Questionable Motives

December 29, 2013

Speaking of why justifying action based on faith-based belief matters…

Filed under: faith-based beliefs,murder,vaccination — tildeb @ 11:26 am

From the Guardian:

Five female health workers vaccinating children against polio have been shot dead in Pakistan in a series of attacks blamed on Islamist militants. One victim was a 17-year-old schoolgirl volunteer.

Belief that vaccinations are equivalently dangerous to the diseases themselves is simply not justified.

Consider:

Vaccinations

If faith-based belief – even by otherwise intelligent people – can so easily relegate reality to a distant consideration, imagine how easily we can use the same methodology to justify imposing our beliefs on others… because we believe we are right and reality isn’t allowed to arbitrate the claim. The Pakistani murders are just one more example of faith-based belief in action. It looks to me just like delusional thinking and then acting on the crazy to cause real harm to real people in real life no different in methodology than believing Jesus was the Christ and was raised from the dead to redeem us from our inherent sin. Crazy is as crazy does. Believers of all stripes, please welcome to your tribe your murderous brethren-in-empowering-faith-just-like-you.

(H/T to Open Parachute)

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November 29, 2013

What might a vaccine ad look like?

Filed under: Medicine,Science,vaccination — tildeb @ 11:09 am

January 16, 2012

What’s the harm in believing vaccinations are too risky?

In 2002, the World Health Organization declared measles eradicated from the Americas. In 2011, 763 cases were reported in Canada’s province of Quebec – including 30 children and adults who had been previously vaccinated against the disease – with 89 requiring hospitalization. The cluster was centered in particular schools in Drummondville, with a student population of about 11,000. Some adults were incapacitated for over four months during their recovery and others recovered but with hearing loss. And all of this was preventible.

About 4% of the infected students who had been vaccinated in the outbreak schools contracted measles. Of those children who had not been vaccinated, about 82% contracted the disease which can disfigure and even kill. Of all the students, about 85% had been vaccinated but as we can see, once the vaccination rate falls below about 95% of all children, we start to lose the ‘herd’ immunity (where isolated cases of highly infectious disease do not spread) and all of us – vaccinated and not vaccinated – become endangered.

Why do parents opt their children out from receiving vaccinations? Well, because they would prefer to not run the risk of exposing their children to unnecessary harm from vaccinations. What is this risk? Fevers from the MMR shot (measles, mumps, and rubella) run about 1 in 168 that result in a hospital visit. About one in a million will develop encephalitis (a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain). About one in a thousand with measles will develop encephalitis. The means that the risk for this potentially deadly result is thousand times greater for children exposed to highly contagious diseases whose parents decided vaccinations were too risky.

Let’s look for a moment at the numbers of children who contracted highly contagious and common childhood diseases PER PEAK YEAR before and after vaccinations became standardized prior to 2011 (from the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion):

Rubella: 69,000 cases compared to 9

Polio: 20,000 cases compared to 0

Mumps: 52,000 cases compared to 32

Measles: 300,000 cases compared to 7

Diptheria: 9,000 cases compared to 1

Obviously, parents who decide the risk is too high from vaccinations are not balancing that risk with what’s true in reality, that the risk from getting these common diseases is not only vastly greater but far more deadly once contracted.

So which parents aren’t vaccinating their children? The poor? The uneducated? Those from broken homes? Those from minorities?

Nope.

Today’s non vaccinated kids are most likely from white, affluent, with a married mother and father with a college education. These fine upstanding folk are more likely to seek alternative healthcare and use the internet more as an information source. They also tend to live closer together with like-minded people, usually drawn together by some alternative school, church, or politician. This is why outbreaks of preventable diseases usually occurs in geographical pockets (New England journal of Medicine, 2009).

Now let us consider Tajikistan in 2010, previously declared polio free in 2002, with a vaccination rate for polio at about 87%. Now they have a polio outbreak that has no cure, causes paralysis, and often ends in death. In an editorial from the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the similar risk we face in Canada, it tells us:

“We are only one asymptomatic infected traveller away from an outbreak because of low vaccination rates.”

We know vaccination rates are too low. We know that we put EVERYBODY at greater risk for these highly contagious diseases when the rate falls below a minimum of 90% (current estimates put the rate in Canada at about 62% for two-years-olds up to date for all standard vaccinations). We also know outbreaks can and do happen and these risks of not vaccinating everybody are vastly greater than complications from the vaccines themselves. So what is stopping responsible parents from not only protecting their children but doing their civic duty to the rest of the nation?

