Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Short Vaccine Video

A reader recently sent me a link to this video. It's a nice, short, humorous way to present the impact that vaccines have had on public health.

Monday, September 16, 2013

An Anti-vaccine Activist Unsurprisingly Gets the Science Wrong

It's so cute when anti-vaccine activists try to use citations to bolster their arguments. Quite often, it seems as if they simply read the title of a study and leap to the assumption that it supports their notion that vaccines are useless, dangerous or cause autism. In those instances where they actually do get past the title, they either misinterpret the study or misrepresent the results, hoping, perhaps, that whomever they are speaking to won't go through the trouble of actually reading the citation. Actually, in most instances, they probably rely on people not reading their citations at all. It's very impressive to throw out a bunch of study titles and author names. The casual observer is likely to just think, "Huh, they must have a point. I mean, look at all of those studies."

And I can't really blame the average person for taking that approach. It takes a lot of effort and time to actually examine the citations critically. Scientific papers are generally geared toward academics, people in the same field who already have a basic background education. They understand the methods and why certain things were done, while others weren't. They know the various jargon used. The language of science is probably the biggest barrier to a layperson understanding (let alone reading) a study. After all, there are a lot of new, unknown words and, let's face it, study papers are boring (unless you have a keen and obsessive interest in the subject, maybe). But those who deny some scientific concept rely on this to overawe their audience. It allows them to use a tactic known as the Gish Gallop: throw out lots of studies that you claim support your position and depend on your audience not making the laborious effort to see if the studies say what you claim they do.

I encountered this on a small scale just recently in the comments of an article in the Independent Online discussing what happens when vaccine refusal has fatal results. When one commenter claimed that modern measles outbreaks occurred predominantly among the vaccinated, I countered with examples from recent outbreaks in which the majority (or all) of the cases were unvaccinated. A second commenter responded to me with a list of six studies purporting to support the assertion that measles outbreaks disproportionately occur among vaccinated, rather than unvaccinated, individuals. But as expected, the reality is rather different than this person claimed.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sharyl Attkisson Accuses Critics of Astroturfing

Back on Monday, Labor Day, I wrote about an execrable piece of reporting that appeared on CBS This Morning just over a week ago. The story was about Dorothy Spourdalakis, mother and murderer of Alex Spourdalakis. Earlier this year, Dorothy and Alex's godmother, Jolanta Agatha Skrodzka, plotted for at least a week to kill Dorothy's son, a 14-year-old boy with severe autism. At home in the apartment in River Grove where the three of them lived together, Dorothy and Jolanta drugged him with sleeping pills, and when that did not kill him fast enough, Dorothy, as she admitted and is reported in various media outlets, used a kitchen knife to stab Alex in the chest four times, hitting his heart twice. She then slashed his wrist so severely she nearly severed his hand.

The CBS story, however, does not tell the story of cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Instead, it shows Dorothy kissing Alex and washing his feet when he is in the hospital. It portrays her as a loving mother who, pushed to extremes of stress by, as the report says, a system that failed her. What is not in that story are some very important facts that, had the reporter included them, would have made for a very, very different telling. A theme that runs throughout the whole piece was that Dorothy had no support, no help. For example, Dorothy's lawyer is shown, saying, "Every door closed. She had nowhere to go. She had nowhere to take her son. There's no help for him." That is at odds with other reports. For example, the Illinois Autism Society offered support, but Dorothy turned them down and only requested a lawyer. The state's Department of Children and Family Services offered respite care and psychological counseling, but the family refused this help. Also left out of the story is the background of the "documentary" produced by Polly Tommey, of the Autism Media Channel (AMC), as well as her connection to Andrew Wakefield, also of the AMC, who was working on the documentary before Alex's death as part of a reality TV show. And yet another factor omitted was the connection between Dr. Arthur Krigsman, who reportedly diagnosed "lesions" in Alex's stomach, and Andrew Wakefield: they used to work together at Thoughtful House in Texas, and Dr. Krigsman bases much of his treatment philosophy on Wakefield's now-retracted paper purporting to find a connection between MMR vaccine and gastrointestinal disorder. Meanwhile, Alex himself was portrayed as a violent, difficult to manage young man with no hope of a future. It is, sadly, the image that all too often is presented of those with developmental disabilities like autism. And it is false.

In the end, many science and autism bloggers rightly criticized the story for its many faults (Liz Ditz has curated a robust list of responses). Now, in my post, I did not mention the reporter's name, because, really, it isn't particularly relevant to the problems with the piece (except insofar as this particular reporter has a history of promoting anti-vaccine pseudoscience). But she has been active on Twitter recently digging an even deeper hole for herself.

Monday, September 2, 2013

CBS Sympathizes with Murderers

Back in June, I wrote a post in which I tried to understand the murder of Alex Spourdalakis by his mother, Dorothy Spourdalakis, and his caretaker, Jolanta Agatha Skrodzka. In particular, I noted how those who do not blame vaccines for autism properly blamed Dorothy and Jolanta for the murder, expressing sympathy and horror on behalf of Alex. Yet among the biomed and "vaccines cause autism" communities, the general spin to the story was that Dorothy was oh so distraught and just couldn't cope any more; because she had supposedly been failed by the system, poor woman that she is, she resorted to murder, putting Alex out of his misery. That is a horrible, horrible insult to a boy who suffered the ultimate abuse by those who were supposed to care for him.

That sentiment, sympathizing with a child murderer, disgusted me then and disgusts me now. Part of the tragedy of this whole thing is that we only have Dorothy's voice being heard. HIPAA regulations block any revelations from the medical professionals being vilified by murder apologists at Age of Autism, Autism Media Channel and so on. Alex's voice has been permanently silenced. To make matters worse, CBS This Morning has decided to lend their support to Alex's killers.