More bloviating by discredited Dr Wakefield

Outbreaks of  fully-preventable diseases are increasing

As reported on Thursday, April 11th in the UK paper The Independent, Swansea measles outbreak: Confirmed cases rise to nearly 700″, which is worse than than last year’s outbreak in Merseyside, England.

Over 2,600 MMR vaccines were given last week, but are still insufficient to counteract the number of unvaccinated people, or those who lack the full number of necessary dosages. Public health officials explained that the outbreak will continue to grow. (This is what is meant by “herd immunity”: there needs to be a sufficient percentage of people who are immune to prevent the spread of infection.)

And as the article reminds us,

Before the introduction of the MMR jab in 1988, about half a million children caught measles each year in the UK. Approximately 100 of those died.

But for reasons I don’t understand, Andrew Wakefield (who apparently suffers from ‘Center of Attention Deficit Disorder’*), was not just mentioned as a historical reference, due to being a pivotal figure in the paranoia that led to the drastic drop in immunisations. The front page of The Independent’s online edition for Saturday, 13 April 2013, has in its top, featured article a large photograph of him, Struck off MMR scare doctor: Welsh measles outbreak proves I was right. What in the world for?!

Why the concern over Wakefield’s opinions being published, with a newspaper’s front-page lead?

Andrew Wakefield should not be a featured person of interest for opinions. He is no longer a licensed doctor in either the UK or the US. In 2011, Medscape designated him “Worst Physician of the Year” and in 2012, Time listed him in, “Great Science Frauds”.  There is also a good editorial in the same edition of The Independent“Andrew Wakefield’s baleful legacy”.

Wakefield’s unprofessional behavior as a researcher and false assertions that MMR vaccines can lead to autism (in a 1998 article in The Lancet, later withdrawn by the journal) are  a bunch of frass (insect dung). Plus, his ongoing media attention and involvement with what initially were fringe groups, inflated such ‘antivax’ sentiments to mainstream popularity.

Vaccination rates dropped drastically, from 92% to as low as 50% in some areas. Measles outbreaks began occurring across Britain, and in 2006 for the first time in 14 years, someone died of this preventable disease.

(Similar outbreaks happened in the US as well, including mumps. In 2006 got an MMR vaccine then because I had never had mumps, nor been vaccinated for it. Even if I had, the old killed-virus mumps vaccine used when I was a child was found to be ineffective.)

Included in The Independent’s series of articles is the useful, “Timeline: How the MMR scare story spread”  by Jeremy Laurance.

The feature article: the good, the bad, and the problematic

The front-page feature by Jeremy Laurance is titled, “Struck off MMR scare doctor: Welsh measles outbreak proves I was right”. Which of course, is not true; Wakefield is just bloviating again**. As the front-page subhead reads, “Experts condemn discredited doctor’s outburst pinning the blame for the outbreak of measles in Wales on the Government as cases in the Swansea area rises”.

The linked article posted in the Health News section has a different title, “MMR scare doctor Andrew Wakefield breaks his silence: Measles outbreak in Wales proves I was right” (subhead: “As measles cases rise, experts condemn Wakefield’s outburst”), which begins with with six paragraphs of current events, then describes Wakefield’s assertions in the next eight paragraphs.

BUT, the factual counterpoints to the nonsense, clearly stated by, Adam Finn, paediatrics professor at University of Bristol, and childhood vaccines expert, are not given until afterwords, in the next nine paragraphs of the article.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to read that far, nor stop to digest the complete refutation of all the idiocy that Wakefield said.

I think Finn’s factual material would have been more useful if presented earlier, such as a point-by-point dismissal of nonsense, e.g. ‘Wakefield claims … but Professor Flinn refutes …’

Alas, perhaps due to following the common news formula of, So-where’s-he-working-now, included this last paragraph, which unfortunately lends him what some might perceive as professional credibility:

“Dr Wakefield moved to Texas, US, in 2001 where he is director of Medical Interventions for Autism and in January was promoting a reality TV series on autism.”

Remember, Andrew Wakefield uses the title “Doctor” because he earned a degree in medicine; he is not licensed to practice medicine in either the UK or the US.

As I said, Wakefield should remain a historical warning, rather than a featured person of interest for opinions. Adding on the reasons why his comments are harmful nonsense at the end of an article are not enough to detract from the fact that all this frass is featured for free!

_____

* I didn’t make up the (fictional) COADD — ‘Center of Attention Deficit Disorder’, but I sure see a lot of it in our problem students (as opposed to the students with problems, who generally want to avoid being in class).

** Bloviating: a lesser-known, but useful addition to one’s vocabulary: to speak boastingly, pompously, aimlessly; as the OED says, “talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way”

I’m picking up good fermentations

… but the Woo is giving off bad vibrations!

