Facts, not Fantasy

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Religion vs. Reality in Missouri

As my colleague Larian LeQuella would say, here's another example of the typical "douchebaggery" that you encounter in the United States (re-posted here from Dr. Plait's blog at Bad Astronomy):

Via Orac comes this tale of religious kneejerking that shows just how big a problem it is in America.

Evolution of brass t-shirt

I urge you to read the whole thing, but the basic story is a band made t-shirts with the theme "Brass Evolutions" using the famous cartoon sequence of a monkey changing into a man. It's a cute idea, and no big deal, right?


Not so right. Some parents complained about the shirts because they depicted — gasp!– evolution (never mind that it's a cartoony version that's really not even terribly accurate). Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt decided to make the students turn in their shirts so as to not offend any parents' sensibilities.

The sheer dumbosity of this already has my head reeling. You might think at first that this isn't a huge deal: it's just another example of narrow-minded thinking we've seen so much of from creationists.

But in fact it's a lot worse than that. From the original article:

Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.

I'm afraid that is simply not true. Like, really really not true.

First, by taking away the shirts, he was not being religion neutral. He was kowtowing to a specific religion. That action immediately contradicted his words.

Second, think about what that sentence means. If being religion-neutral means not offending any religion, then nothing at all could ever be taught at school. Certainly not science, which clashes in almost every conceivable way with Fundamentalist creationist doctrine. You can't teach anything past 6000 years ago under Pollitt's reasoning. No astronomy, no biology, no history (Sumerians were around long before 4000 BC). Some interpretations of Islamic law state that music is forbidden. Does traife food touch kosher food in the cafeteria (or is it served on the same plates)? Does anyone wanna go through Leviticus and see what rules from there the school breaks?

If we are to believe Pollitt, then they'll have to ban the Pledge of Allegiance because Jehovah's Witnesses don't worship idols. That'll go over well, I'm sure.

This whole idea of "religion neutrality" is a crock [of shit], and clearly is being used to the advantage of one narrowly-defined religious viewpoint. There's a difference between being neutral — which Pollitt clearly was not being — and not promoting one religion over another.

Being religion-neutral in the sense Pollitt means is conceptually impossible. You cannot appease every religion, because many common modern religions contradict each other. However, we can be religion-neutral by actually refraining from making any decisions based on religion. That's what that First Amendment is all about.

So what we have here is yet another shot in the battle over religious freedom (both of and from) in this country. I suspect the band leader could pursue a First Amendment case here.

But if he chooses to pursue it, he may have an uphill climb... it depends on how many people there hold the same view as band parent Sherry Melby, one of the people offended by the very concept of evolution, [who said]:

I was disappointed with the image on the shirt. I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.

Yes, because teaching the very fundamentals of biology in a school?

Heaven forbid.

[Update: Steve Novella has a funny and pointed take on all this.]

Antivax People Are Antivax

This is a comment by Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astromomy blog, which I've re-posted here:

[Note: Many times, when I write about antivax stuff, I get comments that try to sidetrack the issue at hand. For the record, I am a parent myself, my heart goes out to parents of autistic kids, and I went through those very same fears and worries that every parent does. I also understand that a lot of parents listen to antivaxxers and believe in their falsehoods, but my writing is generally not aimed at the parents. It's aimed at the loudest proponents of the antivax movement, the ones instigating those falsehoods, not the ones simply repeating them. In the end this is about the fact that vaccines don't cause autism, and the big mouthpieces of the antivax movement are almost entirely fact-free in their claims. So let's stick with that, Mmmmkay?]

I talk about the antivaccination movement quite a bit here, because I happen to have a strong desire to keep babies alive. If we stop vaccinating kids, we’ll see a lot of them succumbing to preventable diseases. Preventable, that is, through vaccination.

Orac has an interesting take on all this: he points out that at its core, the antivax movement just simply hates vaccinations.

Syringe, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/8499561@N02/2756332192/

Now, that might seem like a tautology. But it's not, not really. It's actually relevant because the antivax movement must change its story (what we skeptics call "moving the goalposts") every time they are conclusively proven wrong. That happens a lot. When it's pointed out that mercury doesn't cause autism (removing it from vaccines did not lower the autism diagnosis incidence rate), they say vaccines contain squalene, or fetal tissue, or ghosts, or the Loch Ness monster.
Of course, when it's shown that autism rates have nothing to do with vaccination, they ignore it, or spin it, or lie about it.

In a sense, the loudest proponents stick to their movement the way a racist sticks with their prejudices. You can tear down their specific claims about a particular group of people point by point, but in the end the racist simply hates people in that group. It's not rational, or logical, or reasonable. It just is.

[Furthermore], what Orac is saying is that no matter what, at its core, the antivax movement really hates vaccination. No matter what proof you show them, and no matter how much they squeal that they are "pro-choice", really it's their loathing of vaccinations that drives them.

It's an interesting idea, and he may very well be right. We've seen exactly this kind of behavior from many in the antivax crowd, moving from debunked claim to debunked claim, trying to pin anything and everything they can on vaccines, long after the logic trail has petered out. In the end, all they have are empty claims and their own misguided methods.

No matter what, they are antivax.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Two Dr. Plait Blog Entries

With my reduced availability, I am again posting two quick things from Dr. Plait.

