The difference between them and us

I was talking to an anti-vaccine activist the other day, and she said that scientists, doctors, and anyone else who believed in the science of vaccines were “blindly devoted to the religion of vaccines.” I almost laughed in her face, but I was trying to be civil. After all, the woman had ventured into an institution of higher knowledge to have this debate. She was like a fish out of water as it was clear that she had no formal training in science, and she admitted to those present that she knew all she needed to know through her experience of being a mother of a child with autism.

I’ve never been tossed an easier softball for me to hit out of the park, but I just sat there and listened to what she had to say. She began her tale by telling us about her “stolen” child and how that child is now 5 and starting kindergarten. (More on how weird that sounded in a little big.) According to her recollection, her child was developing perfectly normal until he got his MMR vaccine at one year of age. It took her child two months before he started walking when most kids walk at 12 months, she said. Surely, it was the MMR vaccine that caused that delay.

She repeated other things we’ve heard from anti-vaccine activists. Her child cried for days and days until she took him to the doctor. Her child didn’t look her in the eyes. Her child watches television for hours during the day and can’t fall asleep unless she gives him an iPad to play with. Oh, and her child has allergies against everything and anything that she feeds him. She now feeds him nothing but organic chicken and vegetables. Anything else and he develops nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation… Both? Yes, she said he gets both at the same time.

But her child is 5 and in kindergarten, but is somehow “stolen”? Again, all softballs, but I didn’t bite. None of us did. It wasn’t a fight we wanted to have.

She ended her presentation to us with a set of slides about the so-called “CDC Whistleblower” and the “cover-up” of data. In her conclusion, she asked us to be “skeptical” of those who are “blindly devoted to the religion of science” and to check out the information from the National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-vaccine group that wants to feed children anti-vaccine candy this Halloween. The woman then asked for any questions, and I couldn’t resist.

“Did you read the Wakefield paper from 1998?” I asked. After a brief pause, and after seeing that I pulled out the paper, she said that she did not. “In it,” I said, “the authors conclude that there is no association between autism and enterolytic colitis.” The expression on her face changed from amusement to anger in three seconds flat. I continued, “You told us not to trust those who blindly follow science, but what about those who blindly follow Andrew Wakefield’s…”

“DOCTOR Wakefield,” she interrupted.

“Andrew Wakefield’s ‘gut feelings’,” I said. “Are gut feelings better to follow than evidence?”

“Give me that,” she said as she reached for the now-retracted Wakefield paper. She scanned the paper to the part where I had highlighted the conclusion:

“We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue”

The woman exploded into a barrage of accusations about me altering the paper (denial), telling me that she hated people like me who had “taken away” her child (anger), stating that if only follow-up studies to Wakefield’s were done so we all would know the truth (they were done, and also, bargaining), and then tears started rolling down her eyes (depression).

If the words in parentheses look familiar to you, it’s because they’re 4 of the 5 stages of grief. The only stage she did not display was acceptance. The woman was quiet and sitting, holding the paper between her hands, sobbing. The host thanked her for being here and we filed out of the room.

I felt like a jackass for making a woman cry. Women crying get me upset, and I honestly wanted nothing but to hug the woman and tell her that everything was going to be okay. But I think she would have completely snapped.

The difference between them and us, people who believe in anti-vaccine theories and us who don’t, is that we take the time to review the literature. We cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s. Because, in our world, being proven wrong or having someone find out that we lied or altered the data is the equivalent of social death. Just ask Wakefield, and, now, BS Hooker. They are pariahs who have either altered the data or failed to present it in an honest fashion. They may even be lying when they say that there was a “cover up” by CDC. Mark my words when I tell you that neither will ever be taken seriously by people who make policy decisions about vaccines and/or autism. And the people who follow them? Those people will never be taken seriously and be challenged on their assertions because they don’t read the papers, don’t do the homework, and don’t take the tests.

I’d like to thank the person who organized that meeting. They went to great lengths to get the woman in question to give the presentation to a group of us in northern Virginia. And that woman, if you are reading this, please know that we did not intend to deceive you into looking so foolish. You did that all on your own, and I hope you see things for what they are and not what groups like NVIC want you to believe.

