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I sometimes like to write about things happening in my neck of the woods that are relevant to the kinds of things I normally blog about every day. This habit of mine dates back at least to the days when investigative reporter Steve Wilson of our local ABC affiliate used to lay down fear mongering barrages of nonsense about mercury in vaccines that would have made Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. proud if he ever knew about them. Then there was a report on "orbs" seen in photographs where the reporter speculated whether they were actual spirits. Then there's the periodic fascination with veterinary…
Two years ago, I wrote about a study that demonstrated how the antivaccine movement had learned to use Twitter to amplify their antiscience message. At the time, I noted how in 2014, when the whole "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory was first hatched, antivaxers were so bad at Twitter, so obvious, so naive. The Tweeted inane claims at government officials, scientists, legislators, and whoever else might have influence on vaccine policy, using hashtags like #CDCwhistleblower and #hearmewell. (These hashtags are still in use, but much less active.) However they did get better, to the point…
Last week, an antivaxer "challenged" me to look over a paper purporting to show that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause inflammation of the brain and therefore contribute to autism, a paper that she would be "citing frequently." Being someone who lives by the motto, "be careful what you wish for," I looked it over in detail. Not surprisingly, my conclusion was that the experiments were poorly done using obsolete and not very quantitative methodology and that the results do not support the conclusions made by the authors. I was not alone in this conclusion. Skeptical Raptor was, if anything…
? "Why, oh, why do I have to die in the cause of such crappy science?" For antivaxers, aluminum is the new mercury. Let me explain, for the benefit of those not familiar with the antivaccine movement. For antivaxers, it is, first and foremost, always about the vaccines. Always. Whatever the chronic health issue in children, vaccines must have done it. Autism? It’s the vaccines. Sudden infant death syndrome? Vaccines, of course. Autoimmune diseases? Obviously it must be the vaccines causing it. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD? Come on, you know the answer! Because antivaxers will never let go of…
It's Friday, and it's been a rough week. So, after digging into an epidemiology study yesterday, I'm in the mood for something a bit less...heavy. Antivaxers sometimes call me to task when I point out what to me is a simple fact, namely that antivaxers are basically conspiracy theorists. In essence, to believe many antivax views, you have to believe that there is a vast conspiracy among big pharma, the government, and the media to hide great harm from vaccines because...well, it's never quite clear. To protect pharma profits? Really, this is no different than the cancer quacks who claim that…
The reason there wasn't a post yesterday is simple. The night before, I was feeling a bit under the weather. As a result, I went to bed early, neglecting my blogly responsibilities. As I result, I missed the release of a whopper of a study that normally would have been all over like...well...choose your metaphor. On the other hand, the one day delay isn't necessarily all bad because it lets me see the reaction of cranks to this study, the better to apply some not-so-Respectful Insolence to it. The crankiest of these cranks, of course, is Mike Adams, a grifter deep in the thrall of any form of…
Humans are visual creatures. That's why one of the most effective methods to communicate a message is through visual means, and among the most powerful visual media are movies and television shows. Cranks, quacks, and antivaxers know this, and, unfortunately, they've increasingly been taking advantage of this by making their own propaganda movies disguised (thinly) as documentaries to promote their message. I've documented a number of such movies, ranging from The Beautiful Truth (a film promoting the cancer quackery known as the Gerson protocol), The Greater Good and VAXXED: From Coverup to…
There are many ways to combat antivaccine pseudoscience. Personally, I've chosen my favored methods, namely blogging, giving talks, and generally combatting pseudoscience on social media wherever I find it. That's not all I do (for example, I do have a couple of papers in the peer-reviewed medical literature designed to combat the infiltration of pseudoscience into academia), but it is where I put most of my effort. For one thing, I'm good at it. For another thing, it's fun. Also, it's something I can work into my busy schedule more easily. It even brings me a bit of notoriety now and then,…
In the early 1980s in the wake of reports, publicized by a news report and later a book by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher (DPT: A Shot in the Dark), that the whole cell DPT vaccine was linked to encephalitis and brain damage, a flood of product liability lawsuits was on the verge of bringing the US vaccine program to its knees. Later studies exonerated the DPT, especially a large case-control study, but those studies did not come until the 1990s. Even though existing evidence at the time did not clearly support a link, it did not clearly rule one out. As a result vaccine manufacturers…
I've written several posts about a tragic phenomenon in Minnesota. Specifically, there's been a major measles outbreak among the Somali immigrant community in the Minneapolis area, the largest group of Somali immigrants in the country. Actually, this outbreak is not the first outbreak among this community. There was another, smaller one in 2012. Both involved primarily children in the Somali immigrant community who were not vaccinated. The last recorded case of measles in Minnesota was on July 13 in a white child who was also unvaccinated, but officials need to wait at least 42 days (two full…