Antivax smackdown, Albietz edition
I’ve written about my friend Dr. Joe Albietz before: he’s a pediatrician who saves lives for a living. He’s also a skeptic and a really good one; he was the brains and brawn behind the very successful vaccine drive we held at TAM 7 that will help prevent 500 kids in Las Vegas from contracting dangerous diseases.
Joe now writes at Science Based Medicine, and for his first article he tears to tiny little shreds a claim that the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine is dangerous, a very wrong statement being spread by Dr. Joseph Mercola, an alt-med promoter who sells "natural" remedies as an alternative to vaccinations. With all this antivax nonsense going around, I wonder how sales are doing for him?
Anyway, Joe’s article is lengthy, and worth every word of it. He takes Mercola’s claims and shows just where he’s wrong. In some cases, Mercola’s errors are so flagrant it makes me honestly wonder how anyone could make them. Mercola’s article is, apparently, just another in a long line of fact-optional antivax claims, and yet will still gain traction with those who don’t understand what medical science has done for them and continues to do. As Joe said in the article (emphasis mine):
I’ll take the opportunity to point out that pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals stand to make a lot more money from an uncontrolled pandemic than from its prevention. The money spent on antivirals, antibiotics, sedation and pain medications, physician and hospital billing for the 200,000 people hospitalized in the US during a normal flu season would compensate them far better than profits from vaccine sales. It’s almost as though, against our financial interest, all of our efforts are designed to keep people from getting sick…

Imagine that! People trying to cure the sick, instead of bilking them for money. That sounds more like the doctors I know.

Outfoxing H1N1
Man, it must be easy to work at Fox news.
Well, not at first. I imagine when they remove most of your brain it might be painful at first, but after that it’s easy enough. After all, how much energy did it take to create this poll?

The current results aren’t surprising: Fox news readers think taking the vaccine is a higher risk by a margin of almost 2 to 1 (out of 18,000+ votes). And I thought most antivaxxers were on the left side of the political spectrum! It sure is nice to know that Fox can agree with left-wingers on something. And of course they’re both wrong.
… and I can’t help but notice the disclaimer on the bottom: "This is not a scientific poll". Are they bragging?
Tip o’ the needle to Cristiani Senni.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Late Update from Dr. Plait

Good readers and any fans here, I am in the process of relocating my entire family over 1500 miles, selling one house (in this market!) and then trying to buy another on in a school district that will be good for my daughter (but they are giving me attitude since I haven't actually bought the house yet...). And learning a new job, transitioning from a Government mindset to a private sector mindset, etc... I'm sure you don't really care that much about my personal life, but I wanted to let you know why I have not been posting information here like I usually do. Although I did want to re-post this gem from Dr. Plaits blog:

Antivax epidemic

Geez, trying to keep up with the lies, distortions, and utter galling nonsense of the various mouthpieces of the antivax movement and their enablers in the media is so hard it’s almost like trying to stamp out a, y’know, virus. Here’s some of the latest on the War on the War on (good) Drugs… and we start off with some good news!
1) First: Autism Speaks, a group that has done much to spread the garbage that autism is linked to vaccinations — which is provably not true — has started backing off their inflammatory rhetoric. I would love to think this is because they are finally dipping a toe into reality, but given that two high-level people in their group have quit because they wouldn’t back down on their vaccine claims, I strongly suspect this is simply a PR move to quiet down all the negative (to them) attention they’re getting.
2) Second, Steve Novella has compiled a one-stop shopping list of vaccine references for anyone and everyone who needs info at their fingertips when dealing with the rabid antivaxxer. Whenever you find yourself with someone spouting the usual long-debunked "facts" from an antivaxxer, send ‘em there. You can send them here as well.
3) The online paper Live news has an accurate report with a good headline: "Refusing vaccines puts kids at risk: autism expert". Yay!
Now the not-so-good stuff:
4) Another newspaper chimes in with a grossly misleading article on the safety of Gardasil: the Daily Telegraph. Feh. Feh!
5) This video plays up the antivax rhetoric as a (glurp) rap song. Whether you think it’s particularly good rap or not, it’s full of misleading nonsense. See #2 above for why.
6) Finally, the Young Australian Skeptics have issued a call to arms over a terrible, terrible interview done on an a.m. talk show on Australia’s Channel 10, where they gave an antivax pro-homeopathy mouthpiece way more time than he deserves (correct amount: 0). The YAS is asking for people to write the station and let them know the potential damage they’re doing.
Tip o’ the needle to the many, many people who sent me these links!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mainstream Scaremongering Over Gardasil

Usually my colleague, Larian LeQuella, does the job of re-posting articles from other blogs, but since he is preoccupied with personal matters, I'll do this for him...

This is a blog entry, "Mainstream Scaremongering Over Gardasil", by Dr. Phil Plait (a.k.a. The Bad Astronomer), which I am re-posting here:

Gardasil is the brand name of a vaccination that protects young girls and women against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that has been positively linked with cervical cancer along with other horrible diseases. It also can trigger cancers in men as well.

I've written about this topic before; 4000 women in the United States die every year alone from cervical cancer, an appalling 1/3 fatality rate for those diagnosed with the disease. Tens of millions of people — both men and women — carry HPV.

Gardasil protects young women from ever getting HPV. These women have a substantially lower chance of contracting the virus and getting cervical cancer. I consider that a very, very good thing.