Just in time for Halloween, an anti-vaccine “expert” rises like a zombie

I was looking through the blog’s stats the other day, and I found out that a ton of people were checking out the post about Peter Doshi, PhD. You know the one? The one where I explain to you that Peter Doshi, PhD is not an epidemiologist and how his attempt at epidemiology, at explaining to his audience that the flu is not that bad and that flu deaths were not really flu deaths, how all of that was pretty goddamn awful. Well, his screeds are back, and the anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory websites are plastering it all over the place. Lucky for humanity that people are skeptical about his claims, go and Google his name, and come to this blog.

Some of the most recent visitors are coming over from a blog called IO9. They are coming over specifically from a post by Tara Haelle about the myths and facts about the flu vaccine. It’s a good post. My only objection to it is the number of myths she’s trying to debunk all at once. There’s a lot of them, and blog readers are usually TL;DR kind of people. Keep it snappy and keep it short, says the guy who once wrote a 6,000-plus blog post on diabetes. Someone in the comments mentioned an article by Peter Doshi, PhD. It’s the same article from years back, but it has been resurrected, like a zombie, to try and scare people away from the flu vaccine.

I’m glad that so many are skeptical of Peter Doshi, PhD, and I truly hope that someone asks him about the AIDS denialist bit in his history. After all, we wouldn’t want a current professor at the University of Maryland and associate editor at the BMJ being an AIDS denialist, do we? It would be a little bit bad for science. So thanks for the natural news whackaloons for resurrecting Peter Doshi’s article from last year. It’s always fun to deal with zombies.

Happy Halloween! And don't forget to get your flu shot!

“Scary” Peter Doshi, PhD (taken off the conspiracy website and altered a bit)

How to convince the world that vaccines are the ultimate evil. Step one: Buy yourself a Congressman

What do you do if you’re in desperate need of some sort of validation about your misguided, uninformed, fraud-driven beliefs about vaccines? Do you fund more research into vaccine technology and how to make it “safer”? Do you use your money to fund autism programs that look to make the lives of autistics better at all levels? Or do you find a Congressman who will believe your drivel and give you some sort of credibility and pour money into his coffer?

If you’re a reasonable person, and you have a lot of money, and you’re worried about autistics, you would be inclined to fund organizations and programs that look to advocate for autistics (and other people with developmental disabilities). You might contact your representatives in Congress, maybe even the President, but you would know better than to give them any money directly. After all, you’re always going to have an elected representative. There is always going to be someone to answer the phone when you call Congress. So why give money to them? Let them get their own money.

Ah, but if you’re not a reasonable person, you believe in all sorts of conspiracies, and people are making fun of you over your delusions about vaccines and autism, well, then you need to buy yourself a Congressman. How do you do that? By paying between $500 and $1,500 just to meet and greet the person who is most likely to give you a sympathetic ear in congress. Lately, that person has been Representative Bill Posey from the Florida 8th Congressional District.

Allow me to step back for a moment. Look at the situation. If you want to meet and greet the person who owes you his current job in Congress, you have to pay a minimum of $500. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can call up their office and get an appointment. Regular folks don’t get that usually. Maybe if you’re from a relatively small district. Maybe if you know people who know people. Most of the time you’ll end up just talking to staffers, because money.

Now, let’s go back to the anti-vaccination activists who are trying to buy themselves a Congressman. How much do you think they’ve “invested” in buying Rep. Bill Posey? One thousand? Two thousand? Three thousand dollars? According to the Federal Elections Commission, the following people have given money to him:

Jennifer Larson, who sits on the board of the “Autism Recovery Foundation” and is a big anti-vaccine activist who seemingly loves to defend Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, gave $1,000 to Bill Posey. I could be wrong, but Ms. Larson doesn’t live in Florida’s 8th. So you do the math on why she’s giving him what to a family with a special needs child would be a windfall.

Mark Blaxill, who is not a scientist and not a journalist, also donated $1,000 to Representative Bill Posey. Why if not to win favor with Representative Bill Posey?

J. B. Handley also gave $1,000. Mr. Handley is a very wealthy man who seems to be convinced that vaccines and nothing but vaccines caused autism in his child. He is so convinced that he is happy to see public health in the United States on the decline.

And then there is Barry Segal, who also gave $1,000. He sits on the board of Focus Autism, the organization which funded the hilariously inept “study” (more like back-of-the-napkin miscalculations of numbers) by BS Hooker, who also sits on that board.

Wait a goddamned minute! Did two board members of an anti-vaccine organization look at each other and decided to fund and conduct a study on vaccines and autism and come out with findings that vaccines cause autism? I’m shocked!