OhMyGosh the world is full of idiots! Tonight I was stocking over in the health foods section, which is either a great place (for our large selection of gluten-free products for coeliacs) or a magnet for all people woo-stricken.

A woman came to the grocery wanting “bread made without yeast” — I gestured to the big display of matzo (unleavened for Passover), but no, she wants loaf bread, but without yeast so her son “doesn’t get yeast infections”. I tried to explain they’re not even the same kinds of yeast, and it’d be dead after the bread’s baked anyway, but NO-O-O-O…
[facepalm]

Yeasts are a kind of fungus: yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae is necessary for yeast-breads, beer and wine fermentation.  For sourdough breads, a variety of wild yeast Candida milleri plus acid-producing bacteria Lactobacillus sanfrancisco that gives the dough the distinctive “tang”.

For our confused customer, the yeast infection [mouth, digestive tract, vagina] is from an entirely different fungus, Candida albicans.

If you’re curious, the fuzzy black stuff that grows on bread is a mold, Rhizopus nigricans. Molds are another kind of fungus. Yummy blue cheeses [Maytag blue, Dana-blu, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton] are made possible from the mold Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum that were naturally present in the [naturally cool] caves where the cheeses were made & aged. (Nowadays the cheese wheels are injected with the appropriate mold). A few people with Penicillin antibiotic allergy may have a reaction to blue cheeses, but the quantity of the material is so much smaller in the cheese, it is rarely a problem.

I almost mentioned yogurt as a source of probiotics  — I was “this close” — but refrained. Trying to add bacteria to her mental mix of Bad Things We Can’t Pronounce & Must Avoid would have been too much for the both of us.

Related to fungi (well, related just in the sense of small organisms helpful to food), are bacteria. Most of the bacteria that exist in the world are neutral to humans, and many are beneficial.  Only a relatively small number are responsible for bacterial infections.  Truth be told, we NEED bacteria, because they are responsible for the fermentation processes that turn raw food items into different, processed food items that have better/different flavor, are more digestible, and store for long periods of time.  Some examples of these great bacteria include: Read the rest of this entry »

The Silver (Smoke-) Screen

O.M.G. Last night at the grocery I was stocking non-prescription meds, and a couple came in asking for … colloidal silver! (Meaning, microfine silver dust suspended in water or another carrier.)

I was baffled; she explained that “Dr Oz” suggested it for sore throats.
“I don’t think we carry that,” I answered, somewhat stunned. “I’ve only used it in a research lab.” (In the teensiest of microdabs, to glue ultra-fine gold wire electrodes to insects.)

“Oh, it’s all-natural!” she asserted cheerfully.

Giant mental sigh and cringe on my end; lots of “all-natural” stuff can be all-naturally poisonous.

The guy with her added something to the effect of, “I bet you all don’t like Dr Oz.”

Er, I’m wary and alarmed by media personalities who promote misleading, useless and/or dangerous medical information. (Last year this celebrity was the recipient of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Media Pigasus Award.)

But I’m guessing the customer was assuming that if people use bizarre “all-natural” remedies, then stores would not sell as many manufactured remedies. Hey, if I want salicylic acid (the stuff in willow bark and spirea that acts as a pain-reliever, fever-reducer and anti-inflammatory), then I will buy it as acetylsalicylic acid, AKA aspirin, because that formulation is less harsh on the digestive system, and you know how much active ingredient you’re getting.

When one of the pharmacists was no longer directly busy with [other] customers, I went up and told him about the customer enquiry. His eyebrows danced a bit at this latest oddity.

“The only thing I’ve heard about taking colloidal silver,” I began, and then the pharmacy intern nearby then chorused with me, “Was about the guy who turned blue!”

“It bio-accumulates, doesn’t it?” I asked, and the pharmacist nodded. That of course, was why I was careful to not let any dots of the lab stuff stick to me. Plus, any clean crumbs re-deposited could be re-used, especially if I held the bottle to the vibrating vortex mixer.

Note: there are antibacterial uses for various ionic silver (Ag+) compounds, such as silver nitrate (AgNO3), but the colloidal stuff is non-ionized metallic form, which has a different biological effect. Of course, poison is always in the dosage — too much silver nitrate can be equally bad. You can read about the hazards of argyria here at the Quackwatch site.

Oh by the way — if you want an “all-natural” remedy for the ordinary sore throat, may I recommend some strong mint tea with honey?

Science Rules!

One of my favorite blogs has another great one:

http://thisisindexed.com/2011/02/damn-science/

“Attention grocery shoppers!”

