The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘vaccines’

Fox News Nails It on Ebola

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2014

Ebola is in the news, and unfortunately too many people are speculating and panicking about this terrible disease.  And even more unfortunate, there are far too many media professionals who are reporting the news on Ebola in a completely irresponsible manner.  In the spirit of lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness, I would like to share an example of very good reporting on this matter from Shepard Smith at Fox News.  I don’t often agree with commentary on Fox News, but this just nails it. Folks, get your flu shot, and stop panicking about Ebola; get more facts here:

Posted in media woo, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What If We Extended Anti-Vaccine Arguments to Other Technologies?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2014

I saw a great meme going around Facebook the other day and thought I should share it here.  Often anti-vaccination activists make loaded claims about how vaccines are “toxic” and whatnot; of course they are playing fast and loose with the facts, and they are trying to use loaded language in an attempt to scare people from vaccinating their children.  When confronted with such nonsense, I often tell on-the-fence parents “You wouldn’t put your child into a car without securing them in a car seat, would you?”  It’s a pretty effective message for playing the odds and protecting your kids by vaccinating them.

Of course, here’s another way to counter anti-vax propaganda: apply their same ludicrous arguments to all kinds of other technologies, and see how quickly it all descends down the rabbit hole of stupidity.  Here you go (make sure you read the entire graphic; my personal favorite is the one about the fire-ax)…

anti-vaxxers-are-dumb

 

Image source

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Anti-Science and Science Denial: It Isn’t Just for the Political Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2014

I have used up many electrons on this blog discussing the problem of anti-science and science denial regarding creationist and climate science denier movements.  I have also discussed many times about how those movements seek to destroy the credibility of science in order to prop up either their religious or political worldviews, which usually tend to be quite right-wing in nature.

However, lest we cease to be critical thinkers about the problem of anti-science and science denial, let us not over simplify the issue in to being a problem of only the political right.  Case in point: many of the worst of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) are strongly left-leaning in their politics.  This is emphasized rather hilariously in this recent Daily Show segment:

An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy

vaccines

 No, this chart isn’t the idiocy.  The idiotic part is that anyone would seriously deny that vaccinations are the reason why these deadly diseases went away.

In the segment, the Daily Show interviewer discusses the topic of vaccines with someone who can only be described as an ideological science-denier… who is on the political left.  I really like how Orac at Respectful Insolence breaks this down:

In the piece, in particular Bee makes fun of a crunchy lifestyle blogger, Sarah Pope, who, after establishing her liberal-crunchy bona fides (after Bee’s amusing prompts, of course), rattles off pretty much every antivaccine trope and bit of misinformation and pseudoscience in the antivaccine canon, claiming herd immunity is myth, that vaccines cause autism, that they don’t work, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yesterday, Pope wrote about the interview thusly:

” “The Epidemic of Idiocy” that The Daily Show segment labels the no-vaccination movement is head scratching given that the anti-vaccine movement is being led by the most educated in our society.

Are all those parents with college degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and, yes, even many MDs that are saying no to shots for their kids complete idiots?

Highly doubtful!

No-vax parents aren’t the real “science deniers”. In fact, they the ones most interested in the science because they are digging into the research and demanding unbiased, objective data to support vaccination, not the slanted version presented by the CDC and conventional pediatricians like Dr. Offit who makes millions supporting the very industry that handsomely maintains his lifestyle.”

Uh, no.

No matter how much Ms. Pope wants to claim the mantle of science through the University of Google, she and her fellow antivaccine activists are just as antiscience as anthropogenic global climate change denialists and creationists (a.k.a., evolution denialists). They also share another important trait with people holding those antiscience beliefs. They’re just really, really good atmotivated reasoning, and one reason they’re so good at motivated reasoning is because they are educated and smart, which is why vaccine denialists and other science denialists are sometimes referred to as “smart idiots.” It’s a very apt term. I do, however thank The Daily Showfor making me aware of Ms. Pope. Her blog looks like—shall we say?—a highly “target-rich” environment for potential future blog posts.

