Friday, April 29, 2011

Got to Hand It to JB

Two days ago, I posted that Sullivan, from Left Brain/Right Brain, had outed himself, letting the world know his real name. I also mentioned that Age of Autism's J. B. Handley had made a promise last November that, if Sullivan turned out not to be Bonnie Offit, as Handley opined, that J. B. would hand over ownership of the domain name and never utter Dr. Paul Offit's name ever again, nor even to write about him.

Well, at 5:44 am today, April 29, 2011, J. B. Handley posted on Age of Autism, stating that he will keep his word and hand over the web site. He also went so far as to say that, while he does not understand why Sullivan "reveres" Dr. Offit, he will not go after Mr. Carey, since he is also a parent of an autistic child. You can head over to Age of Autism to read Handley's words. But, just in case, I also grabbed a screen shot (after the break). At any rate, J. B., if you read this, just wanted to say thanks for keeping your word and having some integrity. I still think you're rather crass and something of a bully, but at least in this, you showed some honor.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Outing at IMFAR

The International Meeting For Autism Research, or IMFAR, is coming up pretty soon. May 12-14, to be precise, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, CA. This will be the eleventh year for the conference, where Autism Spectrum Disorder researchers will gather from around the world. Much like other specialty conferences, IMFAR gives scientists an opportunity to share their ASD findings with colleagues and to promote further research. Researchers submit their abstracts and, if selected, present them to attendees.

One such abstract is scheduled to be presented at 9:00am on Friday, May 13. The presentation is titled Parent Reported Status and Expectations for Their Autistic Student Children: An Analysis of the 2007 National Household Education Survey, presented by M. J. Carey.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Acute Thrombocytopenic Purpura, the MMR and Natural Infection

Twitter's a great tool for rapidly disseminating information. With a large network of followers, a simple message can spread like wildfire. This can be great for getting important facts out to a wide audience, like instilling a bit of rationality around the fear-infused media exaggerations of the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.

Of course, like all decent tools, there can be a bad side to Twitter, as well. Just as rational facts can be spread quickly, so, too, can misinformation. Given the character limits on tweets, a lot of the nuance and complexities of a given subject are often left out, resulting in messages that, on the surface, may instill readers with a sense of unease or outright anger. The careless may inadvertently scare people about a certain topic, while the nefarious use the limitations of Twitter to their advantage, purposefully spreading partial-truths or even outright lies to promote their agendas.

Such was a tweet I saw just the other day.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Limerick

Presented without commentary (I have a more traditional version, but I thought I'd keep things clean for here):

There once was a guy named J.B.
Whose rants are too painful to see.
...Since he can't fight the science,
...On ad homs he's reliant;
His morals declared bankruptcy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

When Analogies Attack!

Analogies can be very useful tools for illustrating a point. Advertisers and other PR types use them in commercials, politicians use them to support their causes or denigrate their opponents'. You can encapsulate concepts that could take entire books to explain and put them into a few sentences, illuminating that which may otherwise be too difficult to understand. Penn and Teller used a visual analogy to explain herd immunity in their Bullsh!t episode on vaccines, throwing balls at two groups of little figures. One group had a shield in front, thereby blocking the majority of balls, while the other group was hit every single time. In fact, analogies are such a valuable concept that we even test students on their ability to understand them.

Sadly, analogies are often prone to misunderstanding, themselves, or are so flawed as to make them entirely inapplicable to the concept being explained. I experienced this myself just recently on Twitter, as I got into a back-and-forth with someone, trying to explain how a disease like measles has a significantly higher rate of subsequent injury than the vaccine against it. It all culminated in my interlocutor offering this analogy...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Notes from Andrew Wakefield's talk at Brandeis

This is a guest post by John Santos, who was able to attend Andrew Wakefield's recent talk at Brandeis University. The talk was also covered by the Brandeis Hoot (with an additional editorial) and the Boston Globe.

On April 13, 2011, I attended a talk by Andrew Wakefield at Brandeis University. The talk was sponsored by a student organization Spectrum, which is concerned with autism. The student who hosted the talk was Jake Crosby, who blogs at Age of Autism. I estimate there were about 75-100 people present.

Wakefield spoke for about 2 hours, followed by about 15 minutes of Q&A. I took notes, though it was hard to keep up and there may be many gaps here. Despite that, I hope it will be useful, especially as preparation for anyone attending one of his lectures in the future.

The talk was recorded (I saw at least one person with a video camera), and Crosby said it would be available on the web, at the AoA site, I think.

The talk raised many questions in my mind, some of which I've had a chance to do some research on. I'm at least passably familiar with the vaccine controversy, but many of the references went by too fast for me to fully understand. I imagine to someone with no background at all, it would have completely snowed them. I agree with what Steven Novella has pointed out many time, if you are going to debate with a pseudoscientist, you really need to be on top of your game. I didn't feel capable of doing this, so I didn't ask any questions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The NECSS of Thought and Reality

This past weekend, I attended the third annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, or NECSS. This is a conference that was put together by the New York City Skeptics and New England Skeptical Society, the folks that bring you the weekly Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (highly recommended). I'd heard a fair bit about it in past years and thought that it would be a good opportunity to check it out this year.

Before you go, "Oh, skeptics!" and wander off thinking its a bunch of naysayers and contrarians getting together to poo-poo anything and everything, let me say right up front, it is anything but that. That word, "skeptic" has a lot of baggage associated with it and, among most people I talk to, generally carries that negative connotation above. The folks that came together for the conference, in general, don't fall into the knee-jerk rejectionism that many would incorrectly attribute to those who identify with the label "skeptic". The people I know who call themselves skeptics ask for the evidence that supports a claim and evaluate that evidence, making their decision based as much as possible on what the evidence says, rather than on personal biases. That out of the way, let's get on to what the weekend was all about.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Michael Willrich's Look Back at Smallpox and the Fight Over Vaccines

Antivaccinationism was an international phenomenon, but everywhere it reflected the social divisions and political tensions of its time and place.

These words pop up earlier in Michael Willrich's new book Pox: An American History. Despite the past-tense used, that statement could easily apply to anti-vaccine sentiments today. I just finished reading this book the other day, and thought I would share some thoughts.