“We have a special going on in our natural foods aisle, right now!  You can get your specialty questions answered by our very own over-educated scientist-grocery stocker!  That’s right, weekends and evenings only, over in our natural foods aisle!  And THANK YOU for shopping your local supermarket chain grocery!”

Oh, boy.

It’s one thing to be helping someone find the curious location where the grocery manager decided to stock the barley.  No, not with the rice and beans — that’d be too easy; it’s with the bouillon.

And it’s another thing — but I get ahead of myself.  (Alas, when I do that I’m likely to trip over my own feet and sprain an ankle, but that’s hypermobility for you).

One evening, every other row of fluorescent lights was off, as was the canned music.  Apparently they were filming a commercial or some advertising stills. Whatever, we had a couple hours of bliss.  Why can’t the store be so calm and pleasant all the time?  Because the people who study customer behavior say that noise and lights are important.  Or maybe the grocery industry just thinks that noise and lights are important.  Or maybe old research suggested such.  Or maybe stores are following some historical misinterpretation of behavioral research. Hell if I know.  As for me, the canned music just adds unnecessary background noise, aggravating my Auditory Processing Disorder.  Did someone just page Manager to the Customer Service Desk or Andrea to the Customer Service Desk?  Did my boss just page me to dial 14 or aisle 14?  “Oops, sorry, mis-heard you with all the background noise,” I apologise to an older gentleman, as I lead him away from the [recycled paper] brown plates to the bran flakes.

Sometimes a customer will ask for something not on the shelf, so I helpfully zip down to the back room to see if there’s any in backstock. Usually, there isn’t, because by definition, backstock is the overflow that won’t fit on the shelves.  Alas, if I’m in a distracted mood, I will forget to make a mental note of what the customer is wearing, and upon my return, will have that panicked second when I realise that they have moved onto another aisle, and I am supposed to find them.  Oh, the perils of being faceblind: I can’t remember people!  Were they alone, or with another adult, or children?  Did they have a large or small cart?  Do I have any idea of whether they were male, female, or some overbundled or indeterminately-coiffed gender?  Were they were pink- or brown-skinned?  Hat? Fancy purse?  Team jacket?  Why can’t everyone be as distinctive as the fellow who dressed like Eddie Izzard’s less-chic sibling?

My other problem of course, is that I actually answer the questions about the things we sell.  Some day, someone is going to get annoyed.

Once in a while I stock groceries over in the natural foods section.  It’s pretty much like stocking groceries over in the unnatural foods section, except that omitting artificial coloring makes food more expensive.  That and the aisles are narrower, so I have to park the flatbed down at the ends of the aisles and lug more cases.  One day I forgot my knee pads, and realised with a heavy note of irony that stocking all the arthritis treatments was making my knees ache.

“Um, where do you sell the sugar?”

“The sugar?” I repeat, buying a moment’s time while I re-engage my customer-conversation scripts, and activate my mental map of the store.

“Yes, I want the sugar without any chemicals.”

Omigod.  Aside from bottled water, the bags of sugar are probably one of the purest chemical resources in the entire store.

“But sugar is just sucrose; it doesn’t have any added chemicals,”  I manage to shut my mouth before going onto explain that sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose.  Nobody cares … “Here are our organically-grown sugars on this shelf.  And we also have sucanat and turbinado, if you’d like.”  (These latter two are less-processed forms of cane sugar; they have varying amounts of tasty molasses impurities that also make them brown.)

Honestly, a “chemical” is simply a substance with a defined composition.    You already know what H2O is.  Sucrose is C12H22O11 – there are 12 Carbon molecules, 22 Hydrogen molecules and 11 Oxygen molecules.  Of course, just knowing how many atoms of each element isn’t enough – other sugars such as lactose and maltose also have the same formula.  The differences are in how those atoms are arranged.

And if you’re shopping for plant fertilizer, a nitrate is a nitrate is a nitrate, and they’re all NO3-. The plant doesn’t care where the molecules came from, nor can it tell the difference if the nitrate came from an organic (naturally-derived) source or an artificially-manufactured source.  That said, organic fertilizers are more expensive and less concentrated, but are less likely to result in a build-up of salts atop the potting soil.

But please, don’t ask me for anything “chemical-free”; the only thing that is “chemical free” is an absolute vacuum.

I retrieve random things left on the shelves, where someone has left a box of Big Name mac & cheese amongst the organic mac & cheese, a shopping list, a wee sample cup given out by the guy flogging new flavors of hummus, and a box of Airborne.

“What does that do?” asks the other grocery stocker, gesturing at the colorful box that proclaimed, “Created by a school teacher!”

“Nothing.  There’s no research evidence to support it at all.  A grade-school teacher is not the same thing as a compounding pharmacologist.”  Were I in charge of ordering, we wouldn’t waste shelf space for nonsense like that, or for things like Bragg vinegar that is supposed to “help remove body sludge toxins”.  Body sludge toxins, what nonsense!  (I suppose it’d help the lime buildup in my sink drain.)

