass, ignorant folk on the internet. Even though doing so may rob myself and other bloggers the entertainment of invoking the Streisand Effect, I feel that there are those who may benefit from some instructive illustrations.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Path of Autism Causation Research

A post over at Respectful Insolence inspired me. It gave me an idea for a post that can only be expressed in pictures. So, here you go:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Like Water for Lockjaw

The last Quacktion Figure™ gives me a good excuse to talk about a news item that popped up in my inbox the other day. Well, not so much a news item as someone's notion of a "brilliant" treatment for tetanus. You see, I have some alerts set up looking for vaccine preventable diseases. I take a quick glance at most of the stories and either do a quick tweet or simply archive it for background material for possible future posts. Every now and then, however, there will be something that catches my eye. Some combination of words in the headline or brief blurb snags my attention.

That's what happened with one such alert notification on tetanus. While perusing my inbox, what to my wandering eyes should appear but a story titled "Homeopathic Ledum for Tetanus".

Uh oh.

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Homeopath

Do you feel constrained by physics, chemistry and biology? Does the idea of selling Tic Tacs at a 5,000% markup appeal to you? Want to be part of a billion-dollar-a-year industry that rivals Big PharmaTM? Would you like to bang cups of water on a Bible to magically turn them into healing tonics?

Well, now you can. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Homeopath!


That's right. With Homeopath, you can kiss Avogadro's Limit goodbye! Got the flu? Not a problem for Homeopath. Just eviscerate a duck, drop a bit of its liver in some water, then dilute until only H2O remains. Use the lever on back for magic succussing action to "potentize" your nostrum, then drip it on a sugar pill. Fend off critics with claims that water has memory, but somehow forgets all the poop it's touched. Sure your remedies don't do jack, but who can resist such a "sweet" personality?

Homeopath stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • Eviscerated duck
  • Flask
  • Dropper
  • Scalpel
Table not included. Legal thuggery expansion pack 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 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?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Just Answer the Question

There are times that I am truly amazed at just how seemingly clueless a person can be. Often, in dealing with alternative medicine or other pseudoscientific belief systems, individuals go to great lengths to avoid answering questions that are asked. The honest believers give it a good go, doing their best to support their beliefs with what they think are legitimate sources. Sometimes, reason breaks through and plants a little seed of critical thinking, and the believer realizes that they've fallen for a lie. On the other hand, the dishonest (and by that I mean the ones who outright lie or misrepresent things) go to great lengths to dodge direct questions. They build straw men, answering questions that were never asked. They deny and obfuscate facts. They work so incredibly hard to convince everyone that the naked emperor over there is actually clothed. Generally, they have some financial stake in it, and when push comes to shove, they quietly slink away, only to trot out their erroneous claims another day.

And then you have those who appear to to be...well. There are those who seem to have a pathological avoidance of anything that would threaten their belief and who are also dishonest with both themselves and those whom they address.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quacktion Figure™ Friday: Anti-Vaccine Researcher

Ever wanted to enjoy the adoration of tens of others? Had an idea for a new product to patent, but had pesky competitors that needed discrediting? Have you ever dreamed of creating a controversy where there was none? Have you thought that violating research ethics would be a quick way to accomplish all this, but never had the narcissistic chutzpah to pull it off?

Well, now you can. Harpocrates Speaks brings you Anti-Vaccine Researcher!

Anti-Vaccine Researcher

Now you, too, can fake data for a paper and have it retracted. With Anti-Vaccine Researcher, you can pay children £5 each to bleed 'em dry! Cry, "Conspiracy!" to your adoring fans and hold your own medical practice board hearing where you can choose not to present any evidence in your own defense!

Anti-Vaccine Researcher stands 5¾" tall and comes with:
  • £5 Note
  • Vial of Blood
  • Retracted Paper
Self-aggrandizing book of fiction 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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Announcing "Quacktion Figures™"!

If you read this blog, chances are, you're more of a reality-based individual. You prefer good, hard evidence over stories from your friend's brother's girlfriend's cousin's former roommate's grandfather's ex-military buddy. When it comes to medicine, you like the kind that actually works, that really improves your health rather than just making you think you're better while your liver is gasping for life. You probably look at scam artists and think, "If only I lacked ethics, I could rake it in just like that guy."

