Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Politics and Science of Being Anti-Science Concerning Immunizations

Following the announcement Thursday that SB 346 was being introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, anti-vaccination activists started mobilizing to fight it. They are apparently planning a rally at the General Assembly on Tuesday (March 24) at 10 am. Much of the initial rage seems focused at Senator Tarte, from comparisons to Auschwitz and China's one child policy to claims that he receives 50% of his contributions from Big Pharma (not even close according to Project Vote Smart). Note that Tarte's wife has been a pediatrician for 30 years. I suspect this has influenced his views on this issue more than the apparently modest campaign contributions from Big Pharma...and a few lunches for his wife.

Some of the popular pseudoscientific arguments making the rounds:
Via the SciShow, here's what science tells us about this phenomena...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

'Charlotte Talks' Appeals to FUD on Vaccines

From the benefits of detoxing and cleansing to a concern about vaccine safety, I'm starting to notice a pattern here. I do commend WFAE's Charlotte Talks for at least including a medical professional (an epidemiologist) on today's show, but I wish he had been more assertive about the science. The whole theme of the show seemed designed to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the safety of vaccines using anecdotes and "vaccine court" claims as evidence of the problem. At about the 30 minute mark, Collins sums the discussion up as follows: "There are risks, undeniable risks - although they may be small and they may be highly individualized - there are risks to having your children vaccinated."

This "risks" theme was supported by Karen Garloch, a "medical and health care reporter" for the Charlotte Observer, who wants to have a "more open conversation about all this." While acknowledging that all her stories were just anecdotes, and that "vaccines are a good thing" and "we don't maybe remember the horrors that were evident when these childhood illnesses were more prevalent in our lives," she then goes on to add: "Now the things we see...some parents are seeing autism, you know. Not that autism is connected to vaccines now. But that's a thing that's on the rise too." Same goes for ISIS I might add!

The last half of the show featured Mitch Weis, from the AP, on the problems with vaccine courts - which of course prompts Collins to ask: "Doesn't the mere existence of a vaccine court speak volumes about the risks involved in having your child vaccinated?" In his response, Weiss actually claims that "All the claims that are paid out are because a vaccine caused an injury." Really Mitch?
The goal of the NVIC is not to determine scientifically if there is a link between a particular vaccine and a particular side effect. That is determined by the scientific community. Rather, the NVIC’s charge is to determine if “compensation is appropriate” in specific cases. They also give the benefit of the doubt to the families.
In many cases families do not have to prove that a vaccine caused a specific injury, only that their child had a certain medical outcome within a specific time frame of being vaccinated. Further, certain outcomes are considered “table injuries,” meaning that all the family has to do is establish that the child has the condition and the onset was within a certain window after getting a vaccine, and then compensation is automatic.
 - Steven Novella 
But Andrew Wakefield was hardly mentioned (for that you'll have to check the comments on their web site). Instead we heard about vaccine encephalopathy...
There is no clear evidence that vaccines increase the risk of encephalitis. In fact, they clearly decrease the risk of encephalitis caused by the infections they prevent. There is a net and very large advantage to being vaccinated in terms of encephalitis risk, even if we assume that cases of encephalitis occurring after vaccination were caused by the vaccination. We know statistically this cannot be true in all cases, and it is possible that it is true in no cases.
 - Steven Novella  
And the need for a serious discussion about the risks of vaccines and how to minimize them in vulnerable populations (sounds reasonable, but it's too bad that didn't happen on the show!). There was no mention of medical exemptions (which are possible), and there was no discussion about the religious exemption or the home school loophole in North Carolina.

Based on what I already knew and everything that I learned from today's show, I would acknowledge that there are always risks and summarize what parents should do to minimize them as follows:

UpdateMarch 19 - On a brighter note, a bill was filed in the NC Senate today to repeal the religious exemption for vaccinations and the sponsors also seem eager to discuss the home school loophole...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"When faith is on the line, so are we!"

Recovering From Religion announced the launch of the Hotline Project yesterday, described as "an international peer support phone line for people across the many stages of religious disbelief." The toll free hotline will be available to callers in the United States and Canada and is currently staffed 24 hours a day on the weekends and from 6:00 pm – 12:00 am on weekdays. You can reach the hotline by dialing 184-I DOUBT IT (1-844-368-2848).

According to Sarah Morehead, Executive Director of Recovering from Religion, the organization "gets calls and emails daily from people around the world struggling with the consequences of doubting their faith. Many know they risk losing everything – their marriage, their children, their jobs, and lifelong friends or family if their growing doubts are discovered, and in their daily lives they feel completely alone. The Hotline Project builds a crucial bridge from the ‘cold shoulder’ of rejection into the warm and welcoming world of the secular community, and acts as a beacon of hope and reassurance that there are many of us who truly understand how much of a challenge this process can be.”

When faith is on the kine, so are we!

Press coverage:
Blog coverage:
Religious media coverage:
Finally, here's a quick video of Hemant Mehta talking about the project when it was in the early planning phase back in 2013...