Facts, not Fantasy

Monday, January 31, 2011

Vaccine Times: Mom: I know for a fact that my son's autism was not caused by vaccines

Vaccine Times has a great bit of "data" (I'm sorry, an anecdote). While rational people know that the plural of anecdote is not data, it is refreshing that there are anecdotes of people who actually do listen to the real data that is available.  I know, it's sort of convoluted, but Jenny McCarthy and her ilk of pro-disease nutters need to have a counter not only in scientific literature, but also as a popular movement.  Please spread the word.

Jenny McCarthy is always talking about all the parents that know vaccines caused their children’s autism. She said on Larry King Live that parent’s anecdotes are scientific evidence. Well, Jenny allow me to present you with some more “scientific evidence”. Yes, there are parents of autistic children who have lifted themselves above the “must blame something/someone” phase, have educated themselves and have accepted the fact that we don’t yet know what causes autism. There are many more parents like the one below who do not think vaccines had anything to do with their children’s autism, but the incentive to speak out is obviously lower for them than the ones who are very angry because they believe their children are victims of vaccines.

We thank this mother for making this video and sharing it with the world: we need such parents to show that, unlike in the scientific arena, in the public arena there are indeed two sides of the story and not all parents of autistic children blame life-saving vaccines.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Zero Speaks: 10 Arguments you should not use against evolution.

I found a couple of videos that I enjoyed that folks should watch. The first one applies to evolution arguments, like I outline here, and here.  Enjoy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Palm Beach Post: Vaccine-autism link proved false?

Not sure why the Opinion Staff used a question mark in their title.  I think with the level of fraud and lying that was documented, it was never really a true question.  I urge you to go to the website and vote in the affirmative as far as the question is concerned.

Vaccine-autism link proved false?

by Opinion Staff

The puzzle piece symbol was first created in 1963 by the National Autistic Society.
In 1998 British Dr. Andrew Wakefield published in The Lancet a study he said showed a link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

That study, which included only 12 children, has been under scientific attack for years. Nevertheless, it caused some parents of autistic children to blame themselves and their pediatricians for using the vaccine. It caused other parents not to inoculate their children, leaving them at risk for the diseases – and for spreading the diseases to others.

Now the British Medical Journal has published a report it says shows the original study – which The Lancet eventually retracted – was not just wrong. It was, the journal says, a case of fraud.

Medical histories of all 12 children in the original study were altered to make the vaccine seem to blame for their autism. Timelines were blurred to make it seem that symptoms that showed up before the children were inoculated had not appeared until after the vaccines were administered.

We think the British Medical Journal’s report debunks once and for all the supposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine. But what do you think? Is the vaccine-autism link debunked? Take our poll.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stat Girl: Healthday anti-vax Propaganda

A blogger by the name of "StatGirl" posts a blog where she states:  "Ever notice how the media abuses statistics to write headline? Have you ever fallen for a poorly written "conclusion" from a scientific study? This blog attacks the poor reporting of statistics by the media to save people from making poor decisions based on misinterpretations of data. Also, it's just good clean fun for me."  I suppose one area where people are constantly getting it wrong is in the manufactured vaccine debate. Not only that, it seems that people aren't above intentionally misrepresenting things for their agenda.  But then we knew that about the anti-vax pro-disease charlatans.

Healthday anti-vax propaganda --Parents believe the MMR Autsim Link and then a third party PAC makes sure you still question rationality

Slightly More than Half of Americans Say Vaccines Don't Cause Autism 18% Don't Trust MMR Vaccine and 30% are Undecided

Seriously? Have 18% of American adults lost their minds? Probably.  I want to skip my tirade about how dangerous this belief system is (based on questioning result after result by claiming conflicts of interest on the part of researchers). Not to mention that it's poor logic.

Time to look at how badly the reporting screwed up the numbers. In all surveys, there is a margin of error. What was it here? No idea. Went to Harris interactive and they can't seem to figure one out.  Sooo... 18%? Who knows. If the margin of error is +/- 5 percentage points. So could be 13%? Could be 23%? Whatever. Poor reporting. Also, isn't there some belief that at any given point in time 20% of American are mentally ill? 18% anti-vaxx, 20% mentally ill... if only... but I try not to commit crimes against logic.

At the very bottom of their tables, they offered some commentary/disclaimers about the survey, (they pay their sample and have to "adjust for" propensity to be online, propensity to respond to a survey, age, race, education level and income to make sure that the sample looks like the American public. Gimme a break. That's A LOT of adjusting.

Here's their explanation,
"All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How Herd Immunity Works

All too often, the anti-vax pro-disease crowd will abuse terminology, as well as the basic concept behind the terminology.  This video does a great job of actually explaining what it is, as well as showing simulations (which you can run yourself).  Please spread this word like vaccines!

The simulation itself can be found at http://www.shanekillian.org/apps/herd.html.  Go ahead and run it and play with it.  It's amazing the things you can learn by playing with the variables.

