Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’ condemns anti-vaccine internet conspiracy theorists

September 20, 2011
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I’ve been meaning to write about the recently released Soderbergh film, “Contagion” for about a week now. The film is quite good though it certainly has it’s flaws, such as a scene where a man with an infected disease is told by an infectious disease expert to get off a bus immediately instead of insisting neither he nor anyone else get off the bus so it could be quarantined or various scenes where the same expert needs to teach the Minnesota Center for Disease Control the most basic information about their job.

But otherwise, the film mostly proved to be a strong film that was both pro-science and uncompromisingly anti-pseudoscience with Jude Law playing an amalgam of anti-vaccine cranks that are quite familiar. It’s the panic and hysteria Law’s character helps create which gives the film it’s title far more than the actual disease itself. In an interview, Law said that he read a lot of crank sites and built his performance around numerous figures, opting not to name any names. Of course, I know their names. I’ve been in the same room with several of them. Law seems to be channeling Mike Adams, Joseph Mercola, Andrew Wakefield, and Dan Olmsted, among several others. Law’s character is the closest the film has to a real villain.

I hope more people will go out and see this film. Rarely do such strong skeptical films where science is the hero get made in Hollywood.

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Jake Crosby once again unintentionally convicts himself of having a conflict of interest

April 28, 2011

Jake Crosby is at it again with more 6000-degrees of separation conspiracies – If I were as childish as the folks over at Age of Autism, I might dub this kid Joke Crosby…but I’m classy and stuff. Crosby reiterates his last alleged conflict of interest:

The saga of Seth Mnookin and his uncle, Robert Mnookin just gets weirder and weirder. First it has been revealed that Robert Mnookin is close colleagues with Linda Singer – the mother-in-law of pharma-funded wife, Alison Singer – and Michael Lewis, who sits on the board of her fake autism charity/pharma front group, “Autism Science Foundation.”

Got that straight? Seth Mnookin’s uncle works with the mother-in-law of Alison Singer (who I get a funny feeling young Jake is not a fan off – what he has against warrior moms with autistic children, I have no idea). This to him constitutes a conflict of interest. On what grounds? Beats the fuck out of me!

I recently learned that I’m distantly related on my uncle’s side to Jonathan Ames, the writer and producer of the HBO series Bored To Death. And while I met his parents once now, I’ve never so much as been in the same room as Mr. Ames. And yet young Jake, who apparently isn’t aware that everyone in the world is connected by a few degrees, is convinced such a tenuous connection is “weird” and “bizarre”, as well as significant enough to completely ignore Mnookin’s actual facts and arguments.

His latest amazingly “bizarre” connection is that the author of the recent NY Times article that positively quoted Mnookin also “gushed” about his uncle in a news story from a whopping six years ago.  Come to think of it, I’ve noticed a lot of writers consistently write negatively of Charles Manson. Weird! Bizarre! It must be an evil plot. What other possibility could there be? Also Jake Crosby has in dozens of articles “gushed” over Andrew Wakefield. Bizarre. I think Jake would agree that that proves overwhelmingly that he is part of a conspiracy. Seriously though, this level of deluded McCarthyism is getting truly pathetic. Here is an article that lays out the grounds for what is considered an unhealthy relationship in the real world.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.21.11

April 22, 2011
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1. Andrew Wakefield, the new Jesus? – I’ve often argued that the anti-vaccine movement worships Andrew Wakefield like a religious prophet, but now J.B. Handley has said as much to the NY Times:

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” says J. B. Handley, co-founder of Generation Rescue, a group that disputes vaccine safety. “He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.”

2. Studies suggest atheist OUT Campaign works

Although prejudice is typically positively related to relative outgroup size, four studies found converging evidence that perceived atheist prevalence reduces anti-atheist prejudice. Study 1 demonstrated that anti-atheist prejudice among religious believers is reduced in countries in which atheists are especially prevalent. Study 2 demonstrated that perceived atheist prevalence is negatively associated with anti-atheist prejudice. Study 3 demonstrated a causal relationship: Reminders of atheist prevalence reduced explicit distrust of atheists. These results appeared distinct from intergroup contact effects. Study 4 demonstrated that prevalence information decreased implicit atheist distrust. The latter two experiments provide the first evidence that mere prevalence information can reduce prejudice against any outgroup. These findings offer insights about anti-atheist prejudice, a poorly understood phenomenon. Furthermore, they suggest both novel directions for future prejudice research and potential interventions that could reduce a variety of prejudices.