But you wouldn't think so if you read the New York Times, or the (Australian) ABC News. Both posted articles playing up the dangers of Gardasil as revealed by a new government study of the vaccine. That would be fine if it were true, but both reports, in my opinion, unfairly inflate the apparent danger. The ABC article is particularly egregious, with a headline saying "US doctors question Gardasil side effects" when it's clear from the article that this isn't really the case.

What are the dangers? The worst one would of course be death. In a study of the vaccine, there were 20 deaths of young girls at some time after they got the shot. Twenty! That sounds like a lot! However, there are two MAJOR problems with that statement:

1) There is no obvious link between the deaths and the vaccination other than in time. One girl died from drug abuse. Another from hepatitis, and others from embolisms, cardiac failure, and other problems. While these are all very sad — and as a father of a young girl at the age to get Gardasil, my heart aches for those families — none of these can be directly tied to the vaccination.

2) There were 20 deaths out of 7 million girls who received the vaccine. Those odds are 1 in 350,000. That's roughly the same odds as dying from falling off a bed, chair, or other furniture.

I can just imagine the antivaxxers yelling "It's a BIG FURNITURE CONSPIRACY!" over that one.

In truth, I imagine the antivaxxers are already licking their chops over this news, ready to fold, spindle, and mutilate reality as they oh-so-often do. The last thing we need are misleading articles like these two. It's like red meat for them.

The New York Times article quotes a doctor who urges caution over giving girls the shots. She says that proper cancer screening will prevent women from getting cervical cancer. That's true, but misses the point entirely. Not everyone can or does get screened for cancer. If they did, we wouldn’t be losing 4000 women every year to it. I'd rather close the barn door before the horse escapes.

I'm not a doctor [of medicine], so I can't tell you to go get your daughters vaccinated with Gardasil. What I will tell you is that your best weapon here is to simply understand the situation, and don't just believe what you read. Don't even believe me. Read up on this yourself and talk to your doctor.

Oh, and to the antivaxxers who [...] try to muddy the situation with distortions and spin, I'll answer your question before it's even asked: Yes, The Little Astronomer [Editor: Phil's daughter] did get her course of Gardasil vaccinations. And now she gets an even better shot at living a long, long time to talk about it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Falsehoods Circulating About Evolution

With my upcoming move, I have been rather busy. So today I bring you a blog entry from Greg laden. I hope to be able to incorporate any of the falsehoods I missed in my initial write up one I have his permission. here it is:

The Falsehoods

Biology is harder to learn than quantum physics. Why? Because most people think they totally get biology, but everyone knows nobody gets quantum physics. Therefore, any effort to explore quantum physics will result in new learning, but people rarely learn new biology. The bottom line is that our brains are full of biology, which would be good if most of it did not consist of falsehoods.

~ ~ ~

The things that people know already often need to be removed from the brain prior to teaching new stuff. This may seem a little offensive to some, but really, it is easier to just admit it. I'm not saying that everything I might ever tell you about evolutionary biology, for instance, is necessarily true and correct, but in most cases (unless you are an evolutionary biologist) it will be more on the mark than the stuff you learned in Kindergarten or the stuff you learned by simply absorbing the information in which we are all steeped, daily. Personal experience and the nature of the media dumbly conspire to prepare students to fully misunderstand even the most basic concepts in evolutionary biology. These things ... the things taking up valuable brain space but that deserve no place in your grey matter ... are The Falsehoods.

I have a long list of them, which apply mainly to college Freshman. My wife Amanda, a High School Biology teacher, has a list too, that applies to high school students. (How romantic was that, when we each learned that the other had a Falsehood list!!! I'll never forget that day... Oh, but I digress..)

My list is long, but the key elements can be summarized quickly, as follows:

Falsehoods about Evolution:

  • 1.Evolution is goal directed and progressive. When you look at an evolutionary story, you can see that all along there was a certain direction in which the evolutionary process was moving.

  • 2.Species can be organized on a scale of primitive or simple to advanced and complex. One thing this means is that there are "living fossils" among us. Some of those "living fossils" are actually specific human cultures, societies, or races.

  • 3.Natural selection is all about "survival of the fittest"

  • 4.Things that are natural are generally good, while things that are unnatural are generally bad. The naturalness of something is the best guide for it's goodness.

  • 5.Evolution is "only a theory" and can therefore be proven wrong at any moment.

Falsehoods about how nature works:

  • 1.Nature maintains a balance. If nature is perturbed, it will come back into balance eventually.

  • 2.Individual animals typically act for the survival of their species. A trait that enhances the ability to act for the survival of the species will be selected for. Darwin said that.

Falsehoods specifically about human evolution:

  • 1.Humans evolved form apes.

  • 2.Evolution has stopped for humans.

  • 3.Serious scientists often entertain the question: "Has evolution stopped for humans?"

Falsehoods about behavior:

  • 1.Genes code for behaviors.

  • 2.The earlier in the life cycle, the more genetically controlled the individual is.

  • 3.Culture overrides or compensates for biology.

  • 4.Culture is quick and adaptive, but biology is ponderous

  • 5.An adopted baby is not the biological offspring of her mother.

What I call "Us vs. The Other" falsehoods:

  • 1.Primitive cultures are in balance with nature, while complex civilizations are usually not.

  • 2.Primitive cultures are primitive, while complex civilizations are complex.

