News From Around The Blogosphere 1.30.11

January 30, 2011

1. Homeopaths and chiropractors invade Tanzania – One thing that medical science has firmly determined is that homeopathy and chiropractic are not legitimate treatments for pretty much anything. And among the long list of conditions these two pseudo-sciences cannot in fact treat is AIDS. And yet practitioners of both voodoo medicines are traveling to Tanzania to bring false hope to AIDS patients.

2. Anthony Hopkins slips skepticism into ‘The Rite’ – It seems Jody Foster wasn’t the only atheist starring in The Silence of the Lambs. In a recent interview promoting the latest alleged “inspired by true events” knock-off of The Exorcist titled The Rite, Hopkins revealed that as an atheist, he didn’t feel completely comfortable playing a character he couldn’t personally identify with and so managed to write some dialogue for his character that encourages skeptical thinking. Here’s how Hopkins explains his additions:

There’s a scene in the courtyard after the first exorcism, and I’m talking to the young priest [played by] Colin O’Donoghue, who in his character has grave doubts about [exorcisms]. He thinks it’s all a bag of tricks, he thinks it’s all mumbo jumbo and maybe there’s no such thing, which is the debate: Is there such a thing as anthropomorphic presence of the devil or is it mental disturbance? That’s the debate, I guess, in the film and probably in the world.

And after that I say to him the problem with skeptics and atheists, is that we never know the truth. We’re always trying to find the truth. What would we do if we found it? And I asked [director Mikael Håfström] if I could write that line. To describe myself as an atheist, as a skeptic which makes the young priest turn [and say], “You?”, and I go, “Oh yeah, every day I struggle. Most days. Some days I don’t know if I believe in God or Santa Clause or Tinkerbell.”

3. NBA players sued over Power Balance endorsements – Power Balance bracelets have been debunked as a fraud and recently even the company making them was forced to admit the scientific claims they make are unproven. But what’s interesting is that now two NBA players, Boston’s Shaquille O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Lamar Odom, who endorsed the bracelets have been brought into a class action suit against Power Balance. I for one think this sets a wonderful legal precedent as for too long, athletes have been allowed to use their influence to profit off of any endorsement deal they sign without any accountability or fear of negative consequences. Of course, if they endorsed a brand of cigarette or any product that was known to directly cause serious health problems , they probably would get a lot of heat for it, but not for something like Power Balance that doesn’t cause any direct physical harm but simply doesn’t really perform the service it promises. Now maybe athletes will think twice before accepting just any endorsement that comes their way.

4. Help me Kinect. You’re my only hope. – Scientists are working on holographic technology similar to what we’ve seen in Star Wars and have even put together a short demonstration of the technology featuring a reenactment of the famous Princess Leia holographic message to Obi Wan Kenobi. You can see that demonstration in the link above.

5. Artificial retinas see well enough to balance a pencil – This will no doubt play a critical role in the evil plots of Skynet/the Cylons/the Replicants/Agent Smith’s.

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Rep. Jack Kingston campaigning for dumbing man on Earth

January 29, 2011

There’s so much stupid in this clip, it makes my head hurt.

Eating meat is not equivalent to Nazism

January 27, 2011

Okay, a little back story first. Once again, I got into a debate with a close friend on Facebook. Actually, this time I jumped in rather late. But one of my good friends is a vegan who I happen to think has swallowed a little too much of the PETA Kool-Aid.

So he posted the following status on his Facebook account:

Today while driving I saw one of the thousands of Nazi death trucks that they transport cows in. This time it was empty; though, I have seen one full. And I can’t fully express how sad and angry it makes me. To be feet away from them while they are driven to be tortured and killed. I just don’t understand why this is worth it so people can eat meat.

Now here’s the thing. I can sympathize with his anger. He has a particular view of the world and it bothers him to see such things that offend his sensibilities. I get it. It pisses me off every time I see the Pope not rotting in jail after covering up so many child rapes, and being very confident that he will almost certainly never be punished for his crimes because he’s too influential.

But while he actually was a literal Nazi…in a manner of speaking anyway. And while his organization has a somewhat dubious history of anti-Semitism and being on at least friendly terms with Hitler’s government, I recognize moral nuance. Sure, I make jokes from time to time, but when having a genuine intellectual discussions, I don’t throw the Nazi card out very often.