In the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick (health care is a provincial matter), children must be vaccinated to attend public school. But parents are allowed to (and do) opt out based on medical concerns. Unfortunately, parents can also opt out for religious beliefs as well as matters of conscience! So although there is a legitimate reason for medical considerations backed up by excellent evidence of harm, there is no equivalent evidence on which to base religious or conscience matters.

Matters of conscience are based on a belief that the correlation of childhood health problems stemming from autism, learning disabilities, asthma, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, allergic and anaphylactic disorders, neuroimmune and autoimmune disorders and other chronic diseases indicates causation with vaccinations.

This belief is wrong. It is dangerous. It is woo. There is no good evidence to back up these claims but exhaustive evidence that they are not causally linked. The conclusion is clear:

There is no excuse for maintaining such willful ignorance and blind stupidity for  not vaccinating children today (with an exemption for medical reasons) except by elevating a trust in faith over and in conflict with evidence from reality… which is yet another in a long list of examples of private faith being exercised in the public domain that causes very real harm to very real people.

February 15, 2011

Why should we be more intolerant?

Filed under: belief,Science,theology,Truth,vaccination,woo — tildeb @ 8:57 am

Because for far too long we have been tolerant of these post-modern ideas that more than one truth is valid, that as a result of this misguided tolerance many kinds of pseudo-science and other forms of woo is pernicious and growing and is a significant danger to all of us.

(UK) Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington is stepping up the war on pseudoscience with a call to his fellow government scientists to be “grossly intolerant” if science is misused by religious or political groups.

In closing remarks to an annual conference in London of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia.

“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.”

Beddington said that he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that. . . we need to recognise that that is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.”

In closing, Beddington said: “I’d urge you—and this is a kind of strange message to go out—but go out and be much more intolerant.” (Source).

Clearly, we should not tolerate a kind of thinking and acceptance of what Beddington says can “seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.” One needs to look no further than the ill-informed yet widespread media distortions about vaccines and global warming to see how tolerating relativistic so-called ‘balanced’ reporting of pseudo-science seriously undermines concerted efforts to responsibly address these pressing global issues.

(h/t to Pharyngula)

April 27, 2010

Why should we be ashamed of respecting religious belief in the public domain?

Canada is hosting a G8 summit and wants to promote a child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries. But that will not include any money for funding abortion.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the health initiative should include access to safe and legal abortion. Why? Because safe abortions reduces women mortality – a fundamental concern when addressing issues about about child and maternal health-care. So access to therapeutic abortions is a health concern.

According to the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women by 189 participating countries and more than 2100 non-governmental organizations, the resolution passed that access to family planning, safe and legal abortion and maternal health, are essential to achieving gender equality. The UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies (TMBs) have recognized that access to these essential reproductive health services is rooted in international human rights obligations. The Beijing PFA (Platform For Action) highlighted the impact of unsafe abortion on women’s lives and health and the need to reduce recourse to abortion through expanded family planning services. It urges governments to review punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions and calls for women’s access to quality post-abortion care. In turn, over the last decade, human rights bodies and regional and national courts have increasingly recognized that restrictions
on access to safe and legal abortion interfere with women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

So access to abortions according to the UN is a human rights concern.

But rather than follow this previously agreed to PFA, Canadian officials say they will instead focus the G8 plan on other measures aimed at improving the health of women and children in poor countries — including safe drinking water and vaccination programs, an important issue about child and maternal health to be sure. But why not therapeutic abortion?

Access to therapeutic abortion (outside of Canada) according to Harper and his Canadian government is about “clarifying family planning,” which simply does not include any discussion about abortion. One must wonder why when it is widely considered both a health-care concern and a human rights concern. According to Harper, it is not a concern at all and certainly not one open to debate.

This omission is a cop out, a capitulation not to the best practices of modern medicine nor furthering the human rights of children and their mothers. It is a tacit nod of agreement to the religious belief that abortion under any circumstances is wrong. By refusing to fund abortion outside of the country, the Canadian government’s inaction supports the bizarre idea that a zygote is of greater value than is the life of a fully developed mother. This position simply ignores (or at least finds perfectly acceptable) maternal mortality when therapeutic abortions are unavailable. What lies behind the politics of abortion is neither any kind of informed debate about why it is a necessary part of health-care or a necessary plank in furthering maternal human rights; it is a position in favour of appeasing religious sensibilities at home about this controversial topic. And how informed is that sensibility by comparison? I think not at all. It’s simply an uninformed, unjustified belief that has no place at the table of discussion about child and maternal health-care.

And do religious sensibilities stop in areas of public health care?

Umm, no. Are we surprised?

In January (2010), the Ontario government introduced changes to the sex education component of the public school curriculum: Grade 1 children were to be taught to identify genitalia using the correct words, such as penis, vagina and testicle, Grade 5 children were to be taught to identify parts of the reproductive system and describe how the body changes during puberty, and in Grade 7, the plan was to teach kids how to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Children in grade 7 are usually 12 years old.

