The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘herd immunity’

Why We Need to Fight the Anti-Vaccinationists

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2011

[**Note: This is a guest post I made over at the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s blog, WTF Is Going On?!, and I thought I would share it with you]

by Matt Lowry, WTFF Secretary

As another part of the WTFF’s effort to simultaneously inform the public about the benefits of vaccines while also countering anti-vaccinationist propaganda, we make an effort to keep tabs on what the anti-vaccination movement is doing.  This includes having some of our Skeptical Ninjas attend anti-vaccinationist conferences, such as last week’s Autism One Conference in Lombard, Illinois.

You know how we often hear pseudoscientists and other folks make the claim that skeptics are not interested in allowing dissenting views or that “they” (academia, the establishment, Big Pharma, whatever) are “expelling” those brave scientists and activists who dare to challenge the orthodoxy of scientists, etc?  Yes, we’ve all heard this tired old argument many, many times and rolled our eyes at the overly melodramatic and irrational nature of it (which is simply a blatant attempt to avoid the facts of the argument in favor of making an emotional appeal).  Well, the interesting thing is that some pseudoscientists, such as the anti-vaccintationists, appear to want to have it both ways: they wish to make this argument while simultaneously “expelling” their critics.

Case in point: two Skeptical Ninjas – the WTFF’s very own VP Jamie Bernstein and journalist Ken Reibel – were “expelled” from the Autism One Conference because… they paid for their registration and showed up.  Yup, that’s it – these anti-vaccination loons kicked them out of the conference, even though they had paid to be there and were not causing any disruptions whatsoever.  In fact, they not only kicked them out, but the organizers actually had seven (seven!) security personnel escort Jamie and Ken off the premises – the hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a knife!

To read more about the incident in question, here are a variety of perspectives from various skeptical blogs on the matter:

Jamie’s views — Skeptics will be Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (via Skepchick) and How I Got Kicked Out of the AutismOne Con: Part 2 (at The Friendly Atheist blog)

Ken Reibel’s perspective — Expelled 2.0

Orac of Respectful Insolence blogs here — Expelled!, anti-vaccine style, 2011 edition

Jamie is interviewed by the SGU Rogues

Now, I’ve never met Ken Reibel, but I personally know Jamie Bernstein and I have to say that she is about the most least intimidating person I know.  In fact, here is a photo of her standing next to James Randi (who is about 5 feet tall)…

The ultra-menacing Jamie Bernstein next to James Randi – if you add their heights together, they might reach up to the usual person’s knee ;)

So the obvious question is: WTF Autism One?!!  Why are you throwing Jamie and Ken out simply because they attended the conference?  Folks, this sort of mindless Orwellian crap doesn’t occur at skeptics’ conferences, I know that for a fact.  Last year at TAM8 I met both a renowned self-declared psychic and one of the world’s leading Moon hoax conspiracy theorists.  Both were perfectly welcome at TAM8 and, while there were understandably a lot of skeptics rolling their eyes and laughing at these folks, nobody was entertaining the idea of having them thrown out.  We don’t play that game.

And there’s the rub: when it comes to questions of real free inquiry and open discussion, the skeptics such as those represented by the JREF and WTFF practice what they preach.  While we may not agree with them, we welcome our critics and allow them to participate within our discussions.  On the flip side, pseudoscientific scare-mongers like the anti-vaccinationists at Autism One openly display their hyprocrisy by saying one thing and doing another, and in so doing they show that they’re not driven by an objective search for truth but rather an ideological zeal which is dangerously disconnected from reality.

And that is why they must be opposed at every turn: because in the distorted reality-challenged worldview of the anti-vaccinationists, a lot of innocent people will die of perfectly treatable and curable diseases if they get their way.

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

ALERT: Anti-Vaccine Safe Minds Ad Playing in Some Theaters

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 26, 2010

This holiday season I am a bit bummed to share some bad news with you, but this is important… you may recall that a month ago I had announced that the anti-vaccination groups Age of Autism and Safe Minds were planning on running an ad in movie theaters. Also, you may know that thanks to the skeptical community’s quick action, we were able to get the ads pulled from AMC Theaters nationwide. That’s the good news, but the bad news is that, apparently, the Safe Minds ad is actually being played in at least some non-AMC movie theaters.