3. GM mosquitoes to fight malaria – Scientists believe they’re getting close to being able to modify wild mosquito DNA as a weapon against malaria…using evolution:

In the laboratory, they made a gene spread from a handful of mosquitoes to most of the population in just a few generations, according to a report in Nature.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.22.11

March 23, 2011

1. New BBC report shows further decline in religion – In the past few years, a number of polls have shown religion is declining as increasingly more people identify themselves as not belonging to any religion. And now yet another poll shows this trend based on the census data of nine countries.

2. 70-year-old Philadelphia man stoned to death for Jesus – The killer has directly stated that the act was inspired by the Bible:

According to this report, John Thomas, 28, of Upper Darby, a Philadelphia suburb, told police he killed Murray Seidman of nearby Lansdowne because the Bible refers to stoning homosexuals.

3. Piggyback virus could thwart HIV

Rather than destroying HIV, a proposed treatment would embrace its infectious abilities, sending the virus into competition with a harmless, stripped-down version of itself.

Dubbed therapeutic interfering particles, or TIPs, these engineered viral scraps would ride with HIV as it spreads from person to person. By out-competing HIV for cellular resources, the TIPs might slow its progression and lower infection rates.

4. Nine cases of measles in Minneapolis

The likely source is an infant who traveled to Kenya and returned in the beginning of February. Cases have ranged in age from 4 months to 4 years. Four of the cases were too young to receive vaccine, four were of age but were not vaccinated, and one has unknown vaccine status. There have been five hospitalizations and no deaths.

On a related note, if you happen to run into Andrew Wakefield or Jenny McCarthy, please punch them in the face for me.

5. 60 Minutes turns Catholic child rape scandal into a fluff piece – This week’s 60 Minutes featured an embarrassingly piece on New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, whose making it his mission to restore the Church’s reputation after that pesky mass child rape conspiracy thing. In the piece, Dolan expressed little interest in helping to bring child rapists and their accomplices to justice or declaring specific changes to ensure it never happens again, and showed that his primary purpose is spin control. And 60 Minutes, like all the mainstream media, found that entirely satisfactory. I wonder if Scott Pelley would still be satisfied if his own child were raped by priests and committed suicide because of the psychological scars while the perpetrators were given full immunity from justice because instead of working for Starbucks, the organization they happen to work for is named the Catholic Church. Though I am happy to see that the commenters on 60 Minutes webpage are really letting them have it. And here’s a great piece on how out of touch with reality the Catholic Church is.

6. Nantucket child killed in exorcism

The woman accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter earlier this week believed God had instructed her to stick a rose in the young girl’s throat to ward off the devil, according to documents filed in Nantucket District Court.

So next time someone suggests religion is harmless, remind them of 3-year-old Nicole Garcia Pleitez.

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Andrew Wakefield is a fraud!

January 5, 2011

Andrew Wakefield is a fraud. To many of you out there, this is not news at all. But today the British Medical Journal released the first of several close examinations by journalist Brian Deer that exposes Andrew Wakefield’s now retracted 1998 study published in the Lancet that analyzed twelve children as not just bad science but deliberately fraudulent.

Among many distortions, Wakefield altered the medical information of all twelve children including changing the dates their symptoms were first reported to fit his predetermined conclusions. For instance,  although the children were reported in the study to show their symptoms almost immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine, their medical records show some developed their symptoms earlier while others not for many months after vaccination (not unlike Jenny McCarthy, who claimed that her son appeared to lose his very soul almost immediately after vaccination but recently admitted it was many months later that his symptoms appeared).