But here my friend is calling vehicles transporting livestock “Nazi death trucks,” and from the comments of others, he seems quite sincere and confident that this is an appropriate analogy.

I disagree. Before I got to respond, Staks from Dangerous Talk had a fairly lengthy back and forth, criticizing him for “Glenn Becking” everyone who disagrees him, a term I rather like and think is appropriate in this instance. Staks’ focused on the hyperbolic and aggressive rhetoric as his chief criticism, so I didn’t devote much time to it myself since I think he more than sufficiently argued that point.

Now the following paragraphs are my lengthy response, which focused more on my opposition to the moral argument for vegetarian/veganism. I thought it was pretty substantive, so I figured it’d make a good editorial article.

So without further ado:

I have to concur with Staks. Now your rebuttal to criticisms of your playing the Nazi card seems to be simply that in your case it’s apt, but as Jon Stewart so eloquently argued tonight in his criticisms of Fox’s use of the Nazi card, everyone always thinks their Nazi comparson is appropriate. And sure, on rare occasions like when you happen to be slaughtering Jews, it is apt. But in this case, it is a false analogy drawing on superficial similarities that rejects all nuance and attempts at reasonable discourse in favor of hyperbolic rhetoric designed to get attention.

The Nazis didn’t rely on torturing and killing Jews for their very survival. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be so popular in analogies designed to dehumanize people’s political or ideological opponents because most people understand the survival drive. Indeed, as JFK once said, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

But don’t confuse this for the naturalistic fallacy. For the first 500,000 years of human civilization, using meat and animal products was absolutely essential to our survival as a species. Had your ancestors chosen to live by your moral standards, none of us would be here now. And in most of the world, these resources are still absolutely essential to human survival. And up until maybe a 100 years ago, the decision to live a vegan lifestyle in a first-world country would be almost indistinguishable from the decision to commit suicide. The only reason we see a thriving vegan movement in first-world nations today is because science has finally devised methods for making it possible for people living in wealthy, privileged nations to live full, healthy lives with a diminished reliance on animal products.

So while I have no problem with someone choosing to live this lifestyle, I for one am not very impressed by the moral argument when the lifestyle depends on one being privileged enough to live in a specific time and place in history when and where it  happens to be convenient. I can’t respect such a bourgeois moral system.

And while you can choose to ignore the complex economics involved in making sure all the forces involved in getting sufficient vegan alternatives to an American retailer near you after being manufactured thousands of miles away, these are important, practical matters for most people. For instance, some family living in dilapidated conditions in some random third-world country doesn’t have a Whole Foods to shop at, or even an efficient trucking industry shipping huge quantities of tofurkies or whatever to a nearby grocer where it can then be sold at an affordable price. All I’m saying is the life you know, all this infrastructure you take from granted is absolutely essential to living according to your moral standard. Additionally, if everyone in America decided to suddenly become vegan tomorrow, that very infrastructure you rely on to get your vegan products would crumble because right now, our economy depends on the meat industry and they are too big to fail…right now.

Then there’s the problem of anthropomorphizing the animals. Not all animals have the same capacity to suffer as human beings. And as far as we can measure, few of them are particularly self-aware. This too is problematic for the Nazi comparison..unless the argument is that Jews are not sapient, which is problematic for different reasons.
Now as it so happens, my vegetarian friend Michael De Dora just wrote an interesting article addressing this point in more depth. To quote one excerpt:

“Many vegetarians (and vegan, but let’s stick with one position) argue that we should not use animals as a means to some end, but as inherently important, worthy of certain rights and protections. This is a morsel from Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy. Kant argued that every human being is deserving of respect (i.e., moral concern) because of its cognitive faculties – its autonomy, ability to reason, make free choices, and plan for the future. Vegetarians would have us expand this to non-human animals. But there is no reason to suppose that animals have such capacities, and I see little reason – judging from scientific evidence and philosophical thinking – to give them the benefit of the doubt.

“Here, then, is where we reach an interesting juncture: if there are no compelling ethical reasons to not kill animals for food, then vegetarianism risks degenerating from a moral stance to the level of preference.”