Well, fear no more. Announcing Quacktion Figures™! Now you can pretend with the best of them. Objective improvements, smobjective improvements. What matters is how the patient feels, not whether their cancer actually goes away!

Over the next several weeks, I will be putting up a new quacktion figure every Friday. Be forewarned; these are meant as satire. For the humor-impaired, please take a look at New Times v. Isaacks.

Also, I have to give a well-deserved shout-out to the artist who helped me give form to my idea. Lil Peck put in quite a bit of time to give form to each of the figures. Show her some love.

Finally, these only exist in digital form and are unavailable for actual sale, so, sorry, no stocking stuffers for you (though I think it would be amazing if someone actually built some of these).

Stay tuned!

Quacktion Figure™ is a trademark of Todd W. and Harpocrates Speaks.

Complete Quacktion Figure™ series

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Censored on Best of Age of Autism: Paul Offit and the Original Sin

A while back, JB Handley made a deal. He bet that if the author Sullivan over at Left Brain/Right Brain was not Bonnie Offit, wife of Dr. Paul Offit, he would never write about Dr. Offit again.

Well, it seems he is, at the very least, passively violating that agreement, as evidenced by a new post up at Age of Autism titled "Best of Age of Autism: Paul Offit and the Original Sin". If Handley has any integrity, as one of the editors/contributors at Age of Autism, he will take the post down. I've left a comment over there to that effect, which I copy here:

Click to enlarge.

Readers, head on over there and let yourselves be heard. Be sure to save a copy of any comments you leave, which you can post here. If you do comment there, however, be sure to follow their commenting policy, so that they have no real excuse to moderate your comment out of existence.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wanted: Virus and Bacteria Mug Shots

Just putting a brief call out to anyone that has the means of taking photos of viruses and bacteria. I would like some pics of the organisms that cause vaccine-preventable diseases. Namely, the following:
  • Bordetella pertussis
  • Clostridium tetani
  • Corynebacterium diphtheriae
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b
  • Hepatitis A Virus
  • Hepatitis B Virus
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Influenza Virus
  • Measles Virus
  • Mumps Virus
  • Neisseria meningitidis
  • Poliovirus
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Varicella (Herpes Zoster Virus)
The picture should show the individual virus or bacteria and must be your own; no third-party pics, please. Photos are preferred, though digital artwork depicting the particles/organisms works, too. The images should be something similar to what one can find on the Public Health Image Library (which I could use, but would prefer to get pictures over which I can have full use rights). If you have images for which you are willing to give me the rights to use for a project, please contact me at todd [at] harpocratesspeaks [dot] com. Deadline is October 31, 2011. Credit will be given, though no remuneration will be provided.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Who Stopped the Rain?

The other day, I was reminded of something that happened to me many years ago, when I was a little younger and much more naive. At the time, I was living in Japan and had to walk pretty much everywhere I wanted to go. That put me outside for rather extended periods of time pretty frequently, which also meant that I was in the rain for longer stretches than I otherwise would have been back in the United States, where I drove anywhere I needed to go. It also happened that I was, at the time, rather enamored of the New Age-y pseudo-Celtic mythology, which revered nature, espoused spirit guides and purported to teach the follower the means to manipulate energy to influence the world around us. I had come to these beliefs in part out of a sense of disenchantment with my Christian upbringing and organized religion in general, as well as a youthful conceit that I could somehow control the uncontrollable.

These things came together one spring day, as I was heading, if I recall correctly, to university.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Brave Maverick Day!

In the United States, today, the second Monday in October, is Columbus Day, a holiday recognizing the landing of Christopher Columbus on the shores of the New World. On October 12, 1492, Columbus arrived landed on the island now known as San Salvador, in the Bahamas. Many celebrate the day as the discovery of America. A popular, though erroneous, belief is that Columbus flaunted common thought that Earth was flat, venturing out across the western waves to prove that the planet was, in fact round, and he is often held up as a model of how one man with conviction can prove not just popular opinion, but science itself, wrong.

Portrait of a "brave maverick".