  • 3.You have to be smarter to live in an industrialized (western, complex) society.

  • 4.Civilization will not collapse.

The Common Nonsense Falsehoods:

  • 1.You can get a free lunch.

  • 2.Rich people have fewer babies than poor people.

Remember, these are falsehoods. I once had a student who studied this list thinking they were all truehoods. He got a perfect score on the midterm exam. Unfortunately, it was not a perfectly good score...

I've blogged about this topic before, but at the moment, I'm re-writing all of the falsehood essays and trying them out on you.

What are your falsehoods? -- You must have a list somewhere --

Monday, August 17, 2009

Scientific American: Origins

I just got an email about the Scientific American Magazine: Origins project. I think that it would be a good moment to spread the work about this since it seems to be a pretty good collecion of science in one place attempting to tackle those deep issues. Anyway, here is the introduction for you:

A Greek statesman who lived in the sixth century B.C. put forward the first explanation, shorn of theological trappings, that captured the essence of all things living and inanimate. Thales of Miletus noticed that water could exist as a liquid, gas or solid and posited that it was the fundamental constituent of matter from which the earth’s denizens—men, goats, flowers, rocks, and whatnot—somehow sprang forth.

As with all natural philosophy (a pursuit now known as science), Thales’ observation immediately provoked an argument. Anaximander, a disciple of Thales (today what would be called a graduate student), asked how water could be the single basic element if rock, sand and other substances appeared to be devoid of moisture.

The bickering about beginnings and the nature of our existence has not ceased in ensuing millennia, although Thales’ aqueous cosmology persists only as a passing citation in histories of philosophy and science. A definitive answer to the identity of the most basic ingredient of matter—and how it could ultimately lead to a world populated by iPhones and reruns of American Idol—still eludes today’s natural philosophers.

In early April a colloquy of 70 leading scientists assembled at Arizona State University to launch an Origins Initiative to ponder such questions as whether infinitesimal, stringlike particles may be candidates as the latest substitute for Thales’ vision of a wet world. An urge to deduce beginnings energizes the entire scientific endeavor—and of course that extends into the realm of biology. Appropriately, this year’s 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species coincides with a significant advance toward the milestone of demonstrating how life sprang from inanimate matter. A British team of chemists showed that one of the basic building blocks of life could form spontaneously from a warm soup of organic chemicals.

The immediacy of these themes is why this single-topic issue of Scientific American is devoted to origins in physics, chemistry, biology and technology. In the following pages, a physicist grapples with the overarching question of how the universe began. A chemist addresses possible ways in which life first started, and a biologist takes on what has made the human mind different from that of any other animal’s. Then a historian of technology contemplates the first computer, perhaps the most extraordinary invention of the human mind. A final section provides brief chronicles of the inception of dozens of physical and biological phenomena, in addition to a series of remarkable human inventions.

Whether related to rainbows, antibiotics or paper money, beginnings—and the stories they generate—serve as an endless source of fascination about the world around us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Today in the News (16 Aug 09)

The Peopling Of The Americas: Genetic Ancestry Influences Health, Anthropologist Says. At one time or another most of us wonder where we came from, where our parents or grandparents and their parents came from. Did our ancestors come from Europe or Asia? As curious as we are about our ancestors, for practical purposes, we need to think about the ancestry of our genes, according to Cecil Lewis, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Lewis says our genetic ancestry influences the genetic traits that predispose us to risk or resistance to disease. Lewis studies genetic variation in populations to learn about the peopling of the Americas, but his studies also have an impact on genetic-related disease research. Some 15,000-18,000 years ago, people came from Asia through the Bering Strait and began to fill the American continents. The Americas were the last continents to be populated, so Lewis wants to understand how this process happened. His recent study focuses on South America and asks what part of the subcontinent has the most genetic diversity.

Speciation Through Genome Duplication More Common In Plant Evolution Than Previously Thought. Extra genomes appear, on average, to offer no benefit or disadvantage to plants, but still play a key role in the origin of new species, say scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and three other institutions in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Plant biologists have long suspected polyploidy -- the heritable acquisition of extra chromosome sets -- was a gateway to speciation. But the consensus was that polyploidy is a minor force, a mere anomaly that accounts for 3 or 4 percent of the world's flowers and ferns. The first direct, comprehensive survey of polyploid speciation in plant evolution severely challenges that notion.

Imitation Promotes Social Bonding In Primates. Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. It also appears to be an ancient interpersonal mechanism that promotes social bonding and, presumably, sets the stage for relative strangers to coalesce into groups of friends, according to a study by a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health and two Italian research institutions. The study authors found that capuchin monkeys preferred the company of researchers who imitated them to that of researchers who did not imitate them. The monkeys not only spent more time with their imitators, but also preferred to engage in a simple task with them even when provided with the option of performing the same task with a non-imitator. "Researchers have known that human beings prefer the behavior of other people who subtly imitate their gestures and other affects," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where the NIH portion of the study was conducted. "Observing how imitation promotes bonding in primates may lead to insights in disorders in which imitation and bonding is impaired, such as certain forms of autism."