The news of these latest developments was broken by my skeptical colleague & one of the most awesome women I know, the scourge of anti-vax morons everywhere, Skepchick Elyse Anders…

Still playing at theaters near you: Safe Minds PSAs…

Last night, after I had a glass of wine and a delicious butter pecan cupcake, I got a disturbing text from fellow Skepchick Maria.

She was at Studio Movie Grill in Holcomb, Ga, and was about to enjoy some Christmas Eve movie wonderfulness when… BAM… in her face, 70 ft x 30 ft of nauseating news:

The Safe Minds PSAs, the ones we had pulled from AMC last month, are still playing in other theaters. (This may not be the exact PSA running, but the message is the same.) …

Boy, this sucks!  But rather than curse the darkness, let’s light some candles, folks… to hell with that, let’s light a motherf***ing bonfire! We’ve been here before, and we know what works – the threat of a widespread boycott will work; the problem is that we have to know exactly what movie theaters to target for the boycott.  And the anti-vaxxers are making it tougher this time because they haven’t advertised the theaters which are playing their ad.  So what we have to do is find out exactly what theaters are and are not playing the ad shown above.

If you’d like to help out, I suggest that you follow Elyse’s advice:

… Before you go [see a movie], I ask that you call your theater and find out if they are playing the SafeMinds ads. If they are, find an alternate theater. AMC Theaters have agreed not to run these ads in any of their theaters.

If you do see these ads, please leave a comment here [on the Skepchick comment thread], or if you’d rather not leave a comment, contact me using the Link? Question? Comment? link on the left side bar or email me at elyse(at)womenthinkingfree.org.

Once we have a list, we can work on writing letters, making phone calls and organizing our boycott. Jamie Bernstein of the WTFF is working on compiling a list as best she can… which is difficult without calling every single theater in the country today. …

Please consider getting involved, somehow.  We know that we can win these fights, but it takes commitment & persistence.  We cannot do it without you.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Send an Awesome Skepchick Some Love as She Kicks Anti-Vaxxer Ass

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 7, 2010

I want to pass along a story to you all.  This story is about my good friend & skeptical colleague-in-arms, Elyse Anders, who is quite possibly the most awesome skeptic I know (and I know a lot of them, folks).  I say this because Elyse not only talks the skeptical talk, she walks the skeptical walk, even if it means walking right into the jaws of some folks who are not very pleasant people to deal with (and that takes serious guts).  You see, Elyse was one of the driving forces behind getting the Age of Autism’s anti-vaccination “PSAs” pulled from circulation at AMC Theaters before the Thanksgiving weekend.

Well, now the folks at Age of Autism are pissed and they’ve started their counter-attack, which is no surprise.  Sadly, also no surprise, they are not attempting to counter our skeptical display of facts with facts, research, and so on; rather, they have started to attack Elyse personally – very personally – and I think it would be good for us to send her some love.  Below I share her account of the events of recent days…

From Ads to Ad Homs

December 6th, 2010 by Elyse · 78 Comments

No Gravatar

… My morning started with a coffee while checking FB to see who’s got good snark and who’s got stupid cartoon profile pictures. Instead of snark and snorks, I got an email from Kim Wombles informing me that Age of Autism has started their attack against me.

I wasn’t surprised. After the AMC awesomeness just before Thanksgiving and the Grant Park rally last May I knew I was on their radar. And Orac’s been warning me for months, and called their shot Thanksgiving Day. I was waiting for them. I was prepared… I thought.

Unfortunately, I’m naive. I expected them to come at me with information. I expected them to be angry. I expected them to call me names. I expected them to take my words out of context. I expected them to paint me as a bad mother. I expected them to use my son’s developmental delays against me. I expected them to show up here and on their own blogs.

But they play dirty.

They’ve taken my FB profile pic and posted it on their FB page with the caption:

This is the woman who fought to pull the SafeMinds PSA’s from the theatres. It’s her FB profile page photo. She is anti-choice and wants to tell you that mercury is safe and that Thimeosal is good – according to her blog. She trolls AofA regularly. As do all the pro-vaccine-injury bloggers.

