HIV vaccine shows some success

September 24, 2009

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyI think we’ve all been waiting for this for a long, long time. And now finally, we’re seeing serious progress in the fight to eliminate HIV and AIDS from the planet. The NY Times as well as everyone else today has been reporting about a combination of experimental vaccines that seem to be effective in lowering the risk of HIV infection.

It’s covered very succinctly by Phil Plait, who talked to Dr. Steve Novella about it directly here:

In a controlled study, the number of people in a group using the vaccine had 30% fewer HIV cases compared to a group who did not get vaccinated. Specifically, there were 51 HIV cases out of 8200 people vaccinated versus 74 out of 8200 not vaccinated. That’s very heartening! The vaccination course is actually composed of two different vaccines, neither of which on its own was effective, but together appear to boost the immune system enough (in some cases) to help fight off the initial virus infection.A few things to note:

1) The vaccine course was not 100% effective, and does not drop the viral load of someone already infected. This is a prophylaxis, a preventative. It’s not a cure.

2) There is no HIV in the vaccine itself — it has pieces of the protein HIV coats itself with, to help the body recognize the virus — so people using it cannot get HIV from it.

3) The vaccine is not widely available; it’s still experimental. It was also tested on just strains found in Thailand, which may not translate well for other strains found elsewhere.

4) The vaccination was developed by the U.S. Army in cooperation with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Expect the antivax cranks to go ballistic over that first part.

I think this is a big stride forward, but as always there’s a ways to go yet. Ask anyone in the medical profession what the most important advance in history has been in their field, and vaccines are very high on the list. Vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of lives… and it looks like scientists will continue to find ways to do so.

This is precisely what Carl Sagan meant when he said, “Science delivers the goods,” whereas religion and pseudoscience don’t contribute anything of value to the world, nor can they be relied upon or proven. It’s another great day for science.


Strike 2 for Jake Crosby

September 23, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy response to Age of Autism’s Jake Crosby’s hit piece against Scienceblogs.com. It was apparently the first part in a series, and today he published the second part, Part II Seed Media’s “Science” Blogs: A 180 Degree Shift in Reporting. I don’t plan to spend nearly as much time on this one, since it just builds on the false premises established in the first part,  I wasted way more time on the first part than it deserved, and since PalMD of Science Blogs did such a fantastic job of dismantling the false premises of the first part as well.

Anyway, let’s get started. Once again, Crosby sinks himself with the title, and it just goes downhill from there. He’s still using the scare quotes around “science” in Science Blogs, which he’s overusing with the passion of a true fanatic. I think PalMD said it best:

I like scare quotes;  they are great for making subtle points about “experts” like Jake Crosby, the author of the piece.  But this idiot abuses scare quotes so often as to render them meaningless. Look, if your view of reality requires to place everyone else’s ideas in scare quotes, perhaps you are the problem.

Then the other atrocious part of Captain Scare Quotes’ title is the main premise of this whole section, his warped view that science changing its mind based on new evidence is somehow akin to political flip-flopping.

No Crosby, as I said in my previous response:

It’s called PROGRESS. In 2004, while the anti-vaccinationist claims were already pretty much toast, we didn’t yet have as expansive a library of studies that directly refute every single asinine claim you guys have made. Now we do. By this logic, we should all throw out our telephones because when the invention was first introduced, the NY Times slammed it as an invasion of privacy. Unlike the brainwashed cultists at Age of Autism, the rest of us gain more knowledge as time goes by and change our minds to fit the latest data.

And if I can add to what I wrote yesterday to specifically address Crosby’s 180 Degree Shift in Reporting, if we follow Crosby’s logic to its inevitable conclusion, then the NY Times has also shifted its reporting about telephones 180 degrees since the early days of the telephone, so therefore it must be a conspiracy. I really wish this example could be read as a straw man against Crosby’s argument but no, that’s his actual argument, the main argument of this whole section, that scientists or media can only change their positions on things if it’s a conspiracy.

Sure, he also continues to make false and libelous claims about his alleged “conflict of interest” at Science Blogs because they have ads, again while ads promoting products that benefit from Age of Autism’s specific agenda can be seen plain as day just to the right of Crosby’s piece.