So then it comes back to, can we at least work towards treating farm animals less cruelly while we gradually move our society towards the seemingly inevitable, where we can more or less perfectly simulate meat and animal products and where it is both more efficient and cheaper to do so than to continue to raise livestock. Then you won’t be able to talk the meat industry out of switching to fake meat (Hell, Taco Bell has been using fake meat for years to save money). At which point, these domesticated animals will probably die off quickly as the damage is already done and these animals are not suited to the wild…but hey, at least they won’t become happy meals. Now I’m all for fighting for less cruel methods until we can successfully switch to completely to alternatives as it seems to be reasonable and an actual achievable goal, whereas “the meat-eaters are Nazis” gambit is entirely unpersuasive to anyone and will accomplish nothing to benefit the animals. It’s just a losing strategy.

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Have you no sense of decency, Ginger Taylor, at long last?

January 26, 2011

I have to wonder at this point if the anti-vaccine community ever gets sick of using the same McCarthyist tactics over and over again. I’ve been debating them for years now and I don’t think there has been a single occasion where they didn’t either  accuse me of being paid off by the pharmaceutical companies without any justification or accused other critics of theirs of being paid by pharma. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. This accusation has been made on every single occasion. That alone should speak volumes about the intellectual honesty of their movement.

Now another drone from Age of Autism, Ginger Taylor, has written a piece where she explains how incredibly reasonable she and her cohorts have been to their critics…despite their critics being corrupt monsters who willing sacrifice the safety of children for their own profit.

That’s her version anyway:

I published an extensive piece detailing the problems I saw in the Skeptic movement (which I really now see as just the Contrarian movement, as they don’t seem to be skeptical of some assertions that someone from Missouri would demand proof of, but merely oppose anything our community says no matter how reasonable) and in “science writers” who act as mere functionaries of Pharma and their friends/sometime employees in public health. It was entitled:

Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Lori Kozlowski, Rosie Mestel, Thomas Maugh, David Gorski, Virginia Hughes, Science Journalists, The Dying of the LA Times and an Angry Autism Mom*

It details my earnest attempts to get through to these skeptics/science journalists, and an effort to point out that they are shooting themselves in the foot with their actions, and that our children are collateral damage in their efforts.  Long story short… they are some pretty myopic people and not open to self-evaluation, so their tactics continue to loose them the vaccine/autism wars.

See,  she made earnest attempts to get through to these maniacs who have the repugnance to disagree with her, despite their evil and willful corruption. Of course she, like her cohorts and her predecessor Senator McCarthy, failed to present evidence of foul play by her critics at all.

The critics she mentions share the same position as every reputable health organization on Earth and their criticisms are quite substantive. But since Ms. Taylor doesn’t actually understand enough of the science to challenge their scientific criticisms, it’s much easier to just write off every criticism as mere contrarianism…a claim that she also doesn’t seem interested in backing up with evidence.

She does give one example of alleged conflict of interest though:

(*After I posted the piece, Dr. David “Orac” Gorski sent me a flattering email saying he had actually always respected me and asked me to remove the piece. When I declined, he let the insults fly again. So… not the most honest and straightforward guy.

A few months later, we learned that Gorski has spent the last several years developing a drug for vaccine maker Sanofi, which he had some how forgotten to mention in his hundreds of posts about these issues, so I do feel a bit the sucker for approaching him as if he was actually a somewhat disinterested party in this debate. Had I known I would not have wasted so many hours trying to have a real discussion with him, but live and learn I guess.)

I guess we’re just going to have to take her word about that first incident as she doesn’t seem to link to any evidence that it took place. I don’t know what happened and I certainly don’t see how that in any way refutes the conclusions currently held by every reputable health organization on Earth. And then just just repeats the “hungry lie” (to steal Handley’s stupid phrase) of Jake Crosby, citing his piece in the same blog she writes for. This is like if one of my fellow Gotham Skeptics wrote a piece accusing Ginger Taylor of being a drug dealer, a claim made by no other person, and then I wrote a piece in the Gotham Skeptic where I repeated the claim and cited by fellow Gotham Skeptic blogger’s unsubstantiated rumor as my source.

