Sep 142014
 

The Blessed McTaggart has been appearing in pantomime, and now she’s joined the “debate” about the CDC whitleblower nontroversy, the teapot tempest whipped up by antivaxers who found that the CDC – gasp! – failed to publish a statistical artifact.

At the point just before it all began to unravel, White House chief counsel John Dean, warning his boss about the difficulty of keeping the lid on all these clandestine activities, famously referred to them as a ‘cancer on the presidency’.

One of the striking differences between real conspiracies and the fake ones beloved of cranks, is that real conspiracies leak like sieves. The Watergate conspiracy was blown wide open, the idea of the CDC’s “conspiracy” relies on the idea that data which have been provided to any qualified researcher on request, and which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, are somehow being suppressed.

Compare and contrast: Nixon’s White House tried to hide data and failed, the CDC placed data in full view for peer-reviewed analysis and someone chose to interpret things in a way that others rejected. Naturally, since that interpretation suits the agenda of antivaxers in some small regard, it has been seized and blown up beyond all proportion, but the nontroversy is essentially over by now as (a) the paper that sparked it has been withdrawn following concerns over concealed conflicts of interest in the author and potentially the reviewers, (b) the purported source has rejected the interpretation placed on the data and (c) the data in any case refutes the claims of antivaxers.

A cancer on the CDC

A similar kind of malignancy now engulfs America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the US government body invested with protecting the nation against infectious diseases—after fresh revelations of alleged data-tampering in vaccine studies.

No, not fresh allegations, stale ones teased out of a CDC employee by a man who is financially and emotionally invested in antivaccination claims.

In 2004, scientists at the CDC’s then National Immunization Program carried out a study intended to settle all the questions surrounding the measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine (produced by drug company Merck) and a possible link to autism. They’d compared the ages of 624 autistic children at the time of their first MMR vaccination with some 1,800 children who’d developed normally and claimed to have found no significant link between the vaccine and the development of autism, nor any statistically significant increased risk for any racial or ethnic group.

This is what the study found, and the finding has been replicated in many other data sets – totalling over 20,000,000 children by now. The CDC’s is only one of a mountain of studies showing no link between MMR and autism – but of course even that is requiring science to prove a negative; in fact it is for the vaccine-autism cranks to provide evidence that it does, and this they have consistently failed to do ever since Andrew Wakefield‘s fraudulent study was retracted.

When the study was published in 2004 (Pediatrics, 2004; 113: 259–66), it was considered a definitive refutation of the work of British gastroenterologist Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose research had first uncovered a possible link between the triple vaccine and the development of autism and gastrointestinal disorders.

One of several, yes. And it still is, even if Brian Hooker was right – which he isn’t.

Statistical jiggery pokery

A perfect description of Hooker’s paper, yes. But you didn’t mean that…

There the story stood for nearly nine years until Brian Hooker, associate professor of biology at Simpson University in California, decided to take a fresh look at the data. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the original data and, while reanalyzing it, he got a call from CDC epidemiologist Dr William Thompson, who’d been a co-author of the 2004 paper and who now felt compelled to set the story straight by offering to collaborate on the new paper.

Why did he need to file a FOIA request? The data has been available to researchers since it was published. Oh, wait, qualified researchers. Hooker, of course, is not a qualified researcher: he is an antivaxer but has no background in statistics or epidemiology.

And the idea that Thompson felt “compelled to set the story straight” is debatabvle: that’s Hooker’s spin, but Thompson has publicly distanced himself from Hooker’s now-withdrawn paper, and this has been known for a week or two now.

During multiple phone calls, Thompson revealed some of the statistical jiggery-pokery that had been used to hone the sample size of the children to allow manipulation of the data. The CDC investigators had in fact discovered a 3.4-fold (or 340 per cent) increase in autism for African American boys in the study. However, this risk was never published because, according to Thompson, he and his fellow researchers cherry-picked which participants they wanted to include in their analyses.

This is what is called a lie. Thompson seems rather confused about what did go on, but the subgroups are all there in the original 2004 paper and the only thing Thompson takes issue with, is the failure to highlight what everybody else thinks is likely an artifact – one subgroup that shows an association (not necessarily causal) when vaccination is done outside the normal timeframe. In other words, a group that is atypical of the population.

And of course as Thompson has acknowledged, the rest of the population undoubtedly does show no association at all, just like in every other study. In other words, even with the subgroup highlighted, the paper would still have refuted Wakefield’s fraudulent work. Just like all the other studies do.

As the new study says, the original study by DeStefano et al. limited the total African American cohort to include only those individuals who possessed a valid State of Georgia birth certificate, which decreased the statistical power of their analysis. This reduced the study sample by a whopping 41 per cent, virtually disqualifying most of the African Americans originally included and ultimately skewing the final results to make it appear that the vaccine carried minimal risk.

The reasons for this have been stated and are not sinister. The study is centred on a Georgia data set, and in order to include only those children for whom full information was available, those with Georgia birth certificates were selected, avoiding the need to get long-form birth records and medical data from other States. That’s all there was to it.

After numerous discussions with Thompson, Hooker published his re-analysis in early August (Transl Neurodegener, 2014; 3: 16). This time, it clearly shows that the African American boys in the study given the MMR vaccine before 24 months of age were more likely to develop autism.

Thus proving Churchill’s adage that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

The problem is that the statistical tests he used are invalid for this purpose. Statisticians have gone on about this in tiresome detail elsewhere, but basically Hooker took a data set designed for a case-control study and analysed it as if it were a cohort study. That would require fundamentally different statistical methods, but he did not use those. Hence the paper is withdrawn. Oh, that plus his undeclared conflict of interest.

A competent statistician would not have made this error. That’s probably also why the finding did not make it into De Stefano, since the authors of that paper were competent statisticians.

The CDC’s deep throat

Thompson’s whistleblowing offers shocking evidence of deception and fraud at the heart of the US government agency charged with vaccine safety.

Not quite. It offers shocking evidence of deception by Brian Hooker, who was not given permission to quote or name his source. Actually Thompson has made a statement that rejects pretty much everything the antivaxers have said about Hooker’s (incompetent, conflicted, withdrawn) paper.

A “deep throat” requires rather more than someone who whines that a subgroup he thought was significant, was not thought significant by his co-authors. Deep throat was former Associate Director of the FBI, Mark Fett. The informaiton he provided showed systematic malfeasance by a group of conspirators linked ot the President, not a documented dissent by one member of a group of authors over the inclusion or ootherwise of a subgroup in an analysis that overwhelmingly showed no link between vaccines and autism.

And let’s not forget: with the exception of the subgroup of African-American boys vaccinated early, no association was apparent in any group, nor was it apparent overall. So the take-home message of the study is that vaccines definitely do not cause autism, but a quirk in a subgroup might bear further investigation to see if it holds out, or whether it’s just P-hacking. God forbid that an antivaxer would represent a statistical artifact as evidence of vaccine harm, eh?

He decided to leak the original correspondence he’d had with Dr Julie Gerberding—then head of the CDC—dated February 2, 2004, sent one week before a pivotal meeting at the Institute of Medicine on vaccine safety and autism. In the letter, Thompson laments the fact that his findings weren’t good news: “I will have to present several problematic results relating to statistical associations between the receipt of MMR vaccine and autism,” he wrote.

And that correspondence shows a patient, respectful response to querulous demands.

He also urges her to respond to questions raised by Congressman David Weldon in two letters regarding “issues surrounding the integrity of your scientists in the National Immunization Program.” And he hints at a cover-up of the truth concerning the safety of vaccines: “I’ve repeatedly told individuals in the [National Immunization Program Office of Directors] over the last several years that they’re doing a very poor job representing immunization safety issues and that we’re losing the public relations war.”

Well, that’s interesting: in saying that they are “doing a very poor job representing immunization safety issues” and that “we’re losing the public relations war”, he would appear to be chastising CDC for failing to take a lead in informing the public that vaccines are safe. At the time, this was a valid concern. CDC have got better since then.

In a separate 2002 email to CDC officials after their study had been done but before it was published, Thompson also hints at the possibility of a multiple cover-up when writing of his discomfiture over documents being sent by the CDC to the Department of Justice investigating MMR and vaccine damage.

Really? I don’t think we have a good source for this. Thompson’s statement makes it pretty clear he has significant differences with Hooker’s interpretation, and it’s equally clear that the video released by Hooker is very heavily edited – Thompson barely gets a word in edgeways. As he says:

I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether  my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

Does that sound like someone whose views were fairly represented by an honest broker?

Regardless, so what? He had concerns, they were not seen as significant. Only in the crazy world of antivaxers is every single claim or concern a golden nugget of truth simply because (a) it is expressed and (b) it is unsupportive of vaccines.

“I don’t think anyone has broken the law,” he says, but the testimony of one of his report’s co-authors before a Congressional committee in 2002 about MMR and autism makes him uneasy, particularly after discovering that the co-author was being represented by a lawyer from another government department—the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD)—which presumably also claims no association between vaccination and autism.

He also said:

Reasonable scientists  can and do differ in their interpretation of information. 

That’s an important point. McTaggart and her fellow really-not-antivaxers-honest, will always pick sides, and their side will always be the one least flattering to vaccines, an intervention that Thompson says he believes have saved countless lives.

In the email, Thompson announces that he’ll be hiring his own lawyer to assure that all the appropriate documents are provided. “My level of concern has also caused me to seriously consider removing my name as an author on the draft manuscript,” he wrote.

And did he? No, he did not. So, as he says, reasonable scientists  can and do differ in their interpretation of information.

This is not the first time the CDC has been caught in the act of questionable activities.

True, in the same way it is not the first time that pigs have sprouted wings and taken flight.

For six years, Hooker—himself the father of a 16-year-old with autism who he claims is ‘vaccine-damaged’, and an advisor for the Focus Autism Foundation, which funded his re-analysis—doggedly filed requests through the Freedom of Information Act for the original data on studies supposedly demonstrating that the preservative thimerosal, the mercury-based preservative used in numerous vaccines, was not implicated in autism. After the CDC repeatedly stalled in handing over these supposedly public documents, he was forced to file a lawsuit against them. Ultimately, he discovered that numerous studies supposedly proving the safety of thimerosal were similarly, seriously flawed.