Further, PalMD explained in his response how the Science Blogs ad system REALLY works:

In case you didn’t know, Science Blogs is owned by a company called Seed Media Group. They invite bloggers, host them, give them tech support, and use their blogs to post ad content. And that’s it. Bloggers are offered small compensation based on blog hits, but for most bloggers, this ads up to very little. Blog content is independent in every way but one: blogging is by invitation only. Once you’re here, you can write whatever you want.

But conspiracy theorists are likely to be unimpressed by this. Seed’s ads are everything from major corporate sponsors to google adsense garbage that sometimes turns out ads for fake cancer cures and chelation therapy, but in the eyes of some, anyone who blogs here must be in the thrall some sponsor or other. This is of course impossible, given that the sponsors often offer contradictory services (Merck ads, anti-vaccine ads, etc). I have not infrequently had in depth and sometimes heated discussions with my fellow bloggers about various ads and whether and how they reflect on our images as individual bloggers.

The peace I’ve come to is this: to provide me with a place to blog, Seed needs advertisers. Despite this, they do not pressure me to write favorable pieces. There was a MasterCard ad up earlier today, and if I decided to slam the immoral usurious practices of the credit card companies, no one from Seed would say a word to me.

That utterly destroys Crosby’s whole secondary argument, the classic Big Pharma Shill Gambit. That’s about it. Crosby’s arguments are toast, his lies transparent and easily proven false. There’s no conflict of interest concerning the ad content on Science Blogs like there is over at Age of Autism. There’s no censoring of material that paints advertisers in a negative light. And the mere fact that at one time back in 2004 Science Blogs published a single article that Crosby feels supports his views and since then hasn’t is neither evidence of conspiracy nor a sudden 180 degree shift in viewpoint. It’s merely consistently keeping up with where the science is at the time. This is no less idiotic than insisting historians have taken a radical 180 degree shift because they once recognized East and West Germany as two separate counties and don’t anymore.

Oh, and then of course there’s Crosby’s HIV denialism, which he hinted at yesterday but now fully exposes while ironically trying to argue that not all anti-vaccinationists should be lumped in with pseudo-scientific cranks:

So anyone who shares an opinion even remotely similar to Jenny McCarthy on “Science”Blogs is quickly lumped in with freaks and AIDS deniers (ironic, since AIDS was probably caused by vaccines), despite never mentioning autism and only implicating one adjuvant, not vaccines in general. He would also be on the receiving end of the “anti-vax” gambit.

Yes, and you just refuted your own argument with that silly parentheses. Good job.

Oh, and then he pulls the old Ben Stein Expelled Gambit:

But that is not all. If the person himself posts for “Science”Blogs and voices criticism of a deadly neurotoxin present in vaccines without even mentioning autism, he gets the boot. That is exactly what happened to Bert Ehgartner. According to German “Science”Blogger, Christian Reinboth, the day after Ehgartner’s last post, “Aluminum – Die Evidenz” – “Ehrgartner has been fired from ScienceBlogs already due to the outrage over his aluminum article.”

As I understand it, Ehgartner got “the boot,” as you call it, because he was using his status as a blogger for Science Blogs to actively promote misinformation, not because he voiced criticism that went against some party line. Anyone who spends any time on Science Blogs sees legitimate disagreement among fellow Science Bloggers on a semi-regular basis. Case in point, when Orac criticized Atheist Alliance International for honoring Bill Maher with their Richard Dawkins Award, several Science Bloggers such as PZ Myers and Jason Rosenhouse strongly disagreed. They then proceded to have a civil debate about the subject.  Nobody got fired and all parties are still highly respected members of the Science Blog team. Whereas there was considerable outrage over Ehgartner’s article and it threatened to hurt the credibility of the entire site (something you, my dear Crosby have no chance of doing). So you’re just cherry-picking your examples to create the illusion of censorship where none exists. Besides, Ehgartner was given a huge audience at Science Blogs, so it’s not hard to imagine he took a lot of that audience with him to some other blog. It’s hard to censor someone’s voice on the internet.

But let’s answer Crosby’s original question at the top of his hit piece:   “are there any posts that are actually critical of the drug industry?” And I’ll add AFTER 2004, since according to Captain LiesAlot, they haven’t.