Of course, Gorski has already told his side of the story and called young Jake out on his libelous bullshit. But his refutation of the accusation wasn’t convenient to Honest Ginger Taylor here so she didn’t find it necessary to even mention it. Cause she’s such a fair and honest journalist. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Crosby and the rest of the anti-vaccine movement deliberate choose to not distinguish tenuous relationships with industry from real conflicts of interest. They also choose not to pay attention to regulatory compliance policies and how those policies discourage unhealthy relationships by making making it very costly to all parties involved while providing huge incentives to whistle blowers, as I discussed when addressing Jake Crosby’s hilarious accusation that John Stossel had a conflict of interest because he wasn’t an only child.

But back to Ginger:

…so I do feel a bit the sucker for approaching him as if he was actually a somewhat disinterested party in this debate.

No, anyone who thinks Ginger Taylor genuinely approached David Gorski or any critic of her warped ideology without actively searching for ammunition to launch a character attack as a cheap attempt to justify dismissing their position out of hand would be the sucker.

As Gorski began his rebuttal to Jake Crosby’s libelous blog entry:

One of the very favorite and most commonly used tactics to attack criticism in the armamentarium of pseudoscientists, cranks, and quacks (not to mention politicians) is the ad hominem fallacy. In this fallacy, rather than addressing the actual evidence and science that demonstrate their favorite brand of woo to be nothing more than fairy dust, the idea is to preemptively attack and discredit the person.

And indeed, Ginger Taylor has said not one thing in her entire polemic to even address the actual evidence and science. She doesn’t understand it and she’s praying you don’t ask her about it. Instead, she’d rather fling feces at her critics, crying that they’re all out to get her while pretending she’s fair, impartial, and genuinely open to engaging in civil discourse with her critics. Bullshit!

She says it all right here:

I hope you will take the time to read it, especially if you are someone who believes the media on this issue and  super especially if you are Matt Lauer, Anderson Coooper, George Stephanopolous or any other major news personality who has been handed a press release labeled “News” that was likely drafted in a Pharma conference room and told to get really angry at some guy named Andrew Wakefield.

That’s right. They’re ALL out to get her. Everyone in the position to disagree with her is in on the big conspiracy. I have not had one interaction with any members of the anti-vaccine movement that didn’t involve them accusing critics of being big pharma shills. Not one. And clearly Ginger Taylor has not broken that pattern.

There isn’t enough money in the entire world to pay off all the people Ginger believes are being paid off by Big Pharma to make people think vaccines are safe, let alone enough money for pharmaceutical companies to pay all those people off AND still actually produce the vaccines. Who made up this plan, Dr. Evil? This would have to be the most incompetent evil plot ever. How would pharmaceutical companies even hope to profit off the vaccines if they’re throwing so much money away just to convince people get the vaccines? And even if they could manage to at the end of the day make some profit, wouldn’t there have to be a much easier way to make a profit? Like couldn’t they must sell products that work and are safe that don’t require spending quadrillions of dollars sweeping public relations disasters under the rug?

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J.B. Handley is a libelous douchebag

January 26, 2011

Lord of the Douchebags

The question regarding the vaccine-autism hypothesis has been asked and answered; vaccines don’t cause autism.

I start my post by reiterating this fact not because it bares repeating (because again, it’s a fact), but because that walking advertisement for abortion named J.B. Handley insists that that sentence drives him nuts (funny because it implies he isn’t already nuts, but I probably shouldn’t say that as it might hurt a future libel case against him). And people as despicable as J.B. Handley ought to be unhappy as often as possible.

Well, Handley has just posted another piece of propagandist garbage over at the official home of propagandist garbage, Age of Autism. He begins by announcing that he’s going to teach his readers a little “Science 101”, ironic as he’s not a professional scientist, is by all measurable standards scientifically illiterate, and because every single reputable health organization on Earth completely disagrees with his now utterly discredited scientific beliefs, based largely on research that has proven both erroneous and fraudulent.