And don’t waste your time trying to say that Focus Autism is not anti-vaccine. Their own “vaccine” page is filled with anti-vaccine tropes.

This is just the donations that we know of from “autism advocates.” There could be more, but the federal election donation laws are so murky that it is impossible to tell how much people gave to what congressperson or political action committee. At the very least, they gave $4,000 to a man who already has received over a million dollars in donations and has plenty of cash on hand to spend. That is $4,000 that could have gone toward something meaningful for autistics. Instead, it goes to a wealthy congressman from Florida who is in no way threatened to lose his seat.

But those are the priorities of people who think that there are monsters under the bed, who saw that their children are autistic and deemed those children to be lost, stolen, or worse.

Welcome, minions!

Well, well, well. It seems that this old blog got some sort of an enormous boost over the last 48 hours. As a result, I want to take a moment and welcome all the new readers. Now, most of you are here because you are interested in my blog post about one Dr. Peter Doshi, PhD. However, if you look around the blog, you’ll see that I cover a whole range of other issues, 99% of them having to do with science denialism and its consequences. The other 1% is just me on a rant.

There is something for everyone here, from abortion to male circumcision to one of our favorite subjects: vaccines.

So thank you for stopping by and boosting the number of views. I mean, come on, look at this:

poxes_views

We are all Batman, kind of

This is the tenth post not having anything to do with vaccines.

Thank. The. Lord.

I wanted to talk to you about something that has been on my radar the last few weeks as school has resumed and some of my students have been asking me for my background. They seem to want to know who this guy standing in front of them talking about epidemiology is and why they should listen to him. I wanted to point out my degrees, but that would have been too easy. After all, they have the syllabus. They know what my degrees are. Instead, I talked to them about my work.

I’m not going to bore you with all the stuff that I do, however. I’m just going to tell you that the main part of my work consists in trying to change the world. Much like Batman, I sometimes feel like I am fighting some pretty big and evil forces out there. And I feel alone, although I have a great team of friends who are always ready to come to the rescue.

One truth that you need to keep in mind is that this persona of Reuben Gaines is a lot like Batman. That is, I’m not just one person. You’ve read on this blog before about how I considered myself to be an idea (and how ideas don’t die). You’ve also read how I strive to be more than just a man. After all, my enemies (or people who don’t like me) will always find something in the human part of me to attack. If they look hard enough, I’m sure they could find something that is unpalatable to someone somewhere.

Much like the Batmen in the movies, there are different people who have donned the cowl and cape of Reuben Gaines and taken on the anti-science and anti-vaccine nuts out there. You may have noticed it if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning. One or two, or more, blog posts don’t have the same structure as the others. In those cases, other people who are great people and know a lot more about other stuff than I do have taken it upon themselves to write. This is one of the main reasons why complaints from The Weirdo John Stone and others about me don’t really scare me.

He’s complaining about a group of us… A group who wants to change the world.

I’m kind of glad that I’m not alone in wanting to and working toward changing the world because one person should not be alone in doing so and should not even succeed in doing so. I’m flawed. I might impose a dictatorship if I do end up gaining all the power. (Not likely.) I think this video puts it best:

So I want to thank you, dear reader or two, because you are also kind of like Batman. You want to change the world as well, and that’s why the things that I (or we) write interest you. That’s why you keep coming back, why you share links from this blog, and why you also do some pretty amazing things out there in the big, bad world.

Now that the ten non-vaccine posts are up, now that the trolls are a little underfed, let us dive into the craziness of the anti-vaccine and anti-science idiots who would be the end of us all if we left them in charge of the Ebola response…

A crash course on Ebola you should be reading right now

This is the ninth blog post that has nothing to do with vaccines. I’m glad because I’m getting a rash from not writing about them.

With all the craziness going on about Ebola, a friend decided to give us his epidemiological perspective on Ebola. Here is the first lesson, and here is the second one. You should go read them.

Seriously, go. I won’t feel bad if you do.

Someone wasted their time in biostats class

There have been many times when I’m standing before master of public health (MPH) students, giving them a presentation on epidemiology, and I wonder how any of them can even put on their shoes in the morning. Don’t get me wrong; they’re bright students. Many of them have graduated from college with impressive grades and great projects. They wouldn’t be in these top-notch universities if they were not bright. (Or if their benefactors didn’t see brightness in them.) Still, I’m not surprised when I see many of those kids getting an MPH in epidemiology and not become epidemiologist.