Antibodies To Strep Throat Bacteria Linked To Obsessive Compulsive Disorder In Mice. A new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's Center for Infection and Immunity indicates that pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome and/or tic disorder may develop from an inappropriate immune response to the bacteria causing common throat infections. The mouse model findings, published online by Nature Publishing Group in this week's Molecular Psychiatry, support the view that this condition is a distinct disorder, and represent a key advance in tracing the path leading from an ordinary infection in childhood to the surfacing of a psychiatric syndrome. The research provides new insights into identifying children at risk for autoimmune brain disorders and suggests potential avenues for treatment.

News from Dr. Plait on the anti-vax pro-disease nutters: The Australian skeptics are still hammering away at Meryl Dorey, the Australian Vaccination Network, and their (to be charitable) distortions of the truth. It’s nice to see.

And what we have seen is that, like a pinata when that critical blow is made, a torrent of dumbosity comes out.

Which brings up an interesting point. A lot of people think that using an ad hominem — an argument that attacks the person and not the issue –is a logical fallacy. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, if someone on the street walks up to me and say, "Aliens speaking with the voice of Glenn Beck are sitting on my shoulders and forcing me to eat brussel sprouts, and Obama’s health care plan will set up death panels," then there is some merit in questioning the person’s sanity before wondering if what they say about the health care plan is true.

So if you’re inclined to give Meryl Dorey and her AVN group the benefit of the doubt, you might want to read up on some of the other, um, stuff they believe. It may open your eyes.

I wonder what the anti-vax pro-disease nutters will make of this? Needle-free, inhalant powder measles vaccine could save thousands of lives. The first dry powder inhalable vaccine for measles is moving toward clinical trials next year in India, where the disease still sickens millions of infants and children and kills almost 200,000 annually, according to a report presented here today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Robert Sievers, Ph.D., who leads the team that developed the dry-powder vaccine, said it's a perfect fit for use in back-roads areas of developing countries. Those areas often lack the electricity for refrigeration, clean water and sterile needles needed to administer traditional liquid vaccines.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nice Email

I received a very kind email today, and I wanted to share it with you. This was totally unsolicited, and I had never emailed this person before. That they expressed an opinion grounded in reality was refreshing, and it gave me a little hope for the future of the autism/vaccine debate. Especially considering that the author is the mother of an autistic child. Without further ado,here is her letter to me:

I thought this might be of some interest to you. This is a link about Dr Andrew Wakefield (the doctor, claiming that the MMR causes autism). It has a timeline about the MMR, how his report was discredited, how he was paid to falsify his report, how he and some of his associates are facing charges in court, and more. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article5683671.ece
I find this to be interesting as well..as we know autism affects boys 4 times more than girls, why would a vaccine affect a boy 4 times more, the vaccines are not made and given according to a persons sex. I never seen anything that relates vaccines to supposedly causing autism in boys more than girls. I have son with autism, I don't believe his autism was caused by any vaccine, never even considered it.
Another thing I found interesting was in the report about Bailey Banks where the court stated that Bailey had suffered acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. Some reports about the case claim that it was not a form of autism but it was a pervasive developmental disorder, other reports have stated that ADEM is a autism spectrum disorder, when in fact ADEM has symptoms more similar to multiple sclerosis and it usually required for them to have a MRI in order to determine if their brain and spinal cord have had previous damage or if the damage is new, the doctor is suppose to keep a close monitor on the person with ADEM to see if a recurrence or progression suggests that it might be MS in order to determine an accurate treatment for the person since the treatments are different for each. I have read numerous articles, etc about ADEM and have yet to find anything that associates it with any of the PDDs.
I too, like many other people blame Jenny McCarthy for providing people with inaccurate information about vaccines and autism itself. I think too many people tend to believe what celeberties have to say rather than doing any in depth research into the subject themselves. I blame her along with DAN doctors for making people believe there is a cure for autism, to me that is a sense of false hope. She states she uses a variety of biomedical treatments for son (what DAN doctors use), one of which is the GFCF diet (gluten free casein free). She states that her son has recovered from autism, but yet she states that if anything in any of the biomedical treatments are changed such as having a food that is not acceptable in the gfcf diet, not giving a supplement, etc., he becomes worse. I don't get it, if her son is in fact recovered, cured, or his autism has become reversed, however she'd like to put it, why would she continue to treat him for something he no longer haves, it makes no sense. As we know, autism affects each person on an individual basis, each treatment has to be done on a trial basis, what may work for one, may not necessarily work for the other or you may not see the same results. These biomedical treatments are simply a way to help manage/control the behaviors associated with autism, they are not by any means a cure. If in fact she stopped any of the biomedical treatments the behaviors associated with his autism would again become more profound and harder to manage/control. Please don't take me wrong, these treatments do help some, not all, but they most certainly do not cure, reverse or make them recover from it.
Thank you for your time, it is much appreciated.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your views and your story. I too am a parent of an autistic child (with all her vaccines) and I appreciate hearing from other parents as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today in the News (10 Aug 09)

Extinction Runs In The Family: Efforts To Preserve Evolutionary History. Global calamities like the one that doomed most dinosaurs forever alter the varieties of life found on Earth, but new research shows that it doesn't take a catastrophe to end entire lineages. An analysis of 200 million years of history for marine clams found that vulnerability to extinction runs in evolutionary families, even when the losses result form ongoing, background rates of extinction. "Biologists have long suspected that the evolutionary history of species and lineages play a big role in determining their vulnerability to extinction, with some branches of the tree of life being more extinction-prone than others," said Kaustuv Roy, a biology professor at the University of California, San Diego, noting that human activities threaten some evolutionary lineages of living vertebrates more than others. "Now we know that such differential loss is not restricted to extinctions driven by us but is a general feature of the extinction process itself." Roy and colleagues Gene Hunt of the Smithsonian Institution and David Jablonski of the University of Chicago report their findings in the journal Science on August 7.