And suddenly this has created a media firestorm on the side of good for a change. Everyone’s talking about this and it’s being called by many to be the biggest scientific fraud of this generation. Orac is even calling it the greatest scientific fraud since Piltdown Man. Dan Harris and Diane Sawyer were harsh in their report on ABC World News tonight. Then Sanjay Gupta went on Wolf Blitzer’s show and firmly declared the study a fraud. Elliot Spitzer and Sanjay Gupta interviewed JB Handley on CNN and were pretty tough on him. Handley said they hadn’t done the research and Spitzer blunted stated, “I think we have.” It was pretty awesome.

But nothing was better than when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, got the exclusive privilege of interviewing Wakefield himself and just ripped him to shreds.Not since Jon Stewart was on Crossfire was there a more epic smack-down on television.

Cooper pulled no punches, reminding Wakefield mid-conspiracy that it’s not just Brian Deer calling him a fraud but the entire global medical community and chastising Wakefield for using this interview to just plug his book. Unfortunately, Cooper wasn’t able to respond to Wakefield’s now frequent claim that his research has been repeated in five other studies around the world other than to simply say that this claim is false. But for those who are curious, here are the embarrassing facts about those five studies. Then after the interview, Cooper invited on Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. Cooper said Wakefield refused to be interviewed with Mnookin there to ask questions, so now he and Gupta were just going to talk to Mnookin after the Wakefield interview. And I really started to think Anderson Cooper has been paying attention to skeptical blogs because they hit on just about every point, including whether the media has played into the perpetuation of the myth that vaccines cause autism by presenting a false balance.

This may have been the single biggest nail in the coffin on the anti-vaccine movement yet. It’s just a PR disaster for them. Just look at their flimsy response.

This idea that the entire world is against them and in on an evil conspiracy is, as Mnookin says, just laughable. And this is just a slam dunk victory for good science reporting and skepticism.

[UPDATE 1/7/11: Today, Brian Deer himself (the man Wakefield calls the “hitman” hired to take him out) made several CNN appearances that can viewed here and on Anderson Cooper here.]

[UPDATE 1/11/11: Seth Mnookin talks on American Morning here and Sullivan fact-checks Age of Autism’s defense of Wakefield here]

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2010 This Year In Skepticism – February

January 5, 2011

Here is the second part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I just reviewed last January here. And here’s February. Hopefully, I’ll cover more than one month of the year in the next installment.

Homeopaths admit their products have no active ingredients – The 10:23 homeopathic overdose campaign has driven the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit that their products do not contain any “material substances”:

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.

Lancet retracts1998 Wakefield study

Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, guru of The Secret was officially charged with manslaughter – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

Kevin Trudeau pissed off the wrong judge – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

The Desiree Jennings case may have been exposed as a fraud, though the damage was already done

Andrew Wakefield booted out of Thoughtful House

The Secular Coalition met with the White House

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2010 This Year In Skepticism – January

January 2, 2011

Here is the first part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I’m just covering last January in this piece but I’ll try to cover more than one month in the next installment.

Yet another well-designed study hit another nail in the coffin of the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism. Then researchers concluded that there was a lack of evidence supporting special diets for autism.

New smart phone apps emerge that debunk creationism

California said no to creationist curriculum

Pat Robertson blamed the Haitian earthquake on a mythical pact the nation never made with the devil–true story–thus earning him a nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

Vatican Bank accused of laundering $200 million.

Stephen Baldwin said he’d rather see his daughter die than lie about Jesus, earning him a solid nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

The arrest of the businessman responsible for selling dowsing rods, aka magic wands, as bomb detectors.

UK’s General Medical Council concluded that anti-vaccine prophet Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.”

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $10 billion to vaccines and Doctors Without Borders vaccinates 2,100 kids against Measles in Pakistan – both were big victories for public health around the world.

Skeptics fail in homeopathy-based suicide attempt – The 1023 campaign sparked a great deal of attention on this little publicity stunt and made homeopathy look incredibly stupid.

Star of Scientology orientation film gives farewell performance – Larry Anderson, an actor and long-time member of $cientology who starred in their orientation film left the cult.

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