In fact, cranks of all stripes tend to bring up Columbus to support their fringe ideas, secure in the belief that they will be vindicated. Perhaps if they knew a little more about Columbus, they might not be quite so eager to compare themselves to him.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Disturbing Findings on Measles Immunization in India

Over the weekend, I saw a news story from India Express on the measles vaccine in that country. Titled "Measles vaccine protects only 1 out of 5 children in Delhi: Study," the article discusses a recent study that found poor efficacy for measles vaccine among Indian children after a single dose. Since the news article did not provide a link to the study, I had to poke around a bit to find it. Appearing in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, Immune response to second dose of MMR vaccine in Indian children (PDF), by Sunil Gomber, Shilpa Khanna Arora, Shukla Das and V.G. Ramachandran, examines the seroprotection of MMR against measles, mumps and rubella, as well as the immune response to a second dose of MMR. Unlike in the United States, the MMR is not part of the national recommended immunization schedule. The Indian state of Delhi, however, does include a single dose of MMR given at 15-18 months of age.

Before diving into the study, we need to get an idea of the state of things in India.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Impact of a Flu Vaccine and Health Care Workers

The latest issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report contains a notice to readers, advising them of revisions that were made to the estimated impact of the 2009 H1N1 Influenza vaccine. Before I get into the specifics of the notice, I just want to point out how cool it is that organizations like the CDC that are based in science will readily correct themselves, even before anyone outside the organization points out an error. This is something that I don't think I've ever seen from an anti-vaccine organization, even when glaring errors are highlighted for them.

So, what does the CDC say?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last Chance to Stop the Unjust Execution of Troy Davis

A brief appeal from my pal, René Najera:

Throughout my life, I have gone back and forth on the issue of the death penalty. Back in Texas, death sentences were carried out often while I was living there. Every couple of weeks, it seemed, the local media covered an execution, showing pictures and video of protests outside the prison. Some people would protest that the death penalty was archaic and unnecessary in a modern era and a modern country. Others would protest that the most horrible crimes needed the absolute punishment. For some time, I agreed with the latter. I agreed that some crimes were so heinous and unforgivable so as to deserve the death penalty. I saw the death penalty as a clean and almost surgical procedure and an unfair way for someone to exit this world when compared to how then killed someone else.

As I grew and matured, I came to see the death penalty as something else altogether. It doesn't stand for justice anymore, in my mind. As far as I am concerned, it is plain vengeance. The families of the victims demand it not because they want justice. They just want someone, anyone, to pay for the crime which took their loved ones away. I see it in the faces of the mothers, fathers, and siblings who are interviewed after a big case is closed and the verdict calls for death. And I see it when those same families show up to witness the execution.

I just don't believe in vengeance. I believe in justice.

Look at the case of Troy Davis, a man convicted of murdering a police officer 20 years ago. Seven of the witnesses who testified against him recanted their stories. Some of those witnesses stated that they were coerced by police to say what they said in court. There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder, not even a murder weapon, let alone intent. Further, one of the jurors has come forward stating that evidence in the case did not present the whole picture of what happened. And another person has been suspected of being the murderer for quite some time now. (I checked the Wikipedia entry against sources, and they all check out. You can read it here.)

At the very least, Troy Davis deserves a new trial.

Why not a full exoneration? Well, because a grand jury did indict him, and another jury did find him guilty. There was evidence against him, and not all the witnesses changed their stories. As Amnesty International has stated, there is just too much doubt about the validity of the evidence that led to the conviction.

There is also a bigger picture look at this case as well. In the bigger scheme of things, if Davis is executed and later found to be innocent because someone confesses to the crime or some other evidence is found that exonerates him, that will cast an enormous cloud of doubt over the entire justice system. It would be a cloud bigger than the one that hangs over it today as a disproportionate number of people from minority backgrounds get convicted at a higher rate and with harsher sentences. As a society, we need to trust our justice system. We need to know that the police will not make up charges against us so that we can report the real crimes to them and live in peace and prosperity. We need to trust our judges to take into account all the evidence so that we can hold responsible all the people who would do harm to us and our country. And we need to know that juries will not be manipulated by District Attorneys who want to score political points.

We need to know that not one innocent person spends one day in jail or, worse, is executed. Otherwise, we're pretty much screwed (to put it mildly). We're no better than a Banana Republic or a Failed State...

When asked about the attention the Davis case is attracting, the mother of the victim answered: "I just think they should stay away. They don't know the case, they're just running their mouths," says Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's mother. "It's none of their business. They don't know all the circumstances."