Riiiight. So when McTaggart says “this is not the first time CDC has been “caught in the act of questionable activities”, what she mesna is that this is nto the first time that Hooker has made querulous complaints to the CDC based on his financial interest in proving a non-existent link between vaccines and autism.

The media black-out

But that’s only the beginning of the cover-up. In the 1970s, when news of the Watergate burglary first broke, the press was instrumental in exposing the lies and deceit at the heart of the US government. Today, in the age of corporate-run media, the press is largely in collusion.

Oh puh-leeeeze. If the media is in collusion, it is to promote crackpots and nonsense. Every kind of bullshit under the sun, even things that appear in WDDTY, have been punted by The Daily Mail as health advice. There is no conspiracy, there is just a report written by a crank with concealed conflicts of interest.

There has been a virtual press blackout of a major act of conspiracy by a government agency—a scam potentially as big as Watergate—and it’s been left to the alternative press, including parent-led autism and vaccination sites, to run with the story.

A “major act of conspiracy”? Omitting cherry-picked subsets with a different demographic from the communities claiming to be victims of vaccine-induced autism is hardly a “major conspiracy”, even if it’s a conspiracy at all. Actually it looks like a perfectly normal piece of science: omitting statistical artifacts for brevity.

When news about Hooker’s findings and Thompson’s whistleblowing were posted on the CNN website as an iReport (news posted by viewers), it got more than 45,000 views and 178 comments, largely from people requesting that the channel formally cover the story. Not only did CNN not cover the story, but it also deleted the iReport.

I wonder why that might have been? It’s not as if a legion of anti-vaccine cranks seized on it as a “CNN report”, thus giving the impression that CNN were backing a piece of highly questionable anti-vaccine activism, is it? Oh, wait, that’s exactly what happened. So CNN took action to protect its reputation. Hint: your right of free speech does not confer an obligation on every commercial entity on the planet to host your ravings.

What’s more, once the story began to emerge in the alternative press, the journal Translational Neurodegeneration, which published Hooker’s paper, added a red warning box stating that an “expression of concern has been published for this article”. The box redirects readers to a comment showing that the journal publisher “has serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”.

I wonder why that might have been? It’s not as if Hooker had failed to declare the fact that he has a vested interest in a vaccine-autism link, and is a director of the foundation that funded the study, is it? Oh, wait, that’s exactly what happened. Still, I am sure this will be the first time in history that there have been undeclared conflicts of interest in a paper suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. Oh, wait, no, there was ex-doctor Wakefield wasn’t there?

Modified limited hang-out

On September 15, 1972, Nixon congratulated John Dean for his role in what another of the President’s men called “the modified, limited hangout” in “containing” the Watergate cover-up: “The way you’ve handled it . . . has been very skilful . . . putting your fingers in the dikes every time that leaks have sprung here and sprung there.”

Which is wholly irrelevant. Bear in mind that Thompson is still a senior scientist at CDC. He clearly did not consider this a matter of conscience, or he would have resigned. The reason the cranks seize on Thompson’s example of the normal process of scientific debate, is precisely that there are no leaks in the purported conspiracy (or rather, conspiracies, since the data sets establishing that vaccines do not cause autism span multiple continents).

These new revelations suggest that data tampering is business as usual inside the CDC, but that its members are beginning to run out of fingers to plug the leaks.

No, they show that statistical skulduggery is business as usual for antivaxers, but we already knew that.

Nixon himself never entirely atoned for his sins. He had to resign the presidency, but was ultimately pardoned by his successor. And Dr Gerberding, the head of the CDC at the time of the study? She’s got a new job—as president of Merck’s vaccine division. No doubt she’s been replaced by a whole new group of all the president’s men.

Well, nobody likes the “revolving door”, but where else is a senior vaccine scientist supposed to work? There’s no evidence that Merck were recruiting her at the time – this is not Smiley’s People with moles and sleepers and the Red Menace, though you could be forgiven for thinking so from the paranoid tone of the antivax rhetoric.

Sep 032014
 

I recently came across a page on the “Modern Alternative Mama” blog (how many red flags can you get into a domain name?) that really sums up, for me, the antivaxers’ mix of fallacies and denialism.

I’ll pick it up at the end of the prdeictably self-serving intro:

I’m sharing some things that people need to stop saying. (This post is in honor of my live appearance on the TODAY show, which is happening tomorrow in the 9 AM hour, EST. You can watch me talk about why some parents choose to opt out of vaccines and why I believe in choice! We call this movement Vaccine Choice, not anti-vax. Make sure you say it right!)

Well that’s a bad sign, obviously the media are not all up to speed. Luckily the activities of Stop the AVN and the very media-friendly Dr. [Rachael Dunlop] have reduced the examples of false balance in Australia, and Andrew Wakefield has made antivax rhetoric pretty toxic in the UK, but the cranks are still finding a platform, it seems.

By the way, many of these things have been said to parents who do vaccinate, too, and that’s not okay either!

#1: “You don’t love your children if you don’t vaccinate.”

Get this straight, right now: all parents, regardless of the decision that they make about vaccines, love their children. All of them only want what is best.

So who said that to a parent who does vaccinate? Or indeed who doesn’t? Most of the reality-based community are acutely aware that most parents sucked in by the antivaxers believe they are acting in their children’s best interests. Their sincerity is not generally in doubt, they are simply wrong.

We may disagree on what that means. We will make different choices. But it is never ever okay to say that parents don’t love their children because they made a different choice than you did.

To err is human, but to persist in propagating and perpetuating an error when large numbers of well informed people are telling you exactly where you are going wrong, that takes a particular kind of wilful ignorance.

#2: “Shame on you.”

What good is trying to shame someone else, really? Do you think that someone else will listen to you or change their position if you make them feel ashamed enough? Most people will just get angry, and if anything, feel even more set in their ways. They certainly won’t turn to you for information. Plus, it’s downright rude. Just don’t do it.

|Shame on you does not apply to people who have been misled by antivaxers. It does apply, in spades, to antivaxers. The two communities should be (and generally are) treated differently by the reality-based community. Misled parents get understanding, and of course information. Antivaxers get weapons-grade mockery and scorn. This is as it should be.

#3: “You’re putting your child at risk.”

There is no way to eliminate all risk. Choosing to vaccinate is a risk (an immediate one). Choosing not to vaccinate is a risk (a future one). Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk. Anything at all places your child at risk.

Ah, right, so you let your precious ones play in the traffic, right? No, of course you don’t. Withholding vaccines puts your children (and other people) at risk. The main reason for not wanting this to be said appears to be that you don’t want to hear it. Tough shit.

Of course, vaccines are not the only way to protect children from serious illness, either. Parents are the ones who are best equipped to know their child, their situation, and choose if or when their children should be vaccinated, or how else they should be protected. Parents make this call, and no one else.

True up to a point: total isolation would also protect any child against infectious disease. But you probably don’t mean that. Here’s a simple fact: immunisation is the most effective way of protecting a child against preventable communicable diseases. Here’s another: withholding immunisations puts your child at risk. Don’t want to hear it? Then move to some alternative universe where your delusions are true.

#4: “You’re putting MY child at risk. You should vaccinate to protect babies/elderly/immunocompromised.”

This is really two separate arguments. First, if you believe that not vaccinating places your vaccinated child at risk, then why do you trust vaccines? If they work, then you don’t have anything to fear. Second, babies, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are at risk (potentially) from anyone who is sick. Whether they are vaccinated or not, and no matter which illness they have. It’s up to the parents of those people (or the people themselves) to protect them, not ask everyone around them to do it.

Tired antivax trope no. 277. No vaccines are 100% efficient, some people are too young / old / sick to be vaccinated, and unvaccinated people get the disease more virulently. Hence, even a 100% vaccinated child is at risk from an unvaccinated child, and this risk rises to dangerously irresponsible levels when vaccine refuseniks form clusters and communities, because these are perfect reservoirs for incubation of the diseases.

Finally, we don’t ask others to make medical decisions that could be risky to benefits ourselves. We each make the medical decisions we feel are right for us, and take on the risk we feel comfortable taking. We can’t, and shouldn’t expect, to control what others do.

One unvaccinated child in a hundred is a low risk to the 99 vaccinated ones, but 30 or 40 per hundred is a pressing public health problem. So no, your selfish determination to practice your delusions does not override the right of a democratic society to protect others from your delusions. You have no enforceable right to endanger other people.

#5: “Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have vaccines.”

Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have clean water. Plentiful food. Access to medical care. A safe place to live. And these things are much more necessary to life — especially clean water — than vaccines. A person literally cannot live without safe water. People can and do live without vaccines all the time.

The list of other things for which the underprivileged would be grateful, does not in any way remove the fact that they would also be grateful not to watch their children suffer and die of preventable disease.

There are very few antivaxers in the developing world, because unlike selfish Westerners with overdeveloped senses of entitlement – we’ll call them antivaxers for short – they are acutely aware of the real and tangible connection between preventable disease and death.

Plus, those mothers in the third world don’t have any way of doing research. They don’t have access to information. All they know about vaccines is what they’re told. If doctors come into their villages and say, “You need these. They’re amazing. They’ll save your child’s life.” Of course they are going to want them! They don’t have access to another viewpoint! (Of course, if their children then come down with the measles caused by the vaccine, or polio caused by the vaccine — which has happened — they won’t exactly feel so grateful.)

By “research” I assume you mean the antivaxer kind of research, which involves trawlign the internet looking for ideologically consonant web pages and credulously accepting them based on the fact that they don’t cause cognitive dissonance. No, they don’t have that ability. Most of the information they get is accurate – hence their demand for vaccines.

I personally feel privileged to have access to science and information, as well as the ability to make my own decisions about my family’s medical care. I wouldn’t want to live in a dangerous third world country and have to accept what I was told because I simply didn’t have options.

The problem here is that while you have access to facts, you also have access to a lot of bullshit – and you choose to believe that instead of the facts. That’s a luxury most African mothers don’t have, or indeed want.

#6: “You just don’t really understand science or you would vaccinate.”

This is so unnecessary. It’s an elitist point of view. The only way that a person would opt out or disagree is if they’re too stupid to get it? No.

Yes. Well done. But we don’t say you don’t understand science because you choose not to vaccinate, we say it because of what you present as evidence. By sowing us what you believe to be science, you demonstrate conclusively that you have no idea what science actually is.