However, we should take care to not oversimplify the AVM and the political affiliations of its adherents, because while there are many AVMers who are left-wing, there is also a strong (and apparently growing) right-wing element to vaccine denial.  More from Orac:

However, there is also a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well, including General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules.

Indeed, many of the the antivaccine people and groups whom I monitor tend to be anything but liberal politically. For example, The Canary Party, a rabidly antivaccine group that pushes the idea that toxins in vaccines are responsible for autism and all sorts of health issues and that autism “biomed” quackery is the way to cure vaccine injury recently teamed up with the East Bay Tea Party to oppose vaccine mandates in California. Moreover, the Canary Party has also recently been sucking up to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), with one of its major financial backers, Jennifer Larson, contributing a lot of money to Issa’s campaign (indirectly, of course) in order to buy influence and win a hearing by his committee examining autism and focused on vaccines as one potential cause. Fortunately, Issa’s hearing in 2012 was a bust.

So what are we to conclude about this question of anti-vaccination and political affiliation?  Well, the answer appears to be “not much” because it seems the question hasn’t been rigorously studied…

Unfortunately, there aren’t actually a lot of good data examining whether there is a correlation between political affiliation and anti-vaccine views. I blogged about this very issue a three years ago, discussing an article by Chris Mooney looking at polling data and doing the best he could to characterize the politics of vaccine denialism.

At this point, about the only thing I can say is that regardless of the political motivations of those who buy into and promote the dangerous nonsense espoused by the AVM, their lies and pseudoscience must be countered.  So how do we do that?  How do we in the skeptical and pro-science movement formulate an effective message to counter the AVM’s noise and misinformation?  Well, I am happy to say that last year a study was published (via the JREF and Women Thinking, Inc.) on this very question.  Please give it a look :)

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! :)

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization :)

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

When Faith Fails: Vaccine-Denial Gets Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2013

Many times we think of vaccine deniers and picture Jenny McCarthy as the spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement.  She goes on and on about how her “mommy instinct” trumps all of modern medicine and insists it’s acceptable to prevent them from getting vaccinated; this despite the fact that kids can die without their vaccines.

Well, there is a disturbing new trend in the anti-vaccine movement: some parts of it have gotten religion… literally.  Apparently there is now a confluence of faith-healing with anti-vaccine sentiment, and it has gotten popular enough in some circles that it is – surprise – causing the outbreak of diseases such as the measles which were once thought to be practically wiped out.

Read on for more information:

There’s a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s Fort Worth Church

KennethGloriaCopeland-thumb-565x376

Image source

For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.

The epicenter of the outbreak is Tarrant County, which has now confirmed 10 cases, and the epicenter of cases in Tarrant County seems to be at Eagle Mountain International Church.

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:

“There has been a … confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it’s 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department — well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don’t mean. I don’t mean they’re happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn’t take much for things like that to spread.”

The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He’s far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he’s not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots. …

Hmm… a plague has struck these supposed chosen people.  The way I see it, you can have all the faith you want, but the infectious diseases out there don’t give a crap how devoted you are to your particular religion and/or god; it’s that simple.

In closing, if you’ll permit me a snarky comment directed towards the faith-healing crowd: perhaps this plague a sign from God, people… that you should vaccinate yourselves and your children!!!

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Confronting Anti-Vaccine Nonsense Effectively

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

I’m a bit late in posting this, seeing as how it was time-sensitive, but I would still like to share it because it is an excellent example of how to engage in effective skeptical activism.  My skeptical colleague – and general badass mofo – Elyse Anders, recently wrote an article at Skepchick regarding the appearance of actor Rob Schneider on a radio show.  Who cares about Rob Schneider? (It’s an honest question, in one sense, because I’ve never been a fan, but I digress)

Well, in this case we skeptics should care about Schneider, because it seems he has become one of the newest celebrity darlings and spokesmen for the anti-vaccination movement.  Elyse elaborates in her Skepchick post…

… Tomorrow [this was Friday, Oct. 5th], he’s going to be on the KXRK 96.3 in Salt Lake City to promote his new… oh, I honestly don’t know. Who cares? It’s probably more awful than measles. But the measles thing we can at least do something about.