Handley’s attempt to get around this fact is to make an argument from authority, cherry-picking the small number of fringe individuals who agree with him, who happen to have the title of “doctor”, and who don’t have any professional background in a related field or relevant research published in a reputable journal. For instance, in this article, he cites Bernadine Healey, a cardiologist. Last I checked, neither vaccines nor autism were related to matters of the heart. But of course anti-vaxxers will point out that she was the former head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Of course she also has a history of going against the scientific process and being wrong. She’s demonstrated a willingness to put politics ahead of her scientific credibility.  After being appointed head of the NIH, scientists started leaving in record numbers because of the politicization of scientific agendas such as the ban on fetal-tissue research because the Republican administration believed it encouraged abortion. She even lobbied against overturning the Bush Administration’s ban on fetal tissue research, despite her previous support of it. There were charges of her mishandling a scientific misconduct case. And of course she was also a member of The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC):

The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC), formerly the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, is an industry-funded lobby group which promotes the idea that environmental science on issues including smoking, pesticides and global warming is “junk science”, which should be replaced by “sound science”.

Initially, the primary focus of TASSC was an attempt to discredit research on Environmental Tobacco Smoke [passive smoking] as a long-term cause of increased cancer and heart problem rates in the community—especially among office workers and children living with smoking parents. It subsequently advanced industry-friendly positions on a wide range of topics, including global warming, smoking, phthalates, and pesticides. Later still, they extended the role of TASSC to Europe using Dr George Carlo. TASSC used the label of ‘junk science’ to criticise work that was unfavorable to the interests of its backers.

So it’s quite ironic then that the anti-vaccine movement so frequently accuses their scientific critics of being like the scientists who were infamously in the employ of Big Tobacco in order to promote the tobacco industry’s propaganda while they happily cite the claims of so-called doctors who were in fact lobbyists paid to deny the environmental impact…of smoking!

Just let that one sink in for a minute.

This is the great doctor who J.B. Handley has decided knows better about vaccines and autism than every reputable health organization on Earth, a doctor who lobbied for the tobacco industry. And though I shouldn’t even have to point this out, what medical education does Handley have that equips him with the skills necessary to distinguish good science from bad? The answer of course is none. He’s got no greater expertise to make that call than I do. But whereas I recognize how the scientific process is designed to weed out false conclusions and I am humble enough to stand behind the conclusions of people with decades of professional experience who have earned great reputations for their work, Handley arrogantly believes he knows better than everyone and simply endorses anybody who happens to reinforce his bias…even if they were once paid by the tobacco industry to deny the environmental dangers of tobacco.

Moving on.

Next, Handley straight out libels Alison Singer of the Autism Science Foundation (ASF) and Dr. Paul Offit, singling them out as “liars” who feed “the hungry lie” as he calls it. Funny how at no point does he reference the fact that every reputable health organization on Earth holds the exact same position as them and so he is implicitly calling them all liars. He calls the ASF, “Alison Singer’s basement-dwelling autism organization” as he always does as if this is claim alone somehow discredits the facts she presents. It doesn’t. It’s just a classic J.B. Handley attempt to poison the well. He also claims Alison Singer was “fired” from Autism Speaks though I can find no record of anyone affiliated with Autism Speaks verifying that claim. And since only Singer’s ideological critics over at Age of Autism seem to be making such a claim, I’m inclined to write it off Handley and Age of Autism’s “hungry lie” that purely comes from their constantly operating propaganda spin machine. But if I’m wrong and this claim can be traced back to a legitimate source, someone please give me the source and I’ll happily make a correction.

Then he finally gets into his Science 101 portion. So he gives an example:

If you are trying to figure out if smoking hurts, helps, or kills people, you need a group of people who didn’t smoke

Or you just ask your friend, Ms. Healey who will probably tell you smoking doesn’t hurt people at all.

He continues:

And, here’s my first giant point:Without a real control group, the conclusions of a study on the potential harm of a drug are 100% useless.

Can we all just agree on that? If you have a study, and everyone either gets a whole pill or a half a pill, do you have a control group to compare the outcome to? Of course you don’t.

Yes, studies generally require a control group of some form but I can tell already that he’s about to use control group and double-blind synonymously as there are no shortage of studies with control groups that disprove Handley’s beliefs while there aren’t any double-blind studies, usually the gold standard, for good reason.

Question #1: Can vaccines harm some people?

You know the answer is “yes” and I’m sure some of you will want to qualify this answer by saying, “but it’s a really small number of people.” Whatever.