“Excuse me, where are your all-natural gummy candies?”

Because you know, gummy candies are so natural. Wow, I’d love to have a shrub that produced gummies, especially the cherry and liquorice sorts.  Does the soil have to be aerated by gummy worms?  I hope it’s not thorny …  “They’re over here, on the top shelf.  Is there anything else for which you’re looking?”

“Attention grocery shoppers!  Are you looking for holiday candy and merchandise?  You can find it all over in aisle 14, where we have a wide selection of holiday candies in Fun Sizes, all your same favorites as the last holiday, but wrapped in this holiday’s color themes!  Don’t forget to get some holiday-themed merchandise for your loved ones, and holiday-themed party goods as well. And THANK YOU for shopping your local supermarket chain grocery!”

The sum of good intentions

Feel free to insert the more familiar or acceptable word of your choice.  But regardless of your word choice, the equation stands:

Good Intentions plus Bullshit still equals Bullshit

It doesn’t matter if you are a parent earnestly trying to help your child improve lagging developmental skills — if the information you are disseminating to newbies or news agencies is based upon bogus treatments and world-wide conspiracy theories, then the information you are giving others is still bullshit. (Example: vaccines cause autism and/or dozens of unproven “cures” for all sorts of developmental/educational difficulties.)

It doesn’t matter if you are an elected official trying to get funding for projects that could potentially improve the local economy — if your cherry-picked “experts” assert that there are no ecological problems, but the overwhelming majority of experts from agencies around the world say there will be serious consequences, then your assertions are still bullshit.  (Example: Sarah Palin on global warming, oil pipelines, and polar bears.)

It doesn’t matter if you are a news reporter trying to ensure “balanced coverage” of a story by quoting from “both sides” — when one of those “sides” lacks credibility and just presents distraught protagonists ranting over perceived injustices because fact-based reality keeps intruding upon belief systems based upon magical thinking and millenia-old folk tales, then your editorial judgment is weak and the news is full of bullshit.  Respecting others’ feelings and beliefs does not mean that those should usurp sound legislative, educational or economic practices, or be allowed to trump everyone’s civil rights.  (Example, Creationism/Intelligent Design being taught in science classes.)

Nope; the earnestness and good intentions part cannot gloss over the huge piles of bullshit.  Crap is still crap, and the best thing we can do with crap is to put it with the rest of the dead stuff and compost it, until the bacteria and worms and arthropods have broken it down into something useful.

Skeptic’s Circle #85: Looking under rocks

It’s amazing what you can find if you start looking under rocks. You can find isopods, fossils, a spare key to the front door, ant colonies, Hitler Zombies … and of course, the inevitable proof of physics (F = m*a) if you stumble and “OW!”

Today the Skeptic’s Circle meets out on the rocky plain to see what we can dig up. We are sure to not be disappointed. Of course, the whole Expelled nonsense is fresh in our minds and as we unpack our gear. Blake Stacey pauses to point out, “Open your mouth about evolution around the wrong people, though, and you can find yourself harassed, ejected from your job and even beaten in the street.” The long list of instructors and others mentioned is alarming.

Before our expedition falters, Joe Dunckley lightheartedly shares Read the rest of this entry »

Wicked Good funnies

Two short things I want to post before I get distracted (again!):

BigHeathenMike put up a riotously funny edition of The Skeptic’s Circle: “Every One Of You Is Expelled!”, narrated by Ben Stein, if that is his real name. Probably should be rated NSFW, if only from the coffee-spew LOL potential.

The second is the funniest prank I’ve ever seen; it’s clever and tongue-in-cheek rather than mean. Safe for work, silent YouTube video with captions.

TIP:  This vid seems to “stick” a few seconds in; just pull the thermometer bubble to the right a millimeter or two. 

Two more species of Fallacies

After you’ve become familiar with a variety of stupid political arguments or with spotting pseudo-science, you find yourself making a mental game of it: Name That Fallacy. It’s gratifying to know that there are terms for the sorts of things that used to “make your brain all hurty” because you knew they were wrong. Such terms are a great time-saver in discussions: being able to assign those names means that others know what you’re talking about, and that you don’t have to explain why the fallacious thinking is not correct.

But every now and then I run into something that cannot be easily defined by a term. Such things may be multifactorial in the numbers of cognitive biases and argumentative fallacies; there’s no one reason why the reasoning is bad. But boy, are they off the mark!

Right now, I have two fallacies I would like to discuss. (Maybe there are names for these that I’ve not yet run into — let me know; they could be from fields that I’m not well-versed in.)