No, we don't, Mrs. MacPhail... As a country, a society, as human beings, we desperately need to.





Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Disappointing Coverage of Pertussis Vaccine Findings

Pertussis has been in the news a fair bit recently. Actually, it's the vaccine against pertussis that has garnered a lot of attention after a recent presentation and study from the 51st Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The presentation, Marked Acellular Pertussis Vaccine Failure in 8-14 Year-olds in a North American Outbreak, suggests that immunity from the pertussis vaccine can wane in as little as 3 years, covered a study by Kaiser Permanente Medical Center under the supervision of Dr. David Witt.

The story has been picked up by a lot of media outlets, such as the Associated Press and subsequently regurgitated in places like ABC News, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle. While the story raises some valid questions, there are some problems with how it is being presented.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Seeing the Value of Graffiti

Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation.
--Dr. Ian Sussman, in Contagion

I went to see the new movie Contagion the other day. Over all, it was a decent flick. It was much more refreshing than other disease-based disaster movies, like Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain, in that the crew worked hard to get the science right. Also nice was that when characters died from the virus, there was no drawn-out "I'm dying; oh, the pain" dialogues with other characters. Like a real virus, death was heralded by serious awareness-hampering things like seizures. There were some quibbles I had with the film, but I'm not going to go into a lengthy review. Others have already done that far better than I could. Besides, I don't want to give any spoilers for those who have yet to see it.

Instead, I want to focus on that quote up at the top of this post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Big Fruit Is Trying to Poison You...or Not

People in positions of authority or renown ought to be careful with what they say and do. They are held to a higher standard because their actions can often have a rather influential effect on the public at large. A simple comment may be enough to sway how we think, what choices we make and may even have a huge impact on the economy. Suggesting that there may be something wrong with one product may steer people away from that product, at least for a time. It may even scare consumers away from the entire class to which the product belongs. It is very important, therefore, to do one's due diligence before saying something from a platform that reaches audiences in the hundreds of thousands. It's easy to make an error when speaking extemporaneously; we're all human, after all. But when a person's words and presentation are planned well in advance, when there is forethought, and when the topic has the potential to sway a lot of people, that person must tread carefully, dot all their "i"s and cross all their "t"s. It is disturbing when people in such public positions fail in this.

People like Dr. Oz.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Tribute to Ray Minnick (1950-2011) by René Najera

Some things cannot be kept silent. When we have a moving experience, sometimes we just need to tell people about it. It may be something exhilarating that takes us to the heights of joy; it may be something devastating moving us to profound grief.

My friend, René Najera, has had both of those recently. He has been approved to take the oath of citizenship in just a short time, and he has learned of the passing of a close friend and teacher. Since he was forced to take down his blog, I offered up Harpocrates Speaks to let his voice be heard. Here is his touching personal tribute to Ray Minnick, who passed away September 13, 2011:

You Can Manipulate a Back, but You Can't Manipulate Reality

On Twitter, I like to try to keep my followers informed of outbreaks of diseases like measles and pertussis. Some may need to get up to date on boosters for themselves or their children. Some may not be able to receive a vaccine due to a medical condition and so need to take precautions if they are in an area affected by an outbreak. To help me in this, I have some alerts set up to forward news articles to me. For the most part, they are sane, reality-based articles discussing the diseases or the vaccines without spin. Occasionally, something like this article comes along.

Titled "Effectiveness of vaccines needs to be re-examined," it is an opinion piece, so I shouldn't really expect it to be as rigorous as an actual news story should be. However, I would, at the very least, like to see some measure of scholarship, especially considering the author, Ammitai Worob, has at least a college level education (degree in psychology from Hunter College, according to his bio). Why do I say this? Because he trots out a good number of anti-vaccine talking points that have been trounced numerous times over the years.