Vaccine Times: More dead from flu in the UK

More sad news.  Not the bolded line in the text!  So what about the 17% who DID have the vaccine?  Well, that's where Herd Immunity comes in.  With appalling rates like this, I don't think those people really stood a chance.  Again, more bodies to the count for involuntary manslaughter by Wakefield et. al. Stay tuned for a post that explains more about Herd Immunity by the way.  Just because you did get a vaccine does not make you immune, nor does someone else getting a vaccine make you less at risk.  It takes both prongs to work.  Science isn't black and white, nor is it easy.  This takes understanding and serious work.  Someone's "mommy sense" or common sense will not cut it in this field!

The number of flu victims has more than doubled from 112 to 254, partly due to a backlog of information processing due to year-end holidays. That doesn’t change the fact that the flu has claimed 254 human lives in the United Kingdom alone this flu season. 195 of the victims have been confirmed to have had the H1N1 (swine flu) strain of the disease. Also, the majority of the victims were under 65 years of age, with 7 confirmed deaths in children under five. We have incomplete information on vaccination status, but based on what is known so far, among 71 cases in which vaccination status was known, 83 percent had not received a flu shot this season.
“Our latest flu report suggests levels of flu are declining …but nonetheless flu is still circulating in the community and the message remains that people in an at-risk group should get the seasonal flu vaccine,” said John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Greg Laden: Vaccination vs. Disease: Which is worse?

Greg laden has another excellent post over at Science Blogs.  I encourage you to click on over and read the whole essay.  And make sure to follow the recomendations to the two Paul Offit books, I really can't recommend them enough.  I have both of them on my Kindle.  Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All and Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure Note the titles.  Dr. Offit doesn't pull punches when it comes to the dangerous lies and distortions of the anti-vax pro-disease movement, and the preying they do on frightened parents who really don't know what is happening to their child.

Vaccination vs. Disease: Which is worse?

Category: BooksHealthvaccine
Posted on: January 17, 2011 12:49 PM, by Greg Laden

It is very reasonable for a parent to worry about vaccines. For one thing, most of them involve sticking the baby or child with a sharp object, thus making the little one cry, and it would be abnormal to not have an automatic reaction to that. For another thing, they are drugs, in a sense. When the little one is ill, and you call in to the health care facility in the hopes that there will be some useful advice, most of the time you hear "No, we no longer recommend giving [fill in the blank with a medicine you thought might work] to children under [one or two months older than your child]. But if [symptom] persists for more than [amount of time that is 12 hours longer than the symptoms ever persist], call back."

So, on one hand, health professionals are telling us that our desire to slip the little one a little cold medicine is undesirable, but they, the health professionals, want to stick our babies with needles in order to deliver literally dozens of different concoctions. Indeed, the experience is so traumatic for the babies that the pediatricians will have nothing to do with it. Typically, if your child is seen by a pediatrician at the same visit that s/he would receive a vaccination, the pediatrician will look the child over first, then get the hell out of Dodge before the inoculations nurse shows up with the needles. This way, the child does not learn to hate the doctor. This whole experience is tough for any parent, and it must be especially tough for adults who happen to have Trypanophobia, which is not very uncommon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CDC: Vaccines for Children Program

The CDC has unveiled a program to get vaccines to uninsured children.  This is a vital program, not only because it provides a service that is desperately needed, but also because it targets a particularly at risk segment of the population.  It is programs like this that helps eradicate diseases.  Not that the anti-vax pro-disease folks would have you participate...  I urge you to go to the CDC page so that not only can you get the information about this program, but also follow the links to the many other pages of information about vaccines, the diseases they prevent, and other fact based education.

VFC Program: Vaccines for Uninsured Children

The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program helps provide vaccines to children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them. This helps ensure that all children have a better chance of getting their recommended vaccinations on schedule. These vaccines protect babies, young children, and adolescents from 16 diseases (see the list).
Photo: Two childenVaccines available through the VFC Program are those recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC, as the administrator of VFC, purchases and distributes the vaccines to private and public health care providers who are enrolled in the VFC Program.

Who Is Eligible for the VFC Program?

Your child is eligible for the VFC Program if he or she is younger than 19 years of age and is one of the following:
  • Medicaid-eligible
  • Uninsured
  • Underinsured
  • American Indian or Alaska Native

What Is Underinsured?

Underinsured means your child has health insurance, but it
  • Doesn't cover vaccines, or
  • Doesn't cover certain vaccines, or
  • Covers vaccines but has a fixed dollar limit or cap for vaccines. Once that fixed dollar amount is reached, your child is then eligible.
Underinsured children are eligible to receive vaccines only at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) or Rural Health Clinics (RHC). An FQHC is a type of provider that meets certain criteria under Medicare and Medicaid programs. If you need help locating an FQHC or RHC, contact your state VFC coordinator.

What Is the Cost?

There is no charge for any vaccines given by a VFC provider to eligible children. But there can be some other costs with a vaccination:
  • Doctors can charge a set (or standard) fee to administer each shot. But if the family can't afford the fee per shot, the fee must be excused. A VFC-eligible child cannot be refused a vaccination due to the parent's or guardian's inability to pay for shot administration.
  •  There can be a fee for the office visit.
  • There can be fees for non-vaccine services, like an eye exam or blood test.

Where Can My Child Get Vaccinated?

If your child is eligible (see above), check that your child's doctor is a VFC Program provider.
Photo: Two girls.If your child's doctor isn't a VFC provider, you can take your child to one of the following places to get VFC vaccinations:
  • Public health clinic (local health department)
  • Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC)
  • Rural Health Clinic (RHC)
The best place to take your child depends on where you live and what type of eligibility your child has under the VFC Program. Contact your state's VFC Coordinator to find out where to take your child for VFC vaccinations.
You can find your state's VFC Coordinator online. Or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636) and ask for the phone number of your state's VFC Coordinator. 

Federal Funding, State Management

The VFC Program is funded by the United States government. In general, state health departments manage the VFC Program, but in some locations it may be managed by a city or territorial health department. Nationwide, there are over 40,000 doctors enrolled in the VFC Program.


More Information

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vaccine Boosts Immune System, Helps Prevent Chronic Inflammation

Not really sure how else to respond to this, other than to say DUH!  Although, to be fair, read the whole article.  It is really about taking a substance that our bodies naturally makes, and then injecting that in the form of a vaccine.  I know that in the lies and distortions told about vaccines by the anti-vax pro-disease nutters, there is some discussion about aluminum and formaldehyde.  I think the key takeaway in this is that the method of introduction is somewhat important.

Vaccine Boosts Immune System, Helps Prevent Chronic Inflammation

ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2010) — Researchers at BRIC, the University of Copenhagen, have discovered that the human body can create its own vaccine, which boosts the immune system and helps prevent chronic inflammatory diseases. The researchers' results have just been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and may have significant consequences in developing new medicine.

Researchers at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen have discovered a protein normally found in the body that can act to prevent chronic tissue inflammation. When administered in the form of a therapeutic vaccine it is able to effectively prevent and treat a number of different inflammatory disease models for multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), skin hypersensitivity and allergic asthma (AA).

The results of this study have just been published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation in the article entitled "Endogenous collagen peptide activation of CD1d-restricted NKT cells ameliorates multiple tissue-specific inflammation in mice."

The study was led by Principal Investigator Shohreh Issazadeh-Navikas, group leader for Neuroinflammation Unit at BRIC, and was the result of a translational collaboration involving researchers in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. The article culminates a decade's long search for ways to combat inflammation and inflammatory diseases.

"The implications of the findings are large as they shed light on an important way that the body combats inflammation and autoimmunity. Moreover, they establish a therapeutic approach for using the newly discovered protein as a treatment for multiple conditions," says Shohreh Issazadeh-Navikas.

Many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are chronic and affect a large majority of people. Moreover, there is an inflammatory component to many common diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, RA, AA, MS, type II diabetes and cancers. The vaccine discovered by the researchers boosts special cells of the immune system, called NKT cells.

NKT cells are a type of T cell that exert profound and diverse regulatory effects in disease, from autoimmunity to responses to pathogens and cancer. For over two decades since their discovery NKT cells have traditionally been considered to be activated by lipid antigens presented by CD1 molecules. However, Professor Issazadeh-Navikas' group was able to show for the first time the ability of a self peptide to activate NKT cells to suppress many tissue-specific inflammatory conditions including experimental autoimmune diseases.

This highly significant and novel finding offers a new perspective on the ways in which the body combats inflammation in both health and disease. In addition, the researchers identified the activation requirements and signaling pathway through which they exert their function.

Professor Issazadeh-Navikas highlights, "Our data offer a novel perspective on the physiological role of these cells in maintenance of tissue homeostasis and reduction of inflammation."

The findings significantly advance the fields of autoimmunity, antigen presentation, and NKT cells. They provide mechanistic insight into the biology of these cells and their roles in disease and point the way to therapies to treat many common conditions.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

SciAm: Dawn of the Deed: the Origin of Sex

Just read the full article in my print version of the magazine.  This blurb and video link to the cover story.  Sadly, it's things like this that lead the ignorant and deluded to proclaim that because we learn more, the whole structure of the theory is falling apart.  How little they actually understand science:

Dawn of the Deed: the Origin of Sex [Video]

Evidence of reproduction by internal fertilization has been discovered in a large group of ancient jawed fish. Embryos discovered within fossils of these animals confirm that live birth in prehistoric times was much more widespread than previously thought. Watch the researchers talk about the fossils and techniques used to find them.

Scientists used to think that, among backboned animals, internal fertilization and carrying the young inside the mother's body originated in sharks and their kin some 350 million years ago. Before then, sexual reproduction in fish consisted of spawning, wherein females deposit eggs in the water, the males fertilize them, and the embryos then develop out in the open. Or so the story went.

As the cover story of the January 2011 Scientific American explains, recent analyses of fossils found in a remote locale in northwestern Australia and elsewhere have shown that intercourse and live birth actually arose millions of years earlier than previously believed—and in a more primitive group of fish than the one to which sharks belong. These fish—called placoderms—reside on the long line of animals leading us, and their sexual equipment gave rise to our own reproductive system and other parts of our anatomy.