CBC News reported the following:

Religious groups objected to the revised curriculum and raised a voluble campaign against it earlier this week. They promised a huge demonstration on the front lawn of Queen’s Park (the Ontario provincial legislature) to protest the sex education changes.

“It is unconscionable to teach eight-year-old children same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Charles McVety, head of the Canada Christian College. “It is even more absurd to subject sixth graders to instruction on the pleasures of masturbation, vaginal lubrication, and 12-year-olds to lessons on oral sex and anal intercourse.”

So we know what McVety thinks is unconscionable and absurd in sex education at these grades and seems quite content to oppose any curriculum that promotes healthy sexuality, counteracts schoolyard misinformation, prevents teen pregnancy, gives information that shows how to avoid STDs, and so on. What does he offer in return as an alternative that still meets the goals of informing ht epublic about these issues? Nada. On what, then, does he base his opposition? His religious belief. And how is that uninformed religious belief comparable to the kind of consideration to what informs best practices in education? On what basis of knowledge is a religious belief about sex education equally worthy of consideration than curriculum development done by professionals and informed by evidence?

Only because the public tolerates unjustified religious interference and unwarranted intrusions in the public domain does ignorance and bigotry of uninformed religious belief become a potent political force, enough to adversely affect informed public policy in education to the likes of the sanctimonious self-righteous morons like McVety and his ignorant ilk, as well as adversely affect funding for promoting the health-care and human rights of women in developing nations. That’s the ongoing gift (and legacy) of religious belief in action in the public domain: promoting ignorance over knowledge, belief over health, misogyny over human rights.

These weak-kneed governments should be ashamed of themselves for appeasing the ignorant and foolish among us (including those within these parties) for political gain. That political behaviour – supposedly done in the name of good governance – is what is  truly unconscionable and absurd. For when we grant guanocephalic clerics and their supporters a place at the table of determining public policy like education and foreign policy aid because of some warped idea that the representatives of the public owe respect to religious beliefs of the few, we are damaging the welfare of all.

February 18, 2010

Question for advocates of alternative health: is living to an average age of 35 really the Good Old Days?

Filed under: Argument,belief,CAM,Health care,Medicine,Science,vaccination — tildeb @ 1:49 pm

From ScienceBased Medicine by Dr Amy Tuteur:

There once was a time when all food was organic and no pesticides were used. Health problems were treated with folk wisdom and natural remedies. There was no obesity, and people got lots of exercise. And in that time gone by, the average lifespan was … 35!

That’s right. For most of human existence, according to fossil and anthropological data, the average human lifespan was 35 years. As recently as 1900, American average lifespan was only 48. Today, advocates of alternative health bemoan the current state of American health, the increasing numbers of obese people, the lack of exercise, the use of medications, the medicalization of childbirth. Yet lifespan has never been longer, currently 77.7 years in the US.

Advocates of alternative health have a romanticized and completely unrealistic notion of purported benefits of a “natural” lifestyle. Far from being a paradise, it was hell. The difference between an average lifespan of 48 and one of 77.7 can be accounted for by modern medicine and increased agricultural production brought about by industrial farming methods (including pesticides). Nothing fundamental has changed about human beings. They are still prey to the same illnesses and accidents, but now they can be effectively treated. Indeed, some diseases can be completely prevented by vaccination.

Alternative health as a form of fundamentalism also makes sense in that it has an almost religious fervor. It is not about scientific evidence. Indeed, it usually ignores scientific evidence entirely. All the existing scientific evidence shows that all of the myriad claims of alternative health are flat out false. None of it works, absolutely none of it. That’s not surprising when you consider that it never worked in times past; advocates of alternative health merely pretend that it did, without any regard for historical reality.

Alternative health is a belief system, a form of fundamentalism, and like most fundamentalisms, it longs for a past that never existed. It is not science; it has nothing to do with science; and it merely reflects wishful thinking about the past while ignoring reality.

January 24, 2010

Where is the science?

Filed under: Bad Science,belief,CAM,Medicine,Science,vaccination — tildeb @ 3:08 pm

First, there was this was this reward offer by Natural News for conditional proof of H1N1 vaccine safety here:

In conjunction with NaturalNews, the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (www.ConsumerWellness.org) has publicly offered a $10,000 reward for any person, company or institution who can provide trusted, scientific evidence proving that any of the FDA-approved H1N1 vaccines being offered to Americans right now are both safe and effective.

Vaccine promoters keep citing their “science” in claiming that H1N1 vaccines are safe and effective. NaturalNews and the CWC ask one simple question: Where is this science?