Scientists Find Early Evolution Maximized The 'Spellchecking' Of Protein Sequences. As letters of the alphabet spell out words, when amino acids are linked to one another in a particular order they "spell out" proteins. But sometimes the cell machinery for building proteins in our bodies makes a mistake and the wrong amino acid is inserted. The consequences can be devastating, resulting in a garbled protein that no longer has the correct function, possibly leading to cancers and other diseases. Now scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have examined how an enzyme responsible for adding one amino acid, alanine, to proteins has come to have its own spellchecker. In their paper published in the August 7, 2009, issue of Science, Scripps Research Professor Paul Schimmel and colleagues show that two separate functions—alanine adding and editing—were joined together in a single enzyme during early evolution, in a way that greatly enhances these activities. The findings provide a glimpse into how enzyme functions have evolved.

Climate-caused Biodiversity Booms And Busts In Ancient Plants And Mammals. A period of global warming from 53 million to 47 million years ago strongly influenced plants and animals, spurring a biodiversity boom in western North America, researchers from three research museums report in a paper recently published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Today, the middle of Wyoming is a vast desert, and a few antelope and deer are all you see," said lead author Michael Woodburne, honorary curator of geology at the Museum of Northern Arizona. "But 50 million years ago, when temperatures were at their highest, that area was a tropical rainforest teeming with lemur-like primates, small dawn horses and a number of small forest rodents and other mammals. In fact, there were more species of mammals living in the western part of North America at that time than at any other time."

Bipedal Humans Came Down From The Trees, Not Up From The Ground. A detailed examination of the wrist bones of several primate species challenges the notion that humans evolved their two-legged upright walking style from a knuckle-walking ancestor. The same lines of evidence also suggest that knuckle-walking evolved at least two different times, making gorillas distinct from chimpanzees and bonobos. "We have the most robust data I've ever seen on this topic," said Daniel Schmitt, a Duke University associate professor of evolutionary anthropology. "This model should cause everyone to re-evaluate what they've said before."

Primate Archaeology Sheds Light On Human Origins. A University of Calgary archaeologist who is one of the few researchers in the world studying the material culture of human beings' closest living relatives – the great apes – is joining his colleagues in creating a new discipline devoted to the history of tool use in all primate species in order to better understand human evolution. Julio Mercader, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Tropical Archaeology in the U of C's Department of Archaeology, is a coauthor of a new paper titled "Primate archaeology" published recently in the journal Nature. Mercader is one of 18 co-authors from universities including Cambridge, Rutgers, Kyoto University and schools in Spain, Italy and France. They argue that recent discoveries of tool use by a wide variety of wild primates and archaeological evidence of chimpanzees using stone tools for thousands of years is forcing experts to re-think the traditional dividing lines between humans and other primate species as well as the belief that tool use is the exclusive domain of the genus Homo. The researchers advocate for a new inter-disciplinary field of primate archaeology to examine tool use by primates in a long-term, evolutionary context.

Wow, that's a lot of evolution news in one day! Maybe because the evidence is incontrovertible?

Unlikely Genetic Suspect Implicated In Common Brain Defect. A genetic search that wound its way from patients to mouse models and back to patients has uncovered an unlikely gene critically involved in a common birth defect which causes mental retardation, motor delays and sometimes autism, providing a new mechanism and potentially improving treatment for the disorder. Researchers from the University of Chicago, University of Alberta and other institutions announce in the September issue of Nature Genetics (available online August 10) that the FOXC1 gene contributes to Dandy-Walker malformation (DWM), a brain defect that occurs in 1 of every 5,000 births. The role of the gene in Dandy-Walker malformation dispels the fog surrounding what goes awry in the brains of children born with the disorder. DWM is characterized by an improperly formed cerebellum, the region at the back of the brain involved in movement and coordination. As a result children with this disorder require considerable medical care, and in some cases surgery to treat the build up of fluid around the brain, a condition called hydrocephalus.

Even a small nation like New Zealand is being afflicted by anti-vax pro-disease nonsense. Thankfully, even a "liberal bloke" can understand the basics of science and how evidence actually works. Now if we could only get the celebrities with IQ that hover below room temperature to understand that here in the US...

Hopefully the CDC and other agencies will learn from the fiasco of the 1970s and do things right in regards to swine flu. This time the testing should be more robust, although even testing is always limited. One can only hope that things are more controlled now, and we are actually able to prevent an epidemic. Although, if there is a global epidemic like 1918, can we heap this on the laps of the anti-vax pro-disease nutters? Please?

As if H1N1 wasn't enough o worry about, what about H3N2? Okay, this particular virus isn't expected to spread to humans, but that doesn't mean we may not be missing other obvious viruses that do pose a threat. Remember, us humans suck at evaluating risks and dangers. In being all caught up over H1N1, w may be missing something obvious. Although I would blame the scientifically illiterate drones of our society for being the dumbasses they are, and forcing researchers to hyper-focus on something as opposed to keeping their eyes open. I just hope it doesn't bite us in the end.