~ I ~

I call this first sort of über-fallacy-bias Read the rest of this entry »

Just bothering, telling you so,

We’re past the mid-week “hump”, but the weekend is still just a calendar square after Pi Day. However shall we slog through?!

Fear not, for salvation is at hand, or at least something profoundly mind-bending. (Given the shape of some of our minds, that’s probably best.) Hie ye’self on over to Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes for The Genesis of the 82nd Edition of the Skeptic’s Circle.

“Be there or be dodecahedral.”

Facts aren’t enough

“Wow, you take more pills than me,” hubby remarked as I filled up my daily pill-minder for the next week.

I paused for a couple seconds and then answered, “That’s a bit misleading — you take more inhalers.” A bit later, I added, “Besides, a couple of those pills are just calcium supplements, and there’s one prescription I take twice a day.” With the HRT patch, that’s just four daily prescriptions. Going by numbers of pills swallowed isn’t a very good comparison of the numbers of medications we each take; it’s probably close to an equal number, just different kinds of meds and different kinds of delivery systems.

Maybe I was being a trifle pedantic. Then again, the phrasing of the comment made it sound a bit like I was popping a lot of drugs. I don’t think that my hubby meant the remark in a negative way; it was just an off-hand remark meant to fill conversational space while I was puttering around getting ready for bed.

I might not have even noticed — or responded — had I not run into similar comments over the years, comments that were meant to make negative implications. These kinds of statements really bother me, especially because they are a misuse of otherwise good forms of factual communication. There’s an old joke: Read the rest of this entry »

So-Not-Helpful Fixers and their Malcommendations

Bless them, there are a lot of people out there who want to help. Or rather, there are a lot of people out there who are helpful, and some who want to Give Help.

The latter sort want to give “those people” or “the ones with your kind of special needs” the benefit of their expertise. They’re “fixers” of the less-useful ilk, the sort who get their ego-fluffing from helping people, regardless of whether or not the person needs help, or wants help, or benefits from the sort of help they have to offer. The main point is that they are nobly out there graciously bestowing The Needy with the largess of their wisdom, even when their body of knowledge is riddled with “malcommendations”. Read the rest of this entry »

A shot in the arm, A slight kick in the butt

Last week I took two of our cats to the vet for their annual check-ups, including the Rabies, Feline Distemper, and Feline Leukemia vaccines. Some years ago we lost one of our cats to Feline Leukemia; the poor kitty died just a few months before the vaccine was available.

This Saturday past I reminded my gardening students that if they cannot remember when they last had a Tetanus booster, they they should go and get one, because a booster is recommended every ten years. The number of people to have survived Tetanus is vanishingly small; it’s pretty much a death sentence. It’s also easily prevented by a simple vaccine. Sure, your arm is a bit sore for a couple of days, but that beats dying an extremely painful and highly unnecessary death. As I reminded my students, “You get your pets vaccinated, you get your children vaccinated, so you should get yourself vaccinated!”

Except there are a few people who don’t want to get their children vaccinated. A drop in vaccinations means not only that some people get sick, but a drop in vaccinations also means a loss of “herd immunity”, meaning that most of the population is not immune, so there are enough people who can catch and then transmit the disease. When you make a decision to not immunise, you are not making a decision that affects just you and your children. You are a making a decision that affects everyone else in your community.

That is why we had recent epidemics of mumps and measles in the UK and the US, leading to hundreds of sick people, and some who were disabled or killed. Because I work with students in various schools, I get lots of exposure to viruses. I had not previous had a mumps vaccine or the disease, so during those epidemics I went and got the MMR. Now I’m protected against Mumps, Measles and Rubella (even though I had the other vaccines in ’63 and ’70, the combined vax helps boost my immunity). I also went through the Hepatitis B series that year.

So yes, I’m a big proponent of vaccinations.

And no, I do not subscribe to the hysteria generated by a few noisy, well-meaning but seriously-deluded or paranoid people who believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy Read the rest of this entry »

OMG Teh LOLCats!

Wow, lotsa busy stuff happening over here!

Getting the Carnival of the Spineless knocked together (it’ll be out soon; ran into a technical glitch).

Meanwhile, if you’re aching for some good strategies or inspiration, go visit the January Pain-Blog Carnival at “How to Cope with Pain” blog. (This one happens during the last week of each month; the next one deals with pain & Valentine’s Day.)

Podblack Cat has put up the “The 79th Skeptic’s Circle – Rollin With Teh Lol-ling”. What a clever cat; she has linked to special LOLCat pix for each contributor! Too funny, plus, lots of great skeptical blogging.