This seems reasonable… until one actually reads the criteria of what is acceptable.

So Mark Crisplin over at Science-Based Medicine flips it around and offers a satirical retort of a non-reward of $10,000 for:

any person, company or institution who can provide trusted, scientific evidence proving that any of the supplements or alternative medical therapies being offered to Americans right now are both safe and effective.

Supplement or alternative medical therapies promoters keep citing their “science” in claiming that supplements or alternative medical therapies are safe and effective. UnNaturalNews asks one simple question: Where is this science?

The point being made is that the same criteria used to show that the ‘lack’ of science suggested by Natural News for the H1N1 vaccine is just as lacking as any claims made by Big Placebo/Big Herba for any CAM ( Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) efficacy.

Now compare this stupid prize with a real one offered by the  James Randi Educational Foundation: a one million dollar prize “to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event reward.”

Natural News insist that its request for the vaccine safety ‘science’ “…is not a satire story or a parody.” I agreed. Nevertheless, it is still a joke.

December 19, 2009

Immunization rates and measles/mumps outbreaks: are vaccinated populations safe?

No.

And that’s the scary part, because within the vaccinated population 3 to 10% of the population would remain susceptible to the disease even if we had 100% of the population vaccinated. (Ref from Science-Based Medicine)

From a study done on a measles outbreak in Quebec, the Journal of Infectious Diseases discusses the results here:

Despite a population immunity level estimated at 95%, an outbreak of measles responsible for 94 cases occurred in Quebec, Canada. Unlike previous outbreaks in which most unvaccinated children belonged to a single community, this outbreak had cases coming from several unrelated networks of unvaccinated persons dispersed in the population. No epidemiological link was found for about one‐third of laboratory‐confirmed cases. This outbreak demonstrated that minimal changes in the level of aggregation of unvaccinated individuals can lead to sustained transmission in highly vaccinated populations. Mathematical work is needed regarding the level of aggregation of unvaccinated individuals that would jeopardize elimination.

So one point of contention remains that people who choose not to vaccinate their children or themselves are ADDING to the risk of infection within the vaccinated population. This fact makes the choice whether or not to vaccinate as much a civic choice as a personal one. What consideration do you owe to your neighbour and what consideration does your neighbour owe to you?

To err on the side of caution, which I think is the responsible adult choice based on the preponderance of evidence that shows vaccines to be safe and effective, all of us need to get inoculated with MMR.  For those who choose not to join the ranks of the civic-minded and refuse inoculation, should they not also forfeit their civic rights to join publicly funded programs like education and health-care where their choice can have deadly consequences? Should there not be a civic cost to making such adverse civic choice?

November 18, 2009

Another Bill Maher Smackdown

Maher has fallen prey to the alternative medicine’s package of propaganda, misinformation, and subtle distortions. Because he is a popular media personality, his views are influential. Fellow skeptic Michael Shermer wrote an open letter published in the New York Times urging Maher to reconsider his anti-vaccination views.

Maher has responded here called A conversation worth having. In it, Maher attempts to justify his position in much the same way that creationists tackle the science of evolution: by evasion, logical fallacies, placing blame, and basically refusing to do the work necessary to understand the science but more than willing to improperly criticize that which he does not understand. So what can we make of Maher’s response?

To our rescue comes another smackdown by Neurologica’s Steve Novella. Why should he bother? As Steve explains, Maher is contributing to the public misunderstanding of science in perhaps the most important area – medicine. That is very serious, and he needs to start taking it seriously. That’s very good advice for all of us: we need to take scientific misunderstanding seriously.

November 12, 2009

Cherry-picking

moonOver at the Neurologica blog is an article about the latest photographic evidence that debunks the moon hoax conspiracy and describes how the tracks and abandoned equipment newly photographed is evidence that is right where we thought it should be if the moon landings had actually occurred. One might be tempted to think that the truth of the moon landings was a no-brainer, but about 25% of people surveyed were skeptical that the whole thing was staged! The story reminded me strongly of the ID/creationist response to multi-disciplined evidence for evolution, which is right where it ought to be if evolution were true. What struck me is how similar remains the thinking of those who wish to deny… that no matter what evidence is provided, conspiracy theories are an exercise in cherry picking evidence that can be made to seem anomalous or sinister, without being able to formulate a coherent explanation or account for all evidence. I think the same kind of conspiracy thinking empowers CAM, anti-vaccination, magic, occult, and witchcraft, not to mention all mainstream religious belief in god. The cherry-picked evidence selected by such a thinker only bolsters the original claim and any and all counter-evidence is simply discarded by this slight-of-brain trick.

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