Friday, August 07, 2009

News from Dr. Plait

I’m not shedding too many tears over the tsunami of bad press the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is receiving right now.

I’ve written about them before, oh yes. They are the ones headed by Meryl Dorey, the woman who says vaccinations are dangerous, who says no one dies of pertussis, who says that it’s better not to vaccinate, who insinuates (at the 11:50 mark of that video) that doctors only vaccinate children because it’s profitable for them. She says that, even though on that live TV program she sat a few feet away from Toni and David McCaffery, parents who had just lost their four week old daughter to pertussis because she was too young to be vaccinated yet and the herd immunity in Sydney was too low to suppress the pertussis bacterium. This year alone, three babies in Australia, including young Dana McCaffery, have died from pertussis.

Not enough parents are vaccinating their children. And groups like the AVN spread misinformation about vaccines, spread it like a foul odor on the wind.

As I wrote a few days ago, the AVN will be investigated for their propaganda about vaccines. And now Dick Smith, an Australian businessman and founding skeptic there, has sponsored a devastating ad created by the Australian Skeptics. The ad ran in The Australian, a national newspaper, on Thursday:

Click it to see it full-size.

The ad has picked up some press of its own; it was covered by the Australian Broadcasting Network website. The AVN claims they are not antivax, but instead are pro choice. Dick Smith disagrees:

They are actually anti-vaccination and they should put on every bit of their material that they are anti-vaccination in great big words.

The evidence is on his side.

There’s an article on the ad on ITWire, too. Word is spreading. You can help: blog about this. Tell people about this. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter.

By spreading misinformation about vaccinations the AVN is scaring parents. The herd immunity is low in part because parents are scared to vaccinate their children. The low herd immunity is killing babies. It really is just that simple.

My daughter recently found my cache of old home movies from when she was a baby. We’ve been laughing, watching her eat and play and be silly when she was just a few months old. Then I think of Toni and David McCaffery and a piece of my heart dies. Then I think of the AVN, and it screams.

Vaccines are one of the greatest triumphs of humanity; the ability to save hundreds of millions of lives through a simple inoculation. But because some people cannot accept reality, innocent human lives will be lost.

I applaud Dick Smith and the Australian skeptics, including my friends Rachael Dunlop and Richard Saunders, for undertaking this heroic effort of shining a bright light on the AVN.

Antivaxxers must be stopped.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Today in the News (5 Aug 09)

Scary Ancient 'Spiders' Revealed In 3D Models, With New Imaging Technique. Early relatives of spiders that lived around 300 million years ago are revealed in new three-dimensional models, in research published August 5 in the journal Biology Letters. Scientists at Imperial College London have created detailed 3D computer models of two fossilized specimens of ancient creatures called Cryptomartus hindi and Eophrynus prestvicii, closely related to modern-day spiders. The study reveals some of the physical traits that helped them to hunt for prey and evade predators.

Human Population Expanded During Late Stone Age, Genetic Evidence Shows. Genetic evidence is revealing that human populations began to expand in size in Africa during the Late Stone Age approximately 40,000 years ago. A research team led by Michael F. Hammer (Arizona Research Laboratory's Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona) found that sub-Saharan populations increased in size well before the development of agriculture. This research supports the hypothesis that population growth played a significant role in the evolution of human cultures in the Late Pleistocene. The team's findings are published in the online peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE on July 29. Reconstructions of the timing and magnitude of changes in human population size are important for understanding the evolution of our species. There has been a longstanding disagreement whether humans began to increase in number as a result of innovative technologies and/or behaviors formulated by hunter-gatherer groups in the Late Pleistocene, or with the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic. Hammer's research integrates empirical genetics with discoveries in paleontology and archeology to help provide answers to interdisciplinary questions about which kinds of innovations led to the evolutionary success of humankind.

Cyber Exploring The 'Ecosystems' Of Influenzas. Predicting the infection patterns of influenzas requires tracking both the ecology and the evolution of the fast-morphing viruses that cause them, said a Duke University researcher who enlists computers to model such changes. A single mutation can put a flu virus on a new-enough path to re-infect people who had developed immunity to its previous form, said Katia Koelle, a Duke assistant professor of biology.

Australian skeptics strike back against antivaxxers!

In news that makes me want to shout from the rooftops, the Australian Skeptics have announced that a formal complaint has been lodged against Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), a rabid antivax group that has been giving misleading information about vaccinations in their literature and on Aussie TV for months. You can read the whole complaint here (PDF).

If Ms. Dorey’s name sounds familiar, she’s the person who said that pertussis (whooping cough) doesn’t kill anybody — but it did kill 4 week old Dana McCaffery, who was too young to get vaccinated against it. You can read more of what I’ve written on Ms. Dorey, and I also suggest you take a look at some of her, ah, odd ideas involving conspiracy theories and the Illuminati.


The complaint lodged against Dorey and the AVN means she and they will be investigated by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission for breaches of the Public Health Act of 1993. Since Dorey and the AVN do dispense (bad, wrong, and I daresay potentially lethal) advice about health, they fall under this act.

I’m very happy this action has been taken, and I’ll keep you updated as I hear more.

