Thursday, 28 January 2010

Surprise: Dr. Wakefield 'abused position of trust'

The Independent reports on the General Medical Council (GMC) hearing, regarding Andrew Wakefield, which observed his:
conduct brought the medical profession "into disrepute" after he took blood samples from youngsters at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5.
And it found that he:
"failed in his duties as a responsible consultant" and went against the interests of children in his care in conducting research. He further acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described a study which was later published in The Lancet medical journal.
This article claimed a relationship between MMR vaccination, bowel disease and autism, and became the cornerstone of the "infectious disease promotion movement." The Times notes that this study
sparked the biggest vaccine scare in a generation and has been blamed for the resurgence of measles in Britain.
Subsequent investigations repeatedly established its unscientific nature, confirmed by the GMC today, and medical science has refuted those proposed links as non-existent. The Times describes the ensuing debate following the article:
The research has since been discredited by subsequent studies involving millions of children, which found no evidence for the link between the triple jab and autism. It has since been retracted by the Lancet, and ten of the original 13 authors disowned the research. But the claims sparked a massive drop in the number of children given the triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates have still not fully recovered to levels before the scare.
The Guardian discusses the same ruling, and Steven Novella has an elaborate overview of who Wakefield is and what he has accomplished.

Update: A somewhat superfluous, to those following the "infectious disease promotion movement," rersponse is given by Orac who describes Wakefield's legacy as:
The resurgence of a once-defeated vaccine-preventable disease, with all the attendant suffering its return brought with it. Truly, few people can be said to have done more harm to public health in a nation than Andrew Wakefield did in the U.K. with his incompetent, unethical, callous research.
The post is a detailed review of the ruling and includes the delusional, and inherently cult-like anti-science, platitudes his defenders use to prove the GMC's conclusions were nothing less than blasphemy. Of course, this difference of opinion is best explained by Tim Minchin:
Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
The Lay Scientist, Science-Based Medicine, and Skeptico also comment on the outcome of this science vs. Paranoid R Us spectacle.

Update II:very unusual decision has led The Lancet to retract the original article. Steven Novella details the high threshhold journals have for retracting articles such as this. Even when it is obvious fraud is involved.

Update III: Oddly enough the Paranoid R Us Crowd -while claiming "The Censorship of Autism Treatment"-is objecting to the scientific principle, rational thought, and plain decency by asking us to support poor persecuted Mr. Wakefield.

Update IV: More from Orac and The Globe and Mail.

Update V: ABC has a big article too.

Update VI: More here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Why science sucks

Mike Adams heroically fights for our right to know all the reasons why scientists are evil and then incoherently explains to us why science-based medicine is inferior to "natural remedies" which are solely testimonial-supported because they somehow always fail to adhere to the scientific method. Shorter Mike: alternative medicine rocks, despite lack of noticable clinical effects.

Apparently misrepresenting how modern medicine works is the way to go when no rational arguments can be found to support your believe system.

Update: Some thoughts on Adams can be found at Weird Things, while Orac has additional points to his post.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Herd immunity

Not only is the anti-vaccination crowd, a.k.a. “infectious disease promotion movement,” endangering the lifes of children by denying them protection from all sorts of diseases they also influence the chance of children with sane parents of contracting these same conditions. Joseph Albietz on Science-Based Medicine explains:
Herd immunity is a fascinating effect, and one of the mainstays of a public vaccination effort.  The idea is that if enough people in the community are immune to a particular disease, then those who are susceptible will rarely come into contact with a person who is contagious, and the disease will be unable (or find it difficult) to spread.  This results in a greatly reduced risk of infection for the entire population regardless of their individual immunity.
The effect of the tinfoil hat brigade is evident:
Countless reports of outbreaks around the world consistently describe a disproportionate number of infections during vaccine-preventable outbreaks occurring in the unvaccinated.
What exactly is the risk of not vaccinating? According to Albietz two studies by a group from Kaiser Permanente of Colorado gave the following results:
Their first study found that the act of refusing to vaccinate against pertussis (whooping cough) placed children at a 23 times greater risk of contracting pertussis. That’s a 23 fold-increased risk of a disease that, in children under 12 months of age from 2000-2004 in the US caused 62.8% to require hospitalization, 55.8% to have apnea, pneumonia in 12.7%, and death in 0.8%.
 The second study showed
an 8.6-fold increased risk of infection with [varicella (chickenpox) ] that as recently as 1995 (when the vaccine was released), tallied 3,000,000 infections, 10,000 hospitalizations, 4,000 cases of pneumonia, 600 cases of encephalitis and 100 deaths per year.
 The article points out
The choice to refuse a vaccine, to “hide in the herd,” is an active decision to accept a markedly higher risk of infection, its complications, the associated medical costs and lost wages, the responsibility of spreading the disease to others should an infection occur, and to choose to undermine the very herd immunity on which we all depend.
Should you, or somebody you know, choose to ignore medical science so children can be exposed to an increased risk of dying, based on delusional believes, I suggest you read this article and don't forget to watch a very apt comment on this sort of sillyness: a beat poem by Tim Minchin!