Being an epidemiologist is tough. It requires you to be able to think critically and analyze a problem from different sides and different points of view. Most public health problems requiring epidemiological analysis are big, huge puzzles with many working parts. Just being book smart is not enough. Being street smart is not enough. Being charismatic is not enough. Having an MPH in epidemiology or otherwise is not enough.

Like many people, I have issues completely comprehending biostatistical analyses. Biostats is tough. Few people get through it and continue to take classes in it. In fact, I look at the biostats crew at my job and shake my head in amazement. They can slice and dice data in ways I can’t even dream of. So I go to them with questions about biostats. It was one of them, a PhD-level young lady, who explained to me why the paper by Dr. BS Hooker was full of, well, BS.

I have never claimed to be all-knowledgeable on things like epidemiology and biostats. I just know what I know, and I know when to ask for help. I don’t like to pound my chest and say that I’m the best epidemiologist out there. I’m not.

So who wasted their time in a biostats class? Who else, the kid. What leads me to that opinion? First, some background.

In epidemiological studies, there is a hierarchy of what studies contribute the most evidence. At the very bottom is professional opinion. Surely, you would not guide public health policy based on what I or any other person would write on their blog or in an op-ed, or in a letter to the editor. Right above professional opinion are cross-sectional studies. Cross-sectional studies are basically surveys. You survey the population to get an idea as to what is going on before you move on to bigger, better-designed studies, like case-control and cohort studies. After case-control and cohort studies come randomized trials, where issues of confounding and bias are better addressed, and the results have a lot more weight on how to go about solving a public health problem. At the very top of the hierarchy are meta analyses and systematic reviews, where you take all the data from different studies and weigh all the evidence to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Did you notice how I bolded where cross-sectional studies lie on the hierarchy? Why would I do that? Again, some more background.

The paper by BS Hooker took the data from the DeStefano study and treated those data as a cohort study. That right there was one of many flaws in the BS Hooker paper. You don’t take case-control data (which was how the DeStefano study was conducted) and treat it as cohort data. You just don’t.

When the kid tried to defend the findings of the BS Hooker paper as if his life depended on it, using only a screenshot from a video published by Andrew Jeremy Wakefield (and nothing more), someone pointed out to him (again) the flaws in the BS Hooker approach:

“Hooker didn’t crunch the data as a case-control; he crunched it as a cohort study and without knowing temporality of MMR vaccination with ASD diagnosis, it’s dead in the water.”

The kid took exception to this and made what I believe to be the epidemiological and biostatistical mistake of the year:

“No, he crunched it as cross-sectional.”

I spat my coffee all over my desk when I read this. Not only did BS Hooker torture data, his protege is now saying that BS Hooker downgraded the way he treated the data. Remember where cross-sectional studies rank in the hierarchy? I mean, holy sh!t. I knew the kid wasn’t that good at epidemiology, but this confirms how bad he is with biostats.

The same commenter tried to correct the kid (again):

“Anyone looking at how he modelled the data can see that it was a cohort design and if that wasn’t enough, Hooker explicitely states that, “In this paper, we present the results of a cohort study using the same data from the Destefano et al. [14] analysis.” Taking a tumble down the hierarchy of study-design strength, particularly when the dataset available to him was sufficient to conduct a case-control is a bizarre strategy to salvage Hooker’s miscalculated results.”

But the kid can’t be wrong, not even in this case:

“He should have said cross-sectional in that sentence, but it doesn’t change the validity of his results. Relative risk would be more meaningful to the average person than odds ratios and this is an issue which effects (sic) everybody, so I would imagine that is why Brian Hooker conducted it that way.”

HOLY SH!T. He thinks that cross-sectional analyses are better than cohort, and better than case-control as well!!! Even worse, he thinks people are effected, not affected. So call the grammar police!

Of course, to the uninitiated, this doesn’t matter. To the true believer antivaxxer, the kid is an authority on epidemiology and biostatistics. God help anyone who places their faith on him for analysis of scientific evidence. But thank God that, although my comments are not being allowed through by the kid, he allows comments from other people who can see through his, well, BS.

If you have some minutes to waste, and you want to have a good laugh, go read the comments section of the kid’s blog post. It’s comedy gold. If you know epidemiology and biostatistics, you’ll have a good laugh at the errors in logic and reasoning that are pervasive throughout his commentary and his readers’ comments.

This was the eighth post that has nothing to do with vaccines, for the most part.