Sunday, 29 August 2010


Rational people know, and abhor, the pandemic involving the denialist-virus. We now appear to have an attempt by Liz Ditz (Twitter) to bring those valliant people opposing the anti-science movement together in what is called ScienceMobsters. Some of them you may recognise from my blogroll. This science promotion movement is, as Liz explains here and here, the result of:
a series of tweets from Homeopathyinfo (
The ensuing debate made her compile a list of potential candidates. The criteria for inclusion are:
* science / reality based
* Forthright about challenging pseudoscience (homeopathy, chiropractic for anything other than low back pain, reiki, etc.)
The secret society members, and related things, can be found at #Sciencemob. At present it appears to focus on nonsensical medical claims, though global warming and evolution are not excluded. Suggestions for new members you can  leave at the Sciencemob Twitter feed. My blogroll has some good candidates so Liz:)

Friday, 20 August 2010

The infectious-disease-promotion-movement

Numerous blogs, this one included, have written about the pernicious effect Andrew Wakefield has had on vaccination levels in children. He singlehandedly was able to get nearly irradicated diseases reintroduced by claiming this highly effective method of preventing disease causes autism. This summer the infectious disease promotion movement suffered a setback when British General Medical Council (GMC) ruled against him. Since his adherents suffer from both a delusional disorder and the Dunning-Kruger effect, they may want to read about statistics in medicine, his downfall has not been the boost for vaccination rates less intellectually challenged people had hoped for. The legacy of his misbehaviour is a decreased herd immunity which still kills. Joseph Albietz remembers the death of a child:
He was unvaccinated, but that was because of his age.  He was part of the population that is fully dependent on herd immunity for protection, and that is exquisitely prone to a life-threatening course once infected.  
The failure of maintaining herd immunity makes him observe that:
the medical community in general is delusional if we think we can resolve the public health threat posed by the undercurrent of distrust in the vaccination program on our own.  No number of studies, consensus statements, or ad campaigns by the CDC, WHO, AAP, AAFP, etc (not to mention countless blog posts) will be sufficient to maintain the public trust in the vaccination program.  We need public support as well.

The Force remains strong in the anti-science camp. Luckily Penn & Teller offered us another solution by spending an episode of Bullshit on the subject. Orac reviewed it for us, and has the video. Yet another approach is suggested by Joseph Albietz:
In Atlanta, Georgia this September is a rather sizable (~40,000 people) convention called Dragon Con.  Our skeptic friends at and the newly formed “Women Thinking Free Foundation” are launching their their “Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” education campaign at Dragon*Con, and have organized a local pertussis vaccination clinic during the event.  In coordination with the local health officials, they are providing free TDaP vaccinations for any Dragon*Con participant, as well as information and educational materials.
But as long as airhead celebreties keep falling for the denialism-virus ....... Sigh.

Update: Another explanation for the importance of herd immunity is given by ERV.

Update II: The importance of herd immunity is surprisingly lost on the anti-vaccination crowd. The Watchdog Institute reports:
that waivers signed by parents who choose to exempt their children from immunizations for kindergarten enrollment have nearly quadrupled since 1990. California allows parents to opt out of some or all shots on the basis of personal beliefs, be it religious objections or distrust of the medical establishment.
This causes Orac to observe:
Failure to vaccinate also endangers the unvaccinated children as well. Last year, in fact, this risk was quantified in a study that found that unvaccinated children have a 23-fold elevated risk of catching pertussis compared with vaccinated children.
That is, if you accept what physicians say about herd immunity. We all know they don't know as much about diseases as the average celebrity.

Update III: What happens if others get infected because you object, for whatever reason, to vaccinations, i.e. you support the spread of infectious disease. The possible legal liability is discussed by attorney Jann Bellamy. The short version:
Those who breach their duty to avoid the spread of communicable disease may be liable to those injured for damages.
Update IV: If you still think the infection-promotion-movement is a harmless bunch of "sceptics" try reading about the harassment Amy Wallace was subjected to after writing an article called "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All." Her experience with this witchhunt she explains here:
Autism’s False Prophets, Dr. Offit’s 2008 book, opened my eyes to the risks of reporting on vaccines. Before I began working on my Wired story I read it, focusing at first on his straightforward description of what being a vaccine advocate had cost him. He’d been vilified on the Internet as a profiteer, a prostitute who serviced Big Pharma, and worse. He’d been physically accosted. His life had been threatened. Once, an anonymous caller had even implied they might go after Offit’s two children.
What I experienced in the wake of my Wired story was similar in tone (although my child was spared). Like Offit, the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive, but the negative stuff would make your hair stand on end.
Despite all this she does not regret a thing:
My Wired piece was a chance to contribute in a meaningful way to a discussion that must be had.
She ends the article with some suggestions for those interested in promoting rational debate. Another article, by Shot of Prevention, also mention the Watchdog Instute's investigation and the effect of not vaccinating on herd immunity:
Perhaps more concerned parents should demand to know how many of their children’s classmates are coming to school unvaccinated.  As Dr. Mark Sawyer, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego noted, “Un-immunized people in general contribute to any disease rates. As the rates of un-immunized kids go up, we are inevitably going to see more and more outbreaks of diseases.”  It is clear that a failure to vaccinate children attending school endangers us all.
Then there is the CDC which estimated the number of deaths due to influenza. I wish there was a way to prevent those infections.