He begins by asking what seems a reasonable question:
The first question, and one that has become taboo to even ask, is whether childhood vaccines are actually effective.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Experimental Logic

Every day, thousands of people in the United States take part in clinical trials. These studies look at all manner of things, from the effects of subtle variations in how a broken bone is plastered to psychological studies to studies evaluating new drugs or medical devices. Some studies simply look at healthy volunteers, trying to figure out the normal workings of the human body. Others want volunteers with specific conditions, hoping to understand the progression of a disease or working toward better treatments and outcomes for patients. Still others seek some blend of both healthy and patient subjects. They are conducted by curious, compassionate physicians with grants from the National Institutes of Health, by patient advocacy groups funded by donations and by both small and large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. There is a drive to learn more, to improve the health and well-being of people around the world. Sometimes the hoped for outcomes have very significant meaning, such as working toward a cure for a rare or severe disease. Sometimes they merely contribute to our own vanity, as with a new variation on Viagra or some manner of anti-aging drug. Suffice to say, there is a lot of research going on out there. And just one small area, one that I find very interesting, is research into vaccines: expanding our knowledge of how they work, how to make current vaccines even safer or more effective than they already are and developing new vaccines.

It was with great interest that I discovered I had a new follower on Twitter going by the moniker @EVaccines, or ExperimentalVaccines. This person bills their web site and Twitter account as providing "information on Current and Ongoing Clinical Trails (sic) on Vaccine Research and there (sic) side effects."

Cool! I thought. Here is someone who is providing information on current and ongoing trials on vaccines. This could be some very good, very useful, information! Would this be sort of an easier to navigate version of tailored to vaccines? Perhaps there would be links to the various labs conducting vaccine research for those who are interested either in the study outcomes or specific projects under way, or for those who may actually be interested in volunteering to advance vaccine knowledge.

So, I clicked on the link for their web site.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Measles in Refugee Center

The Montgomery County Health Department issued a press release September 2, 2011 alerting the public to two confirmed cases of measles. The index cases were two unvaccinated children who arrived in the U.S. on August 24. On Monday, August 29, they visited the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center, the Washington, D.C., branch office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), located at 8700 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. The IRC is an organization that helps refugees who have been invited by the U.S. to seek asylum here, helping them to get settled and rebuild their lives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Third Case Identified in Latest Measles Outbreak in Minnesota

A brief post to provide an update on the latest measles outbreak in Minnesota. On August 26, 2011, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that a third case has been identified. The latest is a 43-year-old woman who was exposed to the index case in a health care setting. She had unknown vaccination status and was identified through follow-up of people who had been exposed to the two initial cases.

As of this writing, the 12-month-old child, who had contracted the illness while in Kenya, is still in critical condition, but the second case, the 15-month-old, has been released from the hospital. Neither of the children had been vaccinated against measles.
Related Posts:
New Measles Cases in Minnesota
Minnesota Measles Outbreak - A Recap
Acute Thrombocytopenic Purpura, the MMR and Natural Infection
"Soft" Hospitalizations in Minnesota Measles Outbreak?
Minnesota Measles Outbreak by the Numbers: A Timeline
Measles Outbreak in New South Wales, Australia
Climbing Numbers in Minnesota Measles Outbreak
More Cases of Measles in Minnesota, 3 of 4 Hospitalized
Minnesota Infant Contracts Measles - Why Immunization Is Important
Measles Outbreak in Boston

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Brief Note on Legal Thuggery and the Silencing of Others

A friend of mine, we'll call him Mr. T, was recently the target of the negative attentions of a bully, we'll call him Mr. BS. You see, Mr. BS said some defamatory things about some people on twitter. Mr. T didn't take kindly to it (after all, he pities the fool that bullies others) and called Mr. BS on it, going so far as to write up a blog post, stating facts about the exchange, as well as some additional information about Mr. BS. This ruffled Mr. BS's feathers, but rather than doing what a normal person would do and contacting Mr. T privately to work out the disagreement, Mr. BS published Mr. T's work address, phone and e-mail address on Twitter and in the comments of a news article, as well as blast e-mailing just about everyone at Mr. T's place of employment, threatening law suits if Mr. T didn't back down.

Imagine for a moment a purveyor of health and science information. The don that controls things on his street comes by and tells him to pay up or he's gonna break some kneecaps. In the situation with Mr. T, the "payment" is to cease all use of social media on topics of public health and instead of breaking kneecaps, he stands to lose his job. Why such a strong reaction? Because Mr. T's overseers viewed Mr. BS's sabre rattling as enough of a nuisance that they just wanted to avoid any legal issues altogether, thinking Mr. BS more of a tiger, when in reality he's closer to a gnat.