Wow, he HAS been listening after all! It’s miracle that it only took the guy ten years to recognize that medical science isn’t black and white. Of course you got to love that extremely articulate dismissal of the importance of this fact:  “Whatever.” What you and I would consider to be a rather important detail that makes the difference between one person in a million being seriously harmed and many orders of magnitude more than that Handley feels he can flippantly brush off as no big deal.

Question #2: If one vaccine can harm some people, do you think six vaccines given at the same time will do more or less harm?

Error. Not enough data. It’s not the number of vaccines that would make the difference but the amount of antigens and other ingredients in those vaccines. And we happen to know for the fact that the amount of antigens in the vaccines is much less now than it used to be. The immunologic load has dropped from 3000 components in the 7 vaccines used in 1980 to less than 200 in the 14 vaccines recommended today. I know, J.B.. I know. “Whatever.” Who needs actual details when you can flippantly brush aside any inconvenient facts.

OK, fine, I stacked the decks a bit on #2, but this is a point lost on many.

Yeah, it’s lost on people who actually care about the truth and child safety more than ill-conceived ideologies.

It’s exceptionally likely that if one vaccine can cause some harm, six vaccines will cause more harm to more people, the question is if that harm is exponentially or geometrically greater, and it’s perhaps the most important question of all.

No, weren’t you paying attention. The question is what is the immunologic load in the vaccines. That’s the most relevant and important question here. The first rule of toxicology is that dosage makes the poison. How many times do we have to explain this to you?

Question #3: Do we know the health outcome of children who receive the US vaccine schedule compared to a group of children who don’t? Said differently, do we have unvaccinated controls anywhere?

Um, actually that’s two questions. Can’t you even count?! But as J.B. would say with the maturity of the characters in Clueless, “whatever.” To answer the first question 3, yes, we do. And to answer the second question 3, yes, we do. From Steven B. Harris, MD:  in Japan—300,000 people simply stopped vaccinating with MMR until by 1993 they’d stopped vaccinating entirely. Not only did the rate of autism in the completely unvaccinated children fail to decline but it actually went up. Further, we compared vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in Denmark and found no distinction in autism rates. We also know autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls despite both receiving the same vaccines on the same schedule. If one identical twin has autism, the other twin has an 90% chance of also being autistic, regardless of vaccination. Fraternal twins or siblings of individuals with autism have a 50% chance of also being autistic, regardless of vaccination. New Jersey has the sixth lowest vaccination in the U.S. but is number one in autism. And ever since we dropped thimerosal from most child vaccines, autism rates have seemed to increase. By every reasonable standard we can think of, we can find no relationship between vaccines and autism. If anything, our studies show vaccines may decrease the autism rate.

Of course, we AoA readers all know the answer here: a blazing NO, which makes those who repeat the hungry lie, like Alison Singer and Paul Offit, blazing liars.

Ha! That’s because Age of Autism readers are being systematically lied to by folks like J.B. here. That’s like basing your ideas of reality on what Fox News viewers think. And the “hungry lie” to borrow Handley’s silly phrase, is that the kind of studies he and his ilk demand are unsafe and unreasonable as they’d literally endanger the lives of thousands of children.

“Feigned exasperation” is the latest strategy from those feeding the hungry lie…

And earlier in his article:

This lie, it really drives me nuts. More, and I can say this and mean it, anyone who repeats this lie is immediately my enemy.

Oh, the irony!

– None of the studies compare anything but vaccinated children to other vaccinated children

False. I refer you again to those 300,000 unvaccinated Japanese and the Danish study as the two most famous examples. You know the Danish study, J.B. That’s the one you dismiss out of hand because one of its minor contributors happened to commit a crime that that is completely unrelated to the study itself. And they say McCarthyism is dead! And again, I refer you to this article by Leart Shaka that directly addresses your pathetic argument as well as your very next argument:

Of the 36 vaccines US children receive, only 2 of those shots (the MMR given twice) have ever been compared for their relationship to autism, and then only with otherwise vaccinated children.

First it was the MMR. So we studied it and found no link. So then you moved on to the thimerosal and we found no link there either. So then you just made up another vaccine-related hypothesis, and another, and another. The one thing that is consistent here is that it’s always about the vaccines even though no credible evidence suggests they have anything to do with autism.This is just a constant game of move the goalpost. We can never exhaust every possible combination of vaccines and vaccine schedules to satisfy the anti-vaccine movement. It’s just perpetual wack-a-mole when our resources would be better spent exploring real leads.

To quote Shaka in the article I just linked to:

This sort of tactic is similar to going up to a detective investigating a murder case and saying “I think you should conduct a search of that vehicle there” and if he agrees and nothing is found, you go back to him and say “OK, but did you search….that vehicle over there” and so on and so on, pointing to vehicles just because you think there may be something there. How seriously do you think you’d be taken by the detective?

But back to Captain Crankypants:

It’s absurd, really, how little work has actually been done, despite the feigned exasperation that’s oft-repeated.

Actually, autism research is arguably the health issue being studied the most right now. Handley, I should point out, isn’t doing any of that research. He’s just sitting on the sidelines complaining that it isn’t moving fast enough for him. Well sorry J.B. but science is a lot of hard work. It isn’t like dusting crops. It’s a trial and error process where scientists are mostly flying blind. We’ve been researching cancer a lot longer than autism and we still haven’t unlocked all the mysteries behind what causes all cancers.

But, really, please, do not take my word for it.

No really, don’t take his word for it. That’s the only thing Handley has said so far that I completely 100% agree with.

I’m going to now waste my time, and plenty of yours…

But that’s what you’ve been doing all along, wasting other people’s time.

nd go through every single study, in the order presented, that sits on the Autism Science Foundation’s site, and let you be the judge. Please, if you are a doctor or a scientist, please comment, feel free to argue and prove me wrong. Please, I mean it.

No, he doesn’t. What he means is that he’s going to editorialize as he pretends to objectively go through the studies that disprove his ideology and that every reputable health organization on Earth finds persuasive, and then he’ll demand that you reach the conclusions he’s attempting to impose on you while offering empty platitudes about not wanting you to just take his word for it, but if you then do disagree with him, he’ll do what he does with all his critics, accuse you of being a pharma shill, a liar, a baby-eating cannibal, and/or a whore who delivers oral sex to Dr. Paul Offit –all of these accusations have in fact been made or at least implicitly endorsed by Handley himself against various critics in the recent past.

Much as it pains me, I’m going to comment on each of the 20 studies

Actually, despite his claim that he’s going to waste his time (and apparently thinks educating others with his version of reality is wasting your–another thing I agree with though it’s odd for him to suggest that educating the public, what he claims to be doing, would be a waste of their time)–despite his claim that he’s going to waste his time commenting on every study, he’s really just recycling the already debunked pseudo-refutations he’s had up for years at his fourteenstudies website, a website so old that it was named fourteen when now the studies directly refuting the anti-vaccine claims is twenty.

Now if Handley isn’t really going to waste any of his time copy and pasting his old, debunked pseudo-refutations, I’m not going to waste my time refuting them when various science bloggers have already done so for most of those studies here, here, here, here, and here. And you can find responses to JB Handley’s response to one of those refutations here and here. But again, one thing Handley suggests that I agree with is don’t take his word for it. If you find any of his claims really compelling, contact Handley’s critics among the scientific community and ask them for a rebuttal to his claims. I’m sure Paul Offit would be happy to take a few minutes of his time educating an inquiring mind. And Steven Novella and David Gorski would definitely not mind taking the time to answer the criticisms. Someone makes a claim? Check the response from the other side. Then go back to the first party and get the rebuttal to that. Then go back to second party and get a rebuttal to that. Back and forth. That’s REAL research. Don’t take people on one side of an alleged controversy at their word.

Of course, Handley don’t really expect you to read everything he wrote critically. He apparently thinks no more highly of the intellect of his readers as I do:

I’d like to thank the AoA readers who made it this far, all three of you.

So yeah, he’s just drowning his mostly scientifically illiterate readers in what superficially seems like in depth scientific criticism but doesn’t actually either expect them to understand any of it or expert them to show the commitment to even read it all. But hey, it’s long and he says he’s debunking all these twenty studies that every reputable health organization on Earth finds compelling…so that’s good enough, right.

Oh, and then he lists his key points from the article, saying these points are things his readers “know for sure.” What happened to, “don’t take my word for it”?

Then he invites his critics to respond:

Haters, feel free to chime in.

…which is hilarious because Age of Autism is notorious for censoring all comments critical to their claims. And in fact, not a single critical comment can be found in that article, which is rather extraordinary when you consider the fact that every article addressing this issue on independent sites have no shortage of debating on both sides.

But what can you expect from a guy who posts as his actual scientific credentials:

J.B. Handley is the father of a child with autism, the co-founder of Generation Rescue, and a contributing writer for AoA.

Even I have a better bio line on my Examiner page.

So despite the dishonest  invite,  since I can’t comment on Handley’s piece on his page, I’d appreciate if someone could pass a message along for me. You tell that slimy piece of worm-ridden filth to go fuck himself!

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.23.11

January 23, 2011
Polio vaccination started 1957 in Sweden. The ...
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1. Flu deaths in UK rise dramatically – Anti-vaxxers love to mock health concerns about flu, which they seem to think is no more dangerous than an hang nail. But I’d love to hear them tell the families of the 254 UK flu victims this flu season alone. The number came after the number of UK flu deaths more than doubled in just a one-week period. 195 of those deaths were confirmed to have been from the H1N1 strain and seven of the deaths were of children under the age of five.

We have incomplete information on vaccination status, but based on what is known so far, among 71 cases in which vaccination status was known, 83 percent had not received a flu shot this season.

Thanks Jenny McCarthy.

2. Should anti-vaxxers pay higher premiums? – I thought this was a particularly good idea from one physician. While it certainly won’t change the minds of the hardcore anti-vax fanatics who will likely just view it as part of the evil conspiracy, I do suspect that some people would be more inclined to get the vaccines to avoid paying more insurance premiums:

Refusing to vaccinate a child is dangerous not just for that child but for entire communities. It’s precisely this point a colleague of mine was considering when he had the idea that parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids should pay substantially higher health insurance premiums.

It makes sense. Insurance, after all, is just a pool of money into which we all pay. In determining how much we or our employers pay, risk is taken into account.

The perfect analogy is smoking. If you smoke — and want to turn your lungs black and spend a greater portion of that pot of money on your possible chronic lung disease or any cancers you’ll get — then you may have to pay more.

Why shouldn’t we impose the same logic on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children?

3. Georgia homeless shelter refuses service to gays – The horribly misnamed “House of Mercy” actually states flat-out that they will not provide services to gays because it goes against what the Bible says.

… Elder Bobby Harris, who directs House of Mercy… says that his organization simply cannot tolerate homosexuality in any capacity.

“That act is not tolerated here at all. Let me tell you one reason why: because of the bible, of course. And then we have little children,” Harris says. He then added that if a gay person wants to change their sexual orientation and turn their life over to religion, he would consider serving them.

… Harris told the local press that he would welcome “non-practicing gay people,” but even if the residents were to engage in sexual behavior on their own time off the premises, they would be rejected.

No word on whether they also deny service to the divorced, shellfish-eaters, those who work on Saturdays, or those who refuse to stone their own disobedient children  to death. This is why you don’t rely on religious organizations for charity work. They often tend to care more about Jesus than about actually providing the services they promise. This is just disgraceful.

4. Westboro Baptist Church to picket Kevin Smith’s latest film – According to Silent Bob himself, the WBC is coming to Sundance:

Those movie-crazy cine-nerds at the Westboro Baptist Church are coming to the Sundance Film Festival to protest Red State… presumably for being gay…

I wonder if they realize this will give the film much more attention and will dramatically increase people’s interest in seeing it.

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Interviewed by the Michigan Skeptics

January 22, 2011

Me with James Randi

A few days ago I was contacted by Chris Lindsay of the Michigan Skeptics Association. He writes for their blog and does a blog series called “A Chat With…”, where he interviews skeptical bloggers, podcasters, etc. He asked if I was interested in doing an online interview, and attention whore that I am, I happily accepted.

That interview is now on the site and can be read here.

I’d like to thank Chris again for the opportunity. I’d also like to encourage anyone in the Michigan area to to check out the Michigan Skeptics Association and encourage everyone to check out their blog.

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