There are parents on both sides who might have made a choice because they didn’t look into the facts much — maybe their friend or their doctor told them to, so they just went along with it. But there are lots of people who’ve done incredible amounts of research and have come to a careful conclusion.

And then there are those who have been misled by antivaxers.

Let me tell you about what “incredible amounts of research” means. Paul Offit does an incredible amount of research. This is the real kind of research, involving actual research, not just hoovering up shit off the internet that you happen to find it convenient to believe. In science, repeating an error after it has been shown to be an error, is embarrassing. In antivax activism, it’s called “research”. See the difference?

Saying that their research “doesn’t count” because they don’t have a science background is just insulting — and wrong. People are smart enough to do their own research. They truly are. A piece of paper that says so makes no difference. (Plus, there are lots of doctors and other medical professionals who question vaccines or don’t vaccinate! And they clearly understand the science.)

The reason it doesn’t count is not because of lack of a science background, it’s because it isn’t research. It’s presearch: working back from the conclusions you started out with.

#7: “You should listen to what doctors tell you; they went to medical school and you didn’t.”

This is an extension of the last point. Having been to medical school doesn’t make you an expert on vaccines (the average pediatrician or family-practice doctor — the doctors most people are getting their advice from — get only a few hours of education on vaccines). Plus, a good doctor should serve as a guide. The doctor should offer his/her opinion, allow the parents to do their own research, ask questions, and ultimately make their own choices.

Former medical students are perfectly capable of being wrong, but on vaccines, it’s not a matter of the White Coat of Authority – vaccines are such a vital public health measure that health departments go to some lengths to ensure that doctors are fully informed on this subject. A family practitioner who is not well informed on the issue of vaccines, is not much of an asset to his patients. Thanks to antivaxers, patients will go armed with questions and a background tainted by disinformation. The doctor has to be able to rebut this with facts.

So just for once, the appeal to authority is pretty much valid.

You are the parent. You make the choice. Not the doctor. Whatever happens to your child — if they’re unlucky enough to be injured by a vaccine, or get sick with a serious illness — who is responsible? You are. Not the doctor.

Odd that one appeal to authority is rejected while another is promoted: “mother knows best”. Who’s more likely to know what’s in the best interests of a child, a doctor, with five years of university education, another five to ten years of residencies and postgraduate training, and a peer network of other qualified practitioners and specialists in numerous fields, or someone armed with encyclopaedic ignorance, a strong dose of the Dunning-Kruger effect and some shit off Natural News?

Life is a crapshoot. The risks of vaccine-preventable disease are massively greater than the risks of the vaccine. That is the only basis on which any government would ever license a vaccine, especially one that will be given to infants.

#8: “Just walk through a graveyard and see all the babies that died 100 years ago because we didn’t have vaccines.”

This is not a factual argument. It’s fear-based, and it’s not even accurate.

Who says that all infant mortality in the past was due to preventable disease? If, however, you replace this strawman with a realistic comparison, you get a different answer.

Ask anybody who grew up in the 1950s whether polio is frightening and whether they remember the iron lungs, the calipers, the little coffins. My parents were profoundly grateful that my siblings and I could be vaccinated against this dread disease. There are plenty of people around who were parents back then, go and ask them. Cleanliness in the 50s was not hugely different from today, antibiotics had been invented, and still polio was terrifying. And it still is, in some countries, because antivaxer propaganda has impeded efforts to eradicate it, as we did smallpox (which killed over a quarter of a billion people in the 20th Century alone, but nobody has died of it since the 70s).

Take a bow. You’re protecting a threatened species: polio virus.

Many of those babies died because we didn’t have access to basic medical care. Water could be contaminated and babies could get dysentary or cholera (neither of which we vaccinate for). Doctors didn’t wash their hands before helping a woman in child birth or before treating patients, which spread infection more easily. There are a whole bunch of reasons why babies died more frequently 100 years ago, most of which are not related to vaccines.

You are conflating different periods of history. A hundred years ago was 1914; by then infection control was at least beginning to be understood and doctors absolutely did wash their hands before delivering a child. The US mortality statistics for 1914 are publicly available. Typhoid Mary was dangerous because she was an asymptomatic carrier – and even then they tracked her down. This was not the modern era of medicine, but it wasn’t the Dark Ages either.

(In fact, death rates for most diseases had fallen by more than 99% before the introduction of vaccines.)

Not hardly.

#9: “My family member died of/was disabled by __________. They would have loved to have vaccines!”

Any death or disability is tragic. Absolutely.

None more so than a preventable one (but as we’ve seen you’re in denial about the preventive effect of vaccines).

But. There’s no guarantee that vaccines would have prevented the death or injury. Vaccines themselves don’t come without risks (yes, people can and do die from vaccination, too). I understand it’s really hard if you know someone personally who was disabled or killed by an illness, but this is a purely emotional reaction, not a scientific one.

Double standards, much? The scientific reaction is to vaccinate. Antivaccination rhetoric predates scientific medicine and is rather obviously emotional. The question is one of risks and benefits: antivaxers talk up the risks (and indeed invent new ones out of whole cloth, such as MMR-autism) and play down the benefits. A proper scientific perspective looks at both risk and benefit, objectively.

We need to keep this debate about the available science. There’s always, always, always a small chance of something bad happening (see the part about ‘risk’ above), but we must balance risk vs. benefit.

In the past ten years nobody, as far as can be ascertained, has died from the MMR vaccine. Several people have died from the effects of measles in outbreaks triggered by the MMR-autism fraud perpetrated by Wakefield. One child is claimed to have died from the DTaP vaccine, though this is questionable, but in the USA alone in a single recent year, 2012, twenty children died of pertussis out of over 48,000 cases (and some of these resulted in permanent neurological damage). One girl is alleged to have died of an adverse event triggered, though not caused, by HPV vaccine. Every year, over 4,000 women in the USA die of cervical cancer, and HPV vaccine is likely to prevent 50% or more of these.

In order to make the risk-benefit calculation support withholding vaccines, you must adopt a policy not of ignorance, but of deliberate deceit. You must pretend that the harms are vastly greater than they are, and the dangers vastly less. It requires serious intellectual dishonesty.

#10: “Parents who don’t vaccinate are just listening to that debunked 1998 study or Jenny McCarthy.”

I pretty much stop listening when someone says this, honestly. It shows they have no idea what this issue is actually about.

On this one thing we might agree: if nobody ever mentioned or quoted Wakefield or McCarthy ever again, the world would be a better place.

For the record — the 1998 study was on bowel disease in children with autism and had nothing to do with vaccines. They found the MMR-strain of measles in the bowel of some children and noted that some of the parents said that their children “changed” after receiving the MMR. They concluded that the issue should be researched further, to see if there was a possible link. They did not say that the MMR caused autism. Ever. And the original results have been replicated…more than 25 times. (A bunch of us in the vaccine choice movement have actually spoken to Dr. Wakefield…myself included. Trust me, that’s not what the study was about.)

True, Wakefield’s papers (fraudulent thought they were) did not say MMR causes autism, but they were funded by litigation claiming that, and of all the claims vivid in the public mind these are probably the most prominent. If it was not for Wakefield, there would be no McCarthy. If it was not for McCarthy (and the rest of the autism antivax army, all dependent on Wakefield for their original dogma) then the antivax issue would be radically smaller than it is.

As for Jenny McCarthy, I know her son has autism. I know she believes it was caused by vaccines. I know that she has used biomedical treatments to help him recover. I know that she is a proponent of “green the vaccines.” I know basically nothing else. No mother makes such an important medical decision based on “what celebrities are doing.” Maybe she chooses an outfit for her child or how to style their hair because a celebrity did it, but not something this crucial. This is just a dismissive saying, it’s clearly wrong, and it’s said to shut down the discussion.

That is incredibly naive. Parents absolutely do follow celebrity leads, which is why advertisers pay celebrities so much money and why the pulchritudinous McCarthy was welcomed with open arms by the antivax community.

#11: “The CDC/AAP/etc. wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t safe.”

Eh…I’m just going to mention smoking and cocaine. The medical establishment used to recommend those, too, and we now know they are harmful. Sometimes, the medical establishment is wrong. Maybe they mean well, maybe they are making a recommendation based on how they interpret the available evidence, but our understanding of these issues evolves constantly. Just because they currently recommend it doesn’t make it right.

Smoking. Who was it discovered the link between smoking and cancer? Oh yes, doctors. And who pushed the public health measures through against massive  opposition by industry? The CDC and the Surgeon General in the US, and their equivalents elsewhere.

Cocaine. Is it a dangerous drug? Or is it a drug whose black market supply and the resulting criminal undercurrent, are largely the result of a decision to criminalise it against the advice of scientists?

The whole point about science though is that it is not cast in stone. Science is a system of inquiry, the CDC and other national bodies reflect current scientific thinking. And antivaxers don’t. They reflect long-debunked ideas, they repeat refuted claims, and they endlessly recirculate tropes that can only be described as bullshit.

#12: “Vaccines are the only way to protect your children; without them they WILL die, become deaf, become sterile, etc.”

Vaccines are not the only way to protect your children.

Straw men are so much easier to demolish than real arguments, aren’t they?

You need to know that whether or not you vaccinate your children, they could get sick. If they’re vaccinated, they could be injured by vaccines. There are no guarantees. These dire outcomes are rare, but they are possible.

Yes, vaccine adverse events are rare, and not usually dire at all. Vaccine preventable diseases are only rare because vaccination is common. Where vaccine rates decline, they resurface with alarming rapidity.

But – they are rare.

Young boys can’t become sterile from mumps. Only post-pubescent males can become sterile, and that’s really rare (mumps doesn’t usually go to the testicles at all; if it does, it usually affects just one side; and if it affects both sides, usually there is some fertility remaining, even if it’s reduced. True sterility is exceedingly rare).

You want orchitis? I don’t. I think your sons (if you have them) probably don’t either. But then…

Most people won’t go deaf from mumps or measles. 1 in 10,000 or fewer (of cases). And fewer than 1 in 10,000 typically die. To say it “will” happen is absolutely false.

Bait and switch. Mumps is the least serious of the triumvirate covered by MMR. Measles can (and does) cause serious long term effects, including pancephalitis in around 1 in 100,000 cases, which is usually fatal. Rubella in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (when a woman may not even be aware she is pregnant) can cause congenital rubella syndrome, and this is not in the least bit rare.