It’s sly. A thinly veiled call to arms against me. They’ve called me ugly. They’ve called me negligent. They’ve threatened to call child protective services on me. They’ve vaguely threatened violence. They’ve threatened my face. They’ve threatened to rape me with broken thermometers. They’ve posted my full name and my face… and worse…the pic is not just me; it’s me and Delaney, my infant daughter. They dragged my daughter into this. They’re attacking my baby. She’s 6 months old. And she’s being threatened. …

Folks, this sort of thing is just downright despicable.  It is also revealing to see the tactics being employed by these anti-vax loons when their primary response to a grassroots skeptical campaign to stop their pseudoscientific propaganda is to personally attack, smear, and even threaten the organizers of that campaign (not mention, to drag their kids into it all).  Pardon me while I puke…

Go on, read the Age of Autism Facebook post on this, read the comments, observe the vitriol and hatred being expressed there for yourself. And then, send Elyse some love – because what right-thinking person wouldn’t want to give such a charming, awesome, and determined woman (who, after all, is in a real way fighting for all of us) some love, especially in her hour of need?  You can send the love by commenting on her entry over at Skepchick, or (even better) buy some of the new “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” T-shirts from Elyse’s Women Thinking Free Foundation.

Let’s go skeptics: time to get makin’ with the love!!! 😉

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Anti-Vaccinationists’ PSA Won’t Be Aired by AMC Theaters!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2010

A few days ago when I mentioned that “It’s time to kick some ass…” on the issue of the anti-vaccine scumbags at Age of Autisum and SafeMinds trying to run a pseudoscientific & fearmongering anti-vaccine ad in theaters nationwide, I meant it.  And apparently you did as well, because collectively we have kicked some major woo ass, folks!

I just found out that the Age of Autism organization has their knickers in a bunch because, apparently, they’ve been told by AMC Theaters that the company will NOT be airing their “public service announcement” this weekend after all…

Why Was this PSA Rated X?

SafeMinds was notified late yesterday afternoon that AMC Theaters has decided to block the SafeMinds Public Service Announcement (PSA) on influenza vaccines with mercury. The PSA alerts parents and pregnant women of the presence of mercury in most influenza vaccines and the ample availability of mercury-free alternatives. The CDC has declined to give a preference for the mercury-free versions, so it is important that the public is aware of its options. AMC’s advertising representative had reviewed and approved the PSA to run in AMC cinemas over the Thanksgiving weekend. A small group of vocal vaccine proponents dismissive of mercury concerns learned of the PSA and bombarded the AMC website, leading to the company’s decision to prevent its release. SafeMinds thanks its supporters who viewed the PSA and contributed to its efforts to educate the public to avoid unnecessary mercury exposure. Mercury in all forms is dangerous, especially to the developing fetus and infants, as referenced on the PSA website www.safemindsflu.org. SafeMinds will continue its mission to educate the public on this important healthcare topic. …

Now, in their fit of whining, the Age of Autism people are encouraging their followers to boycott AMC theaters.  In response, I say we encourage everyone we know to attend an AMC theater this weekend; I also suggest that you consider writing a letter to the company stating how happy you are that they made the right decision in pulling this dangerous ad from circulation in their theaters.  I think perhaps a quick way to do this is to leave feedback at this website, the same website where earlier complaints about the anti-vax ad were left earlier this week.

Congratulations folks, we did it – this is a testament to grassroots skepticism in action that makes a real difference for everyone 🙂

Please note: I have no idea if any other theater chains (such as Regal or Sony) potentially involved in airing this ad have followed AMC’s lead.  If anyone has any information on this, please share it with me.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Anti-Vaccination PSA Coming to a Theater Near You… Literally!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 20, 2010

**UPDATE (11/24/10): Looks like AMC Theaters has pulled the plug on this ad 🙂

**Update (11/23/10): I may have spoken too soon with my earlier update, folks.  It seems that over the last day or so we’ve received some conflicting reports about exactly what is & isn’t going on at AMC with these ads.  Elyse Anders provides more details over at Skepchick on this – until we have more info, stay tuned & continue contacting the theaters in question.

**Update (11/21/10): It appears the executives at AMC (which owns some of the theaters in question) have listened to the public outcry – they say they have pulled the ad and do not plan to show it. However, some of the other theaters may not be owned by AMC, so please contact them.

===============

It’s time to kick some ass… I just found out that the anti-vaccinationist groups called Age of Autism and SafeMinds are planning on running a public service announcement (PSA) in movie theaters nationwide the weekend following Thanksgiving. I’ve seen the 30 second ad, and it contains the usual thoroughly debunked nonsense regarding “mercury toxins in vaccines” and how this is supposedly dangerous for children.  The facts are that there is ZERO evidence that the mercury preservative in vaccines, called thimerosal, is any sort of danger – there are no links between thimerosal & autism, either (a common claim by various anti-vaxxers).  In fact, even after the U.S. government removed thimerosal from the vaccine schedule for children the rate of autism continued to rise!