Having travelled a few weeks through Norway there are some stories I wish to share that circumstances prevented me to write about before. Well known is the fearmongering surrounding mobile phones. New to me is the danger WiFi poses. Of course, whether the claim makes any sense is another matter. There is a school in Ontario where parents want the school to turn of the signal in response to, in essence vague and nonspecific, symptoms among the students. Quoth Steven Novella:
From a basic science perspective, there is little plausibility to the notion that Wi-Fi radiation would have any health effects. The amount of energy that is absorbed by a person living in a Wi-Fi field is negligible - less than 1% of exposure from a typical cell phone and well below current safety levels.
But he advances a different explanation for children getting ill during school hours:
Stress alone is a sufficient explanation, but there may be others. For example, many students go to school sleep-deprived because they are staying up too late. This is not an issue on weekends and over the summer. Sleep deprivation is a good explanation for most of the symptoms being reported.
He concludes this is another example of lack of critical thinking skills being at the basis of a "controversy." While Orac notes:
Did it ever occur to them that complaining of feeling sick is a good way to get out of school for the day?
Also, he stresses the always ignored maxim "correlation is not causation." Something invariably absent from the anti-science movement.

Update: Dutch trees appear unaware of the above:
A study by some Dutch scientists claims to have shown that WiFi kills trees [Study Says Wi-Fi Makes Trees Sick].
Note the important advise on how to protect against this evil.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Since numerous people complained about the green letters on a black background I have been playing around with the lay-out. After experimenting I came up with the current version. Please let me know if it is easier on the eyes and whether this makes reading the blog less of a struggle (aside from the content).

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Summer in Norway, again

Having seen the mountains of southern Norway, last summer, this time I decided to travel across the arctic circle to see Nordland and its midnight sun. First, I went to see Lofoten, after which Kystriksveien followed. The trip traversing Nordland was about 2160 km, the distance on the ferries not included.

Harstad/Narvik airport Evenes was my place of arrival in the North. From there I drove to Harstad for lunch in de 4 Roser. The brilliant thing was that there was a watertap and icecubes standing next to it. All free! You won't believe the amount of places I have been to that that refuse to give water with coffee. Only sporadically, like here, do you get free water served. For the technically inclined, they also have WiFi. Just ask for the password as you order your coffee/lunch/dinner. Having bought a new toy I just had to play with it! When I finished playing, and eating, I drove through Sortland, and Stokmarknes. While noting that in Norway the outdoors is subject to allemannsretten I put up the tent between Teigan and Taen on Hadseløya. Unfortunately, on my way there, I didn't find the intended site to have coffee: Uværshula.

Next day I saw Svolvær, had lunch by Lofotenkatedralen, took the ferry Melbu - Fiskebøl to see Nusfjord. That night I camped by Selfjorden in Ramberg. To get there I had to negotiate a steep bridge. Since I never experienced the midnight sun it was a disorienting, yet mesmerising, thing to see. The sun amazingly does not go down. The lack of a sunset resulted in going to bed late.

The next day my exploration of Lofoten continued on the E10, driving through Svolvær en route to the Lofotr Viking museum in Borg. Of course, in my mind no visit to Norway would be complete without it. The museum has the biggest chieftain's homestead excavated in Scandinavia, and a replica, Lofotr, of the viking ship Gokstad, that I saw in Oslo. Admittedly, it was a bit disappointing, so don't bother coming to the region just for that. Fortunately the road turned into a scene from Lord of the Rings with a towering mountain in front of me.

The fishing village Å had a somewhat artificial atmosphere, though less than Nusfjord. As in: too much of a tourist attraction. Saving money and time I decided to take a roundtrip, through Kjerkfjorden, on the ferry from Reine. As opposed to the original plan to take a lengthy excursion to the maelstrom, or a whale- and/or eagle safari, or visiting a cave. That night I set up camp at Djupfjorden near Reine, where I found the almost perfect camping site. Secluded, and with a great view. To get there is easy, get out at the parking next to Djupfjordbrua (Djupfjord Bridge), walk five minutes towards the Fjord, and presto: magic.