If infection occurs 0–28 days before conception, the infant has a 43% chance of being affected. If the infection occurs 0–12 weeks after conception, the chance increases to 51%. If the infection occurs 13–26 weeks after conception, the chance is 23% of the infant being affected by the disease. Infants are not generally affected if rubella is contracted during the third trimester, or 26–40 weeks after conception.

What do we mean by affected? First up: congential rubella syndrome is incurable. The classic triad is deafness, eye abnormalities and congenital heart disease.

Trivial really, compared with the appalling harm that comes  from a small chance of a mild fever for a day or so, which is the main adverse event from MMR.

#13: “You have to vaccinate to go to school.”

You do not have to vaccinate to go to school.

Not everywhere, but this may change (and has in some cases changed due to the antivaxers reducing herd immunity).

48 states (all except MS and WV) offer religious exemptions. About 20 states also offer philosophical exemptions. All 50 offer medical exemptions, but they’re harder to get in some states than others. Most of the time, all you need to do is sign a waiver and your child can attempt public school without some or all vaccines.

And antivaxers have been known to make up religions and religious exemptions. But this is begging the question because in order to do these things you have to have already taken a counterfactual view of vaccines, and decided not to vaccinate.

It’s your choice, not the state’s.

Sometimes. But the state can and does make the point that it’s a stupid and antisocial choice.

#14: “Vaccines do not cause autism. End of story.”

Ah, not quite. Or, well, not at all.

Yes, actually.

It’s recently come out that a key study that the CDC used to “disprove” a link between vaccines and autism was falsified. Statistically significant data was omitted from the results. That data showed a 340% increase in autism among African-American boys when they received the MMR prior to 36 months of age, instead of after. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Thompson, admitted this in a public statement.

Welcome tot he “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy, stoked by a post-hoc subgroup analysis by a committed antivaxer. the original paper is currently withdrawn and may be retracted, which would be the final nail in the coffin, but the actual effect of this paper is to show that the MMR-autism conjecture is completely wrong (see any black faces in Wakefield’s cohort or on stage with Jenny McCarthy?) ; the most likely conclusion is a coincidence based on well known differences in the pattern of doctors’ visits by (typically less economically advantaged) African-American families.

It’s also true that a number of other studies show links between ingredients in vaccines and autism, or similar neurological disorders.

Not really, no. Most of the research – to the tune of tens of millions of cases – refutes this link.

It’s also true that we’ve done very few studies on the link, the studies have been (generally) poorly designed, and that we have never done a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study. This question is far from settled, but from the evidence we do have (scientifically and anecdotally)…we can say, yes, vaccines do cause autism.

Actually we do have studies of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, and MMR vs. single jab, and various other comparisons. Guess what? None of them show that vaccines cause autism.

What we do not have is a large scale randomised controlled trial of vaccines versus placebo. That would be unethical.

Not everyone, obviously. Certain people are more at risk than others. But just like we say that cigarettes cause lung cancer (even though many people who smoke do not develop lung cancer), vaccines cause autism.

No, there is no evidence to support that statement. At best there is weak evidence of an association in one small sub-population, but this is not a causal link. For all other subgroups there is definitively no association, causal or otherwise.

#15: “We were vaccinated, and we’re all fine.”

The 1980s schedule and the 2014 schedule aren’t even remotely the same.

True. These days smaller doses are used, thiomersal has practically vanished (making zero objectively measurable difference) and there are better, safer vaccines for things like rotavirus.

Most of the vaccines in the 1980s contained quite a few more antigens and no adjuvants (aluminum). Most of them have been removed from the market (OPV polio and DTP definitely have). The schedule consisted of MMR (1 dose), DTP (5 doses), and OPV (4 doses). All in all, children received around 10 shots in their first 6 years, covering just 7 diseases. Up to 4 different diseases are addressed at just one visit (DTP + OPV).

OPV is out because the incidence is now low enough for a less effective vaccine to be a better choice. Smallpox was also included in the 80s.

Today, vaccines contain aluminum. Children receive up to 6 shots in one visit. They receive 36 shots in their first 6 years, covering 14 different diseases. Up to 8 different diseases are addressed at one visit.

And there is bugger all evidence that this makes any difference. We can tell because the MMR scare caused Japan to split the vaccines. It made no difference.

These are just not the same! Saying “we were fine” does not mean our kids will be fine, with this vastly increased schedule.

Increased? You pointed out: there are fewer antigens. Instead we use adjuvants to boost response. It’s typical of an antivaxer to claim that all changes make things worse, but in the rest of medicine things get better, so why would that not be the case for vaccines?

Plus, honestly? We’re not fine. Many people have autoimmune disorders. Many people are overweight. A lot of people have allergies. A lot of people have learning disabilities. A lot of people (1/3) have cancer! I don’t know about your definition of “fine,” but it’s not mine. We don’t fully know if these things are related to vaccines or not, but I’d investigate that a lot more closely before we declare they’re not related and keep vaccinating so heavily. No other country does it, and no other country has rates of these chronic illnesses quite as high as we do.

Many people have diagnosis of immune disorders that were not diagnosed before. I am told the average age of diagnosis of coeliac in men is now 43. That’s a congenital condition, as far as I can tell.

But of course it could be that autoimmune disorders are increasing in prevalence, not just due to better diagnosis and longer lifespans. And it would be natural for an antivaxer to blame vaccines, because it’s always the vaccines. Unless it’s always the electromagnetic radiation, the toxins, or whatever…

I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t vaccinate. Any choice comes with its own set of risks. I am here to make sure that I share accurate information, including the information that isn’t easy to find. I want parents to know what’s out there before they make this very important decision.

Odd, then, that you spent more time telling people not to vaccinate using inaccurate information, than you spent giving them accurate and non-judgmental information.

But actually I think you’re here to try to support your own decisions despite knowing, deep down, that they are scientifically indefensible. Cognitive dissoannce, in other words.

Improve Your Family’s Health…Naturally

Sales pitch for quack books elided…

What things do you think we should stop saying in the vaccine debate?

We should stop saying there’s a vaccine debate. There isn’t. There’s a settled scientific view, and there’s strident disinformation from cranks who will never accept the pollution of their precious bodily fluids.

Aug 192014
 
phase diagram of woo

Complex numbers and understanding woo

I have an idea that complex numbers are a way of understanding woo. Every treatment has real (chemical and biological) and imaginary (placebo etc) effects; one source of conflict between the reality-based community lies in the fact that quacks look only at the magnitude of the effect vector, and ignore how much is real versus imaginary.

I think that the concept of two-dimensional representations might help to understand another problem.

For a typical treatment, the curve of published evidence tends to start with early, vivid findings and move through early trials to long-term meta analyses. In virtually every case, the effect size seems to decrease during this process.

TimeEffectThe magnitude of the decline changes of course, and in some cases the effect line actually crosses the axis. The use of HRT against heart disease is a good example; early studies suggested that HRT protected against heart disease, but an RCT showed that actually outcomes were worse and HRT was simply a marker for middle class – women who tended to have better nutrition and exercise patterns.

We know how quacks seize on early results. It’s the cardinal health reporting sin of the Daily Mail, it is the stock in trade of screaming headlines in WDDTY, and it is the catalyst that sent Ralph W. Moss down the rabbit hole as he decided that early results were right, the experiments that failed to replicate them were wrong, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s publications and subsequent studies showing laetrile does not cure cancer are a huge sinister conspiracy to suppress a “natural” cure for cancer.

I believe that this inability to properly accept later, disconfirming results is a symptom of the fundamental weakness of woomeisters: their system for judging correct from incorrect results.

Evidence v. ideology

In science, results are judged by the strength of the evidence. In woo, they are judged by ideological consonance.

Scientists will give little weight to early results from studies in a petri dish or test tube, and reserve their real excitement for the unambiguous results from clinical trials. Scientists are excited by solid fact, and the more solid the fact, the more exicited they are.

Woomeisters don’t actually care about solid fact, because, as I noted in the article on complex numbers, they don’t actually accept the fact that the real effect is more valid than the perceived effect. They think that perception is reality, even if, as with homeopathy, it’s based on a ridiculous idea and the effect is nonspecific and evaporates under critical analysis, i.e. it is entirely imaginary.

The thing is, the woomeisters very often sincerely believe they are being scientific, or at least methodologically rigorous. But the judgment of sources by ideological consonance means than not only is woo not self-correcting, as science is, but in fact it gets worse over time.

The example of laetrile

laetrile 1

Progress of evidence for laetrile

With laetrile, there were early results that showed promise. Some of this was supported by additional studies. Further studies proved inconclusive, with a mix of positive and negative results. Clinical trials found no effect and finally meta-analyses also found no effect.

Science views this through a filter of evidential robustness.

laetrile 2

Evidence weighted by methodological rigour

The more robust the evidence, the thicker the line. Science concludes that laetrile does not work. This is not considered controversial as there’s no good reason to suppose it would work. The claimed rationales (e.g. it is a “vitamin”, B17, without which the body is unable to suppress cancer) are, to put it charitably, speculative and apparently derived by proctomancy.

But the woomeister filters results by ideological consonance not by scientific robustness.

laetrile 4

Evidence weighted by ideological consonance

The woomeister discounts results that don’t support the belief. We tend to think of this as irrational, but it’s actually differently rational: the initial claims are based on anecdotes, and to the woomeister these are the most powerful form of testimony. Rather like a juror who is presented with three alibi witnesses who say the accused was somewhere else, might discount DNA evidence showing that the accused committed the crime, because DNA evidence can be wrong. In reality DNA evidence is far less often wrong than alibi witnesses, who may have a personal interest in a not guilty verdict, but the element of personal testimony is always compelling.

And it’s even more complicated because the flat line of inconclusive replication is made up of numerous individual results:

laetrile 3

Snapshot of a set of results that sum to inconclusive

Exactly the same applies here.

laetrile 5

Snapshot weighted by ideological consonance

So to the woomeister, this is not a flat line of unconfirming evidence, it’s a collection of a few confirming results and some that are wrong.

Laetrile devotees howl that science is ignoring or suppressing positive results, as seen in Eric Merola’s petition to MSKCC, but this is true only if you assume, as woomeisters do, that only the positive evidence is valid. In reality science weighs up positive and negative evidence and forms a judgment based on the combined weight of evidence.

What this means for self-correction

For thousands of years, humanity proceeded by halting steps, with folk ways given as much weight as anything else and the standard of truth being set by religious belief: if the priest said it was true, then it was true. Beginning in the 17th Century, methods were developed for systematically testing ideas with the aim of establishing objective truth independent of any interpretation of sources. Natural philosophers conducted experiments to verify whether they could replicate a result. Scientists conduct experiments to test the result – not just to see if they can replicate it, but also to see if there is a simpler explanation.

Science, in short, self-corrects, by design. Woo cannot self-correct because it is based on the religious model of judging truth. No religious model of judging truth can self-correct, because it is designed to confirm belief and to bend the interpretation of data to validate the .

The difference between the scientific way of judging fact and the way used by woomeisters is a relatively recent invention in human history. The woomeisters are actually following lines of thought that might have been considered perfectly valid as little as two centuries ago, a tiny fraction of the age of modern humanity. But the difference between the two ways of proceeding, is responsible, more than anything else, for the unprecedented pace of development of our undertstanding of the universe. The period from the invention of the Newcomen engine to its eventual phasing out is approximately equal to the interval between the development of the first programmable computers in the 1940s, and today. Or if you prefer, the period from Bolton and Watt’s patent to the invention of the first steam locomotives, is more than twice as long as the period between the invention of valve-based computers and the invention of massively parallel supercomputers.

 

Aug 182014
 

Apparently Eric Merola, the Leni Riefenstahl wannabe who made the Burzynski movies, has set up a change.org petition demanding a statement from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the dismissal of Ralph W. Moss in the 70s. Moss was dismissed for cause after attacking MSKCC for “suppressing” evidence on laetrile, a quack alternative cancer cure; in practice there was an error in the press release but the error was not material – laetrile does not work, numerous subsequent studies have shown it does not work, and a systematic review in 2011 recommended no further trials because “[t]he claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk–benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative”.

And yes, Merola is making a propaganda movie about laetrile, which was at one time the most profitable form of quackery in the US (that honour probably now goes to abuse of chelation therapy for “detox” of “vaccine injury” and dental amalgam “poisoning”.

The demand is:

We kindly request that Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center acknowledge their positive results with laetrile in the 1970s.

They can’t, because the results were not positive. Moss’ problem is one of the most common among proponents of quackery: he believed a single early result, and chose to disbelieve all subsequent disconfirming results. He then spun a narrative of suppression around it, and made a fortune thanks ins no small part to the assiduous promotion of quackery by popular figures such as Oprah Winfrey and her friend Dr. Mehmet Oz.

This is classic quack propaganda tactics, in fact. MSKCC does have a statement on laetrile:

Claims of its anticancer activity rely on the theory, now proven false, that cancer cells contain elevated amounts of the beta-glucosidase compared to normal cells (1). [...] It has also been claimed by some promoters that amygdalin is in fact a vitamin (B17) and that cancer develops due to deficiencies in B17, but no data substantiate this idea.

Laboratory studies suggest that amygdalin has anticancer properties (3) (13), but a 1982 clinical trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute failed to find any effectiveness. Moreover, several study patients had symptoms of mild cyanide toxicity or significant levels of cyanide (4). Systematic reviews of several studies concluded that amygdalin is ineffective as a cancer treatment (5) (6).

Amygdalin is banned in the United States, but is available in Mexico and via the Internet. Evaluation of the parenteral formulation showed contamination with both pyrogens and microbes, and both oral and parenteral formulations did not contain the labeled amounts of amygdalin. Oral administration of Amygdalin has resulted in cyanide toxicity and death. Patients should not use this supplement.

So the problem is not that MSKCC are silent on the matter, but that Moss (and by extension Merola, who, from his work on Zeitgeist, may be assumed to be a Truther and thus likely to believe all kinds of conspiracy theories) does not like the answer. And quacks, like petulant children, will always keep asking until they get the answer they want.

The tirade goes on:

Forty years ago this summer (1974) Ralph W. Moss, PhD was hired at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to be its science writer in the Department of Public Affairs. The “war on cancer” was new, and MSKCC, under the direction of Drs. Lewis Thomas, Robert A. Good and Lloyd J. Old had been revitalized to face the challenges of the day.

The “war on cancer” meant a fresh infusion of vast amounts of cash and new leadership that had direct access to the President of the United States in order to expedite promising treatments. The leaders of the “war on cancer” actually promised the American public a “cure” for some major forms of cancer in time for the Bicentennial—July 4, 1976.

It was also a spectacularly ill-judged political initiative. You can’t have a “War on Cancer” any more than you can have a “War on Terror“. Yes, a lot of new money was put into cancer research. The result was that scientists discovered that cancer is a vastly more complex set of diseases than they had thought. This of course made it very much less likely that simplistic One True Cause / One True Cure ideas would be validated, but several were tested anyway, including laetrile – with uniformly (and predictably) disappointing results.

Incidentally, Moss claims to have been “assistant director of public affairs” at MSKCC, but they issued a letter refuting this: he was a science writer, at a junior grade of pay without supervisory responsibilities.

There was a renewed interest in various unorthodox methods of treating cancer. Public interest gravitated towards an unorthodox treatment called laetrile. This was an extract of apricot kernels, synonymous with a well-known cyanide-containing chemical, amygdalin.

It didn’t gravitate, it was driven there by the fraudulent claims of cancer quacks.

Some have said that much of the pressure came from the John Birch Society‘s founded the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy (an prototype of the health fooldom movement which proceeds from the irrational premise that the freedom of people to make an informed choice mandates that quacks be free to prey on the vulnerable by making false claims, and thus enable their victims to “choose” quackery).

Laetrile is like homeopathy: it’s highly profitable for the peddlers, and requires a constant media buzz to sustain that level of profitability. If quacks stopped promoting it, it would die a natural death pretty quickly because there is no core of evidence-based practice around it. Some forms of cancer quackery – such as inflated claims around the role of sugars in tumour growth – have a core of valid science, but laetrile is pure hokum.

Responding to a petition from 43,000 supporters of the drug, the US “cancer czar” Benno Schmidt asked MSKCC’s leaders to test the drug competently and fairly. They therefore asked the oldest and most experienced researcher, Kanematsu Sugiura, DSc, to test laetrile in various spontaneous tumor systems. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Over the course of five years, Sugiura found that laetrile exerted a profoundly beneficial effect not just on the health and well being of the mice but on stopping lung metastases. MSKCC’s pathology department confirmed his positive findings.

And here’s where Moss’ narrative begins to depart from the straight and narrow. Wikipedia covers this thus:

In 1972, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) board member Benno C. Schmidt, Sr. convinced the hospital to test laetrile so that he could assure others of its ineffectiveness “with some conviction.”[28] Kanematsu Sugiura, the scientist who performed the requested tests, found that laetrile inhibited secondary tumors in mice, though it did not destroy the primary tumors. He repeated the experiment several times with the same results. However, three other researchers were unable to confirm Sugiura’s results. While these uncontrolled and inconclusive results were considered too preliminary to publish, they were leaked to laetrile advocates, resulting in significant public attention.[28]

To expand on Sugiura’s results, MSKCC researchers conducted a controlled experiment in which they injected some mice with laetrile (as Sugiura had done) and others with placebo. Sugiura, who was unaware of which mice had received laetrile, performed the pathologic analysis. In this controlled, blinded follow-up of Sugiura’s initial uncontrolled experiment, laetrile showed no more activity than placebo.[28]

Subsequently, laetrile was tested on 14 tumor systems without evidence of effectiveness. Given this collection of results, MSKCC concluded that “laetrile showed no beneficial effects.”[28] Mistakes in the MSKCC press release were highlighted by a group of laetrile proponents led by Ralph Moss, former public affairs official of MSKCC who was fired following his appearance at a press conference accusing the hospital of covering up the benefits of laetrile.[29] These mistakes were considered scientifically inconsequential, but Nicholas Wade in Science stated that “even the appearance of a departure from strict objectivity is unfortunate.”[28] The results from these studies were published all together.[30]

This, of course, is far too prosaic for the conspiracy-minded cranks who dominate the world of alternatives to medicine. Here’s how Moss spins it according to Merola:

Initially, the leadership of MSKCC affirmed Sugiura’s findings. Then they began to backtrack in public. In 1974 the American Cancer Society (ACS), threatened Dr. Good to back off from laetrile. Behind the scenes, Old tried to uphold Sugiura’s findings. But they did not win over their colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration or the American Cancer Society. At this moment, MSKCC leaders (and in particular Lewis Thomas) decided that the cause was hopelessly dangerous to himself and to his institution and so within weeks went over to the anti-laetrile camp. Thomas wound up as a key witness against laetrile at Sen. Kennedy’s hearings on the topic in 1977, lying about Sugiura’s results with a straight face.

See the difference? The scientific reality is that passionate believers thought they finally had something, but there was no independent replication, and careful science – which deliberately sets aside how much the researcher wants the result to be true – does not back the initial hypothesis.

The crazy thing is that this failure of animal models to deliver a drug usable in humans is not only perfectly normal, it’s the majority case. Only a tiny proportion of compounds that show some early signs of useful therapeutic activity, actually translate into usable treatments. Early results are wrong, there is significant toxicity, there might be bioavailability problems with the body metabolising it before it can do anything. Feynman time:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.Richard Feynman.

For quacks, though, only the confirming results count. Disconfirming evidence is rejected. It’s another form of the complex number problem.

Eventually, the leadership issued an entirely negative summation of the laetrile testing program. (Ralph W. Moss, PhD himself wrote the official press release). Ralph started a newsletter called “Second Opinion” to publicize the problems and contradictions in MSKCC’s official pronouncements. In November 1977 Ralph went public with these accusations and was fired on the next business day for failing to carry out his “most basic job responsibilities.” Ralph W. Moss, PhD also wrote his first book, The Cancer Industry, about this and other cover-ups in the cancer research and treatment field. Yet for many years Ralph has let the matter rest. Why then bring it up now?

Why indeed? There have, after all, been several independent clinical trials since then, with uniformly negative results, and the laetrile quackery business has reduced dramatically over the years as it became increasingly obvious that the “success stories” are mainly dead.