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Measles Cases in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health reported on August 19, 2011 that there are two new cases of measles in that state. The index case is a 12-month-old infant who was infected while on a trip to Kenya. The second case is a 15-month-old child who acquired the measles virus after exposure to the first infant. Neither child, both residents of Dakota County, had been vaccinated against the disease. Both children have been hospitalized. The Shakopee Valley News and the Columbus, IN paper The Republic, as well as news station KARE11, report that the 12-month-old child is in critical condition. These cases are not connected with the measles outbreak in Hennepin County earlier this year, which resulted in 21 cases, almost all unvaccinated, with 14 hospitalizations.

Although both children were unvaccinated, it should be noted that they are right around the age when the first dose of MMR is recommended, according to the CDC schedule (PDF). Sources do not report any reason for the infants being unimmunized; it may be that the parents simply had not scheduled the appointment yet. It is also possible that the parents had avoided the MMR due to misinformation promulgated over the past several years in Minnesota by anti-vaccine activists which has negatively impacted herd immunity.

I will try to keep an eye on this situation, in case any further cases arise.

UPDATE: The 12-month old who has been hospitalized since August 10 appears to finally be recovering. Measles left Mahi Abdallah susceptible to a secondary pneumonia infection that very nearly killed him. He has been cared for in the pediatric ICU at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. His mother, Nuria Koto, had planned to have him vaccinated against measles, but he was only 9 months old when the family left to visit Kenya. She thought he was too young to receive the MMR (typically recommended to first be given at 12 months) and was unaware of travel recommendations that allow for administration of the vaccine as young as 6 months old. I urge those considering whether or not to delay vaccinating against MMR to read his story. No parent should have to go through this, and my heart goes out to Nuria, Mahi and the rest of their family.
Related Posts:
Minnesota Measles Outbreak - A Recap
Acute Thrombocytopenic Purpura, the MMR and Natural Infection
"Soft" Hospitalizations in Minnesota Measles Outbreak?
Minnesota Measles Outbreak by the Numbers: A Timeline
Measles Outbreak in New South Wales, Australia
Climbing Numbers in Minnesota Measles Outbreak
More Cases of Measles in Minnesota, 3 of 4 Hospitalized
Minnesota Infant Contracts Measles - Why Immunization Is Important
Measles Outbreak in Boston

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Deception in Research

When is it okay to lie in a study? When someone volunteers to be a research subject, whether it is a psychological study or clinical trial for a new drug, a corporate study or student project, what are the limits on just how much you can deceive the person? What aspects of the deception should be disclosed, and which are okay to keep hidden from the subject? If you do disclose the deception, do you need to be up front about it? Can you wait until after the study is under way or even completed?

The easy answer is that researchers shouldn't lie or mislead study subjects. Lying is wrong, right? Besides, lying could have a very big impact on whether or not the subject participates. And then there are the psychological impacts of being lied to. Just look at the famous (infamous) Shocking Experiment by Stanley Milgram. Most people learn about this in high school social studies, but for those who may be a bit fuzzy or haven't heard about it, a quick summary.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Map of Mark Geier Medical Licenses

UPDATE: I was recently informed that Dr. Geier also has a license in Texas. The map and list have been updated accordingly. He also appears to have a license application pending in Ohio, though the medical board of that state has noted the Maryland action against him and has issued a citation.(Added August 20, 2011)

With all of the various states that have licensed Dr. Mark Geier and the rising tide of suspensions of those license, I thought it may help to provide a map, visualizing which states have suspended Dr. Geier's license to practice medicine and which states still allow him to see and treat patients.

So here we go. Red states are those which have stopped Dr. Geier from misdiagnosing children with precocious puberty and subsequent treatment with the chemical castrator, Lupron, and the green states are those which have yet to take action to bar him from potentially harming any more children.

Mark Geier Medical Licenses by State - Click to Enlarge

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mark "Castrate 'Em" Geier's License Suspended - Part 5

Another brief update on the status of Dr. Mark Geier's licenses to practice medicine in various states. It has come to my attention that a fifth state, California, has now suspended Dr. Geier's license to practice in that state, effective August 3, 2011.