Update: A study, regarding the efficacy of a flu vaccine, underscores the detrimental effect of not vaccinating to the entire community.
Bottom line: flu vaccines work to significantly reduce outbreaks when school aged children are vaccinated in isolated populations.
Also, Steven Novella has made an overview of the H1N1-debate.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Placebo effect

Wired has a nice piece on the wondercure called placebo, discussing its history and current views.

Update: More is explained by Steven Novella.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


In a previous life I was living with a homeopath. Despite the fact we made a good match the theme of the relationship was our recurring conflicts over me being too "rational." Of course, I think you should always have an "open mind," but refusing to exercise some scepticism invariably will lead to adopting (medival) superstition as if it is equivalent to science. Her friends were just as misguided, though equally sincere. Which I found difficult not to comment upon. Being diplomatically challenged I unquestionably made numerous unfortunate remarks.

Tim Minchin captures the debates I had in those days perfectly in his If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife).

His Storm may be about her. Not really, but she does fit the description, as does any "open-minded" alternative thinker. If you ever had an evening listening to those "enlightened spirits" you will recognise what he is saying:

Curiously enough asking for some critical thinking made me look like the bad guy every time. For some reason I was accused of not taking her serious. Wonder why?

And now, for something totally different:

Great song! Jeff Buckley's version remains No.1. Studio version here.

Update: Podblack Cat has the lyrics and Tim uploaded his own version of Storm as performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in December 2008. (h/t Holford Watch)

Update II: Apparently a film adaptation of Storm is being made, details on its official blog.

Update III: Found another video of Tim performing the poem:

Update IV: Storm the Animated Movie

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Think before you act!

And again fear, following the recent botched attempt to blow up a plane using underwear, has driven governments into taking action before thoroughly thinking things through. The full body scan is being implemented but already raises questions. Can we please calm down and acknowledge that, just as with the attacks of 9-11, we already had enough information to prevent these attempts. These scanners are superfluous. Just improve the existing system. Do not abolish the rule of law and adopt these silly measures merely because you refuse to admit the system itself is sound but its implementation needs repair.

Update: Glenn Greenwald notes that the expansion of governmental powers, in the name of the War on Terror, has resulted in the exact opposite of their claimed objectives: it is increasingly more difficult to prevent terrorism.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Double standard

Freedom of speech has led to the spread of misinformation regarding the efficacy, and risks, related to the practise of medicine. Anti-science nonsense is currently being advocated by celebrities. Oddly enough, opposing this culture of using uninformed non-experts as guiding light has proven legally damaging to those who try. So, this means that those claiming all sorts of "alternative" views can have their say: freedom of speech in optima forma. Yet, the moment you point out the numerous logical fallacies and scientific inaccuracies you will probably be forced by a court of law to retract, or the threat of being sued for libel will stop the accurately informed of making such corrections. In the words of Orac this is suppression of speech.

The adagium you have the right to your opinion, as long as it adheres to mine comes to mind.

Update: Just adding Steven Novella discussing the lawsuits against Paul Offit and Simon Singh.

Update II: In case you are looking for some rationality promoting spirits The Gotham Skeptics has a nice list you can start with.

Update III: Another mention of this silly game can be found at Weird Things.

Update IV: Responding The Gotham Skeptic hopes these legal games
will shine some light on the desperate and empty scare tactics of the anti-vaccine lobby, and in so doing bring the long-overdue attention and respect that real scientific[sic] deserves.
According to Science-Based Medicine the fact that the “infectious disease promotion movement” resorts to legal instead of scientific discourse indicates
a fundamental misunderstanding of both science and law. Science requires conflict, and the law does not protect us from the consequences of our ideas or the negative opinions of others. A free society cannot thrive on suppression of conflict, and science cannot progress without an atmosphere that allows vigorous, sometimes painful, debate.
It suggests that the anti-science movement is out of breath, and knows they are losing on the merits of this "debate." As if we do not already know Orac copiously writes about the consequences of misleading the general public into not vaccinating. He agrees with Barbara Loe Fisher's calls for a "fearless debate" on this topic. 
We do need a fearless conversation about vaccines. It needs to be a conversation free of the fear of the anti-vaccine movement filing lawsuits against its critics, free of the fear of harassment by the anti-vaccine movement, and with scientists being free of the fear that their work will be hijacked and misrepresented as supporting the pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement.
Clearly, his interpretation of "fearless debate" is contrary to hers, which is evidenced by the aforementioned lawsuit. Elaborating on Orac's posts Skeptico discovered  it is "only January 7th and we already have our first nomination for a 2010 Golden Woo." (Golden Woos 2009)

Naming and shaming of celebrities

For years celebrities have promoted quackery and unfortunately the general public falls for that PR-campaign. Luckily the Celebrities and Science Review 2009, published by the charity Sense about Science, has detailed their escapades and shows us that being famous does not guarantee the possession of critical thinking skills.

Update: Clearly Oprah, the most famous of misguided celeb gurus, deserves this expose.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Year

Just a quick note to tell you I survived Christmas and New Year. Of course, I ate and drank too much, but luckily it is only once a year. My adventures abroad I will disclose the coming days.