First of all, a new generation of Americans, including most researchers, knows nothing about this controversy. Some of them were not even born when these events took place. Second, a terrible wrong was done to the reputation of one of MSKCC’s greatest scientists, Kanematsu Sugiura. For the sake of political expediency Sugiura was “thrown under the bus,” as we now would say. But, most importantly, pure amygdalin was an extremely promising anti-metastatic agent. It was certainly the most effective such agent discovered up until that time. To this day, if there are any better agents that have been proven as effective at preventing the spread of cancer they are unknown to the public.

No “terrible wrong” was done other than by cranks like Moss. Scientists are allowed to be wrong. It happens all the time and their reputation is not damaged unless they are continually wrong, or they assert they were right when in fact they were wrong.

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.Carl Sagan

And as I have said before, alt med has every element of a religion save the deity.

It’s unfortunate that by the time of the laetrile debacle Sugiura was in the twilight of his career. Normally a scientist would go on publishing and any mistakes would be shrugged off. Sugiura was in his eighties by the time the laetrile work started and he died aged 89 in 1979, so he had no opportunity to move on. It is sad that his career is remembered for the last and worst of his work but this is not MSKCC’s doing, they clearly held him in high regard.

While progress has been made in understanding cancer in the past 40 years, effective treatments for preventing the spread of cancer are still few and far between. Laetrile was a lost opportunity—killed off in a cynical way. Unfortunately, the outstanding experimental results of Sugiura became the victim of a highly politicized vendetta.

No it was not a lost opportunity. It was an opportunity that was tested and found not to work. Just like all those that have been funded by NCCAM, at the cost of many millions of dollars. Remember Minchin’s Law:

By definition”, alternative medicine” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” – Tim Minchin

When you test alternative therapies scientifically, what tends to happen is that you move them from the box of alternative-because-untested into the box of alternative-because-shown-not-to-work. That’s what happened with laetrile.

Above all, we would urge MSKCC to reconsider its handling of the laetrile controversy. The facts, when considered without bias, show that Sugiura was both competent and honest, while those who were in power at the time lost their nerve and compromised the truth in a very shameful way.

Scientifically, there is no controversy. Laetrile was tested and, as with every single other “one true cure” for cancer, found not to work. It was in fact tested more carefully than most, because people within MSKCC believed in it. And it still didn’t work. Regardless of the fact that some people refused to accept it, because they had succumbed to belief, laetrile is a medical version of n-rays.

Now, it’s unlikely that MSKCC would issue a public statement about Moss, since this is clearly a personnel matter and would be treated as confidential by any reputable employer. That’s why Merola did it: he knows they will not do what he demands, and he will then abuse this refusal as part of his narrative of suppression. They may express disappointment that having been sacked for smearing MSKCC, he has continued to do little else in the decades since, but that’s as far as they’d go.

As I say, MSKCC is very unlikely to do as Moss wants – but it would be kind of awesome if they did.

Aug 152014
 

Mathematicians and engineers are familiar with the concept of complex numbers. Electrical engineers, for example, use them to represent in-phase and out of phase loads.

phaseA complex number has a “real” component and an “imaginary” component. Actually both are equally real, but the imaginary component is represented as a factor of the square root of -1, which engineers call j and mathematicians call i. The square root of -1 does not exist, it is imaginary, but there’s a well understood mathematics of complex numbers that allows complex calculations to be performed, and the use of i (or j) prevents the components from getting mixed up. We always know which is which. In effect, it’s a shorthand for a two-dimensional vector calculus where the axes are at exactly 90°. A complex number can either be represented by its real and imaginary components (such as 3+5i) or by its magnitude (the length of the orange line) and phase angle (φ in the diagram).

It’s simple and it works for us.

For some things, you’re interested in the in-phase component. For some, the out of phase component. And for some, it’s the total magnitude that matters, the length of the orange arrow.

WTF has this to do with woo?

Consider chiropractic. It’s completely plausible that manipulation therapy would have a beneficial effect on musculoskeletal pain. It’s highly implausible that it would have a beneficial effect on infant colic or asthma, and there’s no evidence that the “chiropractic subluxation” exists at all.

Consider acupuncture. It’s plausible that inserting needles might trigger the release of endorphins. It’s entirely implausible that it might create health by balancing the flow of qi in the meridians, because those things don’t exist.

You might regard the valid, plausible elements as a real component, and the vitalistic nonsense as an imaginary component.

Imaginary is “real”, for some values of real

There is nothing wrong with things having a real and an imaginary component. All medicines do: the placebo effect is an imaginary component.

The problems come from the way you look at the result. Medicine, historically, has looked at the magnitude of the effect.  Evidence-based medicine tries to remove the imaginary component but is still measuring the magnitude of the total effect and trying to discount the imaginary component. Science-based medicine tries to look only at the real component.

Woomeisters do not accept that the real and imaginary components exist, they are stuck in the 19th Century view where only the magnitude matters. Where medicine has tried to discard invalid practices such as bloodletting and purging, and in doing so has begun to understand how invalid ideas persist and why it is important to tease out the real versus the imaginary, woo actively does not care. This is partly because most woomeisters are actually rather dim, and partly because deep down they know that any intrusion of proper scientific rigour  will always result in art least some of their beliefs being challenged and shown to be wrong.

Wrongness in science

It would be wrong to say a scientist does not care about being proved wrong. All humans do. But science proceeds by challenging and discarding incorrect ideas. Every scientist must accept, at a fundamental level, that progress is made partly by developing new knowledge and partly by discarding old ideas that are found to be wrong or incomplete.

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. – Carl Sagan

This is not so much of a problem these days, as truly revolutionary new ideas are pretty rare. I suggest you read up on the early history of atomic physics and quantum theory to see how stubbornly some scientists clung to wrong ideas. Einstein himself never really accepted quantum statistical mechanics: “My God does nto play dice with the universe” or words to that effect.

Wrongness in woo

While science seeks empirical fact and the scientific endeavour is founded on the belief that truth is absolute, woo, like religions, follows the idea that “Fact is merely what enough people believe, and truth lies only in how fervently they believe it” (as Pierce put it in Idiot America). Pierce quotes this gem which perfectly sums up this worldview:

It is so oftentimes in this worldthat it is not the philosophy that is at fault, but the facts. – Ignatius L. Donnelly

For a believer in homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic or whatever, if facts contradict the philosophy then the facts are wrong.

Yes, yes, but get to the bloody point!

Oh, sorry.

Well, skeptics get very frustrated with woomeisters because they obdurately refuse to see the errors in their position – and woomeisters get frustrated with skeptics for much the same reason. We have fundamentally different worldviews, and I suggest that the phasor diagram encapsulates the problem.

Lets list a few of the real and imaginary components of various things and I’ll show you what I mean:

Example Real component Imaginary component
Aspirin Suppression of production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes; COX-1 and COX-2 inhibition; uncouples oxidative phosphorylation in cartilaginous (and hepatic) mitochondria; induces the formation of NO-radicals; possible modulation of signaling through NF-κB. “Miracle drug” claims, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Acupuncture Possible release of endorphins, some evidence to suggest purinergic signalling. Qi, meridians, acupoints, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Chiropractic Plausible biomechanical effects. Innate; chiropractic subluxation; claims to cure organic disease; “safety” based on no data; maintenance adjustments; appeal to conspiracy; ; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Herbal medicine Known biological effects of biological compounds. Appeal to tradition, naturalistic fallacy, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Homeopathy tumbleweed “Like cures like”; effects on body’s vital energy; effects on immune system; “quantum”; appeal to conspiracy; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Orthomolecular medicine Known effects of vitamins; emerging evidence of widespread low-grade vitamin D deficiency in older Westerners. Appeals to authority (esp. Linus Pauling); cherry-picked data; early results asserted over later more equivocal ones; naturalistic fallacy; appeal to conspiracy; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.

phase diagram of wooI’ll represent that on a phasor diagram for you. Remember that nonspecific / placebo effects are strongest when the intervention is dramatic and theatrical and where the explanation is least mundane).

As far as the woomeister is concerned, this diagram is saying that there’s no big difference in effect between the various modes. But if you have pain, are you going to use aspirin or chew willow bark (the herbal medicine equivalent)?

As I see it, most people don’t have a lot of difficulty seeing the difference between aspirin and willow bark, but they find it much harder to spot that homeopathy is complete bollocks, because while the argument can be made between the real components of willow bark and aspirin (the latter being a purified form, with a predictable dose), there is no point of comparison between aspirin and homeopathy. Homeopathy is pure, unadulterated woo.

That’s why the general public find it hard to engage with the debate over homeopathy in particular. It’s hard to believe that it is legal to sell something that has literally no basis in reality.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that thought: the real versus the imaginary component, as a way of thinking and talking about woo versus reality-based medicine.

SumafasoresWhy do electrical engineers use complex numbers?

You might have wondered why electrical engineers even need to know this: electricity is real, isn’t it?

Put briefly: your domestic electrical supply is not like a battery, it’s alternating voltage, not constant voltage (hence alternating current, ac). The voltage oscillates between +230 and -230V, and the oscillation is a sine wave.

A current flowing in a wire generates an electromagnetic field. In some devices the load’s own electromagnetic fields interact with the applied voltage, which has an effect on how and when the current flows. That means a load can have a slight out of phase component, which we represent as a phasor (set phasers to stun, Captain). Phase lag is reasonably easy to understand. Consider a motor or transformer. The current flows, but the device has a high magnetic coupling, the change in voltage  as the applied voltage alternates, itself generates a magnetic field which then tries to generate an opposing voltage – sometimes known as “back emf“, so the current lags the applied voltage.

Capacitors store electricity and try to drive current, so for capacitors the current leads the applied voltage (less intuitive, I grant). The diagram at right illustrates a phase-shifted load.

What this means is that for inductive and capacitive loads, the current can be more than you’d expect from the applied voltage and will flow at a different time. This is a big headache for power companies and they charge extra for the out of phase component.

Jul 222014
 

SociopathicDana

“A theoretical physicist describes why homeopathy makes sense”

Thus ran the bold claim of a tweet by Dana “Dullman” Ullman, tireless homeopathy shill and proponent of counterfactual confabulations. Now we all know that Dana loves nothing more than the appeal to authority, so obviously it’s important to establish the actual credentials of the “theoretical physicist” in question, Matti Pitkänen.

According to his biography, Matti Pitkänen is an “independent research scientist” – red flag. This list of publications includes, as far as I can tell, precisely no peer-reviewed publications almost exclusively publications that are not peer-reviewed [edited 18/8/14], though Pitkänen does seem to have earned a proper PhD and done some teaching work.

Pitkänen’s claim to fame is “topological geometrodynamics, a field on which it seems he is pretty much the sole writer. His contributions to the non-peer-reviewed “New Energy” literature and other activities suggest that this is not a practising theoretical physicist, but someone who is theoretically a physicist, but crossed the Woobicon long ago.

Of course, Dullman is desperate for the memory of water to be real physics – his uncritical repetition of the work of Jacques Benveniste and Luc Montagnier make this plain. Sadly for him, wishing does not make it so.

So, what does Pitkänen say?

The following gives an attempt to build a brief sketch of TGD based model of water memory and homeopathy as it is after the input from Pollack’s findings and heff=hgr=hem hypothesis.

So at least Pitkänen is honest enough to admit that this is pure speculation.

Summary of the basic facts and overall view

A concice summary of the basic qualitative facts about homeopathy (see this) could be following.

1. The manufacture of the homeopathic remedies consists of repeated dilution and agitation of water sample containing the molecules causing the effect which the remedy is intended to heal. This paradoxical looking healing method is based on “Alike likes alike” rule. This rules brings in mind vaccination causing immune system to develop resistance. The procedure seems to somehow store information about the presence of the molecules and this information induces immune response. Usually it is the organisms or molecules causing the disease which induce immune response.

No, that is not a fact. It is a doctrine of the cult of homeopathy. In fact, there is no evidence at all that like cures like as a general or even widespread rule, there is no evidence of the storage of information (there is no objective process by which remedies at the normal dilution can be distinguished, so no evidence of any specific information content), there is no mechanism by which these molecules could actually cause the disease to which they are linked by the conjecture of homeopaths, and there is no evidence that it is ever the organisms or molecules, none of which actually remain, that prompts any response at all; no objectively measurable specific immune response has ever been credibly demonstrated.

As usual, then, the homeopathist begins by stating doctrine as fact, and building on the assumption that a false doctrine is instead a law of nature. So much for science.

2. The ultra-naive and simplistic objection of skeptic is that the repeated dilution involved with the preparation of homeopathic remedy implies that the density of molecules is so small that the molecules can have absolutely no effect. Despite the fact that we live in information society, this is still the standard reaction of a typical skeptic.

The reaction of the skeptic is more nuanced than this.

  1. There is no reason to suppose homeopathy should work. Like does not cure like, dilution does not increase potency, there is no evidence that a substance that causes a symptom will alleviate the disease that causes it, and for most homeopathic materials there is actually no evidence that the material causes the symptom in the first place.
  2. There is no way it can work. No remotely plausible mechanism has been suggested.
  3. There is no proof it does work. Every finding from any homeopathy study is fully consistent with the null hypothesis.

This is neither simplistic nor naive.

3. A lot of research is done by starting from the natural idea that the electro-magnetic fields associated with the invader molecules (or more complex objects) represent the needed information and that water somehow gets imprinted by these fields. This could for instance mean that water clusters learn to reproduce radiation at frequencies characterizing the invader molecule. Benveniste is one of the most outstanding pioneers in the field. Benveniste et al (see this) even managed to record the VLF frequency finger print of some bio-active molecules and record them in binary form allowing to to yield the same effect as the real bio-active molecule induced. Benveniste was labelled as a fraud. The procedure used by the journal Nature to decide whether Benveniste is swindler or not brings in mind the times of inquisition. It tells a lot about attitudes of skeptics that magician Randi was one member of the jury!

Benveniste’s work was shown to be invalid, the conclusion relied on a research assistant knowing what result was desired. Once the assistant was blinded to the identity of the samples, the result vanished. Homeopaths refuse to accept this, but no reputable scientist would ever base work on a refuted paper like Benveniste’s, at the very least they would cite independent reproductions by other experimenters published in reputable peer-reviewed journals. If they existed… but they don’t. There are a few claimed reproductions, e.g. by Ennis, but these, too, have evaporated in the cold light of skeptical inquiry.

Homeopaths are fixated on Randi. Quite apart from the invalid nature of the argumentum ad hominem, they do not appear to understand why Randi is the right person to investigate pseudoscience. Scientists, in the main, are very bad at spotting fraud and misdirection. Russell Targ, Brian Josephson, Luc Montagnier and many others have been suckered by charlatans or their own beliefs. They are conditioned to trust people and trust their own observations.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.Richard Feynman

Randi, by contrast, is a stage conjurer, his stock in trade is fooling people, and his special expertise is spotting when others are fooling people. He rumbled Peter Popoff, Uri Geller and many other charlatans. His craft is the things onlookers do not notice, who better to spot the confounders that onlookers had not noticed in Benveniste’s experiments?

4. Benveniste’s work has been continued and recently HIV Nobelist Montagnier produced what might be regarded as remote replication of DNA using method very similar to that used in manufacturing homeopathic remedy (see this and this).

And Montagnier says that his work cannot be extrapolated to the products used in homeopathy. This tendency of homeopaths to assert as immortal truth any statement they like while ignoring any contradictory statement is a core part of the dishonesty that characterises the entire field.

The general conclusion is that the em frequencies possibly providing a representation of the molecules are rather low – in VLF region – so that frequencies assignable to molecular transitions are not in question. Cyclotron frequencies assignable to the molecules are the most natural candidates concerning physical interpretation. The corresponding photon energies are extremely low if calculated from E=hf formula of standard quantum mechanics so that quantal effects in the framework of standard quantum theory do not seem to be possible.

No, the general conclusion is that homeopathy is an 18th Century delusion that is refuted by multiple well established fields of scientific inquiry including molecular chemistry, biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology and of course nuclear physics.

Cyclotron frequencies are not the most natural candidates. The most natural candidate is the null hypothesis.

My personal interest on water memory was sparked by the work of Cyril Smith about which learned in CASYS 2001 conference years ago. What I learned was what might be called scaling law of homeopathy (see this). Somehow low frequency radiation seems to be transformed to high frequency radiation and the ratio fh/fl≈ 2× 1011 seems to be favored frequency ratio.

In context, frequency is energy (E=hν, where E is energy, h is Planck's constant and ν is the frequency). Pitkänen seems to be suggesting that the process of dilution and twerking causes a significant and profound change in the energy states of the materials. If this were true, it would scarcely have passed the notice of the physics and chemistry communities. You’d also expect some kind of formalised statement of how much energy must be input, and a proof that the energy is required, whereas homeopathy research has no objective standard for the number or force of strikes, and indeed there is no unanimity on whether the strikes themselves are necessary.

In other words this is pure wishful thinking on Pitkänen’s part.

These two basic findings suggest what looks now a rather obvious approach to homeopathy in TGD framework.

It might be obvious in the “TGD framework”, but Professor Google suggests that TGD (Topological Geometrodynamics) seems to have an active research community comprising exactly one researcher: Matti Pitkänen.

The basic physical objects are the magnetic bodies of the invader molecule and water molecule cluster or whatever it is what mimics the invader molecule. The information about magnetic body is represented by dark cyclotron radiation generated by the invader with frequency fI. This dark radiation is transformed to to ordinary photons with frequency fh and energy hefffl=hfh, which is above thermal energy, most naturally in the range of bio-photon energies so that the radiation can directly induce transitions of bio-molecules. The analogs for the EZs discovered by Pollack are obvious candidates for “water molecule clusters”.

Water clusters, eh? Those have been shown to have a life measured in femtoseconds. Reaching, much?

Of course, if any of this speculative nonsense were true, it would be trivially easy to prove by capturing and measuring the photons. Which makes you wonder why Pitkänen restricts himself to words on paper and doesn’t actually test his theory, especially since it would be a groundbreaking piece of work that would make his name in the international physics community.

The following summarizes this overall picture in more detail.

Well, we can skip the rest because while the water memory nonsense is based on published but refuted work, the balance of the argument is based on Pitkänen’s own unpublished bonkers theory of TGD, which he describes as a “noble attempt to construct a theory of everything, not forgetting consciousness”; theories of everything are rather out of fashion in physics at the moment, though string theory is regarded as a possible contender if we ever understand it well enough.

While water memory is a self-serving construct of homeopathists, this article is instead a self-serving attempt to use refuted science as a crutch to prop up something that is not even refuted, since nobody takes it seriously enough to refute it. A speculative theory of life, the universe and everything, dreamed up by an “independent researcher” with a negligible publication record.

Possible mechanism of water memory and homeopathy

The general vision about prebiotic evolution described above suggests that the mechanisms of water memory and homeopathy are basically the same as those underlying the workings of the immune system

This is, of course, the woo-woo version of the immune system, the one that’s boosted by adjusting the flow of qi or manipulating spinal subluxations to allow the flow of innate. It has nothing to do with immune responses based on lymphocytes and barrier cells. Obviously.

1. Exclusion zones could define primordial life forms with genetic code. They are able to detect the presence of invader molecule from its cyclotron frequency spectrum.

How? There’s no evidence that this frequency is delivered to the body in any quantity, or that it has any actual connection to the disease.

2. Dark proteins can form concrete memory representations of the invade.

I can find no evidence that there is any such thing as a “dark protein”.

3. molecules in terms of dark proton sequences defining dark proteins. The folding of these dark proteins mimics the behavior of the magnetic bodies of the invaders. These dark proteins can attach to the magnetic body of the invader molecule to make it non-dangerous. Even symbolic representations in terms of dark DNA allowing transcription and translation to concrete dark protein representation could be involved. The procedure involved in the manufacture of homeopathic remedy could be seen as a series of “environmental catastrophes” driving the evolution of dark primordial life by feeding in metabolic energy and generating new EZs, which mimic the invader molecules and existing EZs mimicking them.

Dark protons don’t seem to exist either. In fact, Pitkänen seems to use “dark” the way Deepak Chopra uses “quantum”; it is a substitute for “speculative, unmeasurable, undetectable, unverifiable, and completely unknown to physical science”.

4. In organism the dark DNA representing the invader molecule would generate ordinary genes coding for ordinary proteins attaching to the invader molecules by the attachment of ordinary DNA nucleotides to them. The attachment would involve heff reducing phase transition reducing the length of connecting flux tube.