And if you still have time to waste, go check out the Planarity game (hat-tip to the Kid). Starts out nice and easy, letting you figure out the untangling algorithms, and progresses reasonably. I got up to level 16, but found that much of anything past level 10 is really way too many nodes to make distinguishing or handling easy, so I just refresh at 10.

The 3-pound Exemption (disembodied woo)

You gotta feel sorry for Topeka, Kansas. The state’s capital city is not only home to the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, and has recently been the battleground for Intelligent Design vs Evolution counter-counter-legislation by the school board (currently with the majority ruling pro-science), but now the capitol is host to the paranoid propaganda by the CCHR. CCHR is the Citizens Commision on Human Rights, which despite the generic name is really just a front for Scientology. Their exhibit is titled, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” (well, no hidden biases there). Correspondent for the Kansas City Star newspaper, David Klepper, writes that the “the Capitol sees its share of traveling displays and wandering weirdness”. He notes that any group that can pay the fee is allowed to put up a display as long as it is not obscene, and describes the content thusly: Read the rest of this entry »

Sn*wed under

Sn*w day for the kids today.  Meanwhile, college classes have started, and colleges rarely shut down no matter what the weather.  That means I’m temporarily snowed under coming and going.  So bop on over to The Skeptical Surfer’s blog for very humorous Skeptics’ Circle #78: The “Still High From The Chelation” Edition. (And remember, don’t believe everything you read ::wink:: )

Both Sides Now

I hate hearing about “both sides” in news pieces. It’s not that I don’t want to hear what people have to say; rather, my complaint is with the whole idea of “presenting both sides”.

I should note that I’ve been a freelance writer for various local and national publications. So let me explain a bit about what the press does before I explain the reasons for my statement.

Journalists and reporters are encouraged to find stories that fill a number of requirements; depending upon their editors’ preferences, they may be looking for background to current events, introducing new discoveries, showing the personal sides to big events, exposing wrongdoing, educating the public, describing controversy, or providing inspiration. (I find it somewhat disheartening that the press is so slanted toward “stories” rather than “news”. I think this reflects a lot of the emphasis on warm-fuzzy human interest elements at the expense of focusing on actual information. Maybe I’m just a jaded scientist, but I like more details and verified facts in my news.) Of course, most news items stories combine several of these aspects.

There are a variety of different kinds of journalists and reporters. Some journalists have large amounts of specialised background in particular fields that they use to understand, put into context, and interpret the news, which enables them to know how to sift through information, evaluate it and present it in a manner that is intelligible to people who aren’t as well-versed.

In contrast, many live media reporters tend to have more background in the presentation of the news, and frequently have to reduce an hour or more of recording down to just a few minutes of “sound bites” arranged in the popular three part news-program format of: When we return, we’ll tell you this amazing news; Here I am telling you this amazing news; and My co-anchor just told you this amazing news.

Okay, you were probably aware of most of that. But to get those Controversies! and New Discoveries! and Inspiring Personal Stories! and Expose Wrongdoings! (excuse me, Expose Alleged Wrongdoings!), they frequently follow the dictate of getting quotes and information from both sides. Of course, sources who can deliver “sexy” sound-bites are especially preferred by live media reporters.

So what’s wrong with presenting both sides? We want balanced reporting, right? Read the rest of this entry »

No wait, it’s not mercury, it’s — lead!

A four-year old autistic boy, Noah Breakiron, is in the news for being cured of lead poisoning.

“We have a child here who is virtually indistinguishable from his peers and that’s certainly not what he was a year or two years ago,” added Pediatrician David Berger, MD.

The article also says,

Because the symptoms of autism and lead poisoning are so similar, Noah’s parents say they will never know which one came first, autism or lead poisoning.

Huh? A child might possibly have both autism and lead poisoning, but they are not the same, nor are the symptoms similar. Let’s review a list of possible symptoms of autism, as described on the Mayo Clinic page (not all autistic children will exhibit all these traits): Read the rest of this entry »

Bread and Circuses

Just a couple of quickies here while I’m busy preparing for some new classes.

Firstly, the 77th edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up at WhiteCoat Underground, with a rather humorous post by PalMD, “The Overmedicalized Edition“. I love reading these circus posts because it’s a good way to find great new blogs!

Secondly, there’s the “December Pain-Blog Carnival” at the How to Cope With Pain blog, also run by a physician blogger.

And for the “bread” part of this post, here’s a recipe that was a big hit last week, home-made waffles! Yes, it’s a bit more work than buying the frozen sort and throwing them into the toaster, but I guarantee that these tasted a helluva lot better than the frozen sort. The guys couldn’t even tell they were gluten-free, THAT’S how good they were! (All the frozen GF waffles I’ve ever tried were as dry as Styrofoam.)