This comes following suspensions (in chronological order) in Maryland (PDF), Washington, Virginia and Indiana (PDF). He still has licenses to practice in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and New Jersey, although it has been reported that his license in Illinois is also under review for possible suspension. There have also been rumors that Missouri will follow suit.

Five dominoes have fallen, six remain.
Related Posts:

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Parent's Story of Vaccine Reaction

Among the vocal anti-vaccine arm of the autism community, a very common story is that of a parent who brings their child to the pediatrician’s office for their routine shot, and then, BAM!, like a bolt of lightning, the light goes out of their child’s eyes and they regress into autism. Right then and there, the parent decides that no vaccine needle will ever touch their precious, “broken” child, nor indeed any of their children, ever again. Not only that, but they may be so affected by the experience that they encourage other parents to forgo immunizations for any child. At least, that’s how the story goes. More often, the timeline is more gradual, and the emergence of an anti-vaccine perspective slower, building as they read more and more material which plays on their fears and appears to confirm what they suspect: that each and every vaccine on the recommended schedule is nothing but a ticking time bomb waiting to steal children from their parents.

Well, this got me to thinking about those parents whose children had experienced an adverse event following a vaccine. What about those parents who, like many of those on the anti-vaccine side of things, have gone through similar emotions and fears, yet came out following science and reason and chose to continue to support vaccination as a means of protecting both individuals and society. They are not nearly as vocal, so their stories are seldom heard. Certainly, there must be some out there who were willing to tell their tales. Putting out the word that I was looking for these accounts, I received an email from one individual, who had been thinking about telling her story for some time. After careful thought and consideration, she agreed to let her narrative appear on Harpocrates Speaks. Without further ado, here is her story, in her words:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mary Tocco, Is She Mistaken or Misrepresenting?

Something that has been noted here and elsewhere over the years is that anti-vaccine activists generally play rather loose and free with facts. They have this tendency to misrepresent reality in a way that suggests support for their opinions, and sometimes they even downright fabricate "facts" that have no basis in the real world. Take the long-debunked claim that vaccines contain anti-freeze. (They don't.) Because their goal is to stir up fears about vaccines, they latch onto scary-sounding chemical names and equate them with all manner of ills. Where nuance is called for, they resort to hyperbole. Their goal is fear, not truth.

Mary Tocco is no exception. I came across an article she wrote August 2 entitled "Seasonal Flu Vaccines, Are They Safe or Necessary?". Other than the poor word choice (I think they are generally safe and necessary in order to protect the greatest portion of the population; are they really only safe or only necessary?), I'll give you one guess as to what she thinks. In true anti-vaccine activist form, she jumps straight into getting things wrong in the very first paragraph:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Science-y Facts Bubble to the Surface

There are a lot of TV shows out there. No, really! Take a look. There's a lot of stuff that has been made, much of it short lived. Almost all of them, rather shockingly, have little bits and pieces that bear some passing resemblance to reality, and some even include topics that touch on science or scientific ideas. The good ones may stretch imagination a bit and force us to suspend disbelief, but we're okay with that; the story is intriguing, the logic internally consistent (mostly). Then there are those that make no sense whatsoever. They have plot holes big enough to sail a cruise ship through.

For whatever reason, I watched a show that fell into the latter category. It only lasted one season before being canceled, and I watched every single episode. Why do this to myself? Why put myself through such mind-boggling nonsense? Well, one, because I have Netflix and I could stream it; two, because there was an intriguing element to the storyline, wondering how things might end; and finally, because I just couldn't believe that they could get simple scientific ideas so completely wrong. The writers just had to redeem themselves.

So what is this show that threatened to cause my neurons to vaporize in a blaze of burning stupid? A 15-episode series called Surface:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For the People or For the Person?

One of the arguments that I hear fairly often regarding the recommended childhood vaccinations is that the government has no right to force someone to undergo a medical intervention or procedure, that personal liberties trump concerns about public health. This got me wondering how those who are opposed to vaccines in some regard and believe that vaccines should not be "forced" upon people feel about how the government should respond to someone who has a highly communicable disease.