Last time he was on the show, he was promoting something related to his “career” and decided the best way to fill that time was to start yelling about how Big Vax is in bed with Big Brother. Full-on foil hat style.

Reader Atropos provided a clip of the show you can listen to here (or by clicking the poster from his Oscar Winning Drama Hot Chicks which I’ve provided in place of an embedded player.)

Favorite points/quick and dirty highlights:

  • Polio just runs its course. It infects a few million people, gets bored, then stops infecting people. And eradicates itself. But then comes back again… maybe to avenge it’s eradication. Exactly how evolution works.
  • Vaccines are not tested. Ever. On anyone.  Or anything. A bunch of wild-haired men in lab coats run around making vats of Big Pharma’s HAHAHA WHATEVER patented mix then they stick it into vials and inject it into you then PROFIT!
  • Vaccines are not tested. And don’t work. And we know they don’t work despite not testing. Ever. On anyone. Or anything.
  • THE GOVERNMENT PAYS YOU TO GET AUTISM! Because??? Autistic people are easy to control? It seems like a poor long term government investment.
  • Rob Schneider can read. Why is no one talking about this? …

Yup, a lot of the usual anti-vax talking points and conspiracy mongering.  But what I wanted to point out isn’t so much that Elyse was venting her spleen about some idiot celebrity spewing nonsense on the radio, it was that she was willing to DO SOMETHING about it!!! (Which is one reason I love her :) )

… If you’re local, tune into X 96 (96.3 FM) tomorrow morning at 7 am local time. If you’re not near Salt Lake City, listen online at X96.com. 7 am MDT which is 10 am 9 am EDT. Call in during the show to talk to Mr. Schneider* and confront him with weird ass facts that he’s discussing.  877-602-9696

Brush up on your anti-vax arguments here:

CDC’s common vaccine misconceptions

Google Scholar: vaccine clinical trials (for reference, not for reading)

Anti-Anti-Vax’s The Truth About The Evils Of Vaccination and the Costs of Treating Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Oh… and a little site I like Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated.

So yeah, I missed the boat on this one.  But take a moment to learn from Elyse’s activism, and read her links.  The next time you hear that Rob Schneider (or Jim Carrey or Jenny McCarthy or any celebrity whack-a-loon) is going to be on a program where he could spew his anti-vaccine garbage, consider calling/emailing/texting in and holding him accountable.  If more and more skeptics take their cue from Elyse and act in a like manner more often when some pseudoscientist or conspiracy theorist spews their nonsense in a public forum, it will help go a long way towards countering that nonsense.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” Clinic a Success at TAM2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012

One of the most rewarding things I did at TAM2012, which was full of rewarding things, was to help run and staff the Hug Me! vaccination clinic.  Hug Me! is a campaign by the Women Thinking, Inc to educate women and parents (and pretty much anyone else) on the importance of vaccinating their children and themselves.  While at TAM2012, we gave 161 free TDaP – that’s Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) – booster shots to attendees of the conference.  If you are interested in learning more and possibly supporting our work, by donating or buying a Hug Me! shirt, click here :)

**Update: if you want to buy a Hug Me! shirt (as pictured below) send an email to marsmattus [at] yahoo [dot] com

The volunteers from the Women Thinking, Inc posing with James “The Amazing One” Randi (note our mascot, the sloth)

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Women Thinking Free Has Morphed Into Something… Even… MORE Awesome!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2012

Some of you might be aware that in addition to all the work I do regarding skepticism and education, I am also proud to declare that I’m on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation… except that the WTFF no longer exists.  But that’s just because it’s now even MORE awesome, and it has been renamed to Women Thinking, Inc.  :D

We’ve been really busy behind the scenes with our rebranding and some amazing stuff we’ve been working on for the last year-and-a-half regarding vaccine survey research in conjunction with the James Randi Educational Foundation.  This research is REALLY a big deal, and there’s no doubt you’ll be hearing all about it in the weeks and months to come – stay tuned for that.

But rather than tease you anymore, I’ll refer you to this post over at Skepchick where our fearless mofo leader, Elyse Anders, has dished out all the info on our big switchover.  Check it out…

Women Thinking Free is no more…

When we started this organization back in 2010, we never dreamed that we’d be presenting ourselves far outside of the skeptical movement. Our goal was always to bring more women into organized skepticism, if not just to encourage women to think more critically. The Women Thinking Free, or WTF, was a name that said that we were free thinking women who didn’t take ourselves too seriously and that we had a sense of humor in our mission. As an organization with roots deep in the Skepchick community, I felt that the WTF was a name that expressed a lot of my persona, and reflected the tone of the community.

But the Women Thinking Free is growing. And we’re growing up. We’re doing more work on a national level and putting ourselves out to organizations who are less or maybe totally un-familiar with skepticism and the skeptical community. We do great work, and we intend to keep on doing that great work.  And while I loathe to take myself seriously, it is time to take my organization seriously. We have a hardworking core of board members and volunteers who work tirelessly, and they deserve to be taken seriously. And we need to tell those who don’t know us that we are an organization worth investing in and believing in. We’re not a dopey bunch of girls who don’t know what WTF means… and we’re not a group who doesn’t care how your organization will look being affiliated with “WTF”.

So we’re changing our name.

We’re still a fun group. We still don’t take ourselves too seriously. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve realized we’ve created something good enough to present in a way that won’t be dismissed out of hand… and without having to argue over adverbs.

We are now Women Thinking, inc. See? Not a lot has changed. Just a couple of words. We’re still women. We’re still thinking. We’re just a little classier.

We also still need your help in raising funds to do all the great stuff we have planned over the next year.

Click here to read the rest of Elyse’s post at Skepchick!

Oh yeah, and one last thing… we still have our groovy Hug Me I’m Vaccinated! campaign where we promote vaccination and help to run free vaccine clinics, but our mascot is no longer a cute n’ cuddly teddy bear.  Our new mascot is a cute n’ cuddly sloth, because sloths love to hug and hang on… but only if you’re vaccinated ;)

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sports and Skeptical Activism: Vax Your NCAA Bracket!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2012

The Women Thinking Free Foundation, an organization of which I’m a board member, has come up with a great idea for skeptical activism: setting up NCAA tournament brackets and giving the proceeds to the promotion of vaccinations via the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated campaign!  And how do I know this is such a great idea?  Simple: because I know little to nothing about sports (and I don’t really care about them much either), and this got me to sign up for a bracket!  Check it out and spread the word…

Vax Your Bracket! NCAA Tourney Challenge!

Do you like basketball? Do you hate deadly diseases? Have you been trying to find a way to use basketball to fight deadly diseases? Well, now you can by joining the Vax Your Bracket NCAA Tournament Pool. It costs a mere $10 to enter! Half of the proceeds go to the winner …and the other half go to Women Thinking Free Foundation to help us do things like run our Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated! pro-vaccination campaign. Check out http://www.hugmeimvaccinated.org/to see where the money will be going.That’s right! You can now combine sports with saving the world!

We’re using simple CBS Tournament rules and there will be prizes for the top 3 winners. Plus, did I mention that you’ll be helping to save the world by promoting vaccinations?

Prizes:
1st place: 1/2 of the $$ collected
2nd: Hug Me T-shirt or Hug Me bear
3rd: Money back

The directions are simple:
1. Go to http://www.womenthinkingfree.org/ and click on the “Buy Now” button on the bottom right.
2. Once we get your payment, we’ll send you an invite to the Pool at the email you provided. You’ll have to create an account with CBS Sports. The deadline for sending us payment to join the tournament is Wed March 14 at 9am.
3. Starting on March 11, you can log on to CBS Sports and make your bracket. You must make your bracket before the first tournament game is played on Thursday night.
4. Log into CBS Sports during the tournament to see where your standing is compared with all the other players. We also approve of trash talk.
5. Save the World!

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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