But don’t tell that to the anti-vax crowd, because they don’t give a whit about the science.  They believe in their heart of hearts that they know the “truth about vaccines”, and they don’t care one way or the other what the actual evidence is… and they want to proselytize this lunacy to you:

Folks, the purpose of this ad is simple: it is to sow fear & distrust of vaccines in the hopes that you & your kids don’t get them at all – that’s it.  These anti-vax groups are, for whatever reason, ideologically opposed to the very idea of vaccinations, and they’ll use every slimy tactic in the book to push it on you.  If you can stomach it, here is their ad…

And here is the list of theaters that are currently being targeted by Age of Autism for this dangerous propaganda (with the potential to reach over 500,000 people):

*Empire 25 in New York City

*Long Beach 26 in Long Beach, California

*River East 21 in Chicago, IL

*Boston Common 19 in Boston, MA

*Phipps Plaza 14 in Atlanta, GA

*Tyson’s Corner 16 in McLean, VA

*Northpark Center 15 in Dallas, TX

*Rosedale 14 in Saint Paul, MN

*Pavillions 15 in Denver, CO

We cannot let this stand… I suggest that if you live in any of these areas (or know people who do) that you contact the theater in question to find out whether or not they plan to run this PSA, and if they do plan to do so then make it well known to them that you will boycott that business in perpetuity (and you will encourage everyone you know to do the same) – when it comes to stuff like this, money talks & bullshit walks.  I would also notify your local health department and medical doctors’ organization about this, on the chance that they might wish to make some kind of public statement against this idiocy.

And spread the word – the skeptical & pro-science community needs to send a strong, clear message to those who would spread such life-endangering pseudoscience that we will not stand for it.  We didn’t ask for this fight, be we will fight it & we will finish it.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Why Vaccines Matter: Whooping Cough is Coming Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 31, 2010

When talking to people about the importance of getting vaccinated, I often hear the following argument, or some variation thereof: “Why should I bother getting vaccinated, because disease XXX isn’t even around anymore!” Of course, this is a perfect example of ignoring the reason why those diseases are kept in check (a.k.a. the incorrect cause fallacy); so many dangerous diseases are not an issue (or used to not be an issue) in industrialized society is due to widespread vaccination campaigns over the last few generations.  These diseases, such as pertussis (also known as whooping cough), are not completely gone, however – they are merely lying dormant.  In fact, because of the scare tactics put forth by many in the anti-vaccination movement over the last 20-30 years, vaccination rates have been dropping; and that gives an opening for these diseases to come back.  I can think of no other example which so clearly illustrates that pseudoscience & conspiracy mongering misinformation can kill.

And that is exactly what is happening – whooping cough is on the rise again, and rates of infection in the United States are increasing at alarming rates, and people (mostly children) are starting to die from an easily preventable disease. The bottom line really has to do with herd immunity, which basically states that if enough of the population is vaccinated against a particular disease, then not enough people can become infected to allow the virus to effectively propagate (which provides protection to those who, for whatever reason, cannot receive vaccinations).

If you think this isn’t a problem, think again.  The following Livescience.com article outlines very clearly why it is so important that we not become lackadaisical regarding these illnesses.  The solution is simple: talk to your doctor, get yourself vaccinated, and encourage those around you to do likewise…

Whooping Cough Makes Whopping Comeback

Christopher Wanjek
LiveScience’s Bad Medicine Columnist
livescience.com
Sat Aug 28, 2:55 pm ET

Whooping cough sounds fantastically antiquated, up there with scurvy and St. Vitus Dance – diseases you didn’t think anyone in America got anymore.

But whooping cough, named for the high-pitched “whoop” a person makes when inhaling, has made a comeback, with an incidence rate up by a whopping 2,300 percent since 1976, the year when fear of the vaccine began to take hold and vaccination rates started to plummet. In 1976 there were only about 1,000 reported cases; in 2005, the most recent peak, there were nearly 27,000 reported cases (and likely over 1 million unreported cases), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With outbreaks that cycle every three to five years, the respiratory tract infection might peak again this year, and the CDC recommends you get a booster shot soon.

We’re not off to a good start. In June, California declared a whooping cough epidemic after the death of five infants. So far there have been nearly 3,000 reported cases across six states, according to the CDC, a sevenfold increase compared with this time last year. Whooping cough season doesn’t really kick in until the fall.