Because I’m an ADHD-forgetful sort of cook and clumsy and somewhat arthritic, this recipe comes with assorted tips, including some in case you’re not used to making home-made waffles. Read through directions for tips before cooking.

WONDERFUL WAFFLES (GLUTEN-FREE)

Special equipment: waffle iron, mixer to whip egg whites, and if you have one, a blender and a towel. If you don’t have a blender you can use the mixer, BUT beat the egg whites before mixing the other ingredients, so the beaters are clean and dry for the whites.

  1. Inspect the mixer and blender to ensure nothing has fallen into the bowl or pitcher, that the bottom is securely screwed onto the blender pitcher, and that you have the lid to the blender.
  2. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you start cracking:
  3. 4 large eggs, separated
    1 ½ cups milk (360 ml)
    ¼ cup oil (60 ml)
    1 1/2 cups GF flour mix (about 150 g, depending upon blend)
    5 teaspoons baking powder (25 ml)
    1 tablespoon sugar (15 ml)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (2 ml)

  4. Find the no-stick spray to use on the waffle-iron plates, even if it’s supposed to be a “no-stick” surface. If you don’t have no-stick spray, pour a little vegetable oil into a drinking glass, and use a clean 1.5″ (4 cm) wide natural bristle or heat-resistant barbecuing brush, as synthetic bristles may melt or scrunch up — YCIHIKT (You Can Imagine How I Know That). I put the oil into a drinking glass so I can stand the brush upright in the glass, rather than having it constantly fall off the edge of the wee bowl of oil, thus making another mess for me to clean off the counter.
  5. Clear some space on the kitchen counter, and plug in the waffle iron for it to heat up while you’re doing the mixing. The plates should be shut while it’s heating, for safety and efficiency.
  6. Crack 4 eggs, separating them into yolks and whites. The yolks go into the blender, and the whites go into the mixer bowl. Fresher eggs have “bouncier” yolks and separate more easily (just so you know; it’s not like you’re really going to have both fresher eggs and older eggs sitting around). Eggs will crack in half more easily and neatly if you knock them on a sharp, thin edge (table knife) than a wide, blunt edge (rimmed bowl). TIP: if this is an iffy task for you, then crack each egg over a small (separate) bowl so you can fish out the bits of shell before adding to the other yolks and whites. There are also egg-separater gizmos one can purchase — get one that you do not have to hold onto to use.
  7. Use the mixer to whip egg whites to soft peaks. I like my KitchenAid stand-mixer because it can do its own thing without me holding the mixer up in the air (vibration is hard on my joints). Yes, the beast cost more, but it has outlasted three hand-mixers, and it kneads dough, too! It’s worth buying something like this because it enables more cookery.
  8. Use blender to mix the milk, oil, egg yolks, and dry ingredients. If you put the wet ingredients into the blender before the dry ingredients, the batter is less likely to end lumpy. I still have to stop and scrape powder off the top edges once during the blending, but that’s pretty minor. TIP: to reduce the awful blender racket, put a folded towel between the blender bottom and the countertop; this reduces the cabinet-as-acoustic-chamber for the motor vibration.
  9. [Remove the mixer bowl from the stand.] Pour batter from the blender down the side of the mixer bowl so it slides underneath the egg whites. Tilt the bowl to a comfortable angle, and use a rubber spatula or spoon to fold the ingredients together. “Fold” means to stir the ingredients together slowly and gently in vertical circles; the batter will have the consistency of almost-melted ice cream.
  10. Spray both plates of the waffle iron with no-stick spray just before pouring in the batter. Re-spray before cooking each waffle. Even if your waffle iron is so miraculously non-stick that you didn’t need to do this for traditional waffles, you will need to do it for GF waffles; YCIHIKT.
  11. This is enough batter to make several waffles. Pour in just enough batter to fill the bottom plate, and then wait several seconds for bubbles to start forming before closing down the top plate. This allows the batter to partially “set” so you won’t have a bunch of goo oozing off the edges that will have to be scraped off later on; YCIHIKT.
  12. Bake until the signal light shuts off (if your iron has one) or until the waffles are appropriately crispy. TIP: our family likes to warm up the syrup(s) so the waffles don’t cool as fast while we’re eating them.

You can also sprinkle some cinnamon into the waffle batter, which is nice if you are topping them with apple stuff. Some people like to add a teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla extract; I keep forgetting to do this. I’ve also tried almond extract, which made the waffles taste like holiday cookies, but hubby prefered traditional waffles.

TIP: if you want to add blueberries to your batter, use either fresh ones or still-frozen berries — thawed blueberries will “bleed” and turn the batter a pale teal-green color; YCIHIKT. They still taste good, but …

Epidemiology Bass-Ackwards

Again.