So for them, I have a couple questions:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disease Burdens More Than Just the Patient

Often, when we talk about infectious diseases and outbreaks, the focus tends to be on those who got sick: the symptoms they experienced, how likely they might have been to infect others and so forth. We may talk about whether or not they were vaccinated, what complications they may have suffered and the costs that they bore through lost work/school days or how much treatment cost. Only occasionally do people think about the effects of an infection or outbreak on the government. After all, infections only have a direct impact on the person who has the disease and maybe those around them, right? How could a disease have any significant impact on a government. They're big, faceless things that just kind of exist in the background, except when there's a problem or it's election season.

The fact of the matter is, outbreaks of infectious disease actually have quite an impact on governments, particularly local ones. As just one example, I recently received the following from an anonymous reader:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

An argument that is heard with near light speed rapidity in discussions of anti-vaccine sentiments is "I'm not anti-vaccine. I'm pro-safe vaccine." This typically comes either immediately following or preceding a diatribe about how evil and dangerous vaccines are. The speaker/author generally declaims how every vaccine is dangerous and God forbid they should ever subject their child to such monstrous poisons (in their eyes). Present them with a series of vaccines and, more likely than not, they will describe some issue which, in their opinion, makes the vaccine "not safe," rendering it anathema. While they are not, in their words, "anti-vaccine," they are "anti-all-currently-used-vaccines."

Whatever. Tomato, tomahto. I'm not going to argue semantics. Instead, I'm issuing a challenge to anyone who says they are "not anti-vaccine, but pro-safe vaccine" (as if those who support vaccines are pro-dangerous vaccine). It is really a simple thing: don't just talk the talk; walk the walk.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Bill Goes to Beacon Hill

It recently came to my attention that there is a new bill being considered by the state legislature of Massachusetts. It was submitted by petition back in January and does not really have an actual sponsor, though Rep. John Keenan (Salem) is listed. This bill, amending an existing law, would add just one little sentence which would render said law essentially meaningless. Furthermore, the consequences of this one, seemingly innocuous, sentence would be far-reaching in their impact. What is this one little sentence? It is this:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section a child shall, upon written request of a parent to the school, be admitted to school.
That doesn't sound too bad, right? I mean, parents should be able to write to a school and have their child admitted. After all, the education of children is not only a requirement, but is something that benefits everyone. Everyone should have the opportunity to obtain a good education, to learn valuable skills and expand their knowledge so that they can become useful, contributing members of society for the good of themselves and the community in which they live.

Why would anyone object to that? Certainly I wouldn't, in and of itself. However, as Tim Minchin shows, context is everything (some NSFW language, be sure to watch to the end):

CC Live @Bonnaroo Comedy TentSunday, 6pm ET
Tim Minchin - Cont
CC Live @Bonnaroo Comedy Tent#bonnaroocomedyComedy Central

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mark "Castrate 'Em" Geier's License Suspended - Part 4

Another brief update for you regarding the status of Dr. Mark Geier's licenses to practice medicine in various states. As you know, his license was first suspended in Maryland. His license was then suspended in Washington and Virginia. Well, it is time to add Indiana to that list. Today, June 24, 2011, when I searched for his license in that state, I found this:

That's 4 out of 11 licenses that have been suspended. His appeal of the Maryland suspension is currently being heard, and the results of that inquiry should be out sometime next week. As it appears that the suspensions in Washington, Virginia and Indiana are based on the actions of the Maryland Board of Physicians, the outcome of the appeal could have a significant impact on the status of his licenses in those states. If his appeal succeeds, his licenses in those three states may be reinstated. If it fails, then there will only be 7 states left in which he can practice his scientifically unfounded protocol of administering the drug Lupron to autistic children.
Related Posts:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mark "Castrate 'Em" Geier's License Suspended - Part 3

I just wanted to provide a brief update on Dr. Mark Geier. Today, I was taking a look at the states in which, last time I checked, Dr. Geier still had a license. If you will recall, his license had been suspended in Maryland and, shortly after that, Washington. He was still licensed to practice medicine in nine states: California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey and Virginia. For seven of those, I was able to find laws similar to Washington's, which state that if a licensed practitioner has his or her license suspended in any other state, then it will be suspended in that state as well.

Well, one of those other states has suspended Dr. Geier's license. This is what I found when I went to the licensing board for the state of Virginia:

Only eight states left to step up and take appropriate action. Only eight licenses left that should responsibly be suspended. Another domino has fallen.
Related Posts: