News From Around The Blogosphere 10.27.11

October 27, 2011

1. Skeptical zombies ignored by James Van Praagh – In possibly the best PR stunt the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has ever come up with, their president, DJ Grothe led an army of zombies on a mission to get self-proclaimed “psychic” James Van Praagh to finally take the JREF’s Million Dollar Psychic Challenge. Not surprisingly, Praagh’s goons kept the zombies from meeting with him but of course that doesn’t matter as this story is getting a lot of press.

2. Church’s bogus AIDS cure causes 3 deaths – Though this is an isolated incident, this is precisely the kind of tragedy that can be expected in a culture that demands unquestioned belief and condemns skepticism.

3. 60 Minutes pisses off anti-vaxxers – As part of their Steve Jobs-centered episode this week, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the remarkable benefits that iPads and other tablet devices have demonstrated for people with autism. And somehow by simply highlighting an important, practical tool in helping autistic people communicate, they’ve pissed off Age of Autism. And bravo to Age of Autism’s commenters for declaring war on Temple Grandin of all people. That takes serious balls. Maybe their next target will be blind nuns, adorable puppies, and AIDS-infected orphans. I’m just shocked Age of Autism didn’t rant about the fact that Pfizer is a major sponsor of the show.

4. ‘Sybil’ admits she never really had multiple personalities – The most famous alleged case of multiple personality syndrome, or what’s now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder was based on lies and manipulations.

5. Atheists doing volunteer work – This is something I want to see more of in atheist groups. This is one of the ways we’ll change people’s negative stereotypes about atheists.

 

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Republican Strategist Noelle Nikpour has some interesting ideas about science

October 27, 2011

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Republican Strategist Noelle Nikpour has some i…, posted with vodpod
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Rethinking autism

October 27, 2011

Dana Commandatore is trying to change the conversation when it comes to autism. Like me, she was largely motivated to activism because of Jenny McCarthy. Below is an awesome talk she gave about the past, present and future of her site Rethinking Autism at the 2011 Autcom Convention.

Also, one cool thing I noticed was that one of her videos she shows during the talk includes actor Armie Hammer, who was phenomenal in last year’s The Social Network. So I’m happy to see him doing his part to help fight pseudoscience.


Do we suspect Age of Autism doesn’t care for Dr. Paul Offit?

October 27, 2011
September 12, 2009-66-NECSS

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Dr. Paul Offit has just been appointed to the Institute of Medicine. It’s a great honor and a validation of all his work both as a medical researcher and communicator over the last several years.

And seemingly in honor of this announcement, that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as “Age of Autism” has reposted a bunch of their old screeds against Offit himself that spend little time addressing the actual science and no time pointing out that Offit is not saying anything remotely out of sync with the rest of the international medical community.

For instance, here’s an old piece from January from J.B. “fuck facts” Handley that includes a note saying it’s being reposted because of the Offit announcement.

Handley’s begins with on a very subtle and ambiguous note:

OK, let me be clear: I think Paul Offit is a blowhard liar, a vaccine profiteer and apologist, and every time he opens his mouth he disrespects my son. When the final chapter is finally written on this man-made autism epidemic, I will do everything within my power to ensure that Offit is remembered by history as one of the most sinister, dishonest, well-funded talking heads pharma ever produced, and that his efforts served to afflict so many children with autism who may otherwise have avoided it.

I feel like Handley here is falling into the classic journalist trap of being too objective and balanced, leaving me with no idea what I’m supposed to think of Offit. Okay, enough irony. Right out of the gate, Handley has played his entire hand. He has a deep-seeded hatred for Paul Offit and has no interest whatsoever in any facts that would change his mind. He makes bold accusations against Offit he has no interest in substantiating (and indeed, he never does in this article). Handley calls him a liar but never proves or even comes remotely close to proving Offit has lied about anything (let alone the rest of the international medical community who share Offit’s stance). Handley calls Offit a “vaccine profiteer” because as one of several inventors of a vital, life-saving vaccine, Offit was paid for his work (as he explains himself here. It’s also discussed here)…not unlike anyone else who receives payment for performing a job. Handley calls Offit an apologist because Offit shares the exact same position as every single reputable health organization on Earth and says so publicly. Handley asserts that autism is “man-made” even though there is no legitimate evidence that anyone has ever presented to demonstrate this is true. And finally, Handley declares his intentions to destroy utterly Offit’s reputation and brand him a villain for all time despite the indisputable fact that Offit has easily saved thousands of lives. Of course, I don’t know him personally so for all I know, Paul Offit could be a wife-beating rapist who runs with scissors and steals candy from babies. But if Offit does have any dark secrets, they’d have to be pretty huge to outweigh the enormous good we know for a fact that he’s done.

So Handley has singled Offit out as one of the great villains of history…even though, again, he’s not saying anything different from every reputable health organization on planet Earth. So does that mean that every one of the millions of health officials who agree with Offit are also being paid off by pharma? Just how much money does pharma have? And just how much money is in their bribing experts fund? And after bribing every doctor on Earth, how much money would pharma have to then make in order to break even on this investment, let alone actually profit? Wouldn’t a better business model be to just sell a product that is both safe and effective? Then they wouldn’t have to waste time, money, and energy bribing anyone.  Nah! Too complicated. Must bribe everyone.

There’s not much more to Handley’s “article” beyond the content of that first paragraph. Like a stupid monkey, he just throws feces in random directions hoping something will hit Offit and stick. For instance:

…Offit, a doctor who has never seen a patient with autism, never treated autism, and never published a study about autism, is somehow considered to be an expert on autism.

These are all such stale and silly arguments, especially given that Handley doesn’t have a millionth of the medical training and experience Offit has…or, you know, any at all. And Offit doesn’t treat patients because he’s a medical researcher. That’s like condemning a police officer because he doesn’t pick up your garbage in the morning. It’s simply not his fuckin’ job. Moreover, Offit is not considered an expert in autism and he doesn’t even present himself as a vaccine expert (review of his qualifications here). But his resume clearly includes lots of published research on rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety, which seems quite relevant to the conversation Handley seems to want to have about vaccine safety. Still, Offit doesn’t profess to be an expert in autism or vaccines in general. Handley, on the other hand, claims expertise in BOTH, despite no formal education on either, nor any experience.

Handley then goes onto accuse Offit of being a multi-millionaire as if that is some sort of indictment of his character. And this of course comes after years of Handley and his fellow members of the “I hate Paul Offit” club greatly inflating Offit’s earnings from his Rototeq patent by several hundred percent. Further, one gets the impression from Handley that Offit lives in a mansion, is driven around by in a limo, wears a monocle and top hat, and wipes his ass with hundred dollar bills while Offit’s actual lifestyle is rather unremarkable. He lives in an ordinary, reasonably-sized house and drives his own affordable car to his regular, daily job. Additionally, it’s not as though Offit’s wealth came from inheritance or any sorted means; it came from hard work and dedication to co-creating a product that has actually saved many lives. Handley’s claims that Offit’s career was “supported by Merck” (whatever that means) is bogus and has been publicly debunked ages ago.

The piece doesn’t make a single statement about the science; it’s literally just a long hit piece against a man who is simply the most public face of a position held by every reputable health organization on the planet that attempts to dodge that fact to give the false impression that criticism of Handley’s idiotic beliefs begin and end with Offit and the evil pharmaceutical companies. Nonsense. If Handley wants to be taken seriously, he’s got to address the science, not just fling mud at his critics. And if he is just going to mud-sling, he’s got to back up his potentially libelous (and possibly dangerous) accusations with compelling evidence.

Handley isn’t the only one at Age of Autism taking aim at Offit this week with a rerun. Young Jake “everyone who disagrees with me is a shill” Crosby reposted one of his older Offit hit pieces too. It might as well have been written by Handley though since it’s just a retread of the same silly accusations. The only discernible difference is that young Jake has more of a flair with language. For instance, he calls Offit “millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit.” See! Totally different. Now Offit’s really Mr. Burns toiling in his nuclear power plant, trying to figure out how to block out the sun. Of course, Offit doesn’t own a factory and doesn’t even still receive any money off his patented Rototeq vaccine. All he did was design a vaccine with several other researchers and they applied for a patent. That’s it! The man still has a regular job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. If that’s your idea of a “millionaire industrialist,” then your idea of what that means differs greatly from mine…and that of Merriam Webster. Offit neither owns nor is engaged in the management of an industry. He just fuckin’ patented a vaccine!

Jake also invokes Robert Kennedy’s now thoroughly debunked Simpsonwood lies (see here, here, and here), which Salon later retracted after printing many corrections. To his credit, Jake at least attempts to make scientific points…though they’re all demonstrably wrong and have been shown to be wrong on countless occasions.

But then Jake goes and does the silliest of things. He actually attempts to cite a long list of reputable health organizations that completely disagree with him 100% for support:

These concerns about vaccines causing autism and similar conditions – which do not necessarily point to thimerosal or the MMR specifically as the prime culprits – are clearly serious concerns of leaders in the CDC, FDA, NIH, IOM, AAP, WHO and the vaccine industry. But to Paul Offit, “this is classic for pseudoscience.”

Ouch. Jake, you’ve gone and done the dumbest thing in your whole life. Ya can either rail against this organizations or take their side but you can’t have it both ways, buddy.

“From time to time, rumors circulate that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines (and still used in some flu vaccine), could contribute to ASDs. However, valid scientific studies have shown there is no link. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.” –American Academy of Pediatrics

“The author concludes that recent studies have found no association between MMR vaccination and autism. The frequent embryologic neuroanatomic abnormalities found in children with autism lessen the likelihood that MMR immunization is a major risk factor. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine and a special American Academy of Pediatrics panel have concluded that evidence does not support MMR immunization as a risk factor for autism.”