In this video paleontologist John A. Long of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, author of the cover story, discusses a fossil central to this new view of the origin of copulation and live birth: a 375-million-year-old expectant mother fish dubbed Materpiscis attenboroughi.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Vaccine Times: 3 dead of the flu in Los Angeles County

And it starts.  Now, these are still small numbers of people, and there were some underlying health concerns, but it still doesn't lessen the impact of someone's death.  I just want to reiterate that you should get your vaccine for this strain.  It's available, and poses minimal risks (less than the disease itself, which is the entire point!).

Los Angeles county has just reported its first 3 flu related deaths of the 2010-2011 flu season, including a 4-year-old boy, a 28-year-old woman and a 48-year-old man. All three died from a vaccine preventable strain of the virus, although it is no immediately clear if they were vaccinated. The adults were both obese, putting them in one of the at-risk groups along with the very young, elderly etc. On average LA county records about 1,000 deaths per flu season.

It is not too late to get the flu shot given that the flu season can last as long as May. According to the CDC recommendations, every person over 6 months of age should protect themselves via the annual flu shot. Get yours today.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vaccine Times: Vaccine Preventable Death - Lana Ameen

These stories always make me tear up.  This suffering and death could easily have been prevented.  This small child should be on a playground, going to school, and growing up.  Instead she's worm food...  There is no greater tragedy.  My heart goes out to the family.

Lana Ameen, the three-year-old girl who died from swine flu in a Liverpool hospital. Photograph: Handout/PA

Age at death– 3 years
Cause of death-H1N1 (Swine flu)
Vaccination status – Unvaccinated
Synopsis – Lana developed symptoms over Christmas and was gone within 48 hours. She had not been vaccinated for swine flu. Her story can be read at The Guardian. Here are some excerpts:
She developed what appeared to be a cold on Christmas Eve and was prescribed cough medicine, but woke screaming in the night with a high temperature. Her parents took her to hospital, where she was diagnosed with an infection.
Doctors brought her temperature down and sent her home. On Christmas Day she appeared better, managing to open her presents and eat some dinner, the Ameens said, but later began having fits and was taken back to Stepping Hill hospital, Stockport, in an ambulance.
Over the next three hours, she was revived three times, her parents said, before being moved to a special care unit at Alder Hey hospital, Liverpool where, on Boxing Day, doctors told the couple she was brain dead and switched off her life support machine. Tests showed she died of swine flu.
In the video below, Lana’s mom implores the government to make vaccine available to all, and asks all parents to vaccinate their kids even if they have to pay for it themselves. Heartbreaking, our hearts and thoughts go out to Lana’s parents and the rest of her family. We are very sorry for your tragic loss.

Bad Astronomy: Some Vax Facts

I'd like to thank Dr. Plait for pointing me to another site that is endeavouring to quell all the bad information out there.  Dr. Plait specifically points out their fact or fiction page, which should sound very familiar.  I will be adding Immunize for Good on the links page as soon as I can!  This is exactly what Dr. Plait has to say.  You will have to go to his actual site though to read some of the brilliant comments though (and some which air the same confusion I feel as to why people actually listen to the likes of Jenny McCarthy...).


Just a quickie:

1) Today is the birthday of actress Amanda Peet, who is a pro-health hero of mine. Here’s why:

2) Jenny McCarthy is still spouting dangerous nonsense about vaccinations, autism, and health, this time on that notorious font of anti-reality, The Huffington Post. Orac takes her down as does Mike on his weekly Skeptical Rant.

3) I’m very pleased that the website Immunize for Good is now live! This site, put together by my good friends at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, is one-stop shopping for reliable, accurate information about vaccinations. Why should you vaccinate your kids (and keep up your boosters)? What do parents say? What are the facts? Immunize for Good is the link that should be at the tip of your clipboard when anyone asks these questions. Got friends, family, acquaintances who are new parents. Send them to Immunize for Good. Please. Especially point out the Fact or Fiction section. Just doing that can save lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lice DNA Study Shows Humans First Wore Clothes 170,000 Years Ago

One of the most incredibly useful tools (and also misunderstood by ignorant and uneducated general populations) is DNA.  That everything about DNA supports the theory of evolution, even though we really didn't have any insight into it until relatively recently speaks to the robustness of the theory of evolution.  Not only does DNA help us learn about the biological processes of evolution, but even other historical events in our development as a society!  Of course, this requires the study of DNA from our parasites and other creatures.  Enjoy this article, and feel free to follow up on the science.

Lice DNA Study Shows Humans First Wore Clothes 170,000 Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Jan. 7, 2011) — A new University of Florida study following the evolution of lice shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, a technology which enabled them to successfully migrate out of Africa.

Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month's print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

"We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing," Reed said. "Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn't exist until clothing came about in humans."

The data shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 70,000 years before migrating into colder climates and higher latitudes, which began about 100,000 years ago. This date would be virtually impossible to determine using archaeological data because early clothing would not survive in archaeological sites.
The study also shows humans started wearing clothes well after they lost body hair, which genetic skin-coloration research pinpoints at about 1 million years ago, meaning humans spent a considerable amount of time without body hair and without clothing, Reed said.

"It's interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn't until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world," Reed said.