The answer is YES and YES. Those seem pretty frakkin critical of the pharmaceutical companies to me. You’re done Crosby. You’re dishonesty has been exposed. Your anti-scientific agenda has been exposed. Your conflict of interest has been exposed. And you still haven’t once addressed a single scientific fact that disagrees with you because you don’t know what you’re talking about.

UPDATE 9.24.09 – Steve Novella has responded to Crosby here and Orac has now responded to his second part here.


Pope blames condoms for AIDS

March 17, 2009

christian-condomDr. Pope explains that doctors have it all wrong and that really condoms make AIDS worse. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! Of course! It all makes sense now. Thanks Joey Ratz!

This was after he demanding a 9-year-old should die trying to give birth to twins.

Pope presenting Final Solution to African problem.

Pope presenting "Final Solution" to African problem.


Getting closer to an AIDS vaccine

March 13, 2009

Researchers have published a new paper that suggests we are getting closer to preventing AIDS:

With the support of the National Institutes of Health, the Arnolds and their team have been able to take a piece of HIV that is involved with helping the virus enter cells, put it on the surface of a common cold virus, and then immunize animals with it. They found that the animals made antibodies that can stop an unusually diverse set of HIV isolates or varieties.

. . .

With the support of the National Institutes of Health, the Arnolds and their team have been able to take a piece of HIV that is involved with helping the virus enter cells, put it on the surface of a common cold virus, and then immunize animals with it. They found that the animals made antibodies that can stop an unusually diverse set of HIV isolates or varieties.

It will indeed be interesting to see how HIV Deniers spin this. Though I’m sure those who believe “Big Pharma” has had the cure all along will no doubt just write this story off as merely waving the hope of an eventual vaccine in front of people so they don’t ask any questions with still no intent of releasing the cure they allegedly already have. And I’m sure the really fanatical anti-vaccine crowd who argue that vaccines are not effective for anything and are just placebos will similarly reject the very premise.


New Monkey Model For HIV Developed With Altered Human Virus

March 4, 2009

This is an interesting update on the search for a treatment to prevent HIV:

By altering just one gene in HIV-1, scientists have succeeded in infecting pig-tailed macaque monkeys with a human version of the virus that has until now been impossible to study directly in animals. The new strain of HIV has already been used to demonstrate one method for preventing infection and, with a little tweaking, could be a valuable model for vetting vaccine candidates.

A team of researchers led by Paul Bieniasz and Theodora Hatziioannou at The Rockefeller University showed that two pig-tailed macaques, given a common antiretroviral treatment one week before and one week after being exposed to the newly engineered HIV, had no signs of infection.


HIV Evolving To Evade Human Immune Responses

February 28, 2009

So to those creationists who reject evolution and insist that an understanding of evolution isn’t crucial to the practice of medicine, this one’s for you:

HIV is evolving rapidly to escape the human immune system, an international study led by Oxford University has shown. The findings, published in Nature, demonstrate the challenge involved in developing a vaccine for HIV that keeps pace with the changing nature of the virus.

. . .

‘Even in the short time that HIV has been in the human population, it is doing an effective job of evading our best efforts at natural immune control of the virus. This is high-speed evolution that we’re seeing in the space of just a couple of decades.’

This is just another reason why you should never let a creationist doctor treat you.


Which Colorado senator wins the Tin Foil Hat Award for the day?

February 27, 2009

That would be Colorado Sen. Dave Schultheis, who–and I shit you not–stating that HIV testing for pregnant moms rewards sexual promiscuity. Take a guess what political party he belongs to.

No really, take a guess.

That’s right, he belongs to the Republican Party? I know what you’re thinking. The Republican Party supports this anti-science lunatic? I’m as shocked as you are. [rolling eyes]

Democrats were outraged Wednesday morning when Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis said he planned to vote against a bill to require HIV tests for pregnant women because the disease “stems from sexual promiscuity” and he didn’t think the Legislature should “remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior.” The Colorado Springs lawmaker then proceeded to cast the lone vote against SB-179, which passed 32-1 and moves on to the House.

You can read the transcript by clicking the link above.