Poor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He went from admired environmental activist to reviled antivaccine campaigner so quickly. It began when he outed himself in 2005 with his infamous conspiracy mongering screed about thimerosal in Salon.com and Rolling Stone. Basically, RFK Jr. is a member of what we used to call the mercury militia, a branch of the antivaccine movement that believes, more than anything else, that it is the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that used to be in several childhood vaccines until 2002 drove an "epidemic" of autism. He's still a member, too, having recently…
Before I get into the topic at hand, I want to explain why there was no post yesterday. Some of you on Facebook might have seen my post about why, but basically, we lost power last night. We're still without power. In fact, the only reason I can write this is because I'm staying at my parents' house tonight. No, it wasn't weather. Rather, basically a nearby substation caught fire. Michigan infrastructure is great, and I really need to get a generator. It also reminds me how much I wouldn't mind living in California. For one thing, it's a beautiful state. Even better, California was willing to…
Here we go again. Antivaxers don't like vaccines. This, we know. They blame them for everything from autism to autoimmune diseases to diabetes to sudden infant death syndrome. They even sometimes claim that shaken baby syndrome is a "misdiagnosis" for vaccine injury. However, there are two vaccines that stand out above all as the objects of antivaccine scorn. the first, of course, is the MMR vaccine. That's on Andrew Wakefield., of course, who almost singlehandedly popularized the fear that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The second most hated vaccine (by antivaxers) is Gardasil or Cervarix,…
Over the years, I've frequently contemplated just where many of the ideas that underlie alternative medicine in general come from. Certainly, I'm not the first to have thought of this by any stretch of the imagination, but over the last 13 years, I've become convinced that it is a fear of bodily "contamination" that harks back to ideas found in many religions. Think about it. Where does the fear of "toxins" in vaccines come from? Vaccines are portrayed as "foreign," as something "unnatural" that is "injected right into the bloodstream." Never mind that vaccines are not injected directly into…
One of the reasons I'm so passionate about pushing back against antivaccine pseudoscience is because I view it as an extreme threat to public health, particularly the health of children. I'm a history buff. I study history. I know what child mortality was like before vaccines. I'm also a scientist, which is why I know that antivaccine claims and arguments are either misinformation, pseudoscience, utter nonsense, or a combination of the three. Vaccines are safe and effective, and there's no scientific evidence that is even the least bit convincing that they cause autism, the main fear of the…
Yesterday was a busy day for a number of reasons. I thought of skipping it, but I couldn't resist taking notice of one particularly hilarious bit that I found on what is perhaps the wretchedest of all the wretched hives of scum and quackery on the Internet, NaturalNews.com. There, yesterday, on a very special day for me, I saw this headline by Mike Adams: Facebook blocks all Natural News article posts to 2.2M fans after site posts White House petition citing immunization dangers: In the latest outrageous example of total censorship against the independent media, Facebook has blocked nearly…
It's been over a month now since I started paying real attention to that wretched celebrity hive of scum and quackery founded by Gwyneth Paltrow known as Goop. It was a long time coming, and I feel a bit guilty for not really paying much attention to the "wellness," "lifestyle," and, of course, expensive quackery being sold by Paltrow and her minions through Goop. It began when Goop caught flack for selling pricey magic energy healing stickers. Well, it wasn't so much for that as much as for the amusing intervention of NASA, which slapped down Goop's claims that these stickers were made with…
One of the most common tropes used by antivaxers is to attack herd immunity as not being real. Herd immunity, or as its sometimes called, community immunity, is a name for a phenomenon in which in a population with high levels of immunity to a disease members susceptible to the disease are protected. Basically, because the vast majority of members of the population are immune to a disease, that disease can't gain a foothold in the population and lead to an outbreak or an epidemic. Basically, transmission from person to person is interrupted because any susceptible person who becomes infected…
One of the problems we as skeptics and advocates for science-based medicine face is that quackery and pseudoscience are legion. They are everywhere. Worse, in many cases, they can be a good business model. For example, back when Oprah Winfrey was peddling The Secret, the magical mystical belief that if you only want something badly enough, the universe will somehow provide it, and promoting Jenny McCarthy's antivaccine beliefs, skeptics were all over her. Many were the refutations of the nonsense that she promoted published in a wide variety of blogs, websites, and magazines; yet her brand…
You know how you know when you've been effective deconstructing quackery or antivaccine pseudoscience? It's when quacks and pseudoscientists strike back. It's when they attack you. As much as Mike Adams' near daily tirades against me last year caused problems and poisoned my Google reputation (which was, obviously, the goal), I could reassure myself with the knowledge that his attacks meant that I had gotten to him. When Steve Novella was sued by a quack, as much as I didn't want to be sued by anyone, I knew that the fact that someone would sue him was testament to his effectiveness.…