Lice are studied because unlike most other parasites, they are stranded on lineages of hosts over long periods of evolutionary time. The relationship allows scientists to learn about evolutionary changes in the host based on changes in the parasite.

Applying unique data sets from lice to human evolution has only developed within the last 20 years, and provides information that could be used in medicine, evolutionary biology, ecology or any number of fields, Reed said.

"It gives the opportunity to study host-switching and invading new hosts -- behaviors seen in emerging infectious diseases that affect humans," Reed said.

A study of clothing lice in 2003 led by Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, estimated humans first began wearing clothes about 107,000 years ago. But the UF research includes new data and calculation methods better suited for the question.

"The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much older than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense," said Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. "It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions."

The last Ice Age occurred about 120,000 years ago, but the study's date suggests humans started wearing clothes in the preceding Ice Age 180,000 years ago, according to temperature estimates from ice core studies, Gilligan said. Modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago.

Because archaic hominins did not leave descendants of clothing lice for sampling, the study does not explore the possibility archaic hominins outside of Africa were clothed in some fashion 800,000 years ago. But while archaic humans were able to survive for many generations outside Africa, only modern humans persisted there until the present.

"The things that may have made us much more successful in that endeavor hundreds of thousands of years later were technologies like the controlled use of fire, the ability to use clothing, new hunting strategies and new stone tools," Reed said.

Study co-authors were Melissa Toups of Indiana University and Andrew Kitchen of The Pennsylvania State University, both previously with UF. Co-author Jessica Light of Texas A&M University was formerly a post-doctoral fellow at the Florida Museum. The researchers completed the project with the help of Reed's NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award, which is granted to researchers who exemplify the teacher-researcher role.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

SciAm: Getting a Leg Up on Evolution--the Comic Book Version

One of the biggest problems in teaching the fact of evolution is that children get brainwashed by ignorant parents before they have a chance to learn about reality.  These parents are ignorant about evolution because they themselves have not been taught about it, so they have misconceptions and faulty knowledge that perpetrates the mistakes and lies of others.  As such, I was pleased to find this particular article at Scientific American:

Getting a Leg Up on Evolution--the Comic Book Version

A graphic tour of how we humans came to be, through the eyes of space aliens Bloort and Prince Floorsh
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt of the graphic book, "Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth" (Hill and Wang, 2011). It was written by noted comic-book author and professor of biology Jay Hosler and illustrated by the award-winning duo Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Autism Treatment: Researchers Identify Possible Treatment for Impaired Sociability

Again, this looks at genetics as opposed to outside environmental factors.  I think this is great news, not so much because it promises a cure or treatment, but rather that it looks to understand autism better.  The treatment is a by-product.  This is what basic research is good for.  It gives you a foothold of understanding to complex and puzzling problems.

Autism Treatment: Researchers Identify Possible Treatment for Impaired Sociability

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2010) — Eastern Virginia Medical School researchers have identified a potential novel treatment strategy for the social impairment of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), an aspect of the condition that has a profound impact on quality of life.

"Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders are either disinterested in social interactions or find them unpleasant. They often don't understand what other people are thinking or feeling and misinterpret social cues," said Stephen I. Deutsch, MD, PhD, the Ann Robinson Chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "Sadly, persons with autism spectrum disorders are often painfully aware of their limited sociability, which can lead to profound feelings of sadness and frustration."

As part of their research, EVMS scientists verified that a specific mouse strain, known as the BALB/c mouse, is a valid animal model of the limited sociability seen in persons with ASD. In the presence of another mouse, BALB/c mice move as far away as possible and do not interact as normal mice do -- just like people with autism often avoid making social contact with other people.

This finding gave researchers a way to test whether an existing medication can alter the function of certain receptors in the brain known to affect sociability and help the animals be more at ease around others. The medication used, D-Cycloserine, originally was developed to treat tuberculosis, but previous studies showed, by chance, that it might change social behavior. In preliminary studies at EVMS, the medication appeared to resolve the Balb/c mouse's deficits of sociability; it behaved as a normal mouse would when placed near another.

Dr. Deutsch will discuss the research at EVMS' Quarterly Autism Education Series at noon, Dec. 14, in the school's Hofheimer Hall auditorium.

EVMS' laboratory studies with the Balb/c mouse led its investigators to hypothesize that D-Cycloserine could ease the impaired sociability of persons with autism, such as avoiding eye contact and personal interaction. Those traits can severely limit the possibility of employment and independent living for someone with autism.
"What makes this important is you might have someone with a 125 or 130 IQ who's unemployable" because of their social impairments, said Maria R. Urbano, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Dr. Urbano is moving this promising research from the laboratory directly to patient care by starting a pilot clinical trial of D-Cycloserine in adolescent and young adult patients with autism spectrum disorders. The trial will show whether the medication, which is already known to be safe for use in humans, has similar effects on the sociability deficits of persons with autism as it did in the mice. Her research is supported by a grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bad Astronomy: BREAKING: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

A note from Dr. Plait that I found to be a bit of good news for reality based people.

BREAKING: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

This is HUGE: The BMJ, an online medical journal, has accused Andrew Wakefield — the hero of the modern antivaccination movement — of being "a fraud".