RICHARD SADOVSKY, M.D., American Academy of Family Physicians 

“On May 18th, 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its eighth and final report from its Immunization Safety Review Committee.  Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says the new report. Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer, said the committee that wrote the report.  The American Medical Association (AMA) lauds the process that went into the creation of this scientific report and applauds the IOM and the CDC for their strong efforts in continuing to ensure the safety of the vaccines that are administered in the United States through post-market surveillance and studies such as this.”

American Medical Association

“Prior to its introduction in the 1930’s, data were available in several animal species and humans providing evidence for its safety and effectiveness as a preservative (Powell and Jamieson 1931). Since then, thimerosal has been the subject of several studies (see Bibliography) and has a long record of safe and effective use preventing bacterial and fungal contamination of vaccines, with no ill effects established other than minor local reactions at the site of injection.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review* by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion.” –Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“There is much debate regarding the correlation of childhood vaccines and the occurrence of autism in children. The weight of currently available scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. We recognize there is considerable public interest in this issue.”

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources

“The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The committee further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are theoretical only.” –http://www.iom.edu/CMS/3793/4705/20155.aspx”>Institute of Medicine (2004)

Finally, he ironically calls Offit “Nick Nailer,” the tobacco lobbyist in the film Thank You For Smoking. What amuses me about this is not only the fact that a lobbyist is an actual profession, so Offit can be definitively shown to not be a lobbyist, but that I constantly point out the fact that anti-vaxxers constantly work out of Nick Nailer’s playbook such as when they try to change the discussion to one about so-called “vaccine choice.” It’s as if it were directly lifted from the ice cream gambit scene in that film:

It’s a shame. So many words from J.B. and Jake, and nothing to show for it either than what can be summed up completely with, “Oh yeah!”

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To celebrate our surviving another apocalype: comedy

October 22, 2011

Yes, shockingly Harold Camping got it wrong…again. So since I’m still not burning in Hell, what else is there to do but laugh at religion?

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Psychic Sally exposed as a fraud

October 12, 2011

BUSTED!

Back in the 80’s, James Randi exposed “faith healer” Peter Popoff as a charlatan on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It seemed that Popoff was being fed information about his audience by his wife through an earpiece. When Randi and company found the right frequency, they managed to record Popoff’s wife feeding her husband everything he needed to know to appear as though “God” was directing him to the specific person he was to “heal.”

The earpiece has been a common tactic for those pseudo-psychic mentalists who are just too lazy to cold read and just want to have everything they need to know spoon-fed to them. Now  one such lazy “psychic” is Psychic Sally Morgan, who is clearly spotted in HER OWN VIDEO removing a hidden earpiece at the end of her act.

Of course, coward that she is, she’s actually threatening her accusers with legal action. I for one hope she does. It will be very entertaining listening to her try to prove her magic powers in court…which of course she would have to do in a defamation suit because, among other requirements, defamation cases demand that the defendants’ accusations are actually false. She’d also have to prove the defendants knowingly lied. Good luck with that, Sally. It doesn’t take a psychic to figure out that her threats of legal action are empty and that, if carried out, would only end in embarrassing defeat for her.

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Iranian actress sentenced to 90 lashes

October 12, 2011
The corner of Wall Street and Broadway, showin...

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Lately, I’ve been appalled to hear some fringe voices in the Occupy Wall Street protests assert that the United States is “the most fascist country in the world.” Even worse, when asked to tone down the exaggerated rhetoric, the response has been either the insistence that it’s true if you look at the evidence or, almost equally preposterous, that we’re growing more and more fascist each day. Such statements seem to me to really be another way of saying, “Don’t take anything I say seriously because I’m crazy.”

Obviously, the U.S. isn’t the most fascist country in the world. On its worst day, the U.S. might not even make the top 100 list of fascist countries. And anyone who isn’t completely ignorant of the what’s happening in the rest of the world knows this. Hell, the very fact that Americans have no trouble publicly criticizing this nation and its government without fear that they’ll be assassinated or mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night by secret police demonstrates the absurdity of this claim quite well.

Another great example can be found in this recent case of an Iranian actress being sentenced to ninety lashes for committing no crime other than appearing in an Australian film critical of Iran:

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This is what fascism really looks like. And we do a great disservice to victims like this around the world when privileged Westerners downplay their oppression in ill-conceived attempts to exaggerate their own plight. Don’t get me wrong. The majority of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is fighting a legitimate cause against a legitimate target and I largely support their efforts. So I’m not trying to downplay the serious problems we face here at home. But it’s just that they’re first-world problems. I’d wager that even the American poor by in large have it better than many of the poor in third-world countries. So I’m all for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. But let’s just keep things in perspective. The U.S. is not the most fascist nation in the world and using such rhetoric only hurts the credibility of that movement.

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