On faith, science, and the autism debate. One thing that struck me as interesting is that currently vaccines cause mor problems than the disease we vaccinate against. The anti-vax pro-disease nutters seem to be missing a very important point in this. VACCINES ARE WORKING! If you look over at the deaths that many of these diseases caused, I'm sure you don't want those numbers again. or should I introduce you to my High School friend who is in a wheelchair because his parents didn't give him his polio vaccine?

Senate hears pleas for autism research. Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee heard pleas for more money for autism research and to help families pay for therapies not covered by health insurance. HOPEFULLY the congress critter idiots we've elected won't fall for the anti-vax pro-disease nutters, or won't cover questionable or even dangerous therapies. THIS is why we need some scientific literacy in this country.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Today in the News (4 Aug 09)

Anti-influenza Drugs -- Relenza And Tamiflu -- Appear Equally Effective At Preventing Flu Symptoms. Two common anti-influenza drugs — Relenza and Tamiflu — appear equally effective at preventing common flu symptoms when given before infection, say researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine. However, data is lacking on the effectiveness and safety of the two drugs in vulnerable groups such as the very young and people with compromised immune systems. The researchers pooled and analyzed the data from seven previously published studies because countries around the world are stockpiling these and other drugs for possible use in the current H1N1 pandemic, as well as for future influenza pandemics.

Promising Candidate Protein For Cancer Prevention Vaccines. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have learned that some healthy people naturally developed an immune response against a protein that is made in excess levels in many cancers, including breast, lung, and head and neck cancers. The finding suggests that a vaccine against the protein might prevent malignancies in high-risk individuals. Mice that were vaccinated to boost their immune response against this cell cycle protein, called cyclin B1, were able to reject a tumor challenge in which they were exposed to a cancer cell line that overproduced it, explained senior author Olivera Finn, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at the Pitt School of Medicine. The results were recently reported in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Autism Study Finds Visual Processing 'Hinders Ability' To Read Body Language. The way people with autism see and process the body language of others could be preventing them from gauging people's feelings, according to new research. With around half a million people in the UK affected by autism, the Durham University study suggests visual processing problems could be contributing to their day-to-day difficulties with social interaction. The research showed that adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) found it difficult to identify emotions, such as anger or happiness, from short video clips of body movements without seeing faces or hearing sound.

How to debunk a health myth? Not as easy as one would seem to think. We are fearful animals that are incredibly gullible and swayed by irrelevant factors. Hopefully we won't have the children of irresponsible adults dying left and right from preventable diseases. Of course, they are the ones who can prevent it with simple science.

Your parent's genes shape the way your brain works. DUH! Although this article explores the evolutionary background information in this, which I found fascinating! We each have two parents, but their genetic contributions to what makes us us are uneven. New research shows we are an amalgam of influences from mom and dad.

Being more infantile may lead to bigger brains. For decades scientists have noted that mature humans physically resemble immature chimps—we, too, have small jaws, flat faces and sparse body hair. The retention of juvenile features, called neoteny in evolutionary biology, is especially apparent in domesticated animals—thanks to human preferences, many dog breeds have puppy features such as floppy ears, short snouts and large eyes. Now genetic evidence suggests that neoteny could help explain why humans are so radically different from chimpanzees, even though both species share most of the same genes and split apart only about six million years ago, a short time in evolutionary terms.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Today in the News (3 Aug 09)

So, if someone denies both Evolution and Global Warming, I wonder what they will think of this article? In a matter of years or decades, researchers believe, animals and plants already are adapting to life in a warmer world. Some species will be unable to change quickly enough and will go extinct, but others will evolve, as natural selection enables them to carry on in an altered environment.

Unlocking The Key To Human Fertility. Scientists at Leeds and Bradford have discovered a unique ‘DNA signature’ in human sperm, which may act as a key that unlocks an egg’s fertility and triggers new life. Drs David Miller and David Iles from the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Dr Martin Brinkworth at the University of Bradford, have found that sperm writes a DNA signature that can only be recognised by an egg from the same species. This enables fertilisation and may even explain how a species develops its own unique genetic identity.

New, Faster Way To Diagnose, Fight Flu. Researchers at Emory University are using a new and faster method of rapidly producing highly targeted monoclonal antibodies for use in diagnostic tests as well as a temporary therapy to stave off infectious diseases such as the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the Emory Vaccine Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, and his collaborators generated high-affinity monoclonal antibodies against a strain of the influenza virus only a month after vaccinating human volunteers.

Scientists Report Original Source Of Malaria. Researchers have identified what they believe is the original source of malignant malaria: a parasite found in chimpanzees in equatorial Africa. UC Irvine biologist Francisco Ayala and colleagues think the deadly parasite was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees perhaps as recently as 5,000 years ago – and possibly through a single mosquito, genetic analyses indicate. Previously, malaria's origin had been unclear. This discovery could aid the development of a vaccine for malaria, which sickens about 500 million people and kills about 1.5 million each year. It also furthers understanding of how infectious diseases such as HIV, SARS, and avian and swine flu can be transmitted to humans from animals.

If you have access to the American Journal of Psychiatry, I recommend this article. Not because it shows some incredibly new earthshaking development in the understanding of autism itself, but rather how we are studying it.

And this article from the Boston Globe had a very interesting paragraph
. Basically it said, autistic children seem to have overly folded brains. This extra folding is significant enough that it actually increases the surface area of the cortex, said Antonio Hardan, a child psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., who conducted the research.