News From Around The Blogosphere 01.13.09

January 14, 2009

Bill Maher is religulous! - You know, I’ve always kinda liked Bill Maher. I’d heard that he was big into alternative medicine and Big Pharma conspiracy woo but I never seemed to have caught interviews or episodes of his show where that came out. What I always caught was his anti-religious rants, which I’ve always loved. But he’s now revealed that he’s not only kinda into nonsense medicine but has now taken it upon himself to promote and endurse HIV/AIDS Denier Christine Maggiore’s book. As reported last week, Maggiore just died because of AIDS. Though her denialist friends are making up nonsensical “alternative” explanations for her death. Bill, your movie was still one of the best of last year but please, just leave the doctoring to the doctors.

vaccine1A few weeks ago antivaccinationist J.B. Handley whined about how biased the New York Times was after they interviewed him. This was before the article he was being interviewed for even came out–probably not a smart move if you want a favorable review. Well now that article is finally in print. And it mops the floor with these fools playing doctor. And not only that but the article even squeezes in passing references to other infamous wacko conspiracy theories.

Couple defends claim of cures for herpes, bird flu, smallpox -  A couple in New Zealand who claim to have homeopathic cures for many diseases are being prosecuted for making misleading claims.

foil-hatSon of a Psychic Healer – WNYC’s Leonard Lopate interviews Philip Smith. “Philip Smith grew up in 1960s Miami, with a psychic healer father who was into yogic diets, mystical vibrations, and reincarnation.  Smith himself became a Scientologist at the age of 17. His new memoir about his youth is Walking Through Walls.”  It’s sad that this guy is still this guillible. Not only is his father delusional but he’s deliberately defrauding people, as evidenced from the description of his magically making their legs the same length, a tired old trick that James Randi debunked years ago. It’s a facinating listen, if not tragic that this guy has been so indoctrinated that he can claim to have done so much research and yet managed to miss good skeptical critique.

Barack Obama should not become honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America – Every president since William Taft has accepted the title to this discriminatory organization. But the Secular Coalition for America says the buck should stop here.

Correction: Oops. I posted the wrong photo. That’s a photo of the Hitler Youth, not the Boy Scouts of America. My mistake.

Citizen Obama – Those cranks trying to come up with any excuse to  bar Barack Obama from becoming president are at it again. They’re sticking with their false claim that he’s not a natural born citizen have put together a TV ad that all the major networks have refused to air. It’s a fun piece of batshit insanity that may have you rolling on the floor laughing:

Do you know ANYONE who still has their original birth certicate? Okay, I might. But I’m pretty sure if I do I’m a rare exception.


News From Around The Blogosphere 01.09.09

January 9, 2009

Tom Daschle, the soon to be Secretary of Health and Human services calls the lack of funding for vaccines “as sound an investment as we can make in good health” - It looks like Obama made another awesome pick for his cabinet. Good luck Mr. Daschle. You’ve just made enemies with an army of superstitious wackos who I predict with my psychic powers will accuse you of being either a corporate shill for “Big Pharma”, more ignorant of medicine than Jenny McCarthy, or both. Don’t let them intimidate you.

British atheist bus signs draw complaints -

But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

It seems rather extraordinary that someone could charge lack of truthfulness in the fairly weak statement, ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’.” That’s misleading? Really? I rather like the response from Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Rick Warren’s Africa Problem -

Team Obama likes to cite Warren’s work on AIDS in Africa to combat criticism about the controversial pastor. But how does burning condoms in the name of Jesus save lives?

Speaking of crazy, bullshit magic spells cast on Obama by the Christian Right:

saps-taps-parodyA&E to air Paranormal Cops show – I don’t think this can any more repulsive than their show, Psychic Kids, which is essentially child abuse, but it’s just another sign of what a horrible television network A&E has become. And of course as always the cast of this show includes a “medium.” Ugh!

Did New Years Eve seem particularly long this year? - That might be (though probably not) because an extra leap second was added to the day.


African men jailed for 8 years over gay sex

January 8, 2009

lesbians-kissing2A court in Senegal sentenced an HIV activist and 8 others for “unnatural acts” - What is it with the number 8 and gays lately? First Prop 8 takes away their right to marry and now a group is sentenced to 8 years for gay sex acts.

The arrests came just weeks after Senegal hosted an international AIDS conference that included gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants.

Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation in Africa, which I think deserves an award for least heard of country.

“It is a strong message of hatred, a strong message of division when we know it is critical at this point to address HIV in these communities,” Nana said.

I guess this is just more of what we can expect from “the religion of peace.”


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