The skeptic and medical community have been hammering Wakefield for years; his study linking vaccines and autism was shaky from the start, and he suffered a series of humiliating defeats last year: the Lancet medical journal withdrew his paper, he was struck off the UK General Medical Council’s register, and was found to have acted unethically.

Of course, the word "fraud" implies intent; when writing about Wakefield I had my suspicions, but always wrote as if he were just wrong, and not deliberately lying to vulnerable parents.

But deliberate fraud is what he’s now accused of. Brian Deer, an investigative journalist, has written a multi-part series on the BMJ site which slams Wakefield. Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, also writes about this… and just to be clear, she uses the word "fraud" nine times in her editorial. Not surprisingly, it’s been picked up by several news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and ABC.

Deer has been on Wakefield’s case a long time, and has been critical in exposing Wakefield’s shenanigans. Wakefield and the antivaxxers have attacked Deer many times, but their accusations are as hollow as the claims of links of autism to vaccinations. And let’s be clear: vaccines don’t cause autism.

Deer has long shown that Wakefield had a lot of financial incentive to create a fear of vaccines, including lawyers paying him to find a link to autism, as well as Wakefield developing his own version of a measles vaccine. From CNN:
According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR [measles-mumps-rubella] vaccine and three never had autism.
"It’s always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science," Godlee said. "But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Greg Laden: What is meant by "mosaic evolution" and other matters

Greg Laden has another wonderful post on his ScienceBlog page.  Well worth reading the whole thing.  Again, I am usually very concerned at how poorly the general public understands what the theory of evolution even states.  Most of what people think is part of the theory isn't.  As a matter of fact, most of what people think are part of the theory are just lies told by denialists.  That is why it is incumbent upon education and individuals to fight for the truth as opposed to a rehash of lies and fables...

What is meant by "mosaic evolution" and other matters

Category: EvolutionEvolutionary Biology
Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:10 PM, by Greg Laden
A discussion of misconceptions in evolution ... about missing links, or great chains of being, or teleology (the idea that evolution is goal-directed) has got to be the most fun you can have with your pants on. Pursuant to this, let's sharpen and clarify our evolutionary theory mojo by considering the concept of "mosaic evolution" ... what is it, and what isn't it?

Of course, the concept of mosaic evolution, meant to clarify how evolution works, is often itself misunderstood. From Wikipedia:

"Mosaic Evolution is the concept that major evolutionary changes tend to take place in stages, not all at once." .. well, sort of, but that is not the main point and it is not well stated. Continuing, "...It is a pattern in evolution ..." "a" pattern? I wouldn't have said it that way. It is more like a general characteristic of macroevolution ... "... in which the rates of evolution in one functional system vary from those in other systems." .. like, different rates of mutation? of selection? No, no, that's not it, it's about timing, not rates "...For example, in hominid evolution, the dental system, locomotor system, and neurological system, evolved at markedly different rates." Almost. These differed systems have different histories. They do not co-evolve (see below). The word "rate" is ill advised in this context. I'll explain shortly.
Click here to read the rest of the post.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Three Billion-Year-Old Genomic Fossils Deciphered

There are still people who deny evolution.  This mystifies me.  Again, if evolution was not true, then the fact that a 19th century Victorian Englishman came up with it, and somehow managed to have pretty much every discovery in biology, medicine, zoology, etc. support him borders on the ridiculous.  So I read with interest this article:

Three Billion-Year-Old Genomic Fossils Deciphered

ScienceDaily  — About 580 million years ago, life on Earth began a rapid period of change called the Cambrian Explosion, a period defined by the birth of new life forms over many millions of years that ultimately helped bring about the modern diversity of animals. Fossils help palaeontologists chronicle the evolution of life since then, but drawing a picture of life during the 3 billion years that preceded the Cambrian Period is challenging, because the soft-bodied Precambrian cells rarely left fossil imprints. However, those early life forms did leave behind one abundant microscopic fossil: DNA.

Because all living organisms inherit their genomes from ancestral genomes, computational biologists at MIT reasoned that they could use modern-day genomes to reconstruct the evolution of ancient microbes. They combined information from the ever-growing genome library with their own mathematical model that takes into account the ways that genes evolve: new gene families can be born and inherited; genes can be swapped or horizontally transferred between organisms; genes can be duplicated in the same genome; and genes can be lost.

The scientists traced thousands of genes from 100 modern genomes back to those genes' first appearance on Earth to create a genomic fossil telling not only when genes came into being but also which ancient microbes possessed those genes. The work suggests that the collective genome of all life underwent an expansion between 3.3 and 2.8 billion years ago, during which time 27 percent of all presently existing gene families came into being.

Eric Alm, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Biological Engineering, and Lawrence David, who recently received his Ph.D. from MIT and is now a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, have named this period the Archean Expansion.

Because so many of the new genes they identified are related to oxygen, Alm and David first thought that the emergence of oxygen might be responsible for the Archean Expansion. Oxygen did not exist in the Earth's atmosphere until about 2.5 billion years ago when it began to accumulate, likely killing off vast numbers of anerobic life forms in the Great Oxidation Event.