In the morning I returned to Svolvær, visiting both Henningsvær and Lofoten akvariet (Lofoten aquarium) at Storvågan. I then took the ferry to Skutvik, headed for the E6 so I could have dinner in Fauske. After dinner I slept at Nordnes Camp & Bygdesenter, which surprisingly has WiFi for the intrepid traveller with electronic gadgets.

The next day, continuing to Sandnessjøen and Tjøtta to catch the ferry to the Vega Archipelago, I took a detour through Mosjøen to see Sjøgata. It is a nice historical street, and in it you will find Vikgården Landhandel og Kaffebu which is a brilliant place to have coffee, or lunch. The following ferry part did not impress me. Annoyingly, to some islands the last departure was scheduled at around 15:00h. Incredible, considering the amount of tourists that were trying to make a similar trip. The Norwegian Tourist Board may want to rethink their priorities. While arriving at least thirty minutes before departure in Tjøtta there were too many cars - it is a holiday season, so who could have known, to borrow this famous disingenious statement by certain politicians- leaving me stranded. Strangely enough the last ferry, of the week, from Tjøtta to Vega leaves at 18:00h on friday. The next one is not before monday. Therefore I had to make a massive detour via Forvik, to then catch the ferry at Anndalsvågen to Horn. There I finally caught the ferry to Vega. Some five hours later than planned I was able to reach Vega. Since it was too late for the shops to be open I made some food myself. In the morning I took a tour of the island as I did not have the chance earlier. There was the E-Huset in Nes, and also the impressive Stone-age walk. It shows the changes in sea level and human skills, mainly fishing, by the local people. The island turned out to resemble a postcard from the south pacific. Beautiful white beaches.

Next stop, coffee, and Norwegian waffles with homemade rubarb and prune jam, at Vegstein before catching the ferry back.

In light of the inability to explore Vega the previous day I had to reschedule, and so my visit to Ylvingen had to be cancelled due to the limited time available. Therefore, without stopping there, I made the same trip in the opposite direction. What is inexctricably linked to visiting the Vega Archipelago is de syv søstre mountain range on the island of Alsten. It is impossible not to notice. Be sure to read up on the mythology surounding it, and its connection to Torghatten Mountain.

I travelled with the ferry from Søvik to in Herøy, crossed the bridge to Dønna, where I passed Dønnamannen on my way to see the view from Dønnesfjellet. That night the beach at Breivik was my campsite. From Bjørn I went to Sandnessjøen. Took the ferry in Levang to Nesna, continued for the ferry at Kilboghamn to Jaktvik. Ågskardet to Forøy.

In Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park I saw Svartisen, a collective term for the two glaciers Vestre and Østre. Slept at Bodøsjøen camping - a nice camping, but it would have been smarter to sleep closer (discovered it too late) to Saltstraumen, "the world's strongest tidal current," in Bodø, which is a massive whirlpool of fast streaming water. As it happened, I had to travel the same road  -nearly 30 km - three times. All to witness the maelstrom the next day. The phenomenon occurs every six hours. Back in the city centre I tried tørrfisk which, to me, appeared similar to lutefisk. The holiday ended with a brief visit to Narvik, and the stone-age engraving of some sort of deer, followed by an improvised midnight meal at Evenes airport. From there I took a plane to Oslo.

From Oslo Bussterminal I took the bus to Telemark. There I visited several great spots. Of course the birthplace of skiing: Morgedal. It turned out a lot smaller than I had envisioned. Went to see the Eidsbog Stavkirke, had coffee at the picturesque Dalen Hotel, swam in the lake to just unexpectedly miss Selma, a distant cousin of Nessie. Not my cup of tea but in Seljord I noticed the annual Countryfestival.

The short sightseeing tour ended with a stay in the Hardangervidda Nasjonalpark, in a hut close to the Haukeliseter Fjellstue. The scenery was stunning, fishing not so good. But all in all the sunny weather made it a success. Looked at the exhibition, and tried some homemade beer, at Nutheim Gjestgiveri (The art hotel in Telemark). Via Sandefjord I returned to Oslo to catch the plane home. That is, after a BBQ and a swim at the beach in Hvervenbukta.    

As an afterthought, I found the roads of Nordland too narrow for my taste. The local "highway" is a small two-way street which barely has space for two cars. Combine that with a meandering mountain road and the very big trailers heading in the opposite direction are a truly frightening sight. Admittedly, driving for weeks on such roads has increased my confidence as a chauffeur, but I still prefer the wider roads in the south of Norway.

Another unpleasant part of the trip was the horrendously insatiable hordes of stinging insects, yet more creatures mimicking the ones in Scotland. Luckily I did miss the local fauna, of the polar region, which turned out to be slightly too hospitable to other tourists.