Thursday, July 31, 2014

Case of Justina Pelletier Spawns Dubious Legislation

The intersection of science and politics is a very murky area. While science can and should inform policy and legislation, those who try to legislate science can easily find themselves on shaky ground. To say that politicians ought to exercise great care when introducing legislation that affects the scientific enterprise is, perhaps, a slight understatement. That is especially true when they start trying to dictate what science is and is not allowed. It's even worse when the individual politicians behind the legislation have demonstrated by past behavior that they are, shall we say, science-averse.

That's the case with a recent bill that has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Minnesota's Rep. Michele Bachmann. I won't go so far as to say that Bachmann is crazy or insane, as I'm no psychologist and there's no need to pathologize her particular brand of nonsense, but she certainly has shown that she does not understand science and her conception of the world differs quite profoundly from reality. Whether it's on the subject of evolution, climate change, or vaccines, Bachmann regularly gets the facts wrong. Now she's wading into policy governing research by introducing a bill nicknamed "Justina's Law". In a related vein, Rep. Steve Stockman has introduced what he's calling the "Parental Protection Act". Both bills are vague and stand to do more harm than good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Massachusetts Steps Closer to Expanding Autism Support

Massachusetts State House
Source: Fcb981/Wikipedia
When someone receives a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, it profoundly impact the individual and their family. Depending on the severity, they may need only minor assistance or extensive services. Some may be able to live independently, while others require round the clock support. There may be other concurrent medical or mental health conditions, as well. In far too many states, autistic individuals fall through the cracks. It's only recently that states have started to enact legislation aimed at reforming health care coverage for those with an autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disability.

Massachusetts is the latest state that is close to expanding coverage and support for people with developmental disabilities. The state house of representatives unanimously passed a bill (H.4047 - An Act relative to assisting individuals with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities) that does a number of things that will hopefully improve the quality of life of those individuals and their families. The senate passed a similar version of the bill (S.2245, reprinted as S.2257), also unanimously. The next step is a compromise bill, then it's off to the governor for signature.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Top 5 Ways to Prevent Measles

Measles is pretty damn contagious. In fact, it is one of the most contagious diseases known, infecting about 90% of all susceptible contacts with as little as 0.2 viral units. It can remain active in the environment for up to two hours, in the air and on surfaces. It is remarkably well adapted to spreading from host to host and staying viable long enough to do so. But it's not so well adapted that it can do all that without causing a high rate of complications, whether it's leaving the host open to secondary bacterial infections that may cause pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea, or invading the brain to cause encephalitis, seizures and permanent neurological injuries, or in rare cases, death.

In 2000, the U.S. eliminated endemic measles transmission, but that may be in jeopardy. This year, we have seen more cases of measles in the first six months than in the last four years. Combined. The majority of the outbreaks have been in the Ohio Amish regions, as well as among vaccine-refusing communities in other states. The common factor among all of the outbreaks is that they started when an unvaccinated individual traveled to another country in the midst of a large measles outbreak, got infected and brought the virus back to be spread around. Another commonality is that the majority of people infected in these outbreaks were either unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status.

With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to provide a list of ways (in no particular order) that you and your family can stay safe from this disease.