"The Great Oxidation Event was probably the most catastrophic event in the history of cellular life, but we don't have any biological record of it," says Alm.

Closer inspection, however, showed that oxygen-utilizing genes didn't appear until the tail end of the Archean Expansion 2.8 billion years ago, which is more consistent with the date geochemists assign to the Great Oxidation Event.

Instead, Alm and David believe they've detected the birth of modern electron transport, the biochemical process responsible for shuttling electrons within cellular membranes. Electron transport is used to breathe oxygen and by plants and some microbes during photosynthesis when they harvest energy directly from the sun. A form of photosynthesis called oxygenic photosynthesis is believed to be responsible for generating the oxygen associated with the Great Oxidation Event, and is responsible for the oxygen we breathe today.

The evolution of electron transport during the Archean Expansion would have enabled several key stages in the history of life, including photosynthesis and respiration, both of which could lead to much larger amounts of energy being harvested and stored in the biosphere.

"Our results can't say if the development of electron transport directly caused the Archean Expansion," says David. "Nonetheless, we can speculate that having access to a much larger energy budget enabled the biosphere to host larger and more complex microbial ecosystems."

David and Alm also went on to investigate how microbial genomes evolved after the Archean Expansion by looking at the metals and molecules associated with the genes and how those changed in abundance over time. They found an increasing percentage of genes using oxygen, and enzymes associated with copper and molybdenum, which is consistent with the geological record of evolution.

"What is really remarkable about these findings is that they prove that the histories of very ancient events are recorded in the shared DNA of living organisms," says Alm. "And now that we are beginning to understand how to decode that history, I have hope that we can reconstruct some of the earliest events in the evolution of life in great detail."

The figure shows the evolution of gene families in ancient genomes across the Tree of Life. The sizes of the little pie charts scale with the number of evolutionary events in lineages, slices indicate event types: gene birth (red), duplication (blue), horizontal gene transfer (green), and loss (yellow). The Archean Expansion period (3.33 to 2.85 billion years ago) is highlighted in green. (Credit: Lawrence David)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Today's Lesson: There is no such thing as a "Missing Link"

A "favorite" term of many who would deny evolution is to ask about "missing links".  This is a red herring.  There is no such thing.  It's like looking at a vast river or ocean, and asking someone to pick out the one drop of water that started it.  It just doesn't make sense.  Of course, with the information coming out about the Denisovans, I'm sure scientifically illiterate buffoons will spout off in the media.

I am reposting an article from Greg Laden about this (of ScienceBlogs).  He has quite a few things to say about the issue.

Falsehood: Is it ever OK to use the term "Missing Link"?

Today's falsehood1 is the idea of "The Missing Link." You've heard about The Missing Link. You'll hear that some palaeontologist has discovered something and they tell us it is "The Missing Link." Often, it is a supposed "link" between some ancestor of humans (a fossil ape, a monkey, whatever) and us humans. And often, you'll also find that when the press reports a "missing link" the science blogosphere erupts with a torrent flowing over the phrase and the concept, about how there really is no such thing as "The Missing Link," or that this particular report of such a link is spurious, or something else bad.

This is one of the great things about the blogosphere. In the old days, reporters would use terms or phrases that were inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise annoying and the rest of us ... the scientists and others with direct interest ... would cringe. If teaching a class at that moment, we might have ranted to our students about how we don't like the term or phrase. But today, with the blogosphere up and running in all its glory, we find a totally new phenomenon: The mis-users of terminology get very publicly raked across the coals like so many burning marshmallows. Bwahahaha!!!

This can be powerful and it can be real. For instance, last year, a new and very cool fossil (a new genus, Darwinus) was discovered and called a "missing link." The blogosphere went nuts, and the finders and reporters of Darwinus got totally raked like marshmallows over the coals. Around the same time, a hominid-related research project was reported with the term "missing link" used in a way that fostered a certain degree of blogspheric ire, and again, there was raking. So, when more recently a fossil that in any reasonable person's view could actually be called a missing link was reported, nobody used the term "missing link." Too much bad blood ... marshmallow blood ... had been spilled over the term. No one was going near it this time.

And that, of course, got me thinking. Was there now a consensus that the term "missing link" was always wrong, always incorrect, that there was no such thing as a missing link, and that using the term did little other than making it clear that they ... the users of the phrase ... are stupid marshmallows? I knew this could not be entirely true. I knew this was wrong partly because I have seen the term "Missing Link" used correctly, and I understood it to have a potentially accurate, if somewhat fluffy and not critically important, meaning. Well, the meaning is critically important but using this phrase to represent that meaning may not be important. I also knew something was up because during this last round of missing link bashing some very smart and well educated people were saying things about the concept that were partly true and partly incorrect. They were throwing the marshmallow out with the ashes, as it were. And during the course of this discourse, it dawned on me that "[Fill in the blank] is the missing link!" and "There is no such thing as the missing link!" are BOTH falsehoods. And when that happens, I go to work, because I write about falsehoods and stuff.