No evidence for this at all, and irrelevant anyway as (a) there’s no evidence the frequencies are related to the disease and (b) there’s no evidence the energies are delivered to the body in any measurable or relevant quantity.

5. Later dark genetic code transformed to chemical genetic code as dark DNA strands were formed around dark double strands and large number of other biological functions emerged besides immune response.

Either that or it’s something to do with flux capacitors. Perhaps the experiment should be repeated with dilithium crystals. Oh, wait, there is no experiment, just arm-waving.

6. The mechanical agitation in the manufacturing of homeopathic remedy generates exclusion zones and new primitive life forms by providing the needed energy. These in turn recognize and memorize invader molecules and their already existing representations as EZs.

Really? Prove it. And in doing so, document the number of strikes required and the force needed – bonus points if you can finally settle the dispute over whether the Korsakovian dilution is valid.

I think I can suggest a better title for Dana’s Tweet:

A physicist (theoretically, anyway) spouts nonsense about homeopathy in service of an even more batshit insane idea with even less scientific support.

Jul 142014
 

The ever-entertaining Sandra Herman-Courtney has posted another spittle-flecked rant at her “farting for homeopathy” blog. I almost feel sorry for homeopaths if this kind of lunacy is considered necessary to defend them form the relentless march of reality.

Almost: but then I notice that the Banerjis are still claiming to cure cancer with magic water.

This blog post is far from finished, but this is at least a beginning of some things that I want homeopathy supporters to know. NOW. The homeopathy skeptics are working over-time.

Are we? I suppose so, since it’s all done in our spare time, which would count as overtime if we were doing paid work.

First their venom was directed towards the WDDTY magazine, now they are trying to ruin the reputation of Dr. Nancy Malik, a homeopath in India that has a very informative blog.

Let us be very clear here: only one person is “ruining” the reputation of “Dr.” Nancy Malik, a homeoquack with a website rife with disinformation and outright lies, as any follower will know. That person is “Dr.” Malik herself.

She applied for a Health On Net HONcode, failing to mention that her site is full of anti-medicine propaganda, homeoquackery , antivax lies and so on. Some people complained. The certificate was withdrawn. And now she has a faked version of the certificate on her website. Which is fraudulent, just like everything else about homeopathy.

Footgun fired, direct hit, nobody’s fault but her own.

I hope that both the magazine and Dr. Malik take appropriate legal action. I will do what I can to help, both on this blog and financially. Stay tuned for more about that….

Oh so do I. I would love to see Nancy defend her fraudulent use of a faked HONcode, or WDDTY defend their harassment of critics who have merely pointed out that their publication is full of bullshit and lies.

But of course this is QuackWorld™ where all misfortunes are someone  else’s fault and the only truly unforgivable crime is shining the cold hard light of fact on a fraudulent health claim.

This is such a long story, but for now, let me provide a bit of background about the tactics used by the skeptics, which I have addressed in an earlier blog post HERE against the sale of the What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine published in the UK by Lynne McTaggart.

The story is well known. Simon Singh publicised the fact that Tesco and a few other shops were stocking McTaggart’s rag full of antivaccine propaganda and other excreta, the spotlight was turned on the advertisers and editorial, and overall the situation developed not necessarily to WDDTY’s advantage.

WDDTY’s response was entirely predictable: personal attacks against critics and howling “free speech” – neglecting the fact that not only does the UK not have legal protection for free speech as her native US does, but also her native US does not protect commercial speech, which this is (much of WDDTY is thinly disguised advertorial).

And then, in a moment of delicious irony, she decided to censor all dissenting views from any online forum she controls, because free speech. Which of course led to further mockery, escalated by McTaggart and co in ways I’m not about to discuss here; suffice it to say that they are following the inglorious footsteps of Errol of the Denton Family.

Alan Henness co-founder of The Nightingale Collaboration and some of his followers started a campaign in October 2013 bombarding with tweets and emails to public relations people of the different shops in the UK & Scotland asking them not to not stock this magazine claiming that the magazine’s content (alternative medicine, natural therapies, etc) was irresponsible.

We didn’t just claim it, we provided evidence. Enormous volumes of it. Dozens of upheld ASA adjudications, documentation of antivaccine propaganda, cancer quackery, promotion of fraudulent devices and much more.

WDDTY likes to pretend it’s a health journal, but we proved beyond reasonable doubt that it’s a trade advocacy magazine for quacks. And that’s why Tesco dropped it (that and poor sales, because in the end you can read all their bullshit at sites like whale.to and Natural News free of charge).

It seems that what angered the skeptics the most – prompting their email & Twitter campaign sent to the different shops was the fact that there was going to be an article in the November 2013 issue of the magazine that covered the positive work and results using homeopathy with cancer patients at the Banerji Homeopathic clinic in India. I have screen shots, but that can wait.

Promoting magic water as a cancer cure was indeed a low point, but only one of many. See http://wwddtydty.com for much, much more.

Since November 2013, the skeptics have not stopped their campaign to censor this magazine and keep it off the shelves in the UK.

True, but only because we cannot stop a campaign that never started. We never set out to censor WDDTY, only to stop retailers inadvertently promoting dangerous bullshit in the guise of a medical magazine. If it had been clearly marked “fiction” and placed with the astrology papers we’d have had no problem with it, and we have never even considered stopping McTaggart from writing or selling her drivel.

Not stocking your magazine does not amount to censorship. Consider always the possibility that such meretricious claptrap is not commercially attractive to a major retailer.

Just below are some screen shots of more recent activity; notably S.L. Singh (54K followers on Twitter and not a physician, homeopath or scientist),

Oh if only it were trivially possible to check this. On, say, an online encyclopaedia. Wait! Simon Singh has a Wikipedia article which notes his credentials as a nuclear physicist (precisely the kind of scientist best able to find the gaping flaws in homeopathy). As for not being a homeopath, his co-author Edzard Ernst is the best trained and most qualified writer on the subject in the UK, trained as both a doctor and a homeopath, So between them their book Trick Or Treatment brings all three of the elements the loon Courtney says are missing: scientist, doctor, homeopath.

the person that provided the original “seed” money for the Nightingale Collaboration.

No idea if it’s true, but not relevant anyway. Unlike the homeopaths who funded a “journalist” to trash Edzard Ernst, this is not in any way a conflict of interest or an underhand act.

This organization scours the internet looking for homeopathy websites and articles looking for information they can report as “misleading content”.

No, we watch for homeoquacks promoting misleading content, especially misleading advers (e.g. Steve Scrutton, see http://is.gd/ASAscrotum and http://is.gd/ASAscrotum2).

To my knowledge, none of these people who report homeopaths to the ASA_UK are physicians, homeopaths or scientists.

Well, we’ve already proved that the best of your knowledge is piss poor, haven’t we? Several are scientists, some are doctors. In fact it’s doctors and scientists who are most outraged by mendacious homeopathy shills, I reckon.

The ASA_UK panel (no homeopath on the panel) then makes a determination (mostly against the homeopath) and then proceeds to embarrass the homeopath on their site. The ASA_UK is a private organization that has not been recognized by the government of the U.K.

The ASA is recognised by the government, it is the industry regulator for advertising and it is private only because the advertisers did not want it to be statutory. They have no homeopaths, no bankers, no croupiers and no barmen on their panel, that does not stop them working out whether adverts by quacks, banks, online casinos and drinks companies meet the standards. they can call on expert advice, and in most cases the claims are very obviously bogus (e.g. every word ever written in promotion of homeopathy).

I myself would warmly welcome statutory regulation, with prosecution rather than shaming of false advertising.

I bet the homeopaths would cry even harder into their infinitely diluted beer.

Sandra, when statutory regulators get involved, you end up with cases like Errol Denton and Stephen Ferguson. That is, convictions and substantial fines. Do you really prefer that alternative? And no, this is not a false dichotomy, or at least not until the homeopathy industry cleans up its act.

Jul 072014
 

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on antimocrobial resistance, was published this week.

The evidence-gathering process included the usual smattering of bullshit, presumably encouraged by the presence of David Tredinnick (Holland & Barrett, Con) on the Committee.

George Lewith provided testimony and a written response that shames my alma mater, but despite his name being mentioned in the report, it remains reassuringly reality-based.

I have no doubt that Tredinnick will still strive to shoehorn bullshit in: he has form when it comes to misrepresenting what constitutes evidence for SCAM (see EDMs 2007-2008 #1548, 1549, 1550, 1551; 2009-2010 #908, 1164, 1165; 2010-2012 #284, 285, 286, 287, 342, 387 (and amendment), 1820, 1868, 1957 – in fact, apart from occasional pleas for members’ privileges, shilling for Big Sugar appears to be his sole interest, as measured by EDMs), and it’s extremely unlikely that he will understand terms like “evidence-based” as explicitly excluding homeopathy, but he will be in a tiny minority on that.

47. Dr Goodwin, Society of Biology, highlighted how better infection control, which was “virtually absent in animal husbandry”,[131] could reduce infection rates and stated that much more needed to be done to “tighten up” in this area.[132] However, other witnesses stressed the importance of antibiotics to veterinary medicine. Catherine McLaughlin, National Farmers Union, told us that the “UK poultry industry voluntarily banned the use of some critically important antibiotics at about this time last year” and consequently, had to raise their hygiene standards to be “better than hospitals”, to reduce the increased mortality rate in young chicks.[133] She pointed out that, although a high standard of hygiene could be achieved in a “closed environment, that type of hygiene would not be possible in the more extensive outdoor-type systems”.[134] Furthermore, she said that if a ban were introduced on adding antibiotics to feed and water, then “it would make pig production in the UK pretty much impossible”.[135] George Eustice MP, Under-Secretary of State for farming, food and marine environment, indicated that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate “funds a number of projects looking at antimicrobial resistance”, two of which have an “element” looking at “alternative treatments”.[136] He added that sometimes though these treatments are “anecdotally” reported to have “some impact”, they tend to “fall” at the “final hurdle” of clinical trials.[137]

Quite.

So the measures highlighted in the report include vaccination, phages and other reality-based therapies, but no mention is made of homeopathy despite several written submissions promoting it and even citing one of the authors of one of these submissions.

The sugar shill is not earning his Big Herba dollars, obviously.

Site last updated September 14, 2014 @ 12:54 am