A reversing trend

Whooping cough, known in the medical trade by its more conservative name, pertussis, is nearly completely preventable through vaccination. Pertussis was once a leading cause of infant death, with over a quarter million cases and about 8,000 total deaths annually in the United States during the peak years in the 1930s, just before the advent of the vaccine in the 1940s, according to CDC statistics.

By the 1970s, through vaccinations, whooping cough was as endangered as the whooping crane, with only about 0.000005 percent of the population infected. Unfortunately, fears that the DPT vaccine (a combo for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) could cause brain damage in rare cases – not entirely unfounded – gave rise to the anti-DPT movement in many industrialized countries.

At issue was the “whole-cell pertussis” element of the vaccine, since replaced in most countries, including the United States, with an “acellular” formulation (which includes purified proteins from the Bordetella pertussis bacteria), indicated by the “a” in DTaP, a common abbreviation for the vaccine these days. While never conclusively associated with brain damage, the original formulation was tied to other serious albeit rare side effects, such as allergic reactions and seizures.

Hype and consequences

The impact of the anti-vaccine movement was dramatic. In Great Britain, immunization rates for whooping cough dropped from over 80 percent to 33 percent (and in some regions to less than 10 percent) from 1974 to 1977. Then the epidemic hit. In 1979 there were over 100,000 cases and 36 deaths worldwide. In Japan in 1975, amidst public worry, the government suspended mandatory pertussis vaccines for infants; the 1979 epidemic killed over 40 children there. The same scene repeated itself in other countries, as well.

In June 2009 researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics that children who didn’t receive the whooping cough vaccine were 23 times more likely to contract pertussis. In the June 2010 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found no connection between the vaccine and seizures.

Herd mentality

The recent upsurge of whooping cough cases is not entirely the fault of the anti-vaccine movement. For the pertussis incidence rates to remain low – even among the vaccinated, because the vaccine isn’t 100-percent effective – there needs to be herd protection, in this case over 90 percent of the entire population immunized, to minimize the number of carriers.

Fewer than 85 percent of children are fully immunized against pertussis, according to the CDC. Some parents simply forget to keep up the multi-shot schedule. And for adults, vaccinated as children, the strength of the immunization has waned.

To curb the epidemic, the CDC is recommending that adults get a booster shot. Most adults have never received one and have never been told to get one.

Going natural is perhaps not the best bet. While pertussis is rarely deadly for otherwise healthy adults, struggling through the aptly named “100-day cough” isn’t particularly pleasant, with its uncontrollable fits of violent coughing around the clock.

Also, in the August 2010 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases, James Cherry of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA addresses a common myth that living through a bout of pertussis offers lifetime immunity. Not so. Protection from the vaccine and booster lasts longer, although no more than 10 years.

One limiting factor for a fully immunized population could be the fact that, for adults, the booster shot might not be covered by medical insurance. So your decision might come down to coughing it up now or coughing it up later.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shout Out: An Open Letter to Oprah

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 17, 2009

In keeping with Carl Sagan’s adage that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, I want to pass along something which I think does just that.  I recently blogged about Oprah Winfrey’s ill-conceived decision to give anti-vaccinationist Jenny McCarthy her own show.

Personally, I have been at a loss as to how to respond – but fortunately, Shirley at the “I was lost but now I live here” blog has a great response, and I wanted to share it with you here.  Please consider passing it along, so that perhaps we can get Oprah to rethink her decision…

An Open Letter to Oprah

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Oprah Winfrey Gives Platform to Anti-Vax Movement

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2009

Oh boy, this is not good news.  It seems that media mogul and daytime diva Oprah Winfrey has given a platform to the face of the anti-vaccination movement, Jenny McCarthy, by giving McCarthy her own show.  I cannot even begin to express how colossally stupid this is…

mccarthyoprah_l

Jenny McCarthy inks deal with Winfrey’s Harpo

McCarthy has inked a multi-year deal with Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. to develop projects on different platforms, including a syndicated talk show that the actress/author would host.

The first collaboration under the pact is a blog by McCarthy on Oprah.com, which launched Friday. Like other Winfrey proteges-turned-TV moguls, among them Rachael Ray and Dr. Phil, McCarthy has been a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

McCarthy talked to the chat queen about her struggles with her son’s autism in conjunction with the publication of her best-selling books “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism” and “Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds.” McCarthy also has participated twice in Winfrey’s Friday Live panels, most recently this past Friday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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