The term "Missing Link" is actually central to evolutionary thinking, and Darwin referred to the concept, although often using different words ("intermediate link" for example). "Linking forms" both interested and vexed Darwin. If enough intermediate links could be found between two established species, were they really different species? If evolution proceeds by tiny incremental changes, why does the fossil record not display the intermediate links? He addressed these questions with a number of suppositions, but we now understand that the rate of physical evolution is often variable, with very little visible change occurring for long periods, and rapid change occurring for short periods, and thus difficult to see in the fossil record.

Evolutionary stories are often about adaptive change over time, in which a feature changes in its function, or a new feature emerges. These stories were addressed by Darwin using a combination of fossil evidence, biogeography and comparison of modern species, and information from development (later, DNA would be added as a primary source of evidence). But sometimes, there was a step that must have occurred but that was not indicated by any of these lines of evidence. There would be a species, extinct or not yet discovered, that filled the gap in the sequence of events. These were not always actual historical events, but often simply a sequence of variants that demonstrated the possible modes of transition from one form to another.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Just the Vax: Source of CA Measles Outbreak

A post from Just the Vax.  The key take away is that the entire measles outbreak could have been prevented if not for one irresponsible quack!  First he lies about it not mattering (it does!), then he dismisses legitimate health practices.  The guy is a world class denialist pushing a dangerous agenda...

Ho! How did I miss this?

A poster asked in the comment section of our blog, whether the index patient in the San Diego measles outbreak had been a patient of "Dr. Bob" Sears. I recalled that Bob had been asked that directly on his board:

San Diego meales outbreak by San Diego mommy - posted on 3/26/2009

Someone told my that the child who started the San Diego measles outbreak last year was one of Dr Bob's unvaccinated patients. Is that true? That is so sad for the families affected by the outbreak, especially for the babies that were too young to be protected by the vaccine.
and Bob had answered in his usual flippant and evasive manner:

Ya, she wanted the MMR, but I wouldn't give it to by Dr. Bob - posted on 3/27/2009

So, it's totally my fault that the outbreak happened.

No, seriously, I do know who the family is and have interacted with them. I'll leave it at that, since it doesn't actually matter if they were actually my patient or not.

Seth Mnookin, the author of the soon to be released "The Panic Virus" pointed me to an Orange County Register piece that is much more candid than Dr. Bob:

An unvaccinated 7-year-old boy traveled to Switzerland and unknowingly contracted the virus. Almost 100 children (including babies who were too young for the MMR vaccine) were quarantined or hospitalized after they were exposed at the pediatrician’s office, Whole Foods or day care. In all, 11 children caught the measles. As it turns out, the boy who spread measles is a patient of Dr. Bob Sears
(my bold)

Dr. Bob himself downplays the severity of the situation in his 2008 blog by saying:

The recent measles outbreak (if you can call it that) in San Diego last month,
(my bold)

Fact check for Dr. Bob:
A recent study by researchers on the role of vaccine refusal in this outbreak was staggering: 839 people were exposed, 11 additional measles cases were reported (all in unvaccinated children); one infant, too young to be vaccinated, had to be hospitalized. At a time when the state of California is in devastating financial straits, it cost San Diego serious health care dollars: $10,376 per case, for a total of $124,517 (and the hospitalized infant's bill was nearly $15,000). Forty-eight children too young to be vaccinated were quarantined for several weeks, meaning parents had to miss work and wages at an average cost of $775 per child.

In his blog, Dr. Bob claims:

Fortunately, all cases passed without complications, as is usually the case with measles.

Lost in the depth of his own board is the reality check by Wilbert Mason, MD

Minimization of the effects of measles by Wilbert Mason MD - posted on 4/3/2008

As a pediatric infectious disease physician I feel I must comment on statements made in your March 27th commentary on the New York Times article. First, you infer that the cases in San Diego did not constitute an outbreak ("...if you can call it that..."). This is a highly contagious infection that spreads by small droplets that remain suspended in a closed room for over an hour. Indeed, 4 of the cases acquired the infection just by being in the pediatrician’s office at the same time as the first case. Three of these were infants and one of them had to be admitted to the hospital for dehydration. 
Elsewhere you have observed that “all of the cases of measles passed without complications, as is usually the case with measles”. Let me share with you our experience with measles at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles during the measles epidemic in 1990. We diagnosed 440 cases between January 1st and June 30th. Of these cases 195 (44%) had to be admitted for one or more complications of measles. We documented the complications in all 440 cases and they included 63% with ear infections, 45% with diarrhea, 39% with dehydration, 36% with pneumonia, 19% with croup, and about 3% with other bacterial infections. Three children died all of pneumonia. Measles is not a trivial infection as you inferred. We would not be having a debate about vaccines at all if people realized the tremendous costs in suffering and human life we incurred before vaccines became available. To adequately protect a population against measles >90% of the population must be effectively immunized against the disease. If individuals defer vaccines as you suggest we will rapidly fall below that level putting large numbers of infants and children at risk of an outbreak if measles is introduced into the community. This is a free country but we should all feel some responsibility to our fellow citizens and their children.

Thank you Dr. Mason, that says it all, really, about the irresponsible behaviour of Dr. Bob Sears (and the patients' parents who believe him).