A short news item caught my attention today. Unfortunately, it looks like a fabulous example of bad science, with lousy sampling methods, correllation trying to equal causality, and a heavy dose of confirmation bias. Add in a big dose of well-connected media personalities, and it’s absolute chum-bucket for indiscriminate news sharks.

Dr Lawrence Rosen thinks there is probably some kind of “environmental problem” causing an “autism cluster around St. Anthony’s school in Northvale”, New Jersey. Why is that? “The initial study included interviews with 24 current or former school employees who had children after working at the school. Their 42 offspring included 24 with developmental disorders — and 10 of them have autism.”

Oh, and “The school serves children with autism and other learning disabilities.” Are we not surprised. ( /dry humor )

Saying that something around the school “causes” large numbers of autistics (et cetera) is like saying that swimming pools “cause” large numbers of bikinis. Read the rest of this entry »

Update

Woah, the timing of this AP news article was incredible, “Parents avoid vaccinations by claiming false religious exemptions”. It’s an excellent follow-up to my previous post on “My student is missing”. (My student came back the next day.)

Many states are seeing increases in the numbers of parents who do this.

“Do I think that religious exemptions have become the default? Absolutely,” said Paul Offit, head of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, one of the harshest critics of the anti-vaccine movement. He said the resistance to vaccines is “an irrational, fear-based decision.”

Of course, the problem with highly infectious diseases is that no one is an island. You’re not just making a decision about your own health.

But public health officials say it takes only a few people to cause an outbreak that can put large numbers of lives at risk.

“When you choose not to get a vaccine, you’re not just making a choice for yourself, you’re making a choice for the person sitting next to you,” said Lance Rodewald, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division.

My student is missing

Just one of my students. I heard that he didn’t come to school today because he’s not up on all of his vaccinations. I don’t know if that is something intentional by his family, but I kinda doubt it — he’s in high school, which means he’s had years of previous vaccinations accounted for. Probably people got busy and forgot to take him in to the doctor or the county clinic to get whatever’s due at his age.

Like other school districts in the state, this one requires that the students be fully vaccinated per the list issued by the state health department. There’s a 60-day period after the beginning of the school year for students to get caught up, and after that date, students don’t get to attend until they’ve done so. (There is also an exception clause allowed by the state, requiring that abstaining parents or guardians to provide a medical exemption signed by a MD/DO every year, and they sign a religious exemption. Note that the doctor has to be an actual physician, and that the child is getting regular medical attention, to help insure some baseline of health monitoring. Note also that the parent also has to claim exemption for religious reasons, not just because they think that vaccines might be more dangerous than the long list of highly infectious and sometimes debilitating or deadly diseases.)

So naturally, my children have had their various vaccinations over the years. In recent years I’ve also had the MMR, at the tender age of 45. Why? Read the rest of this entry »

Recovered

When reading about various “cures” for autism, AD/HD et cetera, you’ll see the term “recovered” used. As in, “was ill but recovered”. This takes the medical model of disability rather far, from the sort of issue that may sometimes be addressed symptomatically using medical intervention (e.g. Ritalin for AD/HD), into the realm of a disease or pathology that must be cured using medical intervention.

“Recovered” can also mean “was lost but has been found”, which is not a coincidental usage when parents describe their child who was devastated by autism (slight projection there — I think it’s rather the parents who are devastated), and is otherwise doomed to be trapped in the dark abyss of autism. (I am not making up these catastrophic phrases; you can google them yourself.) And of course there’s the old cliché, “lost in your own little world”, which I heard repeatedly through my own childhood. (How silly — I mean, who else’s world would I be in?) Parents feel that when they try any number of cures and as the child matures and engages in less obviously-autistic mannerisms, that the child has been cured. (Hint: flapping less just means Read the rest of this entry »

Solstice Means Carnival Time

The Solstice Edition of the Skeptic’s Carnival is going on over at Robert McCormick’s blog, Relatively Science. Go check out the sheer variety of fun offerings!

Epidemics of Bad Science vs Epidemics and Bad Science

Here’s a hot topic constantly resurfacing in the news, especially with the Omnibus currently proceeding at the US Court of Federal Claims, to wit: Is autism caused by vaccines? I won’t pretend that I’m going to capture everything in this controversy; there are too many players in the drama. (Autism Diva is keeping track of the daily news on the hearing.) However, this does make for an excellent case study in the scientific method. We get to look at concepts like incidence & prevalence, correlation vs causality, testimonials vs evidence-based medicine, and some general concepts in epidemiology. Could we possibly have any more fun?! (tongue-in-cheek joke)

When you read about autism, something noted most everywhere is the increasing numbers of children diagnosed. Surely, people say, there has to be something causing that to happen!

The whole vaccines-causes-autism story starts back in 1998, Read the rest of this entry »

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